Monday, December 18, 2017

Merry Christmas to my Blog Readers!

Dear Readers,
I am finding that my parents' old-age issues are making me more nostalgic than usual, so I am posting a piece from 2003.  This is a chapter from my book "Cool Mom on the Hot Seat" (2005).  My best wishes to everyone for a very Merry Christmas.
 Snow Descending

I called my parents on Christmas Eve. “Come tonight,” I said. “Or at least when you come on Christmas bring overnight clothes. I really want you to be here and the forecast is for a huge snowstorm.”
After consulting with my mother, my father called back. “We’ll beat the storm and come tomorrow morning between 7 and 7:15 and we’ll plan to stay overnight if we have to.”
I told the family about the plans.
Daniel, my twenty-one year old nephew, asked hesitantly, “Grandma and Grandpa are coming by 7:30?”
Thomas joined in. “I better prepare myself for Grandpa’s excitement that early in the morning.”
I laughed. “Hey you guys, a few years ago you would have been thrilled to have them here for breakfast.”
“We didn’t care about sleep then,” Daniel said with a sheepish grin.
My seventy-eight year old father would be excited about Christmas and excited about the snow. He would have been up since 6 a.m. and would likely enter our house with a rousing, “ho, ho, ho.”

Despite his concern, Daniel slept through my parents’ arrival on Christmas morning and we had a family breakfast by 8:30 without him. At 11:00, Carolyn arrived in a snow shower. By noon the flakes fell hard and fast, and we were glad to see Bill’s sister, Mary Jo, and her family arrive.
Now with twelve for cocktails, gifts, dinner and dessert, voices filled our little house and we tripped over each other in the kitchen. The windows steamed up from warmth and cooking so it was easy to ignore the deepening snow until dinner was over. Estimates began on how much had accumulated.
“Only about three inches,” my father said.

I think there’s more,” Michael, Mary Jo’s husband, guessed. He opened the front door and the two of them stuck their heads out surveying the white atmosphere. Like the uncles in Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales, the men discussed the issue from the comfort of the living room.
Carolyn said, “The snow is getting heavier. I think I better go home.”
Staying overnight was not an option for her. Not only was she allergic to our cat, but she had to be home because her younger children were scheduled to be at her house early the next day. We hated the thought of her driving alone into near zero visibility and were relieved when she called to say that she had gotten home safely.

As the snow deepened, Mary Jo and her family prepared to leave at 5:30. The snow came down so fast that she and Michael no sooner cleaned off one side of the car than the other was covered again. At 6:00 Thomas’s girlfriend, Marliese, arrived, dropped off by her father who had had to take a relative home nearby.
With the onset of evening, we began kitchen cleanup. Bill put food away and
then went outside to shovel, giving the driveway its first pass. My mother and I washed and dried the dishes while Meredith made endless trips from the kitchen to the dining room carrying the dirty plates in and the cleans one back. The others watched a new DVD in the basement family room.
After the kitchen was cleaned up, snacking began. Rolls, desserts, cookies, and candy disappeared. Late night munching on turkey sandwiches was out of the question. Only scraps remained from the twenty-pound bird we had cooked that day.
I said, “I’m going to sit down a few minutes, and then I’m going outside to shovel.”
“Me too,” Meredith said.
At 10:00 p.m., Meredith measured seventeen inches on the untouched sidewalk.
An additional eight or nine had fallen on the driveway since Bill had shoveled. We cleared the sidewalks and driveway, put the shovels away, and headed to the back door.
“Let’s make snow angels,” Meredith said.
“I don’t want to,” I answered. “I’m already pretty snowy.”
“It’s Christmas. You have to.”

We lay side by side in the back yard and after each of us made an angel, we brushed off our clothes and went inside.
By 10:30, we felt snug in the warmth of the house and the Christmas lights. I carried a pile of sheets and quilts to the futon in the basement to make a bed for my parents and told Marliese, “You should probably stay overnight too.”
“Oh no,” she said. “I called my dad. He’ll be over. I can’t stay. I have to have my medicine.”
Marliese would suffer stomach pain unless she took medication for a chronic ailment.
She exchanged a few phone calls with her parents and said, “My dad is stuck at the corner of our street. And the plow came and it got stuck too! My mom told me not to try to get home.”
“Maybe we should snowshoe over for her medicine,” I said.
“I could do that,” Thomas said.
Marliese lived a half mile away. She laughed. “I’ll be fine.”
“I don’t want you to feel sick.” I told her.
“It takes a while. It won’t hit me for a day or two.”
Meredith leapt at the idea of snowshoeing. “Let’s, Mom, it’ll be fun.”
“You don’t have to do that,” Marliese insisted.
We could just go around the yard and see how we do,” I suggested, knowing full well that we would go to Marliese’s house.
In deep snow and darkness Meredith and I trudged on snowshoes through the field at the end of our street and up Central Avenue.
Cars passed slowly on the white road.
“Merry Christmas,” one driver shouted.
“Way to go!” Another driver gave us the thumbs up.
“This is cool,” Meredith said.
“Yeah, we’re like Saint Bernards on a rescue mission.”
When we reached Marliese’s house, her father’s car stood crossways in the street. Distracted by the struggle to move it, her mother went into the house and brought us the medicine with little conversation. Meredith and I headed home taking side streets. A car, bumper deep and stuck in the middle of the street, held four laughing young people.
“Merry Christmas,” I called to them.
A man going over to dig out the stranded car shouted, “Same to you.”
A woman shoveled nearby and a man holding a beer laughed and said, “What else 
have we got to do? It’s nice out here.”
We walked past houses lit with colored lights and past people pushing snow blowers or shoveling. Shouts of “Merry Christmas” filled the air.
Returning to our house by 11:30 p.m., we set up sleeping arrangements for my parents in the family room downstairs, Thomas and Daniel in sleeping bags in front of the tree in the living room, Marliese in Thomas’s room upstairs, and Bill and I and Meredith in our own rooms.
My mother surveyed the futon in the glow of the nightlight. “It looks pretty cozy,” she said.
Our house was filled with sleepers top to bottom.

The next morning the snow measured twenty-one inches. Our two snow angels in the backyard had an ethereal softness from the snow that had fallen in the hours since we had made them. Inside, the Christmas coffeecake vanished. After a quick breakfast, my father cleaned off his car. Daniel dug his out from where the plow had pushed five-foot banks against it. Thomas shoveled out the neighbors, and Bill and I, once again, cleaned off our driveway and sidewalk. At 10:00, my parents were the first to leave.
By 1:00 p.m. on December 26, our last guest had departed. The cluttered kitchen counters showed evidence of two days of cooking and feasting. The living room was an obstacle course of rolled up sleeping bags, camping mats, empty boxes, stray wrappings, tray tables, and extra chairs. In the dining room, the extended table covered with dishes to be put away and the little children’s table stood amidst twelve chairs, all askew. Even the second floor and the basement did not escape the chaos. They became repositories for anything that had no place else to go. We had had a storybook holiday of snow, excitement, food, family and friends.

Eventually, the time came to put the inside of the house back in order. But first, I sat on the warm radiator and looked out the front window at the mounds of white. As Dylan Thomas had written: “Our snow was not only shaken from whitewash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss.”

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Scenes from England's Lake District

The story of how Meredith and I ended up hiking in England instead of in New Hampshire is a "turning lemons into lemonade" tale. In short, the hike we had planned to New Hampshire in June, and had to cancel because I got lyme disease, somehow morphed into a trip to England's Lake District!

It's impossible for me include the many wonderful experiences we had in a blog post.  So I will just share a few lines from my journal with complementary photos.  I hope you enjoy this brief overview.

(Virginia and Meredith on Holme Fell)


After breakfast, we started hiking right from the hotel, uphill through a forest.  When we reached the top of the woods, a stone wall and meadow lay beyond.  The drizzle that pattered on leaves above, became a heavy rain and we all donned rain gear before we went into the open.

(Covered in waterproof clothes from head to toe)

We hiked up Hampsfell through the rain past cows oblivious to the weather.  We were so thrilled to be hiking in England, that we didn't mind the rain either.  Clouds began to rise, but had a tough time.  Sheep wandered through the bracken and we dodged "boggy bits." 

While I stopped to readjust my gear, my hiking pole, which leaned against me, tipped over and fell directly into a fresh cow pie. Tom, our guide, Meredith, and I broke into peals of laughter.  I tried to clean the pole off in wet grass, and then saw a good puddle where I could wash it. This helped, but it was no secret that the puddle sat on top of rich farm earth made from similar contents as a cow pie....

We crossed a few fields and were excited to come upon the outline of farms in the valley below.


We came across every imaginable gate: some with latches, others with a hook, some with a bar attached across the top, or a ring that swung over a latch.  Meredith and I felt like James Herriot opening and closing gates.  We appreciated that we had the privilege of walking across farm properties, and everyone was very careful about closing gates.


Anne, our driver, met us at a crossroads with lunch.  Then she drove us a few miles to where we could park at a farm and walk over the moors.  We began up an old road through a field.  Up and up we went as the farmstead below appeared smaller and smaller.

A moor is defined as a place without trees, but with sheep, heather, and bogs.  The landscape became desolate.  The path was barely discernible and Tom told us vivid stories of people getting lost up here.  We saw no one.

We walked for miles on the moors, dodging wet spots and admiring the hills.  Eventually, we came upon cows and stone walls with a view of Coniston Water below, changes that signaled our passing out of the moors.

(Virginia amidst heather whose flowers have gone by)


We began today's hike directly from last night's hotel through woods, as we had from the previous hotel the day before.  The sun was shining!  Again our path opened onto a meadow. In the distance, we could see the charming little village of Finnsthwaite. 

I had been interested to see what flowers bloomed here at this time of year.  We had just missed seeing the heather in bloom, but village residents had no shortage of cultivated flowers in gardens and pots.

Tom told us that the mailboxes have the initials of the current monarch.  This one has ER for Queen Elizabeth.  The oldest one that we saw had GR, for King George!

Near gardens and on the farms, we heard birdsong everywhere.  I was determined to get a good picture of an English robin.  This little guy sang his heart out while I took a few pictures.  If we did not hear birds, we heard the mooing of cows or silence.  We all remarked on the quiet.


Everything sparkled this morning after last night's hard rain!  How perfect for our hike up Holme Fell, the highest point of this trip.  Both Tom and Anne led hikes today, so that we could have a choice of going over the mountain or around the mountain.  Meredith and I chose to go over the mountain with Anne, as did two others of our group.

(sunny morning on Coniston Water)

The trail was a steady uphill with open woods and views.  We could not stop expounding on the clear atmosphere and perfect weather. At the summit, we had 360-degree views to mountains all around, in various earth tones and blues beyond.  We have been so impressed with the variety of landscape that we have seen at intervals of just ten miles a day.

(view of Langdale Pikes from Holme Fell)

On the way down, we crossed golden grasses and headed into the trees.  Anne said that she comes here often to hike and camp.  At the base of the mountain we met up with the rest of our group, who had enjoyed their more-level hike around the fell.

Our destination from Holme Fell was The Three Shires Inn in Little Langdale.  A view of green fields, stone walls going on forever up the mountainsides, along with farms, sheep, singing birds, and quaint houses and barns, came closer and closer to us, until we could see our inn among the buildings in the distance.

I was particularly charmed by a road in Little Langdale where a sign read, "not recommended for cars," as a small jeep come up the hill, and warned bicyclists to go slowly around the sharp turns.  We would find time in the morning to walk this narrow paved road between two high stone walls, but now it was time for a shower, clean clothes, and relaxation, before dinner!

( Meredith relaxes at the Three Shires after another day on the trail)

Friday, September 15, 2017

Biking Burlington

Bill and I generally take a few days in early August for a trip to nearby Vermont. We hadn't given much thought to where in the state we would go this year.

We ended up being prompted to go to Burlington by Bill's purchase of a new bicycle in July.  While riding in Albany is fine, his 1.5 mile route to the College of St. Rose has lights every few blocks and traffic.  Two of my friends had told me with great enthusiasm about the rail trail out of Burlington.  Not only that, another friend had raved about an airbnb there.  We hadn't been to Burlington in a long time...and Vermont's plethora of craft breweries were always high on Bill's list.  It didn't take us long to make a reservation.

After the scenic trip from Albany, we had two full days in Burlington and chose the best one for our bike ride.  We easily bicycled through our neighborhood, down the hill to Lake Champlain, and to the start of the rail trail.

With the whole day ahead of us and lunch packed, we could take our time, stopping for scenery all along the way.  Our first scenic pull-off had benches, a beach, and white sand.  We stopped for a few minutes and then continued on.

We often caught glimpses of the lake and houses beyond the trees.  The houses varied.  Sometimes they were large and expensive, likely summer homes for people who spent much of the year in cities.  Other neighborhoods appeared humble, poorly kept, and struggling.

A few miles along, we came upon a detour and had to leave the trail due to repaving. I remembered that the two friends I knew who had biked here had both gotten flat tires on this trail.  Nice new black top would be a good thing, but we were disappointed to have to leave the bike trail and its scenic relaxed mood, substituting traffic and noise.  The detour felt long.  With the return to lake views and beaches, our easygoing vacation mood came back also.

Occasional plaques and Bill's iPhone described the fascinating history of the unusual train route that later became this recreational path.  In 1899, the Rutland-Canadian Railroad built the Island Line. The incentive to create this spectacular stretch of railbed was to provide a direct connection from southern New England to Lake Ontario.


The most famous part of the rail line was the three-mile Colchester Causeway that went directly across the water through Mallet’s Bay and Lake Champlain.  A feat of railway technical evolution at the time, this causeway was kept open for freight trains all year round.  

(the trail is raised over wetlands)

The Island Line served the New England communities well until moving freight by other means became cheaper. The last passenger and freight trains ran in 1955 and 1961 respectively. Not until the early 1980s did Burlington citizens begin to consider the idea of a recreational trail on the abandoned train line. 

(new bridge over the Winooski River)

Much renovation and rebuilding had to be done before the public could use the trail.  The former railroad bridge over the Winooski River had been dismantled in 1972.  A new bridge finally opened on August 1, 2004. The bridge, with its connected half-mile of elevated boardwalk, joined the Burlington Bike Path with the Colchester Causeway.

(we took pictures of others, and they took a pictures of us)

As we rode over the river and through the woods, the trail came to a small park, where signs and arrows pointed "to Causeway."  In minutes the vegetation opened to Lake Champlain, and the paved trail changed to fine packed stone gravel. What a treat to ride surrounded by water on both sides!

Families suddenly appeared for summer bike rides. They could conveniently leave their cars at the park we had just passed through, and spend their time riding the three-mile causeway.  It was great to see children enjoying this day exercising outdoors with their parents.

(with binoculars an estate is visible on the point)

We chose to sit on rocks in the shade for our lunch stop.  With my binoculars, I brought large and small boats into view as they cruised in the distance.  We peered through the lenses across to a large estate nestled in the trees on a point as well.

(a lone elm trees looks healthy and strong along the causeway)

An osprey circled above.  All of a sudden, it took a straight-down dive at rocket speed, vanishing into the water with barely a splash.  Its efforts proved fruitless, however, when we saw it fly back up without a fish.  It continued to circle above, but then flew away to another part of the lake.

(A gnarly white birch has seen some harsh weather)

To my surprise, swimming is allowed all along the causeway.  On a hotter day, a bike ride and a dip before the return could be very inviting.  We saw only one person in the water.

(Bikers roll their bikes down the ramp onto the Bike Ferry)

In the spring of 2011, the water in Lake Champlain rose to a record high, severely damaging the causeway.  Fearing that the causeway would be lost, the surrounding towns came together and raised funds to match FEMA's contribution for disaster relief.  Rebuilding the causeway became known as The Big Fix.  After reading plaques describing the railroad's struggles with weather long ago, we learned about and appreciated the causeway's ongoing vulnerability. 

(The Cut is open for boats to pass through)

Our destination was "The Cut."  Back in the day when the Island Line Railroad ran from Rutland to Montreal, a swing bridge was built at the north end of the line, cutting the track in two. Employees opened and closed the bridge to boat traffic as needed to allow passage to and from Mallet’s Bay and Lake Champlain.

When the railroad was dismantled, the bridge also came down, leaving a 200-foot gap, or cut, in the line. Until the bike ferry came to carry people around the gap in 2005, cyclists and pedestrians  could not pass to the other side.  Now bikers pay $8 round-trip to ride through The Cut on the bike ferry. 

(Anything is possible once you cross The Cut)

We watched the bike ferry make its way around The Cut, drop its passengers off and come back with a new group of bicyclists.  Options on the other side were limitless.  Besides the Champlain Islands with their beauty and amenities, bicyclists on a multi-day trip could ride over to the Plattsburgh ferry and head into the Adirondacks to the west, or Montreal to the north.  Many bikers with small children were satisfied with just the short round-trip on the causeway, and others, like us, made a longer relaxed day outing.

On our return trip, we stopped again at a beach.  The atmosphere had cleared and we had good views of the Adirondacks on the New York side of Lake Champlain.  When we reached the detour, I planned to take a picture of the unpleasant ride on the busy road for this blog post, but the miles didn't feel so long this time.  It seemed better to keep going than to stop for photos.

At our final beach stop, I took off my shoes and waded in the clear pebbly water.  I sat in the sand and buried my feet to dry before going back up a stairway to the top of a bluff where Bill enjoyed the view from a shady spot.

(Time for a beer on the deck of our airbnb)

We decided that we would continue along Lake Champlain south to the very end of the bike trail, but it kept going.  Every time we reached a place where we thought the trail must end, it continued on.  After a few miles, we concluded that 28 miles for the day was enough and turned back. We rode up the hill to Winooski Street and back to our lodging.  Our biggest evening challenge would be to decide where we should have dinner, given Burlington's myriad restaurants, all just a mile walk from our place.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Bennett Hill: Summer

(the trail is narrow with surrounding foliage)

The last of our guests have gone, and it is still only 10:30 on Sunday morning.  We had perfect weather for our family picnic the previous day and lots of quality visiting.  Now it is time to get out of the kitchen, and go for a walk.  I remember my plan to go to nearby Bennett Hill in every season of 2017, and summer is in full swing.

(leaves frame the farm scene)

Temperatures in the 70s and low humidity beckon.  I say to Bill, "I'm going to go to Bennett Hill.  You're welcome to join me."  Bill can be a reluctant hiking companion, so it's helpful if I put the idea out there without any pressure. 

(the corn looks good from here, although it may not be high as an elephant's eye)

I hear Bill upstairs in his sock drawer, as I go up to get my own hiking socks, but when I arrive his whole drawer has fallen onto the floor and dumped its contents.  Not the best start.  Still, a few minutes later, he comes up the cellar stairs with his hiking boots in hand, socks from upstairs in the other.  I know he is on board with my plan.  Sometimes we operate like this -- say little and watch.

(a new bridge since Spring)

In fact, this is the perfect day for Bill to go along.  He is a very leisurely hiker, but, if I have camera in hand to take pictures for a blog post, I become the one lagging behind and his pace is just fine.

(jewelweed, poison ivy's companion)

 As we approach the trail's beginning and I see how this year's rains have made all the growth huge and lush, I realize that I have never before been to Bennett Hill in the height of summer.

(all the rain we've had and not a drop in the tub?!)

As always, I take time to look through the trees at the farms along the way.  They never disappoint -- always a few heifers in the field, and a pastoral view to the hills beyond.  I think of my mother who, remembering that I get my milk from our food co-op, has asked me,  "Do the cows that produce your milk go outside?"  It bothers her to see cows in barns all day, never walking the hills.  My milk comes from here at Meadowbrook Farm, and I answer, "yes."  Nevertheless, I always only see heifers outdoors on this hike. Maybe I should confirm that the milkers actually do go outside.

(Was there an open farm field here when this tree was young and spread its branches far and wide?)

As the trail enters the woods, evidence of our very rainy spring and summer shows in the abundance of fungi.  I have mushrooms in my own backyard, so I should not be surprised that there are lots of them in the woods.  I scan the ground as we walk.

(lots of tiny orange mushrooms)

I don't know anything about fungi. There are lots of things that I don't know about in the woods.  When Thomas was 13 and went to Merck Forest for a week of camping, counselors taught the kids all about edible woodland plants.  Later, he pointed them out to me there. If any of these fungi are edible, I wouldn't know.

(such a pretty smooth white against the purslane)

(and this one all notched as if in petals)

I raise my eyes as we approach the summit plateau.  The flat top of Bennett Hill is my favorite part of this hike.  I love the winding trail along the plateau's edge, through ground covers, scrub pine, and the occasional white birch.

(the summit plateau trail offers variety and views)

In two locations the trees open to a view to Clarksville below.  But where has the town's defining road gone?  Have the lush greens of summer hardwood trees arched over signs of man so much that the road and most of the buildings are invisible from above?  Such a green season! 

(the view of Clarksville is almost obscured by foliage)

Along with the birch tree hugging the edge the of the hill, I am attracted to the young oak in the foreground.  Then I notice the bright yellow of goldenrod.  Goldenrod is beautiful, with numerous tiny flowers on arching stems.  It gets a bad rap because people confuse it with highly allergenic rag weed, and because it signifies that August is on the summer horizon.

(a splash of yellow goldenrod peeks from behind a young oak tree)
Still on the plateau, I come upon this dense blueberry patch.  Earlier in July, it would have been laden with wild berries.  Somebody, either wild or domestic, must have eaten every one.

(wild blueberry plants)

I had to email my friend and naturalist, Jackie Donnelly (, about the berries hanging in a loose cluster in the photo below.  I was not surprised when she answered me right away, "That pale aqua color leads me to think they couldn't be anything but deerberries."  Jackie has made a life-long study of nature's flora.  Once I knew the name, I looked online for more information.  As it turns out humans can eat these berries, but they are most often left for the animals.


Eventually, the trail leaves the openness of the plateau, and heads back into the woods. Long stems of purple break the pattern of greens; knapweed's name does not give even a hint of how delicate a flower it is.

(knapweed makes a show of pastel lavender)

Bill waits for me by the rock pile that I pictured in my spring post.  From there, we walk together back down the hill through the forest, past the heifers in the field, and to the car. We both feel relaxed after our woodland walk with all of its gentle beauty and quiet.  Before long, I will return to record the autumn changes at Bennett Hill.

(purple flowering raspberry)