We’ve been gone for the past two weeks, traveling on the East Coast. We rented a car and had ourselves a good long road trip (around 2000 miles!), visiting several states - NY, PA, MA, NH, CT - and also a bit of Canada! It is good to be home, though a little difficult to face the garden at the moment; there is so much to tackle and so much to preserve.
We started out in NYC, natch - the kids had never been there, and we spent a very brief time giving them the barest overview of this wonderful city. Unfortunately we were there during a serious heat wave. The temps were in the high 90’s, which by itself would be ok, but the humidity was simply awful, and it made traveling around the city (walking, subways) very difficult. I think the kids enjoyed it despite the heat, but I was having a hard time. I have very few pictures of our time there which tells you I was simply not as engaged as I would have liked to have been. However, we stayed in a tiny apartment on the Upper West Side, which was really ideally located - only a block to Central Park, two blocks to the train - and near to several wonderful restaurants. The very first night we were there we walked up Columbus Ave to Milk Bar, an outpost of Christina Tosi’s dessert stores (she started at Momofuko back in the 2000’s). We enjoyed both cereal milk ice cream and crack pie, two of the desserts she is most famous for. Delicious! We spent the next day walking and ‘subwaying,’ heading downtown to Chelsea Market for breakfast, then up to the High Line which was just so innovative and beautiful. If you’ve not heard of it, it’s an old rail line that has been converted to a garden, my kind of place! Then across town and up to the Met Museum, which is where we spent the entire afternoon (and could have spent days, of course). That evening we took in a Broadway show and had the best ramen of our lives at a little spot called Ippudo.
The next day, we drove to Long Island, so the kids could see the house and neighborhood where Tom grew up. His family lived in Rockville Centre, in a beautiful house. We visited the St Agnes Cathedral, where they attended church, the Front St Bakery, which had wonderful treats, and Jones Beach, about 30 minutes from their house. We drove through Queens and found the house where Tom’s mom had lived, Brooklyn where she was born, and Levittown where Tom’s parents had lived when they were first married. We had delicious pizza for lunch at a local spot. We drove back into the city and took a boat tour down the East River to the Statue of Liberty and around the site of the Twin Towers, then back up the river and under the Brooklyn Bridge. Dinner at the thriving seaport concluded this fun day.
It was time to leave the city and drive across Pennsylvania, eventually to Pittsburgh to visit Carnegie Mellon. On the way, we stopped at the Rodale Institute, the innovator of organic agriculture research and study (they are now concentrating more on regenerative organic agriculture). Luckily, we happened to be there on their annual Field Day, with tractor rides and open houses (barns) and all kinds of vendors. We were able to take a tractor tour of the property and I was really in awe of their beautiful experimental gardens. There were many conventional farmers on the tour and I enjoyed listening to them talk about the pros/cons of regenerative agriculture. I heard them talk a lot about reduced costs due to cover cropping, and reduced erosion in this summer of midwestern flooding. I spoke with one of Rodale’s guides and he said that the farmers come to learn, but also to challenge their findings, because they truly believe conventional is best. But they are slowly coming around.
We really loved Pittsburgh. It reminded us a little of San Francisco, with its hilly winding streets and happening neighborhoods, good coffee and good food and lots of culture. We enjoyed learning a little ‘Pittsburghese’ (the local dialect) and visiting the Heinz History Museum to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. (We also enjoyed their Mister Rogers exhibit.) Carnegie Mellon, the university, is very impressive and we all thought it might be a good choice for Adam. We were on the tail end of the heat wave, which made being outdoors difficult, and so it was lovely to be in a beautiful Craftsman home in the Shady Side neighborhood of the city. (When we weren’t with family or friends, we stayed exclusively in Airbnbs and we had great ones.)
From western PA we drove north to the border, stopping for lunch by Lake Erie, and crossed into Ontario. Our house was about a mile and a half away from Niagara Falls, so we were able to walk down to see them rather than trying to find $40 parking. It was hot and crowded, but the falls were spectacular nonetheless. We were interested to learn that Tesla and Westinghouse had designed the upstream hydroelectric plant in 1895, the first of its kind. We drove about 30 minutes north to have dinner in the little town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, a wine tourist destination and a much cuter town. Here we saw fireflies for the first time on our trip, hooray! We ended the night by watching the sun set over Lake Ontario, wishing we had time to explore nearby Toronto.
Then we headed back through the border into Western NY, to spend the night with Tom’s sister Emily and her family in Syracuse. Western NY is beautiful, and we decided to drive along the Finger Lakes, stopping for good coffee in a hipster warehouse in Batavia, and a delicious lunch in Geneva on Seneca Lake. We couldn’t resist stopping at a farmstand for corn and blueberries. Emily and Jim rolled out the red carpet for us and we spent a delightful supper (with a salad that I am still dreaming about) with our nieces and nephews and grand-nieces and nephews as well! Our niece Meghan makes jewelry and I had asked her to bring a selection; I picked out some simple earrings and a beautiful necklace for Kate (she has an Etsy shop if you’d like to see more). In the morning we watched bunnies on the lawn (I know they are a garden pest, but we enjoy seeing them since we don’t often), birds in the feeders, and walked around Emily’s pretty flower and herb beds. Jim identified some of the roadside trees I had been noticing (Sumac, and Butternut, a white walnut) which gave me great satisfaction.
We drove on to Troy, which is near Albany, to see Tom’s alma mater, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (another impressive program, mostly engineering), and stayed the night near there. From Troy we took the road up into Vermont, passing through Bennington (which we loved) and over the Green Mountains (taking a picture from the top), then through Brattleboro and on into New Hampshire. We stopped at a farm called Stonewall, in Keene, to eat a picnic lunch and look at the new calves, goats, sheep, and gardens. We bought tomatoes and maple syrup from the farm, too. They had a creek running through their property (the entire farm is open to the public every day) and lots of kids were playing in it, which made us feel happy.
From there we drove to Derry, NH, to visit Tom’s college friend Terrance, and his wife Trina and son Tad. They have an extensive property with a barn (!) and we had a good time exploring it. They had just completed a magnificent master ‘wing’ that they gave to us for the night, which was quite a treat! We visited a local ice cream place supplied by a local dairy, and walked around Robert Frost’s old farm, which had signs with his poetry all over, very contemplative. We so enjoyed visiting with them and getting to know Tad, who is a precocious almost-first grader.
From Derry, we drove down into SW Massachusetts, near the Berkshires. My friends Chrissy and Luke, and their two-year old daughter Naia, moved last year to Easthampton. We loved driving through Amherst, and Southampton, both really cute little towns with a very Berkeley vibe. Lots of colleges there (including Smith) insure a younger culture. The family lives in a beautiful little house with a garden that was clearly loved by the previous owners, and Chrissy has fully embraced it too - the house is decorated so lovingly and carefully and simply, and her garden is thriving with veg. We had the best lunch of our trip there, with a salad Chrissy made from her garden, and lots of local specialties including pate and pastries from a local bakery. We loved spending a few hours with them and playing with Naia and the dogs. We were very taken with this area of the world and can see ourselves living there in the future. Of course, we’d have to embrace winter.
From there, it was a quick-ish jaunt down to Connecticut, to the town of Norwich, where Tom had been stationed in the Navy 27 years ago. We stayed in a spectacular house in Groton, which is just where the Thames River meets the Long Island Sound. We spent a good deal of time sitting on the porch, watching boats go by. We saw two submarines heading out to sea, which was incredible and very poignant for Tom! We went swimming a block away at the beach which had clear, 65 degree water and very gorgeous sand. We went to nearby New London for a dinner of lobster rolls and fried clams, which brought back a very clear memory of childhoods in New England, camping with my folks. It was very hard to leave the town of Groton. We loved it there and could have stayed a week. We’ll definitely go back.
The only thing that pulled us away from the beach was the knowledge that we had the best part of our trip coming up, a Boegel family reunion at the Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, NY (in the Hudson River valley). Mohonk is an old-fashioned resort (and I use that word very deliberately, because they pride themselves on that). They were having their 150th anniversary, and it is an amazing place. Tom’s parents used to go to Mohonk for romantic weekends, and their kids (Tom is the youngest of five) decided it was the perfect place for us to gather and remember Mom and pay tribute to her life. The resort itself is up in the mountains in the Minnewaska State Park Preserve, a beautiful area, full of interesting rocks which climbers love (The Trappes/Gunks). There is a huge lake at Mohonk which was formed by both earthquakes and glaciers and fed by precipitation only. You can see that this interesting topography allows for a lot of outdoor activities. Adam did several rock scrambles, Tom and I took a fascinating geology hike with the in-house naturalist, and we all boated and swam in the lake. There were three fabulous meals each day (with “Chef Action Stations!”) along with tea and cookies each afternoon. One night we participated in their ‘Barnival’ which was a carnival in their old barn, complete with entertainment and local beer. We had a lovely ‘service’ for Mom Boegel in their extensive gardens (and oh, the trees, beautiful copper and tricolor beeches, towering oaks and maples, basswoods and horse chestnuts) and released some Painted Lady butterflies in her honor. We saw all kinds of interesting bee-like creatures, rabbits and deer; enjoyed the horses and the stables, and loved talking with the family members and getting to know their kids (our grandnieces and nephews). We were very reluctant to leave Sunday morning, especially because we had a full day of travel to get home, but home we came.
We had such a wonderful trip.
A few other impressions:
The water, oh the water. I took two very deep baths and countless pounding showers. Rivers and lakes and creeks and streams. We Californians forget what it’s like to have endless water.
Electric cars are becoming ubiquitous in CA. On the East Coast, we saw five electric cars. All were Teslas. Gas was cheap everywhere we went, compared to over $4/gal here. Perhaps the incentive to go electric is simply not there. Also - very little infrastructure for electric.
Good coffee was hard to find. Many places use sub-par, un-fresh beans. We don’t consider Starbucks good coffee, but that was widely available. In Canada our only choice was Tim Horton’s which was undrinkable. Dunkin’ Donuts are everywhere; we can’t understand why. Our best coffee was the cups we made ourselves with Peet’s when we could find it. We sought out local roasters - they were few and far between - when we found them we gratefully supported them.
Good, cultural, ethnic food is now pretty much everywhere and a lot easier to find than it used to be. Still, we tried to have local specialties as much as possible. As ever, Adam is our leader in that, always finding the interesting local tidbit to eat.
I’ve now seen Book of Mormon twice, and this time, while still really fun, it struck me as very racist. Anyone else feel that way? I mean, I know the South Park guys make fun of everything, but still….
Plastic water bottle usage is going strong everywhere, unfortunately. Composting in other cities seems non-existent.
I love regional accents.
We are very happy to be in the ‘our kids are teenagers’ stage of life. It’s easy to forget how much work little ones are.
Folks in hot and humid summer climates are hermetically sealed into their houses. It didn’t seem to matter how nice the early morning or evening was, the house stayed closed. I know there are reasons for this; as Terrence said, “We’ve worked hard to keep the humidity out of the house and we want to keep it that way.” We realized that we wouldn’t want to live in a place where we need to do that. We love being able to open the doors and windows for at least part of each day, and we live a lot of our day in the outdoors. There’s something to be said for the moderating influence of the sea.
It’s nice to be home, where we could pick berries for breakfast, tomatoes for dinner, and have two neighbors stop by to give us pears and blackberries. I got started on tomato harvesting but have yet to pick all the blue/black/huckleberries, or the beans, or the cucumbers. I am noticing blight on our tomatoes for the first time ever (our chilly wet May?). It isn’t as good a year as I wanted it to be. Our cucumbers are suspiciously yellow and need some attention. I will pick our first delicata squash tomorrow for dinner - it is at least three times bigger than it’s supposed to be. For dessert tonight I had the first ripe apple.
Hard to believe school starts in two weeks.