Camping With Kids- Yes You Can Have a Great time!

I am a mother of two, a college administrator, and a volunteer for Girl Scouts of Northeastern, NY. I simply love being a troop leader and I can’t think of a better way to serve my community while spending time with my daughter. We learn so much and have fun while doing it. The goal of Girl Scouts is to build girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place. If any of my fellow troop leaders are reading this post you know what I mean. If you are not a scout leader and have ever thought about applying to be a volunteer, I encourage you to check it out. I cherish every moment I get to spend with my girls. Watching them grow and learn is priceless. I know I am making a difference and it warms my heart to think that I can have an positive impact on the children in my community just like my troop leader had on me as a child. By the way, I still keep in contact with many of my Girl Scout friends that I met over 30 years ago. The bond is strong.

So what does this have to do with the theme of my blog which is to visit family friendly places in and around the Capital Region? Well, we took our first camping trip to Is-Sho-Da in East Greenbush, NY. The good news, this wonderful place is available for rental to non-Girl Scout families as well so I encourage you to keep reading.http://gsneny.org/property-rentals/camp-is-sho-da/#&panel1-1

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I have to admit that I had my reservations about camping, especially in May because the weather can be so unpredictable and we all know how cold spring nights can get in Upstate, NY. In addition, the weather forecast did not look promising. I kept thinking about wet rain coats, soggy boots, the camp fires that would not be and perhaps a leaky tent or two. This scenario just did not appeal to me. Yes, we are brave and resourceful but we just wanted a little sunshine. Is this too much to ask for? Well, it turns out that Mother Nature was on our side and delivered a beautiful weekend with lots of sun, a cool breeze and a minimum amount of mosquitoes.

Not really into the idea of sleeping in a tent? Not to worry, Camp Is-Sho-Da offers cabins, a lodge and even covered wagons. If you are of a certain age, this may immediately transport you back in time to the book and TV series, Little House on the Prairie. I am far too young to remember this show. Wink, Wink! Don’t expect the Hilton or Four Star accommodations. After all this is still camping. The cabins and lodge are clean, cute and fun.  The lodge has a wonderful fireplace, plenty of army style bunk beds, thin mattresses and boy oh boy do they make a lot of noise every time you move. The bathroom in the lodge also has this amazing vintage basin for washing hands, brushing teeth, etc. I was so impressed I had to take a photo. They just don’t make them like that anymore. LOL

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Our weekend was filled with arts and craft projects, nature walks, skipping stones in the pond, picnics, camp fires, s’mores, telling stories, singing songs, and searching for animals. By the way, three deer, wild turkeys, rabbits, chipmunks, squirrels, toads, and loads of birds were spotted. Several of the girls witnessed turtles peeping up from the lake and we discovered a nest with two goose eggs. There is also an amazing field of green grass and rolling hills. It was perfect for relay races, tossing balloons, chasing butterflies and just soaking up the natural beauty of our surroundings. We also made sure to leave our mark and decorate a large rock with all of our names which we left on the fireplace mantle in the lodge.

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We had the best camp food including hotdogs, watermelon, macaroni salad, sandwiches, and lemonade and Tang for beverages . Talk about a blast from the past! Oh and lots of other tasty treats. Our dessert menu included Girl Scout cookies. Don’t judge, we had carrot sticks and apples too. LOL

Prior to actually going to camp, I was happy that we only planned an overnight stay. However, I was sad to go home. We had such a great time and the girls made special bonds. Our parents came along too and I feel as though I have also made new friends. Camping is an amazing journey for young and old alike.

I really can’t wait to do it again and I encourage you to check it out too.

 

The Crossings of Colonie- More to offer than you might think

If you are reading my blog for the first time, the goal is to give a snapshot of local family friendly places to visit in and around the Capital Region. I am a mother of two and we love to get out and explore this fabulous area. I hope you will take a moment to check out some of my earlier posts and continue to follow our family each week as we seek out new adventures.

Today, we decided to take a trip to The Crossings of Colonie located at 580 Albany Shaker Road. It’s pretty amazing when in one minute we are in the city of Albany and fifteen minutes later we are in this lovely park setting with nature trails, a gold fish stocked pond, playground, picnic areas, open fields, and the best public bathrooms around.

When entering the park, the first thing you see on the right is a beautiful pond with fountains spraying water high into the sky. On the left, visitors are greeted by a pasture full of grazing cows. Yep, you can smell them too. Fortunately, they are not too close so you get to enjoy their presence without them being too close to over power your senses or worse yet to step in any of their manure or also know as meadow muffins. LOL

Our first stop is the playground. Talk about an impressive play area! This baby is high end. Unbelievable size and the equipment is top notch. Kudos to the folks who designed this play area. Every effort has been made to keep young ones safe and signs are posted in and around the area to remind us how important it is to keep the area kid friendly. This includes no smoking signs which I love.

No smokingplayground

We then take a short hike over to the Hoffman Family Maze. Our girls love this area. We all go in and run around, play hide and seek and enjoy trying to find our way out. Actually, although the maze is fun it is pretty easy and our hope is that park officials will consider expanding it in the near future.

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Oh, I should mention that this place is full and I mean full of dogs. We must have seen 8 different breeds along with a bunch of the cute little mutts. Dog owners really love this place. I was pretty impressed with how clean it is considering the amount of canine visitors. The owners seem pretty responsible and pick up after their pooches. One of the trails also features a bright red fire hydrant. I am not sure if it has any legitimate fire fighting use or if it is a prop to appease the dogs when nature calls.

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After we had our fill of the maze, we decided to hit a few of the trails. It was so nice to stretch our legs, listen to the sounds of nature, check out the birds and of course all of the canine visitors too. Many posed for a picture per my humble request to their human companions. I wanted to take all of them home.

nature area

We then made our way over to the duck pond. Unfortunately, there were no ducks in sight today. However, the pond was filled with glorious gold fish. There must have been 500 or more swimming around. I took several photos and the shadow effects are pretty cool.

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By this time we had been at the park for nearly two hours and it was bathroom time. No problem, the pond area where we were viewing the fish was right next to the bathrooms. If you have little ones you know how important it is to have a bathroom close by. Not only did we have a bathroom to use but they are well maintained and you don’t get that gross feeling when you enter the facility. You know what I mean, no nasty funk and toilets that flushed what the guest before you may have left behind. Soap dispensers full, toilets clean, and choice of dryers or paper towels after washing your hands. Oh, and plenty of mirrors to remind you how fabulous your hair looks after blowing in the wind. I try not to look!

The Crossings also has a terrific area called Park Square. It is paved with cobblestone and features quaint buildings and an enormous gazebo. One of the buildings has a red roof reminiscent of the tin roofs from days gone by. The buildings are often used to host special events such as holiday sing a longs or craft fairs and are also available for private rental. I attended a Christmas party here before and it was a great place. We were even given use of a kitchen. Farmers market events also begin later this month. YUMMY!!

Park Square

Although I was ready to call it a day, my girls begged for a few more minutes of playground time and we reluctantly agreed. However, in the end I am thankful we did because nap time was glorious!

We are hoping to take another trip very soon and look forward to sharing our thoughts. Check out The Crossings of Colonie website for more information. Hope you enjoy your visit as much as we did. http://www.colonie.org/parks/crossings/

John Boyd Thacher State Park- The ultimate escape

Our family decided to take another trip to John Boyd Thacher State Park last week. Located along the Helderberg Escarpment,it is a short drive from Albany. I think it took us about 25-30 minutes to get there.Every time we visit I am puzzled why we do not go more often. We always have a great time and every trip is just a little different.The rich history and stunning views are enough to take your breath away. We are so lucky to have such a beautiful gem so close to Albany. As an adult I am in awe of this special place and I can only imagine what a child is truly thinking when gazing out at the colossal cliffs, immense trees, and of course the spectacular waterfalls. The park has more to offer than hiking and at some point I hope to go camping at Thompson’s Lake Campground and visit the Emma Treadwell Thacher Nature Center which offers exhibits and educational programs.

We parked our car at the overlook. Although I am excited to be at this amazing place, my protective motherly instinct kicks in full force and I want to hold my children tight. Make no mistake, Thacher Park is a fantastic outdoor adventure but you MUST be very careful and never allow your children out of your site for even a brief moment. Park officials make every effort to keep this natural wonder safe and enjoyable for all visitors but you have to be alert and don’t take too many chances.

Alright, I hope I did not scare you too much. Just want to make sure you are aware of potential safety issues if you are not careful.

Our hike included a light lunch in the picnic area. The tables were standard picnic style and well cared for. In the mood to cook up some burgers or hotdogs? You will also find grills to use. I did not see any trash cans so I assume you take out what you bring in to the park. Seems fair enough to me. On a side note, I have always loved packing picnic lunches. There is something so special about this tradition to me and I think my girls are picking up on the joy of packing a basket full of tasty treats too. Not sure my husband gets it but he sure does enjoy eating the food.

Ok, lunch is over and our girls have had their fair share of beverages and no bathroom in site. Yes, I know they exist but we need one now! So we find a private outdoor spot for them to “do their business.” Yep, peeing outdoors really does take practice and a light sprinkle on the shoes is likely. Funny part is that the both reported this as their favorite part of the trip. LOL

Playing near a shallow spring and skipping stones was a close second. Crossing two tiny bridges was also a favorite. Especially when pretending it was the bridge from The Three Billy Goats Gruff.

The park brings in visitors from all over the world. Our girls are fascinated to see all of the people and even more excited to see the all of the furry friends that accompany their human companions. We must have seen 10-12 different breeds.The English Bull dog was hysterical.

When visiting the Thacher Park website, I read that it is home to 171 species of birds. We saw quite a few including majestic hawks circling far above the cliffs. We made sure to bring along a pair of binoculars so we could see as much detail as possible.

Our only disappointment was that the Indian Ladder Trail was closed this time around. I believe due to the massive ice near one of the waterfalls. We were bummed for a moment but realized there was still so much to see and enjoy.

Overall, I highly recommend a visit to this remarkable park. It is sure to become a family favorite. Below you will find the official Thacher Park website and a photo from our trip. I plan to visit Five Rivers Environmental Education Center soon and I hope you will read about our adventures.

http://nysparks.com/parks/128/

the view

 

 

Albany Pine Bush- Another local treasure

So for the past couple of weeks, our trip to Albany Pine Bush has not worked out due family sickness and lousy weather. I know, you can still take a nice hike in all sorts of weather but we were not up to such a challenge given our situation. We were all really bummed out and it seemed like we would never catch a break. Yes, we made due and found other family fun adventures such as a hike around the neighborhood and a trip to a fabulous ice cream parlor. However, after this long and I mean long, cold, slippery, icy, barren, frosty, wet, windy, polar,frigid, slick, biting, furious winter, we were just dying to get out and enjoy a nice hike. This winter was totally insane! It seemed like it would never end. We craved the sunshine, warm air and the opportunity to really stretch our legs. Our children have been climbing the walls and they really needed to run and get rid of the pent up energy. Yes we exercise but there is nothing like a good outdoor run, especially for the little ones

. Finally, we were blessed with an amazing day filled with good health and even better weather. I packed a bag full of snacks, beverages, and a few first aid items just in case.

Pine Bush is easy to get to. Just take Washington Ave Ext. and turn right on 155. You will see a large sign and a brick building on the right. Upon entering the property, you will notice solar panels and plenty of parking. What I like best about the parking lot is how environmentally conscious they are on so many levels. In addition to a clean parking area, plenty of available spots, and the solar panels, you will also find reserved parking for people who carpool or drive hybrid vehicles. How cool is that? Check out their website. http://www.albanypinebush.org/

We begin out visit by going into the discovery center. It is pretty early so the air is still a bit cool. Although admission is free, visitors are encouraged via a collection box to make a donation. You are greeted by a friendly front desk volunteer and encouraged to look around. The last time I visited Pine Bush, I was so impressed with the volunteer staff that I decided to write a letter to management. The volunteers are so professional and you can just tell that they really like what they do and enjoy working with visitors.

So here is where the challenge comes into play. So much to say about this wonderful place and only so much time. As you can imagine, the discovery center is filled with all sorts of learning activities relevant to Pine Bush and the environment. My girls could stay in here for hours. The favorite section by far is the learning station with the bag of scat samples. Not familiar with this term, well its poop! There is an actual bag with samples of fecal matter and photos of the animals they belong to. Personally, I think it is pretty gross but the kids can’t get enough of it and get there face as close as possible while laughing and saying ewe and yuck! They also love the statue of the coyote and of course it is tradition to place their fingers in the mouth. Oh, and they have this great room where you can make art projects and visit the turtles. We love the Eastern Box turtle. He is so cute and actually interacts with visitors through his tank. Our girls pleaded with us to bring him home. I have to admit, I really want a pet turtle after meeting this sweet little guy.

Oh, more good news for parents. You will find clean bathrooms inside before venturing into Pine Bush for your hike. My girls will use the bathroom but they are sure to alert me mid way through the hike that they have to go again. I think they just like the idea of getting back to nature. LOL

Our outdoor adventure was just as enjoyable as the discovery center. The weather was pleasant and the girls really enjoyed hitting the trails. So many different paths, hills, twists and turns. It really is an adventure not to be missed. A family could spend an entire day at this wonderful place.

Take a look at some of my photos below and join me for my next blog when I write about our journey to Thatcher Park.

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How to Cure What Ails You- A Trip to the Ice Cream Parlor!

Ok, so if you read my last post you will recall that our much anticipated trip to Albany Pine Bush did not go as planned due to a visit from the dreadful stomach bug! Fortunately it did not strike the entire family so we came up with an alternate plan that worked out for  everyone. Check out my last post if you have an interest in learning more. I know, its hard to believe that you could salvage a day when you hear the words stomach bug, but trust me we made it work.

We were all hoping for good health and nice weather this time around. Unfortunately, neither one happened. Daughter number two came down with a bad cold. I think any of us would take a cold over the vile stomach bug. To make matters worse, our early spring weather was wet and cold. Not really conducive for a hike at Pine Bush. We like a good challenge but it really wasn’t our day to slip around in mud and shiver and shake. It would not be a pretty sight!

I have to be honest, I am getting more than a little bummed out. I worked hard all week and this really stinks. Is a little family fun time too much to ask for? Come on!!!! So, I allowed myself to pout for a few minutes or an hour. Who’s counting anyway! Then I picked myself up by the boot straps and forced myself to get it together.

Once again, we divided the troops. Dad stayed home with our sick daughter. They both took a much needed nap. I decided to take our seven year out for ice cream. Yah, not just any old ice cream joint, but the best one in town, Emack & Bolio’s. My mouth waters just thinking about all of the exquisite treats.

I have been to this wonderful establishment many times. The old fashioned charm, unique delicious ice cream,  handmade chocolates, and baked goods are out of this world.You should see the ice cream cakes.

Emack and Bolio’s is located at 366 Delaware Ave in Albany, NY. Locals are now calling this “Albany’s Main Street.” The building looks like a little cottage from years past. White picket fence and all. The charm does not stop at the front door. Upon entering you will find a spectacular atmosphere. Vintage glass cases filled with chocolates, hand dipped cones, and ice cream cakes. The wall showcases all of the amazing treats offered. Not in the mood for ice cream, coffee and smoothies also an option.If sipping coffee while checking your e-mail is your thing, they offer free WI-FI.

The server was so sweet and offered a sample to my indecisive daughter who selected a flavor called, space cake. I was not feeling so adventurous so I opted for buttered pecan. Needless to say, we were both more than satisfied. YUMMY!!! We also picked up a scoop of vanilla bean speck and two candy sticks on our way out for the sick three year old at home. The candy sticks were only .35. I love a good bargain.

The old fashion charm really can’t be beat. Yes, I know there are other Emack and Bolio’s. However, you do feel like you have stepped back in time and it seems like an original. Unique and traditional ice cream flavors, checkered floors, an old coke machine, fireplace, vintage ice cream maker, chess, live music, and cozy chairs. What more could an ice cream enthusiast ask for now a days. Oh, and a fantastic variety of toys available for purchase. We did not buy any on this particular visit but did take some time to check out the many fun options.

Overall, another great visit to Emack and Bolio’s. I hope my photos give you a better feel for this special place. I highly recommend a visit.

http://www.ebalbany.com/music.html

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When the plan does not go as planned.

Have you ever had a day when your wonderful family plan goes right down the drain? Everyone is disappointed and as a parent you want to make things better and save the day but you have no idea where to begin? Let me share one of my recent experiences.

So its Friday night at our house. The movie is ready to go, popcorn and other snacks on the way, everyone is wearing pj’s, and lots of warm fuzzy blankets scattered around the room. While watching previews we begin discussing the fun we are going to have on our trip to Albany Pine Bush. What time will we leave? How long will we stay? Will we bring a lunch? Will we see animals? Will we run into a bear? Will he eat us? You know, the million and one questions that kids ask before going on a trip.

Ok, the movie is over and the kids are off to bed. After all its going to be a big day tomorrow. We have to get up early and get ready for our amazing adventure.

Yah, not so fast Diefendorf Family. It’s 1:30 a.m. and I hear my seven year old crying. I immediately walk toward her room. I knew before entering that the stomach bug had made its first arrival. My poor baby was sobbing and of course there was stinky vomit all over the bed and her beloved stuffed animals. It breaks my heart to see her in such pain and I do my best to care for her in between gagging on the smell of vomit. I don’t think I will ever get used to this awful odor. Does this make me a bad mom? Nah, just one with a weak stomach. After a few more rounds, she is finally able to get some sleep.

So its 7:30 a.m. the following morning. Yep, I’m super tired. Coffee starting to take the edge off. The seven year old is down for the count. Its a saltine cracker, ice pop and ginger ale kind of day. However, the three year old is up and roaring to go. Oh, what is a mother to do? I want to stay close to home in case stomach bug hits daughter #2. In the back of my head, I am also thinking about my own well being. Nothing worse than puking your guts out and taking care of two little ones.

Its time to divide the troops! Dad is assigned to take care of sick child and I take our well one on a neighborhood adventure. Its no Pine Bush but we are still going to have fun and see all of the interesting things in our neighborhood. I know its spring but it feels like January so we get all bundled up. Burr!!! Our first stop is to make a neighborhood delivery of cookies. Remember, I am also a Girl Scout leader. We decide to bring two sets of binoculars so we can do a little bird watching. To our delight, we immediately see two busy robins and a squirrel or two. We also get a close up look at the buds bursting from the trees and houses off in the distance. We collect pine cones, rocks, sticks, and even pick up a wrapper to throw away when we get home. Oh, we sang a few songs too. The highlight of the trip was seeing the many neighbors walking by and enjoying the day. Several people on their way to synagog, a couple jogging, and our favorite, a man walking a less than obedient black lab puppy. He was so curious and fun-loving. I found it comical that his master was dressed all in black and I am not sure on this particular morning he found the same joy in this rambunctious pup. He looked a little grumpy and exchanged no eye contact. Perhaps he had a late night too. Our trip was worth every minute. No, it was not what we planned but in the end it gave me a little one on one time with my three year old and gave our sick seven year old the rest she so needed. The trip was fun and educational and reminded me that we truly do have a wonderful community. It warms my heart to see the magic a child sees in things we often pass by without a second look. Not to be cliche but we really do need to stop and smell the roses.

Please take a moment and share your stories of when your family plan did not go as planned and keep an eye out for my next post when we really do visit Pine Bush.Bird watchingpine cones