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Quote of the Day

Peanut, "Wow, mom, now we can say we've been to all 50 states! What are we gonna do next?"

30 September 2008

Adirondack Mountains - Yaddo

Today was free to meander North through the Adirondack Mountains. First stop, Yaddo, and a stroll though the public gardens. It’s an artist's retreat now but it used to be the Trask residence and he had the gardens made as a romantic gesture toward his poet wife. Tomcat and I fell under the spell once, too.

En route to Saratoga Springs for a concert (The The and 10,000 Maniacs), we stopped

off to walk through the Yaddo gardens, which we’d heard about but never visited. Indeed they were absolutely lovely and on our way out, we had a little pas de deux in the forest. At the concert we were both fidgety on the grass until one of us admitted that our skin was on fire. We took off toward home, ripped our clothes off and discovered that we were both entirely covered with chigger bites – in places where biting should be strictly prohibited.

We were a MESS, and when Grandma asked today, “You’ve been here before, right?” I could barely look at her when I replied, “Oh yeah, baby. I’ve been here.”

University at Albany

When the dentist back home asked Peanut what she wanted to see the most on our upcoming Road Trip she replied, “I get to see the university where my mom and dad went.” Seriously. University at Albany beat Niagara Falls, New York City and all the farms as far as her expectations went!

We didn’t even have the stereotypical university experience – no dorms, no partying; we were slightly older, married and we’d both already had lives (debt). I cringe when I consider those few semesters where I took the maximum 18 credits, while working full-time, just so save money and avoid more loans. Ugh..

We still managed to enjoy learning, freezing as it was in the winter. In fact, the UAlbany campus has a series of underground tunnels connecting all the buildings. You can literally manage an entire day of classes without ever going outside. Pretty clever, and Peanut couldn’t wait to be a burrowing mole.

After a visit to the Campus Bookstore where I let them choose a new notebook, we were off to find one of the tunnels. School was out for Yom Kippur, so the tunnels were deserted. I let them run wild and they thought it was the coolest thing ever!

Albany Nostalgia

I’ve lived in Albany twice. Once when I took off from Texas at 19 and began my quest to see all 50 states. Then Tomcat and I moved there after we got married and finished school at UAlbany. We lived just off Lark St. in a colorful and lively neighborhood, and worked downtown in a classy hotel where we made really dear friends. It was a special time full of hard work, no money and hope.

Usually, when you

return to a place, it’s never the same, but that isn’t so with Albany. I felt immediately at home in our old neighborhood. We stayed at the same hotel where I’d worked (strange!), and my closest remaining friend stopped by to visit us.
He's been very ill this past year, and I'm so happy I got to see him looking so well. He also got to meet my Little Ducklings for the first time and see me as a mother. Weird. After I got the kids to bed, we went downstairs and he gave me the scoop on everyone we knew from the old days. It was a treasured visit to say the least.

A funny tradition with my friend: Every year I send him a Christmas card. The following year he sends it back to me, with the envelope completely turned inside out, and his own personal note written on the card. So, in 2008 I'll get the card I sent him in 2007, with his own note on it. Hilarious, right? I've always looked forward to receiving his/my card every year!

The following morning, after feasting on M.A.D. Irish Toast at Miss Albany Diner, I realized that time really can stand still. It’s such an incredibly different experience here in New York than the dynamic vibe out West. It’s slower here with more time and energy spent engaging people, and I certainly miss that.

Remember when I got pulled over in Montana because I was telling Niece a story about how I got my first job in N.Y.? (See N.D. Don'cha Know? post.) Well, that incredible restaurant, The Bagel Baron, went out of business a few years ago. An old guy named Sal who said he remembered me perfectly (nonsense!) said they stopped cleaning the place after I left and they were shut down by the Health Department! And The Daily Grind coffee shop that I worked at apparently still has the same wacky owners along with the best coffee in town.

I also drove them up New Scotland Ave. to romp around Thatcher Park with its incredible view. I told the kids a story about the time I stayed up all night dancing, and then went up the hill to watch the sunrise with some people I met. At dawn, in the meadow below, deer started to emerge from the forest and we watched them have breakfast. Peanut was mesmerized looking down at the meadow, but Little Man berated me, “Why did you go somewhere with strangers?” I’m glad I didn’t tell him the rest of the story...

Childish Antics

Okay, they’re back: the childish antics that exhaust the adults.

We had an unusual late-night laundry where we all practically stripped in the car to wash the clothes we were wearing. I ran in and out and already the kids were exploring their freedom in the car -- I mean who gets themselves into these kinds of positions? They were prostrate across the ceiling of the car!

Bedtime has been really nutty, too. We’ve been getting into our hotels at a reasonable hour lately so the kids have had lots of time to re-energize. They play the most imaginative games; I find them hiding, crammed into the tiniest spaces, usually stuffed with bedding or pillows or towels. It’s going to be the end of me.

The other night was really rough. Doodle woke up screaming bloody murder at 3:30am that a fly was in her eye. Then it was a bee. Then it was spiders in the bed whenever she put her feet under the covers. Poor Grandma was sharing the bed with her – or should I say she was sharing a slice of the bed with her.

Doodle has this habit of dominating whatever bed she's in. This particular night Grandma woke up and found Doodle sleeping on top of her, upside down, with her feet nicely tucked under Grandma’s chin. There is no such thing as “her side of the bed” because no matter what, her side ends up being your side.

We could force her into her own bed, but it's pointless. She moves in with someone eventually and this way we can control who the someone is. Sadly, it’s most often Grandma because she has the best luck sleeping through Doodle’s acrobatics.

Little Man thrashes in bed. Peanut snores.

What else can I say?

27 September 2008

Ithaca, NY

We drove into downtown Ithaca to eat lunch at the famous Moosewood Restaurant but it was closed. So we crossed the street to The Commons and ooooh, we happened upon an Apple Festival! The Commons is the main gathering place in Ithaca, lined with eclectic shops, bookstores and restaurants.

Tents filled the sidewalks today, and we slowly made our way tasting all the new items: apple cider donuts, pumpkin pie toasted pecans, homemade apple cider (cold+hot=perfect for kids) and the best caramel apple in the entire world.

A note about caramel apples:

Why are they always made with Granny Smith apples? It’s my least favorite apple – too tart for my teeth. As a kid we used those wrapper things in the produce department. (Remember they’re like caramel fruit roll-ups where it's perfectly acceptable to omit the apple all together?) Anyway, at most festivals I drool over the caramel apples, yet skip them in the end.

We-he-he-ell, at this fair, and perhaps it’s the norm out here, we get to choose our apple from numerous baskets. Then they put it in this medieval contraption that slices the apple perfectly and drops it into your cup. Then over the apple slices they pour hot, melted caramel (sitting in a crock right in front of you), top it with whipped cream, nuts and a cherry. I’m kicking myself for not getting a picture, but seriously, with 5 of us sharing one apple, it failed to last long enough for a picture! What an impeccably decadent confection!

Peanut and Grandma went wandering through shops while Doodle and Little Man played "Chipmunk, Mountain Goat, Native American" at the playground. Peanut returned glowing, with a teeny-tiny Herkimer diamond ($1), and a wee piece of Calcite that the storekeeper gave her because she couldn’t afford the $15 wee piece of amber.

After filling ourselves on apple delights, and becoming even more educated on how to grow worms for compost, we headed to dinner. Sometimes it just has to happen that way. And what a finale at the Moosewood. Grandma discovered that vegetarian cuisine has a lot more to offer than mushy tofu.

Cornell University

Homecoming Weekend at Cornell! We have absolutely no ties to this university other than I treasure the area (the campus, Ithaca and surrounding landscape), and find the students to be really cool – not pretentious or stuffy.

We’re actually staying in the Statler Hotel so we’re in the heart of it all, student style. In fact, right when we got downstairs the football team was standing on the sidewalk just outside the lobby. We stood right in front of them, and Little Man's mouth was agape at their "immense size and toughness." It was a sea of red. The marching band came right through the Valet, and led the football players up the street. You'd think we were alumni at the level of emotion we had, being smack in the middle of this huge tradition.

Timing was perfect when we hiked the 160 steps up the clock tower, too. It was time for the 11:30am bells. No one else was up there so the girl in charge chatted with us, telling us how one becomes a Bell Ringer, which is a tough position to attain. She was so sweet and actually let Little Man gong the bells: Da, dee, da, Duuum… What a thrill for him!

We took an endless walk across campus to the Cornell Dairy Bar for homemade ice cream. It was particularly long because Peanut took a spill on the sidewalk. I’m certain that every person on campus heard her scream and I was sure this was going to be E.R. trip #5. Thankfully, a Biology Professor showed up and let us into the building. Again, aren't the residents wonderful? This was enough of a distraction to get past the worst of it. They had an amazing collection of glass replica sea life and also cases full of rare stuffed birds – Peanut flipped out over a 1.5 inch Bee Hummingbird and the Quetzal. (I've told her the Guatemala freedom story for years.)

We eventually made it for ice cream. Then we heard a campus tour guide tell his group that the Final Exam in a particular class is to “create an ice-cream flavor”. If it’s the class’ chosen one, they’ll serve it in the store. Cool! Our favorite flavor was Bavarian Raspberry Cream with Fudge. And we naturally grabbed a bag of cheese curds for the return walk to the hotel.

Campus Bookstores are a new thing for our kids and they LOVED it. Thanks to Gigi back home, I taught them that Cornell stands for “Come Over Right Now Eat Lots Lollipops!” We got some t-shirts, and at the counter Little Man recited the acronym to the check-out person, following up with, “Or it can just read that one word! What’s the word again, mom? Oh yeah, CORNELL.”

Hike to Taughannock Falls

Drizzle! What happened to our 75 degree weather? That’s all right. We’re from the Pacific Northwest and it won’t keep us from enjoying ourselves!

En route to Ithaca we stopped at Taughannock Falls, which are pretty drippy this time of year, but taller than Niagara! It’s still a lovely park and we decided to drive down the road, and hike along the river to the bottom of them – about 2 miles round-trip. (Grandma stayed in the car to relish some silence.)

Since the river is mostly dry right now, we could actually walk in it. We felt like we were walking on an enormous, lumpy concrete slab. This gorge was carved by glaciers and this used to be a sea bottom. Pretty cool. The trees are just starting to turn and I get giddy just thinking about all the color that lies ahead.

Lake Canandaigua

When Tomcat and I lived in New York we drove to a lot of places, but we missed the Finger Lakes Region entirely. While the kids would probably love a tour of one of the thousand wineries nearby, I can really only imagine them devouring the cheese and apple samples. Little Man would also

beg to taste the wine just so he could spit it back out into the community goblet. No thanks.

A man hanging out in the Information Center in Rochester directed us to Inn on the Lake, a nice spot on Lake Canandaigua, and it turned out to be a destination in itself for one night. The Front Desk Clerks were pretty interested in our trip, which is always such a joy for us. They even saved the day by giving me a Sharpee to write on my bottles of dirt samples!

So, the Finger Lakes are long, skinny lakes and I think there are about 5 or 6 of them. We stayed on one of the smaller ones (which seemed big to me) and it was lined with Adirondack chairs. It was a wonderful, c a l m existence and our kids didn’t know what to think about that. Sit in a chair and stare at the lake? Peanut scaled a tree. Little Man ran around in circles and then we found a playground. But please tell me why Doodle always has to lie down in the dirt to play? More on-the-road-laundry...

26 September 2008

Lake Ontario

It was nice to be back on this side of the Niagara River (away from the black squirrels that look so foreign) and into the U.S.A. We are once again on track. And now we’ve seen all 5 of the Great Lakes. Yay! The kids have officially

consolidated their memories, and believe that the Great Lakes are simply ONE entity, where we just keep driving out of our way to put our feet in!

The first big town we got to was Rochester. Unlike Cleveland we had two immediate options for Tourist Information Centers. The woman behind the counter directed us to a very memorable lunch place and she seemed so tickled that we were going to take her recommendation. I said, “Well, that’s why we came here!” I really can’t get over our luck though.

Can you say Tea Party? We literally walked in the door to La-Tea-Da and the owner said, “Welcome! Have you been here before? Well, wonderful, you’re here now. Let me show you where to get dressed up! And we have a Harry Potter bathroom right here.” It was like we’d gone down the darn Rabbit Hole!

Little Man's outfit was pretty clever considering most of his choices were very ruffly and pink. He wore a pair of Native American leather chaps and when he found a black fur stole, which he called his buffalo coat.

Here’s what was on the kids’ plates: a proper pot of tea, heart shaped pb&j, chips, a chocolate covered strawberry, a tea cup full of chicken noodle soup and the highlight: a jumbo pink marshmallow. They got to choose their teapot to boot!

Did I mention that Doodle learned to skip? At 3 1/2 years old! She's the most adorable thing I've ever seen!

Peanut’s Post of the Butterfly Conservatory

Our bus pass expired in a few hours and Grandma and I still wanted to see a couple of things in Niagara Falls. Peanut was so desperate to see the Butterfly Conservatory, however, that we decided to go the distance. At the entrance I asked how long it usually takes to walk through and the woman said, “Oh, not more than half an hour” but I knew better.

Heartfelt thanks showered Peanut afterwards as we all more than enjoyed ourselves. What an incredibly brilliant, magical world -- the best display of butterflies we’ve ever seen. in fact, it's the biggest conservatory in North America. And...as I could have predicted, we were there no less than 2 hours. This was a rare experience in Peanut’s life where she actually got her fill of nature – we didn’t rush her.

These are her 3 best pictures and this is her journal entry:

“We went to the butterfly place and I saw all kinds of butterflies: orange ones and pink ones and lots more than these. Butterflies feed on sugar water and oranges; we got to see them do this. Some of them had fake eyes on their wings, thinking to the predators it was an oval eye. They would be fooled!

Mom wanted Little Man and Doodle to see poison dart frogs and a turtle that was there, too. We could not find them! Finally we found Little Man and Doodle and showed them the turtle.

Now, the secret about the oval eyed butterflies was that inside, on their wings, was bright, beautiful, shiny blue. Mom kept trying to take a picture of them but they rarely opened their wings when they landed, so mom could not get a picture of them -- not even when they were flying because they were flapping their wings. Mom’s camera battery ran out so I had to try to take a picture of them now. Mom found two on a wall with their wings open but I scared them away by accident. We kept on trying and trying and finally Grandma found one perfectly posing on a wall, and I got two great shots of it. And before we left, a butterfly with wings the color of a wheat field at sunset landed on me.”

25 September 2008

Niagara Falls, Ontario (I know, I know, it's not a state!)

One of my biggest dreams was to visit Foz do Iguacu in Brazil. Remember the movie The Mission? It was filmed there. Tomcat and I were able to go for our 10th anniversary and it was even more breathtaking than I'd imagined. I'll never forget turning the corner of the slippery path, feeling the spray as the waterfalls loomed around me, and feeling tears fly out of my eyes. An Italian man

next to me also had tears and we stood there staring at each other, crying and jabbering in our own languages, sharing the same emotional 'wow'.

There's no way Niagara Falls could compare to that, right? Keep in mind there aren't any toucans flying around either! Still, I adore waterfalls in general and was really looking forward to seeing these up close and personal.
Detouring out of the 50 states for a day, we went to Niagara Falls on the Canada side.

The kids thought there was a fire outside our hotel when they saw smoke. They (and now I include Grandma) were in utter disbelief the next morning to see Horseshoe Falls directly below us.
Grandma was overcome at her “luck at seeing this”. She said it over and over all day long.

Walking the Journey Behind the Falls (tunnels underneath) was pretty cool. They have informational plaques along the way and lookout points where you can feel the spray. The kids were fascinated with the story of the youngest survivor to go over the Falls unintentionally. He was a 7-year-old boy, in just a swimsuit and life vest. I guess they had a boating accident above the Falls. His sister was rescued before going over and the captain of their boat died. We discussed “what-ifs” for the rest of the day. Ugh.

Everyone visiting Niagara takes the Maid of the Mist boat tour, as they should. We were looking snazzy in our rain ponchos, taking pictures, enjoying the sunshine when all of a sudden the boat turned and we were immediately SOAKED! We were in the middle of Horseshoe Falls. It was exhilarating and hilarious all at the same time. Pounding, pounding, water that just kept coming and coming! Such a roar! Peanut turned around with her moon face luminous and screamed, “Thanks so much for bringing me here! I LOVE this!” And Doodle turned around, her face literally dripping with inches of water, trying to copy her big sister, but she couldn't talk and just started giggling. It occurred to me that Little Man was missing and I looked down to find him in a huddle in the corner of the boat. Crazy kid. He actually remained the driest! Let's just say it wasn't his idea of a good time. Not even close. Although he liked talking about it afterwards!

New York – State #28

Tolls! I completely forgot about the frenzied days of scrounging around for change on the car floor before arriving at the tollbooth. Fortunately, Grandma always carries a change purse full of quarters (for our laundry).

I’ve thought for some time that New York is my favorite state and now I’m 100% sure of it. The people are so generous and mushy once you break through their tough exteriors. Plus they get gorgeous countryside and one of the coolest cities in the world to call their own.

Pulling into Buffalo at dinnertime, I started to roll my window down at a stop light to ask someone where we should go, but the light turned green. Next thing you know, the car has raced up to meet us, rolled down the window and screamed across traffic, “Hi, did you need some help?” I asked where we should go to eat with kids – maybe some Buffalo Wings? He said he knew the perfect place. “Follow me, it’s on my way home,” he said as he proceeded to turn completely around and take us deep into downtown in the opposite direction. With a point from his finger and a nice smile, we landed at a busy slice of heaven, Anchor Bar Restaurant, with more than an hour’s wait. Bummer! The host suggested take-out, which we happily did. Nothing beats a picnic of messy, greasy, plump Buffalo Wings with bleu cheese dressing in the car. The kids had “pizza logs”.

It’s been a long while since I felt that kind of weight in my belly. Lucky for us we got totally lost trying to cross the Peace Bridge into Canada and our guts had a wee bit more time to digest.

24 September 2008

New York License Plate

Side Trip Tempations

The trouble with this part of the country is that places are so close together you can think you can stop every 20 miles and still make progress, but this just isn't so.

We saw a sign for Kirtland, OH and thought of Sister.

She's Mormon and I remembered that the Mormon pioneer women broke up all their china for the Kirtland temple to make the walls sparkle. Why not have a side-trip? I walked into the L.D.S. Visitor Center and the man said, "Good morning, are you a Christian?" I know they're bold, but this took me back. I said, "Excuse me?" He repeated himself pleasantly, "Good morning. I'm Elder Christiansen." I told him what I thought he said and we both got a good laugh. Anyway, he told us how to get to the temple (which isn't owned by the Mormons anymore) and the walls didn't exactly sparkle. Oh well. Here's a picture for you anyway, Sister!

We also couldn't resist one more stop at the lake when we saw a sign for Geneva on the Lake. Until you see the Great Lakes with your own eyes, you cannot possibly imagine their magnitude.

Someday we'll make it to Upstate New York, but not at this rate. When we crossed over into Pennsylvania, we had to do the turn-around-back-into-Ohio for a picture under the state sign. Then back around again and on our way! (We're ignoring this dip into PA by the way and saving it for the end of our trip when we actually do something there.)

Leaving Cleveland -- Hershey Montessori School

Peanut has had a growth spurt! When we left, her shoes fit; three days later, she’s got blisters. Unbelievable. This was a blessing in disguise, however, because we went searching for a shoe store and found Little Italy and Coventry in the process. It was nice to end our visit with these charming and alive neighborhoods fresh in our minds.

Hershey Montessori School
was a must-see for us. It’s out in the middle of nowhere – pure farm country – which turns out to be just 45 minutes East of Cleveland. Anyone committed to a Montessori education will be interested in a fully operating Adolescent Farm School.

There are only a few and I couldn’t wait to see one with my own eyes. Several parents back home are waiting to hear what we have to say…

I drove all around the grounds which were at once bigger than I expected and smaller than I expected. Hmmm. I found some students right after their lunch, lounging on a hammock, and 3 girls walked right over, eager to talk to my kids. The boys pretended not to notice us but when I asked for a picture of them, the boys raced over and jumped behind. It was hysterical. They just as quickly retreated.

The Students

Of the 3 girls one was a Day Student, one a 5-day Boarder and one a 7-day Boarder. They were charming and genuine and spoke clearly and in complete sentences. I didn’t get the feeling they were trapped in the American Mainstream, but I can’t say for sure. They seemed to have real things to say. Peanut wanted to know what they could do in the forest. Right now one girl is learning how to price a tree, another’s favorite class was “bees” where she got to wear a real bee suit and work in the hives, another learned to tap the trees and gather sap to make home-made syrup.

We had seen a boy carrying 2x4s into a barn and this peaked Little Man’s interest. He wanted to know if they were allowed to operate farm equipment and they confirmed that they do learn how to drive a tractor. They love their camping trip once a year to an island (in Lake Erie maybe?) and their weekend activities. I mentioned that we’re not really comfortable with a boarding school situation and the Day Student said with a hint of envy, “Well, they seem to really like it here”.

The Buildings

They’re building a new schoolhouse (it mentions this on the website), but it’s actively under construction and it is gorgeous. The grounds are amazing. Surrounded by forest, with a huge pond and immaculate buildings. This place is out in the country but has some serious style. Peanut was very impressed and sure she’d like to go to school there. Little Man said, “No way am I going there. Remember he’s the one who said once, "Mom I wish I were a baby boy whale and you were my mama whale because then I could stick with you forever." Scary.