Archive for the ‘The Great Outdoors’ Category

Our June hike – and twentieth of the year, almost halfway to 52! – is definitely going to be one of the highlights of the year.  Lake Minnewaska is a small gem set in the Shawnagunk Mountains of New York – just a stone’s throw from New Paltz and an easy drive from downstate.  My mom vacationed there with her parents, sister and brothers as a little girl growing up on Long Island, but the lodge where they stayed burned down long ago and my parents never took us.  (We had the Sacandaga for lake fun and plenty of Adirondack and Catskill adventure closer to home.)

Still, my mom often shared her memories of summer vacations on Minnewaska, and after my grandmama passed away last year, I think it became more important to her to share this place with us.  We had a golden opportunity to hike at Minnewaska as a family when my brother and sister-in-law visited from Colorado a few weeks ago – and we were in New York to attend Cornell Reunion – so we all piled into the cars and drove downstate for some family bonding on the trails.

Our first glimpse of Minnewaska was from the picnic area on one of the many cliffs, but after we enjoyed our sandwiches we all made our way down to the shore.

What a treat to get to hike with Dan and Danielle!  We only see them once a year if we’re lucky, but since we’re all avid hikers we always try to make sure that we hit the trails at least once on those occasions.

The whole group!  (Minus me, behind the lens.)  My dad, Steve (well-hidden), Dan, Danielle, Nugget, Peanut and my mom.  All together in a beautiful place – it doesn’t get better than that.


After a few minutes of taking in the view at the water’s edge, it was time to climb again.  My mom explained that the trail circumvented the lake and stopped at several overlooks along the way – which meant it was time to go up, up, up.

The trail was beautifully maintained and marked – Nugget made it his mission to be the first one to spot every red blaze along the way – and the views were well worth the elevation change!

World’s best sister!  How lucky am I?  She’s the coolest.  (Thanks, Dan, for finding her.)

Stopped to take in the view at one of the overlooks.  (See how well-contained Peanut is?)  Uncle Dan decided to do a little impromptu bouldering.  Brave!

Wave hi to Steve!


Back on the trail – Nugget kept us all on track with his map.  We were all revolving doors of kid-transport.  Nugget and Peanut both made the rounds of Mom and Dad’s backpacks, hand-holding with Nana and Aunt Danielle, and hitching rides on Grandad’s and Uncle Dan’s shoulders.

Back down to the water’s edge, all the way on the other side of the lake.

We found a little friend!  This guy was hanging out in the shallows with about a dozen of his family members.  At first, Uncle Dan thought these were tadpoles mid-transition, but when Aunt Danielle scooped him up we realized he was a newt (or salamander? anyway, not a tadpole).

Back up!  The views from the other side of the trail weren’t too shabby, either.

I’m so glad I finally got to experience Minnewaska, after hearing so many stories of it (and seeing so many pictures of the lake resort in the 1960s, looking like Johnny and Baby were about to come tangoing down the trail).  And getting to hike it with the whole family was gravy.

Until next time, Minnewaska!

Where have you been hiking lately?


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Now begins the season of the year when I have lots and lots of fun to recap.  After three-and-a-half blissful days at Cornell Reunion, we jumped in the car to drive another three hours east – because the fun wasn’t done yet!  When we realized that we would be in New York in June, and that my brother and sister-in-law were targeting the same timeframe for a trip back east (they live in western Colorado), we decided to coordinate our visits and get some family time in.  Dan and Danielle arrived late on Saturday night, and by mid-day on Sunday, we were all together!


The first order of business, naturally, was splashing and hilarity in Nana’s backyard.  What else?

Yes, spraying the children with a hose is always a good idea.  An even better idea: give Nugget the hose.  We all got wet.

After we got out of our soaked clothes and into some nice, dry attire, we headed to our family friends’ house for a cookout – always a treat.  Great food, great company, and tractor rides – what could be better?

Grandad had never driven the tractor before, but that didn’t stop him from taking Nugget for a ride!  (While I hyperventilated up on the deck.)  Don’t worry – he has his own ride-on mower, so I think this was pretty similar.

Clearly, they had a good time.

The next day was lake day!  We all love my parents’ place on the Sacandaga – I don’t feel like we get there nearly enough, so I can’t imagine how much Dan and Danielle must miss the lake (although they seem to like their new desert abode).

Our first stop was the marina.  My parents usually moor their boat right off their lakefront stretch, but this year they decided to rent a slip for it instead.  I can see why, because it was a lot easier to just step right onto the boat rather than worrying about ferrying family members out to the mooring, unclipping – and all that.

I am Nugget of Alexandria.  You will board my boat, sail across the sea, and restore the heart of Te Fiti.

Grandad sailed most of the time, with the little swab as his helper and lap buddy, but Uncle Dan also took a turn at the tiller.

I can’t remember the last time I was out on a boat with this guy!  Best day.

Peanut spent most of the sail chilling with Nana in the cabin, but she did poke her head out of the hatch for a little fresh air on the bow.  The kids weren’t actually allowed up on the bow but they still got the breeze.

Dan and Danielle and I hung out up there and talked for a long time.  (Steve was on the boat too – back in the stern – I swear.)  I just love this picture!  Look how lovingly Danielle is looking at her niece and nephew – melt my heart.  I just wish we had more time together.  ((sob))

Eventually we docked back at the marina, piled back in the cars and headed over to my parents’ camp for a cookout – what a way to end the day!  The kids wanted to stick their feet in the icy cold water, so we all took turns holding them down at the bottom of the steps before it was time to wrap them up and head to the terrace for cold beers and a delicious grilled dinner.  And there you have it – just a few snaps.  I’m sad that it was such a short visit – although we did have one more adventure up our sleeves, which I’ll show you on Friday – but it was good to see Dan and Danielle even for just a couple of days (and my parents, of course, but we see them plenty).  Now I’m trying to scheme up a visit out west!

How do you make the most of visits with far-flung family?

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Now that the high summer hiking season is finally here, I’m trying to be on the trail as much as possible – which, admittedly, isn’t much given our schedules that never seem to lighten up.  But a few days out of town was a golden opportunity to do some hiking, and we took advantage of it – hiking three times during our stay in Ithaca and once more in the Shawnagunks with my whole family (pictures to come next week).

Ithaca Hike #1: Robert H. Treman State Park

Treman State Park was one of Steve’s and my haunts during our Cornell days, but we usually just plunked down somewhere and hung out.  Since I’d read that there was a swimming hole and cool waterfall, I wanted to check out the hiking, so we added that to our reunion weekend agenda.

Sadly, the swimming hole was closed because there was no lifeguard on duty – maybe it was too early in the season.  (New York summers are glorious, but they last about five minutes – that was one of my biggest complaints when I lived up north.)  Ah, well, we weren’t wearing our bathing suits anyway.

I promised Miss Peanut that we would come back one day when the swimming hole was open.  (She is really into the idea of swimming holes right now – we’re going to have to find one for our summer vacation later in the season.)

Foot shot!

How did we never find this part of the park when we lived in Ithaca?

Ithaca Hike #2: Cornell Botanic Gardens

One of my agenda items that we didn’t actually get to was a hike in the Cornell Plantations.  Next time!  But we did hit the Botanic Gardens, which was almost as good – there were lovely trails to explore, our friend Seth was by our side (at least until he peeled off to go hear a talk about online dating???) and our tummies were full of Cornell Dairy ice cream.  Not bad!

Started out on a pretty grass path down from the Ag School into the gardens.

Note to self: order prints for grandparents.

Forgot how much I love this garden!

To keep the kids on the trail, we told them that the plants eat children.  Peanut was skeptical but didn’t want to risk it.  Nugget bought the story hook, line and sinker.


Hey, you know what?  Whatever works.

Yard Woman: A Statue of Me.

I really wanted to explore the herb garden more (and get some ideas for my patio garden back home) but tempers were short and nerves were fraying.

Ithaca Hike #3: Beebe Lake

The final hike of the Ithaca leg of our trip was a spur-of-the-moment addition.  The final Class of 2003 dinner was scheduled for the lakeside tent (YES!) and finding ourselves with extra time on our hands, we headed over a little early.  As it turned out, we were the first ones there – so nerdy – except for the Dinosaur BBQ employees, who were still setting up.  With time to kill, we decided to walk the trail around the lake, where I used to run as a Cornell freshman.

The sun was still high in the sky, but was starting to dip a little bit, and the dappled light coming through the trees was just dreamy.

As we wandered around the lake, I pointed out my favorite spots and views.

Cornell is gorges!

I used to jump off this bridge with my floormates, freshman year.  (Yes, it’s as high as it looks.)  And there were usually people climbing the sides of the gorge and jumping down into the lake – as rainy and snowy as Ithaca can be, we knew how to make the most of nice weather.  Upstream a bit is a lovely swimming hole with little waterfalls that we would slide down.

So, this is a new addition.

Eventually we circumnavigated the whole lake and found ourselves back at the tent.  Ended the evening with Dinosaur BBQ, the Big Red Band, and my classmates, watching the sun go down on another reunion.  We exchanged hugs that had to last until 2023, and the next morning, we were driving east – toward the ‘dacks.

Where have you been hiking recently?

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Hello, warm-weather hiking!  Finally making good progress on my goal to hike 52 times this year, and man am I looking forward to the high summer and fall hiking season.

Hike 11: Jones Point Park (Alexandria, VA), April 29, 2018.  Major bribery – in the form of a good hour on the playground – was necessary to make this hike happen.  But I made it happen.

Hike 12: Potomac Overlook Regional Park (Arlington, VA), May 5, 2018.  Our local hiking guide called this an “easy/moderate” hike, but I don’t know what Kool-Aid they were drinking.  There were at least ten slippery stream crossings, slick boulder scrambles, logs to climb over and duck under, and lots of elevation change; add two kiddos in backpacks and – well, this was good preparation for summer in the Adirondacks, at least.

Hike 13: Mason Neck State Park (Lorton, VA), May 12, 2018.  My Mother’s Day hike, and it was perfect.  Sunshine, turtles, and gorgeous birds, including this beautiful blue tree swallow.

Hike 14: George Washington’s Mount Vernon (Alexandria, VA), May 20, 2018.  Mud, mud, and more mud!  SO MUCH MUD.  After a week of rain we did a lot of squelching, but somehow Peanut’s sandals are still miraculously yellow.  Also, the person who told me tree pollen season is over is a vicious liar.

Hike 15: Winkler Botanical Preserve (Alexandria, VA), May 28, 2018.  Found a pocket of wild paradise right in the heart of suburban Alexandria!  It was a bit of a wet day, but so much the better – the kids loved puddle-stomping and walking out into the middle of the creek in their wellies.

Hike 16: Belle Isle (Richmond, VA), June 6, 2018.  Immediately after swearing into the Virginia Bar (finally! that was a big project) I celebrated with a few minutes of trail time before I had to get back on the road for another long drive.  Checked out the pretty views at Belle Isle and hopped across the famous rocks just offshore on the James River, tired out my legs and squeezed in a little fresh air – perfect.

Hike 17: Robert H. Treman State Park (Ithaca, New York), June 8, 2018.  A reunion weekend wouldn’t be complete without hitting one of the local parks!  Steve and I used to hang out at Treman State Park during our Cornell days, and it was fun to see the waterfall up close.

Hike 18: Cornell Botanic Gardens (Ithaca, New York), June 9, 2018.  We never made it into the Cornell Plantations proper – next time – but we got in some trail time on Friday after lunch, wandering through the pretty trails at the Botanic Gardens and checking out the flower and herb gardens.

Hike 19: Beebe Lake Loop (Ithaca, New York), June 9, 2018.  We found ourselves with some time to kill before the Class of 2003 dinner on Saturday night, so we decided to squeeze in one more hike, around my favorite running trail from freshman year.  There are beautiful gorge views and a bridge that I used to jump off with friends from my dorm (prohibited now – apparently there are dangerous underwater rock ledges? who knew?) and a pedestrian bridge across the lake.

Hike 20: Minnewaska State Park and Preserve (Kerhonkson, New York), June 12, 2018.  Hike 20 was a special one!  My mom vacationed at Lake Minnewaska almost every summer when she was a little girl.  Now that both of my grandparents on her side have passed away, she wanted us all to be together there as a family.  My brother Dan and sister-in-law Danielle were visiting from Colorado, so it seemed a golden opportunity to hike around the lake in a big group and listen to my mom’s stories about her childhood summers.  Also, it was gorgeous.  A 2018 hiking highlight for sure.

How about hikes 11 through 20!  What wonderful days all of these were – and I can already tell that some will be high points for the year.  Mother’s Day on the trail at Mason Neck; celebrating my third (!) state Bar at Belle Isle; showing Steve and the kids my favorite trail at Cornell; and finally family time on the shores and cliffsides of Lake Minnewaska.  And this is just the beginning – with the summer hiking season heating up (quite literally) now, there’s plenty more to come.

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Last weekend we toddled down to Mount Vernon, where we often find ourselves, and spring was springing all over the place.  The ground was an inch deep in mud, unsurprisingly – since it had been raining for days on end.  But more to the point, the upper garden was a riot of color and life.

The gorgeousness had to be seen to be believed.

Happy Friday, friends!  I hope you enjoyed these, and I hope you have lovely weekends ahead.

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It’s that time again!  My next-door neighbor has been puttering around her garden (flowers, not herbs/veggies) for weeks now, but I’ve been so overwhelmed at work that I haven’t had time, and we had a weirdly extended winter anyway.  But it was time, and Mother’s Day was dreary and grey – just the right weather for a trip to the garden center and some planting between bands of rain.

We went back to an old favorite – Holly, Woods and Vines on Richmond Highway; we used to live less than two minutes from its distinctive palm-festooned entrance and it was fun, if a little bittersweet, to be back in our old neighborhood.  The kids immediately started stomping in the puddles, and I congratulated myself on making sure they had their wellies on.

They also found koi for sale and were completely delighted with their discovery.  Unfortunately, we don’t exactly have room for a koi pond on our little urban patio.  Sorry, kids!


Then they took off running, so Steve chased after them while I filled up the little wagon.  I was a little bit sad that we didn’t get to pick out plants together, but they were both being so rambunctious that it was impossible.  Maybe next year.

I paid for the plants and restocked our birdseed, then it was home to dig in the dirt!  The kids were filthy and needed baths, but since we had a break in the rain I suggested we get our gardening done before cleaning them up.  They helped me clean out and prep the pots and we were ready to plant.  (And yes, our neighbors took their fence down.  They’re planning to put a new fence up at some point.  In the meantime, the kids are enjoying having their outdoor play space doubled.)

With two digging experts to assist, I had everything potted in no time.  We’re doing tomatoes and herbs again, and I have two pots of Rapunzel cherry tomatoes (Peanut loves the name, and I had success with that varietal last year), one pot of Sweet 100, and a few pots of herbs including rosemary, chives, strawberry mint and basil.  Next weekend I’ll probably fill up the rest of the herb pots via the farmers’ market; I’m thinking of thyme and another peppermint, at least.

Time to water!

Nothing feels as good as garden soil on your hands.

I’ll bet you’re wondering about the title of this post, huh?  Yes, we have named this year’s garden “Squirrelbait,” and thank you for asking.  The squirrels have been particularly brazen and destructive lately.  Peanut came home with a bean plant in a cup and we planted it a couple of weeks ago, and it took the squirrels less than 24 hours to dig it up and carry it off.  The nerve!  They’ve also destroyed several of our neighbors’ flowerpots.  I don’t know if it’s the lack of fence or something in the water or what, but they’re insane this year.  So we’ll just be grateful if they leave us some tomatoes to enjoy over the course of the summer.  Unless anyone has a tried-and-true squirrel repellant trick (and preferably not one involving cayenne pepper) to share?

Are you planting a garden this year?  Are your squirrels also pure evil?

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In my family, anytime we have an occasion to celebrate – a birthday, milestone, just a nice-weather day – we hike.  That’s just what we do!  So naturally, when Steve asked me how I wanted to celebrate Mother’s Day, I said that I wanted to hike – somewhere with water views, not too far away, but far enough to feel like I’d gotten away from it all.  My favorite Virginia state park checks all of those boxes and then some, so that’s where we headed – Mason Neck State Park.

The kids were hoping to spot some turtles, and so was I!  Our first stop was our usual haunt – the Bay View Trail.  But it was overrun with bees (oops!) so we beat a hasty retreat and headed for the Beach Trail instead.  Much better.


I love the boardwalk opening up from under an archway of green.  It’s so nice to see leaves again!  What was the deal with that winter?  And hard to believe that just about a month ago, we were hiking here with Rebecca and Brandy and we were all bundled up in winter coats and hats.

Winter?  What is winter?  It was sunny, gorgeous, and hot overlooking the little beach.  I loved it.

There you are, turtles!

As I mentioned on Monday, I had a mom milestone – the first time I told off a kid that wasn’t my own.  Some boys were shooting a nerf gun at the turtles and when one of them gleefully shouted “If that turtle comes back I’m going to shoot it!” I turned to him and snapped “You’d just better not.”  And – wow.  Apparently I scare some kids.  Just not my own kids.

Back up to the picnic area and play fields, we stopped by the birdhouses to check out the feathered friends.  There were two absolutely stunning goldfinches eating out of one of the feeders, but sadly – no pictures.  They were shy.  But this luminescent blue-feathered bird was happy to show off.

(Anyone know what kind of bird this is?  Amal?)

The park was hopping, because there was some kind of festival going on – lots of tents featuring different area wildlife refuges and outdoor suppliers – including REI!  And there was a demonstration tent where a volunteer was leading a lecture on birds of prey, featuring some very special guests.  Peanut loves raptors and owls and she was transfixed.  Nugget made it through about ten minutes before I had to bustle him off to the playground, but Peanut (and Steve) stayed to the bitter end of the educational program, and Peanut declared that she wants to be a falconer when she grows up.  (Who doesn’t?)

Happy Mother’s Day to all of my friends!  I hope that you had a lovely day celebrating the women in your life, and that someone celebrated you, too – we all nurture someone, after all.  

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