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!

Here We Come A-Wassailing

Almost every year, we haul our heinies out to Cooperstown to the Candlelight Evening the Farmers’ Museum puts on (we skipped last year since the bambino was, like, crazy little…I use “little” loosely). The Farmers’ Museum is seriously one of my favorite places ON EARTH. It’s a living history site where houses and buildings from the mid-19th century have been transplanted to create a small village-like atmosphere. 


There’s a building with an exhibit, but the rest is like a step back in time. The print shop creates mailers and flyers for events; the blacksmith makes shoes for the horses (it is the Farmers’ Museum, after all), old flat, square-headed nails, and products for the store; the “house” has a front AND back garden (GAH! LOVE IT!) and, depending on the time of year, shows how folks were putting things up or weaving and dying their own clothes or baking up a storm; the broom-maker (I’m sure that’s not the real name) shows how they were made; the “hotel” (which has an awesome balcony) is opened serving food and showing just how different it was to stay in an inn back then…and so on. I wish I could live there.

So, this year, we literally braved a brutal storm to have a family visit. There was only one goal for the day — to see Santa. The REAL Santa. We actually know the fellow who portrays him, so the fact that he says “hello!” to us by name is beyond cool. He dresses more like St. Nick, with short pants (freeeezing!), a real beard, a long hat, and a big sack flung over his shoulder.

But, thanks to the storm (we’re freaking crazy — we always plan for the coldest possible weather — I wore 2 pairs of pants, wool socks, 3+ shirts, a hat, two pairs of gloves…still cold), there were hardly any lines. So, that being said, we got to have our first ride on a horse-pulled wagon (where Hadley viewed Santa, or “Ho Ho”, from a mile away), chat up the printer on our own (I have a secret: This is the warmest spot in the place, thanks to their TWO stoves. I learned it on my 4th grade field trip, when I was assigned to the print shop and got to create my own “business cards” and “greeting cards”. You’re welcome.), and down some wassail.

We caught up with Santa before he started his story time at the school building, and Hadley was enamored with him. Oh, he also handed over an old-fashioned (albeit red dye-laden) chunky peppermint stick which he sucked on for a half hour. (I grabbed chunks out of his mouth and ate them so he didn’t choke. He still doesn’t have enough top teeth to help in this respect.)

Then, we finally headed indoors to hear some more caroling and buy two HUGE turkey dinners (which came with cocoa and HUGE pieces of gingerbread, which Hadley enjoyed) before trekking back home at half the speed in low visibility. But, we don’t care. It. Was. So. Worth. It.

So, if you’d like to experience some of the old fashioned Christmas, try some mulled cider. Wassail. Whatever you call it, it’s a lovely way to cozy up on a chilly winter’s night. And what makes it even better? It’s super simple to make. You don’t even need cauldrons over huge bonfires (which is how they do it at the museum).


Here’s another one of my “wing it” recipes, but it’s only because you really can’t mess it up. Want to sweeten it? Use maple syrup or sugar or whatever you like to use to sweeten stuff. Or don’t; it’s still delicious!) Don’t have cloves? That’s okay, leave it out this time (although use it when you have it on hand again…I respectfully advise. ;-)).

WASSAIL

2 1/2 cups apple cider
1/4 – 1/2 c. orange juice
1 -2 tbsp. maple syrup or sugar (or not)
1 tsp. (or less) cinnamon; or 2-3 cinnamon sticks
1/2 tsp. (or less) nutmeg
1/4 tsp. (or less) clove

Bring all the ingredients to a boil on the stove and stir; reduce heat to low and allow to simmer for as long as you can wait. (Five minutes…ten…or thirty. Whatever floats your boat.) If you don’t like “things” in your beverages, strain into mug and enjoy. Serve with a cinnamon stick if you’re a fancypants.

* Grown-ups who REALLY need a warm-up, throw a shot or two of rum in and say “good night.” Or, at least, that’s what would happen to me. I really can’t hold my booze anymore.

There Were Never Such Devoted Sisters

Today is my big sister’s birthday. I won’t divulge her age…’cuz nobody’s happy to have that information out there for the world. (Well, maybe she is, but I won’t push it.) She’s an awesome mom and wife (um, I assume; I’m not married to her ;-)), but I know her better as an incredible sister and BIBF — built-in best friend.

I have two older brothers and Mary, and while I know I was always a bit of a nuisance to all of them growing up, and I’ve put them all on pedestals for years, Mary and I were automatically lumped together being a) closer in age to each other and b) girls. We shared EVERYTHING; a room (and bed when we were younger), friends, clothes, bath time (again, when we were younger), oftentimes presents, and the less concrete; tiny issues that seemed so big, giggles ’til one of us fell asleep (usually her), and secrets.

After Mary went away to college, leaving me an only child for the first time EVER, our relationship changed. I was suddenly less of an annoyance. We’d receive homesick calls and my mother would be so excited to hear her voice…only to grow disappointed and hand the phone over to me. I was suddenly an equal rather than a buzzing mosquito, and it was wonderful. Through bumps in the road and issues big and small, our friendship has remained. As other longtime friends fell out of our lives, we still found that we could call or shoot a lengthy email divulging whatever gripe or real concern we had with the world without fear of judgment or condemnation…or, worse, losing the friendship.


The funny thing? We’re not that much alike. Mary’s the sensible one; I’ve always been less than rational (compared to some, this might not be true, but in our family it’s simply how it is). She’s relatively reserved unless prodded; I’m generally boisterous to a fault. She’s business-minded; I’m scattered and lack a head for numbers. She’s level-headed; I romanticize things and get over-emotional. Yet, we work. It works.

Why am I telling you about her? Well…for one thing, to embarrass her. Betchya it’s working. 😉 But, more importantly, to not only celebrate Mary and her turning another year older, but to celebrate all that Mary has done for me. See, I wouldn’t have the life I have right now if it wasn’t for Mary. Not only did she help discipline me, teach me how to deal inter-personally with others, and keep an eye on me in my formative years (among about a million other little things), but I literally wouldn’t have the life that surrounds me at this very moment if not for a few key steps that SHE made. It brings tears to my eyes to consider it, and how fate works.

See, way back in what seems to be a different lifetime for all of us, Mary was looking for a new outlet for creativity. Something that she could enjoy as a hobby. Being a relatively quiet, shy person, what happened next astounds me still. Mary saw an ad in the paper mentioning an open dinner meeting at the Ilion Little Theater Club to welcome new members and anyone interested in becoming a member…and, all alone, knowing not a soul, she showed up. So. Not. Mary. Hell, I don’t think I could’ve done it.

She learned a bit about the place and started her foray by helping backstage…then taking a role in a musical (I still love that part…a young orphaned archaeologist with dirt on her face)…then in an awesome comedy that our grandmother would’ve been proud of (in which I distinctly remember her borrowing a pair of my “Katharine Hepburn pants” — she was an outgoing, modern American married to a traditional British vicar). I loved going to see her in the shows and enjoyed visiting the place. I was just downright proud and happy for her.

She warm-heartedly allowed me to (just like the old days) tag along with her to a dinner meeting or two to learn more about the place, myself. I was fascinated by it, but never thought I’d get deeply involved. It was Mary’s thing and I didn’t want to take it from her.

But, then, the call came. A first-time director (and, at the time, the president of the club) knew that Mary wasn’t interested in a part, but wondered if I’d take a crack at it. It was a long-shot considering that I hadn’t acted since high school, but I took it and the rest is history.

I remember calling Mary immediately to find out if it was okay (I hadn’t said “yes” yet) and she seemed almost relieved that I was willing to take the role. Since then, I’ve come to feel the same way when I’ve helped a director find someone to fill a role I was unable to perform (usually due to time constraints…or just hating the part), but at the time I didn’t want her to feel like I was taking over HER hobby; once again nudging into her life just as I had tagged along on her dates in high school. (Yes, I did that. Thank God she married her high school sweetheart and we can still laugh about it today.)

Yet, Mary was gracious and almost grateful that we had a common bond to share. We even ended up doing a couple of shows together.

But here’s how this whole thing changed “the course of human events”: I met my husband at the theater. The first show we did together on Ilion’s stage (there was a prior show we worked on together, but didn’t have any lines or interactions with each other and it was an “on the road” production) was a musical called “1940s Radio Hour”. Dave was talked into joining our cast by a co-worker/friend. We were friendly, but far from friends or even “more than friends” back then. I was generally happiest that Mary and I finally got to joke off of each other and even sing together quite a lot (and in period ’40s costumes, at that!). 


A couple of shows later and I found myself doing a cockney accent as a hotel maid in “Perfect Wedding”. It was a much smaller cast, and Mary wasn’t in this one, so we found ourselves growing much friendlier during rehearsals. I think I appreciated the dedication Dave had to the role and his perfectionism about getting it right; I’m pretty sure he liked the same thing about me. (If you’re gonna do an accent, DO THE DAMN ACCENT! Am I right or am I right?) We just got along. By the end of the run, we both found ourselves single and the rest is, as they say, history.

The theater is our family history. From there, our first date was at a local Broadway-caliber show, we saw a few Broadway shows (and other area theater shows) over the years, and even got engaged in NYC. The evening we found out we were having Hadley was Halloween almost two years ago — and we had to immediately head to the theater to rehearse “Arsenic and Old Lace”. (Side note: It’s one of Dave’s FAVORITES, so now we can say that Hadley made his debut onstage with us. Although technically that would’ve been gross. Ew.) Now, THAT was a lesson in acting, keeping that little piece of news to ourselves. 
Whatchya hidin’ in there? A seeeecret?

Thank goodness for first trimesters…

Some of my favorite memories at the theater are of sharing moments with family. Mary, whom if not for a horrific bout of tendinitis might have a career as a musician or music teacher today, has performed the role of musical director many a time. When we did “A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum” a few years back, it was the first huge musical role of its kind that Dave had had (although he did some kickass musical reviews in high school that I only wish had been videotaped), and her patience and kindness working with him was one of the things that gave him the confidence to get up there and put aside his misgivings; he proved that, yes, he had/has musical talent. 

When Dave made his directorial debut, he chose “Clue! The Musical” and ripped it to shreds; I should say, he made it GOOD. It wouldn’t have been high on many lists of favorites if Mary hadn’t led the way musically. That one was, by far, a family affair. I played Miss Scarlet, did choreography and picked up slack wherever Dave needed me to. I’d done stuff like this for other shows, but this time was different. We were doing it as a familial team. Oh, and I almost forgot — Dave had to make a cameo once or twice, and Mary’s husband, John, played a superb Paul McCartney (just kidding; he was a back-up dancer/one of many husbands to Mrs. Peacock).


At any given time, we three served on the theater’s board, too. That’s a lesson in itself!

And, in the process of it all and as time tends to allow, we’ve picked up a second family. Sure, it’s one that has its share of oddballs (I may be one of them) and moody personalities (again…me?), but for those who have fallen in love with theater in the tiny one-room dressing room and equally tiny stage (what scene change?!), through tripped power switches and square-headed screws vs. Philips head screws and paint parties with donuts…the ILT family is to thank for it. And maybe George, our resident ghost, has a little hand in it, too. (No, we’re not chatting with the ghost in this picture.)


So, quite literally, I owe the family that is currently dozing around me as I type this to Mary first, and the theater second. That’s huge. I’m humbly grateful. And, yes, we will return…some day. When Hadley’s old enough to play independently backstage without getting into the tools.And when he can get a walk-on and actually walk…on.



A very happy *mumble mumble* birthday to my sister, my best friend, my second mother, my unknowing matchmaker, Mary. Thank you for being such a huge part of my life, for giving me an awesome brother and niece, and for being the proudest aunt ever. Lots of love and I’m sorry if this post was too much about me than you; it got away from me! 😉

Upgrades

We’ve had a couple little…okay, not so little upgrades happening at the ol’ homestead lately. Without further ado, here’s my old kitchen sink.


Fun, right? Just a cruddy old not-horrible-but-not-pretty sink. As a pre-baby/birthday present last year, my mom purchased and painted (and painted and painted and painted) the new base cabinet, so this year she and my stepdad insisted on getting a new sink to accompany it. Wasn’t that sweet?


Free strainer? Don’t mind if I do.

That last picture there (don’t worry; I strategically cropped) is the main reason we went with a nice, deep one versus the 6 incher we had before. #that’swhatshesaid Good, ol’-fashioned sink baths! Of course, he’s been getting bothersome during them lately, so I foresee a jump to big-boy-baths soon *tear wipe* but it’s just as good for shoving lots of dishes and pots and pans into. It’s all good.

Oh, and yes, we have a dishwasher. Two, actually. They’re called Meg and Dave. 😉


They also gave us some cash to go towards our new washer/dryer. I think that was mostly to calm Mom’s worrying mind (okay, and mine, too); the dryer took FOREVER to dry and got extremely hot, and the washer was starting to leave black (grease?) marks on clothes. Oh, and it also had gotten into the nasty habit of…y’know…STOPPING. Mid-cycle. Full of dirty, soapy water and our awesome, awesome clothes. (Our clothes aren’t awesome. I just felt like they were when I saw them sitting in the untouchable washer. And, okay, Hadley’s clothes are pretty darn awesome on their own.)

We originally wanted to include all appliances with our house when we leave one day (they were all hand-me-downs; we were very lucky), but since we’re not seeing that in our future anytime soon, we had to take the plunge…so to speak.

I don’t have a “before” shot of the washer and dryer that went to live with all the other well-used washers and dryers in the sky. They were both Hotpoint…which makes me wonder how they’d lasted as long as they had, anyway. Hotpoint?! I dunno. Maybe the brand’s okay, but it makes me think of a toaster or cooking implement; not a device for cleaning and drying highly-flammable stuff like clothes. Can’t wrap my head around it.

So, anyhoo, this is what we ended up selecting.

Chicka bow wow. I love ’em. While I’m sure a fancier kind would cut it down to just a one-trip thing, I now only need to take two glorious trips to the basement (our horrible, ugly basement; we’ve got problems down there, y’all, and I’m not even Southern) to do Hadman’s diapers. The washer has an extra rinse cycle that lets me work on other stuff sit on my butt a little longer. They also cut everything in half, time-wise, and get the job done wonderfully. #hoorayforwrinklecare I also had lived without an obnoxious buzzer reminding me that there’s work to be done and pants to be folded. In all seriousness, I appreciate the reminder.

They’re GE. #JackDonaghyFTW! They’re relatively energy efficient (we got a gas dryer, which my stepdad — master of all things handy — hooked up for us; and the washer is Energy Star rated) and, no, they’re not front-loading. I have enough fears when we one day move that my INTO EVERYTHING son will find a way to shove a younger sibling (or dare I say a cat?!) into the washer. Plus, I’ve heard and read a lot about the smells and stuff, and nobody got time for that. Maybe one day I’ll grow up and find an awesome deal on a fancy schmancy front-loader that smells like french lavender all day, everyday, but for the time being this suits our needs.

Oh, and we also purchased from a local store (Robinson Brothers in Mohawk; how shocked was I that they had a website, albeit a tad outdated); the price was comparable to Lowe’s, plus there was free set-up and removal, plus they service your appliances for years to come. It was the only stipulation my mom had throwing money into the pot, and I’m totally cool with it. Buy local! (And is it weird that it’s still eerie to drive and park and spend time so closely to where the shootings happened? Okay, I said it. That is all.)

So, what do you think? Are you pro-front loader? Or do you go against the flow of traffic and reside in the top-loader camp?

The Crap of Life – State of Emergency

The last few days quickly turned from riding along in a train of naive, selfish regularity to rather suddenly floating in a shaky, slow boat of uncertainty and heartache for those around me. Nevertheless, the boat isn’t leaking. I can’t say the same for friends and family.

Central New York has had plenty of rain lately. It was actually not enough for me to really think much other than the fact that I wasn’t getting out of the house much. But, apparently the daily drizzles here and there were starting to wreak havoc on small tributaries, creeks, and rivers in the area. Strangely, when I woke up throughout the night Thursday, I didn’t notice once that it was raining outside, let alone that anything was amiss.

So, as I was putting the baby back in his crib after his 5:30 feeding, I heard my phone receive a text. A former student was wondering how to get in contact with Dave’s news station to report damage from flooding.

Wait, what?!

I felt badly that I had little information for her, knowing that a) the place would be bare-bones, b) Dave was off for the day (that didn’t last) and c) unfortunately, the news folks couldn’t do much to help; they’re not the support services, they’re the ones who report what’s going on.

Regardless, I realized that something serious was happening. The weather wasn’t at all serious; I almost think there was zero rain by this point. It was calm outside our windows, and birds were going about their noisy business. As I turned on the morning news and the seriousness of the flooding started to hit me, I found myself walking around the house quickly, turning around, texting, turning back upstairs, pacing, going back to the TV…aimless. From the tiny city in which my brother and his family lives to my sister’s Utica suburb, from my hometown to the tiny rural hamlets of a school I used to love working for, from my current town to where my current school is, from my grandmother and uncle’s town and further east, things were insane.

We. Were. So. Lucky. Minimal to no water in my siblings’ basements (we were bone dry, thanks to some new drain gutters and the insane idea that we’re some of the very few neighborhoods completely untouched by the upward-moving water), my mom was on top of her water situation (though without power), and everyone seemed to be accounted for. But then the pictures, video and first-hand accounts started pouring in (no pun intended).

A sweet couple from the theater would have their power and gas turned off and basement pumped twice (and counting?), in a terrible area. My uncle’s basement was filled, along with his 100+ year old church’s basement (the large area for wedding receptions, baptism shindigs (it’s where we had Hadley’s) and other church get-togethers, the library and gym for students, his office, the large kitchen area and appliances, and I believe the boiler, etc). That 5:30 texting student’s house would be deemed unlivable.   


We would later find that two women went missing in separate incidents (one is presumed dead; the other is still being searched for, so fingers crossed!), so everyone seemed to be counting their blessings. It always impresses me how the majority of the people in the area are able to joke or at least shrug and “keep calm and carry on” (maybe “keep calm and pump on” or “keep calm and shovel (mud) on” would be more appropriate) in the depths of adversity. Of course, reports of folks being charged for picking through garbage on the streets and looting open homes is beyond sickening, but for the most part the positives outweigh the morons.

That being said, we’re expecting buckets of rain today/tonight/Wednesday/etc. I’ve been in our basement moving stuff around in case we do get some water, but ultimately have realized that we’ve got lots to do down there. We’ve got a lot of stuff and I pretty much will need someone to watch the Hadman while Dave and I shuffle stuff around (same goes for our garage). That’s my lesson in this situation. Sure, we’ve wanted to simplify and purge for awhile, but seeing so many years of people’s memories and lives on the street curb covered in god-knows-what brings it home (literally). I’ve gotta learn from this situation. Sure, it may be a 100-year-flood…but we had a comparable one in 2006…so, who’s to say when it’ll hit again?

We’re just hoping and praying that the next flooding takes years, not days (or hours) to return. Our tears and hearts go out to all of the victims! The Mohawk Valley has earned its wings this year.

Gettin’ All Cultural Up in Here

We needed to get away. For Dave and I both, it was one of those work weeks that got worse by the day. Knowing that I would be wallowing in a week off this week was a tad harder with his having to cover for several people at work, with me home with the baby. So, we needed to do something for ourselves over the weekend.

When Dave had heard that his favorite painter would be exhibited at the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, it seemed like a no-brainer to hit up the farmers’ market, grab some lunch, then test the baby at his first-ever museum trip. The fact that it wasn’t in the midst of a crazy busy city and (after the hubs called in advance) was stroller-friendly made me a tad less nervous at the prospect.

See, it’s neat. We’re not really “beach people” (although I do NEED to stick my feet in sand from time to time, but I don’t NEED the masses of people and beach bodies that go with it). When we travel, we seek out our interests — which is why our past vacation posts include lots of antiquing, museum and historical site visiting, local food eating, and even a bit of nature walking and co-op shopping. Back B.H. (Before Hadley), we were also known to hit up Broadway, as well as take in more local theater. We’ll get back into it when the little man’s a tad less needy.

(Here’s our first anniversary trip and our honeymoon. Thought I did a Boston/Concord post, but apparently not!)

It’s awesome to have a partner who doesn’t think you’re a crazy person to prefer a museum to, well, almost any other place on earth.

So, after stocking up on veggies, meat, jam, and more, as well as testing some cheese, we strolled over to Doubleday Cafe. Unfortunately, Monkey turned into his obnoxiously needy (borderline breaking down) self, so lunch was a tad challenging. Lots of one-handed quesadilla eating and passing him back and forth.

After a stop at the car for a feeding and diaper change, we took the brief drive over to the gorgeous stone building that houses so many incredible art pieces and artifacts. We pushed Hads down a path to see if it would start to tire him out, but while spring had finally started, the wind was too much. And, that’s when my stomach suddenly took a turn for the worse. I soldiered on.

We went inside, and since I had been to the museum several times of the years (between childhood field trips, family visits, and even a few years back as an adult — I was raised with a passion for this stuff), it was neat to see Dave “ooh”ing and “aaahh”ing over all it had to offer. We chatted with the ticket lady over possibly purchasing a membership (there’s one that’ll get you into numerous museums all over the country…may not be worth the cost this year, but when we’re a more mobile family, it sounds perfect) then took a map and went to it.

The exhibits we were able to take the most time with were the folk art and American Masters rooms. We were a tad disappointed that we only got a preview of the artist Dave was hoping to see more of, but overall the stuff was awesome. From learning more about everyday life (shop signs usually had fantastic, rustic art because in the pre-industrial age 90% of individuals were illiterate…kinda knew that, but the art was COOL) to viewing artists in a different light, it was well worth the trip. Even if my stomach distracted me (dizziness and nausea, ick!).

Dave did some quick cell phone shooting, then we headed into the room with Cooper artifacts, then to a cool blacksmith exhibit (the Farmers Museum across the street is my FAVORITE place — their Candlelight Evening at Christmastime is so cool; their master blacksmith did some incredible pieces, plus there were some awesome artifacts from the 1700s) before going to yet another level and noticing that the baby was waking up in the stroller. The Native American artifacts, we suddenly realized, might be terrifying to him (lots of incredible masks…but they even scared me), so we decided to call it a day. Besides, the Fisherman’s Friend cough drops weren’t quite touching my sickness.

Aside from my short-lived stomach problems (probably something I ate) and a fussy buddy, the museum trip was SO fun and enjoyable. We even bought a Norman Rockwell coloring book (!) for the little man when he can wield a crayon someday. (We usually purchase a book or something else fun when we make such a stop; at our last trip to Concord, we bought a onesie with an awesome Thoreau quote that juuuuust fits the monkey now.)

And, just because I’m so proud of his work on this little “home video” (based on the famous “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” montage — which we hope doesn’t mind his borrowing of the copyrighted music!!), come along on a trip with us…

Family

I don’t really even remember how I heard about the shooting. I was in the midst of returning books, writing envelopes to return inter-library loan books and mentally working on a blog post, indulging myself with joyous thoughts of the little man’s 8-month “birthday.” Oblivious.

Was it a news blip online? Was it a Facebook post? Was it a call with my mom? In a whirlwind, I found myself grasping my gut and sobbing at the thought of what was happening. Puzzle pieces of information were floating to the top, some true, some rumor. An explosion at a 3-room apartment in Mohawk. Shooting in Herkimer. Related? Explosion at John the Barber’s. But, wait, no fire. It was the apartment owner in Mohawk. No, it wasn’t. His car’s abandoned. Near Valley Health (an elderly care facility, incredibly close to the local high school and community college)? No, rumor. 

All I knew was that there seemed to be a dangerous man on the loose and my mother had received threats recently (and over time) at her occupation in Mohawk. We’re at a local school which did a tiny version of a lockdown, but she was in the thick of it. I called and asked her to go on lockdown but she shrugged it off. Luckily, they eventually did, but only after the gunman had settled into his hideout in Herkimer.

Herkimer. Our town. A place we’re constantly discussing whether or not to move away from. It’s not an unsafe place, but Dave wouldn’t want me to walk down Main Street without him. Freaky deakies, druggies and mentally ill people stroll the street and surrounding ones all day. Not a side of our lives you hope to show the world on the Today Show.

Mohawk. My hometown. Main Street, where four were shot a block east of where I lived my first 19 years. With a barber shop that was as much a hangout as it was an establishment for a new ‘do. A place that’s been put through its own hardships over the years, teeming with hard-working, salt-of-the-earth people…like my grandparents and their children who made their lives there for a reason.

After a day of racing between the phone and computer with rising fear and tears, a blur of super-smiley-hiding-inner-anxiety classes, comparing notes with a handful of coworkers, and texting as reception would have it, it was finally the end of the day. Our home street had been inundated with SWAT teams who mistook a neighbor with a white beard as the suspect, but had since retreated, and people weren’t certain if he was above a jewelry store (Weisser’s, where I purchased my class ring in high school), in an abandoned former bar (Glory Days, a bar I once frequented; one of the only clean, safe ones in the area), both two blocks from my home, or an abandoned school building which we referred to as the “brick bonanza” (as its “for sale” sign read) about a block from our place.

Go home in the midst of essentially a town-wide lockdown? Be alone with the cats? The poor cats who, thanks to a security camera, we knew were watching the proceedings from the window with slight confusion and wonderment. Not alone, I needed to be with Hadley, if not my husband.

Or go to my in laws’ house in Utica, where it was safe and where my precious baby son was blissfully ignorant of the outside world? Possibly not return home for the night. Or more.

Throughout it all, I was ecstatic every time I received a short text or very brief email from my husband. When I was informed that he’d be heading to the scene to trade tapes with reporters, the anxiety overtook me. He thought nothing of the danger, knowing that the police would keep them far enough from it. In my opinion, anywhere near the zip code would be too close. My thoughts were with the families of those who had been shot, though I only knew the barber remotely. My thoughts were with the law enforcers, EMTs and firemen who were putting themselves in extreme danger. But, mostly, my thoughts were with him.

It hurts that media is seen as the “bad guy,” especially locally. People are simply ignorant about it. I can see where national news outlets tend to have blatant agendas, but as far as our small-town news providers are concerned, there is little politicking involved. People at the station spout about their political views, even to the point of offending others, but there seems to be a clear divide; the whole place isn’t liberal, the whole place isn’t conservative, and they all keep it the hell off the airwaves. But, when people see something they disagree with, they jump to the concept that it’s because the individual is biased.

In times like these, you also see an influx of “why the hell aren’t you covering this more?” and “why are you shoving this down our throats?” and “why isn’t this working?” and a hundred other variations of terribly rude complaints. Sure, there are daily bitchings, but when things get terrifying, people feel the need to find someone to lash out towards; enter, the media.

Without the media, we would be, simply put, misinformed. We wouldn’t know the latest information. We would be completely in the dark. Helpless.

When everyone else is running away from a dangerous situation, it’s the brave law enforcement individuals first; we take for granted that they do an incredibly difficult job, and do it well. But, not far behind comes the media. In their plain clothes and lack of weaponry or bullet-proof vests; we take for granted that they’ll provide the information we desperately need to feel safe in our beds, to know that our loved ones are okay, and also do it well. The criticism towards either individual astounds me.

The hatred towards other human beings, particularly when thrown like shit on the internet, who have been putting their lives on the line is a poison. It’s almost as sickening as a man who shoots 6 people, killing 4 and a beloved FBI dog.

What’s to heal those suffering? The ones who are experiencing emotions from loss of loved ones themselves, to loss of innocence, to anxiety and terror, to their own sudden urges towards violence? It certainly isn’t a continuation of the hatred and negativity that begat this whole terrible thing.

With these thoughts (although not knowing how it would all end), I drove in the opposite direction of the terror, escaping to my baby and my husband’s parents. We ate Chinese. We watched the national news of our shooting (OUR shooting), coming second only to the news of the new pope. We drank tea. It was good to be safe and away from the scene, but I just couldn’t find comfort. Not when my husband was driving towards it to exchange tapes and feed the cats, getting me a change of PJs and underwear (and forgetting to get anything for himself).

He finally arrived at 11 to the bedroom he had as a teenager, with his distraught wife and sleepy baby anxiously awaiting him. He told me he’d have to be on stand-by to give updates from the scene on the morning news, if the now-bunkered-down villain didn’t give up or die during the night. After some chatting, he slept. I couldn’t close my eyes without the man’s picture, then all the other recent shooters’ faces popping into my head, suddenly distorting with evil eyes and monstrously sharp teeth and devilish faces. Nightmares, but I wasn’t sleeping.

At 3am, Dave got up and prepared to go back to the scene. There were no developments. Law enforcement of all walks of life were indeed waiting outside Glory Days. Was he already dead? Was he waiting to ambush them further? We didn’t know. I hated that Dave was going, but knew it was for the best; thousands of people wanted to know.

He started his live shots at 5am from the scene. Around 5:15, he texted that he’d be on the Today Show with a short live report. First at 7:30, then adjusted to 7:10. I texted several people. It was exciting, but I still wished it wasn’t so. Not for this reason.

He did an astoundingly professional, careful job. I was proud. I was terrified that he seemed so close to the action. I left, having brushed my teeth with my finger, to a snowy, terribly different commute to work. On my way, Dave informed me that it was “not public knowledge” but that they were going in. A little afterwards, my mother texted me that he was dead. Thirty (although the footage looks more like fifty) men and an FBI K-9 ambushed him in a room with a closed door. He shot and killed that gorgeous, 2-year-old dog on its first assignment, and in an instant he was taken out. As I write this, his body is still at the scene, over 24 hours later.

It was over. The outpouring of love and upset over the dog was incredible, and I felt it, too. Why is it that someone shooting other humans is deplorable, but a man adding a dog to his list is worse? Perhaps because dogs are so obedient, trusting. Maybe. Either way, every death and injury is reverberating in nearly every local’s head, still today.

I hesitated to return home that afternoon. I dragged my feet. I called my mom as I left, admitting my fear. Of course, it was all over, but the images of the SWAT team on our street and, ultimately, the concept that the place I had lived my entire life (both Mohawk and Herkimer) had given me a false sense of security. They say “this just doesn’t happen here.” Some argue that point, but it sure as hell feels that way. I was emotionally shattered. I couldn’t fathom what the families and friends of victims felt, but I couldn’t rationalize myself out of a panic attack.

As I unlocked the door, the sobbing hit me. As I walked in and scooped up Jasper, holding him for 10 minutes straight, the sobbing turned to wailing. The wailing that Hadley does when he’s having a night terror. It was physically impossible to stop. I tried to get it out of my brain, but I just kept thinking ‘Mohawk and Herkimer’. When loved ones had passed, I could rationalize that they were maybe in a better place, or that there’d be good times again. I tried to think about my baby and his birthday this summer. No. This could happen any day of the week. Anywhere. Stopping to get gas on the Thruway. At school. During an attempted robbery. Anytime. I couldn’t hide from it and couldn’t shake the fact.

I finally picked myself up and dragged myself, still wailing and sobbing, through the house. Feeding the boys their snack, all while they looked at me, confused. Getting ready to take a shower in hopes that it would wash the fear away. My phone rang, and it was my mom.

She was outside my house. She knew I was in rough shape, but also knew that I needed to be alone. She had just come by in case I needed her. She left to let me take my shower, saying in a loving way that “this is why we live everyday. You just never know.” I called Dave when he texted that he was on his way and begged him to hurry. By the time he got home, the wailing had minimized but the emotions were still there.

He thought something else had happened, not sure why I was taking it so rough. I explained it and, although he didn’t understand (and also didn’t see why I was so terrified that he was close to the scene), he comforted me. He provided a distraction with stories of his work day, which had been “shortened” to a 12-hour day after a previous 15-hour day. After some tea, the Great Comforter, he went upstairs to mess around on his computer and finally nap…until bedtime. I called my sister-in-law, whom I hadn’t spoken to for months. It was a welcome distraction.

As we settled into our previous routine, I felt detached. Detached from the baby’s storytime. Detached from whatever I usually do to get him to close his eyes. Detached from the cat snuggling between us. I slept, but only because my body demanded it.

I awoke, still in a state of shock, but dedicated to looking into an upcoming fundraiser for the families to provide proper burials to their beloved men. I awoke hoping to find positivity in the midst of 24 hours that we valley folk will remember for lifetimes. It’s our 9/11. Our school fire. Our JFK. But, we’re a family. We may not all love each other everyday, but we do for each other without a second thought. If only we could have done for this shooter before he decided to change our lives forever.

Positive Changes – Volunteerism

Yay, a positive post! (While I found my last post to be pretty invigorating, I have a feeling it might not have been the easiest or most fun read for you folks.) While looking over some of the cutouts that Dave and I found in our many, many old magazines for our New Year’s collage, there was a noticeable trend to focus our attentions towards our house, our interests, our relationship, and ourselves. Boy, that must sound self-involved, but what it really means is that we would like to simplify our lives to what we “need,” and throw back in a little more of what we “want,” rather than what we found ourselves wasting a lot of time on.

So, this is one post in a series entitled “Positive Change.” I’ll be sharing my own goals towards positive change in my life, and hope to influence some positivity in some others’ lives — be it through my actions or maybe even by inspiring others who read megactsout to insight a little change in their own 2011 lives. 🙂 You never know, one kind word can reach a lot of people.

As you see from the title, this first Positive Change post is about volunteerism. As far as I’m concerned, volunteering is a win-win situation. The person volunteering gets new life experiences, a new perspective, and that incredible sense that you’re not wasting the life you’ve been given. Simultaneously, the organization or individual that you’re giving your time to (hopefully) gets something wonderful out of it, too. Yay, yahtzeeeee, everybody wins!!!

I’ve been involved with the Ilion Little Theatre Club for awhile. While I definitely volunteer my time there (I only got paid when I was the theater’s cleaner — but over 1/2 of the time I either couldn’t track down the treasurer or I’d lose track of how many months I’d cleaned, so I just didn’t request payment — they’re a non-profit, for cryin’ out loud), I still don’t consider myself a “volunteer.” There are, at any given time, a dozen to two or even three dozen folks who give their time to not only put on pretty darn good shows, but to keep the place up and running. Being on the board, I don’t feel as if I’m “volunteering” anymore. I more feel like it’s my duty, an unpaid job that, while sometimes daunting and stressful, keeps on givin’. So, I guess you’d call me a volunteer at the Little Theatre, but I’d more say that I just feel responsible to help the place and its legacy going on.

For the past few years, I’ve joined my sister (and, at times, her darling husband) in volunteering at the annual Great American Irish Festival in Frankfort, NY. The first year, we were in Band Hospitality (there are some AWWWWESOME Irish rock groups); the next, we did tickets (nice to keep busy); last year, we took care of clean-up during the event (which was, admittedly, draining and disgusting). At the end of the weekend, a volunteer party is given for free, so, again, I don’t feel much like it’s volunteering since we get such an incredible perk, plus free admittance throughout the weekend.

In 2011 (and beyond), I’m hoping to add a new activity to my list of volunteering. I’ve always been a museum-goer; specifically, historical museums (although I do appreciate art museums nearly as much — art, in my mind, IS history). As a kid, my mother knew this (and I’m pretty sure she was also as much of a history buff as I was), and for any summer trips that she planned, a stop at a state historical park or a privately-run museum was a must — much to the chagrin of my stepdad and sister, who’d much rather hit the beach.

For example, I’ve been to the Adirondack Museum as much as I have Cooperstown’s Baseball Hall of Fame (which, if you’re from this area, is a lot). However, one of our last family trips was, instead, a week at a cabin on Raquette Lake (in the Adirondacks). I spent it as would any moody 16-year-old who didn’t have a friend along — miserable and slouchy, while reading and re-reading “Walden.” Depressing. One day, Mom shouted out the back door that anyone who wanted to go to the museum should meet her at the car in 5 minutes. Very unlike my mother. So, who, out of all of us shows up at the car? Mom and I. And, man, we had a blast. The good thing about museums is that, while their regular exhibits often stay the same, they have fascinating rotating “specialties.” Purdy cool.

So, why all the talk about museums? Well, I contacted a very nice lady with museumwise.org who helped to point me in the direction of volunteering at a few possible local spots. I’m going to first attempt to get in touch with the folks at the General Herkimer Home in Little Falls. Being my grandfather’s granddaughter, I know all too well who Gen. Herkimer was and his importance in the valley as well as in the Revolution. I love the fact that I get to live in the Mohawk Valley, with all its history just built in for the taking. (Not that we’ll live here forever. But, I’ve always appreciated, regardless of current financial instability and downright depression in the area, the relevance and serious respect owed to the settlers, the Native Americans, the past events that make it known.

If they’re not looking for volunteers for the summer (who knows, with our state’s budget), I’ll contact the Herkimer Historical Society to see if they’d like any free hands (literally), then work out to Cooperstown. I could see traveling once or twice a week throughout the summer to learn about how museum works and do whatever needs doing at the Farmers’ Museum or the Baseball Hall of Fame. Makes me excited to think about it — ahhh, gas prices. 😉

I’m still considering whether or not I should do summer school again this year. There were plenty of cons to the job last year; the pros, honestly, were the money and the amount of hours I had to work in relation to the money. But, it would leave me with afternoons and a three-day weekend to volunteer at a museum.

Of course, I write this on a snow day, and it still seems to be coming down pretty hard outside. So, maybe I’m just excited to think about the summer. But, I don’t think so. This should be interesting.