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Driving from NY / NJ to NOLA for Mardi Gras!

Got an invite to Mardi Gras? Check!

Got a place to stay? Check!

Got transportation to NOLA? Ch…well, wait a second? Flights were $800 from NY to NOLA so we had to pass on that, which lead to a ROAD TRIP!!!!!!!!

I absolutely love road trips. There are so many things to see and do in the US that we miss out on because we are so intent on where we need to be instead of thinking about the journey of how to get there. New Orleans is approximately 20 hours from New York City so we had a lot of hours to fill.

I created a long list of things that I thought we may want to see along the way but because of timing, this is what we ended up with:

Our first stop was a guitar shaped building in Bristol, TN. You can easily see the guitar from the visitor’s center parking lot which is immediately after the first exit in Tennessee. We did a quick stop to take a couple of pictures and continued on our way.

Our next intended stop was Pigeon Forge, TN, but somehow we missed the entire town. We saw signs for a scenic natural park which I can only assume was Great Smoky Mountains National Park but wanted to know if there was a particular route we should try to venture on that would not take us too far out of the way. We ended up stopping in a town (which I have sadly forgotten the name of) and stopped in the visitor’s center to ask driving advice. There we met a lovely lady named Catherine who had stories galore and even remembered to show us a route that would bring us into an area of the park that was preserved from the olden days. Unfortunately, because we were driving south, it was out of the way for us but we hoped to see it on the way back.

Our next stop was the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Alabama. It is basically like a giant Goodwill so it’s hit or miss on whether or not you will find treasures for yourself. For us, we didn’t try very hard to find bargains, but we still were able to purchase cute cowboy boots for $30, sneakers for $13, new ink for my printer, new socks, a hat, a purse, and we could have bought a lot more. Everything we found was in great condition. There were things like camping gear that I debated on purchasing but decided against it because I didn’t want to risk not having all the pieces, or damaged pieces. Overall, it was just a fun shopping experience.

Our last stop on the trek down to NOLA was Natural Bridge Park in Alabama. After dealing with wrong directions from Google Maps and driving all over timbuktu trying to find this place, we finally decided to call them and ask directions. Once you know where it is, it is really easy to find. Just continue west on 278-W past Route 5, go down the hill and you will see a sign for the park on the right side. Turn on County Road 3500 and BAM! the park is right down the road.

We were welcomed to the park by a little dog running up to our car. I opened up the door and said to come in. He hopped in the car and promptly gave us kisses and cuddles while we parked the car. As we exited the car, two little brown puppies came over to welcome us as well! We were in heaven!. We were also fortunate enough to arrive at the park when Barbara and her husband were were working. They were such lovely people. Barbara looked at my friend and told him that he has native blood in him. We stayed and talked with them for a bit, then continued on to see the bridge. The puppies joined us for the trek.

If you have time, definitely stop in at this park. It is a beautiful space that doesn’t take long to enjoy. Continue on the path past the bridge to enjoy a wishing well and additional bridges/ledges. We arrived late in the day so we had the trail to ourselves (and the puppies!). If you bring lunch, you can even stop and eat on a bench at the wishing well or near one of the many little waterfalls along the paths.

We ended up arriving in NOLA at a pretty bad time – 11:45pm. We were staying at the Marriott on Canal Street and didn’t realize that parades go right along Canal. We drove around for almost 2 hours trying to find a decent parking lot to put the car in. We couldn’t even get close to the hotel to unload our bags. Had we arrived just a couple of hours later, we could have easily parked the car and been on our way.

Ultimately, we threw the car into a lot about 6 blocks away that cost $40 a night (which was the same price as hotel parking and $10 cheaper than a slightly closer lot). We dragged our bags through the Mardi Gras revelers and checked into the hotel…………then promptly fell asleep!

Making a baby sleep sack

Ever since I found Pinterest  I have been saving a ton of baby items….especially since Christmas was coming. I wanted to make the sleep sack I found on this site a few weeks ago, but it seemed kind of complicated. Also I first had to buy zippers (found a great set on Amazon, then print the pattern and then actually make the sack!

2014-11-14 16.05.10While I was debating on making the sleep sack, my grandmother showed me how to sew a zipper (fold a small hem against the zipper teeth, pin and then use your zipper foot to sew a straight line) and thankfully it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be.

 

 

I wasn’t going to use cuddle fabric (I wanted to use some lightweight cottony flannel material already on hand), so I wanted to check out a few more tutorials to see what other options were out there. I found this page had a great idea – attach an extra piece of fabric to the back of the zipper so that the teeth never touch the baby. It also has clear pictures that I found made it easier to confirm I was doing the right thing along the way.

I had to make a small hem on the extra zipper piece. I faced the hem outward towards the zipper so that the flat part will touch the baby

I had to make a small hem on the extra zipper piece. I faced the hem outward towards the zipper so that the flat part will touch the baby

I finally decided to go ahead and try to make one and it was so easy. I think the one change that I would make to the instructions in the tutorials is to pin the behind the zipper piece to one side of the zipper at the same time you sew that side of the zipper to the main fabric. This way you save a step and you end up with only one stitch line down the front. I don’t like the way the two stitch lines look running down the front of the side of the zipper.

Other than that, I think it came out pretty nice, if I do say so myself!

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How to make personalized Hershey Miniatures and Nuggets wrappers – with templates

During the planning of a recent baby shower, the idea of favors came up. My mom came up with the idea of specialized candy like personalized M&Ms or Hershey Kisses. Lo and behold they already have Hershey Kisses wrapped in blue foil with an “It’s a boy!” tag.

I went ahead and purchased the Kisses and some blue bags, but I felt like the favor was lacking originality and personalization. I decided to add another chocolate to the mix – Hershey Miniatures. I went ahead and found some templates for a personalized Miniature wrapper but none of them allowed me to easily change the writing, colors and design of the template, so I created a new one from scratch. You can download it here. However, when I went to purchase the Miniatures, I discovered that they only come in the variety bag. Being that I only wanted the milk chocolate, I decided to buy Hershey Nuggets instead.

Fritz candyI found many templates for the Nuggets but again, I couldn’t find one that allowed me to make the changes that I wanted. So once again, I had to create my own. Many people suggest using labels for these wrappers, but they won’t actually cover the entire candy, and you may find that when you print, you waste a lot of labels as templates don’t always line up properly when used in different printers.

To attach the wrapper, I found it easiest to put a dab of glue on both the outside and inside of the edge of the printed wrapper to ensure it will stay in place. The edges slightly overlap so it will look neat and fully closed.

Here are my templates, free for your use. They are completely editable once you download them.

Hershey Miniatures Template: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B-PL1K6T1jiONzVSajE0eE5iNWc/view?usp=sharing

Hershey Nuggets Boy Template: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B-PL1K6T1jiOdTNaYkdZWVpsSjA/view?usp=sharing

Hershey Nuggets Girl Template: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B-PL1K6T1jiOcUhOZEJQcDhyaWM/view?usp=sharing

Diaper babies – super easy and adorable

I felt I needed more useful decorations for my sister’s baby shower, so when I came across this blog  I thought these little diaper babies would be great. I used size 1 diapers and size 0 – 3 months socks. I felt the socks were a bit big but they did the job (I doubt there are much smaller socks out there anyway.) I used a rubber band to keep the diapers closed and a fine-tipped Sharpie marker to make the tiny eyes. I also turned the diapers inside out so that the faces would be white and not cartoon charactered.

To display them, my mom crocheted little blankets and we placed them inside small baskets.

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Adventures in Hiking – Bear Mountain Green Pond/Boston Mine – shorter loop from Route 106

On a warmish day in November, I decided to take advantage of the weather and go hiking.  I wanted an easy and short hike without a blue trail since I always seem to get lost on blue trails (only semi-joking!). On this website I found that I can easily search for hikes not listed in any of the books I have. I found a few options that sounded good but were longer than I wanted to do that day. This particular hike was under 3 miles and rated easy. SOLD!

The directions by Daniel Chazin are great. I put the GPS coordinates in my phone’s mapping program, and it led me right to the parking lot. Finding the trailhead was also easy.

In November this trail was not very interesting, but I am guessing that it looks beautiful in the Spring, Summer and Autumn.

Walking through the thickets was one of the more interesting parts of this hike

Walking through the thickets was one of the more interesting parts of this hike

Entrance to the mine.

Entrance to the mine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2014-11-11 11.03.33Trail markers are often and obvious. I only got lost once and it was my own fault.  After the lake on the yellow trail, I insisted on going left onto the white Nurian trail even though the directions clearly state to go right.

 

By going left I ended up going downhill over many rocks and even had to do a semi-scramble down some of them. I said to myself “this cannot be an ‘easy’ trail” but instead of turning back I kept going to see if it would intersect with another trail. Finally when the trail kept being too difficult for my little girl Chihuahua who I was carrying at that point, I turned around. I had to put her in her pouch in order to be able to climb up the rocks. Going uphill was quite difficult.

In the Valley of Boulders. I didn't take pictures of the rock scrambles or steer ascents/descents because I was stressed :(

In the Valley of Boulders. I didn’t take pictures of the rock scrambles or steer ascents/descents because I was stressed 😦

 

It seems I had entered the Valley of Boulders. From the description, it’s really good that I turned around as there was a more difficult rock scramble ahead.

 

Once I reached the yellow trail again, I easily found my mistake and was able to take the correct route back to the car.

Green Pond. I should have gotten closer to take a better look, but this is where I ran into the most people as several trails intersect here.

Green Pond. I should have gotten closer to take a better look, but this is where I ran into the most people as several trails intersect here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This hike contained the most hikers I have ever encountered on any trail. It probably didn’t help that it was Veterans’ Day. The hikers were very diverse – rock climbers, single male hiker, older group hikers, Asian tour bus hikers, and two guys just wandering the trails to eventually settle in and sleep for the night. I know that doesn’t sound like a lot of people, but I’m used to complete solitude when I’m hiking since I go mid-week.

Anyway, I thought the trail was worth the time but would probably not do that particular loop again.

I did feel accomplished though, because I did learn that the marks on the trees can be distinguished from one another not only by color but by direction and shape (horizontal vs vertical / bar vs blaze vs diamond etc.). So overall, great day…….minus all the ticks I had to take off my dogs.

Adventures in Sewing – Personalized baby blocks with ribbon

Getting a sewing machine at the same time my sister was pregnant was great timing. I immediately set out on a quest to find projects to do. One of the projects I found on Pinterest was this set of cute blocks for babies.

I followed the directions and found the project fairly easy except for the one time I sewed two of the wrong sides together and the time I forgot to put the sides pretty side to pretty side and one ended up upside down.

The other issue I had was that the blocks didn’t actually come out to be perfect squares. This could be because I have issues cutting straight and also because I probably sewed in a crooked line. I also had to manually close a few corners, because I wasn’t sure where to stop sewing with the machine.

I used old t-shirt scraps for the letters which I sized and printed a template for using Microsoft Word. I tried to freehand it first and it was a disaster! I also realized that I should sew the letters onto the fabric BEFORE I sewed the block together. Unfortunately, I only realized this after I put the first block together. DOH!

Luckily I  remembered that I had extra stuffing from the pillow I dismantled for the cat bed suitcase, so I was able to use that instead of expensive fill.

Overall, I think the blocks came out okay and will serve their purpose considering they are just going to be chewed on by an infant. They are cuter when they are imperfect, right? RIGHT????

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Adventures in Sewing – Make your own playmat

Recently, I have taken up sewing. I bought myself a snazzy new Brother XL2600i sewing machine for a whopping $80 (okay, I talked my sister into buying it for me as an early Christmas present, but I digress). I bought a ton of fabric remnants from Joann’s (mega sale AND 50% off!) and I found some old spools of thread I had laying around from God knows where.

Terrible shot since Mimi never stays still, but you get the gist

Terrible shot since Mimi never stays still, but you get the gist

The next project was deciding on what to make. I tried to make a dog outfit – it came out okay but it definitely needed work. I also started making little items that I hope to give away as Christmas gifts. I did these things to practice my foot pedal control, keeping a stitch straight, not having the bobbin thread bunch up, etc.  For a while I was a complete failure. So what did I decide to do? Do a big project! Yes, yes, I don’t make sense sometimes, but alas, that is me!

I Googled ideas for easy baby items as my sister is about to give birth any day now and came across this tutorial on how to make a playmat.

I thought how hard could it be? Thankfully it was not difficult at all.  Of course, I didn’t follow the directions as well as I should have and I kind of ghetto rigged it which means it is not perfect at all, but it’s cute and decent and I won’t be embarrassed when people see it and know I made it.

Had I measured better and actually cut the fabric and batting correctly on the first try (or second try), everything would have been much easier. Instead, some of the batting doesn’t actually go all the way to the edges of the blanket and one corner is kind of wonky. But hey! it’s for a kid to lay on, and puke on, and poop on…………I think it’s good enough! And good enough is always good enough 🙂

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It will be washed and ironed or at least steamed before being presented as a gift. 🙂

Diaper cakes – not as expensive or difficult as you’d think.

Babies babies everywhere! Thankfully not mine, but I guess I’m at that age where everyone decides to spit out a baby. For one of these babies, I have been given the task of planning a baby shower. We are having it at a restaurant in a corner of the main room, so I didn’t want to go crazy with big decorations. I also didn’t want to spend a lot of money on decorations that would be used once and then thrown away. So what’s a girl to do? Yup, that’s right! Diaper cakes!

I have always wanted to make a diaper cake but thought it would be a lot of work and a lot of money. Well, yes, making a diaper cake is not cheap. For each cake, I bought the jumbo packs of diapers (with two $2 coupons and a $5 Target gift card when you buy 2 packs). I bought two different sizes (size 1 and 2 – not newborn) so I could make two different sized cakes. Then I realized I needed decorations for the cakes…..there came another $30 for those. Lastly, you need ribbon – turns out it’s not as cheap as I thought it would be – at least $5 per roll (but you can save money by buying it at Michael’s with a 50% off coupon!). Oh, also if you don’t work in an office where you can borrow rubber bands (your recipient will have no use for almost hundred rubber bands once she uses the diapers!), you will have to purchase really large and small rubber bands as well.

By the time you turn around you have spent around $45 on each cake. Fortunately, all of the stuff you purchased can be used again. So, when I say diaper cakes are not expensive as you think, I mean buying one. The ones you buy aren’t that much more in cost and are beautifully wrapped in cellophane AND delivered right to your door!

That being said, making a diaper cake is actually super easy. For this shower, I made two different types of cakes – the first one used a fanned out method and the second one used the more common rolled type method.

I used this tutorial for the fanned out method.

2014-10-14 09.30.09I bought a set of 4 round cake pans from Bed Bath & Beyond thinking I could return them afterwards, but I decided they might be useful in the future so I kept them. I followed the directions in the tutorial and was done with the diaper formation in under 20 minutes. I needed 4 yards of ribbon. I wanted the ribbon tight so I sewed it closed, so I could ensure it wouldn’t slip like tape.  Because I found that cute Octopus to top the cake and it was kind of large, I decided to not insert extra toys into the rest of the cake.

The cake was a bit boring with just the octopus and ribbon, so I went online and found some sea themed characters which I printed and glued to manila folders. I then cut out the shapes and used Elmer’s glue to attach them to the cake. I used paper clips to hold them on while the glue dried. Sizing and cutting out the attachments took much longer than any other part. I spaced it out over a few days so I would get frustrated and rush through.

The only real problem I had with this cake was that the diapers had decorations on them (I never bought diapers before, so I didn’t realize that the cartoon character on the box meant that it would be on the diaper as well.) Fortunately the diapers had blue on them so I was able to incorporate that theme into the design of the cake.

 

For the common rolled diaper cake, I used this tutorial 
2014-10-11 22.30.45This method was much more time consuming. I did it while watching television so it wasn’t too annoying, but it definitely took more time. I decided to make this cake only three tiers because I hid a bottle of wine in the middle of the cake. The diapers I used for this cake were the smaller diapers and had a green design on them. This worked well with the jungle theme I had chosen, but it was pure luck that I didn’t get pink or purple diapers which would have ruined the theme of either cake.

This cake was more difficult to keep together, but it wasn’t hard….just a little clumsy. Basically wrap the large rubber band around a few diapers and the bottle and insert the rest one at a time…..don’t try to form them all and then wrap the rubber band around – you’ll just have diapers fall over everywhere.

I thought this cake looked a little plain with just the ribbon and toys, so I stuck in a few woodland creatures as well.

 

Overall, I think the cake pan fanning method is much easier and more pleasing to the eye. Oh another tip – be sure to get ribbon that is not see through. I first bought really pretty blue ribbon, not realizing it was sheer and when I tried to use it, you could see the rubber band – not attractive at all! Also, for large diapers, you’ll want a 2.5 inch ribbon; for the smaller diapers, you can get away with a 1.5 inch ribbon.

Happy crafting!

Adventures in Hiking – Eagle Rock Reservation – 9/11 Memorial

This hike has many good things going for it. Number one is the view. It is a great place to view the fall foliage, the freedom tower and even the Verrazano Bridge. It seems like it would be good in all seasons and is an easy hike with very few uphill sections. The only negative would be for people unsteady on their feet – several sections have loose rocks on the path, but if you use a walking stick, I would think you should be fine.

Yellow Trail

Yellow Trail

Red Trail

Red Trail

 

I should never say to myself “wow this trail has so many markers!” because I always jinx myself. The directions on the NY/NJ Trail Conference Site and the trail markers were great until I got to the blue trail. My first confusion was confirming that I was supposed to follow the trail at the last house. I don’t know why but that tripped me up (maybe it had to do with the off-leash dog attacking my leashed dog).

Check out this cool treehouse as you enter the blue trail

Check out this cool treehouse as you enter the blue trail

Once I started on the blue trail, I had very few problems (one downed tree made me search harder for the further marker) (switchbacks were also fine and clear) until I passed the stone bridge and ended up in a maze of trees where the trail bears left.

I felt so lost that I nearly started to panic (yes an overreaction, I could have just backtracked to the other trails or the street, but I wanted to continue on). In that area of mass trees, the trail is barely clear (at least in October with leaves everywhere) and there are several possible options of similar looking ground. There is no next blue marker in sight for a while. I made 4 wrong starts and needed to backtrack to the blue left turn marker to start over before I finally tredged ahead on the correct trail for a while (after pulling up Google maps and seeing that I would at least be heading towards a road) and I finally found the next blue marker. It was a very exciting moment for me. You may have heard me yell “BLUE!”   🙂

After that the trail was again obvious with markers on both trees and rocks to help you navigate your way uphill along large flat rocks to a clear intersection at the yellow trail.

I found the trail to be very clean with not much debris (if you see debris when hiking, how about you pick it up and throw it away!). The trails were rocky and I did turn my ankles a bit but I blame myself because I was only wearing sneakers (that I also used to hike Macchu Picchu) but I didn’t have them tied tightly. None of my minor stumbles were enough for me to bother bending down and tying them better, so the rocks must not be that bad!

On a Wednesday morning in October, there were not many people around and it was a peaceful and mostly enjoyable hike.

Also, the views from the 9/11 memorial area are amazing even on an overcast day. They did a very nice job with the memorial. I even saw a big buck hanging out there.

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Squint down under the edge of the red tree to find the buck

Squint down under the edge of the red tree to find the buck

How I made a cat bed from a vintage suitcase

Several years ago I inherited a couple of ugly old school suitcases from my grandmother’s estate. Personally, I loved them and knew I would find a use for them. Initially I built a stand and used them as a nightstand / storage unit, but then I saw some posts about using them to make cat furniture. Well that settled that.

I first set the suitcase on the floor to see if the cats would actually use the bed. As you can see from the picture below, Freddie in particular loved it.

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I thought it looked a bit plain just sitting on the floor and I was nervous that they would knock the ugly stick over and decapitate themselves like my hamster did when I was a kid (side note, don’t use a brick to keep your hamster’s cage cover on), so I headed to the hardware store to find some legs. Turns out legs are expensive so I picked the cheapest of the ones I liked (4 for around $12 total) and spray painted them with some metallic paint I had laying around.

I first tried to just attach them to the suitcase by drilling four holes in the bottom and sticking them in, but this resulted in no stability – the suitcase just collapsed to the floor. I had to wait until the weekend when I would see my dad, so I could steal, I mean borrow and never give back, a few pieces of wood and a saw. Okay, okay, I admit it. As usual, when my dad knew I was doing a project that involved sawing, he stepped in and helped me out…..okay okay, he did it for me….but I stood there and watched!

My idea was to cut four pieces of wood and place them inside of the suitcase to stabilize the material. My dad, the genius handyman that he is, pointed out without nuts, it would still wobble. Off to the hardware store we went. With the proper tools, the rest of the project went pretty quickly. He even cut another piece of wood to lay on top of the four stabilizers so that the cats would have a flatter surface to lay on in case they pushed the pillow out of the way. Yay Daddy!

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To ensure the lid didn’t decapitate the cats, we wedged a few pieces of wood in the hollow space between the top and the bottom pieces.

The final step in this process was to enlarge the pillow I was planning on using. I cut open the back of the pillow and sewed on a piece of old t-shirt. This way the top shows the pretty satin blue colored fabric, but the entire suitcase and edges would be comfy.

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The final bed looks pretty cute, if I say so myself! However, I have only seen a cat jump onto it to take some of the catnip I sprinkled on it. I guess they prefer low-key designs instead of the fancy stuff.:(

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PS My parents’ dog, Jack, liked the bed just fine, so maybe I should give it to him for Christmas!

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Master of sewing – Earbud pouch

Since I have become a master sewer after one month of practice, I have been scouring the web for projects to tackle. One of the projects I came across is this nifty earbud pouch.

Usually I just shove my headphones somewhere in my purse and then yank out half the contents of my purse trying to get out the tangled mess they easily become. This pouch was going to fix all that.

However……..I may have overstated when I said I was a master sewer. Perhaps beginner+ is more like it. For this project, I followed the instructions, cut out the circles and thought I was doing everything great! That is, until I looked at what I thought was the finished product. It wasn’t a circle by any means. I don’t think they have an official shape for what I created!

Instead of a zipper, I decided to just try to overlap the two front panels. Unfortunately, I misjudged the size I would need – I didn’t calculate the space I would need to fold over the inside panel to make it look pretty. The template also was sized to include a zipper, so I should have allowed for even more extra flap than I did – I forgot about that. Oops!

In any case, I just tightened up the edges so that it would mostly stay closed, and it seems to be doing its job. If I find that the headphones fall out, I will simply add a button and a small piece of crochet thread to latch it closed. Easy Peasy!

After this picture was taken, I also added a small carabiner so that I could easily move the pouch from purse to purse!

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Fall Foliage – New York’s Route 97

While away in the Catskills this weekend, I wanted to take advantage of the time of year and check out the beautiful fall foliage. I wasn’t sure where the best driving views would be, so I Googled and found out that the road right down the block from my house was listed as having a great view! Lucky me!

Instead of just taking a scenic drive, we decided to take the road less traveled home and drove down Route 97 from Hankins to Port Jervis to enjoy the views along the way. What’s great about the drive is that there are several roadside pull-offs with great views.

The foliage this year seems a bit “off”. Some maps say we are past peak, others say we are at peak. I just was happy to not have missed it altogether.

Here are a few shots (The colors were much better in person. The sun was in a bad position for well-lit shots, but you’ll get the gist):

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Adventures in Hiking – Hoffman Park (aka ticks ticks and more ticks!)

Hiking in Hoffman Park will go down in history as the first hike I have done where I never once felt like I was lost! Woohoo! Perhaps I am making progress…..or perhaps the trails were so worn and wide and obvious that I couldn’t help but stay on track.2014-10-15 10.57.55

By staying on track, I mean wandering around, missing the turns I was supposed to make, etc. So I guess technically I was off the hiking trail pathway that was listed in Hiking with Dogs, New Jersey. In any case, the hike was a really nice, non-taxing walk, albeit a bit boring. Aside from a few tiny lakes, some hawks, one lone deer and a caterpillar, I didn’t really see anything too interesting. I did purposely veer off the trail from the book since the map posted online pointed out the other trails in between were easily accessible and wouldn’t add much mileage to the hike. The fall foliage was quite pretty to look at though, so I think the hike was worth the time.2014-10-15 11.03.22 2014-10-15 12.13.46.

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Oh! What I did see was a tick on Mimi that I was able to swat off and we were lucky enough to take at least one giant tick home on Eli that I found the next day. Removing that was a huge task. It was stuck on his ear so deeply that I really had to yank it out. I had to enlist the help of a friend for moral support as the ear was so red and inflamed that I was nervous and needed an assist!

It didn’t help that I think Eli had a reaction to the flea and tick treatment I gave him the night before after the hike. He was shaking and breathing weird and was basically glued to my side the whole day.

I guess the lesson learned from this hike was do not stray from the path like I did and take the tick warning signs very seriously. Also make sure that your dogs are up to date on their lyme vaccine and flea/tick treatments.  PS. find one that your dog does not have an adverse reaction to.

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Perhaps it’s really the bat trail?

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Adventures in Hiking – Bouchoux Trail (Jensen’s Ledges) – Lordville, NY

Labor day weekend is always bittersweet. It’s a long weekend away from work, filled with friends and activities, but it also means the summer is coming to an end. For this year’s weekend, I decided to enjoy the time by going on a quick hike a few miles from my home in Upstate New York.

To get to the Bouchoux Trail (Jensen’s Ledges) (I don’t believe those GPS coordinates are correct by the way as they send you to Pennsylvania.) travel on Route 97 north of Long Eddy and South of Hancock, turn at the Lordville sign onto Lordville Road. Take the road to the T-intersection where you will see an old white building with separate entrances for ladies and gents, then turn left. You will see a bridge on your right side and a dead end sign in front of you. Go straight onto that dead end road (Bouchouxville Road). Travel to the end where you will find the trailhead. Along this road, you will see interesting sights like houses – both run down and beautiful and hunters with guns and bows & arrows. Also be prepared for speeding cars even though there is barely space for two cars on the road. You may even encounter a ghost (see details on Lordville at the end of this blog).

The official trails are on private property but open to the public. There are two trails – the one that leads up to the ledges and another that leads down to the river. Both are clear and defined and have security cameras, so behave yourselves! On the river trail, there’s even a picnic bench and bbq which I assume belongs to the property owner and should not be used. The river trail splits into two where you can climb up to the railroad tracks and down the other side through a cut path in the bushes or you can walk under the tracks through the water to the rocky entrance to the Delaware. Climbing up to the tracks will give you a beautiful panoramic view of the river and fields below.

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The river trail is a great walk for people steady on their feet. You will encounter slippery rocks in the river or a steep ascent and descent if you go over the tracks, but a five month pregnant woman had no trouble maneuvering through. It would also be a nice place to sit on some rocks and watch the boats go by.

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The more difficult trail is the one up to the ledges. It has a pretty steep ascent right at the beginning and it feels uphill most of the way. I have gone to the top twice and have always had to take a break ¾ of the way through. Working to get to the top is worth it. The views are beautiful and the formations that have been created are awesome. There is also a waterfall and great place to sit and have a picnic. (Note the pictures below were taken in October 2013.)

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The town of Lordville also has its own interesting points. When we were leaving Bouchouxville Road, I noticed a mannequin in the top floor window of the house near the corner. It was spooky and eerie, but it made me think that perhaps there was more to Lordville’s story than first appears. When driving through Lordville, it seems like perhaps it is a hippie town with peace signs and artwork; however, the story goes much deeper. I found this Tumblr site where I learned that there is a documentary of Lordville and a history of ghost encounters. Being in Lordville gives you the feeling that you are in a bit of a time warp. One day I hope to explore it further.

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Adventures in Hiking – The Princeton Woods – Princeton Battlefield State Park

On an overcast Friday in August, I traveled an hour to hike The Princeton Woods – Princeton Battlefield State Park – Hike #24 in the book Hiking New Jersey. I am history-challenged so I had no idea that there was a battle between the British and George Washington’s army. This made this hike doubly interesting since I was able to learn something along the way

This hike was one of the best and easiest hikes I have ever done. There were no slopes, trails were wide, it was quiet and peaceful, saw deer, frogs, birds, grasshoppers, and only encountered two other people along the way. Also, there was a very clean bathroom at the beginning of the trail by the Thomas Clarke House’s shed!

The only negative was that trails are not clearly marked at all so I spent most of the time feeling lost and a bit stressed that I was wandering around aimlessly and would never find my way back to civilization.

You start the hike by walking behind the Thomas Clarke House. You will find the trail behind the circular field (on the right side). Right away you will see that the trail is wide and well-maintained. 2014-08-22 12.29.38

You will also notice no signage or tree markings. In the book, it says things like “You will arrive at the Trolley Track Trail.” Um, says who?? There are no signs stating that. There must be an invisible map somewhere that I am not privy to.

You will quickly notice while traveling along these pathways that there are many intersections not mentioned in the book. As I was trying to follow the directions, I attempted to stay on the trail they describe but had to guess at which way to turn many times. At the beginning the guesses were logical (turn right to go further into the trees instead of turning left to head back to the parking lot). However, once you were deeper into the hike, it was very difficult to figure out which way was the correct way to go.

Anyway, the first bit of wildlife I spotted was only about 2 minutes into the hike. I saw some grass on the path move and found this little guy. 2014-08-22 12.35.35

Soon after I reached the five-point intersection and a huge open field. I took a few steps forward to view the field and spotted this group of friends. They stood there watching me until I walked away.

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Finding the right trail to continue on my way was a matter of luck. I suppose I should invest in a compass since directions are sometimes in the form of “turn north”. I try to base cardinal directions on the placement of the sun but when the sun is high in the sky, that becomes quite difficult! I chose the trail directly to the left of the field which if you count the five points clockwise from where you reach them with the trail you are standing on as 1, it would be number 3, the field would be number 4.

 As I continued down the trail, I met this guy. 2014-08-22 13.03.32

Further along that path, I found the hanging bridge and attempted to cross it with Mimi in her pouch and Eli leading the way. Unfortunately, the bridge was a real swinger and its walkway leaned into the river so we turned around about a third of the way in. I’m sure most people would be thrilled to hear if Eli took a dive off the bridge into the river, but I didn’t want him to meet his maker that day.

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We also stopped for a snack and a quick rest.

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So psyched to see this!

The next instructions were to turn right onto the Pipeline Trail (again, why they are named, I don’t know). This was where I saw the only two tree markers on the entire trail. Information is that the trail is “a real wide red-shale lane”. Well, the beginning of the trail is overgrown with grass, so again, I wasn’t sure if I was making the right choice of trail picks.

The next few directions of the hike are really unclear. I made a wrong turn but fortunately it led to a dead end so I was able to backtrack. It was during this section that I finally heard a person in the distance. I was more confident now that I knew I was at least near civilization and at the very least could walk on a road back to the car if need be.

While I was walking on the trail feeling lost, I came upon another intersection. I stopped to read the directions and finally figured out that I was indeed on the correct trail and was at the 2.2 mile direction – cross through the trees over some boards and pass through a red barn and a house – talk about not obvious! 2014-08-22 13.43.25

This area where some of the greatest minds walked is a good place to stop at the picnic table and take a break.

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Then it’s back to the trail! Entering back in at mailbox 330, the trail is wide and obvious. You are now at the final leg of the hike, closing your circle and are very close to the parking lot (but can’t see it). Once you join the bike path, you will be in a very pretty flowered field – the Princeton Battlefield.

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 You should definitely head across the field (perhaps stopping at the lone bench to enjoy the beauty around you) and explore the Colonnade across the street. This area reminds you of the seriousness of the events that occurred on that land and makes you stop and think.

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I then crossed the street again at the crosswalk (a nice truck even did as he was supposed to and stopped to wait for me to cross!) It was then that I explored the area in front of the Thomas Clarke house and read the kiosks – very informative and interesting!

I want to go back to this area one day soon and explore the side trails….now that I know that you are never very far from civilization, and I won’t get lost forever! I also want to brave the hanging bridge and go explore the other side (with Eli in his pouch so he doesn’t fall into the water – sorry to disappoint!)

Here are a few bonus shots from the day.

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What is this thing growing on the tree? It almost wrapped all the way around

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Pond on the last leg

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Eli enjoyed the hike as well!

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A heart leaf!

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I always want to eat the berries!

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Towards the end of the hike, there were several benches to sit on.

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Institute for Advanced Study

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Lost Mimi in the grass at some point

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Butterfly was not even scared of us walking by

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Someone drew a heart!

Adventures in Hiking – The Pequannock Highlands – Silas Condict County Park

I borrowed the book Hiking New Jersey from my friend. It lists 50 of NJ’s greatest hiking adventures. I had been having trouble finding good detailed information online for hikes nearby. This book is pretty good. It lists where the hike is, distance, difficulty, if dogs are allowed, fees and what the trail is like. It also gives a description of the hike and also gives distance details on what you will see at each point and where to continue the trail.

The problem with today’s hike in Silas Condict County Park (hike # 14 in the book) was that I thought I was solely following the white trail but I ended up on the red trail as well. I also couldn’t find the viewpoint at the end of the red trail so that was disappointing. My mileage on the hike was around 2.75 miles so I feel I was close to finding the viewpoint but close is not good enough!

Because I was walking with my Chihuahuas, I ended up doing a 34 minute mile which is really slow, but because of all the ascents, I can’t say I would have done it much faster without them. But hey! Let’s just blame them for my slowness and not the fact that I’m really out of shape!

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Start of white trail

The hike starts out pretty clear. You park in the first parking lot on the left and walk into the parking lot of a maintenance yard. Even though the trail is not marked with a sign, the trail is wide and clear to the right of the building.

 

 

 

 

If you follow along the directions in the book, they mention a viewpoint to the left .3 miles into the trail. Perhaps this has a better view in the fall when the trees have lost their leaves. All I could see were treetops.

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Viewpoint?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next left leads to a picnic table and then a bench that overlooks the lake (when trees have no leaves). It was a nice spot for me to stop and give the dogs some water and a snack.

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The trail continues on from there until you hit a large parking lot. From here, you just follow the parking lot around to the left, heading in the direction of the lake. Here is where I lost the white trail. I followed the instructions to head towards the ballfield and saw another wide, clear trail right by center field. Luckily, no one was playing ball that day or I may have gotten hit by a home run!

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Large open picnic area behind the casino/stone building

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Lake view from the other side of the casino

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is where I got confused. Upon entering this trail, you see the colors on the trees have now changed to red. In my limited hiking knowledge I felt like I remembered that if trails were overlapping, they would have both colors on the trees, but alas I forged ahead anyway since the book seemed to point me in that direction.

Stopped to spy on a chipmunk having lunch

Stopped to spy on a chipmunk having lunch

 

While on this section of the hike, I didn’t see any good views but did enjoy a quiet walk interrupted by only a few other people (It was a Tuesday.) I decided to turn around when I reached another large parking lot where I felt very lost and couldn’t figure out which direction to head. I finally decided to walk through the picnic area and ended up back on the trail I took to the parking lot. At least I knew that if I kept walking on that trail, I would eventually end up back at the car!

Eli couldn't miss out on the treats so he stuck his head in the slats of a bench to grab one

Eli couldn’t miss out on the treats so he stuck his head in the slats of a bench to grab one

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I arrived back at the ballfield, I decided to walk on the side of the lake to see where that led. Lo and behold, there was the white trail! However, the map and markers showed that it was the end (or beginning) of the white trail. Just past the map was a locked gate, so I don’t know if the white trail used to continue around the lake but that area is now off-limits (although the fence is pushed down in one part, so if you really want to enter, you can hop it.)

Map by the locked gate

Map by the locked gate

There are a couple of nice places to sit and look at the lake here so it’s worth the detour.

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 On the way back to the car, I stayed to the left of the trail and didn’t detour to the picnic table or bench. The walk back was much quicker as it was mostly downhill.

Overall, this is a nice short hike, mostly shaded and fairly flat. My dogs were pooped by the end even though we stopped a lot. It would be good to pack a lunch and enjoy one of the many picnic areas or if they are taken (there were signs for reservations for each), just lay a blanket on the grass and do it old school! There are also restrooms by the casino by the lake and plenty of parking lots scattered throughout the park.

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This is the trail I took today – tracked by my Endomondo app.

View of full hike and surrounding area

View of full hike and surrounding area

View of red trail

View of red trail

View of beginning/end of hike, including detour to side of lake

View of beginning/end of hike, including detour to side of lake

Spontaneous pneumothorax? What the heck is that?

In 1998, three months before my 21st birthday, I was driving home from work and felt a sharp pain in my back. Because I figured it was a pulled muscle, I popped a bunch of Advil, had a neighbor try to beat my back to loosen the muscle and continued on my way to a couple of parties (It was Christmastime after all!). All night, the pain remained but being young and stupid, I tried to drink it away. Only after arriving home and laying down in bed did I realize there may be an actual problem…..I couldn’t breathe. Off to the hospital I went!

Turns out when you go to the emergency room and are having trouble breathing, they rush you into triage. I didn’t even have to fill out my paperwork! After a quick check of my vitals, I got moved into the main ER where they took x-rays and only then did they tell me that I had a collapsed lung. Well, that sure was a surprise! There was a ton of fluid sitting in the outside cavity of my lung. Turns out when I laid down, the shift of my body caused the fluid that was sitting outside of my lung to move in a way that no longer allowed air to enter. Who knew!

Because I was under 21 and the hospital was overrun with cases of the flu, I was admitted to the pediatric unit which was a huge blessing. I got very personalized care with great nurses. I even got to make Christmas decorations for the hospital!

So long story short, that was the beginning of many years of dealing with a bum lung. My first surgery was a chest tube right there in the emergency room. I wasn’t at a teaching hospital, yet I had a bunch of people in the room, just to watch – even my dad watched by peeking around the curtain. I was in the hospital for a couple of weeks but the lung wasn’t properly reinflating. The doctor removed the tube so that I could go home for Christmas, but in the process, air got into the hole in my chest and made the situation worse. (I actually heard and felt the air enter my body.) They had me come in once a week to see if it would resolve itself, but it didn’t. Back to the hospital I went! My second stay involved another chest tube and then thoracoscopy, bleb resection, and talc pleurodesis.

During this three week stint in the hospital, I also developed three blot clots in my leg (due to being on the Depo Provera birth control shot and constant bed rest) which led to lots of doses of heparin and blood being drawn several times a day. This caused my veins to explode and once the tube full of blood even exploded. (Was quite a site – nurse, me, wall, floor all covered in blood. Too bad I didn’t get pics!)

Finally, all my issues were resolved, and I was sent home on a coumadin regimen for the next six months.

I wish that was where my story ended. Unfortunately, a few years later (2002) while at work, I felt that now familiar pain in my back again. A co-worker drove me to the hospital emergency room where they took an x-ray of my chest and sent me home because the lung was only 10% deflated. My previous pulmonologist and cardio thoracic surgeon had stopped practising, so I had begun seeing a new pulmonologist near my job after that. A few months later, I felt the pain again while at work, so I went to see him and sure enough my lung had collapsed – significantly this time. He made arrangements for me to meet a surgeon at a hospital closer to my house. This time I felt like a pro so I drove all the way home, took a shower and packed a bag, grabbed my mom and off to the emergency room we went! (Going to the hospital via the ER is a way around having to schedule surgery, so even though my new surgeon was now waiting for me at the hospital, I still had to be admitted via the ER.)

This time I also had my chest tube inserted in the ER but while my mother was allowed to stay in for the procedure, she chose to leave the room anyway (big baby!).  After several days, the doctor decided that it would be a good idea to do more surgery to fix what he thought was a botched job the first time around (lots of staples and old school techniques, which left a lot of scarring). He removed the staples and performed a segmentectomy (part of the top lobe of my right lung was removed).  He swore that lung would never collapse again. Well, he was wrong!

I think I’ve had at least two collapses since that last surgery. A year or so later (2003-ish) my lung collapsed while I was at work at lunch with some friends. I just said “Ouch, my lung just collapsed.” and went back to eating. Took a couple of days off, then went back to work.

After that last surgery, I decided to not go to the hospital any more for my collapses. They seem to resolve themselves within 10 days, and then I can move on with my life.

Over the years, treatment for spontaneous pneumothorax has improved. Many years ago, I met someone who had the same condition but had to have his entire chest sliced open and was left with a huge scar that looked like a magician had tried to saw him in half (I Googled to share this, but the images were too gross to include here. Feel free to Google and see for yourself!) I am fortunate to only have these tiny scars.

View of the right side of my back / slight side angle

View of the right side of my back / slight side angle

Even though it has been several years since my last collapse, every time I feel a twinge in that area, I pause to decipher what it going on. Because it has been so long, if I ever do feel that all familiar pain, I may have to give in and head back to the ER. Hope I never see you there!

 

Let’s make a beer cake!

One day last summer, I was shopping at a flea market and found this awesome cake mold of a beer mug. Seriously….how cool is that!? Until now, I haven’t had an opportunity to use it. Yeah yeah, I realize many of you would make a beer cake every week, but I felt it deserved to be unveiled at a special occasion. Like 4th of July!

beer mold

 

You can see from my previous Jello post that I was not having a lot of luck in the creative foods department, but I decided to plow through and make my beer cake anyway.

Making the yellow cake mix was easy….open the box and follow directions. Done! The cake came out of the oven a bit pyramid-y but when I flipped it over, it smoothed out just fine and wasn’t wobbly.

beer before

 

Next was the icing problem. Have you ever realized they don’t sell beer colored frosting? Well, it turns out I can’t make beer colored frosting either. I couldn’t find food coloring in the store, so I thought chocolate and buttercream would do the trick for a dark lager look. Well, you decide for yourself, but I don’t think I succeeded. The top foam is just straight buttercream icing from a can applied with a spoon; the bottom markings are chocolate icing applied with a knife – yeah, you should use a piping tool instead!

beer done

Overall, I think the cake is okay enough and for the crowd I’m serving it to, it’s fine. You might want to take a bit of extra time to find that food coloring and use the piping tool.

Happy Independence Day!

 

Stained glass Jello for 4th of July – Great idea! ……… or is it?

Any holiday that includes BBQ and drinking is a great day for me. Throw in fireworks and you’ve got yourself a party! So when my friend decided to host a potluck Independence Day Party, I was beyond excited. What would I make? Should I try to be creative? Sure! Why not!

Well……I should have realized that I am not that creative, but alas I have the Internet so I hunted. I was very happy to find this post  that shows not only how to make stained glass jello but points out that you can do it in patriotic colors!

I should have known that it wouldn’t be as easy as it looked. I went and bought the ingredients; I made the jellos (in four 8 inch square pans because that’s all I had); I waited for them to chill.  Tick tock!

jello before

 

After 4 hours had passed, I realized I should start on the second half of the process. I made the gelatin mix (had to look up what jello blooming meant) and waited for it to chill. It didn’t say how long to wait to chill so I put it in the fridge……and promptly forgot about it. An hour later I remembered and had to smash up the now super chilled gelatin.

I attempted to cut my colored jello into shapes but it just became mushy slops. I put the kind of sort of cut jello in the larger pan and made sure the red and blue were spread around.

jello blocks

 

I added the gelatin mixture to the top and tossed it back in the fridge overnight. (Imagine the picture above with white goo on top.)

In the morning, I pulled out the pan and finger tested it – it bounced back! Yay jello! However, I decided to turn it over onto a sheet pan to more easily cut out the shapes and heard that liquid sound – glub glub. Uh oh! I released the pan and out came my jello goop! My red, white and blue jello goop.

I attempted to cut a shape out of it, but it just oozed out of the cutter. It still tasted okay, so I improvised and dumped the concoction into a clear bowl and stuck some flag toothpicks in.

Voila! That’s what I meant to do all along!

jello done

 

Wedding card wreath – fab-ul-lous idea!

A friend of mine posted this idea today, and I thought it was absolutely fabulous.

I made a wreath of all the cards we got at our wedding. I’m going to hang it up every anniversary so I can feel all the love again!
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How cool is that? The wreath looks really cute, and I think any idiot with some glue and some cardboard should be able to make it! (Any idiot who got married that is – I’m just an idiot in general, not one that has gotten married!)

Check Leslie out here   She’s super crafty, and I’m secretly (okay, probably not so secretly) jealous of all her skills. Maybe one day, we will both find some time for her to pass along her wealth of knowledge to a thumb-filled chick like me 🙂

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