Scenes From a Country Road

It’s often said that you cannot truly appreciate the beauty of a place until you leave it behind. No truer words were ever spoken. Here are a few of my favorite moments en route to our family reunion in the Adirondacks, where we shared a few stories, a few laughs, and lots of food, drink, and hugs.

My fictional town of Starling is inspired by the land I knew as a child and teen in beautiful upstate New York and the way of life I observe when visiting loved ones far from my current home on Long Island.

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How did you enjoy this last unofficial weekend of summer? What was your favorite moment of the season?

S’more Fun Than Internet?

A World Away From Home

Eleven days ago, my husband and I packed up the family car and loaded in the kids for a 72-hour-break from our busy, tech-connected life in the suburbs.

Embarking on an internet- and cable tv-free weekend, I initially felt as lost as my children acted. I’ve become increasingly attached to my writing schedule, using my laptop for word processing, internet research, and emailing with my phenomenal critique partner. Of course, I also write this weekly blog and am on Facebook and Twitter daily. At night, I generally relax a half hour or so by tuning into HGTV or Travel Channel if there aren’t any ESPN highlights to capture my interest.

Why not pack up the gadgets and bring ’em along for the trip? To be honest, I considered it. A LOT. Facing a five-hour ride, I was pretty tempted to use that time to meet a self-made deadline for my work-in-progress. Yet I’d been inspired by a writer friend’s suggestion. Ashley Cockerill had posted this tip on her blog and I wanted us to take on her challenge as a family:

Take a computer-free day once a week to help reduce stress and eye strain. No cellphones. No e-readers. No computers. No TV. Disconnecting for a day is tough, but worth it.

As mom to an autistic son and very typical college-age daughter, this was easier said than done. To ease their worries, I brainstormed with them all the things we love about the Adirondacks. I wanted our back-to-simple-pleasures weekend to be just that–a pleasure. In addition to seeing loved ones, we agreed that making s’mores was our favorite activity. I promised to make it happen and promptly bought the three simple ingredients. (Could it really be this easy?)

Blackberry Bush

We arrived upstate and enjoyed a lazy summer afternoon in the country. The kids and we picked blackberries, checked out Grandpa’s John Deere lawn mower, ate lunch, and visited with relatives on my dad’s comfy porch under a cool awning.

A rain shower later that day threatened our much-anticipated marshmallow roast. Standing indoors around a microwave, waiting in thirty-second increments for our chocolate and marshmallow to melt, wouldn’t have been quite the same experience. Heck, we could do that at home and play Wii to boot!

Roasting Marshmallows

Thankfully, the storm passed and the quest was on for dry kindling around the property. Soon a fire blazed in the cement block fireplace used for all our outdoor family gatherings since I was a little kid. Adults and children alike sat around the fire in awe as it licked at the logs to gradually die down, leaving a small flame with glowing embers. Perfect for what we had in mind.

Twirling marshmallow-tipped sticks over the fireplace, my children enjoyed making roasted creations to order. At first, my son was nervous about the fire, its heat intense if he stood a smidge too close. With his dad’s help, he prevailed and proudly made marshmallows for Mom and himself. My daughter giggled as she ate her gooey chocolate concoction. I did, too. S’mores are yummy, and I generally don’t eat such decadent sweets.

We had a wonderful night by the fire, with family and food. I must admit we didn’t make it through our weekend completely tech-free, however, using googled directions (thanks to a nice hotel receptionist) to find our way to my niece’s beautiful wedding the following day (as highly anticipated as the s’mores, I might add).

Was our “computer-free weekend” worth it? I cannot speak for my kids, but I believe it was a success. We returned home relaxed and rejuvenated. I was more productive that week than I’d been the past few. Maybe there’s something to be said for taking a day or two off from my internet-dependency. Once in awhile.

What summer treat do you enjoy with your family? Do you make a concerted effort to “unplug” for a day now and then, or would you consider it?

Paradise Found, Key West Butterfly Conservatory

Summer in the Adirondacks

Having grown up in upstate New York’s Adirondack Mountains, I guess it’s only natural I adore jagged landscapes covered by mature evergreens. As a teenager, I traveled with my family to Maine where I had my first glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean, its pounding surf at Pemaquid Point’s mesmerizing. Years later, I fell head-over-heels for palm tree sunsets as I ventured further from my homebase. Oddly enough, another place I consider to be a slice of heaven isn’t out in the wild, but inside a building on Duval Street in Key West, Florida.

One of the many reasons I am drawn back to Old Town each year is the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory. This must-see KW attraction was one we almost overlooked, having toured St. Maarten’s butterfly farm years earlier and wrongly assuming we could cross this activity off our travel to-do list. Thankfully, our B&B’s manager convinced us this conservatory was worth the fee and our time.

The first stop on the self-guided tour is the Learning Center, a smallish room with educational exhibits. Here the guest may view a short butterfly video and look at butterflies in various stages of their life cycle. Wall maps also show worldwide butterfly species distribution. Once a person has had her fill of facts, she enters the main part of the building where the large, glass-domed conservatory serves as a weather-controlled tropical oasis for its lucky residents.

Between forty to fifty exotic species of butterflies rest, fly, or sip nectar, unconcerned about human presence within the conservatory and co-existing with butterfly-friendly birds that control the room’s mosquito and aphid populations. Tranquil, filtered music harmonizes with birds chirping, while a water feature provides a backdrop of soothing white noise. Fragrant tropical flowers scent the space as the guest strolls along the brick walkway. Winding through the leafy, colorful interior, the path crosses over the koi and turtle pond via a wooden bridge. Photography and videotaping within the conservatory is allowed and all guests encouraged to stay as long as they wish.

As for my husband and me, we spent more than two hours in our little Paradise Found, much of our time simply relaxing on butterfly-shaped chairs as we bird watched. When photographing, I was amazed how easy it was to get the ethereal butterflies to pose. Unlike my previous butterfly farm experience, no Zoom or Sport camera setting was needed!

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I hope you’ve enjoyed these photos–my little escape from the ordinary. Whether you find beauty in a dew-covered spider web, blooming orchids, an Alaskan glacier, or Saguaro cactus, I wonder:  Where on Earth do you find paradise?

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