In Which a Book Tour Masquerades as a Hudson Valley Retreat, with a Surprise Finish

The last (and only) time I came remotely close to the Hudson Valley in New York was while racing from Vermont toward Pennsylvania, trying to stay a step ahead of Hurricane Irene. Danger tends to sprinkle itself through our travel.

We had wanted to return to this beautiful area ever since. As the last book event in New Jersey wound up, Christopher found a Bed & Breakfast in Rhinebeck, New York, that would be our home base for the next two nights.

The late sunlight of mid-July guided us to Whistlewood Farm Bed & Breakfast just as twilight descended. Oh me oh my. Consider this my hearty recommendation of this place, three miles outside of the town of Rhinebeck. Whistlewood Farm B&B not only offers creature comforts (comfy beds, lots of living space to stretch out, and homegrown, homemade breakfasts) but also creatures. We watched the horses have pedicures, fed the chickens, and unwound into the pace of life away from it all.

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In the morning, our host Maggy asked how many just-laid eggs we wanted, then pointed to the fresh baked blueberry muffins, sausage, and dollar pancakes. Thinking of what my Dad calls “preventative eating” — eat now so you won’t be hungry later — we said yes to everything, and figured that would last all day.

It worked. We drove all over, visiting small town bookstores, meeting booksellers and signing copies of Shelter Us. We visited Oblong Books in Rhinebeck (and could not pass by the Rhinebeck Aerodrome, to ogle biplanes and triplanes.) IMG_2505
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We visited the small town of Millbrook, which boasts the lovely Merritt Bookstore.

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We stopped at the Vanderbilt MansionIMG_7070 and gawked at its immensity, wondering what impulse compels some people (and peoples) to construct castles, while other peoples (say, Native Americans) would never deign to claim the land as theirs at all?

In keeping with that theme, we meandered the grounds of FDR’s home and Presidential Library in Hyde Park.

Just a thought.

The next day brought more small towns and more bookstores, including the charming town of Hudson’s Spotty Dog (books and ale).

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(Hudson, it is worth mentioning, rocks the eclectic, hip, artsy and funny, as in this store, Flower Kraut — selling flowers, sauerkraut, and “gifts” — and this sign outside of a motel.)

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We would not rest until reaching Northshire Bookstore in Saratoga Springs, and sampled some of the famous waters.IMG_7099

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Our last day, we visited The Golden Notebook in Woodstock, woodstock

and Inquiring Minds in New Paltz.

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Before heading home for the long drive, we wanted to get some exercise.

In Woodstock, we hiked Overlook Mountain Trail, and were rewarded with beautiful views and a fine adrenaline rush — not from climbing the six-level tower at the top, and not from watching a rattlesnake slither across the path. It was from the bear.

The bear, whom I saw face to face when I peeked into the woods, curious about the little sounds I had heard, expecting perhaps to see a fawn, or a chipmunk. “Bear!” my brain said. “Bear,” my mouth said to Christopher. The syllable was not fully formed before I was scooting at twice my previous speed up the hill.

Yes, the Hudson Valley trip proved to be memorable for many reasons. Each bookstore had friendly, enthusiastic booksellers who welcomed this California author’s first novel. Each town had a distinct personality, even if they didn’t all have a stoplight. And everywhere we looked, wild nature in all its manifestations came out to greet us. Heading back to urban Philadelphia never sounded so good.

Sizzling Summer Reads Giveaway!

I have never before used the word sizzling in a blog post. (You can check me on this. If you find that I have, I will publicly announce your doggedness and my wrongness.)

But today is about sizzle! And gifts! Announcing the “Sizzling Summer Reads Giveaway!”
Click here for giveaway

To celebrate the impending publication of Shelter Us (June 8), we’re having a giveaway party. All this week, register to win a gift bag of summer reads and a $50 Sephora gift card. And while you’re doing it, if you want to show some love and like my FB page, or check out my fellow authors, have at it.

Whether this April day is showing you dreary gray skies or the possibility of blue, hang on — summer is on its way. Wouldn’t winning this bundle of books brighten your day?

Enjoy,

Laura

Vermont: Freedom and Unity

As we packed the car and prepared to leave our lake cottage at the end of the unpaved road, I was already missing New Hampshire: the white spired churches, our rope swing, “lobstah rolls” and the lazy roads. We were destined for Vermont.

We bade farewell to New Hampshire in Hanover,  
site of Dartmouth College and equally impressive Lou’s Restaurant and Bakery, the longest-operated restaurant in Hanover. Opened in 1947, with a menu that featured “hamburger….35 cents,” Lou’s now welcomes guests with a dessert case that makes you realize you have some serious decisions to make if you’re not staying four years.

. . .

The physical journey from New Hampshire to Vermont is brief; you need only cross the Connecticut River. But the spiritual distance between New Hampshire’s “Live Free or Die” and Vermont’s “Freedom and Unity” mottos suggested we would be traveling a great distance.

As we made our way north and east on Highway 89, we had three major destinations on our Vermont itinerary: the Green Mountains of Stowe, the Lake Champlain area of Burlington, and the ice cream of Waterbury. Yes, after weeks of travel, we would finally arrive at Mecca: the Ben & Jerry’s factory tour.

While the kids lobbied to stop first at Ben & Jerry’s, we had the advantage of being in charge of the steering wheel. As we approached the highway exit to Vermont’s capitol city, Montpelier, we knew we had to make a detour.

The boys rolled their eyes as Christopher intoned, “Guys, did you know this is the least populous capitol in the nation?” (I didn’t doubt it. I had the feeling I could walk into the Governor’s office next door to the Capitol building and ask if he wanted anything from Dunkin’ Donuts.) It also has to be one of the prettiest, its golden dome gleaming against the deep green of the tree-engulfed mountains behind it.

We got out of the car in front of the capitol and took the requisite picture. The novelty of capitol buildings was wearing thin. After the photo shoot, they asked “Now can we go to Ben & Jerry’s?”

“Almost…” we answered in that noncommittal way that means, “We’re not quite done causing you misery.” (No freedom or unity for our family unit, at least for the moment.)

We forced the poor things to enter a museum

Adjacent to the capitol, the Vermont Historical Society has a hands-on, kid-friendly exhibit about the state we had just entered. Kid-friendly is so my speed. We walked through a full-sized Abenaki wigwam, a re-creation of the Catamount Tavern where Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys gathered, a railroad station complete with a working telegraph and a WWII living room furnished with period music and magazines. From abolishing slavery in its first constitution in 1787, through the gay marriage debate, the Vermont Historical Society gave us the skinny on Vermont. Definite thumbs up.


At last we hightailed it to Waterbury and joined the throngs at the Ben & Jerry’s factory. Christopher, ripe with Vermont factoids, piped up: “Did you know this is the most visited tourist attraction in Vermont?” From the moment we entered the parking lot, it was easy to believe. And why shouldn’t it be? With reasonable tour prices (adults $3, kids free), a heaping taste of a new flavor (“Late Night Snack” for us, featuring chocolate covered potato chips mixed into vanilla!), and good karmic corporate practices, I was happy to add my name to the list of people who’ve stopped by and taken the requisite photo.

As the day faded, we left the land of sweet cream and turned up the mountain road to complete the short distance to Stowe, and our accommodations at the Grey Fox Inn. Ah, Stowe. As soon as we entered the town, I stopped missing New Hampshire.

I realized I’d be missing this place all too soon.

Next up: Stowe, Vermont!

Why New Hampshire Rocks: Off-the-grid Games, Baseball, and Presidential Politics

Time marches fast, even on vacation. It’s hard to believe our plans are steadily becoming history, as the days become weeks. After 28 days we have reached the halfway mark of our trip, and signs of homesickness (or maybe travel weariness) have arrived. The fighting in the car is increasing, as are statements longing for home.

But one of the beauties of being in a new environment without one’s favorite toys, is the added motivation for creativity. At the house on Merrymeeting Lake last week, for example, Emmett and Aaron discovered a small rubber fish that must have been used as bait by a recent fisherman. This squishy little thing provided hours of entertainment, as they took turns throwing the fish into the lake, then jumping off the end of the dock to race each other to get it.

Now our adventure marches on to the second New Hampshire lake houses, in tiny Newbury, est. 1778, far from the more tourist-oriented locales. The town is charming, the house itself is more remote, rustic…and without cable TV, cell phone or internet service. It’s going to be wonderful.

Last night, instead of the kids watching television while Christopher and I worked on our computers, we played an Aaron-invented game, challenging each other to name the capitol of each state. Aaron drew freehand a map of the United States, and checked of the capitols as we named them. (Are you smarter than an almost-5th grader? I’m not.)

This morning, instead of Emmett being glued to The Disney Channel, he and Christopher rowed “our” little boat out to an island in the middle of the lake, on which someone has strung a rope swing on a high tree. Christopher expertly guided Emmett through his fears, and Emmett is now a rope-swing-into-a-lake kind of kid. Aaron and I stayed back in the house, gobbling down more chapters of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which he’d begun our last day in Manhattan, on the F Train to Brooklyn.

By late morning, we set out for Manchester with two big plans.

The first was to attend a Minor League baseball game (New Hampshire Fisher Cats vs. the Akron Aeros in Northeast Delta Dental Stadium).

The second (unstated-so-as-to-avoid-protest): to meet Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman at a restaurant down the street from the stadium. (A quick peek at the New Hampshire Republican Party’s website had let us know he would be at Murphy’s Taproom on Elm Street an hour before game time, talking with New  Hampshire folks. Just like they show on TV!)

We merely told the kids we knew a great place for lunch. We mentioned that Presidential candidates often ate lunch there. That piqued their interest. “Like Barack Obama?” Aaron wondered. “Could be,” we may have responded.

We walked toward the restaurant and, still not quite believing things work this way, there he was sitting at a table with 10 people, in a casual green shirt, talking about the economy.  The nice Young Republicans set out four more chairs for us. We listened until the kids were bored and threatening to become disruptive, and I took them outside.

Governor Huntsman was affable, and spoke with us after the round table ended. He asked Emmett about his missing front tooth; asked Aaron about his interests (response: basketball). We shook hands and told him we were fellow Penn grads, and that we were from California. He told us he grew up in North Hollywood. Politics aside, I liked the man, so I mentioned that I had a good track record: the last time I’d taken my picture with a Governor was 1990, with then-Governor of Arkansas Bill Clinton. He responded in a hushed voice: “I’m actually friends with him.”

Will we have shaken the hand of the next President? If our unscientific polling has anything to say, probably not: our closest Republican family told us he’s not their number one (but to send their love anyway).

NYC: How Two Kids and Their Parents Devour the Big Apple

As our two-month family road trip moved from Philadelphia to New York City, we shifted gears accordingly.

If Philadelphia shines its light on history, then New York shines its light on right now. Even though New York played its part in American Revolutionary history (hello, Capitol from 1785 – 1790, anyone?), walk into the NYC Visitor Info Center and browse its hundreds of brochures, and you will find exactly one mention of it: George Washington bade farewell to his troops here in 1783 at Fraunces Tavern. Yawn.

New York is too grand, too majestic to bother with what happened 250 years ago. It’s moving fast, baby, and we’re moving, too. We made a list of everything we wanted to see and do in NYC in one week, and set out a campaign to achieve it.

“This week we are go go go, do do do,” I told my kids. “You can rest when we get to New Hampshire.”

So from dawn ‘til dusk, for six days straight, we rocked The City. From Mary Poppins to Harry Potter,

From the Bronx Zoo to the Bronx Bombers,

From the Central Park boathouse to the Intrepid Aircraft Carrier,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From The World’s Largest Dinosaurs at the Museum of Natural History to the world’s most dazzling candy store on the Upper East Side,

From Chinatown to Little Italy,

and a subway-aided pilgrimage to my ancestral home – Brooklyn – we never stopped.

Until our children made us.

For once, my energy outlasted theirs. Their exhaustion was biblical, coming on the seventh day.

They went on strike. “We are NOT LEAVING THIS APARTMENT.” So we hunkered down and rested, knowing that the city marched on outside our window on West 44th Street without us.

We each had different favorites in the city this week. I loved the peaceful walk down Riverside Park at dusk, a place I’d never gone in all the times I’ve been to New York.

Christopher’s favorite was the Intrepid, where our boys learned about Kamikaze pilots, nuclear submarines, and other light-hearted things. 

Dylan’s Candy Store was the predictable hit for the boys, and the dancing splashing fountains in Battery Park were a welcome relief after the Ellis Island museum and an unusually rocky ferry on a warm summer day.

By the time they pooped out on our last day in New York City, we had a few things left on our list still undone: Walk along the High Line (free!); Kayak the Hudson (free!); take the ferry to and ride bikes on Governor’s Island (free!).

All will be saved for next time. Because while New York waits for no one, it always welcomes you back. It is like a party that’s still going after you’ve returned from a refreshing nap, a favorite movie you watch years later and find, to your great joy, not only does it hold up, it has gotten even better.­­­

Next stop: R&R in New Hampshire

Philadelphia, American History, and Mini-Golf

“California is the most beautiful state, but Pennsylvania is the most historic.”

Thus spoke my 10-year-old California boy at the end of a day that had him reading the Constitution aloud at the National Constitution Center, strolling past Independence Hall where the Constitution was crafted, watching “Liberty 360” — “the first 360 degree 3D movie about our nation’s founding!” – and, not to be entirely serious, playing a round of mini-golf surrounded by miniature emblems of Philadelphia.

Our first stop, the National Constitution Center, is a temple to America’s foundational document and history. As a daughter of a constitutional lawyer, I was raised to revere the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. As I listened to the core exhibit’s presentation “Freedom Rising”, I was moved to tears by the audacity of the men (yes, only men, but we’re fixing that) who wrestled with the creation of a new government. I was astounded again by their idealism, their indefatigable tenacity, for nearly a decade debating the language of what would become our American bible. For that moment I forgave them their human imperfections and hypocrisies, and thanked them for creating a governing document that left room for improvement in every generation. We are holding true to our tradition when we argue in every generation about what is meant by equal protection of the laws. Whether the issue is women’s suffrage or gay marriage (or whatever it will be 50 years from now), we can be mindful that we are all Americans, we are entitled to different opinions, and our legacy is one of debate, resolution and moving on as one country.

I could have spent hours more in the many interactive exhibits at the National Constitution Center (and will absolutely return), but time was short and I’d promised them mini-golf. I have my priorities straight. And so do the planners of the many activities that make up Historic Philadelphia, who know that you gotta give the kids something sweet to get the medicine to go down.
Our golf-putting took us past mini Art Museum, Ben Franklin Bridge, Independence Hall and even miniature people rowing crew on mini Boathouse Row.

There are so many inventive and interactive activities for families in Historic Philadelphia, we could have spent a full week. But we’d only allotted the day, which means we will be back. Fifth grade field trip, anyone?



A Bad Idea Gone Good

Q: When four adults confront a 5-day forecast that includes thunderstorms Monday afternoon and sunny skies the rest of the week, what activity do they choose for Monday?

A: Floating down the Delaware River for three hours in innertubes.

Emboldened by our rain-free bike ride yesterday, and with a mantra that “those forecasters are always wrong,” we set out for Frenchtown, New Jersey, site of Delaware River Tubing. Leaving no margin for error, “we” (by which I mean, of course, not me) reasoned that if we started by 10 a.m., we’d be out before the predicted storm.

The friendly kids at Delaware River Tubing gave us an innertube, a smile, and a ride to the river.

Our floating parade began under sunny skies, moderated by clouds that kept us thankfully cool. The river was as lazy as they come, making me laugh at myself for thinking this might be a dangerous endeavor.

Then the thunderstorm caught up with us. Suddenly no one could remember whether it was safer to be exposed in the middle of the river, or sheltered near the river banks and all its trees. We strenuously paddled to a happy medium, appreciating that the storm added drama to what otherwise would have been an uneventful pleasure ride. What better than a brush with danger to sear a memory into permanence. The lightning caught especially caught Emmett’s attention.

Tonight, however, safe at home, rejuvenated by warm baths, soft pajamas and a delicious dinner of corn, tomatoes and chicken any locavore would love, Emmett stated his opinion of the day in simple but clear terms: “Let’s do it again tomorrow.”