The Beginning and Possible End of Horseback Riding Lessons?

This past winter I booked a series of five one-hour horseback riding lessons for Sydney to prepare her for our planned Zephyr Adventures family vacation in Montana, which would include riding. The lessons were delayed and the vacation scrapped due to the pandemic.

We started the lessons in June and Sydney did her fifth and final one on Friday last week.

Interestingly, Sydney had initially liked the lessons but then complained they were boring, which is true considering the lessons all take place in a corral as compared to the trail rides we did this summer at 1000 Acres Ranch. I tried to explain to Sydney the lessons were attempting to teach her to actually ride a horse on her own, as compared to following another horse, and she needed to apply herself so she could do more than just be led around the corral.

On her fifth and final lesson the instructor finally asked Sydney to walk the horse on her own without being led. I was excited to see the progress! Unfortunately, Sydney was scared to do so and was limited to a few steps on her own before the lesson ended. She says she has no interest continuing.

Sydney has now been on a horse 11 times this summer and this, her final time, was the first time she was scared. I must admit I was a bit frustrated. It is one of those situations when you want to tell a child “Listen to me. All you need to do is X and you will really love it.” But if a kid isn’t ready to do something, there is not much you can do to force it. So we’ll move on to the next thing!

Hither Hills State Park

Last year Sydney and I participated in the annual Sea Cliff Camping Trip at Hither Hills State Park at the end of Long Island. This year the official activities were canceled but many families still attended.

I helped organize four families to hang out together at the campground in two separate sites. This included Sydney’s friend Kayla and her mom Dawn; our friends from Germany and Spain, Jordi, Katharina, Oriol, and Oviti; and new friends Tantip (from Thailand) and her daughter Faye.

Faye, Oriol, Kayla, and Sydney

Having four families camping together was fantastic. While it is pushing the edge a little bit in terms of pandemic safety, we were outdoors the entire time, careful not to share food or utensils, wore masks when needed, and already were in each other’s “bubble”. Plus, at this point Sea Cliff hasn’t seen a COVID-19 case in weeks so it is unlikely any of our immediate friends has it.

Dawn, Allan, and Tantip

Everyone had a great time. We played in the ocean (but could not swim because of a strong riptide), went for a drive to see the area sites, played in several playgrounds, and ate meals together.

Performing in Frozen 2

Sydney has loved singing and performing plays since she was very young. On August 30, she participated in her first real production – playing both the water and fire spirits in Frozen 2.

One benefit of living on Long Island is that there is a massive amount of local theatrical talent. We have seen many quite good productions with kids that were excellent. This was not really one of them. Not only was the production delayed three months and moved outdoors because of the coronavirus but there was just very little production about this. Instead, the kids sort of just stood on the grass in a local park and came up to the microphone when it was their turn to talk or sing.

That didn’t matter to Sydney at all. She loved being part of the group and loved performing in the show. It was actually fortuitous that the new date didn’t work for lots of families, as Sydney was able to pick up a second part from another girl and play two of the “spirits” in the movie. Otherwise, she would have had few lines.

I can honestly say Sydney did extremely well, primarily because she was loud and clear in her speaking. Her singing is getting better too. When I asked her if she was nervous, she said no. We’ll try to do this again.

In the Water Spirit Costume

Posing in Front of the Frozen 2 Banner

 

Final New York Vacation of the Pandemic Summer

Sydney and I had nine days recently for our final vacation of the pandemic summer of 2020.

We spent all nine days in New York due to travel and quarantine restrictions and I have quite enjoyed learning about our new home state – something we would never have done otherwise this summer. I spent the time to come up with three distinct vacations packaged into eight nights and nine days.

Winter Clove Inn

We spent the first three nights at the all-inclusive Winter Clove Inn in the Catskill Mountains. I managed to get a comped room in return for promoting the inn to the Zephyr Adventures audience. It was really nice having three meals included each day and we loved the outdoor activities including a pool, tennis court, onsite hiking trails, and playground. The inn had its act together with COVID-19 restrictions and we felt very safe.

Caroga Lake State Campground

We spent two nights at Caroga Lake State Campground, the first on our own and the second joined by our Sea Cliff friends Katharina, Jordi, Oriel, and Oviti with whom we went camping previously. Sydney and I hiked up to our third firetower of the summer, we swam in the lake, and biked throughout the campground. I loved that we could safely send Oriel and Sydney off on their own to wander the campground.

1000 Acres Ranch

We had just been to the 1000 Acres Ranch a month earlier but this time I recruited four other families – 15 people – to join us. And got a comped room for my efforts. Not all of these families were in our “bubble” but I was comfortable with the group given almost everything takes place outside. I even asked for our meals to be outside, although the ranch was not really staffed well enough to handle that effectively, which means we ended up with some less-than-satisfactory meals and ultimately started to eat more indoors. Sydney very much enjoyed the horseback riding and we worked up to doing a ride that included trotting on our final morning.

Sydney’s Favorites

I asked Sydney to rank the three parts of the vacation and was surprised to hear she ranked the Winter Clove Inn first, followed by the 1000 Acres Ranch and the camping. I thought for sure she would enjoy having some of her friends with her at the ranch but she said she actually enjoyed the Winter Clove Inn because she got to meet new people. She ranked the ranch second because of the horseback riding.

In the end, it was a really nice vacation with lots of activities, some good social interaction, and not too much driving.

Biking on the Ashokan Rail Trail

Roasting (burning) marshmallows at the Winter Clove Inn

Roaming the camping loops with Oriel and Oviti and Caroga Lake Campground

On top of Hadley Mountain near 1000 Acres Ranch

Dawn leading a kayak train with Sydney, Kayla, and Grant

First Backpacking Trip

On August 5th, at age seven years and one day, Sydney started her first backpacking trip, a two-night trip to Echo Lake in the Catskill Mountains.

I find myself defining “backpacking” a lot out here in New York, as people are very familiar with hiking and (car) camping but not the combination.

We left Sea Cliff with its downed trees and no power for the Catskill Mountains, along with the Adirondacks one of the two main mountain ranges in New York. With the highest peak at 4,180 feet and with nothing really above tree line, the Catskills are a bit more like hills than mountains but perfect for a first backpacking trip. I picked a Wednesday start date to avoid potential crowds, as Echo Lake has just six designated campsites.

I chose the less popular, longer, and more scenic route to Echo Lake. At five miles one way, it was a bit longer than I wanted – both for Sydney and for me, since I would be carrying all our gear. But Sydney had recently done five and seven mile hikes, so I felt confident.

The best advice for hiking with a seven year old is to be patient. Sydney has no desire to cruise along and get the miles done. She wants to carefully pick her steps, look at bugs, and take rest stops along the way – probably as it should be. We had an uneventful hike in and arrived to Echo Lake, which is surrounded by forests and has an active beaver colony, as it approached dinner time.

We had the lake entirely to ourselves that first night and did the normal backpacking routine: set up the tent, filtered water, and ate dinner. Unfortunately, the area was soaked from a storm the previous day so I couldn’t get a fire started that first night. But we had a good book and enjoyed the first night. Sydney at this point is used to sleeping in a tent and expressed no concerns at all about being five miles from civilization.

The next day Sydney opted to skip my planned day hike to a nearby fire tower and overlook. Instead, we walked around the lake, looked at all the beaver damage, walked on dozens of logs, and played in the forest.

In the afternoon Sydney started to have a runny nose and sore throat. She lost her appetite and hardly ate any dinner. So we decided to skip our plans for the next two days and, instead, return home the following morning. However, that night the weather changed and I had to leap up in the middle of the night to put on the rain fly. It rained for hours and we cozily holed up in our tent reading until noon. Finally, we got packed up, hiked out, and made it home and to the doctor by 7:30 PM. Diagnosis: a virus and ear infection but no COVID-19.

The first backpacking trip was a success. For the next one, which won’t be until next year, I will see if I can find another family or two to join us!

The Pandemic, 7th Birthday, and Friendships

Oriol, Grant, Everett, Sydney, and Kayla preparing for cherry seed spitting contest at Sydney’s 7th birthday party

One silver lining of living in New York is that our state has handled the COVID-19 pandemic as well as any state in the country.

In our community, Sea Cliff has had a total of 55 cases since the beginning or just about 1% of the population. However, most of those happened early with only four new identified cases in the last two months. The chance of someone we meet in Sea Cliff having the virus is low.

Nevertheless, everyone is still taking precautions. For Sydney and me, that means limiting the sizes of group gatherings, reducing the number of people with whom we interact, and doing almost all social interactions outdoors. The result is we have four families with whom we socialize on a regular basis, determined more by the parents and their own safety practices as by the kids.

For Sydney’s seventh birthday on August 4th, I invited three of these families over for an outdoor dinner. Of the five kids attending, four were boys and none were Sydney’s age. With the weather service accurately telling us we would be facing strong winds and rain from the effects of an offshore hurricane, I moved the party to August 3rd and we all had a good time. The next day on Sydney’s birthday, we managed to get a horseback riding lesson in before the storm hit. We wandered the streets to survey the storm damage and then had a powerless candlelight dinner together that evening.

At age seven Sydney is happy almost all the time and is not picky about with whom she spends time. I predict that will change and Sydney will either want to spend time with her friends from school or will need to make better friendships with girls her age in Sea Cliff.

Sydney’s best friends are her school friends but I did not invite them to her birthday dinner, as I did last year, for multiple reasons. For one thing, we needed to keep the group size small. Secondly, Sydney socializes with these girls – her best friends – only when with her mom. This is not through lack of trying on my part but, for whatever reason, I have had little success getting the Green Vale parents to organize playdates when Sydney is with me. Plus, I wanted to avoid the fiasco of last year when Devon held a surprise party the day after Sydney’s birthday party at my house, forcing all the Green Vale kids and parents to attend two parties in a row. This year, I let Devon host those kids.

My plan to create better friendships with Sea Cliff girls of Sydney’s age has also been set way back. My big effort has been leading the Girl Scouts and it was working; we had had play dates with nine different local girls in the six months before the pandemic. That mostly stopped as families retrenched to socialize with the friends, family, and neighbors in their inner circles.

The result is I am a little sad for our current social situation and a little worried about setting up Sydney for success with friendships in the coming years – and even as soon as this winter when outdoor play dates become impossible. But the good news is Sydney is a happy, fun, and flexible little girl so together we will figure it out.

First Summer Vacation: The Adirondacks

Sydney and I had our first seven-day vacation of the summer of 2020 and spent it in the Adirondacks in northern New York.

If you type New York State into Google Maps, you will see much of the northern portion of the state is composed of forests, with much of this the state-owned Adirondack Park. It is five hours and a world away from Long Island and a much needed respite.

Reading Harry Potter Book Four on the long drive

We first spent three nights camping at two different state parks. Lincoln Pond SP was unfortunately too close to the interstate and private houses but Rollins Pond was fantastic – remote, with waterfront sites good for swimming and kayaking, nice woods, and good bicycling.

Walking out on a fallen log for launch into water at Rollins Pond State Park

During these three days we did two hikes to two mountain fire towers, one at Hurricane Ridge and the second up Blue Mountain. Both were fairly steep and the first was 6.8 miles round trip while the second was 5.6. That makes those the two longest hikes Sydney has done; she did quite well and enjoyed them.

In the Blue Mountain Firetower

We then spent three nights at 1000 Acres Ranch, located right on the Hudson River in the more southern part of upstate New York. I fibbed a bit so Sydney could do the three days of trail rides (minimum age seven in New York), which she loved. We were there mid-week, during the pandemic, and while the resort is still refurbishing with new owners, all of which meant we were practically the only ones there. Out of space for probably 200 – 300 guests there were 15 of us the first night, 13 the second, and 11 the third. Luckily, we met two other single parent, one-kid families and hung out with them socially distanced and outside. That made the trip.

Sydney’s first-ever trail rides took place at 1000 Acres Ranch

In all, it was a very good vacation. I loved seeing a new part of New York State, especially one with more trees than people and cars. Sydney is enthusiastic about pretty much everything: she complained little about the long drive, loved swimming in the lakes and pools, did extremely well on the hikes, wanted to keep bicycling on the campground roads, and was eager to ride horses. This vacation is one I likely would not have done without the pandemic. Ultimately, the two of us had a great time together and I would be happy to return to this region on a future vacation.

Playing cards, still with a life vest and bicycle helmet from previous activities

Sydney making breakfast at Rollins Pond Campground

Father’s Day Camping Trip

This past weekend Sydney and I joined a neighbor family for a four-day camping trip.

Even camping is more difficult during a pandemic. NY State Parks are not accepting new reservations at all and the the state has no national parks with camping and only one national forest. That leaves state forests, with first-come-first-served primitive camping.

Given my parenting schedule, we left Sea Cliff on a Saturday, which was not ideal. Arriving at Big Pond in the western Catskill Mountains about three hours from home, we found all the primitive sites taken. We checked in at the local state park, just in case, but were turned away. At that point, I convinced the other family we needed to just wander off into the woods to find a flat spot for the night. However, with one last search we checked the back side of Big Pond lake and found a perfect site, unoccupied because it was ten minutes from the parking lot.

The neighboring family consists of Katharina (from Germany), Jordi (from Spain), and their two boys Oriol (age seven) and Ovidi (age three). We are a good match in part because all the adults are transplants to New York. Sydney and Oriol get along great. We still limit our interactions to outdoors during the pandemic but have loosened on social distancing with this family, in an enlargement of our social “bubble”.

The camping was fun: no pandemic, no recession, no political chaos, no news in general, and no cell reception at all. Just swimming, exploring, cooking, card games, stories, and camp fire songs.

Sydney and Oriol exploring the stream

Roasting Marshmellows

Packed Up to Walk Back Out

The Start of Summer Vacation

Sydney had her last day of school on Friday, June 5. Thanks to the pandemic, we have no classes, no sports, no day camps, and no vacations scheduled.

I have a multi-part plan to keep Sydney occupied and happy:

  • Outdoor Activities: Unlike when I was a kid, parents do not just send their kids outside to play unless it is in their own backyard, which in our case is too small and with no grass. So each day I plan one ore more activities including bicycling, inline skating, and kayaking. Sydney just learned lacrosse can be fun so we are going to start in on that. Swimming pools are closed now but supposed to open at the end of the month, which will be a daily activity.
  • Games: Sydney and I love playing board and card games and I purchased six new ones for the summer that work for two players.
  • Harry Potter: Sydney is still obsessed with Harry Potter. We are 2/3 of the way through the second book and a neighbor family already loaned us the third and fourth books. There are seven in all. They are getting bigger, with the fourth 734 pages long! It will be interesting to see how far she gets this summer.
  • Computer: I set up Sydney’s Chromebook with bookmarks to a number of different websites she is welcome to access whenever she wishes. These include Sumdog (math games), Khan Academy (computer coding), Typing Club, Duolingo (Spanish), and Simply Piano. It is amazing how high quality some of these programs are in teaching a skill and keeping kids entertained.
  • Play Dates: Families in our area are gradually loosening up with social distancing restrictions in an attempt to still give children a somewhat normal summer. We know five families who are about where I am in terms of keeping safe from COVID-19, in that we are all comfortable doing small group (two families only), outdoor, supervised activities.

Sydney will love this summer because she pretty much loves everything about her life anyway. It will just take a bit more work than usual!

Black Lives Matter March

On Sunday, June 7th Sydney and I participated in a Black Lives Matter march.

For Sydney’s sake, I will document here that on May 25th, a Minneapolis policeman killed a black man named George Floyd by kneeling on his neck. George Floyd was not resisting arrest and was claiming he could not breathe. Bystanders were calling out to the policeman that he was killing Mr. Floyd, but to no avail as he continued to apply pressure for over eight minutes.

The murder was shocking and senseless. It was also just one in a string of police killings of black men. Protesters came out immediately on the streets of Minneapolis, then nationwide, and then worldwide. The public is tired of the inaction taken by police departments and governments to correct what is clearly systemic racism on the part of the police.

On June 7th, a march was organized for Sea Cliff. It garnered such interest the organizers moved the meeting place to Glen Cove, the city next door, from which over 1,000 people marched through Sea Cliff and back. Sydney and I joined as the group entered Sea Cliff and marched with them for one mile through our village.

The march was peaceful and well organized but loud and spirited. It was very racially diverse. People are angry and this showed. I saw no one without a mask, due to the pandemic, and most people tried to keep six feet of social distance.

I had spoken to Sydney about this in advance and we talked more about it later. It is part of our world. I want Sydney to be aware and to know she can take action when needed for causes that are important to her.