18 Aug

Catching the Spirit of Vermont at the Quechee/Pine Valley KOA

The Green Mountain State calls us back again and again in the summertime.  The days are warm enough for swimming in lakes and rivers, and the nights are cool and comfortable.  It’s perfect weather for curling up around the campfire with a blanket and book…and sleeping with all the windows open.

But this heavenly New England weather doesn’t last long, and if you blink you will miss it.

So where do we camp in Vermont when we want to escape the humidity of the Mid-Atlantic states?

Two years ago we discovered a little gem of a campground called the Quechee/Pine Valley KOA, and we fell in love.  The property is filled with towering and fragrant pine trees, and it is immaculately clean and lovingly managed.   It also served as a perfect base camp for exploring an area that is rich with options for family adventure.

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The owners, Michael and Cindy Scruggs, make great recommendations for their guests–and they did just that for us two years ago.  I emailed them before arriving and Cindy sent me back a great list of hikes and activities that were perfect for our family:

We climbed to the top of Mount Tom and enjoyed looking down at the picture perfect town of Woodstock in the valley below.

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And we hiked down into the Quechee Gorge, known as Vermont’s Little Grand Canyon, and splashed around in one of the dozens of small, rocky pools at the bottom.

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And we visited the Vermont Institute of Natural Science (VINS) and watched a falconry display.

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So when Vermont started whispering our names again, we knew a return trip to the Quechee/Pine Valley KOA was in order.  We left last time feeling like there was so much more to explore, and we were right.

Before trying anything new we headed back to the Gorge. The boys had so much fun there last time.  This time was even better. The water was running higher and it was perfect for a gentle float down the Ottauquechee River.  We must have floated down the river and swam back upstream over a dozen times. By the end of the day my arms felt like spaghetti.

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The next morning Cindy recommended that we visit the Montshire Museum of Science and, like all of her recommendations, it was amazing.  We could barely rip the boys away. They loved the gigantic building blocks and quickly became engrossed in the hands on (and very kid friendly) class on batteries and motors.  If you go, plan on exploring the indoor exhibits first, and then head outside to get wet in the “water and how it moves” exhibit.

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The next day was all about cheese and maple syrup.  We arrived early at Sugarbush Farms and were delighted to walk into their country store and find copious amounts of free samples.

Employees are there to give individualized tastings of the syrup and cheeses. Our family stood around a small butcher block and learned about lighter and darker syrups. Then we got to taste our way through 12 different cheddars and jacks.  The young lady helping us was kind enough to end with another round of syrup shots for the boys.

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As always, Max and Theo enjoyed their time back at the campground the most.  This trip ended up being extra memorable because they learned to ride their bikes during our time here.  After less than a half hour of “training” with mom and dad they were whipping around the campground with complete confidence and joy.

Many other campers applauded them and gave them high fives throughout the day.  The bottom loop of the campground became their own personal bike trail. Wesley had to join in of course.  He must have done about 50 circuits on his pedal free balance bike.

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At one point Cindy came out of the camp store to watch the boys riding their bikes.  She said, “I just had to come outside and take a look! It’s so nice to see kids playing outside these days.”

I knew exactly what she meant.  It is so nice watching kids play outside these days.  Especially when it’s at a great campground, in the summertime, in Vermont.

We didn’t blink and we didn’t miss it.

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06 Sep

Thank You Vermont. We Can’t Wait to Come Back.

We came home from Vermont over two weeks ago, but part of me still feels like I’m there.   It was one of my favorite road trips of all time–and I’ve been on a few.  Here are my top ten reasons for still wanting to say thank you to Vermont:

1.  For your family friendly hikes and swims filled with beauty and adventure.

2.  For your underrated roadside barbecue joints.  Vermont, the South has nothing on you!

3.  For making me feel like Wordsworth ambling around the Lake District on golden summer days.  I’ll take Stephanie, Ami, Max, Theo, and Wes as hiking companions over Samuel Taylor Coleridge every time.

4.  For the the Vermont Coffee Company and “Simon’s Blend,” available only at the Simon Pierce Glass Factory in Quechee.  The good people of Vermont like their coffee strong and hardy.

5.  For your “American Made” consumer products such as Darn Tough Socks.  The rugged individuals of Vermont still make stuff and sell it in their cozy wood-planked general stores.

6.  For the lovely owners of the Quechee/Pine Valley KOA, and the Brattleboro North KOA for welcoming our family and helping us find our way to mountains, and rivers, and gorges oh my!

7.  For your towering pines and magical forests.

8. For your splendid and lush green quiet.

9. For your cool summer nights, perfect for campfires and restful slumbers.

10. For finally making me understand why we call it “New England.”

31 Aug

Future Summer Camp Prospects? VINS, Quechee, Vermont

On our last morning in Vermont, we decided to let the campers stretch their legs before the long car ride home and headed to VINS, the Vermont Institute of Natural Science, which was right up the road from our campground.

The center is perfectly designed to blend in with its natural surroundings, and the parking lot, buildings, and educational areas don’t distract from the beauty of the landscape.

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The boys watched the songbirds being fed, and particularly enjoyed a visit to the bird hospital. The signs warned them to be quiet in the presence of the injured animals and I now have proof positive that my children can indeed whisper.

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We were excited to see the raptor show, and although most of the content was way over the heads of our four-year olds, Max and Theo were gripped with wonder when one of the birds took off on the handler in the middle of the presentation.

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The poor lad in charge was not too happy with the situation and kept trying to draw attention away from the missing bird and the nervous handlers with their walkie talkies. He obviously underestimated the tenacity of preschoolers. While he tried to soldier on, the boys (along with other young spectators) wondered loudly about the naughty bird. If the presenter had just told them that the bird was in a time out and could come back once he had apologized, we probably could have put that baby to bed.

While the boys were focused on the wayward bird, Jeremy and I were focused on all of the camp posters advertising what seemed like a pretty incredible experience for the little guys. Just imagine, we started saying, we travel somewhere cool and the boys go to a camp and we could…oh, the possibilities are endless…we could rock climb, sky dive, NAP!!!!

Camp or no camp, VINS offered us the perfect Vermont blessing that we encountered throughout our entire trip: the landscape was beautiful, the boys had a blast, and we all learned a thing or two.

See you soon, Vermont.

30 Aug

Earning Your Eats the Old-Fashioned Way: The White Cottage Snack Bar

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After our adventurous descent down Mount Tom’s Precipice Trail we were hungry.  Very hungry.  Not handmade local croissant or organic frittata hungry.  But cheeseburger hungry.  Milkshake hungry. Lobster roll hungry.  Fried clam strips hungry.  You know what I mean.  And after hiking up and down a beautiful Vermont mountain with two four-year olds and a five-month old we had earned our eats the old-fashioned way.

The White Cottage Snack Bar in Woodstock may be America’s most beautiful roadside burger and shake joint.  The signage, the store front, and the menu looked like something you could find in Cape May or Long Beach Island along the coast of our beloved Jersey Shore.  But the outdoor eating area in the back did not.  In Vermont they even like to eat their burgers and shakes with a view.

We found a picnic table right next to the river and settled into a yummy post-hike meal.  All of the boys enjoyed their cheeseburgers and fries and Mommy thought the clam strips were solid, but not spectacular.  The portions, as you can see, were substantial.  But the highlight of the meal was my mother-in-law’s juicy and generous lobster roll, which she kindly shared with the crew.  It was much better than one I had enjoyed back home at the Jersey Shore the week before–but not as buttery and delicious as the ones we had tasted two years back in Camden, Maine.  But that comparison just isn’t fair– a Maine lobster roll is one of God’s gifts to humanity.

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As we devoured our meals a couple of youngsters at the table next to us finished their food, kicked off their shoes, and waded into the river.  I considered doing the same.  But my tummy was full, my legs were tired, and the summer air had turned cool.  As we cleaned up our table and threw away our trash the sky turned suddenly dark and it started to drizzle.  We ran back to the truck and loaded the boys up as quickly as we could.

As we drove back to the campground I felt grateful for the hike, grateful for the food, grateful for my family, grateful for Vermont, and for some strange, inexplicable reason–even grateful for the summer rain.

29 Aug

Mt. Tom, Vermont (or the day that the "Precipice Trail" seemed like a great option for kids and baby)

When I went to talk to the Ranger about climbing Mount Tom, he took one look at our merry band of pirates and decided that wide paths and gentle upgrades were the way to go. As he highlighted a route to the summit, he specifically told me to stay away from the Precipice Trail. That’s a real trail, he said. Real narrow and steep. You’re best off sticking to the carriage roads.

Like a good mom, I listened to the advice of experts and we climbed the two-plus miles up to the summit, sticking to the wide carriage roads. The trail did not disappoint, and offered continually changing landscapes with lots of interest and stunning views. It was not an easy climb for the boys, but it kept their attention and it was nice that they could run ahead a bit, or fall behind to collect pinecones.

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The payoff at the top was worth it.

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While we were catching our breath and enjoying a snack, a family appeared off of one of the steeper trails that I had been told to avoid. I pounced, of course, asking about the conditions and the difficulty. They said it was steep, but doable, with a rail to hold onto most of the way. Although our hike up had been beautiful, I just wanted a little more than a return ticket on the same path.

I rallied the troops and we decided to go for it. Every adult had a child firmly gripped in hand and, believe me, we did not let go the whole way down. It was steep and rocky and difficult. And fun.

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Every year it seems that we push our own personal envelope a little bit. The boys did such an amazing job slowing down and carefully placing their feet where we were telling them to go. There wasn’t a lot of talking, until the end when we emerged back onto a carriage path and starting high-fiving the kids and celebrating what was definitely the most difficult trail they have done to date.

As parents, most of our accomplishments–promotions, anniversaries–are difficult for our kids to relate to. We spend a lot of our time cheering our children’s successes in school or sports or relationships. It was a particularly rewarding experience to celebrate a shared family accomplishment. Each one of us had done something special, at the same time, all together.

I’ll take more of that, please.

24 Aug

The Perfect Al Fresco Lunch: Trap Door Bakehouse, Quechee, Vermont

When the boys were younger, say one and two years old, we considered finding restaurants with picnic tables equivalent to winning the lottery. Meals were so much more enjoyable with a little more room to breathe and a little more space for the noise to carry.

Now that they are older and a very wee bit calmer, we do okay at inside tables. But a place like the Trap Door Bakery and Cafe makes you question why you would ever eat indoors again.

This place served up the perfect midday meal, allowing us to assemble our own tasting menu of frittata and cold thai noodles and cucumber soup and layered eggplant. Oh, and scones and cookies and croissants.

The food was delicious, and my mother and I look a little sheepish being caught with only crumbs left on the plates.

Truthfully though, the blue sky, white clouds, sun, flowers and water views may have made the food taste even better.

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Thanks to the owner, Theodora, for providing the perfect space for our clan and the perfect food for our palates.  I sincerely hope she is not out of her spanakopita the next time we come into town.
23 Aug

Those Magical Places (Quechee / Pine Valley KOA)

The Quechee / Pine Valley KOA in Vermont had me at hello.  I had emailed the campground a couple of weeks before our visit asking for a list of family-friendly hikes, and the co-owner, Cindy, sent me a friendly email that became the blue print for our adventures. So I was predisposed to liking the place before we even pulled in.  But then we actually pulled in….

It took me about 20 seconds to realize that our whole crew was not going to like it here–we were going to love it.  The campground, which has an upper and a lower level, is lovingly manicured and the tall pines make it feel like a secret forest.  The camp store, with the bright yellow bike rentals out front, has that old school KOA charm that always makes me feel like a kid again.

My own kids ended up loving the playground, which was neat and tidy, and I ended up loving the pool, which was heated for Vermont’s cool August afternoons. Our double pull-through sites also allowed us to camp awning to awning so that we could create that common area in the middle that we love so much for cozy campfires and shared meals.

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The Quechee / Pine Valley KOA also passed one of my newest campground quality tests–the grounds are perfect for a deeply relaxing and peaceful morning or evening stroll.  The entire campground is wooded and the lower loop and the larger upper section are connected by a shady forest path complete with a wooden contemplation bench.

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I met so many interesting people during my walks, including a couple from Wales who were nearing the end of a three month motorcycle tour of the United States.  They were lovely and engaging conversationalists who shared many of their adventures with me over the course of several mornings.

But perhaps most importantly, the owners and the staff were warm, welcoming, and kind.  Joe and I particularly loved chatting with a “Work Kamper” named Paul, a retired lawyer from Colorado who used to pack up his entire family for a month every summer to travel throughout the U.S. and Canada.  He said that when his kids get together for meals they still talk about all of their great family adventures.  His only rule while on the road? NO TV. EVER.  Paul was inspiring to talk to and he got Joe and I pumped to take some of those great, big trips out west that we have been dreaming about.

But there will be time for those trips later.  For a family with young children this trip could not have been more relaxing or more adventurous.  New England has its own magical places, and the Quechee / Pine Valley KOA is surrounded by them.

And then there are those magical places that travel with us wherever we go…

Onward.
20 Aug

Get Ye To Church (Or At Least to a Church Blueberry Festival)

We were driving down Route 5 from our campground to downtown Brattleboro when I saw it. One of those small signs sticking out of the ground that usually announce politicians or lawn services. This one was advertising a blueberry festival at the local First United Methodist Church.

Did you see that, I asked Jeremy, my voice quavering with excitement. The hours were from 7 to 2. Do you know what that means?
My husband stared at me, wondering what exactly he was missing here. I clarified. Seven a.m. That means…PANCAKES! Blueberry pancakes at a church in Vermont. It just seemed so sweet and perfect.

I have dragged my family along on some pretty unusual vacation activities, but I am so glad I pushed for this one.

My everlasting admiration is extended to the lovely people of this church who did not blink when our ragtag group barged in on their breakfast. We stopped in our tracks when we saw the tables laid with china, but the ladies ushered us in and set to work bringing us plates of fruit, hash browns, bacon, sausage, and blueberry pancakes. They filled our coffees and juices and offered us more and more and more.

After eating we wandered around out back where there were tables of local jams, chocolates, and dish clothes. The hot pepper relish was a camp favorite that got slathered onto many a meal over the next week.

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So the church festival is now officially in my traveling bag of tricks. I have a feeling, though, that the Methodists are going to be a hard act to follow.

19 Aug

We Looked At The Swim And We Jumped Right In: West Dummerston

We went to Vermont in search of family friendly hiking and swimming, and we found them both.  On our last morning at the Brattleboro North KOA I walked into the cozy camp store and asked Beverly to recommend a good swim. She pulled out a list culled from swimming holes.org/vt and highlighted two of them.  Then she grabbed a photocopied map and highlighted the exact route to both locations.  If you ever find yourself in the Brattleboro area on a warm summer day and you want to go for a swim, go see Beverly.  She will get you there.  I promise.

We decided to spend our morning at the West Dummerston Covered Bridge, which was just a short drive from the campground.  This classic New England bridge crosses the West River and, according to swimming holes.org, has “deep swimming places” and “a pretty strong current” but is “apparently safe as families swim there.”  I liked that word “apparently.”  It gave the swim just a small whiff of danger.  Good family-friendly danger.  Just the perfect amount of danger for our crew of campers.

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The swim was even better than we anticipated.  The water was comfortable without being cold, and the mulit-colored rocks on the bottom of the riverbed created a lovely canvas of greens, golds, and browns.

The boys threw some of those rocks and cooled off their feet…

Everyone took turns floating down the river and under the bridge.  The current was strong enough to give you a good ride, but gentle enough for it to be relaxing.  The water under the bridge was at least five feet deep.

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Stephanie and I were able to float the river over and over thanks to her mom.  Lynne held Wes in our carrier and explored the banks of the river.

Joe celebrated the day as the crew explored the rocks under the bridge…

And, once again, Joe and Ashley’s dog Suzy proved that she loves a good swim just as much as we do, or maybe even more.

The Brattleboro leg of our Vermont trip couldn’t have been better.  We ate good food, met interesting people, enjoyed a great campground, hiked Mount Putney, swam under a covered bridge, and enjoyed the simple pleasures of being a family on the road.  Fall is coming soon, we could feel it approaching each night around the campfire, but as we floated down the West River on that perfect August day it seemed like summer could last forever.

17 Aug

Sometimes the Universe Echoes: A Scavenger Hunt on Mount Putney

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about our first scavenger hunt hike in the Shenandoah National Park. We have done so many hikes in so many different states since the boys were born and have never once before been handed a trail scavenger hunt. Not in Acadia National Park. Not in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Never.

So you can imagine my surprise when we stepped out of the truck in Vermont to hike up to the Mount Putney Summit, and there was a kindly older woman approaching us with a stack of papers and some tiny pencils. This volunteer from the Mount Putney Association wanted to know how many children we were hiking with and if they wanted to complete a scavenger hunt. The sweet soul even offered one to Wes. He seemed shocked to be included for once.

It was a bizarre but welcome coincidence. The boys knew what to do and they were off to the races, on the hunt for mushrooms, animal holes, salamanders and ferns. By now they know their blazes and when all else fails, a blue stripe of paint is enough incentive to keep them moving up the trail.

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This trail was the perfect family hike. It was just about two miles with enough terrain changes to keep things interesting and outstanding views as a payoff.

There was also another kindly volunteer at the top, ready to pin Scout Badges on our kids for completing the trail. Big kudos to the Putney Mountain Association for creating a simple but memorable activity for the kiddos.

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The scavenger hunt was a bit less sophisticated than the Story of the Woods. But that was actually a good thing. This one made me realize that I could easily make some very generic hunts to keep with us when we traveled. I could safely stick with pinecones, lichen and hollow logs and have activities that could be used anywhere these campers are traveling.

Or I could just take the easy way out and have them count acorns–Maxwell’s favorite activity that day. Get counting, boys. I’ll see you at the top.

15 Aug

When Base Camp Feels Like Home (Brattleboro North KOA)

As we packed up the camper on the last day of our stay at the Brattleboro North KOA my mother-in-law mentioned that the campground had started to feel like home.  I agreed wholeheartedly.  This southern Vermont gem is possibly the best managed family campground that we have ever visited.  Ernie, Beverly, and their son Justin made us feel comfortable and welcome on a daily basis.  They are big-hearted people that are lucky enough to love what they are doing.  They also seemed to be having just as much fun as we were during kid-friendly activities such as tie-dyeing and ice cream socials.  We have had fun making shirts for the boys before but this time it felt like an outright party.  They also provided a full range of sizes so all of the adults were able to make shirts as well.

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The campground also has the all-important “buddy sites,” which allowed us to face our camping buddies and create a common area in the middle for meals and playtime…

We even had a great time in their recreation room during a rainy day.  The boys were able to stretch their legs and watch a movie, the lovely ladies played ping-pong, and Joe and I enjoyed conversing with a fine fellow named Dutch who was motorcycling from Utah to Maine and sleeping with his motorcycle in his tent.  Dutch also seemed very interested in Finding Nemo, which he had never seen before.  He asked me several questions and kept watching the movie even after the boys had bounced elsewhere.

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The location of the campground served as the ideal base camp for our southern Vermont adventures.  A short drive south brings you into downtown Brattleboro for coffee and culture, and a short drive north brings you to Putney for small town charm and great hiking.  Perhaps best of all, the campground itself is cozy and delightful.

We spent a lazy afternoon feeding their horse Sway with carrots from the camp store.  Justin even cut the carrots up for me so that the kids could each take a few more turns feeding him…

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And as Stephanie mentioned in a previous post, we found delicious food everywhere in southern Vermont, and in the case of the Brattleboro North KOA, even right next door at Walker Farm.  You are always just a few short steps away from a delicious summer snack when you are camping there…

Toward the end of our stay an interesting looking toy-hauler pulled up into the site right next to ours…

It was a group of six gentleman over 60 who were bicycling across American to raise funds for the “Wounded Warrior Project”and blogging about their trip along the way.  They were a true inspiration.  They had departed from Astoria, Oregon in June and were nearing Portsmouth, New Hampshire, which was to be the final destination of their epic journey.  They had covered substantial ground and had raised substantial money.  Please consider following one of the links above to make a donation in their name.  These guys have been busting hump for our wounded warriors, and when they each pitched their little tents at the end of the night I wanted all of them to be my adopted grandfathers.  Their families must be mighty proud.

Our family mixed and mingled with these philanthropic gents and we were delighted to hear some of their stories from the road.  We were also delighted when we found out that Ernie, Beverly, and Justin had decided to turn that night’s ice cream social into a fundraiser for the Wounded Warriors…

They introduced the six gentleman and asked them to speak about their journey and their great cause.  The crowd listened quietly as they licked their free ice cream and enjoyed the camp fire.  I felt blessed to be on the road with my family and to be meeting so many other interesting people along the way.

Thanks to the crew at the Brattleboro North KOA for truly hosting my family during our stay, and thanks to those six guys over sixty for reminding me that every mile of open road in our big and beautiful country is so profoundly free because of those who serve and protect.

13 Aug

More Food, and the Best Kind (eating in Brattleboro, cont.)

Walker Farm, an organic farm and market was just next door to our campground outside of Brattleboro. My mother and I regretted bringing any food whatsoever from New Jersey once we stumbled into this place.
We tried to restrain ourselves from buying one of everything. Instead we left with a random assortment including corn picked that morning, a melon, a cucumber, two raspberry cookies, and some local goat cheese.
The real find ended up being some Beer Bratwurst from Green Mountain Smokehouse. The next night we had the brats loaded up with sautéed peppers and onions and–surprise, surprise– extra spicy horseradish cheddar from my new favorite cheese company. Paired with homemade coleslaw and watermelon, dinner tasted like what a perfect summer picnic tastes like.
I can’t comment on the cantaloup we bought, since I put it in the camper tub for transport from one campground to another. A loose melon in a trailer is the equivalent of a torpedo. Apparently it was a bad choice, since the overly-ripe melon burst in transit.
But my mom scrubbed the tub after that, so basically I got a great meal and a sparkling clean bathroom out of the whole thing…so thank you, Walker Farm.
12 Aug

Mocha Joe’s, Brattleboro (Make Sure to Bring Cash If You Go!)

My mother had kindly and sweetly bought us two pounds of Guatemalan coffee from Rook as a gift for our road trip to Vermont.  So there was absolutely no practical reason to head to Mocha Joe’s in downtown Brattleboro at 6:45 am to load up with more good coffee.  But road trips to Vermont with our lively little campers have nothing to do with practicality.  So I loaded Theo and Max up into the truck, very much against their will, and turned left out of the Brattleboro North KOA onto Route 5 South and headed into town.

The boys were grumpy because I had cancelled an early morning showing of the Berenstain Bears and was, for the umpteenth time, taking them to a coffee shop instead of letting them crash around the camper while people try to sleep.  By stepping out, I could get my fresh roasted coffee fix, and simultaneously allow Stephanie and her mom a little early morning peace with just baby Wes in tow.  For some strange reason mommy never complains when I throw her twin boys into the truck and take them on my early morning fact finding missions.

The first thing that you need to know about Mocha Joe’s is that the location is super cool.  They are on the main drag in town but they are located down a flight of stairs below street level…

And they have a logo that is also super cool…

They also have great coffee and a D.I.Y ethic that is not surprising in Vermont.  Their beans are not pre-packaged.  You scoop your own and bag them up at their visually appealing coffee bar–which is also super cool…
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This was fun for me but at the same time I felt that if you are paying a premium price for your coffee someone else should do the scooping and bagging.  I wanted to quickly grab a couple of pounds and sit down with my boys, but instead I ended up having to wait my turn and then futz around with coffee gear while the boys stuck their heads under the back of my shirt and giggled.  I also like a nice label with origin information, but instead had to quickly scrawl out Peruvian, and Cameroon with a slightly dried up pen.  Luckily the Peruvian rocked my world for the next few mornings.
The aggressive hipster ethos of the shop also got on my nerves a bit.  The baristas seem to understand how cool they are and thus, in my estimation, were not very cool.  After I contributed my time and labor to the scooping and packaging of my two pounds of coffee I ended up in line behind a sharply dressed businesswoman.  She ordered a large coffee and had the audacity to hand over a credit card to the youngish, abundantly pierced barista behind the counter.  The barista gave her an unfriendly look and asked her in an impatient voice if she had cash. The woman begin to feverishly dig through her purse fishing for singles.
I didn’t notice any signs declaring a limit for a credit card purchase.  Because there were none.  The businesswoman in front of me looked increasingly embarrassed as she practically turned her purse upside down on the counter.  I was also becoming increasingly annoyed.  The people in line behind me were getting fidgety.  Max and Theo had given up on waiting in line and had climbed up the staircase inside the shop and were jumping down the steps, landing with a thump, and confusing several of the other fashionable young customers who were clearly looking for a much different kind of early morning jolt.
When the businesswoman finally fished out a couple of singles from the depths of her purse everyone in line sighed with relief.  I don’t mind mom and pop stores having a minimum credit card purchase, but I do mind them not posting it and then asking their customers for cash after the plastic has been proffered.  It just feels snarky and slows down the line.
Mocha Joe’s may be a little too cool for school, but the coffee is well worth a class trip.  And did I mention the cider donuts with granulated sugar?  I bought three of those bad boys.  One each for me, Max, and Theo.  After I set the boys up with their milk and donut I snapped a few pictures around the shop.  When I returned to our table all three of the donuts were gone except for some scattered crumbs on the floor.  It was time to clean up the table and get back in line.  Thankfully, I had cash.
12 Aug

Eating Our Way Through Brattleboro, Vermont

We are basically eating and drinking our way through Vermont, and that was just not the plan at all.

When we started to travel with infants four years ago, we gave up all of the nice restaurants and upscale wineries and fancy cheese shops. Those days will return, no doubt, and I will once again have amazing paella while gazing out at the water in Newport Beach, Rhode Island.

But for now, I religiously pack the pantry with all of our staples like oatmeal and tuna fish. Then I meal plan for all of our dinners because the last thing anyone wants to deal with is the question of what is for dinner when you are hauling around two preschoolers and an infant.

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I was planning on hiking, swimming, fishing, and kayaking. But so far I have been eating.

First there were the apple cider donuts that Jeremy brought back one morning from Mocha Joe’s in downtown Brattleboro. Then later that morning we picked blueberries. We ate our fair share right there in the field, and then decided that we just simply must make a pie.

There was a visit to Putney Diner for lunch, and a return to Curtis’ BBQ for dinner.

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But what really got me in the mood–the real I simply cannot stop buying and eating local delicacies mood– was our visit to Grafton Village Cheese Co. where the endless supply of samples leads one to purchase endless amounts of local cheese, chocolates, and wine.

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Back at the campsite, we topped our burgers with blue cheese cheddar spread and some jalapeño jelly bought at a local church festival. And then because I was starving around the campfire that night, I had to have the Extra Spicy Horseradish Cheddar Spread on Jan’s Farmhouse Crisps topped with Habanero Mango Jam.

I have no pictures of the deliciously prepared food because when you are picnicking with four children and an infant, you do not admire and photograph the food…you eat it. Fast.

The baby weight is just melting away…

28 Jul

Know When to Hold ‘Em. Know When to Fold ‘Em.

Brattleboro, Vermont
It is true that one must plan things well when one is traveling with young ones. There is nothing that turns me into a Debbie Downer faster than hungry toddlers and no food options in sight. Their blood sugar can plummet faster than dotcom stocks at the turn of the century. When the boys start whining for food, my jaw starts to tighten and my sentences get shorter and shorter while my husband makes ill-advised comments about the sort of experiences that will turn our boys into men.
In order to avoid this sort of scenario, I have become a big fan of the packed lunch. Early in our camping adventures, we learned that a well-stocked cooler saved us from awful experiences with overpriced snack bars and mild attacks of marital discord.
We are now champs at pulling together lunch before we leave the campground in the morning. We follow a simple formula: PB&J or tuna/chicken salad, veggie, fruit, and chips or pretzels. Boom. Done. Honestly, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich tastes awesome after a three-mile hike with a thirty pound kid strapped to your back. Try it sometime. You’ll see.
But then, despite all of your best planning and packing, you pass by Curtis’s All-American Bar-B-Q.  And you look at each other and know deep down that no packed sandwich can possibly keep you from pulling into a BBQ joint run out of a school bus.
If you are driving through Brattleboro, pay a visit to Curtis. The Bar-B-Q is great, the sides are just okay. But nothing beats hanging out with the dogs outside the bus while you wait for them to make your lunch. Or watching the pork and chicken get cooked over an open fire while a four year old invites your kids to come on back and hang out. Or gnawing the meat off the bones while your boys play with a yard full of toys next to the picnic area.
The bottom line is that there are very few places like this around. So when you pass by them in your travels, make sure you ditch your well-laid plans and embrace any food that is served out of a bus. Know that we are all a little bit better after roadside BBQ. Or maybe just a little bit bigger. Six of one..
26 Jul

A New Way to See a Downtown: Find a Parade…

My enjoyment of cute, artsy downtown areas has plummeted sharply since the little campers came along. There are basically three main things to do in any given downtown area: shopping, eating, and drinking. All three of these activities suffer dramatically when you throw small children into the mix.
We have found ways to adjust. I’m not a big shopper anyway and my husband usually prowls around the local bookstores during naptime while I recharge the batteries back at the campsite.
We get a lot of takeout and find nice grassy locations where the boys can make noise without getting nasty looks from other diners. And lets just say that a local microbrew might just taste even better around the campfire than in the pub.
If we had gone into Brattleboroon a regular weekday, we probably would have walked up and down the streets noting all of the cool looking shops and interesting menu options. The boys probably would have given us a hard time about being in the stroller and then given us a hard time about hand holding when we let them out. All together we might have spent an hour there before packing it up and heading to a Butterfly Conservatory up the road where we could all breath a sigh a relief while the boys ran free.
Instead we were lucky enough to be in downtown Brattleboro for their 4th of July parade. Now we are not big parade people; Jeremy and I can probably count on one hand the number of parades we have gone to in our lives. In general, we are way to cool for things like flag-waving and cheering and general patriotic fervor. Brattleboro converted me. What a way to see the local culture…every imaginable civic group marched by including church groups and nuclear energy protesters, musicians, firemen, skaters from the local skatepark, and snow mobile rescue squads.
Between the marchers and the crowds along the sidewalks, I felt that I had experienced more of Brattleboro in a couple of hours than I would have if I had shopped in every store and eaten in every restaurant. And the boys, of course, had a blast waving their flags and clapping their hands the entire time.
I now have a new goal: see a 4th of July parade in a new town every year. It hands down beats fireworks in my book.

 

24 Jul

Campground Reviews: Hidden Acres, Brattleboro, Vermont

Dummerston, Vermont

In our last post Stephanie claimed that the royal “we” had booked the postage-stamp sized site at the Brattleboro KOA in Vermont.  Her generosity of spirit never ceases to amaze me.  I was solely responsible for booking that pie-slice of a site and despite all of my vigilant hours of research, she was right.  It was a complete bust.  In her post she was willing to accept corporate blame for the poor decision making, but at the time things were just a bit different.  She mentioned her pacing around the campsite (in a tight little circle) but not her cussing.  Yes–she was cussing at me.  I had pestered her about reservations and camping plans all winter–and for this?

The campground itself seemed perfectly nice, but our site should clearly have been combined with the site next door to make one larger one.  If we had showed up at the KOA on fourth of July weekend with no reservations I would understand being stuck on a flea bite of a site like that, but  like a good little camper I had made my reservations in March!  Perhaps when the reservationist heard that I was from New Jersey she thought I would be happy with a piece of small overpriced real estate.  But we were on vacation and the boys needed room to roam.  Plus, my idea of a relaxing weekend does not involve having Max and Theo unplug the hookups from a godzilla-sized RV situated five feet from our front door only to dance around and beat each other silly with 30 AMP power cords and hoses wrapped around their necks.  Yes–I was to blame and it was time to step up my camping game and save the day.

Lucky for us I remembered passing a campground called  Hidden Acres about a mile up the road.  I wanted some acres to hide on pretty badly at that point so I persuaded the wife and kids to hop back in the truck and “TRUST DADDY.”

I raced over to Hidden Acres and asked the camp worker at the desk if they had any sites available (remember, it was 4th of July Weekend). She said that a few campers had just called to cancel their reservations and would I like to take a ride on the golf cart and check out a few sites? YES, YES, and YES!  Despite her Boston Red Sox Jersey she appeared to me like an angel whose sole purpose on earth was to redeem our family camping trip.

The first two sites that she showed me were nicely sized and situated but they were located in a pretty crowded part of the campground.  I would have been happy with either of them though.  They were at least twice the size of our site at the KOA.  She then told me that she had one more really nice private site that was a bit hard to pull into.  She asked how big my RV was and I told her that we had a pop-up camper.  She smiled and said, “you won’t have a problem getting into this site–we had a fifth wheel in there last week.”

When she pulled up to site C1 I almost cried.  This was the mother-of-all campsites. Spacious, private, and shaded.  The site was carved out of the side of a small hill, so at night we could see campfires above us and campfires below us.  Beautiful.  ZENCAMPING.  The way vacation should be.

We really enjoyed our three days at Hidden Acres.  This was clearly the nicest individual site we have ever camped on.  The pool was also large and clean and the camp-store was well stocked.  They had a large playground and their own ice-cream stand that opened at night. The ice cream was so good that the locals even drove in to indulge and congregate.  One of them had the coolest ’57  Chevy that I have ever seen.  He told me about the restoration work that he had put into the car while I licked my cookies and cream.  There were also several nice walks right on the campground.  One of them led us up the hill where our site was situated and out onto a huge empty field where the boys romped and played.  Our three days in Vermont where heavenly, and our trip to New England was only going to get better.

23 Jul

Brattleboro, Vermont: What Started With Fireworks Ended in Zen

I’ll get past the bad part quickly. Basically we showed up at an award-winning KOA campground and stood at our site shaking our heads in disbelief. Our spot (which we reserved in March) was postage-stamp sized with a chained down garbage can and a shared hookup with a gigantic RV next to us. The water hookup was leaking and there was an electric wire hanging down from it. The idea of our boys on this campsite for 3 days made me feel like bursting into tears.

Jeremy was adamant about leaving and finding another campground but the thought of loading the boys back into the car also made me feel like bursting into tears. They were such champs for six hours and I didn’t feel like I could take the wailing that would occur if we tried to strap them back in. There was huffing and puffing and a bit of pacing on my part. But he talked me into it and thank God. We went down the road and scored the largest, most private campsite that we have ever stayed at (campground review with photos forthcoming.) And then Jeremy drove back up the road and scored a full refund on our reserved campsite (KOA corporate policy, he had to remind the worker behind the desk).

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After our first two hours in Brattleboro, things got better by the minute.  We woke up to gray skies on Sunday morning and the rain started drizzling down a bit later. Not to worry-I do not shy away from doing any outdoor activities in the rain. Our boys will get soaking wet on a cloudless day with not a pool, lake, or ocean in sight. They manage to find a puddle or a fountain or a hose.  The perfect thing to do on a rainy summer morning in Vermont? Pick your own strawberries at Harlow’s Sugar House.  Fields for miles, unlimited fruit buffet, and not another soul in sight. Next time you wake up to a drizzle, try fruit picking. It will do your soul good.