Tag Archives: summer vacation

The Adirondacks: A Small Place With Big Allure

On September 12, 1901, when there were maybe just a few hints of fall color touching the Adirondack Mountains, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt went for a hike. Vacationing with his family in his beloved North Country, he decided to climb Mount Marcy, New York State’s tallest peak at just over 5,300 feet. While hiking, some local man named Harrison Hall was trailing Roosevelt, carrying probably the most important piece of paper he’d ever held in his hands—a telegram with news of President McKinley’s life-threatening injuries. The Vice President got down the mountain, boarded a wagon and made it to a railroad station where he inched his way across New York State to get to Buffalo where McKinley had been shot. McKinley died on September 14, and Roosevelt was sworn in as America’s 26th president.

I think of this story every time I’m in the Adirondacks, which is where I spent this past weekend. Why this story? Because I think of how this understated 6.2 million acres of landscape used to attract some of the biggest names and most adventurous people. I mean Theodore Roosevelt chose to spend his down time here, where, 114 years later, I was spending my down time. This got me thinking how the Adirondacks’ timelessness appears indefatigable despite forest fires, global warming, and industrialization. Thirty-one years after Roosevelt became president, Lake Placid, the region’s biggest hub, hosted the Winter Olympics in 1932 and did such a good job hosting that they got the gig again in 1980, drawing some of the world’s best athletes to this tiny town surrounded by blue peaks. The area, once known for back country lumberjacks and rural poverty, was now under the global spotlight entertaining some of the best of the best who had crossed sea and sky to reach this place. Today, the Olympic Games tend to go to bigger places with bigger budgets, and presidents vacation in luxurious locales like Martha’s Vineyard and Hawaii. The Adirondacks is not Aspen or Jackson Hole; there are some four-star accommodations and awesome eats, but it’s still mountain country where grizzly guys are out in the open driving their rusting pick-ups. Outside of the American Northeast, people have heard of the Rockies and the Ozarks and maybe even the Smoky Mountains and the Olympic Range, but few people seem to recall the Adirondacks unless you specifically say “Lake Placid, where the U.S. hockey team beat the Soviet Union” and then you get a nod of recognition.

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On the ground, Lake Placid obviously looks quite different than it did during Roosevelt’s visits or even the 1980 Olympic Games. Towns, like lakes and mountains, are their own ecosystems, always evolving and adapting, as they should. But while kayaking alone on Mirror Lake yesterday morning, I looked around the mountains and sky reflecting off the water’s surface, Mirror Lake living up to its name, and thought of how much nature still manages to move us even while we’re all IV’ed to our smartphones. The buildings and roads in between the Adirondacks’ peaks and valleys change, but the impact the region has on those who live here and visit has not. There are still many, many places throughout the Adirondacks where you can’t get any cell service, and as long as there’s no emergency, this feels like a wonderful thing. To kayak alone on a serene lake without my iPhone on me, to be out there early enough before all the paddleboarders and boaters woke up, and to feel like I had the sky and lake and mountains all to myself, was intoxicating. And I imagined this was the pull that Theodore Roosevelt felt when he hiked Mount Marcy nearby. Maybe, like me, he thought “This is mine,” even though we knew otherwise.

There are countless beautiful places on this earth—the Adirondacks and Mirror Lake being among them—and it’s getting harder to keep them beautiful. Lesser-known corners of our planet struggle to hide from capitalism, climate change and population growth. Globalization means just that, where everyone’s backyards are connected even if it doesn’t feel so. When I kayaked across Mirror Lake, I thought “How much longer?” The state-protected Adirondack Park is home to 3,000 lakes and ponds and 30,000 miles of streams and rivers, including the birthplace of the Hudson River; Mirror Lake is shockingly pristine compared with some of the others. Powered boats aren’t permitted and no one is dumping cow shit into it unlike the farms surrounding nearby Lake Champlain, the almost-sixth Great Lake that divides New York and Vermont (equally stunning though not as clean as it could be). The clarity of Mirror Lake’s shoreline sometimes reminded me of the Caribbean. Yet the area deals with salt contamination due to aggressive salt use as part of winter road maintenance. Folks there shovel more than 100 inches of snow per year; 86 percent of salt and chloride buildup has been directly attributed to road salting to help keep roads as dry as possible. Pollution comes from neighbors, too: many of the Adirondacks’ lakes suffered depletion due to acid rain as a result of wind patterns mixing with Midwest plant emissions.

Thankfully, there are already signs of ecological recovery, for mountain folk are fiercely protective types. Because of their efforts, we had a gorgeous, lazy day on a pretty clean lake Sunday. No floating garbage. No slimy muck pooling at our feet. Locals and tourists apparently playing by the rules. I’m so grateful for this region and miss it the moment we leave. It’s a side of the American Northeast people don’t think of; our colonial history and that stress-junkie lifestyle that defines the Boston to New York to Washington, DC, corridor often overshadows the quiet, mountain interior that appealed to Roosevelt. But it’s still there, and if you have the chance, go and experience it before it changes into something I wouldn’t recognize.

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Getting Our West-of-the-Mississippi Fix

In the thick of another hazy morning in downtown Los Angeles, my thoughts were clear. We had spent too much money on travel in 2013, and I knew we had to change our ways. A two-week summer trip that combined Los Angeles with Monterrey would be expensive (and totally awesome, but expensive), and if 2014 was going to be our year of a self-imposed travel diet, of putting money towards upgrading our old house and following “the rules” a bit more by spending less and saving more, then we needed to skip California in 2014. We had been flying out West almost every year for a number of years, and it was time to take a break I told myself, looking out at the Hollywood sign and the stillness of the palm trees outside our apartment window. I didn’t want to skip California, but I thought we should. My husband agreed. Our daughter was disappointed. For years she had referred to this corporate apartment in downtown Los Angeles as “our summer home,” as if it were some charming, private chalet in the mountains, not a two-bedroom in a high-rise. Everyone concluded California wasn’t going anywhere (or so we hoped), so we’d be prudent in 2014, and return another year.

And so what happens? I’m flying to San Francisco next month, and I’m flying to Colorado next week. And it won’t cost me a thing. I had enough frequent flyer miles for both trips, and Mike’s company is paying for the hotel in San Francisco because he will be working from their Golden Gate office. And relatives have been kind enough to put us up while visiting Colorado. The travel gods were generous.

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We’re returning to Fort Collins, Colorado, later this month to see family, welcome a new baby (theirs, not ours), and hang with Mike’s super cool literary agent, the Divine Miss Sara Megibow. Fort Collins is a pristine place criss-crossed by bike paths. It is a beer snob’s paradise, and one of the few American towns I’ve come across where I can get Himalayan food. Fort Collins’ secret of being so awesome and clean and friendly has gotten out, and the long-timers there seem annoyed because they don’t want more people moving there wrecking a good thing, and they don’t want Fort Collins to become the next Boulder with its boutique-y ways and soy latte lifestyle (for the record, I love Boulder). Speaking of Boulder, if you live there or you’re passing through on July 2, swing by the Boulder Book Store . Mike and Sara will be hosting an event, and discussing Mike’s second book.

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Two weeks after that trip, we’re back in the sky heading west again to San Francisco, a city I tried to unsuccessfully move to, yet the jobs led us elsewhere. Mike will be there for work, aka his day job, and I’m tagging along because I had the frequent flyer miles. I plan on jogging along the waterfront, hanging out on the beach again like I did during that freezing August afternoon in 2012, giving vintage store shopping a go (I lack the patience to pick through all that clutter to find the “find” but I’m going to try because I like vintage things), and eating so much Japanese food it will feel like I’m back in Japan (gosh, I LOVE that country!).

So I will get my yearly California fix after all with a side of Rocky Mountain awesome. And the main floor of our house is getting painted and a few minor nips and tucks in household renovations are being made this summer. Not bad for a travel diet.

Lentil Soup and a Hike

Last week, newspapers reported that the National Park Service wasn’t doing away with summer staples such as hot dogs and ice cream, but was adding healthier options, such as lentil soup and fish tacos, apparently because Americans love having multiple choices to satisfy their individuality. The news sounded doused with corn syrup and wrapped in bacon, as if Americans wouldn’t visit their national treasures without a carrot, um, hot dog, dangling at the end of a walking stick.

This news comes after I ate a disgusting falafel sandwich a week ago at a state park. As someone who tries to eat healthy and avoid gluten and red meat, this was my only option on the menu that wasn’t fried or soaked in mayonnaise or grease. The American diet sucks, and as much as I try to pack our own food for road trips and airport delays, I still get stuck having to order what’s around. I wanted to feel relieved by NPS’s news, that it was a small, hesitant step in the right direction, but it reminded me of my former employer’s smoking policy; there was a big announcement that the organization had gone tobacco-free, yet plenty of employees continued to smoke on benches branded with no-smoking signs, often right in front of the executive offices. It really wasn’t a smoking ban. It was an announcement about a smoking ban that would never be enforced. What’s the point of a smoking ban that’s not enforced? What’s the point of offering lentil soup if you can get a pink sludge dog?

Maybe I need to not be so pessimistic, but I’ve been writing about health for 15 years, and during that time, America’s waistline got bigger. A third of us are clinically obese. There are fat kids huffing and puffing down the street holding 32-ounce sodas. In 1980, seven percent of kids ages six to 11 were fat; by 2010 that number had jumped to 18 percent. You don’t need the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to tell you that; just walk into any grocery store.

NPS serves more than 23 million people each year from its 250 food and beverage facilities located in 75 parks. That’s a lot of ice cream to scoop and pink sludge to grill. I’m encouraged that many of the parks will begin offering vegetarian options, but it doesn’t look like the hot dogs and junk will get phased out. I’m not anti-ice cream (but I am anti-pink sludge; we don’t eat red meat at home). However, travel is an opportunity to educate, and food is a big part of any travel experience. Our national parks educate tourists both from within the US and from abroad about the diverse North American landscape; we could send a similar message about food. What we serve makes an impression. Handing a foreign tourist a 16-ounce gulp because that’s the smallest beverage size available makes an impression.

I’m reading Michael Lanza’s “Before They’re Gone: A Family’s Year-Long Quest to Explore America’s Most Endangered National Parks.” The book is an interesting personal odyssey mixed with sobering facts about climate change and how the warming world is eroding our national parks. At the same time, a corrosive American diet is reducing the gains we’ve made in life expectancy. My daughter’s generation may not enjoy a longer lifespan due to the burden of obesity. Being fat is a serious public health problem. It’s not about not looking good or squeezing into a bathing suit. Obesity is about taxing your body’s biological and cellular processes to the maximum. Obesity is about hauling around what you don’t need. Obesity contributes to excessive healthcare costs.

I applaud NPS’s efforts, but wish the park service would adopt a more leadership role in this issue since enjoying the outdoors is linked with physical fitness. NPS can distinguish itself more from what’s being served at the typical American mall. NPS could stand to represent what’s worth preserving in America: the health of our land as well as ourselves.

My Guide to the Big Apple

It’s summer and you’re looking to do a day trip to New York City, one of the top tourist destinations in the world and also my backyard. You’ve already done the biggies: Statue of Liberty, a Broadway show, Times Square, but what’s New York City really like once you start mingling with the locals? Starting from uptown to downtown, allow me.

Native New York
Grab breakfast the way I used to before heading into the office with a buttery bagel (or with cream cheese) from Bagel Express on 2nd Avenue between 94th and 93rd Streets. The bagel selection lines the back wall and you’ll get a true taste of how New Yorkers start their day as you stand in a long line that goes out to the construction work zone while the city builds the new 2nd Avenue subway line. You’ll hear every language spoken and the wait is long enough that you may become fluent in a new language by the time your order is hot in your hand. There is a rainbow of cream cheese spreads options, from vegetable to strawberry. The wait is long, the service is ok, the coffee often tepid…and the bagels are out of this world. You’ll spend about $3 and won’t need another bite until lunch. There’s also the more famous Murray’s Bagels, but I like Bagel Express because it’s a neighborhood dive that is as authentic as it gets.

Knowledgeable New York
Not far from Bagel Express is a strip of museums big and small; 10 museums along Fifth Avenue between 82nd and 105th Streets that have been officially designated by New York City as Museum Mile. The museums typically open around 10 am, so walk off that caloric bagel into the Guggenheim Museum or the Metropolitan Museum of Art or Neue Galerie of New York, which has a fantastic exhibit about Gustav Klimt running throughout the summer. Many of the museums are closed on Mondays so time your bagel and visit for later in the week. The Guggenheim has a new exhibit featuring the collection of art lover Justin Thannhauser who bought multiple 20th century masterpieces, including (in alphabetical order) Cezanne, Gauguin, Manet, Monet, Picasso, Pissaro, Renoir and Van Gogh. I was at the Metropolitan Museum of New York a few weeks ago where I enjoyed the fantastic Egyptian exhibit. If you get hungry hoofing it around the cavernous Met, there are plenty of iconic New York hot dog and pretzel carts hovering around those grand front steps, but if you’re willing to hold out for a pinkilicious lunch downtown, weather the stomach growls and keep your eyes on the prize. If you’re in town the evening of Tuesday, June 12, skip admission and come back at 6 pm when Museum Mile opens its doors for free thanks to the Museum Mile Festival.

Natural New York
Who says New York is botanically challenged? Ok, maybe a good chunk of New York’s greenery is confined to a landscaped rectangle in the middle of the city, but there are also beautiful gardens high above. Where, you ask? From Museum Mile, grab a crosstown bus to the Upper West Side to see the lovely Lotus Garden 20 feet above West 97th Street between Broadway and West End Avenue. This crosstown adventure will give you bragging rights as to how you managed to get from the East Side to the West Side especially if you hit all the green lights and get across the width of Manhattan in under 15 minutes (which I did once cruising 52nd street). The Lotus Garden is one-sixth of an acre community garden maintained by residents, an urban oasis open free to the public every Sunday from 1 to 4 pm, April through November. Visitors get a real appreciation of how to garden without the earth directly beneath your feet, and all are welcome to tip toe through the tulips, just don’t pick anything. A lovely, quiet respite above the din of the concrete jungle.

Nifty New York
Ok, by now you must be starving. You’ve taken in art, crossed town, and walked through an elevated Eden. Time for lunch! True, you could take in a slice or two of pizza anywhere (remember to fold your slice if you do), and claim yourself to have enjoyed a true taste of the Big Apple, but for a slightly different experience, hop the 1, 2 or 3 subway train to the West Village and make your way to Sweetie Pie on Greenwich Avenue between Christopher Street and 10th Avenue. With hot pink seats, a mirrored ceiling, and lollipops the size of taxi wheels, Sweetie Pie delivers on all things girlie, glittery and giddy, but don’t think for a moment it’s a hot spot for the ladies who lunch crowd. This is Greenwich Village, after all, so grab your pink boa, grab a seat and grab some pink lemonade as you mull over the menu. I strongly recommend the surprisingly good fish –n- chips. If you get a chance to sit in one of the giant gilded bird cages by the window, please do. It’s a fantastic perch for people-watching.

Natty New York
Keeping with our trek towards downtown, hop the subway to Brooklyn, New York’s coolest borough, and the site of a cultural and gastronomical renaissance with craft breweries sprouting up like daisies. The mother hen of this new flock of breweries is Brooklyn Brewery, which has sat in the vibrant Williamsburg and Greenpoint neighborhoods since 1988. Brewmaster Garrett Oliver has been telling people how to pair beer with cheese long before it became trendy, and nearly a quarter century later, the lines for Brooklyn Brewery’s beer tours attract residents and tourists, and go down the block. The brewery offers guides all week now, so come thirsty and make sure you remember how to get back to your hotel. Reservations are not necessary, and tours run from noon to 8 pm.

Entrepreneurial New York
Looking for that perfect party frock? What about a chic tote? Look no further than Himane designs where every discarded item is magically reincarnated into haute couture. That cute cocktail dress? Someone’s old umbrella. That funky button on a shirt? Could be a turkey bone from a Thanksgiving dinner or perhaps an old coffee filter, depending on what was in the garbage. Based in Prospect Park, and with a new shop opening up in the other hip Brooklyn neighborhood Dumbo, Haitian designer Catherine Edouard Charlot jokes she is a “junkie” because whatever she finds on the street or in a garbage can, she sees amazing possibilities. And her clients, which include eco-conscious individuals across the country, are willing to pay for custom-made upcycled fashion. You can buy her designs online while she prepares for her move to Dumbo. Meanwhile, her current studio is filled with a rainbow of spools, hundreds of umbrellas, including vintage umbrellas from the 1950s, as well as many other materials waiting to be cleaned, dissected and transformed into raincoats, cocktail party dresses and totes. Charlot even takes tents used to shield displaced Haitians after the 2010 earthquake and reinvents them into dapper bags; proceeds from the sales go toward rebuilding Haiti. I bought a gorgeous green tote that once had a former life as an umbrella. It accompanies me everywhere now, from the airport to the town pool.


Nectarous New York
The Brooklyn Flea is a huge flea market with four locations in Brooklyn, including the Smorgasburg market, which happens every Saturday on the Williamsburg waterfront between North 6th and North 7th Street on the East River. More than 75 vendors sell a cornucopia of packaged and prepared foods from 11 am to 6 pm. It’s the perfect spot to grab what you need for a nighttime picnic. Buttermilk Channel is a new Brooklyn restaurant in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood that just this month announced its arrival to the Smorgasburg Flea; stop by the stand and get some its famous buttermilk chicken and waffles to go. Want some sides just in case? Try the maple and bacon roasted almonds and homemade pickles. Take your picnic and head to Brooklyn Bridge Park, Pier 1, Harbor View Lawn in Dumbo and enjoy your delectable chicken and waffles with a dreamy view of the famous Brooklyn Bridge. Once the sun disappears, it’s show time! Free movies are shown every Thursday beginning July 7 through September. Lawn seating is limited, so claim a spot on the ground as soon as you can.

And that, my friends, is your day in New York. Exhausted? We’re the city that never sleeps, so if you’ve got the energy to dance til dawn, try Webster Hall, back in Manhattan on East 11th Street. Although it sounds like a library from an elementary school, it’s actually New York City’s biggest nightclub. Besides, you can sleep on the bus, train or plane ride home the following morning. Come on back when you’re up for doing it all over again.

More Thoughts on Camping

Memorial Day weekend approaches, which for some strange reason signals the beginning of the barbecue season, the pool season, and the pitch-a-tent-outdoors season. When we lived in Seattle, people went camping the way I run to the grocery store for milk. You packed up your gear, drove in some direction and within less than an hour you were pitching a tent in God’s country and telling stories by a campfire. That’s harder to do here in metropolitan New York City, and even once you drive two hours in any direction from the Big Apple, you’ve barely reached the border between retail-centric suburbia and dying mom-and-pop shop smalltown.

We’ve always liked to mix it up, from five-star amenities (which we did in Quito and Quebec) to sleeping on the earth. Before my suburban mom life in metro New York City, I camped in several national and state parks. My national park list is not as impressive as I’d like it to be, but it will grow, and so far includes repeat stays at: Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland where wild horses strut across the sand past RVs; Shenandoah National Park in Virginia’s beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, where I saw this very haunting and lovely shadow of a deer nibbling grass near our tent; and Acadia National Park near Bar Harbor, where I went whale watching and ate blueberry pie.

Just the words “national park” imply something sacred and shielded from the rest of the world. The parks are as unique as faces and have their own distinct rhythms and stories to tell. Assateague is a real treat if you time it right; June is a gorgeous time of year in the salt marshes with hot sunny days and clear, chilly, though comfortable evenings (if you’re dressed warm enough and have thermal sleeping bags–it does get brisk by the ocean). However, July is a completely different story at Assateague; it’s humidity at its worse, and when we visited, we battled thunderstorms and mosquitoes. The bugs were so bad that even when I stood by the campfire to eat breakfast thinking the smoke would deter them, the mosquitoes would kamikaze into my orange juice or coffee. Despite that negative experience, I did not sell our gear when we got home (you’ll see why that’s significant in a moment). Other national parks on my list include Rocky Mountain National Park and the Grand Canyon, but I only visited there, and did not get a chance to camp. Later this summer, we’ll visit Redwood National and State Park in California. I have yet to visit our first national park Yellowstone, which predates the creation of the National Park Service by more than 40 years.

My most memorable camping experience occurred in Orick, California, where we camped on the beach and feared the state icon–the brown bear–sniffing out our S’mores and mauling us to death. Aside from the bears, the weather was a bit rough. We tried to cook pasta and enjoy it with red wine, but it was so cold and windy on the beach that our food chilled the second it was removed from the campfire and our tent was blown down repeatedly. Sand constantly blew into my eyes, nose and mouth. After a few hours of this, I was hoping a giant bear would find us just so we could have an excuse to leave. I got so fed up with the whole trip that I sat in Mike’s 1987 Dodge Aries reading the The New Yorker while Mike being Mike tried to salvage the weekend. Once we were back home in Seattle, I immediately sold all our camping equipment to a colleague. A few years later, missing the land and wanting to sleep under the stars again, we went back out and bought new gear.

Families frequently use camping and escapes to Mother Nature as a way to switch off and reconnect. You don’t need to wait for summer vacation to do unplug. Last weekend, I went to our local nature center and sat listening to the birds while my iphone sat idly by. I felt like I was listening to the soundtrack at the spa. Just a few minutes of tuning into the breezes and the birds and not compulsively checking email was fantastic! My daughter seems to be a budding conservationist and she’s at a great age to learn more about our national parks and transition from occasional participant, which is what I am, to active advocate.

That said, if we want to continue to have quiet green spaces to enjoy, we need to protect them. Modern development, political interests and greed constantly encroach on the borders of lands sworn to public protection. Visit the National Parks Conservation Association website and there’s a laundry list of rules looking to be made unofficial by our officials, with everything from allowing the hunting of wolves to the building of coal plants. If you care about sharing national parks with future generations, I hope you will support the National Park Foundation’s efforts to salvage what’s left. In some ways, I suppose we’re lucky to have what we have. It can feel wonderous and depressing to imagine what the United States looked like before Interstate 90 connected the East Coast to the West Coast, when Lewis and Clark had to find their way through thickets of lush forest and national parks weren’t “national parks” but simply land that stretched on to the heavens.