Friday, July 30, 2010

Phillipsburg Manor x 2

Did I mention that I love touring Historic Hudson Valley?! Our first week in NY we went to Van Cortland Manor and our second week I wanted to see Washington Irving's Sunnyside and also Phillipsburg Manor. We went to Phillipsburg first and liked it so much that we went there again just 2 days later. What a great place for kids to run around and explore! And for this particular kid, Mr. M, this place - with a working flour mill, a barn, a large kitchen garden and lots of farm animals - is as close to perfect as it gets (oh, and the ice-cream shop is just down the road so yes, it is perfect).

Both times M's first and the longest stop was at the flour mill. He's absolutely obsessed with mills and particularly with all the gears and axels and millstones. The first time we went with a small tour, but the second time we were the only ones at the mill and the miller offered to do the demonstration just for us! Super cool!

M got so worked up about the mill that when he found an old millstone in a gazebo by the dairy building he spent at least half an hour pretending that it was his mill and explaining to us how the mill operated in an excited mix of Russian and English words.

We had a hard time getting him away from his "mill" to look at the giant yellow caterpillar, a huge batterfly and to smell different herbs in the kitchen garden. He did perk up when I mentioned that they grew licorice, but got disappointed when he didn't see any candy hanging off the plant.

Fortunately there were farm animals. First time a cow got close to the fense and licked M's knee. You should've seen how happy that made him. Unfortunately, on our second visit both the cows and the lambs were too far away, in a shade (smart), but we watched the chickens and got to meet the resident cat, Moses.

And even though the admission price is pretty steep ($12 for adults, kids under 5 are free), we plan on going there again on the next visit.


Дедушка Юра is a huge influence on M. I can't say that it's always 100% positive as when M imitates grandpa's smoking or repeats things like "Я тебе уже сто раз говорил - отстань от меня!" or when grandpa spoils him rotten.

But good stuff is there as well, like when they build something together - a tower or a toy rifle or go for a ride in the car and grandpa "дает М порулить". As I was going through my pictures from the past 2 weeks, I found these three that were taken on a walk along the Hudson River in Nyack. The two men in these pictures are M's grandpa and great uncle Sam. But it's easy to guess which one is the grandpa - M and him are always in step.

Second Week in NY...

... is over and we're back home now. I've been so busy with work (good) that I had no time to even upload all the pictures (bad-bad-bad). Check out a really cool letter T that M fashioned out of acorns on one of our walks.
I'm experiencing some kind of writer's block, by the way, so will likely rely on pictures since the exchange rate is so favorable - 1 picture = 1000 words.
So here we go, our second week in NY:
I can't say that we did much. We did go to Brooklyn, more specifically - to Brighton Beach. I wanted to take pictures there for one of my work projects. Needless to say, I also planned on spending major $$$ on books. Fortunately, my favorite store there, St. Petersburg Kniga aka RusKniga improved dramatically in the past year. They now have excellent children's books from some of the best publishers in Russia, including M's favorite series "Жили-были кролики". Plus I got quite a few awesome and surprisingly inexpensive reference books for myself.

The unexpected side-effect of this trip was a rifle-making project my dad and M worked on for our last 2 days in NY. But let me preface by saying that we are not a gun-toting family, nor have membership in NRA. Both Chris and I know how to shoot. I even tried skits once or twice which was totally embarrassing, but a lot of fun.

But you know, boys are boys. Through a combination of things - playdates with older boys, illustrations in books, visiting historical battle reenactments, playing with water guns - M got really excited about guns and pistols.

So little wonder that when he saw a toy rifle at a toy store in Brooklyn he really wanted to have one. Unfortunately, it was not only fairly expensive, but it was extremely cheaply made. So instead I promised M that дедушка would make one for him.

Turns out, it's really a cool project and something that both my dad and M enjoyed working on. The result is pretty awesome-looking too considering that the whole thing was fashioned out of a scrap of plywood, 2 plastic clothes hangers, a spare coil, a length of black hemming ribbon and a leftover black spray paint.

One of the days last week was so stinking hot, that I gave up on playing outside and took M to the air-conditioned mall. Turns out, the kiddo had a blast there running around, climbing all over the toy rides, observing glass-paneled elevators, and looking at all the interesting things in the stores. He loved it so much that he informed me that "молл - это классно и прикольно". Of course it is cool and fun - he got a pair of helicopter jeans (no worries, those are regular jeans, but with wings embroidered on the back pocket and with a real belt with a real belt buckle, "like papa's!"), a jembe drum and a xylophone out of it (plus a small wooden cat figurine that he promptly refashioned into what else - a pistol).

I didn't get out empty-handed either. After much salivating over a pair of skanky heels, I ended up getting a pair of jeans and a T-shirt at Delia*s (ah, it's so nice to know that I can still fit comfortably into size 3/4 in a store that caters to teenagers).
Ok, I'm going to write some more while I have the time, but since it's on a different subject, it'll be in a separate post.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Off to Van Cortland Manor

I love Hudson Valley region! If I could, I would drop everything and travel to its every little (and not so little) historic town. As it happens, I don't have the luxury of doing just this exact thing. Instead, I take a one-at-a-time approach and try to see one or two new towns each time I'm in NY.

Last year Mom and I and M went to Hyde Park for what turned to be a nice stroll around the Vanderbilt Mansion. We skipped the 2-hour long tour because M was just too little and too restless. Also last year Dad and I and M drove to Poughkeepsie for an afternoon at a Mid-Hudson Valley Children's Museum.

This time around I really wanted to see Van Cortland Manor . My brother came up from NJ for the day and the four of us - him, Mom, myself and M - drove up to Croton-on-Hudson. We decided not to take Dad with us since he's really not into living history, historical interpreting, craft presentations, and kitchen gardens. He just doesn't get it at all. So he was just too happy to stay home.

It was a pretty short trip. Basically, we went on a tour around the manor and the ferry house, walked around the garden and saw some crafts demonstrations - blacksmithing, brick making, spinning, and weaving. M was a bit restless throughout the tour, but managed to behave well. He showed little interest in the historic buildings and furnishings (I think it's reasonable that a 3-year old doesn't care about period furniture or paintings). He was a bit more interested in blacksmith's tools and the bellows. He also liked the brick-making presentation, although refused to try it himself - too messy plus he'd have to take his shoes off to walk in the clay pit.

But what he absolutely loved was the weaving demonstration. The coolest part of the demonstration was that they had 2 small tabletop looms set up for the visitors to try their hand at weaving. M simply had to try that. I helped him a bit - lowering and raising the levers, pushing the shuttle through, etc. He spent quite some time at the loom before moving on.

On the way back we stopped for ice-cream in Sleepy Hollow (would love to live there some day, except the houses are outrageously expensive). When I was putting M to sleep tonight I asked him the usual "what did you like the most about today" question. His response was "the loom, Mommy!"

First Week in NY...

... is over and yes, I'm still in NY. And yes, we're still having fun (although M woke up me at 5:15am today to ask "почему у дедушки и бабушки в доме мало места" [why there's so little room in the grandparents' house]. It sure is a small house, only about 900 sq feet or so and full of stuff too. Plus with all our toys, books, and drums we bring our fair share of havoc and clutter to the place.
Nevertheless, things have been fun so far. There are just a ton of things to do here. There's Rockland Bakery, of course, the place that M adores. We already went there a couple of times to buy fresh bread and, more importantly, to see all that delicious doughy goodness moving up and down the conveyor belts.

Then there is the Seven Lakes park - a place where M doesn't want to go unless you promise him that he can "drive" a car there. There's also more berry picking, of course. I'm telling you, those wineberries are delicious, plentiful and keep so well in the fridge. They seem to be way better than raspberries! I wonder if I can plant a few in our backyard this fall (yeah, I know they are invasive non-natives). Hmm, something to look into right now...

...back from looking for wineberry bushes. Seems like nobody sells them, but they can be dug out from the wild and replanted. Ok, next time I see one NOT in a state park, I'll do just that.

Where was I... Aha, things we're doing while in NY. Of course, we already went to IKEA. Personally, I think it's the best indoor playground for the little ones. And I don't mean the Kids Only area on the first floor (M is still not fully potty-trained, so we can't leave him there). The whole entire store is like a giant playground, only with foodcourt. Can't beat that, especially with the temperatures in the 90ies. It's just one of those "good for moms, good for kids, no dads allowed" places.

We also went to the Museum Village in the nearby Monroe. It's one of those interpretive history sites that we've been crazy about lately. It's really best to go on a (free) tour there since many of the houses are locked the rest of the time. Those also happen to be the most interesting ones - the log cabin, the drug store, the pottery, etc. Plus most demonstrations are scheduled around the tours. We caught a bit of the tour and it was very interesting. Next time I'm staying for the entire tour!
It's been crazy hot here and practically no rain. Fortunately, Masha's friend Rostik rents a house with a salt-water pool and, being a very nice and generous guy that he is, extends open invitation not only to Masha and her kids, but also to whomever she wants to bring along. How awesome is that, I ask you?!

So we went to the pool not once, but twice last week with Masha (in case you don't know, she's my cousin's wife), her two girls and M (it's a good thing Masha drives an SUV and M is finally big enough for a booster). At first M didn't want to go (the usual thing about getting his clothes wet). But then he ended up not only swimming (with my help), but actually jumping off the side of the pool (again, I had to catch him). Obviously and predictably, he didn't want to leave.

But wait, there's more fun inside the house (even though it is a small house) and in the yard. Grandma's garden is doing better this year and she and M visit it every day to harvest blueberries, currants, and early tomatoes.

Outside there's Grandpa's car to sit in and "drive", blacktop to draw on with chalk, and a pressure washer to clean the deck.

Inside the house, there's a drum set! Yeah, Grandpa picked up this Junior 5-piece set for only $20 just so M could drum any time of the day and night. That's definitely not something M would ever be allowed to do back home. So he's been performing quite a lot lately, including his hit single "Чёрные скелеты" [Black skeletons] which goes something like this "Чёрные скелеты, чёрные скелеты, чёрные скелеты!"

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

More Wineberries

Went to Seven Lakes yesterday with the grandparents. I thought a simple picnic would be a fun and low-key way to spend a day. Yeah, ok. First, M refused to go. Then he wined all through a very short (less than a quarter mile) hike. Plus my Mom gets obsessed about us stepping into or brushing up against poison ivy. And my Dad didn't bother getting out of the car at all. Oh, and we didn't get any picnic-y stuff except for some fresh bread from our favorite bakery.

Still, things started to look up when we spotted a large thicket of wineberry bushes by the road. Since Mom was the best-dressed (for the job) of all of us - wearing long pants and high socks and long sleeves - she went to pick the berries and told us to not get out of the car. After a while I got bored and got out to take some pictures.

I've tried so hard to take pictures of this batterfly, but the ants kept messing it up for me. It looked like the second the batterfly made itself comfortable, they'd start to tickle it and it'd fly away just to come back a couple of seconds later. So I gave up on the insects and tried taking pictures of the clusters of unripe wineberries and whatever little flowers I could find on the roadside.

Then M got bored and wanted to get out of the car. Before that he was busy eating a bagel, but now he was done and wanted to see what we were up to. So I got him out of the car and he saw the bushes with all the berries and guess what he said: "Look Mama, look at all the quantities!". He then wanted to pick some of these "quantities", but I really had to watch out for poison ivy 'cause it's everywhere here.

Turns out, the no-picnic picnic can be fun after all. Gotta do it again soon.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Going to NY

M and I are in NY for a couple of weeks. Chris is back home, leading a bachelor life (except he's got a very long "honey-do" list. I love going to NY mostly because of the drive there. Ok, the drive itself is no fun mostly 'cause we have to do with with a 3-year old who starts asking "are we there yet" 5 minutes into the trip and stops only to ask if he "can get out now".

Still, the trip's been a lot of fun ever since we've been taking I-81 instead of I-95. There are just so many things to see along the way and the traffic is non-existent (mostly). This time, just like the last time back in April, we stopped at the Frontier America. It is definitely one of my most favorite living history museums. The place is awesome! It's too bad that we only have about 2 hours to explore it every time we visit. You can easily spend a day there, if you wish (just pack some picnic lunch).

Last time we saw all the Old World farms, so this time we started with the New World homesteads. The first one, dating back to 1750's, was a shocker - just a small very rough log cabin with dirt floor and no conveniences of any kind. But 1840's and 1860's homesteads were lovely. We explored the houses, the gardens, watched cooking and quilting demonstrations, petted sheep, and M even tried a loom.

For our half-way stop we stayed at Hagerstown, MD once again. But this time we chose to stay at Homewood Suites and it was such an improvement over the last place we stayed at. We met up with my parents, went to dinner together, and then after putting M to sleep on a huge and very comfortable king-size bed went for a dip in the indoor pool and some lazing around in the hottub. I'm telling you, the best way to travel with little ones is to bring grandparents along!

The next day we went to Ft. Frederick. It's absolutely amazing how many awesome places are within just a few miles from Hagerstown! Plus every time we go to any of these places, something cool happens. Like that one time last fall when we went to Antietam Battlefield during their anniversary of the battle reenactments. Well, this time at Ft. Frederick we ran into a PBS crew filming a WWII movie. Dad spent most of our visit chatting up the extras, discussing the finer points of Soviet/Russian rifles and telling them stories about growing up in post-war Stalingrad.

In the mean time, the four of us - Mom, Chris, myself and M - went to check out the fort itself. And again, we were in luck. It just so happened that this weekend there was some kind of camp reenactment going on which made it look so much more interesting.

And did I mention that C&O Canal passes right by Ft. Frederick? Ok, so I didn't know about this canal until the day before our trip. But it sounded very interesting - a real canal with locks and all that. We didn't have much time left, so we only made it to the boat launch and the beginning of the Rail Trail. Mom, Chris and I walked while M drove the car (ok, so he was sitting in grandpa's laps, holding the wheel and pretending to be steering and the car was only going about 5mph, but to a 3-y.o. this kind of stuff is beyond exciting).

While walking to the canal we discovered what we thought were wild raspberries (see what I'm saying - lucky again). Turns out, those were wineberries (again, lucky us since wineberries aren't poisonous and are utterly delicious). So we ate some berries, sat by the canal and then it was time to get back on the road. Except, of course, that gradnpa got M a wooden saber from the gift store - a gift that M took to bed with him for the next 2 nights.

Now I really want to go to Hagerstown for a long weekend of biking along the canal, canoeing a bit and exploring the area some more.

Our Garden

Here's Mr. M in front of what was supposed to be a cool morning-glory-and-sunflower house. Unfortunately, I miscalculated a few things, namely how big the house needs to be so that I 3-yo can fit inside it comfortably. It was a tad too small. Plus morning glories are really vigorous growers that completely took over the entire house and collapsed what was supposed to be a roof. And most sunflowers got eaten by bugs while in infancy. But I'm not giving up on this project. I'm thinking that next year I might try a larger house or a teepee or a tunnel.

This is just one of our eggplant plants. Last year we grew a few, but only saw 3-4 eggplants from them (total). This year is very different. Each plant has about a dozen baby eggplants. Did I mention that eggplant is one of my most favorite veggies? I simply can't get enough of it :)

This is something that just grew there, next to the tomato trellis. I have no idea how it got there - we certainly didn't plant it on purpose. We didn't think the little plant, which we thought was a watermelon, had any chance of even surviving in the dense shade of our 8-ft tall tomatoes. Next thing we knew, the blasted plant overtook half the garden and much of the driveway.
Now, this is a view of our garden a few weeks ago - giant corn, sweet peppers and eggplant out front and the tomato/bean trellis to the right.

And this is some of the bounty we've been picking. First we got absolutely swamped with the yellow squash. At some point the entire veggie drawer in our fridge was full of these things. Fortunately, they cook down considerably. So I sauteed most of them with onions and it turned out great. Next - tomatoes. These are the early smaller ones. More are ripening now.

Then - first eggplants and lots and lots of cukes. Seriously, we have like 50 of them now in the fridge waiting to be turned into pickles. Also, check out the green peppers. Again, this is the first year we're actually having more than one pepper between all our plants. Pretty exciting. Ignore the carrots, they are mostly for show 'cause they aren't very tasty at all.

The tiny white-ish "berries" mounded over the carrots are some of our very abundant ground cherries. We only have one plant this year and it's proven to be the most awesome vegge ever - requires practically no care, grows very well and forms nice ground cover, and bears lots and lots and lots of sweet little fruits. Too bad I dn't like the taste of them (but Chris and M do and they've been snacking on ground cherries all along). We also have lots of basil, lovage and mint.