Ithaca, NY November 2013

This was the trip of hand-built and restored houses.  We went up to our cabin, itself timberframe + straw-bale + built largely by Mr. Fantastic, and ended up ogling at several other unique structures that our amazing friends are constructing.  There is so much of a good vibe and so much gorgeous acreage in this part of the finger lakes, people just want houses that reflect all that loveliness.  Cozy houses that are warm in the snow with windows to enjoy the beautiful view. Woodwork that glows in the sun.  South-facing windows to catch the winter light and passively warm the place along with a wood stove.

Our Cabin

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our cabin upstairs and from a distance

The Rad Family

We started out spending a day with the Rad family and their 1865 off-the-grid farmhouse.  They have propane lights, a compost toilet, and a wood burning cook stove.  Ms. Rad was raised by artists in Alaska, bakes like nobody’s business, and has so much style the place just bursts with beauty- the indoor and outdoor spaces and her four kids running around.  Mr. Rad was out rock climbing somewhere and Mr. Fantastic was tooling around downtown Ithaca so it was just us women and children.  I didn’t mind a bit.


kids eating lunch out back, lovely kitchen with aromas of baking banana-chocolate chip bread – the hutch has a built-in flour sifter!

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1920’s porcelain wood-burning cook stove, chicken house, kids out front looking like folks at a retirement home 


Really with a cat out front, both twins out back 

Ms. Rad’s father is building a summer home with a studio in the back field.  He is using some beautiful old beams salvaged from a barn.  Clearly, the place will have terrific views.  The giant staircase with the beams makes a great sliding board for now!

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Home under construction, kids on steps, Ms. Rad and some of her father’s work 


outdoor bath/shower (covered in plastic for winter) and the view from the tub!

We had a great day with the kids running around and then a random errand to help a neighbor move a shed.  Move a shed by hand?? yup.  It’s all about cooperative spirit up in Ithacaland.

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Fiercely documented.  That’s Ms. Rad in the dress.  I’m in there somewhere.

The Dynamite Family

We also visited the Dynamite Family – Mr. + Mrs. and their three daughters.  They have lived for about 8 years, interspersed with some interesting travel, in a timberframe cabin that is, more or less, 300 square feet.  It is off the grid and has a spring for a water source.  As they grew to a family of 3, then 4, then 5,  they enlarged the cabin a bit and thought about building something bigger.  I always admired their commitment to simple living at the cabin and loved hearing about their long-term travels to Florida, California, and Costa Rica.

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Outside and inside the cabin

Last year, they began construction on a two-story timberframe house of about 1800 square feet.  They were in the final stages of construction when we stopped by.  Wow- this house is already dazzling and is only going to get better.

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the house from the East, view from the porch and the south-facing windows, solar panels and the workshop where Mr. Dynamite cut the wood for the house (!!!!), and a view of the house from the West.

Bonus!!! Women’s Full Moon Sauna

This was wonderfully serendipitous.  There are various saunas and sweats in the Ithaca area, and when I lived there I took full advantage.  My favorite was the women’s full moon potluck and sauna that took place for years at a property outside of Trumansburg, a hip sister community about 10 miles west of the main scene of Ithaca.  That one had a pond that we could jump into between sweats.  It would ice over in winter and we would break the ice and jump in- whooo!!

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sauna building with stovepipe and solar panels! It has an excellent bucket shower in back. full moon over the trees

Like many rural Ithaca area real estate, where sauna-loving Finnish people landed in the New World back in the day, Ms. Rad’s property came with a sweet little sauna building.  She now hosts the event, and it was a refreshing, cleansing evening of women’s talk and basking in the cold bright moonlight between sweats in the wood stove-heated sauna- aaaaaah.

Return to Lake George, end of Aug through Labor Day 2013

We couldn’t resist, we went back.  This time with an upgrade from the leaky borrowed rowboat!  Yes, we arrived in style in our recently-purchased, cooperatively-owned, 17′ 1974 Siren sailboat, dubbed the Dragonfly after much debate by the 9 kids involved.  Maybe the other boaters weren’t impressed as they zoomed by on their souped-up motorboats, but we just love the Dragonfly!  This little boat is about as long as our minivan and has a cabin, motor and 2 sails.  It weighs 750# so fits comfortably in the range of towing capacity of our car.  It came with a trailer, life vests, extra sails, a first aid kit even!  All hail Craigslist!  The Dragonfly was perfect for our dabble in the sailing world, and perfect for Lake George.  We loaded it up with people and gear and headed once again from Hulett’s Marina to Vicar’s Island.

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The Dragonfly loaded with our friends/co-owners of boat and pulling their kayak

Somehow Mr. – or should I say Captain- Fantastic knew what he was doing with the sails.  There were only two, but I had no idea how to use them.  Somehow, some way, Mr. Fantastic reached back to his limited, long-ago teenage experiences sailing and was suddenly using terms like “port” and “starboard” instead of “left” and “right”, and telling me the line was “fouled” when it was caught or tangled.  Who is this sailor guy?

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possibly fixing the fouled line on the port (?) side with both sails up

We swam in the wonderful clear water, launched ourselves off the rocks, and sailed around whenever there was wind.  The sailing was peaceful, except when it was terrifying in a strong wind!  Also, when there is no wind, you can’t sail of course.  It was nice to have the motor when we needed it, also we had oars and we could paddle if necessary.  There was even a 4th way to move the Dragonfly– it is so small and light, you could actually pull it from the dock or even push it while swimming behind if you had to.  What a sweet little boat.  I also loved the kayak; I had never used one before and aside from an unfortunate incident that led to my prescription sunglasses resting at the bottom of the 150′ depths of the lake, I enjoyed paddling around to nearby islands.  Fiercely also tried it and did well.

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Fiercely jumping and me diving off the 15′ cliff!!   The kids kept yelling ‘YOLO!’ which amuses me when coming from the 12-and-under set – for the uninitiated, it stands for Yo Only Live Once.

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Fiercely in the kayak. She paddled around the island solo! Twins + a friend snorkling and swimming in the clear clear water.

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Our campsite and its associated fancy patriotic latrine!

Lake George the Lake vs. Lake George the Town

We spent a day at the town of Lake George.  What a contrast to our island campsite!  This is a kitschy tourist town that brings that 50’s – 70’s cheesy style back with pride.  I found this photo from the 70’s and I swear we saw some of those same signs last week!


Here are some sights we saw there in the town of Lake George.  It was full of multicultural tourists – I’m sure I heard Russian, German, Chinese, and some Indian languages as well as Midwest, New Yawk and inner-city American, and Canadian English.  Everyone loves kitsch, and the mountains and lake are right there too so there’s something for everyone.  Looking for a rustic island campground?  Or maybe you prefer arcade games and a gangnam style t-shirt?  You’re in the right place, or nearby at least.

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Giant bovine in a traffic jam, and apparently a rodeo on the way!

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Really took this of Cleverly and a carved wooden bear outside of an arcade

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House of Frankenstein Wax Museum inside and out!

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Nice garden at Shepard Park across for the wax museum, our kids + 2 friends ODing on candy at Shepard Park

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Parasailing and ferry boat rides seen from the park, like I said, something for everyone!

Beware the Lake George Burrito!

If you are looking for burritos, however, avoid this place like the plague.  We had the worst burritos of our lives at this place.  We have strong feelings about burritos, especially Mr. Fantastic who is almost religious about it.  $12 for lousy refried beans and rice in a cheap wrap is unconscionable in our book.  Burrito chains like Moe’s, Chipotle, heck even Taco Bell do better for about half the price.  No veggies even though we requested vegetarian but got no break on price from the pork/chicken/beef price.  No guac, no lettuce, no cheese even!  As we were leaving, the friendly cashier next store suggested we try another place next time, but then remembered its the same owners.  Say it isn’t so!  A black mark on the otherwise cheery tourist mecca in the lovely Adirondacks.  We went back to the campsite and made wonderful burritos with lots of veggies and homemade guacamole just to get the experience out of our minds and tastebuds.

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Really, Fiercely, and Papa Fantastic trying to recover from the epically bad Lake George Burritos

Lake George, NY August 2012

In which the Fantastics borrow a leaky rowboat to reach a reputed lovely state park island campground…

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The borrowed rowboat on our car and some of the Fantastic crew, island sign, driving with the boat – notice window in driver’s view, and blue strap holding boat on roof. The blue strap would buzz in the wind for hours! 

Mr. and Mrs. Stupendous, longtime friends of ours and parents of two, waxed poetic about Vicars Island – the clean, clear water, the campground only accessible by boat, the sunsets… So when Mr. Stupendous asked us to plan a year in advance to join them there, we did.  We plan almost nothing that far in advance.  Or wedding we put together in about 3 months, the twins (well, one of them) we found out about 2 weeks before their birth, I could go on and on.  But we didn’t have a boat, who has a boat in the city?  Well, Mr. Fantastic located the one above and procured it for our journey.

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Our campsite and dock. We canoed around the little island in the L foreground

Vicar’s island can be reached from a tiny mainland area called Huletts Landing.  We parked there while at the island.  There is a boat launch there and, well, we launched from there.  Or some of us did.  We realized quickly that Vicars Island is rather far when rowing from Huletts Landing Marina, we later found out a mile and a half.  So we had 6 people and all of our camping gear to haul across that distance.  The other family had already arrived at the island via their canoe. And the shadows were growing longer.  Papa Fantastic decided to head out with some kids and luggage while I waited with the rest.  I watched him rowing away, getting smaller and smaller and the sun went lower… Ultimately I was brought to the island by a boat with an engine driven by a helpful vacationer who had offered Mr. Fantastic the favor.  We were grateful and the vacation commenced.

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The island has 11 camping spots, all include dock access, a tent platform, and a fire pit/grill.  There are several excellent rocks to jump into the lake from on different parts of the island.  They may be part of other campsites but there were few or no other campers during our time there so we roamed freely around the island.  An important thing to know, especially since you will likely not have the benefit of camping with the Stupendous family and their hand-pumped water filter, is that there is no drinking water on the island.  We used filtered lake water for drinking and unfiltered water for washing dishes, showering, etc.  As for toilets, there are outhouses, one for each campsite or two.

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We spent our time jumping off rocky cliffs and the docks, swimming in the lake, and taking short canoe trips to smaller islands just to see what was there.  There is something special about the water – it is so clean and clear.  Apparently it is an oligotrophic lake, with a low nutrient content and therefore less algae and fish life.  Even in August it was cold, but wonderful for swimming.

The area was not overly crowded, but there were a fair amount of motorboats with waterskiers, people fishing, etc.  We also rowed back to Huletts Landing one day and drove to Lake George, the town.  It is a bit if an old-school tourist town with a carnival vibe – there is a wax museum, haunted house, candy and t-shirt stores.  Outside the main drag are many strip malls with ‘outlet stores’ for shopping.  We’re planning a return trip but we have a different boat!