Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thanksgivings Past

My childhood Thanksgivings began with the two-hour drive from our house in Saratoga to my grandparents' home in the Berkshires.

My grandfather had converted a small cottage with expert craftsmanship. Every aspect of the house had been analyzed or changed to reflect his passion to mold a home into the rural landscape.

Opening the door into the tiny kitchen, my sister and I first sensed the aroma of the gas stove, next the smell of the turkey roasting.

Tradition dictated that my grandfather carve the turkey at the table, giving my grandmother the first portions and then going in order of women, oldest to youngest, and then men, oldest to youngest. With only seven people in attendance, the process didn't keep us from eating for long.

I loved Thanksgiving, but how could I not--it was wrapped up in my birthday!

The party was for me and I had the chocolate cake to prove it, until my grandmother (according to my mother) tactfully told my mother that birthday cake after a complete Thanksgiving dinner was just too much.

After that, dessert was pumpkin pie, made in an 8x8 inch square pan. No one remembers why Grandma made pumpkin pie in a square. She didn't make apple pie in a square, but that is how my childhood Thanksgivings went--one pie, plenty for only seven people, baked in a square.

But what to do about the birthday? Candles could go in anything. Certainly they worked well in pumpkin pie, but when they turned up in the stuffed celery during the cocktail hour, or in little hot dogs with American cheese on a cracker, a new tradition was born.

To make my Thanksgiving birthday even better, my grandmother's birthday was two days before mine. Sometimes one of our birthdays fell on the actual day of Thanksgiving. Definitely an excuse for more celebration. And candles had found a permanent home in the appetizers. (note them flaming on the tray table in the photo)

My grandmother, affectionately called "pleasingly plump" by my grandfather, was warm, snuggly, and covered in large Irish freckles. What I wouldn't give to see all these people with adult eyes, when the "old" relatives were only in their sixties. Just five minutes to view this scene in a home I have cherished in my memory for decades.

Time passed and traditions changed. Only twice have Bill and I had Thanksgiving in our own home. The first time was in 1984 with Meredith just days from being born. My mother said, "we will bring Thanksgiving to you." And they all came, the same seven people from my childhood, along with Bill, Thomas at two years old, and my nephew, Daniel. My mother brought the turkey and put it in the oven at my house. There would soon be a new birthday to combine with my own.

We were snowed in the second time we had Thanksgiving at home. We had planned to be with Bill's family, but the forecast had been dire all week. My father called, "Don't worry if you can't get to the Catskills. You can be with us so you won't be alone." Fortunately, I had bought a chicken to roast. No one went anywhere. Snow came down in big flakes across the entire Northeast all day.

In time, the holiday had a constant place in my parents' Saratoga home. To a new set of grandchildren, "going to Grandma's" now meant going there. My mother had name cards on the table cut from colored paper in the shape of oak leaves and plastic pumpkins filled with candy corn next to each plate.

Eventually, my sister's and my combined families numbered six children, and the house was filled with activity as the turkey roasted, glasses were filled, and good wishes toasted. Birthday candles began to appear again, sometimes in the appetizers, sometimes in the pie (now made in a circle).

Last year, in their new home, my parents had the holiday as they have for years. A couple of the grandchildren could no longer come, but new significant others joined the group. My mother now has a gas stove, and when I walk in, I smell the aromas of my childhood Thanksgivings---the stove and the turkey.

My mother always teases that she is going to "drink heavily" and may ruin the meal (a whiskey sour, her drink of choice), and in the next breath insists that Bill will have to carve the turkey despite having had a manhattan.

And the candles? My sister stood them in the appetizers.

My mother claims that this Thanksgiving will be the last one she and my father will host. She also told me that since my birthday is three days after the holiday, we would not have candles. What could I say except, "At my advanced age (turning 54), I'll try to handle it!"

I am thankful that both of my parents, at ages 85 and 86, are in their home and able to celebrate another year with all of us. I am thankful that my children are well and happy. Thomas and Marlie will be with her family for the day, and Meredith with us. My sister and her growing family will bring a new baby.

And when the day is over and we are all full of turkey and stuffing and pie, we will go home. Thomas and Marlie will arrive for the weekend, and Meredith and I will have a shared birthday celebration on Sunday with chocolate cake.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Zim Smith Trail

With all the press recently about a new section of the Zim Smith rail trail opening, Bill and I decided to check it out. In fact, we had never done the old section. Originally a six-mile bike ride, the Zim Smith trail seemed too short to be worth loading the bike on the car and driving up the Northway. Now, with two additional miles, we figured we would give it a chance at 16 miles round trip, beginning in Halfmoon and ending in Ballston Spa.

Finding the trailhead took a bit of research. We chose to begin our ride at Coons Crossing, the southernmost end of the trail and not far from Exit 10. We discovered, after driving by twice, that no signs of any kind mark Coons Crossing. At the junction of Ushers Road and Cary Road, just beyond railroad tracks we saw a road sign denoting a bike crossing. A car parked in a pull-off, the obvious beginning of a trail, and a barricade to motor vehicles made it clear that we had found our trailhead, but what about that blank kiosk?

The beginning older section of the trail is not paved, but the hard-packed gravel on a solid base gave me no trouble on my road bike. Passing next to marshes and the back yards of lovely homes, a few grasses, oaks, and sumacs lent a final flash of autumn color on this gray November-like Saturday.

With temperatures in the 40s, We started off wearing a hat under our helmets, mittens, and a scarf. I remembered what biking was like in chilly weather last Spring, and I wasn't planning to be uncomfortable. We soon warmed up and shed a few layers, even though the trail has only the slightest upgrade from south to north.

The middle section is paved and passes by a few parking locations, including Shenentaha Park where a playground and soccer field showed soggy evidence of recent heavy rains. To my surprise, the level yards and meadows along the trail turned into rugged ravines as we peddled. On the left narrow waterfalls cascaded through layers of sedimentary rock and woods, flowing into pretty creeks below to our right. An overpass for Route 9, another for the Round Lake Bypass, and an underpass for the Northway told us that we were quickly making our way towards our destination.

Continuing past the town of Round Lake, we eventually hit the new two miles of paved trail. While completely smooth and smelling of new tarmac, this is the least scenic part of the trip. (Bill, in the photo, is on the new section before we hit suburban development.) In no time we were in the middle of Curtis Lumber's storage area with the sour aroma of composting wood chips and next to live train tracks.

Advertising its "Halloween Hall," Curtis Lumber's version of Spiderman stood at the corner of route 67 playing an orange air-filled guitar and flagging people into the driveway with surprising enthusiasm. Stewart's, a few feet off the bike path, had three bikes parked nearby.

The trail ends at Oak Street, within a couple tenths of a mile to the intersection of East High Street. We discovered that this, in itself, is not a destination. However, the Village of Ballston Spa is just another six-tenths of a mile away. Lunch at one of the cute restaurants in town is a great option and would add just enough time and mileage to make this a full-day's outing.

We did not need lunch, but had brought a bottle of apple cider with us, so we turned around at Oak Street and headed back. Stopping at Shenentaha Park, we sat on a bench and had our drink. We also stopped at Round Lake on our return, riding our bikes through the charming village. Originally a Methodist Camp, Round Lake has narrow streets of ornate Victorian cottages and the perfectly restored auditorium which features concerts in the summer.

When we reached the unpaved section of trail, we were startled to see an ATV headed toward us. Even though it was traveling at a slow speed, it did not belong. Otherwise, our ride was pleasant and uneventful. We saw almost no one all day except for a few dog walkers and a handful of bikers.

Other trails in the Capital Region, such as those along the Mohawk or Hudson, offer greater scenic beauty, but this is a wonderful new option. We will definitely come back, next time bringing friends and planning lunch at the Whistling Kettle in Ballston Spa. Look for my ADK listing of an outing here next April!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Following the Foliage

My father "follows the foliage." Ideally, this means that in September, he would head north where the colors are first coming on, and then work his way South as the colored leaves move through the state. The plan never quite works out this way, but over a few weeks, depending on the weather, he catches as much of Autumn's brilliance as he can. And then there is that blessed time when it's right in his own yard.

I realized a few years ago that I am also nuts about colored leaves. Living within the city of Albany, where Norway maples make a good showing, but don't actually turn until mid to late October, I am on pins and needles that I might miss the colors elsewhere. I know that when I can see the leaves out my window, they will be down outside of the Hudson Valley. So I better get out even though it's still green at my house.

This year, I missed them in the northern Adirondacks, but with a week of blue-sky crisp days recently, I did what I could to satisfy my craving wherever I went. In Cooperstown a couple of weeks ago, heavy winds and rain had brought many leaves down, but here and there a few beautiful trees made me glad I was walking, not driving! Driving with my head swiveling from side to side is not recommended.

Not long after, I was visiting my parents in Saratoga. I had a few hours in the afternoon on a crisp 60 degree day. My father was ready in minutes when I suggested we go to nearby Shippee's Ledge, a mile-long walk with 250 feet elevation gain in the Town of Day. Shippee's Ledge has to be the biggest "bang for the buck." With views from a rocky promontory down to a branch of the Sacandaga, the half-hour hike on an old logging road is a perfect short outing.

On this day, clouds came and went. As each patch of blue opened and the colors below sparkled, another cloud followed. I had a hard time tearing my father away as he waited for "just one more" break of sun in the clouds. Watching the moving shadows on the hills, he would pick out a patch of color that he needed to see next in its sunlit glory. I had a rehearsal in the evening, and had to go. It took me a half hour to pull him away, and who wouldn't want to stay watching this brilliance return and retreat with each gap in the clouds?

My friend, Rachel, and I get together rarely for a hike. An Adirondack 46r and Northeast 114r, who feels like her hiking days now are very limited, she longs for more hiking opportunities. An annual family trip into Marcy Dam on Columbus Day keeps her hopes up that someday her young daughter will want to do the big mountains with her.

We set aside a day that proved to be cloudless and in the 50s, perfect hiking weather. On the phone, we decided that we would go "somewhere near Lake George." "Okay," I said, "I'll drive and you can study the book and map on the way." How could we go wrong on this day? Everyplace would be beautiful. We debated the East or West side of the lake, and chose the Tongue Mountain Range. Neither of us had been there in decades. It would be fun to explore and views would be crisp.

Despite not hiking often these days, Rachel is a fast and strong hiker. She is also a great conversationalist, so I let her talk, while I huff and puff behind her! Seriously, she sets a good pace, I get a workout, we catch up on the news, and we see some beautiful Adirondack scenery. Here she is on the overlook near Five Mile leanto looking West towards Gore Mt.

In fact, we didn't exactly know where we were going. We had missed the first trailhead and had begun at the northernmost part of the Tongue. Heading south, we were never sure when we had reached our destinations. Now we know--Five Mile Mountain is a great destination. Its rocky outcropping facing Lake George and looking East is a perfect lunch spot. We stood and admired the view and then said, "should we go farther?", "are we where we thought we should be?", "maybe the view opens up wider on a bigger summit."

We decided to go "just another half hour and then turn around." After a steady downhill, we turned around, and had our lunch overlooking hills of color. Back at Five Mile Mountain, we admired the green-blue of the lake, where one boat made a white trail below. Only large areas of evergreens broke the peak fall foliage.

The next day, we again had heavy rain and wind. Some of the leaves in my neighborhood blew off in swirls. But my Norway maples?--mostly still green. This year, we had to have one of the two maples in front of the house taken down, and the other lost a few big limbs. Usually, when the leaves have fallen off every tree in town, mine are bright yellow. In the upstairs bedrooms, on a sunny day, a soft yellow glow permeates the rooms. This year, I wonder, are there enough branches of the tree left to shed a glow inside the house?

I miss having two maples out front. I used to look up my street lined with gold. We do still have a mammoth maple in the back. The leaves from this tree, that I used to rake into monster mountains for the kids to jump in, now cover all of my gardens for the winter.

This season, I have done my best to "follow the foliage," and there is still more out there. The Northway in Colonie is a panorama of color, spots of brilliance line the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers, and glow in Washington Park. And when it is all gone, we'll have a period of brown and gray in the Northeast and then some snow. After that, I'll be marking my calendar for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing when the ground is covered in white and the sky is blue.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Basin & Saddleback

If it looks like Meredith and I are at the edge of a cliff on Saddleback Mountain, it's because we are. And why are we giddy with joy? Because we survived the climb up the cliff and lived to see the top! Picture a 300' wall at a 70 degree angle, and we have to go up it with no rock climbing gear or boulder experience. I'm serious. This was the scariest, most death-defying hour of our lives. Sure, we look composed here, but our knees were still shaking.

I had read about the "ledge" on Saddleback and that some people (especially women under 5'10" according to two websites) freaked out a little,...oh, and also that one false move could mean a fall to certain death. Nobody said this ledge was a straight-up wall. And here's the real kicker--I had done this before. As a teenager, my father and I had hiked from Basin to Saddleback with full loaded backpacking gear. All I remembered was that it was really hard and that I said at the time that I would never to do it again. Now that Meredith "needed" Basin and Saddleback for her 46 peaks, I figured it couldn't be all that bad.

When I read the blogs and online advice, I rationalized: my father had taken me there--would he have jeopardized the life of his teenage daughter and "hikin' buddy?"; also, having hiked 36 of the high peaks, I decided that Meredith and I had experience enough to handle doing these; 46er friends of mine agreed that online information can be extra-cautionary because people with no knowledge or experience are reading them; and finally, wouldn't I remember if I had been scared out of my skin when I hiked this previously? Well, talk about selective memory!

Meredith and I backpacked in 3.5 miles and camped near Johns Brook Lodge on Friday. Saturday morning, I felt great beginning the day with temperatures in the 40s, a clear atmosphere and predictions of 70 degrees by mid-day. Just my kind of hiking weather. The hike up Basin was predictably difficult where we hauled on tree roots to get up innumerable rock scrambles. Views at the top were breathtaking. The entire great range and beyond stood out crisp in the late-morning sun. As we descended Basin and headed toward Saddleback, I determined that the upcoming ledge was nothing to worry about. From the Basin trail, we could see the rocks on Saddleback with a few people at the top.

Our first clue that the ledge was really a slab of straight-up rock came as we stood at its base. A woman, near tears, had only a short descent remaining, and cried out for her husband to catch her. Next a couple of very nimble 30-something men came down, saw us studying how to get started up, and offered to give us a hand for the first couple of ledges. Although grateful for their help, now we were 20 feet off the ground on precipitous footing, knowing we had to go up and unable to go back down if we had chosen to.

The man who had helped us pointed to a group of half a dozen men on their way down who, he said, would give us another hand. We turned and saw them, on all fours, faces tense, one man with his backpack on his chest to keep it from bumping him forward in a roll down the rock. One man coached the others, all of whom had fear written across their faces. They would not be helping us go up--it took all their concentration just to take care of themselves. We stood, our eyes glued to their progress. When one of the men passed us, he tried to give us tips, but we could tell that he really hoped that he wouldn't, moments later, watch us tumble from higher up into a bundle of broken bones.

All of a sudden everyone was gone. Meredith and I stood alone on a thin edge of rock. It is hard to describe how we made it to the top. Sometimes there was the smallest notch in the rock that became a hand-hold, or the slightest indentation that had to keep a boot in place as we hauled ourselves up. If the boot slipped, or the hand lost its strength, we knew we would hurl hundreds of feet. And where there was a crack in the rock, we wedged a boot and tried to find a notch for our hands.

One spot, the size of a chair seat pad, allowed me to rest a minute turned forward. Like the man before, I put my backpack on my chest and was able to go a few feet up on my bottom, but then how to turn around, and get the backpack back on my back without its weight throwing off my balance and sending me to the base, no longer visible beneath the rock? And was each step the right one? What if we made it up one section, only to come to another that was insurmountable from that location? Each decision literally held do-or-die significance. We could not lose focus for a second.

Meredith and I stayed a distance apart. At one point, I said to her, "I can't believe that I am one of the people freaking out." She agreed. My legs began to shake. I couldn't watch her. What if my precious daughter fell to her death?

Finally, somehow, I reached the final stretch, and saw rocks that began to level out. I shouted to Meredith. When I could, I turned around. She was not visible below the sheer cliff edge. I thought about watching to see her head appear, but couldn't. She might still fall. Instead I kept going. At last, she was on the level ground too. At the top, a young couple that we had met on Basin said that this was the scariest and hardest thing they had ever done. The young man took our picture and understood our giddy relief.

When they left, we went to higher more secure ground to have our lunch. We were still shaking. Meredith's hands trembled as she held her peanut butter sandwich. A few young men came up from behind us, arriving at the summit from the trail that we would descend. They looked over the edge of the cliff and decided to go back the way they had come.

The view was stupendous. We could see nearly all of the peaks we had hiked over the years. A few lakes and marshes glimmered in the valleys below. We stayed at the top for a while, regaining our composure, glad for our safety, and wondering that most people do actually summit Saddleback this way. After a while, we started down the opposite side to Johns Brook.

Meredith and I had made the wonderful decision to spend our second night at Johns Brook Lodge, rather than in our tent. Evening discussions at the lodge always center on where everyone had hiked that day. A quartet of 30-something men, all fairly tall which athletic builds had done Basin and Saddleback. There were unanimous as they said, "I have never been so afraid in my life; I love to hike, but I hated that; I don't know how I did it; One false move and I would have been dead; It's the scariest thing I have ever done; I'm mentally and physically exhausted." When we discussed hand-holds and footing, they nodded and regaled us with similar predicaments. Hearing these strong young guys admit to abject terror certainly validated our experience!

At breakfast the next morning, they were still talking about it. We all felt like we had come back from a test of survival. Sure, there are those men and women, like the two nice guys who helped us up the first rock, who are like Spiderman, or who have rock-climbing skills, but for the rest of us caught between going up and going down, the risk of dire injury is too high. I may have forgotten this from when I hiked Saddleback as a 16 year-old, (or, as one friend told me, 16 year-olds are fearless, and I trusted my very capable father), but the memory is with me this time, along with a surprisingly few scratches, bruises, and a couple of tender muscles.

Basin and Saddleback are always billed as a pair, like Algonquin and Wright, Skylight and Gray, Street and Nye. If done separately, as two different trips, hikers could avoid going directly from Basin to Saddleback, yet I know of only one person who did them this way. And he separated them based on what other trails he wanted to hike, not out of any particular knowledge of the terrain. If aspiring 46ers ask me, I will tell them how to bag Basin and Saddleback on safer trails. Meredith now has 32 peaks to my 36.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Maggie's Community

My friend, Maggie, and I rode in her SUV on a one-lane dirt road like Thelma & Louise, murmuring sounds of near ecstasy as we sampled the chocolates we had just bought at a local Amish farm. Okay, not quite Thelma & Louise, we were two 50-something women licking our chocolaty fingers on a warm summer day.

I had gone to visit Maggie at her western Schenectady County property where she and Joe were building their dream house. "It's a construction site, you know," Maggie had told me on the phone. "I know," I had replied, but I admit that I was unprepared for just how much was left to be done. Long ago Maggie had explained that Joe was building the house himself, and did not take out loans to do it. He worked, saved money, bought building materials, worked on the house until he needed more money, worked, saved money....

Now after a number of years, here Maggie sat in her wheeled walker, while I pulled up a plastic outdoor chair, amidst buckets and boards in what would someday be a kitchen. The house had fabulous potential--the beginnings of a great room with fireplace were taking shape, the back of the house went into the hillside for storage and energy efficiency, and all the building materials had been chosen with environmentalism in mind.

"But it's not a dream anymore," Maggie explained after I arrived. "I can't live here. Look at me, I can't walk around outside. And for Joe, the ongoing work here has become a burden."

I remembered the first time that I had come here, Maggie and I had walked the property, crossed the road to the waterfall, and expected days ahead in the woods and meadow. Lipidema had taken over her health; now she looked towards retirement and moving to a dryer climate.

"Anyway," Maggie said after we had spent an hour catching up from our last visit, "what should we do? Do you want to go eat at the diner? Or should we visit the Amish farms? Take a ride?"

We drove down her wooded lane, framed in lush green, and into the adjacent rolling farmland of Montgomery County. In minutes we saw signs by the main road advertising fresh produce, homes and barns free-standing without connecting power lines, and buggies next to the barns. Maggie pulled into the Yoder's farm, where a sign said "fresh corn." "We'll wait a minute," she said. "They know my car and pretty soon a group of children will come out of the house."

In fact, one teenage daughter came out in her plain navy blue dress and lace bonnet, and leaned in when I rolled down my window. "What do you have, today, Laura?" Maggie asked. "Do you have bread?" Maggie turned to me and said, "they make the best whole wheat bread."

"Aw, no," Laura responded in a sing-song voice with an accent part European and part Southern twang. "It's too hot. We can only make what we need. It's too hot to make bread to sell." After more discussion of what was available from the garden, I decided that I would take some beets. Laura tramped off and pulled up four beets for me. Fresh produce, for sure! I got out of the car and walked to a picnic table, covered with tomatoes, and brought a few back for Maggie. A child's face peeked out between the curtains of the house window and I waved to her.

With her gift of always finding a level for friendly conversation, Maggie asked, "Hey, do you still have that dog I gave you?" In animated discussion Laura told the entire saga of how the dog did not like girls and women but was doing well with a man and his son who lived nearby, finally ending her story with, "but do you know an English woman came here, and the dog liked her!"

We drove a few miles to another Yoder farm. In the cellar entryway, a half dozen children in plain clothes, bonnets or straw hats, ages about 2 to 13 were playing. All but two boys, one about 7, the other about 13, scattered as we pulled up. Very businesslike, the older boy approached the car and asked what we would like. I got out and picked up two cucumbers. Maggie requested 3 green peppers which the little boy promptly picked from the garden, and a dozen eggs that the older boy brought straight from the hen house.

In her usual easy manner, Maggie asked the younger boy, "Isn't this a hot summer? Is this the hottest summer you've ever seen?" The little boy responded, "no." "Really? This isn't the hottest summer? It sure is the hottest summer I've ever seen." He remained quiet and serious. Maggie began to tease the boys that the cow sounds we heard had to be one of the boys bellowing. Neither one played along. Finally, in the car, Maggie pulled out her wallet to pay, and said, "oops I don't have any money!" At this, the older boy caught her joke, and exclaimed with a broad smile, "Well, then we can't let you have any food!" We all shared a laugh, Maggie gave him her money, and we drove away. "You wait," she said, "the next time they get together, they will all be talking about the English that came to their houses!"

Our third stop was Yoder's Woodworking. A 30-something young man, Bennie, with full red beard, hurried to the car and offered a hearty welcome. After some pleasantries, Maggie discussed business with him, telling how Joe would be over to get the wood he had requested, but not until he had earned more money. Bennie, in suspendered pants and straw hat, smiled, laughed easily, and chatted about business, about what crops and animals he had, about growing spelt this year as something new, and how they ate their main meal in the middle of the day and then could work well into the evening.

"They like me," Maggie said. "Bennie probably saw me drive by on the way to the farm, and was hoping I would stop back through. You saw how he came right over as soon as he saw my car. Bennie likes to talk and he likes us to understand how they live." She hesitated a moment and added, "and so many of them are hot!" In fact, all of the Amish children were adorable and the adults reflected the good looks of their German heritage, clear white skin and pink cheeks, blond, red, or black hair, and bright eyes.

As we continued through the pastoral countryside, Maggie said, "I love this. The farms and rolling hills. This is my favorite kind of terrain." Her dissheveled home seemed far away.

Our last stop was new to Maggie. The roadside sign read, "baked goods and candy." We drove about half a mile on a dirt driveway to the farm. Evidence of horses and cartwheel tracks confirmed that this was an Amish farm. As we approached the house and barn, it occurred to me that all of the houses we had seen needed work. These were not the calendar-photo homesteads, with freshly painted white clapboard and lilies by the foundation, of the Amish farms in Pennsylvania where tourists gawked every day. These farmers lived quiet lives under the radar, and clearly the barns held priority over the houses.

A shop built in fresh wood stood next to the barn. We opened the door and were greeted by a matronly middle-aged woman, in plain dress showing wisps of white hair at the edge of her bonnet and whose soft creamy skin and plump figure seemed the perfect image of a storybook grandmother. She had the same musical gentle voice that we had come to expect as she described the items she had for sale today. Maggie quizzed her about fruit pies that would be available on the weekend and how early she would have to arrive to get one.

I perused the chocolates and the homemade linguine-style pasta. I bought "barbecue" pasta, which the woman told me should be cooked and served with just a little butter. I also bought a bag of chocolate-covered peanut butter balls. Maggie got chocolate-covered cashews, and cherry "million dollar" fudge. "A bit steep for me," she said. The woman laughed and agreed. In fact, everything was two dollars or less.

Having tried both kinds of candy in the car, we headed back to Maggie's house with our remaining chocolates, our produce from all of the farms, and a feeling of satisfaction. Satisfaction that comes from visiting good down-home folks who responded with friendship to Maggie's comfortable way of bringing out the warmth in people. A satisfaction from buying whole foods fresh from the garden and appeasing all of our senses in rural countryside that had no rough edges or ruggedness, along with the satisfaction of having time together laughing, visiting, catching up on each other's news, and sharing an adventure.

I left Maggie in her rolling chair at the house. She had a couple of hours to mull over ideas for her next book, and to enjoy the respite from her full-time job as a Methodist minister in Saranac Lake, before her family would arrive. They would build a fire outside in the cool of the evening and roast the fresh vegetables on it. I pictured Maggie with her back turned to the unfinished dream house as she faced the meadow of Queen Anne's lace and the woods beyond, joking with her granddaughter in the firelight, and arranging a meal with her daughter and husband.

"I'll be back in the fall to go to the Amish farms again," I called, and she waved me off.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


Here I sit at the computer--no headache this morning, no headache at bedtime last night, no headache during the day or during the night, no shoulder pain waking me up at night or bugging me during the day. The truth is that I am an extremely healthy person except that I get headaches and have shoulder tendinitis. The shoulders have bothered me off and on over the years, and headaches came and went, more often in the hot weather. I've had physical therapy and a cortisone shot for the shoulders which worked for a while, and I have various medications for the headaches. Thanks to the Honest Weight Food Co-op, I've also had the opportunity to try a free session of both healing touch and reflexology, besides regularly using essential oils.

This year I have been plagued by these two issues since March. Daily headaches in cold weather? I was not happy about this. Intense violin rehearsals for many concerts all Spring that irritated the shoulders?--not fair to be suffering for something I love to do! During the month of May, I had only nine days without a headache, along with fairly continuous shoulder pain. Should I go back to the orthopedist to get a prescription for more physical therapy? Should I go back to the neurologist for new (stronger) headache meds?

I didn't want more drugs, and I was convinced that my shoulder issues and headaches were related. Since medical specialists who had treated me in the past focused on their specific areas, I wanted to try something new. When all of the Excedrin I was taking began to bother my stomach, I said enough was enough. My friend, Linda, recommended The Acupuncture Office in Latham, and I made an appointment with Judy Kodela.

My first impression upon entering Judy's examination room was the relaxed pace with which she questioned me, her easy conversation, and her quiet moments thinking about my situation. Her entire approach was completely different from my usual doctors visits. Within the first fifteen minutes of the hour-long appointment she said, "I'm sure the shoulder issues and headaches are related." I felt instant confidence that she could help me. She studied my tongue twice, took my pulse from both wrists, and pushed pressure points behind my neck, upper back, hands, and feet. At each pressure point she found a tender spot and a corresponding release point, allowing tight areas of my shoulders to relax.

Judy played relaxation music as she inserted fine, painless, needles into my hands, feet, knees, stomach, and one in the forehead. None went into my shoulders, or the nose and eye area of my head where my headaches always begin. Then she left me to lie flat, listening to the music for about ten minutes. When she returned and took out the needles, she asked, "Now, how do you feel?" No shoulder pain, no headache.

I was very excited the first week when four days went by and I had not had a headache. I was crushed on the fifth day when I felt the familiar pain begin on the side of my nose and intensify as it went behind my eye. The first week my shoulders were no better. The second week, I had three headaches, but the shoulders felt great about half the time. I was on a roller coaster--one day thrilled, disappointed the next.

Judy responded to my weekly reports by adding or subtracting pressure points and needles. She wanted better results, too. By the fourth appointment, progress was significant. I determined that I was having half the usual number of headaches, despite the 90-plus degree weather, and that my shoulders were 80% better. To give me a sense of control, Judy showed me how to find the push and release points so that I could decrease my shoulder pain myself. She also pointed out a few pressure spots on my nose and eye area that I could use if I felt a headache coming on.

At the fifth appointment, I told Judy that I had budgeted for six appointments. She nodded that she understood, but still wanted to beat those remaining headaches. At the final appointment, she inserted many more needles than she had during the past few appointments and left me alone with the music for a longer period.

Today, I would say that my shoulders are 90% better and my headaches are 60% fewer. Now I make a note of the days when I have a headache because they are comparatively rare. Usually two Excedrin will knock them out, and I only have to go for heavy-duty drugs about once a week. Having had six appointments in five weeks, I consider this a dramatic improvement, and I expect even better results as the weather cools. I feel more empowered and encouraged. As I left my final appointment, Judy said, "If you have any health problems in the future, come here first."

Would I go to the Acupuncture Office first if something else comes up? Well, I might try my doctor with her $15 co-pay first. But second, yes, I would definitely visit Judy again, mostly because I am determined not to get into chronic use of medications. The initial fee was $100. Each hour-long appointment thereafter was $70. I would encourage others to try this as a holistic, drug-free, alternative to conventional medications and procedures.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Cool places for a hot day

As most of you know, I am not a lover of hot weather and prefer activities like hiking and biking which have had no appeal lately. However, as I look back over the past couple of weeks (trying to see the good, you know), I realized that I have been to some great places on days when heat and humidity have sapped my energy.

One was Wiawaka on Lake George. Wiawaka was begun in the 1880s by a few wealthy people as a retreat for immigrant women who worked in the collar factories of Troy. A main lodge with a dining room was built on the property, surrounded by a few cottages where the women stayed in dormitory style rooms. Still a retreat for women (men are only allowed on the property in July), Wiawaka has day use for $15 and overnight lodging, with fees on a sliding scale based on income.

My mother and I took advantage of the day use option, bringing our own picnic. We walked the fairly limited acreage and then sat on a bench overlooking the lake for our lunch. Since Wiawaka is located near Lake George village, the lake activity is entertaining and we waved to all the cruise boats that went by. Humidity was dense so views were not crisp, but a breeze kept us very comfortable.

Day use includes walking on the property, a restaurant lunch option in the lodge for an additional fee, swimming at two small roped off areas, and use of canoes and pedal boats. The big draw is the peace and quiet, and the beauty of being on private waterfront property at Lake George. The day we were there, a small group of women were attending a conference for female entrepreneurs in the lodge. Otherwise, we only saw two other people in the three hours that we were at Wiawaka. My mother and I did some wading and then found two Adirondack chairs under the pine trees to sit in while our feet dried. We expended a small amount of energy visiting and eating, and had a great day despite the high humidity and high temperatures.

A second place to go is to the newly restored Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Madison Avenue in Albany. The Cathedral has tours every Wednesday at 1 p.m. Okay, so the cathedral was hot (except in the chilly crypt!). Poor Father Pape wiped his brow continuously during the tour. Still, seeing this Albany landmark is worth finding the time in the middle of a weekday, especially for those of us who are not Catholic and would not be planning to visit this wonderful building for Mass. My friend, Cathy, and I forfeited our weekly music rehearsal and it was well worth it--Mozart could wait.

In the Spring, the Times Union had piqued our interest with a feature story on the cleaning, painting, rebuilding, rewiring, and upgrading that has been taking place over the past few years at the Cathedral. Cathy and I loved seeing the bright stained-glass windows that had come out from under 150 years of dust and dirt; we admired new lighting that focused on the cleaned and painted statues, and were fascinated by freshly painted walls and ceilings done with historic accuracy based on paint chips that had been dissected at a lab; we looked closely at glistening brass fixtures, gold leaf trim enhancing fleur de lis accents, and so much more.

We were impressed that Father Pape, pastor of the Cathedral, took the time to offer these tours, but we quickly understood that this building is his passion. He began with historical background from 1842, continuing right up to his hopes for continued work into the future. He welcomed the many questions Cathy and I had about music in the church.

The hour-long tour is free, but parking in one of the two nearby state parking lots is $5. Since any of us who ventures downtown occasionally has seen the scaffolding outside of the Cathedral and has heard about the restorations inside, this is a great low-energy place to go. Even though the church is warm on a hot day, the tall plaza buildings near this section of Madison Avenue create a wind tunnel that provided a welcome breeze as we returned to the car.

A third place that I have been during the heat wave is Lake Myosotis in Rensselaerville. Rensselaerville is a charming village about a half-hour southwest of Albany. The temperature is easily 7 or 8 degrees cooler than Albany which is why schools close here often in the winter.

The beach and parking lot on Lake Myosotis are private for residents of the town who pay an annual fee. Even on a hot day, just a few families use the property. The rest of us have to hike in, but have no fear, this hike is short and not strenuous. Bill and I walked through the woods and sat on a picnic table in grassy shade by the lake, soaking up the breeze (which seemed to have been missing in Albany!). Kingfishers flew into the treetops and dove for fish in the water, while the occasional duck or goose swam by. Across the way, a heron stood poised in a marshy area.

From the Huyck Preserve parking in the village, a path goes up along one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the Capital Region. From the top of the falls, you can either walk directly to the lake or hike around the lake to Lincoln Pond and then back to the Myosotis beach area. Non-residents like us cannot swim at the beach, but a short walk beyond the beach area offers waterfront where a beach chair would be comfortable and wading in water shoes over the stones refreshing. A chair, a book, a snack, some free time, and just enough energy to get you to and from your car, are all you need to enjoy Lake Myosotis on a hot day.

And then there is the occasional morning at home, like this past Sunday, when the air seemed suddenly drier and cooler after the nighttime storm. A breeze came through the porch where breakfast outdoors and the Sunday newspaper made us feel like home was the best place to be.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Danker's Global Village

When Bill and I moved into our house in 1983, along with 8 month old Thomas, we were told that the apartments across the street were "like a retirement village." And it did seem that the tenants at Danker Village were old, quiet, and many did not own cars. Taxis and the ambulance service were frequent visitors to our dead-end street. Neighbors described watching the complex being built in the 1940s on land that Danker Florist had used for its gardens.

As the older folks moved on, neighbors worried about "what kind of people" would replace them. Most newcomers were still retirees, but by 1990, we had Ukrainian women wearing printed head scarves, and long printed skirts; families from Belarus who fled cancer-causing contamination from Chernobyl; and Poles, coming as all of them had, for freedom to practice their Jewish faith.

Thomas and Meredith had new friends! Alex, Lera, Boris, and Igor joined in games of basketball, climbed trees at the end of the street, shared afternoons ice skating on our nearby pond and snow-tubing in the park. They also shook up the status quo by flaunting their disbelief in Santa Claus. In heavy Russian accents, the parents of these children told us why they had left their homeland, and about their dreams for the future. The friendships continued even after the families managed to save up enough money to leave the apartment complex and buy their own homes.

By the mid-90s, UAlbany began a residency partnership with Danker Village for their Chinese graduate students. Quiet and diligent, these students were easy across-the-street neighbors. Each year when the first couple of inches of snow fell, the young people would take turns photographing one another standing in the snow, touching snowflakes on the tree, and brushing snow off the car. I loved seeing their excitement over the first snow fall.

A few growing pains arose as the population changed. Cars multiplied on the street. New residents chose not to pay an additional fee to house their cars in the garages behind the apartments. Not only did they park on the street, but every individual in every apartment seemed to have a car. Homeowners had to face the fact that the street in front of our houses was not our own. A few unsavory tenants arrived, and once I did call the police to quiet a domestic dispute that I could hear from across the street.

But now we have Carl, dubbed the Mayor of Danker Village. He visits my favorite neighbor, Mrs. Mendleson, every day. Mrs. Mendleson says, "There were times in my life when I might not have made it if someone hadn't helped me out. I try to do the same for someone else when I can." Carl is her current charge. She says, "He's a lonely old man. I can spend a few minutes listening to him." And then adds with a laugh, "Most of the time he talks about his dead relatives in Brooklyn."

Despite such severe hearing impairment that his speech is garbled, Carl knows everyone, and he seems to be everywhere. The instant the garbage or recycling truck comes on Fridays, Carl is over at Mrs. Mendleson's turning her containers right-side up and returning them to her back yard. He also picks ours off the street, puts the lids back on, and stands them on our grass. Recently, he began to do the same for our next-door neighbors on the other side. Their health has failed in the past couple of years, and menial tasks are difficult. Carl has added them to his Friday list. If the recycling truck arrives considerably later than the garbage truck, Carl comes over twice.

This past year, more and more Chinese have come to the apartments. Unlike the UAlbany students, some of whom are still here, these Chinese people have families. They come with infants, toddlers, and elderly parents. The first Chinese woman I met was Hong. Hong came to my door brandishing garden clippers. "Your flowers make me sneeze," she said. "I can cut them for you." I looked puzzled--my garden was well across the street. "The doctor says it is those plants," she pointed. "I can do it for you. It will only take a minute." Would she step into my garden and snip the all flowers off? It took a while for me to calm her, agreeing several times that I would take care of the problem, while she held the clippers in my direct line of vision.

I was able to lead the conversation in a more congenial direction. Hong told me that her name was Xue (shway). "It means snow," she said. "Snow is rare and precious in my country, and good for the farmers. On the day I was born, it was snowing, so my mother named me Xue. I tell my American friends to call me Hong because they have trouble with a name that begins with 'X.'" She explained that she took care of her 90 year-old mother. "We are brought up to take care of our parents. It's a cultural thing, not like here." I said nothing, but I had many friends who were very caring of their aging parents. In the evening, I cut the offending flowers and made a huge bouquet for the diningroom table. I could accomodate the request this once, and who knew, maybe Hong wouldn't even live here next year, I thought. But she did, and for one more season, I cut the flowers, in fear that she might once again shine her clippers in my direction. Instead, she came over and thanked me.

This Spring babies seem to be everywhere. Old Chinese grandmothers carry them up and down the street for air. Parents walk them in strollers. Families visit with one another and appear to have a sense of community unparalleled to any I have seen in the apartments before, more than when the immigrants from the former Soviet countries were here, and more than long ago when the retirees all knew each other.

One day Bill looked out the front window and said, "There's a little Chinese girl standing in the bay window of that apartment." He pointed, but before I could take a look, he exclaimed, "There are two of them! Two little girls exactly the same standing in the window!" This drew my attention and I saw the figures of two toddlers in the end apartment.

Since that day I have met Kelly and Kayla and their parents. "We named them almost the same," their father told me. "It is a Chinese custom when you have twins." I thought of twins my children knew in Elementary school named Treenah and Teenah, and thought, Americans often choose similar names too, but I said nothing. Kelly and Kayla are busy toddlers, running everywhere, and crying when they don't want to share. Their grandfather, who lives with the family, walks the block with the little girls, making sure they don't go too far.

One day the grandfather saw me mowing my lawn. I waved and he came over. He looked at my non-motorized reel lawn mower, and made a rolling motion with his hands. I nodded that, yes, it worked by having a rolling blade. He looked again and shook his head. "Oh," I said, "but it works fine." It did indeed leave some stubbly stalks as it mowed. He shook his head again. The grandfather did not like my mower! With hand motions, however, he did indicate to me that he liked our house. He pointed to the two upstairs dormers and gave me a thumbs-up. Then he walked down the driveway and looked at the backyard, returning with another thumbs-up. Now I wave to the little extended family whenever I see them.

I also wave to the young family with two little boys. That family set up a grill outside one day and many of the families joined in a weekend picnic. Carl walked over and all of his neighbors knew him. Recently, an acquaintance said to me with a tone of concern, "How are the apartments? I hear they are full of Asians now." I smiled and said, "Yes, lots of families. They are great neighbors." We wonder who will come next. These families will grow, assimilate, and leave. If the 27 years that we have lived here have taught us anything, it is that the apartments will continue to change in interesting ways, and I will continue waving to new across-the-street neighbors.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Seward Range

Meredith and I continued our journey towards hiking the 46 High Peaks of the Adirondacks this weekend in the Seward Range, known as one of the wildest areas in the Northeast. We put three of the range's four peaks on our weekend agenda: Donaldson, Emmons,and Seward. In bright sunshine, we drove nearly four hours to the trailhead in Coreys and then backpacked three miles.

We found a small area of flat enough ground within legal distance of Calkins Brook for our little tent. With brute strength, Meredith uprooted two maple trees to clear a space and then "appeased the tree spirits" by replanting them nearby(see photo).

Early the next morning we headed up the Calkins Brook trail, first climbing Donaldson. Temperatures began to rise, and with little breeze, I felt sluggish. Meredith, however, has gotten a daily workout in New York City, hauling her guitar, flute, music and other baggage, up and down subway stairs and across miles of the City to her Music Therapy home patients. She hiked with energy and ability.

From a rocky promontory, Donaldson has fabulous views looking east to the Great Range (photo above). Emmons, farther on, is an enclosed summit, but its trail faces west and south, opening occasionally to Long Lake and Tupper Lake far below. From Emmons, we returned to Donaldson, and then continued on over open rock faces with nice views to Seward where the summit is wooded (see photo above of two diesel women). Ranges like this in which mountains have to be done as a series are a challenge. This one, however, was manageable; we had no death-defying moments such as when we climbed Colvin and the trail suddenly disappeared into a hole that dropped thirty feet, or on Gray, where a rock face had a ledge just boot-width to walk on, reminding us that one gesture of imbalance could send us falling to broken bones.

Returning to our tent, we determined that we were the only people within eight miles--an isolation hard to imagine, especially given that Meredith would be back in her Upper East Side studio apartment in New York City the next evening. None of the few hikers we had seen during the day was camping in the area. In addition to the three miles that we had hiked in from the trailhead, five more miles of dirt road were between us and the nearest house.

The first night, I finally managed to get to sleep when Meredith tapped me on the head, "Are you awake?" she whispered. I grunted. "Good, listen," she said in a barely discernable voice. Her head was up, tense. I heard a rustling in the leaves. "It's a squirrel or a chipmunk," I said, not happy to be woken up; then I added unsympathetically, "We probably put the tent over its hole and it's trying to get home." I put my head back down, hoping to go back to sleep.

A few minutes later, Meredith nudged me. In a slightly exasperated tone, I said, "It's just a small animal. Hear how quick and light the movements are?" She jumped, exclaiming, "Something bumped my hand! It's freaking me out!" I had to face it, sleep would have to wait. "It's not a bear or anything, really," I said. I pulled my sleeping bag over my head, and soon heard her rhythmic breathing of sleep long before I, too, drifted off.

The second night, we were determined to sleep well after hiking eleven miles over three peaks, but distant flashes of lightning lit up the woods followed by rumbles of thunder, and a rustling of leaves began near my head. Meredith grabbed my arm. "The hike was easier than this," she lamented. When I mentioned years of previous camping experiences, she said, "I haven't camped in a long time." And, of course, I had mentioned a few times earlier, with great satisfaction, that we were at least eight miles from the nearest human.

Now I began to think that the animal could be bigger, maybe a porcupine or a raccoon. Curiosity got the better of me, and I sat up focusing my headlamp outside to the woods, hoping to see some interesting wildlife in its own habitat, but each time I shone the light, the noise stopped. All I saw were large toads. Finally, after a great scuffling, loud crackling, and thumping, I spotted the culprit--a tiny brown woodland mouse! It worked hard, pulling the label off one of our water bottles, its long tail winding over a log. It tugged and yanked, rolling the bottle in the leaves. After a good view and a few laughs, we both settled down and slept until rain pattered the tent roof.

We walked out the three miles to the car, occasionally singing along the way, and scaring a ruffed grouse who reprimanded us in full plumage. I was disappointed that the hot weather had made me listless on the mountains, but was pleased with the views and our camping experience including the wildlife. I am now a 36er. Meredith was happy with her agility and strength. She took many pictures of wild flowers and of the lake views. With a great sense of accomplishment, she is now a 30er! We drove back through the Adirondacks, chatting along the way, and stopped for the obligatory meal at the Noonmark Diner.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Strawberries for dinner

Ahh, those luscious red berries kissed by the sun. I picked lots this weekend, and then we gorged on them having our traditional strawberry shortcake dinner. Yup, strawberry shortcake for dinner and nothing else. I got this idea when the kids were little--a great reward for the picking--all the dessert you can eat. Some carbs, some fat, some vitamin C laden fruit. Who could ask for better?

In just over a half-hour of preparation, the buttermilk biscuits are baked, the cream whipped, and the berries smashed. Now that Thomas and Meredith are no longer around, Bill and I still enjoy this annual feast, but I won't tell you how many servings of strawberry shortcake each of us consumes at one sitting!

I have picked strawberries for as long as I can remember. My mother, sister, and I would go out to Baker's Farm, on Baker Hill, a farm community just off of Saratoga Lake. I didn't like picking; I was young, and I was slow. My mother picked the most, and my sister was almost as fast. To me it was a laborious morning, improved only with the promise of future earnings.

At home, my mother determined how many quarts we needed for the family and how many we could sell. My sister and I put the designated quart containers in our red wagon and trundled across the street to visit our elderly neighbors. We charged slightly more for the berries than we had paid, and the neighbors were thrilled to get them fresh-picked at a reasonable price, often adding in a tip. My mother settled the tally when we returned to the house--a neutral party between my sister who picked more of the berries, and me, who expected an even share of the profit!

When my kids were at home, we made regular pilgrimages for pick-your-own strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries. Now, my friend Linda is my usual picking companion, although I have sometimes coerced my husband to join me, or still now-and-then have the company of Meredith and my daughter-in-law, Marlie, if they are visiting.

Despite tonight's strawberry bacchanal, there are still plenty of berries in the refrigerator, enough for a dish at breakfast and a dish for dessert in the evening for a few days. Then it will be time to revisit the berry farm!
(For those of you who are local, I go to Altamont Orchards.)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Rose Gardens

I met my friend, Terry, at the Central Park Rose Garden in Schenectady. Unlike Yaddo with its ordered garden, each rose bush equidistant from the other, surrounded by beautiful statuary and the new elegant pergola, Schenectady's rose garden is a riotous symphony of flowers, one bush melting into the next.

Terry and I admired the roses and then walked on a woodsy path deeper into the park, taking turns at whim, until we realized that all paths led to a giant pine. As if in awe, the other trees stood a few steps away giving space to the old one.

After continuing our walk into surrounding neighborhoods, we headed back to the rose garden where we spent several minutes sitting on a bench in the breeze, visiting, and gazing at the roses.

Last week, the final week of May, when I realized that roses were blooming, I was disturbed. It was a month too early. What did this say about our climate, our summer-like spring, our lack of snow over the winter? Erin, Education Director at the Pine Bush, said, "It is almost hard to enjoy the roses when we know that it is not good for them to be blooming now," and I agreed. I watched my white aromatic bush in the backyard bloom profusely, the red ones on the fence opened with just a touch of magenta, and the salmon-colored roses bordering my neighbor's property greeted the morning sun. I enjoyed them but I could not forget that something was wrong and this was the evidence.

Today, I knew I should come to this garden in Central Park, even if it was weeks early. I knew it would be beautiful as it always is. Terry and I compared the various pink shades, the yellows, and magentas, and then meandered into the shady rhododendrons, also out in full. We thought of all the volunteer hours that went into making this a haven and we appreciated the efforts of others. So, come to the garden, smell the sweet smells, and see the beauty of the rose.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Folded Rock

Since the publication of my book in 2005, people often ask me if I am still writing. Recently, friends have said, "you should write a blog!" Here is my first posting.

Today, Bill and I hiked Peaked Rock near Cambridge in Washington County. Well, we thought it was Peaked Rock, but the trail register said "Folded Rock." The DEC sign at the parking area also said Folded Rock although it has been Peaked for all the times we have hiked there in the past.

The summit (2.6 miles one way, 1000 feet elevation gain) offers beautiful views of the Battenkill Valley. Red barns, white houses, and tilled fields lie below, as the Battenkill meanders through the woods. Rolling hillsides beyond the valley are now mostly tree-covered. The whole view is framed by mature trees at the summit which makes the destination unusually shaded, a nice feature on a warm day.

We sat eating our lunch, shifting on the hard rock seats. I turned and looked at "my" rock--was it folded? It definitely wasn't peaked. It was on just enough of a tilt to make me look for the best sitting angle. Perhaps this destination should be called "Tilted Rock." Regardless, this is a great hike. Despite the 85 degree day, a cool breeze blew up the hillside and kept us very comfortable.

If you know why the name has changed, let me know.