Mamas in the City! NYC, June 2015

Leaving behind children and Papas, not to mention one mama’s pressing obligations in preparing for a certain trip to China, three Mamas went to The Big Apple for the day.
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Train to Penn Station

We landed under Madison Square Garden after taking the NJ transit – a much more afordable option than Amtrack, especially when coming from Philadelphia where one can take SEPTA to Trenton, then transfer to NJ transit.  It ends up being about 1/4 the Amtrack price.  There are also Chinatown buses to NYC, but they land in Chinatown of course, and sometimes it is better to end up midtown.  We walked from Penn Station to The Highline.

The Highline

We scored a beautiful day with low humidity, breezes, and sunshine.  There were sailboats in the river and a blimp in the blue, blue sky.  I had the excellent companionship of KJ, a homeschool mama and improv actor, and her best friend J, who just got back from three months in Thailand (!!!).  I really could not have been happier. 

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The Highline is an elevated rail line that has been made into a walking trail/park that has delicious design.  Flowering vegetation, quirky sculptures and other art that plays off the railroad tracks  present in some places, amazing views of trains in use near Penn Station and of the many cranes doing Manhattan construction, glassed-in lookouts over some city streets, and other little surprises like a maze and a water-sidewalk where you could cool your toes.  Also, there was a Lego thing, see below:

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Below are the maze, the cranes and the trains!!

 

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McSorley’s

KJ says she takes everyone here, and I can see why. Built in 1851 and barring females until 1970, this place has a lot of history. Dust covers a collection of drumsticks suspended over the bar, framed photos and paintings and newspaper articles cover the walls, sawdust carpets the floor. I got a bowl of chili and a seltzer for $6.  Lunch in Manhattan for $6??  Unthinkable, but it happened!  There were not many people there on that weekday afternoon.  An older lady with a walker ambled in and we all kind of eyed her suspiciously, but KJ is relentlessly friendly and soon we were sharing a table with DS, a septuagenarian lifetime New Yorker with a gorgeous accent.  Talking with DS turned out to be a highlight of the day as she regaled us with stories of Greenwich Village in the early 1960’s when she had male interracial roomates and was involved in the art scene.  She did stand up comedy just like KJ!!  DS belied our early impressions and proved to be completely lucid, very young in spirit, and appreciative of our company. We were sad to say goodbye to DS, but she had a doctor appointment and we were off to look for discount show tickets

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 The Strand

LOVE this bookstore!!  We dashed in for just a minute.  I wanted a copy of Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet since I had re-encountered his beautiful, soul-feeding poetry recently.  I realize this is a bit of a non-sequitor, but the next time you struggle with life’s pain, just let these words sink in:

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.

Thank you, Mr. Gibran. 

Moving on, we took a crazy taxi ride to TKTS at 3pm which, according to KJ who is knowledgable about these things, is the time to go. None of the Broadway or off-Broadway offerings grabbed us, we were having so much fun just talking and being outside in the beautiful weather, so we decided to go to Rockefeller Center.

Rockefeller Center

We walked around the place where the Christmas tree stands every December, which is when we Fantastics tend to visit. This day was full of people sitting outside, enjoying the weather and the people-watching and maybe a treat from a nearby café. We had amazing baked goods from Le Bouchon, which according to Google Translate means “cork” and also “traffic jam” but who cares because YUM!!  French pastries!

Below is Times Square, a beautiful church we passed, and the arch at Washington Square Park.

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I had to bid adieu after that, since I really have too much to do at home to be traipsing about NYC into the wee hours, sigh.  But it was a lovely day and I feel lucky to have walked around admiring the city with such wonderful companions.  I also got some hot tips from J about Thailand, mainly that she was happy with Booking.com, which I will look into, and Charles Schwab, which she recommended (along with NomadicMatt) for overseas banking and where I already opened an account!  So, thanks KJ, J, DS, and NYC!

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The Cabin, May, 2015

There were friends, both animal and human, beautiful skies, and a battle with a nasty invasive woody shrub. We celebrated my birthday under blue skies and in the cold pond and with hikes and a campfire – bliss!  At one point, I was invited on a luxury cruise on the raft, I enjoyed damp oak leaves spa-style on my relaxing eyes as I drifted on the raft on a lounge chair, occasionally offered pears and fresh-cracked walnuts by my hostesses, all under 12.  These kids know how to pamper!  We saw tadpoles by the dozens, and also a catfish, salamanders, a snake, and many water creatures and flowering plants enjoying the mid-spring warmth after a long winter.

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The furry friends came to run in the big field, they also swam in the pond.  Meet Birch (left) and little sister Rosa:

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And there is the outhouse, of which I am unduly proud!

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And the gorgeous picture window in the cabin, it was all emerald green and blue skies in the frame this visit:

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Oh, and the tenants have a fuzzy kitten who became a bit of a celebrity for the 7 kids who came along this trip:

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We did some Spring cleaning, mowing, etc. and we got on a kick to get rid of some of the Russian Olive bushes that are always encroaching on the land.  Here’s a Deet Sheet on this almost criminal plant, native to Eurasia and introduced over 100 years ago to the US. Deer won’t eat it, it has some beastly thorns, and it is all over the place near the cabin.  Don’t let the pretty flowers fool you, this is a noxious weed per the USDA and it pushes out indigenous plants we would like to see more of.

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We burned a lot of it, and the kids practiced making their own small fires.

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And they ran around and made forts and got marshmallow on their faces and climbed trees, and all that stuff I love to see them doing.

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Ithaca, NY, March 2015

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cabin at night with light in the windows

I felt newly appreciative of every non-collapsing surface upon which I had ever placed my feet.  I was walking in the snow to the cabin in the dark after a drive from home.  We got there before 9pm but the sky was inky black and there was no moon yet. As my eyes adjusted, I could see scattered stars across the velvety sky. It was truly beautiful. Papa, Cleverly, and Really went up ahead as I unpacked the car and started walking with Fiercely and Truly. Evidently, there had been a lot of snow and then some warmer weather because the snow had a crust on top. The walk to the cabin, which goes up a hill, through some brush, and across a field, usually takes under ten minutes.  This walk took much longer.  The walking was tricky, perhaps treacherous, and a nice challenge after the car ride to get there.  Each step was uncertain – would it support my weight or would it break? It reminded me of the legendary San Joaquín mud in Honduras. The kids there could negotiate the muddy hill paths in flip-flops but more than once my own missteps had me knee-deep in mud. I saw it happen to horses there, even. And now, here in upstate New York, on a snowy night in early March, the crust would give after several easy steps and I was up to my knees in snow. It is disorienting to have such difficulty in a skill – walking – that I had mastered over 40 years ago!  By carefully picking my way towards the cabin, I managed to stay upright and hold on to the items I was carrying.  Papa had gone ahead and lit the lamps in the cabin. I had a view of the dark shape of our sweet cabin with warm lamplight in the windows. Black outlines of trees surrounded it, and above was the vast dark sky with glittering stars. It was so beautiful. It looked like a fairy tale house in Sweden, Poland, Canada…. I hope we see such things when we travel and can also appreciate what is here now.

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Those were my thoughts when we got to the cabin that night. The trip was so nice with the changing weather.  It was maple sugar season so we tapped a few trees again. The twins felt the need to run outside naked in the snow, and so they did!  We had the fire going and ate wonderfully cozy meals. There was some sledding. We played board games and did puzzles. I considered how this may be our last winter weather for nearly two years.  I love winter, so I am especially enjoying this one.  We walked gingerly on the pond since it was not frozen as solid as last March.  I took fewer pictures than usual!  We went to town to the thrift stores, and also went to a Thai restaurant and ate and talked about how soon, when it comes to Thai food, we may be eating the real deal!!   IMG_3981 IMG_3977

L- Really with buckets to collect maple syrup, R – cabin in the snow, you can see snow sliding off upstairs dormer windows!

Our neighbors doubled their maple syrup operation to 300 trees this year.  They have a sugar shack with several pans for heating the sap and condensing it using wood fire as well as gas.  They expect to make about 30 gallons this year, which is about 1200 gallons of sap!  They had a party one night and we went.  There were lots of people walking through the mud to the sugar shack, the good smell of wood smoke in the night air, musicians playing folk music with guitar and banjo and stand-up bass, and an outstanding potluck.  We stayed until Truly fell asleep on my lap then we walked back in the snow to the cabin.  We gave the neighbors our sap, maybe 20 gallons, and they gave us a quart of maple syrup!  So we didn’t boil our own this year, but we ended up with some local maple syrup and a great night with the neighbors.

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One night, I awoke to a loud noise and the cabin shaking on its piers. A load of snow had slid off the roof!  The kids had pointed it out more than once over the days we were there but I only heard it that once.  It made me wonder what happens to the cabin as it goes through the seasons since we are not always there.

That was our trip to the cabin in March.

The Rockettes, The Renaissance, and a Really Ridiculous Oz – December 2014

We have had a particularly theatrical month. Actually, a lot of it happened over a single week.  The kids went from the stage to the audience and then to another show.  Cleverly was Toto, a Lady from the 1600’s, and had a chorus/dancer role in a teen production – all in a few days!  Let’s start with NYC.

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Top: us in front of Radio City. Bottom: just two of the elaborate sets from the show.  Lower R had a moving double-decker bus and lower L a functional ice rink

We did our usual Christmas trip to Manhattan for a day, and this time we saw The Rockettes!  Only the kids kept calling them the Chipettes – if you are blissfully unfamiliar, I envy you.  The Chipettes are female versions of The Chipmunks and they do really annoying renditions of pop songs, think a chorus of Lady Gagas being played too fast and you’ll have the idea.

Anyway, there we were at Radio City Music Hall a week or so before Christmas watching the renowned holiday spectacular.  It was pretty entertaining, what with the glitter, fireworks, floating light balls, full live orchestra, real camels, and of course the singer/dancers themselves.  The American-ness of the event struck me.  It is a specific mix of patriotism, Jesus, and sex that to me typifies mainstream US culture.  In one act, they removed faux winter coats to show their tighter outfits, in another they made a nativity scene.  The audience was exclusively white and noticably on the silver-hair part of life.  The dancers are as precise in their actions as a drill team.  Their are roughly 50 of them in their sparkly leotards, at various times dolls, reindeer, toy soldiers, Santas, candy canes, and other costumes I am forgetting.  We were entertained, and I can check that off the bucket list.  Seems like something you should do at least once.

Yule Feast

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clockwise from top R: Our table, part of the feast seen from the balcony, 3 maidens (Fiercely in center with a friend and Cleverly), the balcony

Well, I couldn’t go to Pennsic last July, but I could celebrate Yule in period clothing with the gang.  We borrowed finery from a local group and went to a gorgeous historic building for the evening activities of a day-long SCA event.  We partook in a 5-course period-appropriate meal with other garbed individuals.  It was kind of like a wedding; we didn’t know anyone, were assigned seating with strangers, but made friends pretty easily.  Once you realize everyone there is willing to dress in pre-17th century clothing and geek out on the details of life from that time, certain social conventions are already breached as a group and you just go with it!  We enjoyed some unfamiliar vegetable dishes (leek casserole, red cabbage with currants) and despite our mostly-vegetarianism tried some of the several meat dishes (chicken/apple pie, a large beef roast), and got down with the dessert table (more currants, spice cake, dearth of chocolate!).  A strolling magician came by and did a few tricks for the kids.  Later, there was Renaissance dancing with live musical accompaniment and a “dance master” who was like a square dance “caller” and described the (very simple) dance steps.  It felt a lot like very slow square dancing, it was easy and social and just fun. In a beautiful space with the clothing (much of it handmade), the food and music, it really felt magical.

The Panto of Oz

This was our homeschool theater group’s third panto.  We were in a much larger theater this year, with over twice the number of seats, a giant stage, and a large downstairs cast hang-out area with dressing rooms!!  The kids loved all of this of course, and set about rehearsing and preening like the divas that they are.

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The Panto of Oz featured an obnoxious Dorothy (in silver shoes like in the book), her well-known companions, a disgruntled male mandrill, good and bad witches, Santa Clause (who reminded us he was in book 5 of the Oz series) and a chorus of mice/Munchkins/monkeys.  There was also a giant paper maché neon green Oz head that occupied my basement for several months.  Mr. Fantastic played Glinda and Auntie Em, Cleverly was several small roles, Fiercely was Toto, and the twins were in the chorus.  I was in the audience!

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Oz head with the bad witch on L, Mr Fantastic as the Wicked Witch of the South (who is angry at being left out of the Oz film) on R

And that is that for now.  A couple of posts coming on other adventures, stay tuned!

 

Agnes Island, Lake George, NY, August 2014

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the Dragonfly with sails down, Agnes Island

Many people use sailing terms to get through hard things in life:”keep on an even keel”, “don’t rock the boat”, “stay the course” they tell themselves. I found myself doing the opposite during rough waters aboard the Dragonfly with a nervous Captain Fantastic in charge. “Deep breaths”, “this too shall pass”, etcetera. NO references to water or boats or sailing, smooth or otherwise. I was too busy gripping the sides of the boat, watching the “Lev-O-Gage” register an alarming tilt angle and planning how to keep my glasses from falling to the bottom of the lake like they did last year.

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Another view of Agnes (L), one of the tiny island we could swim to from Agnes (R)

Ah, Lake George. The crystal clear water surrounded by forested mountains where surely the unicorns come to drink on occasion. It was our third time on the enchanted islands of rock and pine and our second with the little sailboat. Five of our family had only been home a few days after Pennsic and Burning Chicken, so it was with weary arms that we packed and schlepped from home to car to boat to campsite. But we were rewarded with the soft Milky Way in a clear black sky, musical crickets and breezes, and that magical water.  Mr Fantastic honed his sailing skills in some rough waters and we had some easier sailing, too.

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Fiercely jumping from rocks, Really with a fish

We camped this year on Agnes Island, since when we registered we were unable to get sites on Vicars Island. Agnes has only 5 sites, is closer to parts of the mainland, and in our experience is more public than Vicars. From our launch point Huletts Landing, it was about the same distance. Being closer to the mainland, Agnes seems to attract more picnickers and people who want to jump off the rocks, a bit of a drawback since we were rustic camping and sailing and not too excited to interact with speedboats and their owners. Not to say anything bad about the vacationers we met, all were quite nice and friendly and the kids even played a little, but overall I would prefer not to have the loud music and the random people dropping by, parking their kayaks a few feet from our tent. We’ll try for Vicars next time I think.

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So many mushrooms!  Was it due to the cooler summer weather? I had to document.

That said, we had reserved three campsites and mostly had the place to ourselves, especially late afternoon through late mornings. We explored the island, new to us, and found rocks to jump from, many mushrooms, nice swimming spots, and even a sub-island accessible by a rock ‘path’ in the water. There were also three other tiny islands within swimming distance, perfect for the kids, and us adults too. There’s nothing like swimming to a little island and feeling like an adventurous explorer, no matter what your age. The place turned out to be an excellent venue for Capture the Flag as well.  We camped with three other families which meant lots of kids around and also we shared dinner cooking duties, so win-win!

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walking to the sub-island, double jump off the rocks

The trip went great until my last day.  This wasn’t everyone’s last day, just mine, and I had to catch a train back so I could work the next day.  We had it all worked out with plenty of time to get to the Glen Falls Amtrack station, we were dropped off at the mainland, got in the car and… the back tire would not turn.  After an emergency call to my dad the wise mechanic – make that remote wise mechanic since he is in Ohio – we realized our car was out of service and we were quickly running out of time to get me to the train.  Mr. Fantastic got a ride from a helpful motorboat owner and went to Agnes Island and back quicker than the Dragonfly with its tiny 4 horsepower engine could go one way.  We borrowed keys from one of our friends staying on the island with us and bolted off in their car.  We didn’t know where we were going so we called a friend at a computer and haphazardly tried to follow their directions while driving in a big hurry.  In the end, we pulled up to the station just as the train was pulling out and I ran and waved maniacally, but to no avail. I missed the train.  We drove to Albany and I was able to catch a different train going my way, but not before more car drama.  Our borrowed car stalled and we had to get a jump.  Then 5 Fantastics were headed back to car repair and Lake George and I was headed to the city.    It was a chaotic moment in an otherwise great trip!

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pushing the car in the Albany Amtrack parking lot- sigh – it was a harsh jolt back to reality after the magic unicorn waters!

the Cabin, July 2014

For swimming, rain, cold, or hot, whatever you pack is whatever you got!  That is our packing mantra for every trip, and we had it all this time!  We headed to the cabin on a beautiful July Monday with two extra kids for a few days.  We found miniature ponies, rain, bunnies, flowering lily pads, and generally so much color and beauty my camera almost burst.

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Our tenants at the property have had a horse named Zoe since they moved in, and the horse is always a major attraction as we pass her on our way to the cabin.  This time, we arrived at night and there was a nearly full moon and a gentle, enveloping mist as we lugged our bags to the trail.  “PONIES!!” called Cleverly as she passed the corral.  “There are TWO TINY PONIES!!”.  Now, Cleverly is not always the most reliable conveyor of information, being rather dramatic and embellishing the truth at times, and she had two friends along to impress.  I was ahead of her, had not looked at the corral, was not inclined to believe her, and was not interested in turning back.  But she sounded legitimate so I left my bags and walked back.  There, in the moonlit field, surrounded in a light fog, were two small silouhettes in addition to Zoe’s shape.  Ponies?  It seemed unreal in the night, but I saw them.  And it turned out to be true: our tenants had acquired a miniature pony and she had a baby!  The kids ran down the next day and got to really hang with the equines, even brushing and feeding them with their owners.  Baby miniature pony?  That was a show-stealer with this crowd.

Rain and the Ithaca Sciencenter

From Tom Robbins, because I’ve always had a thing for him.  It really wasn’t this bad but it did rain a day and a night, and it gives me an excuse to quote Mr. Rock Star Author himself:

“And then the rains came. They came down from the hills and up from the sound. And it rained a sickness. And it rained a fear. And it rained an odor. And it rained a murder. And it rained dangers and pale eggs of the beast. Rain poured for days, unceasing. Flooding occurred. The wells filled with reptiles. The basements filled with fossils. Mossy-haired lunatics roamed the dripping peninsulas. Moisture gleamed on the beak of the raven. Ancient Shaman’s rained from their homes in dead tree trunks, clacked their clamshell teeth in the drowned doorways of forests. Rain hissed on the freeway. It hissed at the prows of fishing boats. It ate the old warpaths, spilled the huckleberries, ran into the ditches. Soaking. Spreading. Penetrating. And it rained an omen. And it rained a poison. And it rained a pigment. And it rained a seizure.”

So what to do with 6 kids when the rain doesn’t stop?  We headed to Ithaca and the Sciencenter.  We spent a lot of time here when we lived in the area, and the kids were happy to go back.  Here are some exhibits inside:

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and outside, a pendulum thing seen from above, and bubbles!

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Then there are the impressive indoor animals/fish, and a Green Tree Python with its peculiar, rather creepy, coiled manner of sitting on a branch:

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A Rescued Bunny

Mr Fantastic was mowing when he came upon a rabbit nest with 3 bunnies.  The mom had left, and unfortunately the mower killed a bunny, so two adorable critters were there in the meadow.  They were small and slow, but they were old enough that their eyes were open and they seemed ok.  The girls were on the case as they checked out the situation and made plans to adopt, however we parents felt the bunnies needed a chance to reunite with their family.  We decided to leave them overnight and deal with them the next day if needed.  As it happened, the next day there was one bunny alone in the nest.  It was quickly placed in a basket with some wool we had from cabin insulation.  See below with my hand for perspective – the little guy/gal was tiny!  And probably had not eaten or drunk anything since before the incident with the mower.

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Using the neighbor’s wifi and my trusty i-pod, I located the Janet L. Swanson Wildlife Health Center, part of Cornell university in Ithaca.  We drove over there and left the bunny, we were all a little sad about it but it was the right thing to do.  I left contact information and a couple of weeks later we got a letter from the place saying the bunny was doing well and being readied for release back into the wild.  Here are the kids outside of the center.  I thought we might get a tour or something from the staff there, but the place was small and they seemed busy so it was a little anti-climatic.  I suppose having a large number of kids didn’t help.  Anyway, we saved a bunny!

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The pond and outhouse

The pond was lovely after the rain, and the kids swam quite a bit!  There are a lot of lily pads this year, I’m not sure why.  The flowers were beautiful.

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the outhouse is looking good!  The roof is finished.  We got a fancy faux-silver toilet roll holder at a thrift store.  Mr. Fantastic put in new flooring, too, and he’s working on the broken window.  Here’s a view from inside and outside:

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and how to tell if you should approach!

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So it was a nice summer scene in rural upstate NY.  We made it back safely, returned the guests to their parents, and continued with summer in the city 2014.

 

Signing off,

Mrs. Fantastic

Ithaca, NY March 2014

Mud season!  Maple syruping!  Guests!  Norwegian Fjord horses!  Snow! Tree house casualties!  Pond walking!

We have historically avoided the cabin this time of year, but from now on I will think differently.  We went up to try tapping our maple trees and expected the mud season madness of leaden shoes caked with the stuff, tracking it in the house and car, and difficult schlepping of necessary items to and from the cabin.  What we experienced, though, was a lovely mix of three seasons and an exciting sap run as the weather shifts from cold to warm in upstate New York.

Maple tree tapping

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The idea is really simple, but the 40:1 ratio we keep hearing about is intimidating.  Yes, that’s 40 (some say 50) gallons of maple tree sap to make one gallon of maple syrup.  We just wanted to try, so we got a set-up for each child – spile (tap that goes into the tree), hook, bucket and lid – and got to work.  We put two taps on an old maple tree of about 11′ in diameter, and one tap each in two smaller, maybe 2-3′ diameter trees.  We immediately could see sap dripping into the buckets, which had us all jumping around in excitement.  I suppose the excitement wears off if you have taps that number in the 3-digits, like our neighbors who have 135 taps that drain into a hose system that goes directly into their sugar house.  They told us they produced 20 gallons of maple syrup last year, so yeah, we are not any competition for their operation.  We thought we might get a cup or so of the sweet stuff.  We let the taps drain for the 4 days we were there and started the boiling process our last day.  We were surprised that the big old tree did not produce much sap, and that one of the smaller trees – but not the other right next to it – was a strong producer.

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The cabin was steamy as it snowed outside, and the smell was wonderful.  We boiled for several hours and took the result home to finish.

Trumansburg and some denizens

T’burg is like a little sister to Ithaca, smaller but still progressive and boasting of a stellar waterfall – Taughannock Falls – a good coffee shop, the rollicking summerfest of the Grassroots Festival and the lovable Trumansburg Fair.  We took a little field trip to see gifted writer and Fjord horse aficionado Ms. Plumlot and family there.

Ms Plumlot has an abiding affection for animals and a daunting knowledge of various topics including not limited to: fracking, Elkhounds, NYC, guernsey wool, Covert Township politics, cloth diapers and Norwegian Fjord horses, of which she owns two.  We love visiting her, the Mr., the 3 Plumlets, and whatever combination of animals are on hand at the time.  They also have a beautiful cedar-shingled house warmed with a wood stove, and unbelievably, space upstairs in the red barn for 6 Fantastics to crash for the night so we could maximize hanging out and minimize driving.  It was late-winter bliss, thank you Plumlots!!!

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picture from another visit – Ms. Plumlot and I photobombed by Fenya!!

 

The cabin + our land 

We were so pleased to have the lovely and talented Sylvia Starlight and kids join us for a few days!  The kids had such a great time, using the balance board (I loved this, too!), playing board games, hearing stories, playing in the treehouse, and generally running around outside.  There were two unfortunate episodes in which Really, and later Truly, each fell out of the treehouse but there were no serious injuries and the sun and cold were a joy to experience outside and inside.   The heater is still broken, but the passive solar energy, the oven, and the 6 kids running around warmed the place nicely.  We even had a fire outside and roasted marshmallows!  Also, the little ravine creek was running, and there were patches of snow everywhere.  The colors were beautiful in the waning winter.  We had snow and sun, mud and ice, brisk air outside and warm wood in the cabin.

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The pond

I stepped on it gingerly as Mr. Fantastic and I collected sap the last day.  It seemed solid, I didn’t hear any cracking.  Looking around, the perspective was new since one usually can’t stand in the middle of the pond.  By the time we got back to the cabin, I decided it was safe for the kids – after all, they weigh less, right?  It was awesome!!!

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the cabin as seen from the pond