Big Kids in the Big Apple

With my adult children scattered across half of the globe I am always investigating new ways to see them.
One great way is to travel together.
That is why I jumped at the chance to join my daughter Cati in exploring New York City with Road Scholar… CONTINUE READING >> 

Thanks to Road Scholar for providing this lifelong learning adventure through the five boroughs of New York City! As always, all opinions are our own.

With my adult children scattered across half of the globe I am always investigating new ways to see them. One great way is to travel together.

That is why I jumped at the chance to join my daughter Cati in exploring New York City with Road Scholar’s Five Days, Five Boroughs adventure.

On top of some great “mommy time,” over the next few days we will dig in depth into the history, culture, architecture, art, and oh yes, the food of the city that never sleeps.

We will be busy having a Big Apple of a time so check back often because we will certainly be updating as much as possible right here and across our social media channels, TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

Then be sure to come back here over the next few weeks for in-depth coverage after the trip.

Veronica, GypsyNester.com

See all of our previous adventures in New York!

Thanks to Road Scholar for providing this lifelong learning adventure through the five boroughs of New York City!

An Empty Nest Means There will be Flying Involved

Our nest emptied out over ten years ago, but the process was not instantaneous or immediate. Over time one thing has been inescapable, flying. Whether it is us flying to see them, or the other way around, it means buying lots of tickets. So we are always on the lookout for great deals…
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Our nest emptied out over ten years ago, but the process was not instantaneous or immediate. At first our three fledglings were off to college, which meant that they were returning for summers and breaks. Then, one by one, they set off on their own to begin their new lives.

As those lives took shape they became more and more scattered around the globe, so that now we have offspring spread across eleven time zones. That’s nearly half the world!

Over that time one thing has been inescapable, flying. Whether it is us flying to see them, or the other way around, it is about the only way we can see our children. That means buying lots of tickets, so we are always on the lookout for great deals on flights.

It also means that we were pretty excited when we discovered JustFly. This easy to use website is without a doubt one of the best ways to find those deals. With our now adult kids living in Paris, New York, and Alaska, the savings can really add up.

We have to say that even considering the complications involved with having them so strewn about the world, we love that they all chose to live in such interesting places to visit.

Our oldest, after marrying a French man, moved to Paris a few years ago, so now we have a perfect excuse to visit the City of Lights whenever we can. Of course we loved getting to see all of the usual attractions, but having family there has afforded us the opportunity to now appreciate them in a much more relaxed way.

This unhurried comfort level has allowed us to have lunch on the Eiffel Tower, spend a day wandering the grounds of the Palace of Versailles, explore the Louvre in search of artistic oddities, or watch darkness descend from the top of the Arc de Triomphe at our own pace rather than run from one place to another in a hasty effort to see them all in one trip.

Now, after several times visiting, we are more familiar with the city and have had the chance to seek out some of the lesser known sites such as the catacombs, the Jardin des Rosiers, and Belleville. In fact, on our last trip we intentionally avoided all of the famous tourist places in an attempt to enjoy Paris like we lived there.

We must say that it felt like a smashing success, and for a brief time almost as if we were Parisians.

Our experiences with visiting New York City have been similar. Our second daughter has lived there for nearly a decade so we have grown to know the Big Apple as nearly a second home.

Back when we first were visiting we had to go to all of the usual hot spots, see the shows, and generally gawk at the incredible hustle and bustle of the City That Never Sleeps, but over time we came to see New York as more than a tourist destination, it is a place where people live.

We also discovered a bunch of very interesting semi-secret details about the city that even most New Yorkers don’t know, such as the fact that George Washington lived in the first White House right where the Brooklyn Bridge stands. Yup, our nation’s first executive mansion is now marked by nothing more than a small plaque on a bridge.

As surprised as we were to learn that, we were even more so when we found a tropical beach with an amazing panorama of the Manhattan skyline. Just take a short ferry ride to Governor’s Island and a sandy shore complete with plastic palm trees awaits.

The island was originally home to a fort, then was expanded by adding the dirt and rocks dug up from building the subway system, and now is a recreational park with bike paths, playgrounds, and incredible views, including a seldom seen angle of the Statue of Liberty.

In stark contrast to the big city, the youngest of our children ended up near the top of the world in Alaska. He is a pilot, and our 49th state is absolutely filled with aircraft, so it was a natural fit. In fact, there are many places that can only be reached by airplane.

That is what led him up there. His first job was flying to many of the native villages where his plane was their only connection to the outside world. We were so intrigued by this profession that we made a trip north just to ride with him and visit a few of the villages.

Without a doubt these are some of the most remote communities in America. Most have no roads or cars and absolutely everything is flown in. As much as he loved that work, he is now flying charters in a slightly more inhabited part of the state.

His full time home is Anchorage though, and that turns out to be a wonderful place to visit as well. It also serves as a fantastic base camp for exploring the rest of Alaska. On our many trips we have made our way up to Denali National Park, home of North America’s highest mountain, and down to the south coast, where majestic peaks meet the Pacific Ocean.

However, our favorite way to see Alaska has got to be by boat. Cruising the inside passage is truly a highlight of our travels no matter where we have been. With incredible scenery, seafood, people, and especially up close and personal encounters with glaciers this is a unique and beautiful part of the world.

It just so happens that JustFly also has exceptional deals on cruises too, along with discount rates for hotels and rental cars.

That means everything we need to visit any or all of our far flung kids can be taken care of all at the same time and all at the same place.

We’d call that almost perfect.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

Fall Festival Favorites

As the October rolls around it is time to roll out the barrels… of fun! There are few functions we find more fantastic than a fabulous fall festival…

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The view from the Kaatskill Flyer chairlift.

As the October rolls around it is time to roll out the barrels… of fun! There are few functions we find more fantastic than a fabulous fall festival.

Over the years we have frequently found ourselves in the midst of many of these autumnal classics, usually by accidentally stumbling upon them in our travels. Other times because we did our research and used our points.

However we discovered them, here are five of our favorites, plus a perfect bonus celebration… the Pumpkin Fest!

Oktoberfest

Most likely the first thing that jumps to mind when we mention October and festival is the German tradition of beer-based festivities. The Hunter Mountain Oktoberfest in New York certainly is worthy of the name.

Hunter is a ski resort, so for a fantastic view of the fall foliage we started the day with a ride on the Kaatskill Flyer chairlift. The top of the mountain can get a little chilly this time of year high in the Catskills, so we were sure glad that we stuffed an extra layer of warm clothes into our trusty backpacks.

But beyond the scenic setting, the authentic food, music, and dancing had us believing we might be in Bavaria while the keg rolling, krug carrying, and the masskrugstemmen, which means beer-stein holding, contests kept us cracking up while we competed.

Bean Fest!

Speaking of competitions, the Annual Arkansas Bean Fest and Great Championship Outhouse Races could be the best of the bunch. You might say it’s a gas!

The festivities, as with every gathering in Mountain View, begin with live bluegrass and folk music.  No wonder Mountain View is known as “The Folk Music Capital of The World.”

Then the events kick off with the Beanie Weenie Dog Show while the cooks set up their giant pots for the main event. Each cauldron is filled with water and fifty pounds of dry pinto beans to soak, then at the crack of dawn Saturday morning fires are lit under the pots and the cooking commences.

After the beans are served it’s off to the races. These aren’t your average outhouses, oh no, these are high performance porta-potties.

Salmon Fest

For a different kettle of fish, we found a fascinating annual phenomenon In the Seattle suburb of Issaquah. Each autumn thousands of salmon fight their way through the town in Issaquah Creek in an unstoppable trek to the hatchery where they were born. This event spawned the beloved Salmon Fest.

For over forty years, hundreds of thousands of people have come to celebrate the return of the salmon.  Five stages scattered throughout downtown feature music, while we humans satisfy our urges through feeding frenzies at the food vendors.

Sheep & Wool

Another event that has been going strong for more than four decades is the New York State Sheep & Wool Festival in Rhinebeck. Each year the Dutchess County Sheep & Wool Growers’ Association throws this baaaa-sh in October.

Folks come from all across the Hudson Valley to witness sheep shearing,  yarn spinning,  and parades of llamas, alpacas, and cashmere goats.

But for us it was the dogs that stole the show. While the canine frisbee demonstrations were impressive, we couldn’t get enough of the border collies doing what they do best, even better than catching plastic discs, herding.  We couldn’t help but think of the movie Babe.

Crab Fest

While crabs might not be the first thing we think of at this time of year, the Dungeness Crab & Seafood Festival in Port Angeles had us rethinking that.  On the northern coast of Washington, this is definitely the place to be for any decapod chowing seafood lover. 

We tried our hands at crabbing in the Grab-A-Crab Derby, and were rewarded with the steamed outcome of our catch.  For those who don’t want to fish for their supper there is also “The Famous Crab Feed” where a whole Dungeness Crab is served up with corn, coleslaw, music and beer.

Pumpkins!

Lastly, but certainly not least, for the ultimate October celebration we went to the source, North Central Illinois, and the Annual Sycamore Pumpkin Festival. Eighty percent of those big orange squash come from this area.

We kicked off the merriment down to the courthouse for the Lions Club Giant Pumpkin weigh-in. Here the giants are measured and judged, as are the thousands of Jack-o’-lanterns  that adorn the  lawn.

Later we joined in the Pie Eating Contest and then ghost stories at the cemetery.  The weekend culminates with the big Pumpkin Festival Parade.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

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How to Plan a Family Vacation with Adult Kids

We’ve had this fantasy about whisking our entire family off to an exotic location for some time now. Imagine the five of us blissfully getting away from it all, laughing and sharing our experiences as we sip umbrella drinks while the sun sets into a tropical ocean.

Putting together a family vacation after the kids are grown and living on their own seems like it should be a snap compared to traveling with toddlers, or worse yet, teenagers.

So why is it so hard? 

With no roadside diaper changes, exploding sippy cup disasters… CONTINUE READING >>

How to plan trips with adult kids

We’ve had this fantasy about whisking our entire family off to an exotic location for some time now.

Imagine the five of us blissfully getting away from it all, laughing and sharing our experiences as we sip umbrella drinks while the sun sets into a tropical ocean.

Putting together a family vacation after the kids are grown and living on their own seems like it should be a snap compared to traveling with toddlers, or worse yet, teenagers.

So why is it so hard?

With no roadside diaper changes, exploding sippy cup disasters, “Are we there yet?” shouting, or hours of headphone-induced sullen, silent stares, how difficult could it be?

We’ve learned that getting everyone in the same place at the same time comes with a whole new set of complications.

Working around your adult offsprings’ schedules can make travel planning problematic to say the least, and even more so if they have kids of their own, but we’ve uncovered a few tricks that can help.

Split ’em up. Our fantasy of a full family vacation has yet to be fulfilled, but we have been able to whisk them off one (and once – two) at a time to less-than-exotic locations. By keeping it simple and having just one schedule to work around, we have found merits in spending that one-on-one time.

Side note: To avoid unfairness issues, we have been careful to make certain that all of The Spawn get equal time away with us.

Take a trip to their new hometown. This can certainly cut down on costs, and the newly self-reliant don’t have to find a way to take off work. Most young adults are early in their careers and don’t get a lot of vacation time, so heading to their hometowns is how we do manage to get our whole brood together for the holidays now that they are all out on their own.

Lucky for us, our girls, The Piglet lives in Paris, Decibel lives in New York City, and The Boy lives in Alaska — both fantastic destinations — but almost every place has something to offer. Like most people, they have never been to many of the attractions right in their own backyards, so our visits become a vacation for us, and stay-cations for them.

Rent a house for a week (or a weekend). Pick a location that is easy for everyone to get to and has accommodations big enough for everyone to stay together, just like the good old days.

Try a condo on the beach, or a house in a cool town, or a cabin on a lake, maybe a chalet in the mountains, anywhere that has plenty of opportunities for everybody to have fun. Best of all, visiting times can be flexible, the whole clan doesn’t have to arrive at the same time and everyone can come and go at their convenience.

Keep it simple: Don’t over plan. Tours and planned excursions can be fun, but too many can lead to unnecessary stress. Leave plenty of downtime to allow everyone to explore their own interests or — best of all — simply hang out and enjoy each other’s company.

You might have to kick in some dough. In addition to time constraints, it’s important to remember that most fledgling adults are short on funds. Planning a big hootenanny may be fun for us, but it can be a giant financial stress bomb for them.

Why not go all Godfather on them? Make them an offer they can’t refuse. Pick a destination that everyone’s always wanted to see and then offer help with their expenses.

Give them some time. It might sound like fun to make a trip a big surprise, but practicality dictates that discussions should be held ahead of time. Remember, the little buggers are all grown up now, they are busy people with busy lives. Springing something on them could badly backfire.

We don’t want to make them feel like putting on those headphones again.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

YOUR TURN: Help us out here! Have you had a successful vacation with your adult kids?
Where did you go? What did you do? Do you have any planning ideas to help us out?

Sprucing Things Up with Spruce Tips

Like the sailors back in the olden days, we must always remain vigilant in our concern for the dreaded disease scurvy, brought on by a lack of vitamin C. Sure, we could just stop in at a grocery store and buy a couple of oranges, but what fun is that?
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Since we sent our three offspring out into the big wide world and began traveling almost all of the time, we have had to accept a few unique new concerns. Not the least among these being the perilous threat of scurvy.

Like the sailors back in the olden days, we must always remain vigilant in our concern for this dreaded disease brought on by a lack of vitamin C.

Sure, we could just stop in at a grocery store and buy a couple of oranges, but what fun is that? Much better to seek out the old school remedies that those intrepid voyagers used to use.

That is how we stumbled upon the useful possibilities of spruce tips.

While wandering the wilds of Alaska (on a luxury cruise ship with about 5,000 other folks) we discovered that centuries ago people figured out that the fresh little tips of new growth on spruce trees each spring are chocked full of vitamin C.

They also happen to taste quite good, with a hint of citrus to go along with their evergreen flavor.

Think Pine-sol with a squeeze of lime.

No, wait, not Pine-sol, that’s too harsh. Maybe more like one of those pine tree shaped air fresheners that’s still hanging from the rear view mirror of a ’74 Chrysler somewhere.

No, that sounds pretty bad too. It’s like that, except it’s good.

So the story goes that European explorers learned from the North American natives that these tips could save them from scurvy, and being innovative adventurers they decided to try using the spruce buds in brewing beer.

That caught our attention, so we set out to find a pint or two of the evergreen brew.

Our first stop was a success; the Skagway Brewing Company in the gold rush town of Skagway. They make a fine example right on sight. It is fresh and light and the hint of spruce is in no way overpowering.

We were also intrigued to find that we happened to arrive in this part of Alaska right in the heart of the tip harvesting season. Flyers posted around the bar offered five dollars a pound for anyone willing to go out and gather the buds.

A tempting proposal, but we really only had time to try a tankard of the scurvy busting grog and be on our way.

The next day, in Juneau, we discovered that the tips have several uses beyond beer. While walking downtown we first encountered a bakery that was proudly displaying spruce tips shortbread cookies. Of course we had to try one.

Not too sweet and not too spruced up, these little goodies were quite nice. Too bad we gobbled them up before we walked up the way a bit and found an ice cream vendor.  Wouldn’t you know it, he had spruce tip ice cream.

What a scoop! The creamy confection was also somewhat subtle and equally yummy.

After exploring the town we decided to take a ride up Mount Roberts on the tram and sure enough, the tips were quite prevalent up on top of the mountain.  Up here we learned that the preferred type of tree is the Sitka spruce.

First, while we hiked some of the many trails up there, we found the new growth gracing the ends of almost every bough on the trees. Out of curiosity, and just because it is what we do, we picked a couple buds and popped them into our mouths.

They really are quite good, even if a little strong, with a very tangy, citrus flavor and a large dose of evergreen essence. At this point we also realized that five dollars a pound might not be all that lucrative. They are pretty light so it would take quite a few to make a pound.

On our way back down we stopped off at the little pub by the top of the tram and found one last taste o’ the tips, Baranof Island Brewing Sitka Spruce Tip Ale. While this is slightly more widely available than the brew in Skagway, it is still only in this area and only around for a few weeks around tips harvest time.

It was definitely stronger on the spruce flavor than its Skagway cousin, and we deemed it the runner up in our scurvy fighting brew samples. With more time I imagine we could have found others to try, or for the do it yourselfer, there is the option of home brew.

On the internet almost anything is available, so we found a spruce tip beer recipe from 1796 that any adventurous spirit can brew up at home.

Take four ounces of hops, let them boil half an hour in one gallon of water, strain the hop water then add sixteen gallons of warm water, two gallons of molasses, eight ounces of essence of spruce, dissolved in one quart of water, put it in a clean cask, then shake it well together, add half a pint of emptins, then let it stand and work one week, if very warm weather less time will do, when it is drawn off to bottle, add one spoonful of molasses to every bottle.

It sounds good to us, , although I doubt that we will be brewing it any time soon. Could be because we don’t have any idea of what emptins are, or just that we happen to be fresh out of spruce tips.

Google solved our emptins issue; they are the yeast left from brewing.

On the other hand, our lack of tips might be a great excuse to head back up to Alaska.

David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com

See all of our previous adventures in Alaska!