Monthly Archives: February 2014

The Children of Men Effect

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It’s a bit of a mixed bag here to be honest. There are some great aspects to wwoofing here at New Vrindaban, such as the fantastic Indian food, the diverse wildlife and the fact that Alfie has learned to milk a cow, which he is absolutely thrilled about! Rob is enjoying some basic tree work and we are meeting some lovely interesting people from diverse walks of life. It’s great to be around livestock again and the cows here are lovely gentle creatures.

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Rob milking cows at New Vrindaban

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Kids helping with wwoof work

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Rob climbing

But then there are less good aspects. Namely the lack of welcome for the children. Some people here are delighted to have children around but others are not. I am a fairly heavy critic of my own children, and I’ll admit that their behaviour since we left home has been pretty darn challenging, probably due to feeling a bit displaced. But since we arrived at New Vrindaban they’ve settled right down and actually been really good kids; polite, calm, quiet and generally well behaved. I’ve felt really proud of them and am really enjoying spending so much intense time with them – it fills me with optimism for the rest of the journey.

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Orla is all about holding Patrick’s hand at the moment!

But it seems it’s not enough for some of the people here who don’t like any noise at all, not even happy, helpful noise. Yesterday morning I managed to conduct a wwoof task with the children as instructed by the gentleman guiding us and I thought we did a great job watering the plants, we didn’t make any mess or damage any pots or plants, the kids worked co-operatively and got on with the task until it was finished. I was really pleased… others were not. It seems we made too much noise (really? You thought that was loud?) and went just inside an area where children are not allowed (as instructed to in order to fill the watering cans). When I was quietly informed of this at lunch time I felt a mixture of embarrassment for being “told off” and disappointment as I thought we had done a great job. But mainly I felt a sadness for this community.

There is a serious lack of children here and it is stark. Children are vital for a community (and a religion) to thrive and continue… what is the point of this place unless young blood comes through to continue it – it’s not an old peoples home, it’s a religious community. And it hasn’t always been this way. We’ve met people our age who grew up here and have continued to live near by with their own children. The school at one time had 200 pupils… it now has 5. Alfie went along today for the day but Patrick was sadly deemed too young. Until school this morning we hadn’t met any of the 5 other children who live here yet… we never see them despite communal meals. Alfie loved school today but a school classroom is very different to having time to just play with other children.

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Boys watching daddy work

I expressed these concerns over lunch, after the “telling off” with some older ladies I am comfortable with and have had children of their own. One of them, who has lived in the community for many years, admitted being nervous of bringing her young grandaughter to visit in case of complaint from others. With worries like that about children visiting for the day it’s unlikely anyone with children would live here for long. Without children how long can any community (or religion) survive?

So what for us? Well we’ve been keeping the children impressively quiet for days now and keep discussing whether or not we should head on. On the one hand it would be easy enough to pack up and press on, but on the other hand we are comfortable, well fed and enjoying aspects of the work and community. We will be sticking it out as the experience we are gaining is greater than the frustrating bits. The nice and interesting people we are meeting make up for the moaners and honestly the food is great!

*ps. One other aspect I am struggling with is that the wifi in the communal area is turned off at 7pm which means I am limited to brief moments of internet on my phone around mealtimes whilst trying to keep the kids quiet in the communal areas. It allows for quickly posting pre-written posts but I’m sorry if I haven’t replied to comments or on Facebook. It’s also making researching and planning our next leg a little tricky!

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Spot the baby 🙂

 

The WWOOFers are here

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We pulled up at New Vrindaban, the 1,000 acre Hari Krishna community nestled in the pretty West Virginia hills, with a mixture of excitement, intrigue and nerves. Our nerves mainly were regarding the behaviour of our children when placed within a strict culture of peace, quiet and respect… The boys current repertoire of jokes relate entirely to poo and wee, they are trained to wee outside in bushes and have the feet of baby elephants, which has lead to us aiming exclusively for ground floor accommodation. Patrick doesn’t walk at the moment, he bounces and hops (he’s a frog you see). Orla doesn’t walk anywhere either, she runs, well sort of, in her bum wiggling, feet stomping, clumsy sort of way.

The fellow who arranged our placement here is away for a few days and our nerves where therefore not quelled on arrival when we were met with blank faces. “Hold on” she said and dashed out the door to inform a colleague that “the wwoofers are here”, and it felt strange being on the other side of the fence, having let Rob know the same thing many times over the last few years on our own farm! (WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) Her colleague was none the wiser but, luckily, the lady found a slip of paper on the desk which suddenly made sense to her when we elaborated that there were five of us. Alas, we were given a key and directed to an upstairs apartment, in a block with poor sound insulation and with a lovely gentleman below us who is somewhat sensitive to noise. The kids are learning to tiptoe and whisper… Orla’s not a very quick learner though. On the plus, the kids are sleeping from 7pm to 7am which I think is pretty reasonable. On top of that, their behaviour really is improving now they are getting into the swing of things and there is lots for them to do here with a play room and outside play area, lots of local walks and masses of birds and mammals to spot and track. They have the deer track sussed!

The apartment is basic, to say the least, but as wwoofers, we expected that. And it’s free. Rob is getting involved on the farm, milking the cows and there is some tree pruning and care he can get involved in. We share meals with the community for breakfast and lunch and so far have sampled delicious Indian delights.

The wildlife is far more abundant here than further north at the moment. Presumably due to the much milder temperature – it’s positively balmy compared to where we have come from! And the lack of hunting combined with the organic management of this 1,000 acre setting means that the deer are so tame you can get right up close. We saw a massive turkey vulture fly right over and an owl fly past with a tiny shrew in it’s talons last night. Today we spotted the impressive, and slightly bizarre looking wild turkey. Much sought after in hunting areas they flourish here unharmed. I took the picture at the top of the deer and am obviously thrilled with it… feel free to compliment me on it… go on, it’s blinking great right?

So we are here for a little while, to explore the area, meet new people with interesting stories and cultures, to feel settled and rest our tight budget. We can also start planning the next section, which currently is as free as the wind.

The Allegheny National Forest – a cabin in the woods.

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Wow, time for an update! We moved on from Buffalo on Thursday morning and managed to obtain a cabin at Deep Wood on the edge of the Allegheny National Forest.

It was right up our street… rustic and basic. Think wood walls, a slightly musty smell (okay that’s a lie… it was a strong musty smell), mouse droppings in the draws and a general air of nothing having been altered since 1965. We LOVED it! The beds were comfy and we were separate from the kids, it was warm and cosy and absolutely silent at night. We drank tea and did jigsaws with the kids. Honestly, I could live in a cabin in the woods quite happily for years… maybe one day I will…

*Facebook followers can see photos of us at the cabin on my Adventures of Muma Dean page

Sadly it rained rather a lot and the snow had turned to ice on the paths so walking out was tricky. It just so happens that much like the drive through pharmacies and drive through ATM’s in America you can also do some great drive through wildlife and bird watching! Obviously you’ll see more off the beaten track in the back country. But to get things going and for the boys to start using their binoculars and identifying birds and animals we headed off in the car and found numerous pull over areas designated for wildlife observation throughout the main road through the forest.

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The Allegheny Reservoir, with snowy banks and slushy, icy water.

We saw Black headed Chickadees, Woodpeckers (not sure which type unfortunately), American Robin and the lovely Blue Jay. We also saw impressive Black Vultures, plenty of white tailed deer, red squirrels and spotted a raccoon crossing the road. To locals round here this probably doesn’t sound like an impressive haul but when you come from a country which has none of the above and you have three very small children in tow… believe me… it’s a good haul for now!

While we were settled in our cabin we took the opportunity to rearrange our luggage into an efficient system. We now have two tubs, one with kitchen/cooking kit in and one with food staples such as oil, seasoning, flour, stock cubes and so on. A third small tub has our bushcraft kit and our clothes system continues with each of our stuff sacks within one main bag and a laundry bag for dirty clothes. That’s now in a soft bag easy for taking in and out of our accommodation as we move, and also has our wash bag, Orla’s nappies, night-lights and chargers in. Another small bag in easy reach in the car has our binoculars and laptops. The suitcases are now largely unpacked but just have lots of the kids workbooks and spare stuff in that we use less frequently and are tucked away in the roof box we acquired at a far cheaper price than upgrading the car size! Maybe one day I’ll organise myself to make a video blog of our efficient system – once I know for sure it’s actually an efficient system!

We also invested in a cool box which fits behind the driver seat and plugs into the car and a camping stove. This means that A) we are (hopefully) not going to become morbidly obese within 5 weeks from living on gigantic pizzas and sauce swamped McDonalds and B) we (hopefully) won’t be coming home broke within 5 weeks from eating at places that actually serve real food. Since moving on to Buffalo we have basically reclaimed our normal, balanced diet from home and are enjoying cooking on the road. Our system allows for cereal and fruit for breakfast, sandwiches or salads for lunch and a normal meal for tea. There will still be times we’ll eat out and no doubt sample some more of the fast food establishments when needs must, but for now it’s nice to be sticking to budget and not feeling like our arses are growing an inch a day!

Niagara Falls

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We’re in Buffalo, staying with a lifelong friend of mine. Yesterday we planned to visited Niagara Falls around lunchtime. It was snowy and grey. We were running a little late because we had just discovered the supermarket Wegmans and the first healthy food options since arriving. It also stocked Barry’s tea and Marmite so Rob and I were in high spirits and feeling really positive, despite ongoing frustration with our hire car.

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Major excitement over Barry’s Tea on the European isle

The problem with the lease had been sorted out by a really lovely lady at the Buffalo office, the polar opposite of the horrid man at JFK. But the car was still a little disappointing, a bit tatty and old and not as big as we had hoped (or need). Rob’s kind of squished into a tight driving position and there isn’t a lot of boot with the seating arrangement we need to fit the three kids in.

So we pulled up to pick up our friend who was coming to Niagara with us and discovered a nail in the tire and a hissing of air as it slowly deflated. By this stage we were thinking we would need to write the falls off for the day and have a boring afternoon waiting for the tire to be sorted out… But it’s funny how things work out…

We headed back to the Airport rental office and low and behold were given a brand new version of the car to drive off in. It’s still a little on the small side but it’s a far better model, and Rob is much more comfy. So we’re going to buy a roof box for it and all will be fine.

It was such a swift transition that we still had plenty of time to get to the falls and… The sun had come out and the sky was blue, it was beautiful.

At this time of year there is hardly anyone there and the ice adds an addition level of mind blowing beauty to the falls. The wind was freezing in a way which is hard to explain… the picture of Patrick’s face kind of explains better than words though.

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Mummy, it’s a little chilly out here!

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Me and Rob at Niagara. Spray on the camera is hard to avoid!

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Lucy at Niagara

Dancing Cats and Bald Eagles

 

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The Deans have landed… On their feet! A great nights sleep (albeit with a shockingly early start at 05.30am again) followed by a true American breakfast, cooked up expertly by our host at Lazy Pond B&B, Matt. Pancakes, bacon, maple syrup, sausages, French toast, potato hash, coffee… You name it, we had it!

Breakfast was followed swiftly by playtime in the snow…

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Alfie and Patrick in the snow at Lazy Pond B&B

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She looks so sweet here but was literally SCREAMING “Cheese” at me whenever I pointed the camera away from her!

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The snow is deep!!!

Snow play was followed by a trip to The Dancing Cat Saloon for yet more food, some jazz and some whiskey. If you visit Sullivan County in the Catskills you absolutely must visit this saloon. The mouthwatering menu lived up to its description and more… Fresh home made raspberry jam like I’ve never known and zabaglione, which is like a sort of cross between clotted cream and custard, amazing! They also have a distillery on site and we got a personal tour by the distiller himself, Monte. The kit looks like something out of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and is used to make a host of interesting whiskeys, vodkas and gins of all sort of amazing ingredients from local farms.

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Catskill Distilling Company

Obviously we couldn’t leave without a bottle for the road.

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Most Righteous Bourbon by the Catskill Distilling Company

It just so happened that the co-owner of the saloon, Stacey, happens to be an avid eagle watcher and pointed us in the direction of the best eagle viewing area in the county… Which I’m sorry but I’m not posting publicly online… You’ll have to visit Dancing Cats and ask Stacey for yourself. If you’re not into Eagles then visit them for the music, food and the mermaid on the piano.

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The mermaid on the piano at the Dancing Cat Saloon

So it turns out our experiences of less friendly people in the city were very much limited to there. People out here in the Catskills could not be more friendly, more welcoming or helpful. We mentioned our slight nervousness at the snowy roads that we are not use to and were instantly provided with Monte’s mobile phone number in case we should run into trouble.

On leaving the Saloon we headed off to spot us some eagles. But not before stopping to check out the monument making the regions most famous event… Woodstock. It was kind of snowy so we couldn’t really see much but, dear readers, if you could have seen me wading through the snow that came right up to my bum just so I could get this picture to share with you… Well you would have been proud of me!

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Monument at Woodstock site… somewhat buried in snow!

And so to the eagles. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that, despite my navigating prowess, we have taken quite a number of wrong turns between New York City and here and we have turned around more times then I care to remember (or confess). We keep reassuring ourselves that we’ll get used to the signs and junctions but honestly, they come out of nowhere and every road has about 4 different numbers and names! Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration but I’ve successfully navigated in many a European country without issue or error and yet am utterly flummoxed right now. However, I have absolutely no intention of getting a Sat Nav so I’m sure I’ll get used to it soon (or end up in Peru?).

Eventually we found the place and Orla woke up right on que. The snow was starting again and we really don’t want to get stuck so we didn’t spend long… but… We saw a Bald Eagle. And it was magnificent. It was also brief so I don’t have a photo to share with you. But I will, I am sure, over the next few weeks and months.

Eagles weren’t the only wildlife we saw. I spotted a couple of deer and we saw a Blue Jay and a Common Merganser (google it if you’re interested).

To be fair to kids (and Rob and I need reminding “to be fair” as we moan between ourselves quite a lot about them) we were pretty impressed by how long they were in the car and the boys really got into the bird watching. They are getting pretty good with the binoculars now too.

Back to beautiful cosy and warm Lazy Pond we headed. Warm was what was needed, boy is it cold out. We have spent the evening watching Home Alone with the kids, snuggled up on the sofa.

I’m a little worried that we have been so spoiled at Lazy Pond that no where else will live up to it. But more about that tomorrow and until then, stay warm.

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Getting to the Catskills

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This morning was kind of mental. I haven’t exactly been overwhelmed by friendliness so far, although I think partly that’s due to central Manhattan not really being the place for kids. Unfortunately the epitome of unfriendliness presented this morning in the form of the man at the Avis car rental desk at JFK Airport. There appeared to be a problem with our booking via an agent and the way it had been set up for the 6 months. The man wanted us to return every month to JFK Airport to sign a piece of paper in person. Clearly that’s not really an option and apparently there is no way round it and nothing would break his stony, almost cruel, attitude towards us. The agent in the UK on the other hand was very helpful and although the problem isn’t exactly sorted, it will be and in the meantime we’ve hired a car from New York to Buffalo where we’ll pick up the long term one (hopefully!)

So we headed on out in the temporary car and took a number of wrong turns as we navigated the crazy road networks around the city and finally got on route 17 out to the mountains, sighing a big breath of relief… When child #2 had a major diarrhoea incident in his pants and it got everywhere, hands and all. So we pulled over in the snow, cleared it all up and set off again wondering at the incredible ability for our children’s toileting requirements to control our entire lives.

The snow was falling faster and heavier now and the roads were increasingly treacherous. As we passed more and more accidents Rob’s nerves started increasing as the driving got more challenging. So
our relief when we finally pulled up at our first stop in the beautiful little town of Livingston Manor was great. Although literally covered in snow, quite a few feet deep, you can still see what a charming small American town it is. We were there to visit Morgan Outdoors to buy kit for our onward journey. You’ll be relieved to know I now have suitable waterproof footwear! We also have kit for cooking our own food to keep our cost down, a snow shovel and gloves for Alf and Orla who have lost their original pairs already. Our welcome to Sullivan County, by the shop proprietor Lisa, couldn’t have been nicer and better timed so our morning stress seemed to melt away and the fresh mountain air was exactly what we needed.

By the time we headed out of town towards Lazy Pond B&B in the next town along called Liberty our moods had lifted and we were feeling positive and excited. And boy, was that quadrupled as we pulled up at Lazy Pond… Now this place is what we are about! The kids have never seen proper icicles or snow as deep and pristine and they finally got to start a snowman (to be finished tomorrow). Matt, the owner’s son, who welcomed us, had baked cookies for the kids and told us how they have been shovelling snow all day and night for days now.

We’re off to hopefully see some bald eagles tomorrow and find some slopes for the kids to sled down, we’ve got a snowman to finish and hot chocolate to drink. I’m super sleepy now and looking forward to a decent nights sleep now the kids have adjusted to the time zone and there’s no street traffic noise out here in the open country. To top it off the pillows here are perfect which my stiff shoulder and I are excessively excited about. Lots more pictures to follow tomorrow. Good night!

New York in Pictures

Rob and the kids on snowy streets

We met with a true New Yorker today who I know through my work with the condition hyperemesis gravidarum. You can read about our day out in Downtown Manhattan with our wonderful personal guide who treated us to a meal in China Town and a tour of the Court Rooms in my other blog www.spewingmummy.co.uk

We’re packing up now for an early start back to JFK Airport where we pick up the hire car and head out for the hills. Tomorrow night we’ll be at Lazy Pond Bed and Breakfast in the Catskill Mountains. We’ve enjoyed New York but it’s a very grown up city, far more suited to romantic couple breaks rather than dragging three small children around. We are hoping to find more budget friendly meals and activities outside of the City and are seriously craving some wildlife and open space. Our city days are behind us now, so while it’s been fun we’re looking forward to moving on.

Here are my photo’s from our time in this beautiful, crazy city…

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Shiny building reflecting the clouds!

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The tallest building around (if you include the spike)

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Beautiful shiny buildings. Except I can only photograph them from this position due to the lack of Twin Towers which used to stand in front of them.

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The ceiling inside the court house… I got told off for having my camera shortly after, whoops!

 

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The statue of liberty, photo-bombed by a gull!

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The stock exchange

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Skyscrapers and blue skies

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Madison Avenue

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The city looks so different with blue sky… the whole place changes colour!

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George Washington on Wall Street

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