With Kids Like These, How Can Summer NOT Be Fun?

It’s only May (albeit late May). We still have another month before summer officially hits our house. Recently, I found myself in the midst of a crazy schedule of house duties – Dave was mowing the lawn (which, at our new house after a week+ of non-stop rain, is a monumental task) so I was playing with the kids, cooking, and throwing them in the tub for a quick early bath so that Dave could rinse off after his chores. Even amid this chaotic scene, I found myself full of joy and appreciation, and truly looking forward to the time ahead this summer with them.

These are crazy ages.

Harper’s officially a year and a half. She’s still a little peanut, but her personality (when she pushes the “stranger danger” shyness aside) is beyond unforgettable. When she runs, she puts both her hands behind her back (either she’s a superhero or it cuts down on friction, whatev). She’s STUBBORNNESS personified – ahem, like her mom – but I’m learning that if you give her a task she’s *sometimes* easily diverted. Just until recently, she hadn’t taken to drinking regular milk yet but recently seemed to give up her bottle of pumped milk a day (woohoo, although I’m somehow nervous not lugging my pump in and out of work!) but she still nurses a couple times a night. She pets and snuggles her kitties with a relatively gentle touch. She thinks she’s older and demands to be treated as such. She’s part fashion plate, part Punky Brewster; possibly a tomboy. She adores me (for some strange reason), sometimes throws Dave a bone with a rare hug, and always dotes on her big brother.

Her brother.

Hadley’s going to be 5 in less than 2 months, guys. Let me get my bearings on that one. *sniff, sniff* Watching the passage of time through his demeanor and growth – still with the occasional behavior slip or meltdown, but noticeably fewer for the most part – is humbling. He’s as kind as they come with a huge heart that gets hurt when kids, well, are kids. He uses big (like, big…adult big) words. He’s inquisitive and precocious – but not overtly annoying. He has a hard time controlling himself at times but is, at heart, a people-pleaser. When he’s about to get hurt, he’s already apologizing before he hits the ground. Poor kid comes by it honestly from both parents.

After teaching hundreds of kids over the years (the perks of teaching library – you meet ALL THE KIDS), I had reached a disciplinary style that, I felt, saw the uniqueness in all the children but tried to accept the fact that they should all still be held accountable for their actions and choices. Strict, I would say, which is something often lacking in the home, but with a touch of trust and humor. So, I took this home to Hadley.

Now that preschool teachers and the teachers who have met him for kindergarten have stated and reiterated that, yup, there’s something different about him, my thinking’s shifting a bit. There are some areas that still drive me crazy (“pinch the pencil, bud” and God help you if you hand him an ice cream cone to eat solo), but I’m starting to accept that he deserves more from me, particularly nurturing. I won’t say “us” here because my husband has always been the most sweet, supportive father on the planet.

Let’s just say that I’ve seen what kindness does to him. It opens him up like a flower. He’s more attentive and eager to please when he’s not going to be struck down (figuratively!!!) for doing something wrong. It’s amazing, and I’m ashamed that I wasn’t able to find this willingness to pick only the important battles and give him more breathing room far sooner.

As far as he’s grown and developed, it’s clear that we ALL can find some growth and new awareness at any age. Even parents. (Okay, ESPECIALLY parents.)

**************

So, that’s where our kiddos are. Simply fun, simply goofballs, simply smart, simply amazing.

I’d like to be able to give them a summer that’s all those things: fun, goofy, brain-building, amazing…and, yes, simple (since, y’know, that whole “relaxation” thing sounds great to my pregnant mind). In the vein of simplicity, I’ve turned to general ideas that we can kind of “fill in the blanks” later to give us a guide of fun summer activities without the self-imposed “we have to do #allthethings” stress.

A science museum – Last year, we built our entire getaway on heading to a kid-friendly, interactive museum and while the museum itself was amazing, the rest of the trip kinda wasn’t. So, this year I’m eyeing a spot much more local to us and even got to scope it out on a recent field trip at school. I think Hadman will LOVE it and there are even some cool things for Harper to mess around with.

Zoos! – Any chance to fit in a trip to the zoo, whether it’s our favorite local spot or a larger one while traveling, is a great idea for our kiddos. They LOVE animals, so a day at a zoo is ideal, and now that Hadley’s much more into coloring and drawing, we can base some simple activities off of what he sees. We also want to start chatting with the kids (well, Hadman) about animal conservation and the environment more, so hopefully this will be a good jumping off point. Wild Kratts helps give a bit of a foundation, but seeing the animals brings it home.

Head outside – This could mean a bunch of things, from going on more walks to actually enjoying our backyard more to finding spots while vacationing that we can get some fresh air, going to the playground to eating in the backyard as a family. I like to keep things open – again, simple and less stress – so it all depends on schedule and weather.

Fresh, easy meals – Speaking of eating outside, our family has gotten into a rut. While we still don’t eat certain things (fast food comes to mind), we’ve been relying on restaurants and local pizza joints more than our fair share ever since the move (and if I’m honest, it’s been about for the past year or so). I’m hoping to push fruit and veggie snacks more this summer (on EVERYONE, not just the kiddos) and some real food meals. I’ve started this already, but with the summer farmers’ markets coming up, I’m excited to see what goodies they have to offer. * Our ultimate goal is to reach an 80/20 ratio of good, real-food choices to “real world/real life” options (ie a pizza or meal out from time to time).

Now, if only Harper wasn’t showing signs of a berry allergy. Grr.

Treats are OK! – Don’t get me wrong with my last point – we’ll still savor our ice cream and popsicles. I’m also hoping to avoid getting too hyped up about how messy they tend to be. 😉 We also have a new fire pit, so you KNOW s’mores are in the mix. (Now, if only we could find some organic marshmallows…)

Getting away. – This is a tough one to figure out for some reason. We were hoping to get away for a quiet, as-relaxing-as-possible-with-two-young-kids vacation but can’t settle on a where and when. We also make a trip to our “it’s tradition!” spots, like Western Mass and Old Forge, so I just don’t know. Gah. This may just be the year we fly by the seat of our pants.

So, there we are! I have a HUGE job to get inventory done and ALL of the books packed away for construction this summer, so I can’t wish the days away…but let’s just say I’ll be glad to have it all done and behind me to enjoy these munchkins (and my super cool husband, of course) this summer.

Anyone have some awesome plans they want to share? Or suggestions for a fun-yet-peaceful trip/vacation that won’t break the bank? I’d love to hear in the comments!

Sesame Place Trip

We had a lot of fun this summer. Some relaxation with picnics and a local beach visit, plenty of work around the house (with still more to do, of course), and lots of learning with some simple workbooks and Kindermusik. Throw in trial-and-error attempts at potty-training, a few bouts of illness, simply being pregnant, and it’s been a pretty full summer!

In our pre-summer planning, we had wanted to take plenty of trips. While we took some local trips, one of our most-anticipated trips to visit friends in Massachusetts fell through, with Hadman coming down with a cough and fever. It ended up lasting quite awhile and turning into pneumonia, so we’re glad that the week prior we were able to take at least one kid-centric trip.

(And we fully plan on attempting a quick day trip back to Mass this fall…SOMETIME! Pre-baby, is my guess. *wink*)

Planned well in advance, we had decided on taking the little guy to Sesame Place. We had plenty of reasons for heading here, but the most important was to do something that we could all enjoy together before becoming a family of 4 (7, including cats…which we do). Goodness knows if/what we’ll be doing next year!

Dave took a 3-day weekend and we left for Pennsylvania. I’ll admit, the driving took longer than expected and both adults were rather beat by all the driving of the weekend. But, along our way, we saw what, to my guys, can only be described as a mirage on the road…


Wait, what?! Yup. The 1960s Batmobile. (Not THE original, but still…a perfect replica. Not kidding.) Sitting in front of a bar, in a field. Like, seriously.


Can you feel the excitement? I know I can. We already knew it would be a memorable weekend.

So, after numerous hours of driving, a Thomas DVD on a borrowed portable player (we’ve become those parents, apparently), and zero naps, we reached our hotel. This part of the trip worked perfectly: the hotel had a shuttle service that ran quite frequently to bring us back and forth to the park. So, since we had tickets for two days (BOGO, for the win!), we got ready for the dry rides and headed over.

Let’s just say that Dave wins the award for the fact that I couldn’t go on a vast majority of the rides with a baby bump. So, he had to ride with the little guy. Did I mention that he has issues with certain rides? Like, with the height and spinning and…stuff. So, clearly he gets the “Best Dad” badge for not only hitting up numerous rides but for keeping his cool and smiling while doing it. *starts a slow clap*

 


Anyhoo, we stayed for a few hours and enjoyed the Sesame-ness of the place (it really is awesome), then headed back to the hotel. We used the hotel pool, which was a hit for a non-swimming kiddo like ours, then hit the hay.

The next day, we had our complimentary breakfast and struck out for the far longer lines of a Saturday. I highly suggest renting a locker in advance; it worked out great for our changes and general ease of movement.

Okay, this is totally my favorite picture ever. My beach bums (who both HATE the heat). I’m the embarrassing spouse/mom, clearly. 


So, we spent a long, very hot morning there doing water stuff, getting splashed, and generally enjoying the place. But, with how long the lunch lines were, we quickly decided to buy any souvenirs we wanted, then head back to the hotel. We actually ended up ordering a quick lunch and eating at the hotel, then ALL took naps (my first clue that our systems weren’t adjusting well to travel). When we finally came to, we got ready and went to Hadley’s favorite place – Barnes and Noble – to play with the Thomas train and look at books before going out to a crappy dinner then back to try the pool again.

Between the food that our systems weren’t used to, being rundown from the trip itself, and any kid germs we came in touch with, we were all feeling pretty blah and ready to come home Sunday. On our way, we happened upon a “Taste of New York” boutique at a rest stop and, I’ve gotta say, it was the best meal we had the whole weekend. Some of the fruit I brought along mixed with a bunch of local, fresh snacks from around the state (and super local grassfed Greek yogurt and cheese curds), and we were able to make it home feeling a little more like ourselves.

But, by the end of the week, 2/3 of us were sick. I’ve definitely learned that I need to try to up our immune system protection before we take trips. Big-time.

All in all, though, the trip was SO worth it. Hadman is way more into Sesame Street lately, so he LOVED “meeting” several of the characters (namely, Count, even if the Count’s splash area upset him, hee hee). It was fun to see the diversity of people visiting and thinking, “Wow, this is what Sesame Street has promoted from the beginning!” It was also interesting to hear people in one of our shuttle vans say that their daughter isn’t really a fan of Sesame and wondering, “Wait, why are you spending all this money to…nevermind.” 😉 Eh, no judging. Anyone could have a blast there.



Gotta say, we all had a great time. And Mama got a new “cookie mug” for my milk and organic cookies…win-win! Three guesses which character mug the Dorky Daddy got.

Best. Day. Ever.

Our trip to Old Forge last year was kinda lackluster. I can never say that a trip is a waste because we always seem to have fun regardless of the situation, so it wasn’t a waste and did rejuvenate. But, between the rather cool temperatures (for August), rain, and just general stuff like that, it wasn’t great.

So, we gave it a go again this year. We only took a handful of pictures, but it was a lucky happenstance that we hadn’t cleaned off our phones’ memory; we were able to enjoy the moment far better. Especially since we fit in so. Much. Fun.

We left early enough to grab some discounted tickets to Enchanted Forest Water Safari, extra cash and breakfast on the road. This was the first year we were going to try hitting up the park with the little guy, knowing full well that most of the rides weren’t for him. Being some of the first in the park definitely helped – we were able to meander around the storybook area (PERFECT for a kid his age), check out the petting zoo (the animals bummed us out), do the few “dry” rides (first time on a merry-go-round!), hit the little kid splash pad area, and try the Lazy River together by noon.


Bam. We could’ve eaten and headed home at that point and it would’ve been an awesome day.

But, nope. We went on a walk to try Nutty Putty golf (something Dave and I used to do as children, then years later when we started dating), which was probably the “low” part of the day. Hadley was clearly getting tired, which made for lots of tripping and falling on the uneven parts of the “course.” But, we all seemed to have fun, followed by some ice cream before heading back to our car to get the stroller.

So, the fact that the little man took a nap in the stroller mean a) he must’ve been EXHAUSTED and b) some sort of miracle must have occurred; he hasn’t done that in a long, long time. We had a chance to look around the hardware store (SO much more than a hardware store!), do some Christmas shopping, then wander over to rest and watch ducks swim around.

While naptime continued at the bench, a little dramatic duckling rescue ensued. We observed a mama duck with her three ducklings go to a chained-off area of the lake next to a drainage waterfall area…with two babies taking the leap. Off ran Dave (I wanted to, but had to stay with the little man), along with two young guys, before the mama duck attacked one of the kids for interfering. Before too long (although our hearts were in our throats, seriously), she showed them how to hop back up where they belonged.

Whew. After that, we hit up The Mill Restaurant, another place Dave and I visited in our dating days. By the way we headed home, we all were exhausted but happy. A rain shower even produced this view (that happens to be my school, LOL)…


I mean…seriously. Lucky, lucky, lucky.

Not the most eloquent description on Earth, but it was an AWESOME day. Hadley’s asked several times why we can’t go to Water Safari EVERY day. Good lesson to learn.

Oh, and while we were still on the “having fun” kick, I upped the ante with some blueberry picking the next morning. Best. Weekend. Ever. (Even if Sunday was “let’s do some crap around the house” day. They can’t all be winners.)

    
Knowing that next summer may look different (okay, definitely…it’s definitely going to look different) with another little one in the mix, we’ve totally been making this summer count.

How have you guys been enjoying your summers? 🙂 

Ithaca – The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Before I get into the semi-regularly-scheduled post, I just want to say SQUEEEEEAAAAL and best wishes to my sister, Mary, and her family on the birth of their second little one today! I’m so happy that we’ll get to be there to meet him or her. 🙂 Lots of joy in this family right now!

***********************************************


I’ve been around the block enough times to know that E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G is unpredictable when a toddler/preschooler is involved. As a family, we have learned to plan excessively, adapt accordingly, and remain flexible at all times. Also, as with all things in life, it’s important to take the good with the bad (and be grateful for it all).

So, when we planned our recent day trip to Ithaca, NY (a little over two hours away), I went into it with the usual well-planned day with a hint of “this could change at any moment” thrown in.

Dave was there for a day-long comic book convention to chat with folks and sell issues of his hilarious comic book series, Holidaze. So, after we dropped him off at the college, Hadman and I were on our own. I was totally ready for the day.

Only, I wasn’t. After the long-ish drive, a coffee and tons of water, I was in dire need of a bathroom. Like, crying in the parking lot, not knowing where I even was, with a toddler insisting that we go some place (ANY place!). Finally, as my teeth floated and my eyes watered, I looked up the closest grocery store – less than 5 minutes away. Whew. Upon pulling into the parking lot, I spotted a nearby Barnes and Noble. Even better! Hadley’s favorite place on Earth.

After the potty break, we hit up the Thomas train set and grabbed a book for Hadley’s soon-to-be-born cousin with only two very loud meltdowns before leaving. Score.

Finally! Off to the main event for the day. The Sciencenter was everything we had hoped for and more. We spent the entire morning exploring animals, shadows, lights, mirrors, our senses, sand (one of the sand tables actually displayed a contour map on top, which took me right back to Mr. Buckley’s Earth Science class), and an awesome toddler toy area with a water table. Outside was a discovery jungle gym-type thing with more sand and water tables, a music center…seriously, the list goes on and on.

He was a VERY good boy and got a rubber snake for his troubles. I wonder where we put that thing…

For lunch, we fought the traffic outside and sat together at Ithaca Bakery. I had brought a PBJ sandwich and snacks for him but grabbed a turkey wrap for myself. This marked the first time he has sat in a restaurant without a high chair (or booster, which we don’t normally use anyway) with no wiggling or walking around. We talked and enjoyed our meals, and it was one of the best lunch dates ever.

Here’s where things get a little ugh. I had planned to take the little guy over to a parking garage then push him around the Commons in his stroller in hopes of getting a nap out of him and getting some writing done, myself. Welp, construction. The whole thing was torn up. We visited a couple of stores, but the whole point of the thing was killed. Back to the car we went.

I decided to drive back up to the college to find a spot to park (and hopefully let the little guy sleep). I was able to get a little writing done, but he kept waking (noisy college kids, of course), so while he did nap a bit, it made for a grouchy afternoon.

Yeah. That’s my finger. Oops. Added dose of embarrassment? He drooled SO MUCH. Hee hee.

Before picking up Dave, I took the little guy back down the hill a bit to a playground I had spotted, which worked wonderfully…until it was time to head back up to campus. Meltdown #3 (or 4 or 5…I’ve lost count).

This is where the “ugly” comes in. Back at Ithaca College, I knew the parking lot we were supposed to use as “visitors” to the convention (I had dropped Dave in a closer lot used just by vendors and probably should’ve tried to park there again). Instead, I followed the rules and buckled Had back into a stroller. After trying to cross through the inside of a building (as advised by Ithacon’s website), I discovered just how stroller (and handicapped) inaccessible the campus is. Oh. My. God. After exiting the building and meandering around the sidewalks, I reached our destination completely beat, looking like a mess, and feeling like a raging bull.

When Dave asked if I wanted to walk around (and, namely, meet one of our favorite authors, Bruce Coville), he knew immediately that I wasn’t moving from the chair I had claimed. I was a wreck, but after some water and time to cool down, we were able to retrieve the car, pack up, and head out.

Given my state, we decided to break our “take-out” rule (kind of…this wasn’t REALLY fast food) with a trip to A&W. We got to order, wait, and eat in our car just like the 1950s, which was pretty darn cool. And better control over the little guy is always a plus.

So, there we have it. Ultimately, the trip was actually a really fun, memorable one. I’m already able to laugh at the ridiculous things that threw the plans out the window, and am kind of relieved that most of the issues weren’t caused by a raucous little guy, but by the unknown situations that were thrown at us.

It already has my brain darting around planning our summertime getaway(s). 

The Real Santa

Isn’t it strange how belief and acceptance can come in phases? It can be applied to much in life, but for today, I’m talking Santa.

My belief in the big guy only lasted until about second grade. I wasn’t out to “find out” about him. I didn’t really question a single bit of it. I was riding merrily along in full belief mode, ignorant of the facts.

But, then I found myself in a storm of constant sickness. One evening, I was resting poorly in my mother’s bed (to avoid getting any siblings sick), flailing around uncomfortably, when I absentmindedly fell out of bed. When what to my eyes did appear but…Teddy Ruxpin.

I furrowed my brow. Huh. Well. Maybe Mom bought him for me instead of Santa since she knew how badly I wanted him. Yeah. That.

So, on Christmas morning, when I opened the gift and noticed that the tag did, indeed, say that the gift was from the jolly man in the red suit, well…I was depressed. The fact that good ol’ Teddy only lasted a week before he started speaking a low, eerie language all his own that even my grandfather couldn’t fix added insult to injury.

Fast forward 25+ years. I’ve been excitedly attending the Candlelight Evening at a local living history museum on and off since I was a teen. At this event, it is always the coldest time you can imagine having on planet Earth, and it is always incredible. There are white bag luminaries and lanterns lit throughout the grounds, where you can visit “local shopkeepers and vendors” like the printer, doctor, pharmacist, tavern, church and more. There’s a working farm with animals that you can greet, and wassail cauldrons over bonfires strewn throughout the space. Delicious comfort food is served (can you say “gingerbread”?) and you can buy handmade goodies (or more touristy stuff) at several shops, all while hearing the sound of carolers and performers wafting with the sound of horse-drawn carriages.

I mean, seriously. What’s more traditionally Christmasy than that? We hear so many songs about jingle bells and horses, sharing cheer and the like, but how often can you see it in person? It’s unimaginable.


The best part of all, though, is St. Nicholas. My God, guys. It’s the REAL Santa. Seriously. He talks in the schoolhouse about the tradition of St. Nick, as well as telling a story about what preparations were made for Christmas in the 1800s (“saving the best apples in the cellar from the autumn harvest”), before wandering around outside for people to interact with him. When my nephew was younger and in that is-he-or-isn’t-he-real phase, he saw Santa, dropped his jaw, and went up to him to say, “It’s such a pleasure to meet you, sir!!” I mean, good!

So, of course, after Dave experienced this whole thing for the first time (we even dragged some friends along over the years), we decided that it would be a tradition, barring bad weather, for our family. I honestly don’t recall whether we brought Hadley when he was a baby-baby (I almost think so…?), but last year was his first memorable experience (check it out here and here). It was cold and snowy – terrifyingly so on the ride home – but wonderful. He met Santa, who knew our names (!) and the rest is history. And of course we’ll be visiting this year, although we have a far antsier little toddler on our hands who may or may not allow me to sit and enjoy my gingerbread (an old fashioned peppermint stick bribe may be in order), but as long as we can see THE Santa, we’ll be happy.

But I WILL have my gingerbread. Oh, yes. Make no doubts about that.

I’ve always tried to keep the Santa concept going with my young students, although it used to be awkward and kind of difficult for me. Now that he’s part of our vocabulary, though, I find myself having total dialogues with Dave (or even myself) about what Santa’s life must be like, and how he gauges between a naughty deed and being a truly naughty child, and so forth. As if I’m part of a play that turns incredibly “method”, I have actually started to believe again.

I mean, of course I realize how the whole thing works. Clearly. But, thanks to this little boy (and the help of a few hundred elementary students and one incredibly convincing old-fashioned Santa), the spirit of St. Nicholas is still very much alive and well in my heart.

And, really, isn’t that the idea of Christmas?

So, be honest, guys. Do you believe? Has anyone else had a “rebirth” regarding the issue? Or go ahead and tell us how you found out “the truth”?  

Christmas Tree 1, Us 0

I’m a fan of real Christmas trees, I am. I even recently wrote a piece for Green Child Magazine finally answering a constant question in the green community: which is greener, a real tree or artificial? But this year, we found ourselves having a battle that found us grumbling the pluses of fake trees.

As with last year, we found our tree (and a couple of inexpensive, gorgeous wreaths) at Candella’s in Marcy. It was a nerve-wracking trip home, between the line of traffic piling behind us and keeping a constant eye on the branches jutting off the car roof. When we finally got home, Hadley gave us a hell of a time going down for a nap (the time we were going to use to put the thing up).

Eventually, we started working on dragging the tree in and setting it up. The two lessons of the day are, if possible, determine how many branches REALLY need to be trimmed off the bottom of the tree when the gentleman asks how we’d like it trimmed and, um, we need a new tree stand.

Let’s just say it took about an hour+ of frustrated finagling (and a couple of small pieces of scrap wood in the water bowl part of the tree stand as a makeshift support/wedge) before the tree was freestanding.

As I sit watching “White Christmas,” I’m in a fowl mood, eying the unadorned tree. It’s Sunday night and I now have absolutely zero motivation to even decorate the thing. But, since Had’s STILL sleeping (um, it’s dark out) and I know the glow of those glimmering white lights will be worth it. Coming in to the cozy glow at the end of the work day will be awesome.

But, at the moment, I’m feeling simply defeated. Oh, yes, we will buy another real one next year…but hopefully with a new stand and a keen eye for the “that one looks PERFECT!” allusion.

Who uses a faux tree here? Real? We grew up with the fake kind (and I remember some issues with those, but they were old school), but there’s something about the smell of fresh pine that says “Christmas!” Oh, and I also strongly believe in white lights; not colored. 😉    

Free (Yes, Free) Holiday Gift Ideas

I’ve requested to Dave that we not only do a pretty sparse budget for each other (or, at least, it’s sparse to me!) this holiday season, but also to give each other one gift that costs nothing.

So, this could mean a lot of things. It could mean that you use something you’ve already got lying around that you haven’t gotten around to giving the person. It could mean making something by hand (whether you’ve got the materials lying around or had to buy them, it’s totally up to your standards of “strict” are). It could mean repurposing something around your house to give. Or, it could just be a huge act of kindness or unforgettable experience. The list goes on, really, but here are a few ideas…

Artsy Fartsy Stuff

Wall Collage 

This is best if you live with the individual so that you can surprise them with it, already-done. I’ve had a stack of Instagram prints (had a coupon, I almost think they were free or darn near close to it), but don’t we all have SOME picture prints floating around that we don’t know what to do with? Well, I’ve fallen for the personal yet organized look of a wall collage of same-sized prints. Mine just happen to be 4″ x 4″ but even rectangular shots (or pictures cut down to squares) can look awesome grouped sweetly on the wall. You can use that sticky tack stuff or tape (or spend a little money and get Command strips; I won’t tell). 

Handmade Wall Art
Similar to the wall collage, look around and see if you have any art supplies that would help create some wall art. Maybe you have an old canvas (or an ugly one you can paint over). Or maybe you have an old embroidery ring that’s begging for one of those quirky embroidered quotes (or an inside joke!) that you can hang. If you’re stumped, look for simple art ideas on Etsy or Pinterest. You can keep it simple, or if you’re on the artsier side, paint a family portrait or pet portrait for your receiver.

Repurpose an Old T-Shirt
You know that ratty old t-shirt that just won’t go away? Or the perfect vintage shirt with an awesome logo that they can’t wear anymore because they splattered paint on the bottom? Stretch it in a frame or create a quilt, pillow or bag! You’ll not only give it new life, but the giftee will love that they don’t have to say goodbye to it forever.

Knit a Scarf  
Again, this totally depends on your ability level and whether or not you have the materials around the house, but a scarf seems far easier than mittens or a hat, right? Think of the person’s favorite color (or if you know what color their favorite winter coat is, be sure it won’t clash) and get a move on!

Reuse, Reuse, Reuse

Look around and see what doesn’t seem to have a life anymore. It’s perfectly fine to re-gift something, especially if you personalize it a bit first. Like, you have way too many mugs in your life, so that set of white plain ones sit totally unused? Use a Sharpie (or paint pen, if you have one) to draw a design or cute quote, then cure it (may not be dishwasher safe). Or go ahead and spend a buck at the Dollar Store if you want to get new ones; I won’t tell. 😉

Nom-Noms

Favorite Cookies
You’re probably making a buttload of cookies for the holidays, anyway, right? Grab a large, clean mason jar and fill ‘er up. If you’ve got the time, feel free to add a label with a cute holiday saying (check Pinterest, there are a million), or just tie some burlap or a festive ribbon on and call it a day.

Homemade Granola 
You may already have the makings of this in your cabinet as we speak, so why not make a super big batch to dole out to all your friends and neighbors? No extra shopping needed.

Fudge
Mmm. Fudge. This pretty much goes hand-in-hand with the cookies, but I just wanted to make everyone aware: fudge. 

Favorite Meal
Make the recipient their absolute favorite meal, just be sure that it’s in your grocery budget (hence, y’know, practically free ;-)). Or, make a “gift certificate” to make the individual their favorite meal after the holidays. 

Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries
Okay, this may not be free, but all it really takes is the purchase of some strawberries (since we all have chocolate in our pantry, right? RIGHT??). And, I tell ya, they’re a show-stopper.

Keep It Simple

Create a “Thankful Jar”
This is a great gift for birthdays, Valentine’s Day, Father’s/Mother’s Day, and more, but I love the idea of gathering together the warm fuzzy feelings you have for a friend or family member and letting them know. I’ve done this for Dave (on Valentine’s Day), filling a mason jar with individual ideas of why he’s awesome and why we’re lucky to have him. You can fill it with 365 “favorite” things about the person for them to pick each day, or 52 (one for each week), or whatever! I just printed them off using Word and cut them out; easy peasy. 

Scavenger Hunt
This could be as simple as an indoor one at your house or as complicated as sending your friend or loved one around an entire city (think: your favorite haunts). The trick is to not make it too lengthy (especially if it involves schlepping all over town in holiday traffic) and to be as witty as your brain can possibly be. Oh, and don’t make the clues too hard or else you’ll get a tearful phone call. Maybe. It’s possible.

Homemade Coupons
This is a classic from our “we don’t earn an income, what can we give to Mom?” days, but you can modernize it for your current needs. Think of what you’re good at and see if you can give a “gift certificate” or book of coupons to help out. If you’re a budding photographer, offer free sessions. If you love organizing, offer up a day of helping to declutter one room. If you’re a cook, offer a free meal of their choosing (just wanted to see if you’re paying attention; this is a repeat from above, mwahaha).

Or, if it’s for someone you’re a bit closer to, make a booklet of kindnesses. If they have a little one at home, make one coupon of a homemade meal, another for an afternoon of babysitting, and still another a coupon for a girls’ (or boys’) night out. This is also your way to spend zero dollars at the holidays but offer a nice gift for later in the year, like taking a friend out to their favorite restaurant or your sweetie out to a movie (and popcorn, of course).

Movie Night at Home
Speaking of movies, this idea would honestly make my husband’s day. Gather together some popcorn (we use the loose organic kernels, so I’d put them in a simple brown paper bag with cute writing on it), a DVD or two that you already own (ours would probably involve “Citizen Kane,” a William Powell flick, or a fun ’80s rom-com), and anything else you like to enjoy at movies. If you drink soda, put a bottle or two in; if you snack on candy (and have some around the house), throw some in. You can bag this all up in a holiday gift bag or basket or popcorn bucket or, heck, whatever!  

Walk Down Memory Lane (Literally)
You can give a card saying that you’ll be (politely) kidnapping them for a day or half a day at the person’s convenience. Take them to some of the spots that have meant the most to you both over the years. For example, if I was going to kidnap my sister, we’d drive by our first home, walk the town, check out the schools, maybe “play” at the playground (although they’ve changed a ton over the years), and grab the makings for lunch at The Village Market (or junk food at the convenient store). For Dave, we’d probably walk around the town he used to live in, waste time at Barnes and Noble (and maybe Target), then I’d take us to lunch at one of the local places we used to eat a lot — like Raspberries Cafe. Or, feel free to do a nature walk or hike, if your giftee is into the outdoors.

The point of going these places is to trigger positive memories and meaningful conversation. So, be ready to chat and keep things upbeat. Our hometown is a bittersweet place, but by keeping the memories realistically light, it could help to reconnect with a shared, fond past.  

What do you guys think? Have any great (free) gift ideas to add? Are any of these doable for you?

Why NYS is the Best Place for Fall Living

Happy Columbus Day! If you’re looking for something to do today, this post is for you! I’ve mentioned some of the stuff I can’t WAIT to do this fall with the fam. Some of them were great “general” ideas that anyone can do anywhere. Others are totally area specific. So, I thought I’d share some of my favorite Upstate/Central New York autumn must-do’s.

Side note: Upstate? It ain’t Westchester. Just sayin’. Just try ‘n fight me on this one.

I’m a fan of lots of places. We’ve got BFFs in Western Mass, and love visiting the place; there’s SO much to do! We hit up Vermont practically every fall. I’ve enjoyed visiting Maine and Pennsylvania and tons of other New Englandy-type places over the years. I even sway city-lover, thanks to Boston, NYC & Philly (hard to pick a favorite…).

So, what’s so great about NYS/CNY?

Strangely, there are points that Dave and I are sick of the place. Our opinions have bounced around about where to live, and we’ve considered relocating, but the ultimate fact still remains: Family is #1 to both of us, followed closely by those rare lifelong friends (the ones we can easily visit or who have decided to move back “home”). So, this is where our hearts remain.

So, we know the bad (depressing) facts of “here.” But, because of our lifelong experiences, we also can recognize the awesomeness. In the fall, the place is freaking BRIMMING with it.

Leaf peeping at its finest. You can say yours is the best, but seriously…ours is. 😉 If it’s early in the season, pack the car and head up north to the Adirondacks (stop for a bite to eat in Old Forge, or one of the “rustic” diners hidden in the deep woods). If it’s mid-season, hit anywhere south of the Adirondacks. Seriously, throw a dart and go there. Just check out this map first.   

The food be kicking. (<– Clear evidence that I am far from an urbanite. Or cool.) Okay, the food can be pretty great here all year 'round, but when the comfort food season hits (yes, it's a season unto itself), this is the place to be. Two words: Chicken riggies. Two more words: Utica greens. A couple more: half moons. Plus, the seasonal produce is insane and this is our favorite season to hit up our locavore restaurants. The chefs are amazing to begin with, but the flavors of the season just sing under their expertise.

You can pick all ya want. *giggles* Pick. Like nose. Ha! But, no, really, I’m talking about apples and pumpkins (and sometimes autumn berries, if you’re lucky). Apples are king here in NYS, so whether you just want to grab some at a farmers’ market or pick your own, this is the site to find out where. And it just isn’t fall without a pumpkin (or 12), so check this site and click on the region you’re interested in, or just check out my neck of the woods at this site. And, yes, those websites suck, visually. I agree. 😉 

We’re a boozy state. Okay. Iffin’ you’re into such fun, upstate is rife with breweries, cider mills (ahem, the HARD stuff), and wineries. You can spend a day touring a path of wineries, or just hit up one brewery to test their wares. Dave and I enjoy NYS wines, even though he enjoys drier stuff and I’m perfect for the sweet-leaning NYS grapes. And while I should admit for all the world to hear that the Utica Brewery is the best in the world (it’s good…it really is), I actually prefer Brewery Ommegang. Apparently I’m into the Belgian stuff. Who knew? Seriously, there isn’t a flavor I DON’T LOVE. And if you’re going to visit their just-outside-Cooperstown spot, you MUST hit up their munchies. Far more sophisticated than traditional pub fare; I highly suggest the fries. (No, really. Fries. With a combination of dipping friends. A party in your mouth!)

Speaking of cider… If you’re into the kid-friendly stuff, our cider mills are sure to make you happy. We’ve got simple cideries that provide just some basic cider, and maybe donuts on the weekends. We’ve also got huge mills that show you how the stuff’s made and sell gifts, specialty foods, pies, fudge, anything in a jar (you think I’m kidding), and, sure, cider. (I’m talkin’ about you, Fly Creek Cider Mill!) Check out this search (yes, I’m sending you to a Google search since they’re not all in listed on the same website) to find your new favorite! Seriously, I didn’t even know Clinton had a cider mill until a short while ago.

Hayrides and corn mazes and farmers’ markets, oh my! In case you haven’t already noticed, there’s a $%&#load to do throughout upstate. While locals often complain about the sheer lack of anything to do, much like a lazy, bored teenager, it’s actually pretty untrue. I guess it depends on what you’re interested in. Like, Dave and I aren’t huge winter people. We have a few activities that we do, but for the most part it’s “hunkering down with some homemade cocoa and an old movie” season. Others come alive in the winter, with snowmobiling or snowshoeing or skiing galore.

Autumn, however, is THE time to enjoy whatever you like. Search for a farmers’ market to visit and make some roasted root veggies. Like to get freaked out? Take your pick. Want a hayride or corn maze for the kiddos? See if any of these will fit your needs. Honestly, if you just search for activities in whatever area you’ll be visiting, you’ll find something.



Here are our own favorites, in no particular order:

Fly Creek Cider Mill — two words: duck pond. Two more words: Free samples.
Oneida County Public Market — we do this year ’round, actually
Cooperstown Farmers’ Market — one of the few “indoors” markets (and if you’re heading to Cooperstown, enjoy the leaf peeping along the way and wander the town. If you haven’t been, plan to stay a day and visit the Baseball Hall of Fame, and if you’re not into baseball, head over to the Farmers Museum and/or the Fenimore Cooper Museum nearby. 
– ANY Finger Lake wineries (pick lake, grab a map and just go!)
North Star Orchards for some apple pickin’
Beardslee Castle or The Tailor and the Cook for some impeccable locavore grub
Cullen Pumpkin Farm — We may get our pumpkins here this year… Corn maze and wagon rides, too!

What are your favorite fall activities? Got any places that you’d like to share in the comments? Feel free to link!

Falling for Fall

Hey, folks who read stuff online! Today’s frickin’ September 1st. SEPTEMBER, dudes and dudettes. So, while I’m by NO means looking forward to heading back to school (not whining but stating a fact: I am fraught with all sorts of anxiety at the thought of returning; I’ll man-up soon after getting back into the swing of things), the paradox is kinda weird. That’s because I super heart fall.


As long as I can remember, I’ve most loved the sweet but somber smell of decaying leaves, the necessity to throw a denim jacket on while enjoying a walk on the first crisp night, and cranking up the oven to help Mom whip up perfect apple pies or Grandma’s famous soft molasses cookies. It’s a thing of beauty, my friends.

So, of course I’m excited to continue my love affair with autumn, and to spread the love with my family. (Shh. Don’t tell Dave. He thinks autumn and I are “just good friends”, so let’s keep it that way. Although, it’s his fave, too, which is why we got married in October. Huh.)

As Hadman grows, EVERYTHING has become more of a fun, at times unpredictable adventure. Even the experiences he had last year for the first time (the year before, he was a brand new infant) that we all enjoyed giving him will be like new this year.

Here was his first autumn ever…

Here were a couple of experiences last year…



What’s better than Vermont and an apple orchard in the fall? I mean, really. Nothing that I can think of.

And, thanks to Pinterest, here are a few of the goals of mine this year. I like to use these as guidelines and reminders of the things we love about the seasons, hopefully reducing the guilt factor when I don’t check off every last one. Although, if I did, it wouldn’t suck.

Most of these are self explanatory, but a couple need a bit of elaboration. Or maybe you don’t care. But, just in case, here goes:

– I very rarely do lattes or purchased flavored stuff, so when I say pumpkin latte, I mean just one will do the trick. Just one pumpkin spice-flavored cup of caffeine, thanks.
– Pumpkin muffins. Pumpkin pancakes. Pumpkin cookies. Whatev. I’m not picky.
– Fly Creek Cider Mill near Cooperstown is a family tradition for me as long as I can remember. It’s an awesome leaf-peeping trip in itself, but grabbing some overpriced cider and feeding their resident ducks complete the season. Totally.
– Vermont started as our honeymoon spot, but has turned into a fall family road trip. Fun!!
– Okay, a locavore date entails saving up, getting a sitter, and going to one of the few pricy-but-worth-it restaurants that serve locally-sourced gourmet food. We don’t get many dates, so these are super special ones. Plus, fall flavors are incredible, am I right? You know I’m right. Pumpkin risotto? Get out.

Oh, and because I believe strongly in surrounding oneself with the cozy reminders of what makes us happiest, I’m a believer in seasonal decor. If you’re into country kitsch, do it up. Antiques? Go for it. Since I’m the antiques-with-a-modern-twist girl, I’m working on finding a happy medium. Check out a couple of ideas (that still stand true) from last year:

The Fall Inspirations I Totally Heart
What I Attempted Last Year
A Fall Tableau (With Really Crappy Pictures)

What about you guys? What’s your favorite season? Do you go all out? Or do you live it up every day of the year?

A Quick Trip and Summer Check-In

So, we got away for a quick day trip to Old Forge last Friday! And, of course, the weather sucked. I mean, felt like a drizzly, cold autumn day. Luckily, we both love the fall, so it wasn’t a huge downer. Just a little road bump.

Here’s a quick recap of the day. Let’s see. We left a bit later than I had expected, but since I knew it wouldn’t be a super full day, it totally didn’t matter. And, unfortunately, Hadman wasn’t great in the car to OR from Old Forge. Eh. Ya win some, ya lose some.

We drove into town and found a parking spot. Since it wasn’t quite lunch time and the farmers’ market wasn’t open for business yet, we decided to make a stop at the Old Forge Hardware Store. It’s not really a hardware store as much as a general store, including tons of kitchen items and toys and books. Of course, we left with a book for the little guy.

Then, it was time for lunch. We hit up the Adirondack Cafe, and considering it’s hard to navigate this place without a stroller, it was great to be welcomed to the place. (Walt’s Diner was embarrassingly not great about it.) Tough when it’s a touristy town.

Anyhoo, we had a great meal, then walked through a fine mist over the infamous bridge down by the lake to see Hadman’s favorite — duckies! They were, luckily, loving the weather.



Then, we decided to try the beach area nearby. Sure, it wasn’t warm enough to ENJOY it, but we had fun walking around and collecting things. And, of course, some more ducks came by to say “hi” again. I even stuck my feet in the sand (although it doesn’t really count on my summer list…not really what I meant).

We walked to the farmers’ market, but it started raining heavier and there wasn’t tons to choose from. We did leave with some wine from the Montezuma Winery (a super sweet Fat Frog Red and delicious Canvasback Red) and some raw honey for Dave.

After the market, we decided to drive the back roads near the ski slopes (you can actually ride the ski lift to get a great view, but with a wriggly 2-year-old and on-and-off rain, it wasn’t happenin’) and saw at least half a dozen random deer, a family of turkies, and a fox. Fun, fun!!

All the while, Dave and I realized we were both craving a donut. Just a cup of coffee and a donut. For some reason, we continued our drive in the opposite direction and happened upon this joint…


Bingo! It was like a place you would’ve found in the ’40s. They only had coffee and two kinds of donuts. Just two tables for outdoor seating. It was perfect. And, yes, I wore a sweater and scarf. ‘Twas chilly! Just the right kind of day for a homemade donut and a big, super hot cup of coffee.

So, it wasn’t the greatest day ever, but we had a good time. It also makes me want to hit up a farmers’ market with more locally-grown produce, and that’s labeled for it. Just saying.

Oh, and what better time than now (not that summer’s over — it’s not!!!!) to check in with my summer fun list:

A couple of them weren’t done as much as I like (like family walks, and the garden had a major issue I’ll get into later), but they were done. I’m also hoping to putter a bit more, get a WARM sandy day, and I’m thisclose to finishing two books. TWO! That’s humongous, folks.

How’s your summer going? And don’t tell me about your kids returning to school already. Our neck of the woods, the kids don’t go back (meaning I don’t return to work) until after Labor Day. Let me have this!!! 😉 Just kidding, you can tell me about it, but I’ll be plugging my ears and singing “la la la” the whole time.