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More Than Stones And Mortar

Notre-Dame Cathedral is the very soul of Paris but so much more — it is a touchstone for all that is the best about the world, and a monument to the highest aspirations of artistic achievement that transcends religion and time.  It has survived so much — from the French Revolution to Nazi occupation — to watch its devastation is excruciating.”

~Barbara Drake Boehm, Paul and Jill Ruddock Senior Curator for The Met Cloisters

Steve and I visited the Notre Dame Cathedral in September, 2011.  Having loved ecclesiastical architecture since I studied it in Mr. Orr’s AP European History class in tenth grade, I was particularly keen to see the most iconic French Gothic cathedral in existence.  I was awed by its beauty, its grace, and its historical significance, and I was in tears watching it be engulfed by flames today.

Notre Dame was – is – so much more than mere stones and mortar.  I cherish Notre Dame as an example of the soaring heights that human ingenuity and spirit can achieve.  From the news reports I have read, it appears that not all is lost, that the statuary, the art, and even the stained glass have been or could be recovered – I hope that’s true.  But still, it breaks my heart to think that my children won’t be able to marvel at the gargoyles or at the ceiling arching high above them.  And yet I know the people of Paris, and those of us in far-flung places around the world who love art and architecture, will rebuild.

Go look at the beauty in the world.

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Somewhere around November of 2017, I realized that my Instagram friend Heidi had been methodically working her way through a challenge to hike 52 times in a year.  I thought that was pretty hardcore and I was duly impressed.  A little digging revealed that I could sign up to do the challenge myself and, well, I have no self-control when it comes to things like that.  I few keystrokes and clicks of the mouse later, I was officially a 52 Hike Challenger for 2018.

I was already behind by the time I got started, thanks to several weeks of face-shatteringly cold weather that saw us hunkered down inside, not hitting the trails.  (It was so cold that taking out the garbage was like a Polar expedition.)  We finally made it out onto the first trail of the year three weeks into 2018, and we started with Theodore Roosevelt Island, which seemed appropriate.

Over the course of the year, we did mostly hiked together as a family.  We did everything from short, easy trails (like the Story of the Forest Trail in Shenandoah National Park)…

To our fourth Adirondack high peak – Big Slide.

We chased away sadness on the trail.

Hiked with friends of the human and canine variety.

Shared our favorite places with family.

Summited an Adirondack mountain as a family.

And wandered through a glory of Virginia bluebells.

At final count, I think I did about forty-nine of the fifty-two hikes with the kiddos.  (Steve and I made Big Slide a day date, and I hiked Belle Isle and Section C of the Billy Goat Trail alone.)  Hiking with kids is a different experience – think less distance, more logistics.  We had to make sure we had a plan for carrying them if they lost their momentum mid-hike, that we were stocked with snacks, and that we were prepared for any weather.  Kids won’t tough it out the way adults will if they’re hungry or cold, and they can’t cover the same sorts of distances or elevation change – that’s just common sense.  But hiking with them was so rewarding, all the same.

My littles have grown up on the trails, so they’re pros – as kids go.  And it’s totally worth it to impart the lessons of perseverance, teamwork, and respect for the Earth; I don’t think there’s any better way to teach those things than to spend time in nature – a lot of time, and regularly as part of the family routine.  They definitely have their moments, and they are most certainly not always good.  But they’re pretty solid hikers.

The downside to the 52 Hike Challenge?  I had almost no time to do anything else.  Forget Saturday mornings wandering the farmers’ markets, forget ice skating on a winter’s afternoon, and definitely forget kayaking.  I only made it out for one paddle all year long.  (That’s not going to be the story of 2019.)  I loved spending so much time on the hiking trails in 2018, but as the year wore on I started to grow more frustrated that I couldn’t do anything else because I would fall behind on the challenge.  Especially after a summer of not hiking as much as anticipated (partly due to bad weather, and partly to a family tragedy that completely changed the dynamic of the summer) I had no margin at all with the challenge.  A hiking vacation got me almost back on course over the summer, and a few weekends of back-to-back hikes helped, too.  I did end up hitting #hike51 with a few weeks to spare, and was able to plan a special hike to celebrate #hike52.

But, still – it did feel like I couldn’t do anything else for most of the year.  I have limited time for adventuring, and while I love hiking and want trail time to be a part of every month, I’d like a more varied diet of family fun and activity.  I’d like to be able to go out for a run, train for a race, or do things like cross-country ski in the winter and paddle in the summer without worrying that choosing those activities instead of a hike is going to put me behind on a goal.  So consistent with my no-resolutions 2019, I’m not going to take on any specific challenges this year.  I’m going to take my adventures as they come, and enjoy them, without worrying about goals or checklists or calendars.

That said, I couldn’t be happier that I did do the #52HikeChallenge.  It was a fun and exciting goal to work towards all year, and I loved the built-in motivation to find new trails to explore (because who wants to hike in the same park every week for an entire year?).  It took me to trails in five different states (Virginia, D.C., Maryland, Massachusetts and New York) and delivered fresh air, quality time with family and friends, and lots of great exercise.  And I loved every second.

Thanks for a memorable year on the trail, #52HikeChallenge!

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I’m writing this post while looking out the window at several inches of snow piled up on my back patio – brrrrr.  It seems like months ago that I flew down to Miami for three days, but it’s only been about two weeks.  It was a business trip, and most of my time was spent working in a warehouse conference room (but I could see palm trees out the window!) but I did manage to squeeze in one bit of fun while I was there, sneaking out for a sunrise beach run on my last morning.  Getting in a run through the tourist hot spots is one of my favorite things to do while traveling on business, and I promised myself that if I could make the sunrise run happen on this busy trip, I would.  It meant a scramble to get to work on time, but it was worth it.

There are so many great running destinations in Miami, and lots of fabulous views, but I really wanted to run right along the beach.  So I jumped in an Uber and asked my driver to take me to South Pointe Park.  I timed it perfectly, because the sun was just starting to come up over the water when I arrived.

City views!

That’s what I’m talking about…

I made it down to the water and ran in the sand, right where the early morning waves were rolling up to meet the shore, for a little while.

I made this yellow and blue lifeguard station my goal, and I got there right as the sunrise was beginning to get really spectacular.  I stood down at the water line and watched the day roll in.

Just a little at first.

 

Utterly breathtaking!  I watched the seabirds swooping back and forth over the water and envied their freedom.

Eventually, it was time to turn back – I couldn’t be late to the “office.”  But I knew I’d regret not putting my toes in the water, so I took off my running shoes and socks and waded in.  The waves rolled in and out and soaked the hems of my capris with warm salt water, and it was January 4th, and life was pretty darn good.

The spell had to break eventually – it was a golden hour, but it couldn’t last forever.  I ran back along the beach (barefoot!) then wiped the sand off my feet and ran a little bit more along the South Pointe pier, before jumping in an Uber back to the hotel.

One happy sunrise runner!

Do you like to squeeze in sightseeing runs to sweeten up your business trips?

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Here we are – the end of a long road!  I’ve been working toward completing the 52 Hike Challenge for 2018 since back in January – and while I’ll have more thoughts about the project, including quick recaps of my last set of hikes and the lessons I learned over the course of the journey – today, I want to tell you all about the final hike of the challenge.  I got to #hike51 with several weeks to spare, thanks to a hiking vacation and several multi-hike weekends in the summer and fall.  So I knew I had some options available, and I really wanted #hike52 to be extra-special.  I decided to do the final hike of the project in New York while I was there for the holidays, and a Christmas Eve hike in Saratoga before heading to my aunt’s house worked out perfectly.

We were greeted with this bummer of a notice when we arrived at the park.  Steve was worried we wouldn’t be able to hike there at all, due to the government shutdown, but I remembered that the parks stayed open – but unstaffed by rangers – during the last shutdown and I figured the same would be true this time, and it was.  (Also: I mostly stay away from politics in this space, but I have to say, it’s pretty infuriating that these shutdowns keep happening.  The inconveniences to hikers and museum-goers are the least of it – it makes me really angry to think about the many, many friends I have in the federal government workforce who are going without paychecks this holiday season because of a certain orange wannabe-dictator’s temper tantrum.  Anyway.)

Ready for #hike52!  I had my finisher’s medal in this brown envelope (which reads “DO NOT OPEN UNTIL #hike52!”) and I was ready to celebrate a mission accomplished.

The park was pretty much deserted – we saw another couple of hikers and a man out walking his dogs, but that was it.  The kiddos ran up and down on top of the hill near the (closed) visitors’ center for a little while.

There was snowball throwing, which ended after one snowball hit me in the face.  I was not pleased.

I declared it our cue to start the hike, and off we went.  Somehow, I’d never been to the Saratoga National Historical Park before, despite growing up in the area and despite the fact that I’ve been to the Saratoga Spa State Park more times than I can count.  It turned out to be a gorgeous network of trails winding through a hilly meadow with incredible mountain views all around.  Definitely a good choice for a celebratory hike!

What do you think of Nugget’s outfit?  The little guy was cold, so Dad put him in his snowpants to warm up… and zipped them over his jacket.  D’oh!  He looked pretty funny – but he didn’t seem to mind.

Peanut was warm and toasty in her sweater tights, big woolen knee socks, and puffer coat.  She loved following the snowy trail – it really was so picturesque.

Eventually, the littlest hiker started to get a bit grumpy…

So we decided it was time to turn around and head back to the car and on to our Christmas Eve festivities (which were also an engagement party! –> check in with me on Friday).

But first I had to rip into my envelope.  FINISHER!

When we got back to the top of the hill, the boys pretended to fire the cannon a dozen or so times.

This view reminded me of Virginia.

Almost all of the fifty-two hikes I did as part of the project were with these guys.  I’ll have more thoughts on hiking with the kiddos to share when I wrap up the project, but briefly – I’m so grateful to have these mini hiking buddies.  They’ve made this year on the trail a lot of fun.

And with that – onward to 2019 hiking!  Where was the best place you hiked in 2018?

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When I am planning a vacation, a weekend getaway, or even a day trip to a new place, one of the first things I do is google “family friendly [insert destination here].”  This strategy has led me to find activities that have turned into cherished family memories – hikes in Joshua Tree and Shenandoah National Parks, for instance.  So naturally, it was the first thing I did once we decided upon the Adirondacks as our summer 2018 vacation destination.  Having grown up just south of the region and played there with my family all year ’round, I knew there was an abundance of activities for kids – and that’s why I was surprised not to find many online resources catering toward families with very young children.  That’s not to say the resources aren’t there.  I found travel guides for young families focusing on winter activities (fun, but not what I needed to plan an August getaway) and plenty of blogs with lots of great options – but I had to sift through them to get to the information I needed, or the kids in question were just a little bit older than mine.  (And parents know: every year older makes a big difference.)  So here’s my attempt to gather together a travel guide for a summer trip to the Adirondacks with preschoolers and toddlers.

WHERE TO STAY

Where We Stayed:  Airbnb all the way!  I know there’s some controversy over Airbnb and its effect on the tourism industry in Lake Placid, but I have to say – in our stage of life, having the freedom of an Airbnb (or a VRBO) is critical.  We were able to find a fabulous unit on the top floor of a walk-up apartment building with huge windows overlooking Mirror Lake.  The kids had their own room, which gave us plenty of options after they went to bed (because there’s nothing worse than hunkering down in a pitch black hotel room and communicating by text so you don’t wake the baby from 7:30 p.m. onwards) – we were able to watch the sunset, read, share a bottle of wine and talk without worrying that we’d wake them.  Having our own kitchen really helped, too – we did breakfast and lunch in the Airbnb every day, and even a couple of dinners.  For a family with little kids, it was a dream arrangement.

Maybe Next Time:  When the kids are a bit older, or we have more disposable income and can afford a suite, I’d love to stay at the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort.  The newly refurbished rooms look gorgeous, and I was watching with barely concealed envy as the guests enjoyed the hotel beach and played with the fleet of kayaks and paddleboards.

WHAT TO EAT

Where We Ate:  A lot of our meals were cooked right in our Airbnb kitchen, thanks to a stockup run to the Hannaford right outside of town, and I can’t overstate the ease, convenience, and money-saving points – especially with little ones in tow.  But we did get out and about a fair amount.  With Nana and Grandad, we enjoyed The Great Adirondack Steak and Seafood Company (pretty self-explanatory) one evening and Smoke Signals (barbeque, but they had a wide variety on their menu) another.  Both restaurants had good kids’ menus, and the staff at Smoke Signals was especially welcoming to the little ones.  (We’re very conscious of how the kids are received at restaurants, as they can both be unpredictable and Nugget is still in the stage of wanting to do laps around the dining room.)  On our own, we enjoyed our last lunch at The Cottage, which is another must for us in Lake Placid – nice laid-back pub food and atmosphere, and a deck overlooking Mirror Lake – what could be better?  And for afternoon treats, you can’t beat Emma’s Lake Placid Creamery.  We went there three times and I ordered the maple soft serve every time.  I regret nothing.

Date Night:  After descending from the summit of Big Slide, Steve and I celebrated at Big Slide Brewery.  We enjoyed local brews (IPA for him, sour for her) and a hearty, satisfying meal that totally hit the spot after a day of hiking.  There were actually lots of families there, with kids as young as babies, so this would be a good option for a family dinner – you don’t have to do date night here.

Maybe Next Time:  I heard great things, both from my parents and just while eavesdropping on conversations on the beach, about Lake Placid Brewery.  That’s one to put on the list for next time.  For date night, I’d love to check out Purple Saige or Salt of the Earth, both of which had delicious-looking menus and a slightly more sophisticated vibe.

WHERE TO HIKE

Where We Hiked:  Adirondack hiking, even at its easiest, is a different animal from pretty much anything in Virginia.  The trails are often rocky and root-y, there are exposed summits, ledges and precipices that are just fine for older kids but can give a toddler parent a stroke.  But there are trails that are toddler-appropriate and preschooler-approved, and we hiked a bunch of them.  Brewster Peninsula was a good introduction to the area hiking – the kids loved the trail and the parents enjoyed the water views.  (Pro tip: if you have a small Pisces, be prepared for them to ask to go swimming every thirty seconds.)  Our big family hike for the week was Owls Head Mountain in Keene, which my three-year-old hiked with no trouble.  There was one steep rocky section, but he got help from parents and grandparents and he did fine.  (Note that Owls Head is on private property and the landowners have elected to close it to public foot traffic on weekends and holidays, so you’ll have to plan this one on a weekday – we did the hike on a Tuesday and it was totally worth the little bit of planning ahead.)  We also took our little hikers exploring at Heaven Hill Nature Preserve and up the Ausable River from Monument Falls – all nice, relatively flat and easy, trails by which to introduce kids to the beauty of the Adirondacks.

Parents’ Day Out:  If you’re lucky enough to have babysitters for a day (thanks, grandparents!) Mom and Dad can knock off a high peak.  There are plenty of family-friendly hikes in the high peaks region, but the mountains themselves are really more suited to older kids.  Of course, you know your own kids and what they can handle, but for mine, eight miles of climbing up and down a steep mountain of exposed granite just wasn’t in the cards.  Thanks to Nana and Grandad, we made Big Slide Mountain a day date activity, and it was gorgeous.

Maybe Next Time:  If Owls Head hadn’t worked out, our Plan B for a kid-friendly mountain was Mount Jo, and I’d still love to check that out.  We also hoped to hike the trail circumventing Heart Lake, but didn’t get to it, so that’s another one for the next trip.  And I’d love to take the kiddos hiking to a swimming hole like Copperas Pond.  For date activities if we’re lucky enough to entice the grandparents to watch the babies again (they love it) another high peak is always on the table – Nye and Street sound like possibilities for the next outing.  Or we could go a bit farther afield and start knocking off Saranac 6 hikes or Fire Tower Challenge trails.  One thing about hiking in the Adirondacks is – there will always be more to do.

WHAT TO DO

Where We Played:  Hiking is the main focus of an Adirondack trip – at least, for our family – but there are other things to do and we certainly took advantage of the opportunities to play in the region.  The Wild Center in Tupper Lake is a fabulous family destination, with animals, nature trails, and interactive educational exhibits suitable for the youngest visitors.  Closer to home base, we had plenty of water fun at the Mirror Lake Public Beach and paddling Mirror Lake end-to-end in our kayaks.

Maybe Next Time:  I was really hoping that we’d get a chance to see some of the Olympic sights.  I thought the kids would probably be too young to really get into them (although they did love watching the Seoul Olympics last winter) so we didn’t prioritize them.  But I wish that even if we didn’t see the rest of the Olympic Museum, we had at least poked our heads into the Miracle on Ice rink.  We also were sad to miss out on the Summer Jumping Series at the ski jump complex – it wasn’t going on while we were there.  Next time!  I’d also love to rent paddleboards at one of the many outfitters lining Main Street and get back some of my SUP skills on Mirror Lake.  When the kids get a bit older, I’d also like to take them to the Mt. Van Hoevenberg Sports Complex to try out some of the fun adventure sports.

Have you vacationed in Lake Placid in the summer?  What have I missed?

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On the final Saturday morning of our vacation, we woke up to the bittersweet knowledge that we’d be back in the real world before long.  We were planning to drive back to my parents’ house that afternoon, but we wanted to squeeze one more hike in before the vacation came to an end.  Looking for something short and easy with a big payoff, we hit on Monument Falls – more a section of rapids on the Ausable River than an actual waterfall, but right off the main road, with smashing views of Whiteface Mountain and access to a trail winding its way upriver.

The falls itself was a small waterfall and actually visible from the road, but very scenic nonetheless.

And of course, that view was astounding!  We drank it in for several minutes, pointing Whiteface out to the kids and telling them all about the mountain, and then turned upriver to explore along the bank for awhile.

Just a few feet upriver from the falls, the river was so still and peaceful you’d be forgiven for forgetting there was a section of whitewater only feet away.

We walked along the bank, watching for birds (we saw a blue jay and a few chickadees, but all were too fast for my camera shutter – alas) and listening to the kids rattle on about their imaginary trail friends.

A certain tired guy hitched a ride in Dad’s arms.  Couldn’t blame him – it had been a long week, and those little legs did an awful lot of hiking.  I was proud of both kids for being such troopers on such an active vacation!

After a good long ramble upstream, we turned and made our way back to the Falls, for one last wistful look at Whiteface before we piled back into the car and – after a short stop for lunch in town – trundled down out of the mountains and back to our busy, hectic life.

It was a lovely and peaceful way to wind down a beautiful week spent breathing in crisp mountain air and relishing the feeling of trail beneath our hiking boots.  Now, when can I go back?

Stay tuned for one more Adirondack post, coming in a few weeks.  Vacation, I miss you already!

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If you’re in DC and not living under a rock, you’ve heard plenty of chatter about the No Spectators exhibit at the Renwick Gallery (part of the Smithsonian system, for my out-of-town friends).  The exhibit features art pieces from Burning Man and has been going on for months now.  For a time, it encompassed the entire museum – the gallery isn’t huge – and while the first floor exhibits have closed down, there’s still plenty to see on the second floor, which is remaining open until mid-January, 2019.  I’d been meaning to go for months – and of course was kicking myself for missing the lower floor exhibits – and last week my dear museum-going friend Susan and I slipped away from our desks for an hour of wandering amongst the huge installations.

 

The first room we walked into had a pile of cozy-looking beanbag chairs underneath a giant suspended star on which images of the galaxy were coming into and out of focus.  I sort of wanted to lay down on the beanbags and watch from under the star, but I felt awkward.  (I should have just gone for it.  The whole point of the exhibit was to interact with the art.)

I could have watched the display for hours, but since this was a sneak-away-at-lunch visit, we moved on to check out the rest of the installation.  The next room featured Shrumen Lumen, by Foldhaus Art Collective.

We both gasped in delight at the luminescent folded mushrooms towering over us.

Each mushroom featured a small circle at its base, and visitors were invited to interact with the art by stepping on the circle when it turned green and watching the mushroom change shape and expand overhead.

Gorgeous!  Susan and I moved on to the next room but noticed, glancing back, that the mushrooms started to change colors, taking on reds, oranges, yellows and greens instead of the relatively sedate blues and purples we had been watching – so we rushed back in to watch a bit more.

 

So beautiful!  Again – I could have stayed in this room all day.  But the next large installation was the one that I most wanted to see, so – onward.

We moved through a room with a few smaller pieces – including the replica of the Man in the picture at the top of this post – and I think my heart skipped a beat, or maybe two or three, when we found ourselves standing in the midst of Hyperspace Bypass Construction Zone (HYBYCOZO), by Yelena Filipchuk and Serge Beaulieu.

The installation was made up of three geometric steel structures, lit from within by mirrors and lights that were constantly changing color, throwing an array of lacy shadows over the entire room of the gallery.  I wandered from structure to structure and back again, basking in the light and shadows and snapping pictures from every angle and with every new color combination.  I couldn’t get enough!

The display was hypnotic and the intricate shadows on the wall were pure magic.

The next room featured memorabilia and explanatory placards about the phenomenon that is Burning Man – definitely interesting, but we moved through it fairly quickly as we were running short on time and wanted to spend a few minutes reflecting quietly in the Burning Man chapel.  The chapel was an entire room of the most intricately-carved wood I’d ever seen.  All over the walls were scrawled messages to departed loved ones, and visitors to the gallery could add to the wall via small wooden cards.  Susan and I wandered through the room, reading the messages and gazing at the carvings until we agreed – in hushed voices – that it was time to break the spell and head back to the office.

I’m so glad that I made time to see No Spectators, even if I missed out on the first floor exhibits – it was still worth every minute spent wandering through the incredibly creative, inspiring installations, and I hope I’ll have the chance to go back at least one more time before the second floor shuts down.  And maybe I’ll have to add Burning Man to my bucket list – I never had a desire to go before seeing this exhibit, but I was so blown away by these pieces in a museum that seeing similar art under a star-filled desert sky might be a new life goal.

What’s the most creative art exhibition you’ve ever seen?

 

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