The Sky Lakes of New York

Not far from our house are several magnificent “sky lakes” — an intriguing name for bodies of water perched high among the complicated conglomerate geology of the Shawangunk Ridge. This weekend, taking advantage of the spectacular warm late November weather, we visited Lake Minnewaska State Preserve, home to several such sky lakes, as well as waterfalls and numerous hiking trails.

The park was crowded with lots of families and tourists, but we were able to quickly escape the herds by veering off the wide, gravel carriage paths and onto true hiking trails. We hiked to Milbrook Mountain, first passing by Lake Minnewaska, then veering down through a rhododendron/mountain laurel grove. It was about 6 miles total. While not nearly as remote as hiking sites in the lower ‘Gunks, nor as nature-filled (we mostly saw squirrels), it was still, of course, gorgeous. New York the state has really grown on me as a place of underestimated beauty.

You wouldn't know it by looking at this photo, but we were surrounded by people at the lake, which is easy to access for families/tourists looking for a quick pretty view.

A vista from Milbrook Mountain trail in Minnewaska State Preserve. This was the half-way point on our hike and we're looking east over the Hudson Valley here.

Me by a stream. Don't ask me what the weird pink light is -- gonna chalk it up to sunlight trying to complement my sweatshirt.

The Girl Who Loves White Pines and Hemlocks

A year ago, if you asked me to identify white pine and hemlock trees, I’d be all, huh?

So much has changed since then, now that we’re rural NY property owners. I’ve grown deeply in love with our trees, and especially the two dominant evergreens, Eastern white pine and hemlock. While the hardwoods — oaks, maples, beeches, birches — are typically better “lumber” trees and produce spectacular fall foliage, the conifers remind me of growing up in South Texas. Yes, that’s an odd comparison, since the trees of my youth (mesquite, palms and moss-covered Live oak) look nothing like the great NY trees, but the thing they hold in common is having year-round vibrance, no time of year when they suddenly shed their leaves and look vulnerable, naked and near death.

First, the Eastern white pine. This little baby starts out all Charlie Brown Christmas-style.

Baby white pine

But it grows, and grows, and grows and grows. And sometimes turns into multi-trunk mega-trees. We have 4 or 5 mega-trees, and boy, they’re monstrous.

Mature white pine

This is homo sapiens, posing with a mega white pine.

Joy and mega-tree.

Next, the Eastern hemlock. Not as majestic, but perhaps more prolific, at least in our neck of the woods. We’ve got a great many of them sprouting around the place.  Their short needles make them nice light dapplers.

Baby hemlock

Here’s a bunch of hemmies, all growed up, hanging out with birch and rhodedendrons. (Both the white pine and the hemlocks have lots of broken branches on their trunks that they don’t really ever get rid of. That’s perhaps one way to ID them fast in summer.) In this photo, the hemlocks are in the back. And, because they love to grow on cliffs near water, it’s often their trunks you’ll see scattered across a river, after they’ve gone to tree heaven.

More homo sapiens, and hemlocks fallen over the river.

Our living room view is a mix of sumac, hemmies and white pines. The short bright green stuff in the front is sumac. The next closest thing is hemlock, which is growing along a river down below.  The tallest of the trees, forming the top line of the trees — are white pine.

Up close, they’re easier to tell apart.

White pine needles in the spring.

Versus hemlock needles:

It’s Not Easy Photographing Our Skinny Waterfall, La Cascada Flaca

Unlike our cascada principal, which is fat, hearty and year-round, our cascada flaca is more temporary, appearing only after a healthy rain or melting snowpack. She’s visible from our bedroom window, but a total bitch to photograph, as she’s perched over a steep cliff surrounded by mature hemlocks, which are super branch-y.

Still, she’s worth photographing, like any waterfall. On Thanksgiving morning, I took advantage of the bright early sun and ventured into the woods (and seriously folks, there is nothing I’d rather do, except perhaps be on a warm, desolate beach. So how happy am I? Very, very.).

While it was my perfect idea of  a perfect morning, the photos only came out OK — nothing like watching the real thing in action, plunging a good 70 feet down the ravine, and into the brook. A good zoom lens would probably help.

Hemmie branches are so branchy! A slightly closer look:

Pretty much every weekend we’re here, we walk the entire length of our property, and pass by the “headwaters” of our skinny falls. It’s breathtaking every time.

It looks like this as you walk up to it:

Looking down, though, is a little hair raising. The boiling but frigid brook is straight below you, and the sun is blinding, reflecting off the rock cliff, mist and water.

But, if you’re brave, you’ll crane your neck out over the edge, and look straight down.

How I took these photos:



My Lasik Experience, AKA Inhaling the Smoke of My Former Eyeball Parts

Me, pre-Lasik, with four eyes.

Having grown sufficiently sick of grappling with contact lenses (which resulted in a diagnosis of giant papillary conjunctivitis – a fancy name for “eyelids allergic to contact lenses”) and wearing eyeglasses (favorite eyewear moment – hiking in the Redwoods, unable to see a damn thing from the constant mist and fog appearing on the lenses), I decided earlier this year to get LASIK.

I — like everyone who has ever done it — was a little nervous. So beforehand I copiously researched all the little details about the procedure, right down to the type of goggles I’d have to wear after my eyeballs were re-shaped. However, most of the articles online are either written by doctors’ offices desperate to bring in new clients, or written by professional writers who are very careful not to over-state or under-state what the experience is really like. So, this is how it went, for me, written in a helpful second-person voice to help you feel what it’s really like. (Note: The veracity of this report is affected by the Valium I took beforehand.)

1. First your appointment begins with a last-minute check of your vision to make sure they have your refraction correction right.
2. Then, things quickly get different when they hand you a Valium so you don’t bolt. Yay to Valium!
3. Once you seem sufficiently like Jeff Spicoli, they usher you to the surgical room.
4. You lay down on a cushy bed. Someone swipes your eye lids with Betadine to help sterilize your eye area.
5. Then they put a series of drops in your eyes to numb them and what-not.
6. One eye is blocked off with an eye patch. On the other eye (the one to be operated on first), the doctor places clear adhesive retractors in your upper and lower eyelids. S/he then folds those back and sticks them against your skin to fully expose your eyeball. A narrow donut-shaped sheet is placed around the retractors. While this is going on, you look upward at a comforting green light (comforting because you can see it and know you’re not blind).
7. Next comes the slicing and dicing part, or as they politely call it, “creating the corneal flap.” A tubular device comes down on your eyeball, and is basically smooshed really hard against your eye socket. Everything goes gray at that moment. A person will say “suction on.” (I presume this means the eyeball is immobilized so you can’t jerk your head and end up getting flaps cut into your earlobes.) More mumbling from the surgical staff ensues, and in under 20 seconds, something cuts your cornea open. There is no pain, just pressure. (Still my heart was racing at this point.) Luckily you can take deep breaths and think about kittens. Then someone says “suction off” and the device is moved away.
8. The doctor then gets a paintbrush-like tool and pushes your freshly sliced flap back and manipulates your flap and your eyeball. (I experienced a brief moment of motion sickness when he was moving my eye around, because I wasn’t in control of it and the room was moving around. Ugh. But it ends quickly.)
9. Next comes the laser! I, ever the nerd, asked “Is this the laser?” excitedly.
10. A weird goggle set is swung over. Lights flash on – big red swooshy lights. Someone starts counting the progress 20%, 30%, 50%. Full disclosure: You can now smell the laser working. Yes, tiny bits of your eyeballs are vaporized and you’re inhaling that. Thankfully, this only takes around 10 seconds, depending on how bad your eyesight is (my left eye’s vision was worse so it took about 4 seconds longer).
11. The laser is moved away. Now everything happens in backward steps. The doctor gets his tools all up in there and pushes the flap back down into place, gently painting it with something, somehow forming a seal.
12. The most painful part is really the last step – when they peel away the retractors. It’s like having a Band-aid removed from your inner eyelids. But—your eyes are numb so it’s not quite that bad.
13. Everything is repeated on the other eye, and that goes a lot faster because you’re not so nervous.
14. The whole thing takes about 20 minutes, if that.

If you’re like me, you have some REAL pain the next few hours. My eyes kept tearing up, and searing pain that felt like I had shoved fresh onion slices onto my eyes. What helped: Avoiding light — any light — as much as possible. Taking a pain reliever ASAP and falling asleep, which is great for healing your corneas, or so they tell me. As I tried to pass out, I listened to podcasts on my iPod and at one point even sang along to Wilco to help distract myself from the pain (you can’t read or watch TV – and my god, it would hurt too much to even try). When I woke up later, wow, so much better!

The next day, I had a little bit of pain. Then the next day, even less. And yesterday, nothing at all. (You get a bunch of different medicated drops to help with eye dryness, inflammation and to ward off potential infection.)

All in all, four days out, I’m glad I did it. Even if it meant inhaling the gasses of my former eyeball parts.

Erik’s Muppet Babies Vegan Breakfast Sausage Balls

Back in September, I shared a cherished family recipe with you — Betty’s Muppet Babies Sausage Balls. These spherical  masses of deliciousness were a family staple in my household growing up, particularly on Saturday mornings, when my brother and I would scarf them down while watching our favorite cartoon, Muppet Babies.

But, sadly, when we made them recently for my Dad’s birthday while we were all on a family vacation, my brother couldn’t partake – he’s vegan. However, he sent word recently  that the recipe can be adjusted to contain no animal friends (or Muppets) and still maintain its savory goodness. To adapt it to a vegan friendly version, first, see the original recipe. Then, substitute the cheese and sausage with Daiya cheddar-style cheese shreds and Lightlife Gimme Lean Ground Sausage. Cook for 45 minutes in 400-degree oven.

And presto, PETA-approved Sausage Balls!

Vegan Breakfast Sausage Balls