End-of-Summer Camping

For our last week of summer, we managed to squish in a last camping trip. This year we’d planned to camp in Colorado (which didn’t happen due to weather), in Moab Utah (one night, super fun, more here), and at the Grand Canyon (also excellent, more about it here). Frankly, I thought that the family would be camped out. I was wrong.

This was partly due to friends: M, who never wants to invite anyone anywhere, had to acknowledge that it would be a kindness to invite her dying-to-go-camping friend on a camping trip. J knew that two of her friends were camping, and I wanted to offer her a social camp. So we ended up having a couple of friends along.

We went back to Northampton Beach on Lake Sacandaga, where we’d gone last year. Honestly, I don’t think we’d go again. It’s a lovely spot, and last year we really enjoyed it when we weren’t being invaded by skunks (yes it’s a story). This year, the vibe was a little bit different, and we realized that it was because last year we’d camped over a gloomy weekend. This time, it was beautiful, and everyone came. Like, everyone. And they brought their motorboats, their six-packs of beer, and their cartons of cigarettes. Okay, okay: it wasn’t that bad. The setting was still scenic and there were plenty of families, but it felt like people were there more to party than to appreciate nature. Next time we might head back to Little Sand Point on Lake Piseco or somewhere else a bit mellower. Still, the girls had a terrific time: they kayaked, swam, played mini-golf, explored, and found a fun tree swing (how unbelievably strong does my little J look?):

camping swing cropped


In the School Groove

Phew! I’m glad that’s over.

The first day of school, I mean. Yep, we’re Nisky, so the kids started school yesterday. M’s starting 8th grade and J’s starting 5th grade, which means that this is my last year as an elementary-school parent. Unbelievable.

Actually, I’m starting to feel like an “old” parent. The other day I was in a not-too-pleasant campsite restroom, where I overheard a preschooler talking to her mom.

“This place is a mess!” she said.

“Yes, a lot of people have been here, and they’re probably due for a cleaning,” she answered.

“Yuck! Why is it all wet?”

“People take showers here, too.”

“I don’t want to pee-pee here. It’s too yucky.”

“Well, if you don’t pee-pee here, you’ll probably wet your underwear, and we don’t have another pair to change into.”

And I sat there smiling in my stall, because it sounded like the sort of boring, patient conversation that I used to have all the time. My conversations still require a great deal of patience, but at least they’ve gotten more interesting and challenging.

Just walking around, these days, I see people walking around with babies and toddlers and I think, “Wait, is that a grown-up? Isn’t that person too young? I’m starting to sound like one of those crotchety old ladies in hospital dramas insisting that the attractive young doctors must still be in high school.

But I digress.

We all survived the first day.

On First Day Eve, J was characteristically in full-on panic mode about her summertime homework. She was supposed to choose a book that she’d read over the summer and do some sort of creative project about it and plan to present it to the class. She chose A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park, and then she decided to do a “photo album” of drawing depicting scenes from the book. She spent a very long time drawing very detailed pencil drawings. Over hours. And days. On that last day she was fretting over it so much that I thought I’d be writing a whole post about that (working title: “A Long Walk to Perfection”), but instead I never got around to sitting down and typing anything because I was too busy doing other things like running to Target for last-minute supplies and making an extra-yummy dinner so that there would be extra-yummy leftovers for everyone’s lunch. First day itself went well: J came rushing home, said that everything went fine, thanks, and could she please go out to play with the neighborhood kids? I love it when she goes out and plays with the neighborhood kids: it makes me feel like June Cleaver in the best way. So I agreed. Now with a second day under her belt, J’s liking her teacher and enjoying the fact that he’s easing into homework very slowly (love that).

M, meanwhile, was looking forward to her first day, and she even headed out early to go to Starbucks with all of her best girlfriends and then walk to school together. A marvelous life, and what could go wrong? Well, I’ll tell you: the whole place could be overheated and smelly because it’s Still. Summer. and the place is teeming with 13-year-olds. She could get a bottom locker for the first time. She could find out at the last minute that her homeroom and first period has changed, so instead of starting each day with her best friend, she’s starting the day with none of her close friends. She could be intimidated by the math teacher in the accelerated class that she’d thought (possibly hoped) she’d be bumped from based on last year’s performance, and then she could end the day in our school’s version of study hall that is just as crazy and disorganized as she’d feared when she learned which teacher she’d have. If that wasn’t exhausting enough, school was followed by soccer practice in some serious heat. She was super-tired and not psyched about life, but today she seems to have bounced back a bit.

Meanwhile, I’m super-excited to get back into a routine and actually accomplish multiple tasks on my To Do list. I’m excited to have another day to catch up before we all pretend like it’s summer again for the 4-day weekend, and even though we started way too early, I’m relieved that I’m done with First-Day-of-School-Stress until next year.

back to school cropped

Oh! And I’ve updated my Events page and re-published my Fall Activities page. See. . . ? I told you I was being productive!

Summer Vacation in Colorado: The Sequel

After spending the 4th of July in Cañon City, we said good-bye to some relatives and joined some other relatives in Westcliffe, Colorado. The plan was to meet for lunch, but some of us were confused because we didn’t have a name of a restaurant or an address to punch into the GPS. That’s because it’s a small, small town. Basically, if we all made it to the main street, we were bound to run into each other. I thought it was cool how the town seemed to just stop abruptly and end in mountains.

Rainbow downtown

We had a deliciously potentially-heart-attack-inducing lunch at Chappy’s, and then, because we were with Grandma and Grandpa, ice cream seemed necessary. We wandered down the street and found some ice cream at a place that also contained a cute shop with a bunch of cool nature-themed products I’d never seen before. At about this point there was quite a bit of lollygagging, which I know makes Cute W crazy. There were ice cream decisions to make, and shopping to ponder, and my kids and other members of our group were wandering hither and yon. And meanwhile, those dark clouds that you see above rolled in and were followed by more of them.

Pretty soon, there was a massive downpour. Now, I’m not anti-rain. I usually don’t bother with an umbrella, I’m always reminding the kids that we’re not meltable wicked witches, and on a hot summer day, I’ve been known to dance around in it (come to think of it, I’ve also washed my hair in the rain, but that’s another story). But this was no ordinary rain. We were going up in elevation (Westcliffe is just under 8,000 feet), and it was chilly, and the rain was dumping down. Cute W ran to get our car–a rental that could just barely hold the huge amount of luggage and other stuff that we can with us–while I attempted to round up the children. With the water pelting, visibility was poor, but I kept squinting in the direction I thought we’d find Cute W. When I finally saw him I realized that we’d lost J in the depths of the shop. I told M to head for her dad while I retrieved J. A minute later, J and I headed after M, who was making a mad dash to the parked car. The wrong car. A stranger’s car, which she only realized when she opened the door and started to get in. Eventually we made it into our actual car, and we headed, caravan-style, to our home-away-from home, the Alpine Lodge.

The Alpine Lodge has a restaurant space, a wide deck perfect for taking in the view, and five modest cabins.

Rainbow exterior cabin

Our crowd basically took over the entire place and adopted the staff as family, at least temporarily.

The original plan was that this would be a base camp before we headed out on an ambitious hike-to-camping outing for two nights and three days up in the mountains. Instead, the cold rain continued to pour with enough vigor and frequency to make us switch the plan to a series of day hikes. I think it ended up working out better for the family, anyway. The girls loved running around our miniature village and hanging out with the kids between trips on the trails.

Here’s inside our cabin:

Rainbow interior cabinIt’s looking considerably tidier here than it actually was while we were occupying it. Between packing for a big backpacking trip and then reorganizing for little day trips and drying out rain-soaked everything and accommodating souvenirs and endless snacks, the place was chaos. But luckily, if you were in need of serenity, the view from the porch was lovely:

Rainbow view from cabins

On our last full day, our group split up. Cute W, two other adult men, and little J decided that they wanted to hike as far up as possible in a single day, while the rest of it decided to take it easy. Throughout the trip it became abundantly clear that, although M and I like nature just fine, our enthusiasm level is not as hike as Cute W’s and J’s. Anyway, the “hoofers” headed out before dawn, which the “slackers” enjoyed a breakfast before heading out at a much more reasonable time. In fact, as we were heading up, we received a text update that the hoofers had already passed the waterfall, which was the slackers’ planned final destination.

Rainbow waterfall

In fact, not all of the slackers made it to the waterfall, even. After that, we didn’t hear much, so I was fretting about how everyone was doing. The hoofers were aiming for a hike of about 10 or 12 miles that increased elevation quickly, and I was dizzy and breathless occasionally down at the lodge. We’d finished our hike by early afternoon, so I was finishing up my second vodka tonic when another text finally came through, letting us know that the hoofers would be arriving at the trail head in five minutes, and could J please have her flip-flops? All my Mama Bear instincts went nuts as I ran for the spare shoes and my brother-in-law gave me a ride to the trail head about a half mile away (we slackers were pretty tired of walking by then). I basically swooped in and picked her up and carried her to the vehicle, yelling over my shoulder to Cute W that it’s “Good to see you, too, honey!”

J was tired out but feeling quite triumphant, and all of us grown-ups–especially those of us who hadn’t been able to manage hiking half as far–were deeply impressed. The group had managed to get up high enough to reach a beautiful lake. It was half-surrounded by snow, and Cute W said that if Walt Disney decided to create a fake, idealized lake, it would be that one.

Rainbow lake

The rest of the night we heard all about their adventures while my children, checking out the vodka tonics, kept asking me “Oh my gosh, Mom! Mom? Are you drunk?” and my father-in-law pressed the rest of a bottle of Malbec on me because he knew it was my favorite. I tell ya: damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Anyway, along with being an unbelievable hiker, J took tons of pictures. Here’s her view of some aspens:

Rainbow aspens

And this is one of my favorites of the whole vacation, a great picture of her dad:

Rainbow Cute W

Seriously, that’s an awesome picture, right? Do I have Mommy Bias? I truly can’t tell. Of course, I also thinks it’s so great because I’m so very fond of the subject!

On our last morning, we all managed to drag ourselves out of bed before dawn for a little sunrise-over-the-mountain watching before we went our separate ways.

Rainbow sunriseAfter one last breakfast, the four of us headed off to Moab, Utah.

I’m a Leftovers Ninja

Not too long ago I was complaining about how my family is completely leftover-averse, even when I package some leftover turkey into a delicious turkey pot pie. Everyone but me looks at “best by” and “sell by” dates as if they are ironclad expiration dates instead of gentle suggestions which are designed to cover food manufacturers’ asses.

It’s irritating.

I’m sure some of you have this issue with leftovers, too. Recently I shared a funny post from The Mid in which the vacationing mom is trying to get her kids to eat a leftover special sandwich of one piece of ham and copious amounts of ketchup. We’re just trying to be thrifty, man. Although I do think I might have a tendency toward an almost pathological denial of food spoilage. My sister was just telling me about the time she’d gotten violently ill after eating some bad cheese. “Sure, it was unpasteurized and pretty old and it smelled bad, but cheese is supposed to smell bad. And it was delicious!” I nodded sympathetically. This, you see, is how we were raised.

But I’m fighting a losing battle at my house.


Lately, I’ve had some amazing successes. Witness, please, the beanie-weenies:


The leftover hot dogs had been ignored in our refrigerator a very long time. I’d suggested them as lunch any number of times, and there was no enthusiasm whatsoever. Sure, the date had passed and there were none of those nitrates or nitrites to make them last into the next century, but they seemed like they were okay to me. In retrospect, I think I could have just started cooking them. Rarely do I think, “I’d really love a hot dog!” but it’s rarer still for me to actually smell a cooking hot dog and not at least want them a little bit. Here my strategy was to prepare beanie-weenies as if for myself, then reluctantly share them. Both girls came running, and they left about a tablespoon for my lunch. Nice job, me!

Success number 2: yogurt.

At our house, my kids will go through phases of eating a ton of something and then, without warning and usually after I’ve just purchased an industrial supply, they’ll lose interest. That’s what happened when I was left with a giant Chobani vanilla yogurt that had been lingering in my refrigerator for weeks. I’d mention it and the girls acted interested. . . for later sometime. Then more time passed and the date scared them. Smelled fine to me! I scooped some out into cups, along with some fruit, then popped them into the freezer.


The next day M said, “Mom, these are so good, I love you so much!” I feel like roughly 66% of the I love yous that I receive are directly related to food. I try not to get bitter about it. But this time I wasn’t bitter at all, because I was thinking to myself, “That’s the old yogurt you refused to touch, suckah!” Not just that, but you know where the fruit came from, right? It’s the last blueberries and strawberries from the bottom of the bowl that were considered too unsightly for consumption. I pop those in the freezer and suddenly they’re worthy again. So, double-ha, suckers!

Summer Vacation in Colorado

We were out of town from July 3rd to July 18th on a big ol’ vacation. It started with the kids’ Grandpa, who wanted to take his family back to the mountains in Colorado where he used to camp and hike years ago. So he came up with a plan for a week-long family vacation, starting with 4th of July weekend in Cañon City, Colorado, then heading to Westcliffe to hike along the Rainbow Trail in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Since we were planning this way ahead of time and airfare is so, so expensive, Cute W and I figured that we might as well make it an extended vacation. We felt like the kids should see the Grand Canyon, and we set about putting together a trip that would take us from Colorado to the Grand Canyon before heading back home.

Cute W was born in Cañon City, Colorado, and we still have a bunch of relatives, some of whom live on a road named for his family. Our timing was excellent for baby-lovers, because there were two newborns to snuggle, and the kids had a great time playing with their cousins, second cousins, and cousins-once-removed at Cute W’s aunt and uncle’s house, where the kids alternated between exhausting themselves and recovering, often from moment to moment:

Canon tramp

For the 4th of July, we headed out to the Wet/Dry Parade, then barbecued. It was clear that our relatives take the 4th of July celebrations way more seriously than we do:

Canon fireworks cropped

In fact, between both girls’ exhaustion and M’s massive fire-phobia, they were practically begging to go back to the hotel and to bed.

The next day we visited the adorable and goofy North Pole amusement park in Colorado Springs. The whole thing is placed on the side of a mountain, so you’re running around up and down slopes the whole day, and at the top there’s a zipline that looks like Santa’s sleigh. The kids had a great time riding the rides. Although at one point after one too many times on something twirly, it really looked like J was going to barf. And then a complete stranger/fellow mama swooped in to the rescue with her brilliant solution: a small roll-on container of peppermint essential oil. One whiff and J instantly improved, taking her from green to chalk-white, which was a step in the right direction. The woman advised her to roll a little on her wrist so that she could sniff it as-needed. I think I need one of these for the car.

On Monday we headed out to phase 2 of our Colorado adventure, but even though we were running late and I was tense about keeping to Grandpa’s schedule, Cute W declared a mandatory scenic stop en route as we drove along the river. I was pretty much rolling my eyes as he pulled over, but once the kids started running around and exploring, I was glad he’d stopped. J pulled out her camera and got some great photos. Pretty good, right?

Canon cactus

I think I’m going to save phase 2 for the next post, but meanwhile, I have a bunch of reviews from later in the vacation now available on KidsOutAndAbout. You can check out my article on Preparing for a National Parks Vacation and my article on Visiting Moab, Utah, which links to a bunch of our adventures.

I Won’t Lie: I’m Sort of Missing School

I know: it’s been forever. I’ve written several posts that have been rejected right before I hit “publish” because I realized that they would annoy or embarrass my children. This was much easier when they were teensy. Ever since the kids have started school, I realize at the beginning of summer that summer is challenging. I am not one of those mothers who yearns for the cuddly, cozy infant-and-toddler days. I appreciate the space. This is especially true because I work from home, and losing that school time makes this more challenging. So here’s how the month of July has been:

Weeks 1 & 2: enormous vacation. And yes, I will post more about it, but I’d like to do it when I can also link over to my various review articles to give the basics. I’m hoping for later this week.

Week 3: no plans and a lot of recovery. I was laundering and writing review articles like a crazy person while my kids were watching too much tv.

Week 4: M was away at overnight soccer camp, J was mostly consumed with making me nuts in her own special J way. Mostly, she’s been bored, and with M away, lonely.  And this makes me crazy, because I would like her to be happy. In fact, I was thinking to myself that part of my problem is that I feel responsible for her happiness in the summertime in a way that (I don’t think) my parents ever did. Which was funny, because my psychic husband, Cute W, happened to send me a link to a TED Talk about this very issue.

Yeah, it’s a freakin’ high bar. At one point I made J a list of the many, many things that she could do with all of her free time this summer, and she seemed to like it, but then she set it aside and tried to go back to the tv before I wrangled her away from it. Sigh.

Now M’s returned, and even though the two of them were delightfully companions over vacation and they both missed each other, they’ve been bickering like crazy.

Basically, I’ve had altogether too much time with my beloved children. Yesterday, I drove off to Hannaford in a huff so that I could stockpile naan in our freezer because it makes me nuts to see my entirely privileged children fight over bread as if they were starving. In fact, if they were starving, they would probably be better at sharing. Or at least they would bicker more quietly. I also exited the car to walk home during the 5-minute wait outside of our local grocery store as Cute W picked up provisions. I need some space.

Luckily, I think next week will be better. M has a morning soccer camp with good friends, and I’m hoping that she’ll spend most afternoons continuing the fun with them. She is 13, and nothing is better than hanging out with her girlfriends. Meanwhile, I’ve found something to keep J happily occupied next week: Circus Theatricks Camp. She loves this–she’s done it at the Ciccotti Center for two years, and this is her first time at Sage Theatre Institute, but I’m just relieved, because I know it’s pure fun for her. I found out that there is still space at the camp, too, if anyone else is interested. They do an adorable show at the end of the week, too.

So I’m hoping that I will replenish my patience store next week and be a more chill mama for the following week, when we don’t have a dang thing scheduled. We’ll see how it goes.

Summer Traditions

A guest-kid recently asked me what kind of lemonade I buy. Because it is delicious. I’m telling you: it is delicious.

And my answer was smug: I make it!


Lemonade condensed

But there’s really nothing to be smug about, because it’s unbelievably easy. I just mix approximately 1 cup lemon juice (I usually use ReaLemon) with 1 cup sugar and 6 cups water.

Cute W makes it a little bit more labor-intensive because he’s a bit of a snob: he squeezes his own lemon juice and heats the sugar and some water together to ensure that it’s all dissolved to perfection, but whether you go lazy like me or awesome like him, either way it beats the hell out of store-bought.

At our house we’re also big fans of adding fresh mint to our lemonade, and the effect is so inspiring that J wrote a poem about it.

Okay, I’m way behind in catching up with all of you, and I’m sorry about that! I spent the first week after my vacation banging out a bunch of different articles about what we did while we are away, but they’re not quite ready for the world. Meanwhile, I wanted to share a fun summer tradition that was completely new to me: the Wet/Dry Parade.

We were visiting relatives in Colorado for the 4th of July, so we attended the Wet/Dry Parade in the small town of Florence, Colorado. When I raved about how fun it was, my Mom informed me that they do it near where she lives, in Tybee Island, Georgia. But I’ve never heard of one around here, and I think it’s so much fun that someone should start one. Or, if one does exist, please tell me when and where! And yes, yes: a teensy part of me felt guilty about the water wasted. But I’d skip watering my lawn and quite a few showers to go to another Wet/Dry Parade.

Here’s how it works. The beginning of the parade is your basic parade, aka a Dry Parade. If you are a little old lady in your lawn chair, if your child is water-phobic, or if you just want to stay dry for whatever reason, you can watch along the Dry portion and just enjoy the parade. In fact, if you are Super Lame and want to march in the parade, you can choose to march in the dry portion of the parade only. Along the route, there’s an intersection where these folks can make a turn and avoid the latter, wetter portion of the parade entirely.

Spectators who don’t mind getting wet can stand anywhere along the latter, wetter portion of the parade route. Those spectators who really want to get wet tend to congregate near the intersection that forms the barrier between wet and dry. On one of the corners of the intersection, folks set up huge barrels and tubs of water so that parade spectators who’ve brought along water guns or pump-blasters or whatever can refill them. There’s a bit of a dramatic pause as vehicles and marches cross from the Dry Zone to the Wet Zone. . .


Wet Dry Parade

. . . and then suddenly they’re looking at an unruly mob like this:

Wet Dry

It’s kind of crazy. It’s not for the little preschooler who doesn’t like water in his eyes. But for your typical school-aged kids, it’s awesome. And what makes it even better is the folks in the parade procession. They vary wildly. Some approach the parade as if it were a regular parade and attempt to protect themselves from the water onslaught. They might wear slickers and hats. I saw one little girl on a float with a large umbrella. Others go on the offensive, packing their floats with portable water tanks and hoses and other do-it-yourself creative water weaponry. Others take the dousing with mock dignity: think ladies in evening gowns and fancy hats, motorcycle gang members in leather chaps, police officers in full dress uniform, all marching to their soggy doom.

The best part–or, at least, according to me–is the way it felt like a huge community builder. Before going to the Wet/Dry Parade, I couldn’t imagine a situation in which I’d encourage my children to, say, blast a stranger with water. The teenagers clearly loved water-pummeling town leaders and authority figures, and for the most part, the grown-ups played back. It was a fun, silly way for people to connect in a whole new way.

After the parade, a fire truck set up one last way for everyone to get soaked.

Wet Dry Spray from Truck

I heard the water was so cold that the kids got brain freezes.

Western Vacation

As you may have guessed from the crickets chirping on the blog, our family was away on vacation for two whole weeks. It was truly epic. We flew out to Denver, spent a week in Colorado hanging around with Cute W’s family and hiking in the mountains, then went on our own for a few days in Moab, then a drive by Bryce Canyon and to the Grand Canyon, then a last day at Zion before flying home from Las Vegas. We had an amazing time and completely exhausted ourselves. Just as an example of our crazy pace of awesome fun, on our last day we woke up early in our tents along the Grand Canyon’s North Rim, invested $6-worth of quarters so that we could each take a 6-minute shower, drove a couple hours to Zion National Park and hiked, then frolicked in the river, drove a couple more hours, stopped to eat a ridiculous amount of Mexican food, drove along the strip while trying to explain Las Vegas to our children, then returned our rental car and took an 11:30 pm flight into Chicago followed by a delayed flight to Albany that finally, finally got us home in time for a late lunch the next day.

So there will be more details and funny stories and such, but I just wanted to check in. Cute W took literally thousands of photos, and the girls and I took a bunch, too, but here’s one of each of the girls.

J at lake

Here’s J at a lake in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. She and Cute W hiked 12 miles round trip to reach this lake, where there was still snow, as you can see to her left. Over the course of the two weeks we determined that J and Cute W are definitely more outdoorsy than M and me. On this day, for example, Cute W and J started their hike before dawn while M and I chose to sleep in and take the poky-puppy hike, and later, I was already sitting out on the deck and well into my second vodka tonic before Cute W and J got back down the mountain. Truly, J was a superstar, and I’m glad Cute W was up for the hike, because I sure as heck wasn’t.

M at Canyonlands

Here’s M at Canyonlands at sunset. It was unbelievably beautiful. We basically dragged ourselves there because we were super-tired that evening, but I was so glad that we went. The girls perked up and had so much fun splashing in puddles together and taking “artsy” pictures of each other and themselves with all of that dramatic lighting. We loved Moab so much.

But it’s good to be home! Hope you’re all having a terrific summer.


Fish Stories

A few weeks ago J attended a marathon bat mitzvah in which we dropped her off at our local neighborhood temple and picked her up roughly 3 weeks later up in Saratoga. Okay, you’re right, it wasn’t three weeks later–I’m exaggerating–but it was, like, seven hours later, which seems to be a truly courageous length of time to willingly assume custody of a passel of adolescent girls. I mean, doesn’t it? I suppose that, with enough chicken fingers, inflatable guitars, and a very loud deejay, one can avoid restroom weeping and/or rioting. And I’m only supposing because we barely slowed down the car at drop-off and pick-up.

Anyway, we hardly ever get to Saratoga. I don’t know why. It’s a lovely place. I guess that we’re too close to be tempted to act as tourists and too far for a casual lunch. So when we needed to schlep up and retrieve J in the evening, Cute W and I decided to treat ourselves to an early dinner date at The Merry Monk.


Okay, yum. I didn’t intend to write about it, necessarily, but then everything was delicious and I could not, in good conscience, continue eating without taking a photograph first. Cute W very patiently disengaged his hungry hands from shellsville while I tried to make things look presentable for an image to share. Ta da.

Our picks from the menu were the Americana mussels,  with bacon & blue cheese; and the Classic Meuniere mussels, with butter, garlic, and white wine. We went with the Chipotle and Roasted Garlic mayos for dipping the frites. I think that whenever we go back next time, I’ll want to order the exact same thing. Not because there aren’t other great choices, but because it was all so very delicious, I don’t think that I could return and not want them all again.

I don’t know what it is about Moules Frites that makes me love them so. Part of it, I think, is that Belgian food was enjoying a minor heyday in New York City when we were living there, after we both left school and started working and actually (barely) had enough money to eat out once in a while. So those frites aren’t just dipped in mayo: they’re lightly salted with nostalgia.

I also love, love, love mussels. Pretty much anytime we go out on a date, if mussels are on the menu, I want them. Which is peculiar because I can be a little bit fussy about seafood. I like a tuna fish salad, but only when it’s more celery than tuna. I keep trying–and failing–to like clams, oysters, and salmon.

Talking about fishiness that I love and fishiness that I hate reminded me of a couple of fish stories. First, fish I hate. Salmon. I know,  you guys. It’s really good for us. Normal adults like salmon. I would like to be a normal adult. I’ve tried and tried, but ewwwwww. No. So, long ago, when Cute W and I were dating, we went on a trip to Colorado so that I could meet his extended family. At one dinner, his grandmother served salmon, and I did an amazing job of eating it all and smiling and chatting and acting like I thought it was delicious. And then the next day we sat down to lunch, and guess what was on the menu? Salmon loaf, made with the leftover salmon! My reward for an excellent performance.

And now: fish & chips. I like fish & chips, but only if it’s really excellent fish & chips. You won’t find me picking up those frozen fish sticks, like ever. Same thing with crab cakes: I often find that I like the idea of crab cakes more than actual crab cakes, but I think that’s because they’re often not cooked well. I’m spoiled because my Dad is so good at making seafood, so I can’t just eat average stuff. Come to think of it, I’ve spoiled my children for most cookies for the same reason (if I do say so myself). But, anyway, back to the fish & chips.

When we lived in Brooklyn, along with enjoying the Moules Frites Heyday, we were fortunate to live just down the street from The Chip Shop. Oh, it is delicious. Oh, my gosh. The Park Slope location, the original location down the street from our old apartment, has shut down. Apparently the other location is still open, but I need to take a minute here. A moment of silence, if you will.


I’m alright. [Wipes eyes.] No, really. It’s fine. I’m fine.

Where was I?

Okay, so The Chip Shop was a favorite of ours. Now, for our last months in Brooklyn, I was pregnant with M. Backstory here, if you don’t already know it. At the time, I had a job working as a museum educator at the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum which is approximately way to hell and gone, otherwise known as a one hour and fifteen minute-long subway ride from our place in Brooklyn. I loved that job and I had a wonderful time, even when my boss was sure that I was going to go into premature labor from climbing too many stairs. But the subway ride became difficult. I was always starving by the end of my busy workday. Sometimes I’d run across the street and pick up a snack at the grocery store so that I could scarf it down on the train. But as time progressed, reasonable snacks just weren’t enough, and the meals that I would try to juggle along with my book and my belly just got too unwieldy for the train. I remember one embarrassing episode that involved a massive baba ghanoush spillage. So then I tried to hold out until I got home. In the train, I’d fantasize about whatever food I was going to eat, then I’d arrive home and eat a massive feast, then I’d fall asleep until Cute W arrived home from work, at which point I would act as if I hadn’t just eaten a meal, and we’d start cooking our dinner. Once I spent the entire train ride home thinking about the leftover Chinese food in our fridge only to discover that Cute W had dumped it. He trashed my Chinese food, and Oh Hell Yes He Knew My Wrath. To this day, Cute W is afraid to throw things away without checking with me first.

But on another day, somewhere around 49th Street I decided that I needed fish & chips and nothing else would do. Which was about par for the course, except that this time, Cute W unexpectedly arrived home early. He opened the door to see me hunched over  a massive spread of greasy newspaper covering the entire coffee table, malt vinegar spotting my smocked belly, cod becoming oily and rank as the remains of my feast cooled, and fists clutching limp fries. Cute W recounts the story by saying that my expression screamed, “Don’t look at me! I’m hideous!” I remember his expression clearly, too, and the best way to describe it is: imagine that we’re both characters on the Walking Dead and Cute W stumbles upon me feasting on a small child’s intestines. Of course, he recovered himself quickly and slapped a smile on his face because, of course, He Had Done This To Me and he was still terrified after the Leftover Chinese Food Incident. At that point, the jig was up, and he knew about my 4th Meal, which came well before Taco Bell’s. Luckily, we moved shortly thereafter. And a good thing, too, because that 90-minute commute was getting way too long for my nine months’ pregnant bladder.


On Father’s Day, we’d planned a visit to Ramblewild, a new tree-to-tree adventure park in the Berkshires, right next to Jiminy Peak. I was super-excited for some family-bonding fun, and then. . . I wasn’t. It was a horribly rainy day, remember? I was concerned that perhaps I had ruined Cute W’s day by committing us to a rain-drenched activity.

I didn’t need to worry. First of all, hello? It’s in a forest. That means plenty of leaf cover, and honestly? Hardly any rain reached us. Yes, things were a bit wet, but it was much better than I’d anticipated. And this is one of the aspects of Ramblewild that I love, that they are open year-round and rain or shine (only an electrical storm will shut them down). I do feel, sometimes, that we’ve got such an indoor culture that people tend to say, “Ugh, it’s January, I don’t want to be outside,” or “It looks like rain, so we can’t go for a walk.” And okay, yes: sometimes I do that, too. But I like the idea of embracing whatever’s outside and jumping into it. Kids love to jump in puddles and hunt worms in a rainstorm, and we only truly loved winter as a family once the kids started skating and skiing. So I was excited that Ramblewild is open even during the winter, complete with snowshoe rentals and fires outside to keep people toasty.

Okay, I got off track. So I arrived worried, and pretty soon I was psyched again. First because the place is fabulous. It’s only recently opened, and the lodge is gorgeous and smells like wood, and everyone is friendly and helpful.

It’s a bit of a hike from the parking lot/lodge area to the actual tree park, and we spent it getting a little tour of that patch of forest, with our guide giving us a quick natural history of the area and pointing out different varieties of trees. We also heard more about Feronia Forests and its other projects. Feronia Forests finds sustainable ways to make trees profitable without cutting them down. Along with Ramblewild, there are Mission:Maple products and Vertical Water, a water produced my maple trees, as well as the nonprofit Feronia Forward, which works with schools to get kids connected to nature. So, yay! Now, not only do you get to have fun, but we each get to feel like we’re The Lorax for having that fun. It’s a win-win.

hub from left of ladders

Okay, I already wrote an official review for KidsOutAndAbout, which you can find here. And, actually, I also read a couple of awesome reviews of Ramblewild here and here. I realized that I was doing quite a bit of basic introductory stuff, but here’s the stuff that you really don’t need to know, but maybe it will make you laugh.

Basically, I came into this experience perhaps a bit too cocky.  As I remember saying that time in college when I was drunk and casting off from the rail above a large flight of stairs, uneven-bar-style, my attitude is sometimes, “Don’t worry! I used to be a gymnast!” Alas, I used to be a gymnast a long time ago. It doesn’t feel like a long time ago, but if I count years. . . never mind. Shut up. But also, I felt cocky because I trusted the system. They have this Smart Belay system which makes it literally impossible to not be hooked onto something, and they do a little introduction on a mini ground-level course, and I was feeling good! And competent! And I was mostly competent. But also, arguably, the least competent member of my family. But I choose to argue that it was all cockiness and not lack of skill. Wait, have I ever told you that I used to be a gymnast? I have excellent balance. . . .

My first Fail was at the first zipline I encountered. I guess, come to think of it, that the only other ziplines I’ve ever done landed on the ground. Incidentally, the ground is a profoundly sensible place to end a zipline. But this zipline ended on another platform, set right into the middle of the course. Now, for our first foray, we’d decided to have me go last. And I was looking around, having a good old time, and not noticing the Ramblehands, helpful staff members who are always nearby, ready to assist, coach, or cheer you if needed. In fact, one thing I really loved about Ramblewild is that you  feel like you’re off on your own. There are eight different courses to explore, all starting from a central hub (that’s a view of the hub above), and while the Ramblehands are around, you don’t have to stick with any particular group or have a guide lead you. That’s excellent. Loved it. But at the beginning, I didn’t really realize that the Ramblehands would offer up words of advice. And since I was the last of the four of us, I missed a crucial little piece of advice that was offered when the first of us approached. This was that it’s a good idea to grab something in order to stay on the platform. That, if someone failed to do this, she would  start a slow-and-steady backslide into nowheresville. Oh, yeah. Maybe it was common sense. In any case, I could have ended up stranded there for the rest of the afternoon, but luckily a staff member threw me a rope and yanked me to where I was supposed to be. Phew.

Okay, next: observe, if you will, this delightful little “element,” as they call it. It looks like a bunch of upright logs attached to wires. Now, as we approached this little beauty, some staff member called up some coaching. He suggested that the easiest way to get across was to wedge your foot between the side of the cylinder and the wires. Well, I thought, that might be easier, but it seems like cheating. Wouldn’t it be more challenging and fun to actually trip from log-top to log-top, lilypad style?


aerial element where Katie fell

Well, it was absolutely more challenging, but since I am not, actually, a tree frog or a butterfly, I managed to flip one of the logs and fall (thank you Smart Belay system for saving me!), and because of the nature of this little element and the, umm, dramatic nature of my fall, I managed to get seriously tangled up in multiple logs-on-a-wire. And of course Cute W is right behind me and the Ramblehand below has been joined by a second one, because they are pretty sure that they’re already going to have to bail this lady out. But just like drunk-at-college Katie, I waved away all offers of assistance and managed to disentangle myself and proceed with as much dignity as I could muster. Which was, of course, not much. But more than if someone had to, I don’t know, get a ladder or something.

My next big challenge was this bad boy:


The Ramblewild folks figured you might get bored by just doing ziplines, so they offer other goofy options, like a skateboard or a trapeze.  This one was a saddle that traveled over a stream. Super fun. Now, I mentioned before that grabbing onto something is a key element of tree-to-tree zipline success, and this one was a doozy. M was the first in the family to do it, which might have been a miscalculation if she weren’t totally and completely awesome. She somehow managed to jump off her pony and onto the platform, then stood ready to help her little sister J, who was next in line and didn’t quite have the arm length to manage it on her own. I was next. Now, if you’ll look closely, you’ll notice that the saddle is suspended with two horizontal poles attached to cables. The bad news is that I totally slammed my shin into one of these poles as I made my clumsy dismount. The good news is that, even though I slammed my shin, these moments were possibly my favorite of the entire day. M was yelling out orders, telling me what to do, grabbing the saddle, hustling me onto the platform, and giving me the update on J’s progress, all almost simultaneously. She was in full-on, adrenaline-filled, crisis mode. It was really adorable. And impressive. She was so awesome and helpful and Team Family that I got a little teary-eyed. Although, that could have been related to the massive swelling that was rising from my shin.

And. . .  oh, okay! Here’s another crazy zipline, on a toboggan!


aerial element tobaggon

And I put this one in here because, after I formed a massive bruise on my shin, I stood in just exactly the right place so that, when I waited on the platform to help J off the toboggan, it knocked directly into my bruise. Oh, that hurt.

Also, it was only on the drive home that I learned that I was supposed to be bicycling my feet the entire time I was hanging from ziplines.  That explains why I kept spinning around. “Mom,” M said, exasperated, “She told us that at very beginning!” Apparently I hadn’t been listening properly. “Wait,” I said, “I thought that they just meant at the end. You know, like the whole ‘Hit the ground running’ thing?” All three members of my family looked at me like I was crazy. Then Cute W launched into an explanation of how it was “simple physics” that he thought was common knowledge to most adult people. Like how that’s a bicycle works. I don’t think I ever, ever really considered how a bicycle works. This is one of the differences between my husband and me.

But we had a terrific time! It was so fun. We only managed to make it through the four easiest courses during our three-hour visit. Then we had time for one more, and J wanted to re-do a favorite, and M thought she’d try the next level, and I was all, “Bring it!” because in spite of it all, I remained cocky. And then she literally climbed up the ladder to the next-level course, took a look at the first element, and changed her mind. At which point the kids went with Cute W one last time. In fact, J was a little bummed, because every time M was behind her she’d spend half the time saying, “Are you done yet? Can I go yet?” Which is annoying. And unnecessary, because you’re allowed to pass each other on the platforms. I chose to ignored that mild Sister Drama, and instead, I ran for my camera. Well, eventually I ran for my camera. First I had to climb down from the hub, and due to the Smart Belay system, which doesn’t allow you to completely unhook yourself until you’ve finished the course, a Ramblehand had to come and release me. Now that, folks, is some security!

I’d absolutely love to go and try the tougher courses. Because I’m cocky! And because it was fun! I think it would be a great moms’ outing, too. And if you live close enough, they do memberships, like go play outside instead of going to the gym. If we lived closer I’d love that.

Here we are enjoying a picnic I’d packed. I’m looking smug, because I’d totally planned an awesome Father’s Day, after all.

Katie and girls eating

Now, go over and look at the review on KidsOutAndAbout. Even if you’re tired of reading, there are more cute pictures!