Monday, April 29, 2019

A New York State of Mind

We left Cherry Hill RV Park in College Park, MD on a Saturday, and were thankful we were not on I-95 South—traffic was backed up the wazoo!  We headed to I-81 and hit lots of slow and go traffic and people changing lanes.  When I saw the sign, “Welcome to Pennsylvania” I immediately recognized the problem.  As any NJ or NY driver can attest, PA drivers are notorious for parking themselves in the left lane with the cruise set at or below the speed limit!

After overnighting at a rest stop in Kirkwood, NY, we were on our final leg of our destination for the next 3 weeks—a visit with Aunt Laurie in Central NY State.  

We avoided the NY Thruway and instead took Route 20, a scenic byway.  This lead us through more rural, pastoral lands and small, historic towns like Peterboro, established 1795 and once a stop on the Underground Railroad.  Although it offered great views, this route was a bit nerve racking this time of year, since it involved steep mountain roads with soft shoulders and remnants of snow.  And by the time we entered Madison County, the skies were producing snow flurries!

As you can well imagine, campgrounds are not open in these areas until after May 1, and that is if weather conditions cooperate. Thankfully, Aunt Laurie has a huge driveway, and Dad is a handy-dandy guy.  He connected us to her breaker box, attached a hose to her water spicket, and hooked up the macerator hose so we could dump our black tanks.  Yes, we were the upscale version of Cousin Eddie in Christmas Vacation!

So with weather conditions and campground availability as obstacles, why were we even here?  Well, I wanted to make Aunt Laurie’s milestone birthday celebration a special one.  What better gift could she get from this stuffed rat than being blessed with my charm, wit, and adorableness!  Especially since I celebrate my own “birthday” in April (April 15 was the date I was rescued from Kay-Bee Toy Store more than 3 decades ago). Dad came to exhibit his mechanical skills and perform home repairs for Aunt Laurie, and Mom came to de-clutter and organize Aunt Laurie’s entire home.  You see, Aunt Laurie LOVES stuff!  She is a regular purchaser from Home Shopping Network (HSN), from household gadgets to beauty lotions, to every imaginable product offered by Joy Magnano! Aunt Laurie also supports every community craft show fundraiser with purchases of cute, but mostly useless, stuff.  She is quite sentimental, too.  So, she saves everything:  from the movie stub for Billy Jack circa 1971, to a Broadway playbill from 1999, to a thank you note from a student in 2005.  She keeps the dried flowers from every bouquet ever received, outdated college textbooks, even the first electric bill she received for her house 25 years ago.  Needless to say, I am not the only kind of rat in our family.  Aunt Laurie is a pack rat and the complete opposite of my Mom.  Mom keeps cherished memories in her head and in her heart—she does not require physical reminders.  My Mom gets stressed if she sees clutter in our home, and she subscribes to the motto if not useful in the last 3 years, out it goes! (This sure keeps Dad and me on our toes!)

So while Aunt Laurie was at work the first week of our visit, my parents scurried around.  While Dad hung new doors, installed sinks, and chopped up downed trees, Mom filled the 30-yard dumpster she ordered and set up piles of goods for donations.  I watched with fascination at how versed they were in getting things done efficiently and expeditiously, while I simultaneously kept an eye out for Cousin Bailey, the mean, fat, feral, cat owned by Aunt Laurie.

Image may contain: cat

Once Aunt Laurie was on vacation from work, the pace of progress slowed considerably and verbal battles ensued.  But with this Rambling RV Rat as mediator, we all departed on speaking terms, with no casualties, and with Aunt Laurie’s home in better condition than when we arrived (though Mom said she could have filled 3 more dumpsters).  And after working so hard at Aunt Laurie’s, my traveling family rejoiced that we no longer had a sticks/bricks home to maintain!

Our visit to Central NY State included lots of fun times, too.  We treated Aunt Laurie and guests to a birthday dinner at Aqua Vino in Utica, NY.   With its intimate setting and great waterfront views of the Mohawk River, it presented the perfect ambiance for our small gathering.  We enjoyed  antipasto, fried calamari, and Utica greens, a local Italian favorite.  The menu contains a limited selection of seafood, pasta, and meat options.  But Aqua Vino offers 4-5 daily specials not included on the menu, making it a tough decision on what to order.  Every one of our choices was wonderfully delectable, including the deserts.  And service was outstanding.  Me thinks Aunt Laurie had as happy a birthday as I did!

Mom baked a cake for Aunt Laurie's 60th b-day.  Can you tell I helped with the candles?

We went to dinner one evening with Aunt Laurie at the home of Rosemary, a family friend.  She is really Aunt Laurie’s friend, and a darn good one, always there for Aunt Laurie in good times and bad, like a sister.  Through the years, Rosemary and Mom became close as well.  This get together was on a day when Mom and Aunt Laurie had butted heads.  Fortunately, Rosemary is a good buffer, knowing both of the sisters so well, and the evening was enjoyable for us all.

We met up with Rosemary again during our NY visit, taking her to lunch at Canal View in Sylvan Beach, NY, a restaurant she suggested since we don’t know this area very well.   We wanted to thank her for her hospitality and wish her well in her new home.  The food was average, but they did have Beyond Burger, a plant-based patty, on the menu, which was great for Dad!  And with such good company, who could complain?   In NJ, going to the beach (or as we call it “down the shore”) refers to the Atlantic Ocean.  In this neck of the woods, Oneida Lake provides the “beachfront” for homes, restaurants, even amusement parks.

We also stopped at Verona Beach State Park to see more of Oneida Lake, the largest body of water located entirely within New York State.  Verona Beach has its own lighthouse along the Erie Canal which was built to link Buffalo at Lake Erie to the Hudson River at Albany.  The day we visited Verona Beach State Park, it was windy and flurrying again.

Winter remained in the air for most of our stay.  When spring finally showed its face, it was in the form of rain showers—and showers, and showers.  But we didn’t let weather interfere with our fun.

We spent a day at Green Lakes State Park, in Manlius, NY.   Established in 1928, it encompasses nearly 2,000 acres.  We completed 10 miles of hiking that day!  Green Lake (like the Black Sea) is meromictic, meaning its water layers do not mix.  Hence, the bottom layer of its waters, receiving no oxygen from the atmosphere or from circulating waters, cannot sustain plant/fish life. But this bottom layer becomes a bonanza of bacteria growth.  Oddly, there is a second lake within this Park--Round Lake.  Panoramic vistas abound along the Park’s trails, and lots of birdies showed their faces.  We viewed warblers, swallows, cardinals, and robins, not to mention we caught a glimpse of some white tail deer who ventured out for brunch.

We went to Delta Lake State Park, whose lake was formed in 1911, when the town of Delray was submerged.  Our hiking was impeded by many downed trees and flooding of the trail.  But we clocked some extra mileage while checking out the campground loops.

Interestingly, we applied to all three of the afore-mentioned State Parks to work-camp this summer on a volunteer basis through the NY State Camper Assistance Program (CAP).  (We knew that we would be visiting this area and that these parks had campsites large enough to accommodate our set-up.)  The CAP volunteer requirement is for 2-4 weeks maximum. We e-mailed our paperwork in December to each of the individual parks as instructed in the volunteer job posting.  We tried calling to ensure receipt, but were not successful in reaching anyone.  Needless to say, we never heard a peep.  Ironically, we encountered a similar situation with PA’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).  We completed the required on-line application in early December for volunteer campground hosts at Promised Land State Park, a park we visited several times during our days of weekend RVing when living in NJ.  On December 14, we were e-mailed a confirmation of receipt.  In fact, the e-mail specifically stated that we were accepted as volunteers.  Great stuff!  But what dates specifically?    After two failed attempts, we were finally successful in making contact with the Park Ranger, who said WHOA there—pay no attention to that e-mail received!  We were not really approved--he still had to do background checks and send us additional paperwork for completion.  Since we would be traveling to AZ, we asked when we could expect the paperwork and whether it would be sent USPS snail mail or via e-mail.  Ranger Rick could provide no definitive answers regarding method of delivery.  As for timeline, we were told sometime in January or February.  Needless to say, we heard nothing further, received no paperwork via USPS or e-mail, nor any response to our follow-up inquiries.   No skin off our backs--there are multitudes of national/state parks and nonprofit agencies vying for volunteers--and we quickly lined up alternate short-term volunteer gigs.  But these situations of non-communication with government entities certainly do not leave a pleasant taste in our mouths.

While in Rome, NY, we toured Fort Stanwix National Monument. The Fort was built by the British in 1758 along the Oneida Carrying Place, once an ancient trail connecting the Mohawk River and Wood Creek, which later served as an important link for Europeans traveling and carrying goods between the Atlantic Ocean and Lake Ontario.  The fort played a vital role in the French and Indian War as well as the American Revolution.   I was saddened to learn the plight of the 6 Nations Confederacy, suffering the equivalent of a civil war, where brother fought brother, since 2 of the 6 Indian Nations fought for the Patriots, while the other 4 were allies of the British.    We stopped in the park outside the Fort area to partake of our lunch from Subway, enjoying a rare day outdoors with no precipitation.  We paid our respects at Veterans’ Park to the local heroes who served in our Armed Forces and defended our Nation.  Rome also has a small 9/11 Memorial Park, paying homage to the police and fire fighters who perished on that horrific day.

We visited Chittenango, NY, known as Emerald City, a reference to the fact it is the birthplace of L. Frank Baum, author of the Wizard of Oz.  And the village certainly does its best to capitalize on this notoriety.  From the All Things Oz Museum to the Yellow Brick Road Casino (owned/operated by the Oneida Indian Nation and frequented by Aunt Laurie, along with Turning Stone Casino).  When we were there, the village was decorated with pinwheels, representative of the magic wand of Glinda the Good Witch.  And each first weekend in June since 1978 the village sponsors Oz-Stravaganza, which in all prior years included appearances by the little people who played Munchkins.  Unfortunately, the last of the Munchkins passed away in 2018, so Aunt Laurie will no longer be able to get her annual autograph from the LolliPop Kid.  We did not visit any Oz-themed places.  Instead, we focused on Chittenango Falls State Park, marveling at its 167-foot waterfall!  Supposedly, these falls cascade over 400-million-year-old bedrock!  Absolutely spectacular and breathtaking!  It was a good time to view the falls since it has been a very rainy Spring—even the smaller falls were running!   We clocked some additional mileage by hiking to and then along the Gorge Trail, an old rail line converted to hiking trail.  Along the way, we spied a chipmunk, a whitetail deer, and a cemetery containing graves from the early settlers of Fenner, a town established in 1823.  The birds were busy foraging and making nests.  Even a snake was out on this lovely Spring day, one of the few days during our 3-week visit that included warm temps, sunny skies, and no precipitation!  We completed our day of hiking by visiting Chittenango Landing Historic Site in Old Erie Canal State Park, which is the home of the only recovered/reconstructed dry dock along the Erie Canal.

The very junior version Chittenango Falls--like a trickle compared to the main Falls

A snake slithering in the sunshine

Chittenango Landing

We went to Destiny Mall in Syracuse, NY.  The mall itself is very cool and absolutely HUGE.   It offers 3 floors of retail and contains several fun restaurants like Dave & Buster’s, Texas de Brazil, and Margaritaville, just to name a few.  (Wish we realized beforehand how many restaurant options were available at the mall.  We ate earlier at a new-style, next generation Golden Corral, which is considerably more open and airy, is not as cafeteria-style looking, and no longer has self-seating.)   What makes this mall unique is its indoor amusement park with old-school carousel, go-karts, escape room, arcade, suspended rope climbing course, laser tag, mirror maze, and comedy club.  It was like a mini Mall of America!  It was also reminiscent to Mom of the Bergen Mall in Paramus, NJ, circa 1966, but on a much grander, more exciting scale.  (The Bergen Mall of her childhood contained a section of kiddie rides like the merry-go-round, whip, and train.)  Anyway, we got a fine “Welcome Back to the East Coast” when we attended a viewing of the movie “Unplanned” at the Destiny Mall’s Regal Theater--$11.50/
ticket, and a matinee to boot!  (Last movie we viewed in TX cost only $6.75/ticket for a matinee).  We left the Mall in time to see a beautiful sunset.

We had passed by the Oneida Community Mansion House umpteen times through the years, but we neglected to ever take a tour.  This time we made a point of visiting.    Like the Amana Colonies we visited in Iowa, Oneida Community is another example of utopian communal living.  Started in 1848 by John Humphrey Noyes, Oneida Community was a byproduct of the Second Great Awakening, when religious leaders were developing new interpretations of Christianity.  Its members, known as Perfectionists, strived to emulate the lifestyles of early Christians described in the New Testament.  They shared labor and property, like many other utopian communes.  But here’s the twist:   Perfectionists were quite socially progressive.  They believed in complex marriage, wherein all Perfectionist men were husbands to all the women in the community, and all the women in the community were wives to all the Perfectionist men.  (Apparently, they based this concept on a quote in the Gospel of Matthew within the New Testament.)    However, sex only occurred when and if both partners were mutually agreeable to it.  Despite this lovefest atmosphere, there were no pregnancies during the first 20 years the Community existed.  This outcome was deliberate and achieved by men practicing “male continence”, wherein they would ensure they pleasured their female partner, but would not personally have an orgasm (Good thing I knew about the birds and the bees before we took this tour!).  Anyhow, once the Community deemed itself ready for children, their selective breeding program took effect.  Known as stirpiculture, members who were deemed most spiritually fit were encouraged to produce children with each other.  (This was a very calculating bunch of folks!)  Children were raised collectively (think of Hillary Clinton’s book “It Takes a Village”) rather than exclusively by birth parents (think Rick Santorum’s book “It Takes a Family”).   The Mansion House, build in phases between 1862 and 1878, was home for approximately 240 adults and 60 offspring.  The complex is now designated as a National Historic Landmark.  (Art Restoration students from Cornell University were busy beavers when we visited.  Hence, it was tough to get photos that didn't include ladders, caution tape, or paint cans!)

Perfectionists believed in equal rights for women, with women having a say in how the commune, as well as its collectively-owned businesses, operated.  Some women even served as Board of Directors for these businesses.   The commune came to an end in 1881.  However, the businesses Oneida Community started remained robust for well over 100 years.  Many of you, like my Mom, might even have flatware/silverware that was manufactured right in Sherrill, NY by the Oneida Community (Oneida Ltd).      

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This artwork by Perfectionist offspring Jessie Catherine Kinsley is amazing!  She devised this medium called braiding, borne from her love of colonial rugs.  Left is the full piece, right is some detail.

Well, its been a busy but interesting visit here in Central NY State, but it’s time to cut loose.  I’ll talk to you again real soon!

We would like to thank the following organizations for all the great service and support they offer to the RVing community:

Escapees RV Club


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RV Dreams

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  1. Thoroughly enjoyed your story and pictures. Since I have been using my Mom's Oneida silverware most of my life and now full-time in our rambling home, I really enjoyed learning about the history of the company. The pictures of the falls and the slithering snake were my favourites.

  2. I bet Laurie was happy to see your rig pulling away so you would not throw away any more of her stuff! We are minimalists like you and "stuff" to us means stress!