Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Gavin and Mommy play in the snow

We finally got hit with a storm here in Albany. We woke up to at least 8 inches of snow and by the time Gavin and I headed out to play it seemed deeper than that! It's a very wet snow, much like what we'd get in the northwest. It's actually not very cold here- mid 30s. I thought it would be nice for Gavin to practice walking in his snowshoes in preparation for this weekend's hike. He was a little frustrated but he seemed to get the hang of it. Here is a little video of his efforts and some photos of the rest of our playtime.

When we got done with our snowshoe lesson, Gavin played in the backyard with the dogs. We then decided to build a snowman.
Gavin loved his Frosty and gave him a big hug... then, he picked his head up and threw it. Oh well... nice moment while it lasted!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Advocating for State Parks (My soap-box post)

I am sorry that I did not post anything last week. Instead of blogging, I have been busy writing letters to my NY State legislators. It came to my attention last week that NY is closing or reducing services at somewhere between 40-64 state parks and 15 historic sites to solve part of our budget crisis. It's my understanding that this is happening all over the country, including Washington State and California. I find this incredibly upsetting- in fact, I'm pissed as hell about it!

I am not one to get politically active- sure, I have my own opinions and participate in elections but I never feel the urge to protest or write letters. Well, this issue has me pretty fired up. Gavin and I will be attending our first political protest on March 3rd to try and help save Thacher Park, one of the parks on the chopping block. Thacher is the park that I've written several posts about- it's an absolutely beautiful park that has been the setting for many of our weekend hikes this year.

From what I have been researching, closing these parks will save NY State about $6.3 million- our budget deficit is $8.3 BILLION. I understand that cuts need to be made in hard economic times but I think this is the worst place to be looking for money savings. I can bet you that even when the economy turns around, the budget is never going to be at such a surplus that the parks will be reopened. The amount of administrative bureaucracy is mind-boggling. You know the saying, how many people does it take to screw in a light-bulb? Well, how many politicians does it take to accomplish absolutely nothing? We pay over twice as much in tax dollars living in NY State as we did in Washington. Our property taxes alone, are double what we paid for our Seattle home. We now pay a state income tax. We also pay sales tax comparable to Seattle's. We pay tolls to take the thruways and turnpikes. What are they doing with this money? At the very least, we should be able to enjoy the park system and historical sites that the state has to offer. Otherwise, why would people choose to live here?

However, the biggest reason this fires me up is the message that it sends to communities. At at time when people are becoming increasingly out-of-shape and so narrowly focused on consumerism, our government leaders should be promoting park usage and quality lifestyles. We need to move our bodies and appreciate our natural environments. I understand that we need to stimulate the economy and job creation by giving business tax credits, etc. but at a certain point we have to learn that we can't just consume our way out of our problems. We have to start focusing on the quality of our lives and make decisions that will better the entire community. Sure, I'll continue to buy my kids toys and expose them to new technology, but I also want them to get excited about spending a few hours without all that crap. Even at age 2, the look on Gavin's face when he puts on his boots and knows we're heading out to the park is priceless.

I didn't mean for this to turn into a soap-box post. Believe it or not, I actually restrained myself. I could have gone on for several more paragraphs! I didn't even go into lost tourism revenues or increasing percentages of childhood obesity- I saved those arguments for my letter writing. If this is an issue that has you concerned- I encourage you to write to your own government legislators. This truly is not an issue for hippies or hard-core environmentalists. If you don't believe me, maybe you need to take a hike (literally!)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Yet another rant about Price Chopper

Before I begin my rant, I must admit that grocery shopping with a toddler is a trying experience to say the least. I typically avoid taking Gavin with me if at all possible. I pretty much need to psyche myself up for the whole event. This evening, Gavin was in a pretty good mood so I decided to go for it.

It all started out fine. Friday evenings seem to be a pretty good time to go shopping as most people have more exciting lives than I do and are out having dinner or seeing movies. Ya know, things I used to be able to do before having a child. Oh well, who says making your weekly meal plan and grocery shopping isn't just a sweet way to spend Friday night?

Gavin and I have a new game at the store- I tell him what everything is, he repeats it and then puts the groceries in the cart. He was a trooper for the most part- until we got to the checkout line.  He had run out of patience by then and it didn't help that we got the dumbest checker on planet Earth. I had a full cart and she seemed insanely overwhelmed by it. The worst part was- no bagger. And, this is where my rant really begins.

What is it with grocery stores not bagging your groceries? What happened to the days when they not only bagged your groceries but then asked you if you needed help out? I find it appalling that I spent $218 and had to watch the checker practically throw my stuff through the scanner and watch it all back up while I swiped my Advantage card and put in my debit card. Then, I madly run to the end of the aisle and start trying to load my bags. Meanwhile, Gavin begins to go ape-shit. One would think at this point, the checker would say, "Here, let me do that." But no, Sergeant Dumbass just stares at me and then asks me to sign the receipt. She finally decides to load the last bag and says, "I hope I didn't squish your brie." Well, maybe it's not a good idea to place the gallon of milk on top of it. Seriously...

I really don't have a point to this rant. I am concerned that common sense is lacking in this country even in the simplest of situations, such as grocery stores bagging groceries. I have adapted to their needs- I bring my own bags and use their customer loyalty card. Is my expectation of good customer service unrealistic? I don't think so.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A weekend with old friends...

This past weekend we welcomed our friends Melissa and Earl Ardales for a visit. Melissa actually came in on Thursday so we could catch a Brandi Carlile concert. Earl joined us Friday afternoon, catching the last flight out of Baltimore before all remaining flights were cancelled due to tremendous snowfall. It's so odd that we've missed all these big east coast storms. Our biggest snowfall has amounted to just 7 inches. We keep getting a few inches here and there but nothing substantial.

On Friday evening, Melissa and I decided to make Beef Bourguignon. I had been wanting to make Julia Child's recipe ever since reading My Life in France. However, after reading through her recipe and comparing it to Ina Garten's, we chose to go with Ina's. Her recipe seemed more updated and required fewer steps. She also adds cognac to her stew and that just sounded incredible. Plus, Earl got to have some fun lighting the pot on fire! The stew turned out fabulous, as almost all of Ina's recipes do. We also made an apple tart using Julia's recipe. These are my favorite types of meals- simple, elegant, yet completely unpretentious.
Over dinner, the topic of how many states each of us had visited came up. Melissa had not been to Massachusetts or Vermont and Earl was missing Vermont as well. That settled it, we'd take them to both states the following day. Hey, we aim to please at Hotel deMars.
The following morning we headed over to Williamstown, MA and then over to Mt. Greylock for some hiking. We had found a trail that followed a creek and offered some spectacular scenery. There was not much snow on the ground but there were lots of icy patches which made it somewhat precarious. We were about a quarter mile into our hike when we came across a 20 ft sheet of ice over the trail. There really wasn't a safe way to cross since we didn't have crampons or snowshoes with us. We decided to hike up the hill and try to find a crossing further up. Of course, once we headed upward, we had to find a safe way back down to the trail. It was interesting, to say the least. At almost 5 months pregnant, I felt both a little bad-ass and a little stupid. Adam was carrying Gavin in a backpack which made his trek down equally bad-ass/stupid. Alas, we all made it back down to the trail safely and continued our hike.
Beginning of our hike... The Hopper Trail, Mt. Greylock
Melissa and Earl, bundled up and ready to go!
Here is the sheet of ice we came across- as you can tell, one slip and you'd be in the creek! Below, is Earl making his way back down the hill we climbed up to avoid the ice. It involved a little squat/slide!
The second half of the hike included a steady incline which got all of our heart rates going. We've been doing a lot of hiking this winter but this was by far the most aggressive. It was nice to get a real workout but I also became very aware of just how quickly one's body changes when pregnant. I was a little tuckered out by the end! I was also very thankful that Melissa and I had the foresight to make a lasagna the night before so dinner was waiting for us in the fridge.

After our hike, we drove through Bennington, Vermont and over to Shaftbury to The Chocolate Barn. We loaded up on truffles and other goodies and then headed back home. I think we provided Melissa and Earl with a nice little tour of southern New England. Their flight home ended up being cancelled and they stayed with us through Monday evening. Fortunately, they were able to get home before the next storm. After getting hit with almost 30 inches of snow, they are expecting another 20 inches today!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Winter in Southern New England

A couple of weekends ago, we decided to journey over to the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts. I had read about a few places to go hiking and play in the snow so we thought we'd go check them out. Gavin is always looking for a reason to wear his snow boots!

The Berkshires are very close to us and you can get to most of the towns within 40 to 90 minutes. I think the last time I wrote about a trip there was last winter, when we went to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge. This time we started out in Pittsfield, MA. Apparently, this used to be a very happening town- GE used to employ thousands of people there. Now, it seems like a very small town and I had commented to Adam that it seemed strange to see so many big homes and wondered where people worked. I still don't know the answer to that but whatever. This is not a blog post about the demographics of Pittsfield, MA, now is it?

Anyhow, I love driving through the Berkshires. It's very New England. There are lots of country roads that wander over hills. There are little farming communities and really cute houses. Our first stop was to Balance Rock State Park. This was not much of a hike, just a really great park to go for a winter walk. There were a few people out cross country skiing and lots of people on snowmobiles. Balance Rock is a 165-ton boulder that was left by a retreating ice sheet thousands of years ago. Over time, soil and loose rock have eroded, leaving the boulder in a balanced position. It's actually crazy to see- does not seem like physics should allow it to stay.

We spent some time wandering through the Pittsfield State Forest and then headed out for another destination. This time, we just plugged 'parks' into our GPS and were directed to Mt. Greylock. Mt. Greylock is the tallest mountain in the state of Massachusetts. It's actually where the Appalachian Trail begins, although we did not enter the park from that side. The park has over 70 miles worth of hiking trails and the mountain inspired some of the writings of Herman Melville, Henry David Thoreau, and Nathanial Hawthorne. I was a big American Lit fan growing up so I thought this was pretty cool. There is an "Inspiration Trail" that has stones with random quotations from some of these writers and others. I plan on finding that trail next weekend, weather permitting. We're expecting Melissa and Earl Ardales for a visit up from DC. Can't wait to show them around!

It's been a fun winter of exploring. I recently rediscovered libraries and have been checking out lots of books on the area. I am still writing my column so this has been a good way to get ideas on where to go. By the time we move back to Seattle, I just might be a bit of an Albany Day Trips expert... who woulda thunk it?

Anyhow- here are some pics:
Gavin and me cuddled up under Balance Rock
Someone took the liberty of welcoming little Gavin before we arrived, isn't that nice?

Yes, we are that cheeseball family that pretends to push the rock over...
King of the mountain!
Adam and Gavin hiking at Mt. Greylock
We ran into Frosty, complete with pine mohawk! (Meg, this pic was for you so you can see my bump!)
Gavin was afraid of Frosty at first but then decided he wanted to say hi. For the rest of the hike back to the car he kept saying, "I touched Frosty!" Oh boy!