Friday, August 13, 2021

Family Time in Central New York

It rained just long enough to make a muddy mess of everything as we departed Pomona RV Park and Campground in NJ.  We were heading to Central NY to visit my Aunt Laurie, and the first leg of the trip went well.  We overnighted at a Harvest Host fiber farm in Northwest NJ.  That’s where I met Zack the Yak and his harem, along with alpacas, angora bunnies, goats, and Molly, a 4-month-old dairy calf.  After touring the farm with the personable owners, we made lovely (albeit expensive) handcrafted purchases from the gift shop.  We walked a bit on nearby streets to get a flavor for the area, returning to our Suite Retreat just before the torrential rain started.  Northwest NJ is a very pretty part of the State.  It is still a very rural area. And it is home to several children’s attractions that have been around for eons like Space Farms Zoo and Museum, Land of Make Believe, and Wild West City.


Zack the Yak and two members of his Harem.

The domestic pets wanted some love and attention, too!

After saying a farewell to the animals, we left NJ and entered PA, crossing the mighty Delaware River.  It flows freely approximately 330 miles, making it the longest undammed river in the U.S.A.  It provides the drinking water for about 5% of our Nation’s population.  And it has the distinction of having George Washington cross it during the Revolutionary War, which gets re-enacted every Christmas Day.  I am fortunate to have been a spectator at this unique event in Morrisville, PA/Trenton, NJ several times.


We had reservations at the Villages at Turning Stone RV Park in Oneida, NY for 5 weekdays, but there was no availability on weekends.  However, we had to leave Pomona RV Park mid-week before other guests arrived so we would have enough room to maneuver our exit from this tight Park.  That’s why we drove VERY leisurely.  We booked ourselves a night at a Harvest Host pub in Ulster County, NY.  The pub was not open for us to partake, but the owner graciously invited us to stay on the premises anyway.  We enjoyed walking the area and taking in the wonderful views of the Catskill Mountains.


We joined Boondockers Welcome in April and were scheduled to stay at one of their sites, a long-horn steer farm, for our last night before checking in to Turning Stone RV Park.  However, the owners called to cancel--they had lots of rain, and the field was way too soft for a rig our size/weight.    Flexibility is of the utmost importance in this fulltime RV traveling RV lifestyle.  Luckily, Aunt Laurie and our friend Rosemary told us a few months earlier about Tilden Farm in Verona, NY.   What a great tip and how fortuitous that Mom recorded the info in her phone (‘cause if she just tucked it in her head, it would be lost forever)!  Tilden Farm owner Ken Brewer is welcoming and accommodating.  He offers private sites, picnic table, firepits with complementary wood, and even electric on some sites for very reasonable fees through the app HipCamp.  We had never used this free app before.   But if HipCamp gets us to stay on gorgeous properties like this one, we will be using it more frequently! The farm, which dates to 1798, has been family owned for 7 generations.  Ken and his family have been here for 26 years and counting, raising heifers on the property.  He offers guests total enjoyment of his property--including fishing, canoeing, and hiking--free of charge.  We had such a wonderful experience, we ended up booking another night on the back end of our stay in Central NY.  Tilden Farms earns a Rambling RV Rat 5-cheese award!

We left Tilden Farm in pouring rain.  Fortunately, we had to travel only 10 miles to arrive at the Villages at Turning Stone RV Park in Oneida, NY.  For those unfamiliar with this RV Park, it is full-service: large, level sites, pool, game room, laundry, free Wi-FI, playground, ponds with paddle boats, walking trails, and, if you want to press your luck, free shuttle bus service throughout the day and night to Turning Stone Casino (you will probably run into my Aunt Laurie there).  As we knew from prior stays, our pull-through site provided easy access, so we were set up in a jiffy. 

We got together with Aunt Laurie the next day to visit some local sites in Canastota, NY, like Greystone Castle.  The Methodist Episcopal Church stood on this site for 65 years, from 1833 until 1908, when it succumbed to a fire.  The church was rebuilt by 1910 and was fully operational until the 1960s. Then it sat dormant for 30 years, falling into disarray.  It was purchased by Martin and Annette Bargabos in 1995.   They have worked tirelessly to restore and renovate the structure into a banquet hall/event center.   And to ensure that Greystone Castle never sees a wrecking ball in the future, the structure is now listed on the National Historic Registry.  The owner was on the premises cleaning windows when we stopped by.    Mr. Bargabos spend considerable time chatting with us.  He gave us the history of the property and discussed the negative impact NY’s COVID mandates have had on his small business.  We thanked him for his efforts to preserve architectural history and wished him well as he tries to recover from his financial losses.

Bell from reconstructed church, circa 1910

Also nearby is the original Erie Canal.  Built between 1817 and 1825, the original Erie Canal traversed 363 miles from Albany to Buffalo.  In its day, it was the longest artificial waterway and the greatest public works project in North America.  Through the years, the Erie Canal has been enlarged, improved, and rerouted.  My parents and I returned on another day to bicycle the Erie Canalway Trail.  We did only 10 miles, but we did manual peddling the entire way (no power assist for this trip). We chatted with some other cyclists, who coincidently were also staying at Turning Stone RV Park, though leaving the next morning. The trail offered pastural views—except for the parking area, which contained tons of trash.  Dirty diapers were thrown into the charcoal grills; bottles/cans were strewn everywhere.  I hate to insult actual swine, but humans are total pigs when it comes to disposing of trash.  My Mom subscribes to the belief that if you enjoy something, it is up to us as individuals to support and care for it.  Hence, I helped Mom fill a 30-gallon bag with debris left behind by inconsiderate humans.


Bucolic scenery from the Canalway Trail.

It’s not easy finding restaurants open on Mondays, let alone ones that have menu items suitable for Dad’s plant-based diet.  But Aunt Laurie suggested Madison Farm to Table Bistro in Wampsville, NY.  She picked a winner!  They claim all the ingredients—meat/poultry, veggies, dairy--are fresh and locally sourced.   I can attest to this—I saw the local chicken farmer deliver a new supply of eggs.  Mom/I had the Elvis Burger, cooked to perfection as medium rare, while Dad enjoyed a grilled veggie wrap featuring eggplant, roasted peppers, lettuce, tomato, and onion.  And Aunt Laurie’s mac and cheese, which she graciously let me taste, was homemade, rich, and creamy.  The owner was a super cool guy, and we enjoyed the personal attention and conversation he bestowed on ALL his customers, regulars as well as newbies like us.  Great food, excellent service, indoor/outdoor seating, reasonable prices—we couldn’t ask for more, which is why we all dined here a second time during our stay.  Madison Farm to Table Bistro earns a Rambling RV Rat 5-cheese rating.


Can you tell we love to eat?  It is a rarity for one of my blog posts not to contain a photo of vittles.

On another day we hit the fields at Swistak Farm in Verona, NY, to pick blueberries and purchase freshly-harvested produce from their farm stand.  I so enjoy visiting these U-pick farms, and with our supply of blueberries from NJ already dwindling, we needed some replenishment.  Later that evening, Aunt Laurie, Uncle Rob, my parents and I all went to a summer concert at the local park in Sherrill, NY.  Vocalist ZZ and her sidekick who played synthesizer were terrific, performing a variety of genres.  Great music, nice weather, no COVID mandates--so wonderful to see folks enjoying life again!


ZZ Entertainment was terrific!

Aunt Laurie, whom I affectionately refer to as "The Wicked Witch of the East" or "WWTE" for short, and I have a love/hate relationship that dates back decades.  I hate to love her and she loves to hate me (but truthfully, who could resist my adorableness).  So, it was grudgingly that I helped Dad do some handyman chores in her home.  You see, her staff of flying monkeys recently defected from her employment, seeking a kinder, gentler boss.  They were last spotted doing a gig at the Orange County, NY Fair.

Aunt Laurie and me from several decades ago.  You can tell I was younger--look how perky my ears were!  Notice Jumbo (left) and Rocky (right) got to be in the spotlight, while I was relegated to the corner.

Dad doing the chores the staff of flying monkeys handled previously--before they left Aunt Laurie's employment.

Aunt Laurie's prior employees, the flying monkeys, found a gentler, kinder boss for which to work.

Later that evening, Aunt Laurie, Uncle Rob, our good friend Rosemary, and my family met at Symeon’s in Yorkville, NY.  With its Greek/Mediterranean cuisine, there were ample entrée selections for all of us.


We celebrated Christmas in August by exchanging gifts.  It was quite festive since Aunt Laurie’s artificial Christmas tree was still set up in her family room.  I reintroduced myself to my Cousin Bailey, who is more mountain lion than domestic cat.  My pal Nezumi was cowering inside my shirt pocket when he watched what Bailey does to toy mice.  But Bailey’s thoughts of chewing on stuffed rodents went bye-bye when she got a dose of my size.

The standoff began...

...but I won in the end.

Aunt Laurie was the recipient of one of the handcrafted purchases we made at the fiber farm in Northwest NJ.

I must say it was nothing more than a Christmas miracle that Mom/Aunt Laurie spent an entire 5 days together without a single argument!   Especially when it comes to punctuality.  Most people in the contiguous U.S.A. follow the time zone in which they reside:  ET, CT, MT, PT.  But Aunt Laurie subscribes to her own time zone.  She is like Kramer in Seinfeld, perpetually late.  So, it didn’t surprise us when she arrived for a home cooked dinner at our place 1.5 hours late.  Mom didn’t stress about it too much, since it gave us some quality time and robust pre-dinner conversation with friend Rosemary.  (I can get away with saying all this about Aunt Laurie ‘cause she NEVER reads my blog, despite her request for us to keep her posted on our travels.)

We had loads of fun in a very short time, but alas, our time with Aunt Laurie had come to an end.  I’ll talk to you again real soon!

Me and the WWTE, still crazy after all these years.

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