13 December 2018

A Day at the Bear Mountain Inn at Christmastime

A few months ago, I made some plans that necessitated a long weekend trip up north in late November into early December. I don't travel often and prefer to take things slow, so I scheduled a stop at the Bear Mountain Inn in upstate New York along the way to my final destination. While the rest of my plans ultimately fell through, I did end up keeping my reservation at the Bear Mountain Inn for a little break in the mountains before the hustle and bustle of the holiday season really got underway.

The Bear Mountain Inn is a historic hotel located in Bear Mountain State Park near Stony Point, New York. It's been open almost continuously since 1915, though it was closed for major renovations between 2005 and 2011 to revive the building's original rustic atmosphere. That aesthetic certainly comes through today, with lots of stone and wood finishes, warm earth tones, and bear motifs tucked in almost every corner. Two little twin bear cub statues even greet you as you come in the front door:

Over the couple of days that my dad and I stayed at the inn the staff was working to put up Christmas decorations. There were even more up by the time we checked out, so I didn't manage to photograph the finished result in some cases! But I especially loved the colorful wooden cutout toy soldiers guarding the staircases in the lobby and the Santa scene peeking through one of the windows, since they had a retro flair that suited the history of the hotel:

Since the inn is located in a state park, there are lots of outdoor activities right outside the hotel. My city-slicker dad and I, a small town girl, stuck with walking the paved paths around the inn, but we checked out the ice rink and the merry-go-round buildings--complete with bear-adorned signs, of course--from the outside, as well as the signs for the Appalachian Trail, which crosses through the park:


Of course the main attraction of Bear Mountain State Park is its scenic natural beauty. The inn is located right next to Hessian Lake, and the mountains are visible from all around. It must be a lovely place to spend a warm and sunny day, with boating and fishing on the lake and picnic tables with wonderful views, but there was a kind of peaceful beauty about the landscape on the cold, quiet mornings when we took our walks:

I would definitely like to return to the Bear Mountain Inn someday, perhaps in the spring, summer, or autumn when I could enjoy some of the warmer weather activities the park has to offer. There are many nearby historical sites related to the American Revolution that I'd like to visit as well, and I'd love to spend some more time exploring the nearby towns of Garrison and Cold Spring, which we saw glimpses of after driving over the Bear Mountain Bridge. All in all, I highly recommend Bear Mountain as a weekend getaway for nature lovers and history buffs from the greater New York and Philadelphia regions.

27 October 2018

An Autumn Day at Batsto Village in Wharton State Forest

Last Sunday, I went to see historic Batsto Village in Wharton State Forest. From the late eighteenth century through the nineteenth century, Batsto was the site of a succession of industries, including an iron works, a glass works, and a sawmill. The village once housed those who worked at these industries and their families, but by the first half of the twentieth century Batsto had ceased all industrial operations and the village was mostly abandoned. So in the late 1950s the state of New Jersey purchased the property, renovated the buildings, and opened Batsto Village to the public as a historic site.

My dad and I visited Batsto during their annual Country Living Fair, and despite the fact that it was a chilly, windy day (and there was a football game on at the time), the village was packed with people. There were booths with food and crafts for sale, but I was mostly interested in exploring the village buildings. Our first stop was the village store, where old bottles, tins, and boxes had been arranged behind a wire barrier to replicate the shop's nineteenth-century wares.

Next we came to the old sawmill, which was open but only barely renovated: sand and dirt covered the floors, and though stairs that led to a basement level had a sturdy handrail, their steepness and the sand made them alarmingly slippery. I don't think I would have liked to go down there on a day when the village was empty, for fear of an accident!

We then headed over to the mansion, which was once inhabited by Batsto's wealthy owners. The interior was open to the public via guided tours, but our visit fell between time slots, so I only saw the exterior. I'd like to go back another time to see inside, and to get some more pictures when it's less crowded--the mansion's porch was a popular rest spot for the fairgoers, and it was difficult to get a shot without any people in it!

After seeing the mansion we headed over to the workers' cottages. These were set a bit further away from the main village buildings, and we had to cross a small bridge over the Mullica River and Batsto Lake to get to them. Batsto is part of Wharton State Forest, which in turn is part of the New Jersey Pinelands National Reserve, so the village is surrounded by areas of natural beauty. Of course many of the trees were evergreen pines, but a few deciduous trees were starting to change color for the autumn.

The workers' cottages were lined up in two rows opposite each other, with a dirt path in between. They were nearly all identical, with their symmetrical facades and weathered wooden siding, and several were open to peek inside. I found this part of the village the most haunting, perhaps because these buildings were once homes, or perhaps because they were further away from the hustle and bustle of the fair. Even with a few groups of people about and the sounds of the fair not far off, it felt a little eerie here.

There was more to see in the village that I didn't capture, and more still that I didn't get a chance to see myself. I'm curious to see how the atmosphere of the village changes when it's more empty, so I'll plan a return visit for a quieter day to give myself a chance to really take everything in.

13 October 2018

Recipe: Low-Fat Egg-Free Pumpkin Spice Muffins

Note: Please keep in mind that my recipes reflect only my own experience, and if you choose to follow them you do so at your own risk!

Pumpkin doesn't just give an autumnal flavor to these muffins--it also makes them super moist without having to add a lot of fat to the recipe and provides a healthy dose of Vitamin A! If you would prefer to make them vegan, simply swap the melted butter and dairy milk for your cooking oil and plant milk of choice.
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup dark amber maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a muffin pan with 12 muffin wrappers and set aside. 
2. In a large mixing bowl, mix the sugar, maple syrup, melted butter, and pumpkin puree. 
3. Add 1/2 cup of the flour, the baking powder, the baking soda, the spices, and the salt to the wet mixture and combine. Add the vanilla extract and 2 tablespoons of the milk and combine again. Keep alternating 1/2 cup flour and 2 tablespoons of milk, blending well after each addition. 
4. Spoon the batter into the lined muffin pan, dividing evenly among 12 muffins.  
5. Bake the muffins until they've puffed at the top and are golden brown, around 20 minutes.  
6. Carefully pop the muffins out of the pan and let cool on wire racks to prevent sogginess. 
Makes 12 muffins

05 October 2018

A Literary Halloween at That Sort of Shop

I started seeing Halloween decorations in my neighborhood as early as Labor Day this year, and with the approach and arrival of October more and more have been creeping in. While I love Halloween, I prefer to wait until fairly close to the actual evening to decorate and get excited, when there's an invigorating crispness in the temperature and a sense of mystery in the breeze. Since we've been experiencing Indian summer where I live, it seems a little early for jack-o'-lanterns and the like just yet for me!

Canterville Ghost Banner from That Sort of Shop

But, since I know many people like to get an earlier start on their Halloween planning and celebrations, I recently restocked my collection of Halloween paper pennant banners in my Etsy shop. Each is inspired by a spooky work of classic fiction: Dracula by Bram Stoker, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, and The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde. They all feature pennants printed with real text from each story, along with Gothic and historically-inspired patterns in a classic Halloween color scheme of orange and black.

Dracula Banner from That Sort of Shop

As with all of my literary banners, I chose patterns and motifs that reflect each story's style, theme, and setting. Some of my favorite details in the Halloween collection include the dapper English black houndstooth pattern in the Canterville Ghost banner, the alphabet motif that looks like eighteenth-century typeface in the Sleepy Hollow banner, and the Gothic architectural prints in the Dracula and Frankenstein banners.

Sleepy Hollow Banner from That Sort of Shop

I think these banners add a sophisticated literary air to Halloween home and party decorations, and look especially bewitching draped from a mantelpiece or over suspended above a buffet of tantalizing treats. If you'd like to order one for yourself, please do so by October 26th for best chance of delivery before Halloween! Once they vanish they'll be gone for another year, so snatch them while you can.

Frankenstein Banner from That Sort of Shop

19 September 2018

A Day at Christ Church in Old City, Philadelphia

I'm taking a course on Colonial history this semester of college, and my first assignment was to visit and write about a Colonial site. Luckily I live fairly close to Philadelphia, so I had plenty of potential places to pick from! Old City seemed a natural neighborhood on which to narrow my focus, since as the name suggests it's the oldest section of Philadelphia. Because the course ends prior to the American Revolution, I eliminated the sites of Independence Mall in favor of somewhere a bit older, and landed on Christ Church.

Christ Church was originally built in 1695, though the present building dates from 1744. It has remained an active church throughout its entire history, but it's open every day of the week for guided or self-guided tours. When my dad (doing duty as field trip buddy) and I arrived there were only a handful of people in the church waiting for the tour to begin, so we explored the building and its grounds on our own for a little.

Like many buildings in Old City, the church is built of red brick and enclosed by a wrought iron fence. We entered the grounds through a gate on Second Street and walked along the enclosed area parallel to Church Street, where several graves are scattered along the pavement and marked with stone slabs flush with the ground. There are more graves under the church itself, marked by engraved stones on the floor--our tour guide told us this wasn't uncommon for Anglican churches of the era.

The church has a row of beautiful Georgian windows along Church Street, and an enormous one facing Second Street behind the pulpit--all clear glass instead of stained to reflect the Enlightenment belief that the outside world posed no threat to the spiritual world, according to our tour guide. The windows and the pulpit date from the eighteenth century, but various other fixtures have been replaced over time, reflecting the longevity of the congregation. The pews were replaced in the nineteenth century, though the church map still marks where notable Founding Fathers would have sat.

We sat in one of the pews while the tour guide gave a talk about the church's history, and shortly after he began speaking our small group was joined by twenty or so people on a larger guided tour. Just as we were leaving after the tour concluded, an even larger group was pouring in, so it seemed we had timed our arrival and departure just perfectly!

Visitors enter and exit the church through the tower room, where stairs lead to the organ, choir loft, belfry, and gallery. The room itself serves as a gift shop, and I purchased a souvenir guide map and history booklet to assist me in my paper writing. Then we got directions from the cashier to the Christ Church burial ground, which is situated a few blocks away at the corner of Fifth and Arch Streets.

Like the church, the burial ground is bordered by a wrought iron fence. Unlike the church, the burial ground was nearly empty of visitors--there were only a couple of other people who had paid the three dollar entrance fee to come inside, and a handful of people on a tour looking in from outside the fence. We followed a path winding through the graves and the old, shady trees, though it petered out in parts.

In some areas the graves are ordered neatly in rows, and in others they are more haphazard. Many have partially sunken into the ground, while others are cracked and broken.

The markers are a mix of simple headstones, raised tomb-like structures, and obelisk monuments. The inscriptions have worn away on most of the oldest stones, which date from the eighteenth century. The newest grave I saw was that of a man who died in 1991, and his wife's grave next to it still awaits its occupant. (I took a photo, but won't share it here for their privacy.)

The most famous grave in the burial ground is that of Benjamin Franklin. Conveniently for the tour group outside the fence, Franklin's grave is located on one of the outer corners near the sidewalk. The visitors tossed pennies onto the grave, apparently in homage to Franklin's saying, "A penny saved is a penny earned." We didn't give Franklin any monetary offerings, since I figured our admission fee was worth significantly more. 

The burial ground had a somewhat otherworldly atmosphere yet wasn't particularly spooky; just a bit strangely quiet and green for a plot of land in the middle of a busy city neighborhood. The church runs a guided evening tour of the burial ground on Fridays through the middle of November, and if I get the chance I'd like to come back for one and see if the atmosphere is different a little later in the day--or closer to Halloween! Besides, there was so much to see at Christ Church that I didn't get a chance to photograph, so a general return visit might just be in order.

(One final note on the photos I did get: I used my iPod instead of my regular digital camera and edited these shots in Instagram, and used filters on most of the burial ground photos to convey a sense of atmosphere. The end result is a little experimental, and the quality a bit inconsistent, which I hope wasn't too distracting!)