Category Archives: Dining

The 30-Day Summer Adventure Challenge!


We started this adventure to get out, come rain or shine, and see Central New York. The weather can be brutal here; there are entire weeks of rain and continuous cloud cover. Living to the fullest when the weather is exceptional is more important than I ever fathomed.

Our little family spent 30 days exploring our community. We targeted fun, inexpensive family friendly places. We mapped the days and stayed within budget (under $40 a day). Team Turtle often took hours just to get out the door. I am certain many people thought I had lost my mind. Maybe I did; it was a lofty goal with two little guys under 5-years old—all their stuff, all my photography stuff, and just getting us all dressed was sometimes monumental, so I skipped a few showers. I edited the photos (developed in film terms) at night and wrote about the day. I took it all on with a new blog and without any knowledge of Word Press. I’m tired now, and I want to enjoy my kids and hubs for the rest of our summer without these crazy, self-imposed deadlines.

And so, after all the fun, all the bribery with popsicles, snow cones, and candy, all the meltdowns, the belly laughs, the hugs, and more love than I can ever express, the 30-Day Summer Adventure Challenge is a wrap!

Watch the video: It’s a Wrap!

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

Day 19: The 30-Day Summer Adventure Challenge

“If you build it, they will come.”

I appreciate quality. Gone are the days when I reached for cute little shoes with a cute little price tag. I’m too moody and fussy now, and hopefully too wise, to suffer in shoes that hurt my feet. So instead of buying two or three pairs of cute, “affordable” shoes, I buy one comfortable pair. I guess I’m in the no-nonsense season of life.

Since foreign markets gobbled up American manufacturing, quality has become hard to find, even in the coveted name brands of years past. Those jeans I once loved, the tailored suits that fit so well and felt so nice—gone. I hunt for quality, not just for big-ticket items, but for food, too. I find myself triple checking labels to ensure my kids aren’t drinking apple juice from China or Guatemala. (New York is second only to the state of Washington in apple production, yet most of our apple juice comes from foreign countries. I am not making this up. Check the labels.)

When I find quality goods and hard working folks, I drive the extra miles and spend a little more. I want quality-driven, local businesses to succeed. North Star Orchard is way out of my way, but it’s a local gem worthy of the loyalty. I’ve been a customer since we landed in Central New York eight years ago. They have built a solid business and they’re willing to spend time with their customers. I like that. But their products have to rock too, and they do.

North Star Orchard is an “old fashion” market. I love the smells wafting from the bakery any time I visit. They make their own iced blueberry cookies, as assortment of muffins, breads, pies, buttermilk biscuits, and on, and on. They have New York cheeses in large bricks–blue, aged cheddar, horseradish. They grow their own tomatoes, cucumbers, and corn. Right now they have a long tent with rows and rows of drying garlic, hopefully to be braided (I can never find braided garlic). Their blueberry fields are LOADED this year. Team Turtle did what we could yesterday in the hot sun, but Little Man wanted to eat more than I could pick (Shhh! Don’t tell. He’s only 2!). The 4-year old wanted to talk, a lot, while Mommy chased Little Man, took photos and picked berries. Sigh!

In spring, I go to North Star for their annuals. They are a little pricey, but the plants always grow well and I have blooms from purchase time through the first frost; I know I’m getting quality. With perennials, the store is particular about selling only plants that are zoned for our climate. Unlike big chains, they don’t sell lemon trees in Zone 4.

The store is open from April through December. Spring and summer are bustling with berries, plants and produce. In fall, they rev it up again with a corn maze, apple cider, donuts, kettle corn and hay rides. In November, customers put in their pie orders well in advance for Thanksgiving deserts. During the Christmas season, they make beautiful, handmade wreaths and garlands. I am always a little sad when we near the closing date. They shut down around Christmas and don’t open again until April. I hate to see North Star Orchard all buttoned up for four months. I almost want to celebrate when they reopen in April–their reopening means we can finally come out of our dens.

What I’d like to see: I almost don’t want to say it because I want the store to maintain its homegrown, old fashion wholesomeness, but here is goes. I’d love to see a café at the store, with a few menu items (centered around the fresh food from the gardens), along with a few nice wines. It would be a big endeavor—serving food is never easy–but from the looks of it, nothing they’ve done so far has been easy. I bet they could pull it off, and with class. If they do, I’ll revisit and maybe I’ll blog about it again–what a great excuse to keep going back.

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

Day 16: The 30-Day Summer Adventure Challenge!

When in Ireland…

My 4-year old is really getting into these adventures. He was thrilled we were headed to a castle this afternoon. I had grandiose ideas about how the day would play: I pictured driving to a castle, throwing out a blanket and having an afternoon snack with the boys–a tea party on the grounds of a castle. How cool is that! Nope. It rained buckets again, the kids were fussy, we started late… ARGH!!But we did go to a castle.

Beardslee Castle is about 30 minutes east of Utica on Rt. 5. The original owners—Ethel and Guy Beardslee—modeled their 1860 home after Irish castles. With its history, we’re fortunate to still have it. It caught fire twice, first in 1919 and again in 1989. After the 1919 fire, the Beardslees rebuilt the main floor and divided their time between the castle and their home in Florida. The couple had no children, so after their deaths (Guy-1937, Ethel-1941), the castle changed several hands for the next half century.

The present owners found the castle in grave disrepair. Owner Lynn Brown said that when she walked into the castle with her dad, she knew she had to be a part of the home’s history. The home had been sitting in leaking water for three years at that point, and it took the new owners 18 months of cleaning and restoration to reclaim its grandeur.

The castle was built from the area’s fieldstone, and at two feet thick, it’s no surprise that the walls survived both fires. The present owners uncovered and restored beautiful parquet floors, which had been carpeted for decades. They reclaimed the coffered, wood ceilings and scrubbed a century of dirt, grime and soot from the stone walls. I was able to speak with Ms. Brown for a few moments, and she graciously welcomed me to stay as long as I wanted and to snap as many photos as I needed. I could have chatted with her for hours about the restoration project and the castle’s history. Even to my untrained eye, it’s apparent that the Browns went to great measures to ensure a proper restoration.

Rumors that the castle is haunted have circulated for years, but the owner pretty much shrugged that off as fun folklore. I found it curious that Little Man (my 23-month old) had no desire to go inside, even though it was soppy wet outside. He blocked the front doorway, covered his ears and said, “Ouuut!” Maybe he just loves being in the rain. I didn’t feel anything unusual, but when my 4-year old overheard the conversation about haunts, he wanted to bolt. I want to go back.

Beardslee Castle has been a fine dining facility for 21 years. The owners feature local, seasonal fare—strawberry chicken, local beets, cheeses from Poland, NY… They change their menu daily and buy from local farms. I like that! It’s been awhile since I dined there, but I can report that the food was excellent and the service gave me that fine-dining feeling–such a treat.

If you’ve never been to Beardslee Castle, it’s worth the drive. I want to go back for dinner, but I also want to toss a blanket and sit amidst the garden on a warm, dry, summer day.  An Irish castle in Central New York? Makes perfect sense to me. 😉

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

Day 2: The 30 Day Summer Adventure Challenge!

Fly Creek Cider Mill!

It’s day 2 of our 30-day adventure challenge and I’m already wondering how on earth I’m going to do this. Before I get into the cuteness and fun factor overload, I need to get a few things out in the open…there is nothing easy about getting kids ready for an outing. If there was a method distributed in some mommy manual, someone has stolen it and hidden it for all eternity. While I thank God for my beautiful children, and you KNOW how grateful I am, these boogers are high maintenance. There’s the whole pre-trip saga: making sure their bellies are full, cleanup time, showers or baths, and my favorite—getting them dressed. It’s a game for our 23-month old; he makes me chase him around the house at least five times. When I do catch him, the alligator wiggles out of my arms and off we go through the house again. He thinks it’s hysterical; I am rarely laughing about it. Our 4-year old has things he will and will not wear, and he has his own timeline for everything, which never synchs with mine. I was exhausted before we even hit the road.

But, with the car loaded up with treats, drinks, extra clothes, diapers… we did hit the road. Wooo-hoooo! Every time I can report that we got out, I have this aura of pride: Hey world, look at me! I have two kids in tow and we’re actually doing stuff. Am I the only mom who feels that much pride over getting out of the house? I would never have imagined that getting out would be such a remarkable feat. What’s the big deal? They’re kids! Throw their butts in the car and go! Bah. Ha. Ha. The joke is absolutely on me. For all of you moms who got the raised eyebrows from me for not getting out, I now raise my wine glass to you. I had no idea what your days were like. Thanks for not hitting me over my head with your diaper bag because I sure as fire deserved it.

Onto the fun… you know we had to do it: Fly Creek Cider Mill! It’s a beautiful 45-minute drive from Utica through rolling hills, green pastures and farmland. As I was driving I thought, Wow, just the drive is worth the trip.

The Fly Creek Cider Mill is a real treat for little ones. Mine would have loved to feed the exotic waterfowl the entire time. I have no idea how many species the mill has. Some have tufted crowns, others have beautiful coloring, and I’m fairly certain regular, run of the mill geese and ducks just fly in for the free food and pampering. There are vending machines for corn, so bring lots of quarters. The birds alone will keep the kids occupied for at least an hour! Oh, and it’s baby season—lots of fuzzy little chicks to see.

There’s too much to taste inside to stay with the geese and ducks. I think I saw a sign on the way in that said 400 samples daily. I’m not sure. Anyhoo, the samples are my favorite part: salsas, dips, peanut brittle, fudge, cider, and, um, hard cider and wine—that was a real treat after my morning.

It doesn’t cost anything to mosey about the grounds, but you’ll likely buy something when you taste the yummy dips or eyeball those beautiful pies. When you do, you’ll get 10% off at the café on your receipt—nice for some ice cream or a cold drink. The café has a full menu, so if your car isn’t loaded down with snacks like ours was, it’s a good option. There are plenty of shaded picnic tables, and the service was very pleasant. Oh, and I noticed something this year that I never noticed before–the cafe sells glasses of hard cider and wine. Cheers mums and dads!

Tomorrow is another busy day! Stay tuned.

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

Day 1: The 30-Day Summer Adventure Challenge!

I have passed it a dozen times and always wanted to stop: Candella’s Farm & You Pick Strawberries (here they are on Facebook). Finally… we were ready this year and the strawberries are ripe! We picked a doozie of a day—rain, mud–in fact, it poured on us. We got soaked, dirty, and my kids stuffed their faces with red, plump, juicy strawberries. How wholesome is that!

It was a good, low-key start to our 30-day adventure challenge. The kids were fired up and couldn’t wait to get there. In fact, as we pulled into the muddy parking area, my 4-year old said, “I can’t stand it I’m so excited!” He’s crazy fun that way. What I loved so much about our adventure was that our youngest, the 23-month old, had fun just standing in the rain eating strawberries. Yep, truly cuteness and innocence overload!

It was certainly affordable–gas to get there and $8.00 for a whole slew of strawberries, and that included the container that we purchased at the pay shack. (You can bring your own container and save about a buck.)

The attendant who drove us into the field in a little golf cart even had some pointers on how to pick ’em. “Get into the middle of the plant. Most people only pick on the outside, but the good strawberries are in the middle.” Good to know!

I don’t want to go off on a diatribe, but we’re losing old fashion forms of fun. Remember when we skinned our knees, climbed fences, got into trouble… I read an article recently that discussed the harm we’re doing to our children by “over parenting.” I would have thought that was nonsense before I had kids of my own. But maybe there’s something to that. One thing is clearly different between our two children: the oldest (the one I was so neurotic with) is more apprehensive than our youngest. With the baby, we haven’t jumped with every boo-boo or fall. While we remain very protective, we are trying to let our kids pick themselves up more and dust themselves off, and we’re letting them have more adventures in the mud.

I am guilty of giving my kids electronic devices or “…one more show” while I finish a load of laundry, or, sadly, to get a moment of peace. But that’s part of the 30-Day Summer Adventure Challenge. Get out there! Go local! Get dirty! Put the devices away and share what you’re doing. Oh, and give me some suggestions of your favorite local places–it could be your own shop or one of your favorite haunts. We just might make an adventure out of it.

A little hint about tomorrow’s local adventure: We’re looking for unusual animals! Check back in tomorrow to see where we go! I’ll post photos, courtesy of Lightning Bugs Photography, and I’ll blog about it. Stay tuned!

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