It’s a curious thing, winter. All year long we plan our snowman, paper snowflake and snow fort designs, then weather-strip the windows, stack the wood, wax the toboggan, varnish the snowshoes, prime the hot tub, knit a jazzy collection of sleeping caps, and await the slightest sign of it. The first season’s snow is welcomed with heartfelt cheers (unless it occurs during October like the past few years here in the Northeast. Rrrggh!) and nimble steps. The entire family springs into action—equipped within seconds to fight the freeze.
But winter wears out its welcome superfast. The second time the snow falls, happiness at getting snowy may not be quite as enormous as that very first episode. The third time it snows, hurrahs are tempered and the steps are deliberately slower—a prized mitten has been lost, the hot cocoa tin is empty. And by the tenth time, the happiness may be significantly less enormous, until snow begins to offer very little happiness at all, and instead evokes prickling memories of funky wet socks and a bone-penetrating chill.
It’s at this point that alternatives to getting snowy are considered. Energy turns to indoor stuff—the obstacle course, the scavenger hunt, the indoor tent, the box fort—that keep small people busy. Creativity is at its prime—marble mazes, body scrubs, oobleck, felted soap, salt dough, finger puppets, swittens, flipbooks, homemade snow cones—if there’s anything as magnificent as a picnic in a sofa tent in winter, well, I don’t believe you. Unless your posse is not getting along. Then, there is nothing as terrible.
I know this much is true. In the winter, there are days that require getting as far away from the house as possible. If you live within the Hudson Valley like me and you’ve found yourself in a pickle, there are neat places to go—local places that are kid-friendly during those tricky wintery-mix days. Here are just a few:
Spanning 250 acres of Bronx Park, NYBG is home to an amazing collection of cozy indoor greenhouses. Don’t miss the Holiday Train Show (ending January 13th) or the upcoming Tropical Paradise exhibit (January 19th through February 24th) at the Haupt Conservatory.
The largest museum in Westchester County, the HRM complex includes six art galleries, a planetarium and weekend family science programs. Don’t miss the evening planetarium shows or the current exhibition of award-winning children’s book illustrator Jerry Pinkney (ending January 13th).
A visit the busiest train station in the country can perk up the entire family. Grand Central celebrates its 100th birthday in 2013—honor it with a visit, a slice from Two Boots and an over-the-top chocolate babka from Zaro’s bakery. Now, that’s a party!
Show off your inner Michelle Kwan during one of Bear Mountain’s public skating sessions. Rent skates or bring your own for hours of walley jumps and one-foot axels— dramatic crimson red sparkly dress bedazzled with feathered flames is optional. If weather permits, follow up with a post-skate cool down at the nearby trailside museum.
Winter is prime-time viewing season for cold-weather animals. Siberian tigers, sea lions, snow leopards and polar bears consider winter weather ideal. Warm up afterward with hot cocoa at the Dancing Crane Café.
This magical gem situated in the midst of an evergreen forest has 10 to 12 beautifully curated exhibitions each year. Its children’s activity center allows space for budding young artists to explore and create their own work. It’s just a 10-minute walk from the Katonah train station—the perfect day trip. Don’t miss the current exhibit on 3D animation featuring original drawings, storyboards, props and movie clips from Blue Sky Studios (ending January 20th).
The thing you can count on in life is that although summer seems endless when you’re little, it just zooms past you like a Bugatti Veyron EB 16.4 Super Sport when you’re big. I’ve missed you these past several weeks—a crazy month that entailed (Geez! Here we go again!) way too much to do within just a scrap of time.
Summer entails behind-the-scenes work—harvesting carrots, radishes, garlic and peas; juicing lemons for the stand; keeping squash tendrils at bay and tying up tomats; getting poison ivy; catching bullfrogs; making pesto; and then making more and more pesto. It’s just now that I glanced up and realized summer is just about through, and while I should be enjoying every last morsel of it and then licking its plate, I can’t help but dwell on the fact that fall is fast approaching.
Suddenly the days will be cooler and shorter, and we’ll pick the last sweet fall tomato. I feel it. Now it is here. The time of change. The greens of summer will yield to yellows, reds, and rich browns. Carefree days of p.j. pancake breakfasts, grass-stained knees, salty un-brushed hair, dirty hands, late night treats, backyard campouts, and lazy late-sleeping kids will soon silently surrender to organized chaos, breakneck breakfasts, sanitized hands, and scheduled playtimes and appointments.
Fall’s structured pick-ups and drop-offs trigger a new urgency for imaginative exploration and messiness. This is the ultimate challenge—finding time for your smallish people to examine life’s perplexing puzzles while enveloped by the grind of everyday. If you live nearby me, groups like Pottery on Hudson, Art Academy of Westchester, and Jacob Burns Center are certain to get creative juices flowing. And few things make me happier than discovering a new program like that of Robin Dellabough’s Rock, Paper, Scissors. Artistic ventures and active outdoor exploration merge in this hands-on Irvington cairn-building, finger-knitting, labyrinth-designing, wool-felting young-ish kids program.
Consider putting a handful of these events on your calendar:
- Philipsburg Manor’s Green Corn Festival (September 1st to 3rd)
- Monet’s Garden at New York Botanical Garden (until October 21st)
- Hudson River Museum’s Free Friday Night (September 7th)
- Bronx River Parkway Bicycle Sundays
- Greenburg Nature Center Harvest Party (September 9th)
- International Coastal Cleanup Day (September 15th)
- Lenoir Preserve Early-Morning Migratory Bird Walk (September 15th)
- Marshlands Conservatory Meadow Exploration (September 16th)
- Croton Point Nature Center Hawk Day (September 29th)
I know this much is true: This small sliver of time when our kids are our kids—when we hold sticky popsicle hands while crossing Main Street or Beekman or Broadway, when we valiantly help save caterpillars from small puddles, make secret codes and cram pockets with special sparkly rocks—it is fleeting. So, drink up the last delicious drops of summer, and unwrap the small, secret gift of everyday.
The air has a sudden new crispness here in New York, and if you’ve lately found yourself reflecting on carefree warm summer days, instinctively planting iris and crocus bulbs, and spontaneously considering dramatic Halloween costume options, you know it’s that time of year. Fall. That tiny respite between hot-tempered seasons. A fresh start, an ending, a new beginning. An energizing breath of fresh air.
If there is anything as magnificent as fall in New York, well, I don’t believe you—fiery foliage, Cornflower blue sky, cool and crisp nights. And suddenly, the minute that earthy, smoky autumn scent fills your lungs, you know it’s time. Harvest time. Time to make serious apple-picking plans.
If your family is at all like ours, you each have our own personal harvesting goal in mind with a specific plan to meet this goal. Be it a handful of ready-to-eat Macouns, an armful of Jonathans and Pippins for a homemade apple pie, or a bushel of Cortlands and Winesaps for applesauce canning, you need not travel far to meet your needs. As well, to solidify your apple-picking enthusiasm, many orchards feature added incentives—horse-drawn wagon ride, corn maze, farm stand, live afternoon music, farm animals, or freshly pressed cider. My personal favorite: warm cider donuts—faintly spiced, lightly apple-scented, and perfectly crisped at the edges. Mmmm.
There are several orchards within a few miles of us, though our family’s favorite crowd-free destinations are about an hour away in Orange County’s Warwick. No matter where the apple excursion takes you, be sure to call each orchard for specifics, as ripening dates vary depending on the weather.
Alternatively, lease your own apple tree for the entire season. Little Dog Orchard in Ulster County offers the opportunity to lease an Empire or Red Delicious tree for $65 and take home the bounty of an entire apple tree during peak season—100 to 200 pounds of naturally grown apples!
Or, better yet, plant an heirloom apple tree in your community garden or at your school. The Newtown Pippin, originally discovered in Queens, NY, is the most famous colonial American apple—legendary, tasty, and overdue for a comeback. Currently, there is an official campaign to revive the Pippin—for this cultivar to become New York City’s official apple.
U-Pick Orchards Just a Few Minutes Away:
• Dr. Davies, Congers
• Orchards of Concklin, Pomona
• Wilkens Fruit and Fir Farm, Yorktown Heights
• Stuart’s Fruit Farm, Granite Springs
• Harvest Moon Farm (formerly Outhouse Orchards), North Salem
Slightly Farther Away, But Worth the Trip:
• Maskers Orchards, Warwick
• Applewood Orchards and Winery, Warwick
• Apple Ridge Orchards, Warwick
• Warwick Valley Winery and Distillery, Warwick
• Ochs Orchard, Warwick
• Pennings Farm Market, Warwick
• Overlook Farm, Newburgh
• Lawrence Farms Orchards, Newburgh
• Slate Hill Orchard, Slate Hill
• Sleepy Hills Orchard, Johnson
• Soons Orchards, New Hampton
Even Farther Away, But Fantastic:
• Fishkill Farms, Hopewell Junction
• Cedar Heights Orchard, Rhinebeck
• Fraleigh’s Rose Hill Farm, Red Hook
• Greig Farm, Red Hook
• Barton Orchards, Poughquag
• Mead Orchards, Tivoli
• Meadowbrook Farm Market, Wappingers Falls
• Terhune Orchards, Salt Point
• Mr. Apples Low Spray Orchard, High Falls
• Jenkins Lueken Orchards, New Paltz
• Weed Orchards, Marlboro
• Hurd’s Family Farm, Modena
It’s important for every family to spend quality time together in the woods. Admittedly, planning for a weekend camping trip (or sometimes even a short hike) can be overwhelming. As mentioned before, the key to camping success is to 1) talk it up with the family beforehand (Hey! Maybe we’ll see a yellow-bellied sapsucker!), 2) share the pure camping joy with another valiant venturesome family or two, and 3) bring good bug stuff.
For those of you living in or visiting New York’s Hudson Valley, I’ve put together a small list of spots that should be checked out. Although my family and I typically spend sleepless nights camping in the Catskills and Adirondacks, there are several areas within minutes of us that are perfect for day hiking and overnights.
Recommended Local Day Hikes
- Peter Oley Trailways, Irvington (hundreds of acres, on reservoir)
- Lenoir Preserve, Yonkers (40 acres, next to Croton Aqueduct)
- Rockefeller State Park, Sleepy Hollow (1,233 acres, on Swan Lake)
- Rockwood Hall, Sleepy Hollow (88 acres, on Hudson River)
- Cranberry Lake Preserve, White Plains (165 acres on Cranberry Lake)
- Croton Point Park, Croton (500 acres on Hudson River)
- Teatown Lake Reservation, Yorktown (875 acres, with nature center)
- Merestead, Mount Kisco (130 acres with Copland House)
- Sylvan Glen Preserve, Yorktown (180 acres with granite quarry)
- George’s Island Park, Monroe (208 waterfront acres, great birding)
- Marshlands Conservancy, Rye (173 acres with salt marsh, great birding)
- Butler Memorial, Mount Kisco (363 acres, watch fall hawk migration)
- Hunter Brook, Yorktown (45 acres along stream)
- Mianus River Gorge Preserve, Bedford (750 acres, old-growth forest)
- Hudson Highlands State Park, Cortlandt (7,400 acres, Hudson views)
Local Camp Sites:
- Harriman State Park, Rockland/Orange counties—25 miles away
46,000 acres with 32 lakes and ponds and 200 miles of trails, borders Bear Mountain, Sterling Forest and Storm King, fantastic fall foliage, highly recommended
- Ward Pound Ridge, Pound Ridge/Lewisboro, 30 miles away
4,315 acres, 35 miles of trails, Westchester’s largest park, open meadows, streams, woodlands, fishing, wildflower garden, nature museum, stone lean-to sites, open tent sites
- Fahnstock State Park, Putnam/Dutchess counties, 30 miles away
- Mountain Lakes Park, North Salem, 30 miles awa
- And a backyard—perhaps just footsteps away—makes a fantastic camping spot.