Fall Camping 2021!

We usually go cabin camping in September because I love fall in the woods! But this year, we instead went tent camping in October! Okay, it was the first week of October, but nonetheless still October.

Ziggy discovers the simple joys of barking at cows at dawn!

I can already tell this post is going to be photo-heavy! It was so beautiful at the farm we stayed at in upstate New York. And the best thing was that we were the only campers there. It was a private campsite! Just us, a canvas tent (provided by the farm) and an outhouse everyone except me was scared to use. The photo above shows the cow field that bordered one side of the field we were in. Twice a day, someone came to feed the cows. But other than that, we didn’t need to see anyone if we didn’t want to.

Opposite the cow field was a river!

However, we did end up seeing others, since the farm was having a fall festival. And if there’s one thing I cannot pass up, it’s a fall festival. We walked about a half mile down a dirt road to the main farm area, where we got to do all the activities for free, since we were staying on the farm. There was a climbing wall, hay maze, giant slide, hay rides, and various games. The kids enjoyed it greatly!

My kids were impressed at both my ability to make fire and to turn it green!

Other than the festival, we spent most of the weekend just hanging around our campsite. My main complaint about camping has always been how loud it is and how many people are crowded around. Not this time! It was so wonderful to wake up with the sunrise and the quiet of the river and birdsong (and cows mooing!). My kids played very nicely with each other and my spouse and I had plenty of time to read and enjoy the beautiful fall weather!

Alone at sunrise–it was so beautiful!

This trip definitely made me want to tent camp again, but unfortunately it’s getting a bit too cold for me, and we’ll probably wait until next spring.

Almost Minimizing Month!

I’ve been playing the Minimizing Game for a few years now, but this fall I may have made it extra hard on myself. Want to know a secret? Usually I don’t do any deep cleaning or purging in the month of August, just to give myself a jump on September. But this summer I was extra antsy about all the stuff around me! I found myself tossing things left and right without a care in the world!

Oh strange bird on my camera roll, where have we met?

I’m sure that will make it a tiny bit harder, but I actually do have a few larger-scale cleaning projects in mind. But then next month is also back to school, and now I have two kids in two schools instead of two kids in one school. Can I tell you how stressed I am about that? Anyway, we’ll see if I once again am able to “win” this Minimizing Game!

Summer Vacation: The Poconos

My family recently spent a week in the Poconos! This was my third time there. I also went once when I was 18, once just before or after I got married (so 15 to 17 years ago). The day we left for vacation, my younger son woke up saying his ear felt “wet.” I looked in it, and saw the expected and dreaded pus. Off to the doctor we went, who confirmed it was an ear infection, and told us he was fine to go on vacation, but no going in the water. Since most of what we planned involved water, we were disappointed, but tried not to let him see that. So only a few hours later and we were off!

Bushkill Falls–so pretty!

We were staying in a very nice AirBnB that had a creek on the property and allowed dogs. We had arrived so late, we went right out to dinner at an outdoor restaurant, since we didn’t want to leave Ziggy alone at an unfamiliar location. Then, we went to buy a few breakfast things at the grocery store and headed back to the cottage. Everything was fine until 3am, when the kids came into our room saying that our son’s ear hurt so much he couldn’t sleep.

I had a bad feeling then, but we gave him some pain reliever and hoped for the best. In the morning, we decided to do a thing that did involve water, but not going into it: hiking Bushkill Falls! I’ve been to this hiking spot (really, a tourist spot) every time I’ve been to the Poconos. We had a nice hike and then everything fell to pieces. My son wanted to go home, badly. You know when you’re sick and not in your own bed? It sucks. He asked to go to grandma’s house, which was much closer than our home.

A younger me at the falls!

With many tears (I tried not to cry but it was impossible), I said goodbye as my husband drove him to his grandma’s house. Skipping ahead, I want to note that we video chatted every day (although 90% of the video chats were just him asking to see the dog), and he is much better now and we have a follow-up with his ENT scheduled. It was the right decision, as my older son and I probably spent about two hours a day in the pool.

Same spot, years later, with three of my favorite Earthlings!

Other things we did included a two-hour canoe trip, waterslides, go-karts, mountain tubing, mini-golf, zip-lining, and lots of relaxing and not having to cook or clean up after ourselves. I really wanted to hike more, but it just didn’t happen. This was mostly due to the one other bad thing that happened: my older son got bitten by a wolf spider. There were many, many spiders in the area for some reason, and because I am the only one not afraid of spiders, I had to go in and remove a bunch from the cottage. When my son got bitten, he was down by the creek and throwing sticks, and the spider was on one of them. I’ve also been bitten by a wolf spider, and I know it really hurts. But we gave him a pain reliever and it was mostly gone (the fang marks were still there) the next day.

My son on the terrifying zipline!

Anyway, that was the trip! Mostly good but I will definitely have to make it up to my younger son in some way!

Spring Camping (sort of) Trip!

I love writing about my vacations with family, as it helps me to remember and appreciate them more, and some day I imagine I’ll be able to look over past blog posts with fondness. That is why I hesitate to write this one.

Having spent a portion of my life living alone in a rural area, I am not easily freaked out by animals or whatnot that one might find in the woods. I have come very close (too close!) to bears while hiking, almost stepped on more than one rattlesnake, had a litter (I know it’s not a litter–what is it?) of garter snakes hatch in my linen closet, had a tarantula appear SOMEHOW in my closet on a day I moved into a different apartment (I tried to trap it for a year, but only saw it again the day I moved out). I’ve been bit by a Northern Widow spider (fortunately a baby) and a Wolf Spider while camping. None of those things bothered me that much.

But there is one thing that very much bothers me and that thing is ticks!!!! Despite many hours of hiking, and a lot of that going off trails, I have seen maybe a dozen ticks in my life. I wish I could go back to those days! But let me tell the story from the beginning.

Ziggy perhaps sensing she is not alone in her skin.

My family of five (two parents, two kids, and a dog) left the relative tick-less safety of New York City on a Thursday. After stopping to see the kids’ grandma for lunch, we got upstate (near Kingston, NY) by late afternoon. Almost immediately, I was reunited with my very good friend who I haven’t seen in almost a year and a half. We got everyone situated and left to go grocery shopping. After a joyful but quiet night, we all went to sleep.

The next day, I was my birthday! I wanted to celebrate with a morning hike, lunch at a restaurant, mini golf and go-karts, shopping, and then dinner at another restaurant. Basically, I wanted not to cook or clean up! Well, we went on the hike on the trails near where we were staying. The trails were marked but a bit overgrown. I didn’t think anything of it, because the dog is on flea and tick preventative and we all sprayed ourselves.

“Kids, go stand by that Murder Shed!”

The hike was underwhelming until we got back and saw we each had varying numbers of ticks and the dog probably had 35 or so. UGGGHHHHH. After tick picking and showering, we had lunch in town, which was nice. After lunch we decided to go back to the campsite and take stock but ended up falling asleep somehow. When we all woke, we realize there were more ticks on the dog and ourselves, and even just on the ground where the dog was going to the potty. So we left. We sealed everything in plastic bags and went to Target for new pjs and a new dog bed (the old one was discovered to be full of ticks). Then we went to eat because it was somehow after 9pm and most restaurants were closing.

My friend offered for the five of us to sleep in his apartment, and it was very much appreciated. We all showered again and gave the dog a bath in flea and tick shampoo. Then we went to sleep. The next day, somehow, more ticks were found, albeit not on Ziggy. I think the preventative was killing any that landed on her. We made breakfast and spent the day walking around Woodstock, which was fun. The flea market and most of the stores and restaurants are very dog-friendly. But that night, we found more ticks, which made me think we picked them up either in Woodstock, or in the yard where I took Ziggy to go potty.

Found in a shop in Woodstock. Highly recommended!

The next day, we left, but obviously brought some ticks with us. I picked one out of my younger son’s hair on Tuesday afternoon. I don’t even know what to say. I’m still horrified. I washed everything ten times and sent the dog to the groomers (they found nothing on her). We are supposed to go camping two more times this summer (different areas), and I don’t want a repeat!

Day in the Life of a WFH Mom

When I wrote this last post, my kids were still attending online school, and I had to help the younger one a lot. Now, they are back at school full-time! Full time school is Monday through Friday, 8:30am to 2:00pm. Back in 2019, when I was commuting most days of the month, there was after-school programs that lasted until 5:00pm. But now, there is still no after-school available. I am fine with that for now. I’m just so glad they are having the opportunity to learn with their peers in person. And both kids (even the younger one who used to hate school) are really happy about learning in person!

Anyway, here’s the schedule:

6:30am: I wake up and quickly get dressed and feed my dog Ziggy. I’ve bought an automatic feeder for my cat and it’s changed my life. For awhile the cat would wake at 5am and yowl for food, waking the dog, who would then lick my face until I got up. It’s sad that I now think of 6:30am as sleeping in.

6:45am: I take Ziggy out for potty. Now that it’s spring (almost summer), I am trying to get my almost potty trained dog to the point where she doesn’t go in the yard anymore. This is extremely taxing since I’m the only walker of the dog.

7:00am: I wake up the kids, get them dressed and ready, and feed them breakfast. I also pack their lunches.

8:00am: We are out the door, walking the half mile to school with the dog.

Happy to be back to school in late April!

8:40am: I am back at home with the dog. I eat breakfast and drink coffee while reading a book.

9:00am: I have finished coffee and switch to tea, which I bring into my office, as it’s time to start working.

12:00pm: I take the dog around the block for a potty break, and grab lunch from the kitchen and bring it to my office to eat while working.

1:40pm: School is out soon, so I take the dog with me to pick up the kids. They play in the schoolyard for about 20 minutes before we start walking home. This is my official lunch break.

2:35pm: At home, I fix a snack for the kids (usually cheese or hummus and crackers, fruit and carrots, or pizza rolls).

2:40pm: Back to work. The kids have “free time,” which means usually TV or video games. On Mondays, the older has piano. On Tuesdays, their uncle takes them to the park. On Wednesdays, a babysitter takes them to the park or plays board games. On Thursdays and Fridays, sometimes one of us parents will be free to do something.

5:00pm: Off work! I usually go around checking in on the kids and then take the dog for a walk. Sometimes we’ll all go to the park briefly if the kids didn’t go earlier.

6:00pm: I feed the dog and cat and make dinner. Then we immediately clean up: do the dishes, clear off the table, clean the counters, go through the kids’ backpacks and clean out their lunchboxes and water bottles. We try to have the kids do most of this. I also check homework and help do it if necessary, but both kids seem to do their homework in school.

7:00pm: My new favorite time of day. The kids are allowed to play video games and the dog has already had three long walks, so I sit in my west-facing window and read a book. Usually, tea is also involved.

8:30pm: The kids are done with their game time. We watch one show together.

9:00pm: We head upstairs. I’ve started putting them to bed a little earlier than when they were in online school since now they actually have to be up and dressed before 8am. The kids take showers. I read to the youngest for awhile, and then the oldest gets an audiobook. I usually shower while this is happening.

How does a 23-pound dog take up most of my bed?

10:30pm: One last potty time for the dog, and then we head to bed.

For now, I am loving this schedule, which allows us to have plenty of time together, as well as plenty of independent time. I’ve also never had better work-life balance. Soon, however, summer vacation will be upon us and all will change again!

Day in the Life of WFH and Homeschooling Mom

Since March 13, 2020, I have been a full-time working from home mom who also sort of homeschools two kids. I say sort of because since the end of March last year, the NYC DOE has been having Zoom/Google classroom schooling. But back then, I had to do everything for both of them, including keep two very separate schedules. And also do my own job. And also feed everyone.

Slowly, everything has been shifting. Since the fall, my older son has been able to handle all of his assignments without my help. This morning, my younger son showed me that he finally learned to take attendance by himself.

But these homeschooling days may soon be over. Next week, my kids are supposed to go back to school five days a week, from 8am to 2pm. I am very glad my older son, who is graduating elementary school in June, will have the opportunity to see all of his classmates in person again before switching schools and maybe not seeing them again ever.

It’s a little bittersweet, because while this life has been challenging, I feel like I never would have gotten the opportunity to know my kids so well had we not been forced to be in each others presence for 24 hours a day for more than a year. Thinking about that give me the idea of writing down my typical daily schedule, before it changes again.

6:30am: I wake up and quickly run to let Ziggy (who’s 95% house trained) outside. I haven’t set an alarm in more than a year. This is just when I get up now. Then I feed my cat, Oz, while the dog is still outside. Once he’s eating, I let her in and get her breakfast. Then I make coffee.

7:00am: This is probably my favorite time of day. No one else is up yet. I typically drink my coffee while sitting in the bay window and reading a book. When I commuted, I loved reading on the train, and it was the one time dedicated to reading for pleasure. Since I don’t commute anymore, my reading time went way down in 2020. But now that I’ve found this perfect time to read, I’m a lot happier. Plus, unlike subway reading, I can do it in my pajamas with my feet up.

It’s hard to read when being squeaked at!

7:30-8:00am: The kids wake up and demand breakfast. I attempt to get them dressed as well.

8:00am: I take Ziggy out for a short walk while the kids eat and watch TV. Note that my spouse is still home–the kids are not alone.

8:30am: School starts for both kids. Sometimes, I have to do something with the younger but usually I take the opportunity to eat breakfast.

9:00am: Work starts officially for me. I get another drink (sometimes coffee or tea or just water) and head into my private office, which I am so happy to have.

9:20am: Morning class is over for my younger son. He comes to tell me this and then sits by me while reading a book.

9:45am: Book finished, son begs for “free time.” Usually I am working, so I have no choice but to allow the free time.

11:15am: Older son reports that his class is over. He either plays with Ziggy in the yard or reads or plays with his brother. I may walk the dog if she’s not playing. Otherwise, I start lunch prep. They kids eat lunch early because of class schedules.

12:10pm: Younger son’s second class starts. I usually take my lunch back to my office.

2:00pm: Officially school is over at this time, but there is still a lot to do depending on the day. My older son has piano class once a week, a school tutor once a week, and a private tutor twice a week. My younger son has both a school tutor and a private tutor twice a week. Once I get them settled, I’ll try to step away for a short walk with the dog. Then, back to work.

5:00pm: Work is over! I am fortunate to work for a place that allows me to take breaks as needed, but at the end of the day I am very happy to forget work and take a long walk with the dog. Sometimes, people will come with me, but I don’t mind either way.

6:00pm: Back home and dinner for the animals, and then I prepare dinner for the humans. We are usually done with dinner by 7.

7:00pm: If there is no homework to do and it’s nice, we all might go for another walk, especially if, for some reason, I’ve had to skip the earlier one. If not, we all might watch TV together or play a game. I have a low level of patience for TV, so I can only do this for about an hour before I switch to something else, like reading or artwork. The kids can play video games with their friends at this time, so they usually do this, either by zoom meeting or facetime. This has been their primary means of socialization for some time, and I’m glad they do get to talk to other kids apart from zoom school.

A walk at the local reservoir.

9:30pm: Bedtime for kids. They take showers, youngest first. When he’s done, we read a physical book while the older is showering. Then they both listen to an audio book while I shower and get ready for bed.

10:30pm: I let the dog out one last time and then retrieve my phone from the kids room and say goodnight (even though they are asleep). Our cat, Oz, sleeps with the boys. He takes turns which bed he sleeps in. Then I go to bed. Ziggy runs upstairs after her last potty break and passes out immediately on my bed, so I usually have to ask her to roll over. I may read or meditate, or just pass out immediately as well.

Exciting, no?!? Well, boring or not, I have been having a great time with more relaxing days at home with my kids than I ever thought possible. While I am looking forward to them being back in school, I know I will miss this time!

A Week of Kid Lunches

When my kids used to go to an actual in-person school, they ate school lunch every day and appeared to like it. Since they ate cereal bars on the walk to school most days, I only had to worry about feeding them dinner, and to be fair, this was more like five times a week because of take-out and actually eating out. Then, more than a year ago now, I suddenly started having to feed them every single meal at home.

My younger son in the PB&J days.

At first, last March, I made the same lunches for everyone, every day. That lunch was peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with raw veggies, fresh fruit, and a handful of chips. It soon because apparent that I’m the only one who actually enjoys that lunch (go figure! PB&Js are great!). One year later and I seem to have figured it out somewhat. I give my kids basically the same lunches every week, but in random order. Those lunches are mac and cheese, ramen, egg and cheese sandwiches, pizza rolls, and cheese and crackers and hummus. Lunches are still served with raw veggies (so glad they like raw veggies). And then they eat fruit and chips in the afternoon when zoom school is out at 2pm. Dinner is still a work in progress!

I will still happily eat PB&J but limit myself to once a week!

Other New (sort of) Stuff

This September, I made two decisions, one of them being a major, life-changing decision. My older son has been alive for over ten years, and he has been asking me for a dog for almost that long. I had always resisted. Even though I grew up with many dogs (hard to remember, but maybe six), I only had a good relationship with one of them. Of the others, four barely tolerated me, and two actively hated me. Years went by, and I started to develop allergies to various animals. I’d sneeze all the time, but if a dog licked me, I would break out in a painful rash in that spot. Hence my hesitation. Also, I didn’t want to get a dog to just spend only about four hours a day with it (already did that with my kids).

Four months old and teething!

Then I started working from home and was home all the time with my kids (you know why–I don’t have to say it, right?). And I thought if I were to get a hypoallergenic dog, I could manage. And then I mentioned it to the kids and could no longer back out. So in September, we added Ms Ziggy Stardust the Wheaten Terrier to our family. She was only three months and I realized I’ve never had a puppy before, and it was almost as overwhelming as having a newborn human for the first month or so.

After a recent haircut. She looks like she’s sad about the bow, but she really just wants a treat!

Now, she is seven months old and almost a doggie teenager (I think?). My kids hug her fifty seven times a day, and she gets so excited when I put on my shoes, and loves laying on top of me to take a nap. I cannot imagine my life without her. I can’t wait to take her to the beach and camping!

More colorful than ever!

Also, the day before I met Ziggy, I dyed my hair blue! I’ve always wanted to dye my hair an unnatural color, and it was very freeing and self-actualizing to do it. It was also fun to go, in 24 hours, from a redhead without a dog to a blue-haired person with a dog. I occasionally like to shock my brain in such a way. Don’t be complacent, brain! Most recently, I dyed the front part purple for some more color, and I really like it!

New Hobbies in 2020

Like many others, I decided to try my hand at some new hobbies in 2020. I was always under the impression that I had no time for hobbies, but this year seems to have altered my perception of time and now I have a ton more hobbies.

My drawing of a bird!

In the spring, I started gardening and bird watching. In the winter, I am obviously not doing much gardening, but I have plans for next spring. I also started drawing, after wanting to do it all my life but convincing myself I would be no good at it so why even try. Now, I draw very often, and it become very therapeutic for me. (And if you like my drawings, feel free to follow me on Instagram @donna_photo_phylactery) However, I haven’t drawn much in the last month, as I was inspired to finish the first draft of a book I started a long time ago! This is very exciting but I still have a good month of editing, so I won’t talk about it that much.

Actually a portrait of the protagonist of my upcoming book!

These new hobbies got me to thinking about other stuff I have always wanted to try but put off until “later.” One of those things was learning to play the piano. I have no good reason not to play the piano, as we actually own a piano, and my older son has been taking lessons for about three years. I didn’t want to spend any money on hobbies, since I will never become a concert pianist, so I just use a piano app and the old piano books my son has long since graduated from.

My kids walking on a trail.

Since all this was not enough, I decided to learn a language in a game-like setting. I have, in the distant past, taken four years of Spanish. I decided Spanish would be a good language to learn now, since I may remember a little, I live in NYC and a lot of people speak it, I very occasionally come across it at work, and maybe someday I’ll even get to travel to a Spanish-speaking country again. Uno puede soñar!

Fall Camping Trip!

My favorite season to go camping is fall, and we usually go every year. I personally don’t like the winter at all (although both my kids love snowboarding and cold weather–go figure!), so the fall is my last hurrah in the nice weather before spring.

We were thinking about not going this year, with the pandemic and also the confusion of flu season starting, but camping, with being around hardly anyone else, is pretty low-risk, so we decided to go.

Exploring the woods on the where we camped. The kids claim they saw a bear, but I saw nothing.

We only traveled about an hour and a half north of NYC, but the area we stayed was very sparsely populated. Now is where I admit I use the term “camping” loosely. We stayed in an airB&B. There was no one else around, and it was very peaceful.

Fresh from the tree!

I’ve always wanted to go apple picking, but this is the first year we managed to do it. It was as fun as you would imagine picking apples to be (which is only slightly fun to be honest).

Scary sign!

We also went hiking to this neat looking cave that had an opening on the top that let the sun in. There was apparently a waterfall in the back of the cave, but the water on the ground was too high at the time, so we couldn’t access it.

And that’s all for traveling until the spring, most likely! It was more than I thought I would be able to do this year!

Very awesome cave view!