Travel: Camping, Outdoorsy Stuff in Roscoe and Livingston Manor, NY (Catskills)

About halfway between the NYC metropolitan area and the upstate New York Colleges is the Roscoe Diner. Now, it’s nothing fancy. You’re safe going for the diner usuals, like the grilled cheese deluxe, pancakes, a burger, but eat at your own risk on the rest of the menu. Still, this joint has always been a ritual pitstop on the way to college with fresh linen and clean notebooks, and on the way back with a killer handover. The Roscoe diner knows its place in the world and is profusely decorated with college pennants from all over the country.

I did my share of hangover pancakes there in the 80s, as my folks drove me back from SUNY Binghamton. Over the years, we’ve camped in the area. So, I can say with confidence that I’ve been visiting Roscoe, NY for thirty years.

It has changed.

Prohibition Distillery, Roscoe, NY

That whole area is infested with Brooklyn and Upper West Side New York people now. In addition to the Roscoe diner, there have a restaurant where you can get brick oven pizza with a ramp pesto. There’s an artisanal gin company. Over priced farmers markets. Ironic furniture stores. The gays moved in and gentrified the place.

Now, I have mixed feelings about all this, because, truth be told, the ramp pizza was excellent. We got loaded at the distillery and bought some excellent gin. But it’s a little annoying to see people on vacation, who probably (let’s just admit it) look a lot like us. Sigh.

And the locals clearly have mixed feelings about the rich folks moving in. On the one hand, they like to sell them overpriced produce and sandwiches. On the other, the new people jacked up property values and have all the wrong bumper stickers.

The locals are Trump voters. Massive banners on the side of barns announce, “Farmers For Trump!” They like their guns up there, too, so they view the gun haters/tourists with major distrust.

Tense politics and questionable fellow vacationers aside, this area of the Catskills is gorgeous. There are a ton of opportunities for hiking, camping, fishing, and canoeing. It’s hard to take a bad photograph there. We had a marvelous time and will probably head back up there in a couple week for an Octoberfest.

Here are the links to things to do:

  • Camping at Russell Brook. Tents and Cabins. Privately owned. Has a game room for kids and hosts events like Bingo on the weekend for regulars in the trailers and the tent people. A general store where you can buy things that you forgot for double the price.
  • Al’s Sports store Fishing licenses, canoe and kayak rentals, organized trips. We canoed down the East Branch Delaware. 3 to 4 hour trip. Al’s wife followed Steve’s car down to Roscoe and then brought him back up to the sports store, so we canoed to our car. Left the canoes down there.
  • Prohibition Distillery in Roscoe. Super nice vodka and gin.
  • Roscoe Beer Company in Roscoe.
  • Kaatskeller, Livingston Manor. Outdoor beer garden and fancy pizza place. Can hang out for long time and use their wifi.
  • Main Street Farm. This place has been around for a while. Nice earthy, crunchy place. Sandwiches and soups.
  • Brandenburg Bakery, Inc. Seriously must go there. We had the donuts and two or three kinds of bread. Got some loaves on the way out of town for home.
  • The Red Rose Motel. I think it’s a boutique hotel right now. We didn’t see the rooms. We went to the tavern. Nice burgers and beer in hipster joint. Played chess and used the wifi for hours.
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Travel: Camping In Tents

I love sleeping outside in a tent. Weird, right?

It’s probably because of all my years in the Girl Scouts. Steve was also a Scout. Unlike me, Steve earned all the badges to become an Eagle Scout. I was a slacker scout, who went on all the trips way into my high school years, but never earned a single badge. I couldn’t be bothered to read the manual. Still, that experience was formative enough to hook me on the outdoors.

I like the mobility of life in a tent; you can find a campsite anywhere. I’ve camped in a New Mexico desert and on an island in Maine. It’s super affordable. There’s nothing like sleeping in the fresh air and drinking wine around a roaring fire in the evening.

We took the boys camping last weekend. We haven’t gone as often as we have liked with them in the past, because Ian had trouble functioning in a world without Internet access, when he was younger. (He’s fine now, so we’re going more often.) Even with those obstacles, we were able to go once a year and accumulate all the right equipment piled on a shelving unit dedicated for camping in the basement.

The fall is actually a perfect time to camp, because the temperature in the Northeast is not too hot and muggy. The leaves are turning, so the views are magnificent. We’re going to go again in the next few weeks to take advantage of the local Octoberfests. And camping gear is all on sale.

In the next post, I’ll share all the links to places we went, in case local readers want the details. In this post, I’ll just give some tips about how to do it:

  • Get a good tent. If it rains, you do NOT want to sleeping in a puddle. Good brands are Kelty, Marmot, or Big Agnes. Make sure the system has a ground cloth and a tarp. Tents can be found at REI, Campmor, and Amazon.
  • With a family with teenagers, everybody should get their own tent. And always go a size up for comfort; a two person tent is really a one person tent.
  • Bring your own pillow. Camping pillows suck.
  • Good sleeping bags are a must
  • I love our air mattresses. I couldn’t sleep outside without one anymore.
  • We only cook breakfast at the camp site. We’ve got a propane stove for that. A coffee press is essential. Need a cooler and ice for eggs, milk, and the white wine.
  • On the way into the campsite, get some wood at the local supermarket. (Don’t forget the fire starter and fire gun like we did this year.) It’s also good to have the day’s newspaper in the car. You read it, then crumple up the op-ed pages for tinder.
  • You have to go for two nights minimum to make it worth the effort of setting up a site.
  • We’re medium level campers. We’re not eating freeze dried lasagnas or carrying all our gear on our back. Nor are we “glamping”. That middle level means that we go to campsites where you can park your car at the site. These sites are also near civilization where a person can find a decent burger and beer in the evening.
  • Most camping sites come with their own picnic table, so if your trunk is short on room, then you can skip folding chairs. But if have room, a comfy chair is nice.
  • With the four of us and all our stuff, we usually do need the car roof top cargo holder. We’ve got the canvas one, which means that we have to wrap everything in plastic garbage bags. When it dies, we’ll replace it with the hardtop version.
  • Lanterns are needed, of course.
  • Put your food in the car over night, so you don’t get a visit from bears who can smell your s’mores a mile away.
  • And here’s my favorite camping/hiking memoir:

Prepping The College Kid For College (and Life)

The kids are on the way out. Jonah goes back to college on Saturday. Ian is lingering until next Thursday. Sigh.

Getting boys ready for school isn’t very tough. My kids got new sneakers, a new backpack, new binders, and, boom, we’re done. They honestly don’t give a crap about how old their t-shirts are. I think Jonah knows that his charm is in eyes, not his clothes, so he’s cool with Old Navy’s best.

But there’s more to preparing a kid for college, than just handing over the credit card for textbooks and the dining hall pass. There’s also preparing them to be good students.

As a dual-PhD family, we assumed that Jonah would know what he was doing once he got to campus. I guess we thought the knowledge about college would pass to him by osmosis or something. Sadly, that didn’t happen, and his first semester included some painful learning bumps.

But college is nothing like high school. There are strange offices — what’s a bursor’s office? — and jargon. There are dozens of majors with confusing names. In some schools, like Jonah’s, it’s possible to major in public policy in three different departments. There’s more reading than lectures and few deadlines. Tracking down elusive professors to ask questions takes patience and cunning.

After we figured out that Jonah needed direction, Steve and I swooped in to help. (Yes, my kid is ridiculously privileged.) We created a lecture about how to be a successful college student and still repeat our key points from time to time.

One lesson was about the importance of talking with your professor. Showing up at office hours and having the professor get to know the student is worth half a grade.

Tom Ferriss, in one of his self-help books, said that he would show up to every office hour in college and fight over every point on his exam, so that the professor would avoid pain the next time and give him a better grade. I don’t want Jonah to do that, but establishing a relationship with a professor does make it harder for them to give you a bad grade.

We’ve also been talking lately about the benefits of clubs. See, Jonah thought that students belonged to clubs to pursue hobbies and interests that they found genuinely fun and recreational. He thought a good club should be something like a frat, that would boost one’s popularity. Well, maybe, but mostly the purpose of a club is to put another line on your resume that signals to future employers that you’re a serious person. He had no clue. So, he’s signing up for clubs this semester.

In this week before school starts, I’ve been sending him to various workplaces of friends and relatives to sample work environments. Yesterday, he was at an engineering firm and an architecture firm. Today, he’s on Wall Street with Steve.

We made his first resume. I made his summer busboy jobs look like a NASA engineer. It was fun. Then we sent to him to these jobs in chinos and a button down Oxford shirt. We talked about how every company has a wide range of jobs. You don’t need to be an architect to work at an architecture company. So, he should shop around for the type of environment that he liked working in and for a company that revolves around a passion of his.

Last month, I met a woman who crunched numbers for the Bronx Botanical Garden. She wasn’t in love with the spreadsheets, but she loved working in such a beautiful place, so she was a happy person. I told Jonah her story and few others.

Jonah’s leaving us on Saturday about ten pounds heavily than he was back in May, when he staggered home after finals pale and skinny. He’s a lot smarter about many things. I’m sure he’s ready to have a couple of days to hang out with his friends before school starts on Tuesday. I’m putting off the sadness of losing him again with mini life-lessons. I think that’s what I do.

Parenting Right: It’s Hard to Find Time to Make Dinners, Take Hikes, and Be With Grandparents, But It’s Worth It

For a long time, I’ve complained about the toxic environment that our kids inhabit today. On Sunday, Kim Brooks in the Times wrote that schools need to change — longer lunches, recesses, less emphasis on tests — to make kids’ lives better.

But we need more than some simple fixes in the school day. WE need to change. Schools are democratic institutions; they reflect the will of the community. And the community wants their kids in the best college possible. So, that means squeezing in more desk time and padding the resume with lunch-time bogus clubs. In order for schools to change, we need to change. And even if schools change, that’s not enough.

I hesitate to talk about how Steve and I have parented our kids, because I don’t want to parent-shame anyone. And we’re not perfect. I love my cellphone way too much. So, let me talk about what we’ve tried to do, not always perfectly.

We have family dinners about five or six times per week. I cook a meal, we sit at a common table at the same time, we eat it, and we talk a bit.

It sounds really simple, but not many families can do that anymore. I haven’t considered job openings in NYC, because there’s no way that my family would have food on the table if both Steve and I walked in the door at 7:00.

Even cooking at a beach house.

Aside from the benefits for mental health, with 2 teenage boys, we would very quickly be broke if I didn’t cook dinner regularly. They seriously eat VAST quantities of food. Last night, I made a chicken stew with about 4 pounds of chicken, 12 carrots, 3 onions, 3 celery stalks, wine and chicken broth, herbs from the garden, 5 potatoes, loaf of bread. It cost about $20. If we step into a restaurant, even McDonald’s, it’s a $60 minimum. I hope to squeeze it into a second meal by putting the leftovers on rice tonight.

Dinner time is a good time to debrief everyone at the same time about their days. It’s a time when we can catch problems or put a bandaid on a mental boo-boo. It’s a transition time for Steve, who is still sometimes in work-mode when he walks in the door. But even with pressure cookers, it’s very hard for families to do what I do every day. That chicken stew meal took about 2-1/2 hours to prep and cook; very few people have that time today.

We do a family activity together every weekend. Sometimes we go on bike trips or hikes. Sometimes we visit extended family. We go to museums a lot. None of it costs a lot of money, but it’s hard to have the time to do those things if the kids are in lots of high pressure sporting activities and are working on school projects. Or if the parents are catching up on household chores on the weekend.

Weekend hikes are fun!

We live near extended family. Again, this was a sacrifice. I didn’t put myself on the national market for an academic job, because I wanted to live near family. It’s good for the kids. And it’s good for me. My mom is driving Ian to band camp today, so I can get in a full day in front of the computer.

Always celebrating something.

I think we all know that these things (and more) are important for kids, but it’s hard to proscribe cures that are unworkable for most families. People need (and want) to work long hours. It’s also very hard to run in a different direction from other people in your community; if their kids are in all weekend sports programs, then your kid is going to want that, too.

In some ways, we’ve benefited from having a special needs kid and have always been on the outside of suburban life. Still, I think even with the limited time, families could step off the fast lane a little more. It’s actually super fun.

Sleepy Summer

Here on the east coast, summer is still in swing. We’re at the point, where we can see and smell Labor Day — that end post for fun — but we’re trying to squeeze out a couple more weeks of relaxation and ignore the guilt about work.

Vespa in Washington Heights Mews

Summers used to stress me out enormously, when I tried to work while juggling an insane camp commute for Ian. There aren’t many camps for kids with high functioning autism, and when I found a good one, it was inevitably very far away. But now, I’ve rethought my summer work schedule. I’m working on personal essays, rather than reported articles. And Ian’s found his place at computer camp, so there’s less driving and less stress.

But I have tons of sympathy for parents who don’t have my flexible work life. Schools should be 12 months long.

Suprema Restaurant in West Village, NYC

Jonah just finished off his second summer class. (Taking summer classes is a growing trend among college students.) It was a super hard science class, so he studied about six days per week and commuted back and forth to his state college. He came home yesterday afternoon with a two-week beard. He’s going to sleep until noon.

I had Ian in some camp or another all summer — some boring (but free) stuff at the high school, 3 weeks of expensive (all day!) computer camp, and a half day class at the community college. The last two weeks of August are full day marching band camp. He likes being super busy, so I even squeezed in some tutoring hours around all that.

People watching the people watchers in Wash Square Park, NYC.

But this week is free. He played Minecraft, and we walked around the neighborhood capturing Pokemon. I took him and a couple of boys to the video game arcade. Then this afternoon, we’ll grab the bus into New York City to go to the museum and meet Steve for dinner. Hopefully, Jonah will wake up and join us.

At this point in the summer, we’re always like “holy crap, the summer is almost over, and we haven’t sucked out all the fun out of life yet. Better get to it!” So, we’re squeezing in a camping trip in upstate New York next weekend. We’ll have to build a fire in the backyard sometime. And get another day at the beach. And eat a hot dog in Central Park.

Beer and Deep Fried Oreos at Jenkinson’s Boardway, Point Pleasant, NJ.

I do have a couple of deadlines at the end of the month — easy ones, but still deadlines. And there’s the perennial guilt that I should be doing more. But I’m ignoring all that today. Off to appreciate life.

The Wisdom of Teeth

Ian at the Tate. Photo Credit: Jonah

On Monday, Ian sat in a reclining chair in the Oral Surgeon’s office and stared at a five foot x-ray of his teeth. Dr. Song, the jolliest oral surgeon in three counties, pointed to Ian’s wisdom teeth under the gum line, which in their infinite wisdom, were pointing sideways, instead of up and down like any self respecting tooth should do.

“Those teeth have to come out now. Like today. Like right now. Like I would do it this minute if I could,” said the jolly doctor.

So, when we got a call on Tuesday afternoon from the office saying that Dr. Song had a sudden opening in his schedule at 11:30 the next day, Steve and I went into emergency mode. We cleared work schedules. A teenage computer programming class at the community college came to abrupt end. We filled out massive amounts of insurance paperwork.

And then the worry kicked in. How was Ian going to handle sharp needles and pain? Was he going to sit in the chair and be appropriate? Or would the Flight or Fight instinct kick in? And then who knows what could happen. He processes fear and pain differently than other kids, so there was a huge random factor surrounding this operation.

That morning, I distracted myself with a trip to the supermarket for supplies – pudding, jello, a chicken to make some homemade broth. We sent Ian to his computer class for an hour. And then we drove the old Subaru to the doctor’s office.

Ian panicked for a moment when he got a look at the IV needle, but he stayed still, so the doctor got it in his arm. And then Ian’s lights went out. His eyes fluttered down.

Watching your kid go under anesthesia for a routine operation, like wisdom teeth or tonsils, is so unexpectingly upsetting. We haven’t had to do it often, thank God. Watching your kid slowly lose consciousness makes one think of death. It’s a blow to the stomach.

I said, “Oh, I’m going to cry.”

“Don’t do that! I’m a social crier. I’ll cry, too, and won’t be able to do the operation!” said Dr. Song. And the staff kicked us out of the room.

In about 30 minutes, they came to the waiting room and told us it was done. Steve and I dropped our books and ran in. Ian was dazed and stuffed with cotton.

The nurse started giving us directions for caring for him for the next few days. She must give this drill about ten times a day, so she droned through the rules.

“No straws. No toothbrushes. Put gauze on the cut for 24 hours. Don’t eat crunchy or chunky foods for a few days. Just smooth stuff like Jello and pancakes and scrambled eggs —

Ian piped in “and hot dogs and sauerkraut….”

“No you can’t do that!”

“… and sushi and sashimi… “

“Listen, I have to give the rest of the directions!”

“…and pizza and burgers…”

I couldn’t stop laughing. Steve gave me a dirty look, because the nurse was giving us some very important about medications and dosages, but I couldn’t stop listening to my boy. Then on the way home, he was asking trippy questions, like “Mom, why do you have three eyes?” “Are operations time machines? How come it’s 12:30 now?” “What’s that rubber thing in my mouth?” [It was his bottom lip.]

And we’re so very grateful that our boy not only made it through an operation smoothly and is free from sideways wisdom teeth, but that he’s making me laugh and beam with pride every day.

Flying With Autism

Midway through American Airlines Flight 101 from Heathrow to JFK, shortly after our microwaved meatball dinners were tossed out like frisbees, the flight attendant asked my son Ian if he wanted another beverage. He intently played his Tetris game on the backseat video console without replying or glancing her way.

Missing most of that exchange, I looked over in time to hear the flight attendant loudly exclaim, “Well, how RUDE is that?” She glared at me.

I recited the textbook response I give whenever Ian does something that inadvertently annoys strangers: “My son has autism, so we try to be understanding.”

More here.