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Day 8: The 30-Day Summer Adventure Challenge!

Locals Know!

Growing up, the phrase, “We don’t have the money…” was probably our family mantra, or close to it. It was true; we really didn’t have money. But in my adulthood, I have learned that not having money is simply not an excuse for boredom. Nothing on our adventures to date has cost us more than $40. Granted, a vehicle is a must, but having fun doesn’t require big bank. It does require some imagination, a little effort, and a little research. And the research is as simple as listening to what the locals have to say.

For instance, if you want a kickin’ restaurant, look for a place with a packed parking lot and local license plates–no brainer, right? But most community gems aren’t as transparent. You almost have to “pay your dues” by living in a place for a while to get the gouge.

There are some nuggets that I almost want to keep secret; I’m selfish that way. I don’t care for large crowds and I like things to remain special. But at the risk of turning this gem into a hot spot, I’m going to give it up…not that I could keep a state park a secret anyway: Green Lakes State Park in Fayetteville. As a fresh water kind of gal, I fell in love yesterday. When I turned onto the park’s main roadway and saw slivers of emerald green water sparkling through the trees on the left, and lush fairways on the right, I knew I’d found a big, local secret. People, it is breathtakingly beautiful!

Green Lakes State Park is an easy 40-minute drive from Utica. It’s $8 to get into the park to enjoy the beach, hiking, bicycling, picnicking, and a very well-designed playground that’s even suitable for kids under 5— Moms, you know that’s a sweet bonus. It’s very challenging to find playgrounds that are safe for the real little guys.

There are several lifeguards on duty in the beach area, which I always appreciate with two little people. I found the bathrooms neat and clean, even toward the end of a sunny day. There’s a snack bar that serves hot food, and a first aid station. As for golf, well, I have never played the game. But I have heard the name Robert Trent Jones and Green Lakes was one of his first golf course designs. And I am an expert in beauty. The golf course is stunning.

If I had a magic genie, I’d have the park provide nice beach chairs so beachgoers wouldn’t have to lug quite as much stuff (especially with kids in tow). Also, as a warning: the water is COLD! June is still early in these parts, so I’m anxious to feel the water temps as summer heats up.

Okay Central New York…I get it! It’s beautiful here…you just have to know where to go. Summer comes, and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune to enjoy it. Observe, do a little research, and listen to the locals. Finding something special and fun, and dang near FREE, is that simple.

For more local and family photography, check out, and “like” Lightning Bugs Photography on Facebook for photography tips, tricks, and updates!

Day 5: The 30-Day Summer Adventure Challenge!

Beauty Really is All Around You…

We drove past Root Glen Gardens three days a week for TWO school years while our son attended preschool at Hamilton College. We never knew this artistic and beautifully manicured treasure was there. I cheated myself, because I am certain that someone told me about the gardens before I started this blog, but I was either too busy or too caught up in my own head to listen.

Walking around the grounds of Root Glen, I tried to concentrate on the joy of the moment, my two beautiful boys beaming with joy as they ran around the grounds, my husband who was delighted by the find, and the correct exposure settings on my daggum camera, but I kept thinking about my mother. Oh, how she would have been in awe over the different species of plants, and the organic, yet well-manicured beauty of the gardens. My mother will soon be moved to a nursing home from a rehabilitation center. She is not recovering—dementia has stolen her memory, and even day-to-day activities are too much for her. I have a hard time reaching her by phone because she cannot remember from one moment to the next how to lean over and answer it. She is completely blind now, so she cannot see the phone or remember where it is. The sadness that shrouds me over her quality of life is exponential, because there really is very little quality now.

My mother loved flowers. She spent years planting pretty things in her yard and couldn’t wait for spring to see their beauty. Flowers and plants truly made my mother happy. I remember how giddy she’d get over the smell of her white Easter lilies. And I smile every time I think about how much she hated pine straw. But even through the fussing, she managed to laugh about having to rake it, because it was a chore that she could accomplish with pride.

My mother’s life was splattered with more than her fair share of sadness, but she never lost hope. I am truly amazed by that. I could call my mom and tell her that I was blue about this or that, and she would talk to me as long as I needed her, and she’d tell me not to be sad. Somehow, by the time we hung up, she most always cheered me. Through the years, we had awful, stupid squabbles. I know she forgives me, and I sure forgive her. I got to see her a couple of weeks ago at the rehabilitation center near Charlotte, NC. She kept saying that she wants to go home. I tried to encourage her to work harder and break through. I told her “…fight! Fight hard, Mama! Don’t you lay there and die on me.” But the two strokes were most likely too much. I can’t bear to tell her that she’s probably never going back to her home here on Earth. If there’s the tiniest bit of hope left, I refuse to rob her of that. I want to believe that she can break through some how.

I did not start writing again to bring sadness. I started this blog to inspire and hopefully bring about community or personal awareness. I want it to be fun, but sadness needs its moments, too, or we cannot grow. We have lived in this community for seven years, and through this blog I am seeing my town for the very first time. My mother visited here several times before her health failed—even as recently as Thanksgiving. She used to talk about how pretty the yards were here. I wish I had known about Root Glen Gardens. I wish I had listened when people told me about it because I would have loved taking my mom there. She would have been inspired and blessed to walk through it. Go to Root Glen. Spend some time there. It’s peaceful, and full of life—flowers and species that you’ve never heard are all around. The serenity makes it one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. I bet you have an arboretum near you. Don’t take it for granted. Go see it, and take someone special with you. There’s life there, and hope. Beauty is all around you.

For more local and family photography, check out, and “like” Lightning Bugs Photography on Facebook for photography tips, tricks, and updates!