Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Week Four: Troy Winter Farmers' Market-Troy, New York

Uncle Sam Atrium
I’m back online!  Our new house is still a bit disorganized but at least I have cable and internet!  On Saturday, I went to the Troy Winter Farmers’ Market which is located in the beautiful Uncle Sam Atrium in downtown Troy.  It’s an easy drive from Albany and there’s free parking next door in the Uncle Sam Parking Garage.

Now maybe you’re wondering how a farmers’ market is free.  Don’t you have to buy stuff?  Well, you can (and there’s a bunch of great stuff) but there are also a ton of free samples and great music!  I loved just walking around and seeing what the local area has to offer and occasionally sampling some tasty treats.  There are so many free samples to try including peanut butter, jam, cheese, pesto, wine, and hand lotion (not for eating!).  Make sure you try a gourmet marshmallow from dreamPuff Marshmallows and a homemade Belgian waffle sample from Pika’s Liege Waffles (although the waffle is so good you’ll probably want to buy one for $4).

The winter market is open on Saturdays from 9:00am to 1:00pm until April.  In the warmer months, the market moves outside to River Street in Troy.  I’ve been to several farmers markets in the area and the Troy Winter Market is definitely my favorite.  I can’t wait until the summer when there are even more local vendors!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Bought a House!

We did it!  Mr. Free Albany and I have purchased our first house and will be moving in over the next few days.  Unfortunately, this means that I will not have internet access at home so won't be able to post anything for a bit.  Don't worry, I'll still be doing free things and will write about them.  I'll post everything as soon as I can!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Week Three: Ice Skating at the Empire State Plaza-Albany, New York

When the high temperature is only in the teens, I like to stay inside.  But today, I went ice skating at the Empire State Plaza skating rink.  Since I’ve lived in Albany, the ice skating rink has been closed.  I will soon be moving out of Center Square and wanted to go ice skating when all I had to do was walk down the street and put on my skates.  That meant that I had to go skating today.  I just wish it hadn’t been so cold.
This is how cold I was

Mr. Free Albany and I used to go ice skating all the time at SUNY Oswego when we were undergrads.  There was an ice rink in the center of campus and we used to meet between classes and skate to some sweet tunes.  There, I mastered skating backwards and the hockey stop.  I hadn’t been skating since then and was a little nervous about going again.

We arrived at the skating rink at a little after 11:00am so the ice was still fresh.  It wasn’t too crowded, which was probably because it was so cold outside.  At first I felt a little tentative but was amazed that my feet remembered how to move across the ice.  I didn’t crash into any children trying to master the art or hit the wall plastered with advertisements.  In fact, I didn’t fall at all, and once I was comfortable enough, I even skated backwards and tried the hockey stop (granted, not very well). 

The rink is small but there is enough room to skate without feeling cramped.  There is a skater’s lounge with vending machines, restrooms, lockers (25 cents to store your belongings), and skate rentals.  Rentals are$4 for adults and $3 for children 12 and under.  Mr. Free Albany and I had our own skates, so it was free for us.  If you’re looking to get your skates sharpened, you can have it done for $7.  There was also a sign indicating that there was reasonably priced grilled food, although we did not try any. The rink is open daily from 11:00am-3:00pm and 4:00pm-8:00pm.  I would suggest getting there around 11 when the ice is fresh or at 4 when the rink reopens and the ice is once again smooth.  If you live in the area this is definitely something you need to try (even if you don’t know how to skate!).  The rink will be open until early March and I plan on going several times this year.  I’ll just make sure I go when it’s a bit warmer.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Week Two: Shearing Day Open House at Foster Sheep Farm-Schuylerville, New York

Today really didn't get off to a very good start.  Mr. Free Albany usually does the driving when we go on trips, which means I am relegated to the position of navigator.  Unfortunately, that is not a job at which I excel.  Typically, that means our way will be slightly muddled, but today we somehow ended up adding about a half an hour to our trip.  It wasn't all that bad though; we got to see a lot of beautiful countryside, stunning views of distant mountains, and the lovely little burg called Bacon Hill, which I may otherwise never have stumbled upon.  

Upon our arrival, the farm's driveway and small lot in front of their main barn were full of the cars of other curious souls, so we parked on the side of the winding country highway.  I was eager to see the sheep and the shearing demonstration, so we made our way to the barn first.  It was full of sheep, some already shorn, others awaiting their turn.  In neighboring enclosures, there were other animals, including beautiful angora rabbits, llamas, and alpacas.

Angora Rabbit
The shearer was Gwin Hinman from New Hampshire.  She is apparently something of a celebrity in the sheep shearing world, because she has been called to shear sheep as far away as New Zealand. Watching her was amazing.  Much to my surprise, the sheep didn’t struggle as she moved the clipper over their bodies, removing their thick fleece coat.  Gwin was very fast and made it look effortless, shearing an entire sheep in a little over four minutes.  As she clipped, the fleece came off in a continuous sheetI've never seen anything like this display before.  We watched her shear four sheep today, but they had around 70 to shear that day in total.
Shearing a sheep
 Once the sheep were shorn, the fleece was sorted to be later used by spinners.  The yarn shop was also open so Mr. Free Albany and I stopped inside.  Lamb stew and lamb chili were available but since I don’t eat lamb, I didn’t try any.  However, the shop smelled delicious.  In the front room of the shop were several spinners making yarn.  The shop was full of beautiful yarn in all different colors and I really wanted a reason to buy some.  I’ve tried on many occasions to learn how to crochet and knit but have failed miserably every time.  Being at the yarn shop made me want to try again so if anyone is patient and knows how to knit, I’d love to learn!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Upcoming Event: Shearing Day Open House at Foster Sheep Farm

So I was going to go ice skating for my next free thing, but I read on All Over Albany that Foster Sheep Farm is having their annual Shearing Day Open House.  It's January 8th from 10am-4pm in Schuylerville, New York.  I've never been to something like this before but hopefully it's a good time!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Week One: First Day Guided Hike Minekill State Park-North Blenheim, New York

To get the new year off to a healthy start, many New York State parks held guided walks today.  Mr. Free Albany and I decided to participate in Minekill State Park’s First Walk.  Minekill State Park is about an hour from Albany in Schoharie County and as a Schoharie County native, I have been to Minekill countless times.  I went to soccer camp there as a kid, swam in the pool, and taught sixth graders about nature as a Sunship Earth counselor.  Since we’re in the area visiting my parents, it made sense to stay in the county for my first free excursion.

The drive to Minekill provides picturesque views of the Schoharie Creek and valley.  Although Hurricane Irene was months ago, residents along the Schoharie Creek are still recovering from the “500 year flood.”  There were no signs of the Blenheim Covered Bridge (a favorite spot of mine) and houses and businesses were completely destroyed.  Debris still hung in the trees along the creek—remnants of people’s lives washed away.  I know this post is about my hike but if you would like to help the relief effort, go here.

Okay, so now on to the hike.  It was actually supposed to be a snowshoe walk but it was 50 degrees with no snow.  We parked at the main entrance office and were greeted by Ashley, our guide.  She provided us with energy bars and we signed photo releases before leaving.  Six hikers including Mr. Free Albany and I showed up. 

We started on part of the Long Trail, which runs from New York City to the Adirondacks.  We walked at a leisurely pace, often stopping and observing the native plants and trees.  Ashley had a lot of plant knowledge and I learned a lot of interesting facts.  Did you know that Queen Anne’s Lace is a wild carrot?  We also examined golden rod plants and the large bumps in the stems.  These bumps (called galls) are actually parasites.  Ashley cracked one open and inside was a small worm.  Luckily for the golden rod, these parasites don’t harm the plant.
We left the Long Trail and walked along the reservoir.  The New York Power Authority is on the same land as the park and there are two reservoirs used for power.  We walked along the lower reservoir, which is stocked with an assortment of fish.  Further south is the Gilboa Dam and the New York City water supply.  We stopped and looked at the ducks, learned about different kinds of moss, and examined fungi.  We then headed uphill and stopped at the park’s rain garden.  A rain garden allows rainwater runoff to be absorbed.  This helps prevent erosion and flooding.

Our hike lasted two and a half hours.  It was a beautiful and warm sunny day and our hike provided spectacular views of the lower reservoir and the Schoharie Valley.  Minekill also has a beautiful waterfall that’s worth checking out, although we didn’t see it on our hike.  Parking was free, but during the warmer months it’s $3 a car (however, I’ve never paid for parking in the summer).  There’s a pool, visitor's center, manor home, and events going on all year.  January 28th and 29th is Snow Fest with activities such as a star party, moonlit cross-country ski, winter camping demo, and ice skating.  Minekill State Park is a great getaway during any season and today’s hike was a great way to begin 2012.