Finding shortcuts to more fun stuff around New England
With summer vacations nearly past us, we will shortly return or focus to the hustle and bustle of school days and all of your coworkers back at the office. You may be dreading kids who range from bummed to melting down as they adjust to getting up earlier and having almost 200 days to count down before their next summer. Heck, you may be ready to melt down yourself at the thought of combining that with the sports and music lessons while cramming in your errands.
We’re not here to pig pile onto this pity party, though. We here at New England Good Life believe in finding the silver linings in such situations. So we looked around and found five apps for your phones that will offer inspiration for your upcoming fall and even winter weekends. These cover a range of topics and give you a chance for quick-hit inspiration. You can look for something while walking to that meeting you don’t want to go to (look out for the wall). Or sneak a quick peek during soccer practice (don’t forget to look up periodically). The bottom line is that these can help get you through the transition, while also being useful later on.
1. Vermont Brewery Challenge
Details: this app was developed by the Vermont Brewers Association. They’re renowned in the craft beer industry. There’s a bit of a game here, as you get your passport stamped by visiting the Vermont breweries. Now, you gotta understand, it’s almost impossible to keep up with all the innovation going on across the state’s breweries. So, sure, there might be a missing beer. Also, if you try to create a contest with friends forming teams to see who can visit the most then they’ve got a time limit before you can get a new stamp. That seems like a mighty good safeguard, even if you don’t like it.
All that being said, it’s a cool app. The map makes it easy to find new places. Another part captures your experience and favorites before you forget, and it’s sufficiently up-to-date that it’s still far easier than searching the thousands of page results you’ll get when searching the google machine. This is also more convenient than carrying around a brochure and getting frustrated when you don’t have a pen. If you’re a couple of hop heads looking for as much color in your beers as in the fall foliage, it’s a winner to download.
2. Farmers markets
Details: New England’s farmers markets dot the region, especially in summer and fall. But they do exist year round. This app allows you to find the ones closest to you. You can view it in either map or list versions. It can use your location to instantly focus on your area, but you can search elsewhere if you’ll be on a weekend away. This can also be a good way to quickly add some healthy food from local farms into the mix if you’re running errands and are magically ahead of schedule. (If so, buy a lottery ticket afterwards!)
The app also includes added details, such as what types of offerings are available at the market, season and hours, payment methods, and a website link. As with anything like this, it’s impossible to be 100% current but this will save so much researching that it makes it even easier to support local farms, businesses, and craftspeople while finding some great and unique things. On a side note, this is also a nationwide app, so if you’re in Oregon craving some good, local eggs, this is still going to help you out.
Details: with fall foliage not far away and the days growing shorter, the combination can inspire you to get out for some great late-season hikes. All Trails is a national app, so it can be useful up in northern New England or the Berkshires, with their amazing foliage. But it can also be helpful closer to home. It doesn’t have mapping functions to let you string together the trails you want and which way you want to go at each intersection. But with its really large volume of common routes, there are still a ton of choices. What’s particularly helpful is the information posted by other users. If you’re hiking up in the White Mountains, for example, seeing a post from a day or two ago that notes the water crossing is dangerous can be really helpful. (pack your water wings!) But even on simpler trails, they might note a modification that’s been made to the trail or something that will be useful to you. It also graphs the elevation change for you to see where the hard parts are, rather than a total ascent or descent.
Details: sure, summer’s over. But September will still bring some warm, sunny days that let you squeeze in a final beach day or two. On a serious note, we’ve seen such a huge uptick in shark sightings with several bites and even a fatality sadly added to the mix. For anyone worried about them, this offers a chance to see what’s been spotted in the area. It’s not an elaborate app but is an easy and near-instant safety check. The details it offers give you a little more context to evaluate as well, such as whether a shark sighting was confirmed. And on a lighter note, if there’s nothing around and you have a perverse sense of humor, you can have a little fun freaking out your kid: “OK, we’re here! Oh, let me check quickly… yep. Wow. Looks like there was a shark right around here yesterday. So don’t swim out too far. Let’s go, kids!”
This app was fun for our whole family. But it also pushed my daughter, who had discovered it. She was psyched when she got (safely) past 30 mph in one particularly steep spot. This subtly helped build her confidence which, in turn, built her technique. Luckily, it didn’t inspire her so much so that she wound up like Lane Meyers skiing on one ski (a la John Cusack in Better Off Dead).
While these won’t turn the clock back to summer, nor will they revolutionize your life, they may still lead to little discoveries or activities that help you adjust to fall with some enthusiasm. And if you have your own apps that are really helpful in maximizing your weekends, drop us a line and let us know!
Having more fun with the alphabet than I ever had playing crossword puzzles
Sometimes you have those days that are pretty wide open: no long list of chores, no big plans, maybe you’re on vacation with a light itinerary for the day. We found ourselves with such a day recently when we were on vacation, and weren’t sure how to spend it. So, just like my friends and I would do as kids, we invented a game, complete with rules and everything.
The rules were simple: do whatever we wanted, but find letters that the activities correspond to. The goal was to do stuff that touched on every letter of the alphabet. Intimidating? Nope. This didn’t require doing 26 different things, just doing stuff that involved words starting with all those letters. That meant one activity could score more than one letter. Ready, set, go!
This had the potential to be a stressful challenge that could leave us feeling over-programmed. But we started with a couple of things we definitely wanted to do, a possibility or two, and an assumption we’d find other stuff along the way. We opened up a new Note on my iPhone and marked down letters and words as we went along. If things were duplicates, we didn’t worry in the moment. We figured we’d sort stuff out later in the day and see what was left to tackle.
We wound up having a blast. It was a way to frame our day. It also led us to observe things we might have otherwise missed. And it also provided its own unique laughs. For example, when we went to visit a historical society and they didn’t show up to open their building, we declared we’d been “A… abandoned!” (Sigh.)
Conversely, when we went to a local brewery to have lunch and assess what we’d accomplished and what we had left to do, we proudly realized we could declare a trifecta, as we were drinking an “I-P-A”. We spontaneously hit a flea market, and I wound up with a $2 book by one of my favorite authors, eventually needing his N for Novel. And when we thought we wouldn’t come up with an X word, we thought about using Q for Quit. However, we’d learned earlier from a tour guide about the sappy pine trees that were pervasive in our area, and discovered that Xylem is like a tree’s artery, moving the sap through the tree. That became the final letter that gave us the win.
While we played this on a vacation day, and could start the day off before dawn watching a sunrise at the beach, it can be done anywhere. If your summer trips are over and you’re out of ideas for the kids while awaiting the start of the new school year, you can go at it the same way. If you’re a couple staying home for the weekend, it might be a way to discover some new things in your neck of the woods. Our longest activities were about an hour, from our sunrise at the ocean to a tour at an historical society (not the one that didn’t open on time). By contrast, the shortest was about five minutes as we snagged some seltzer water at the Eastham Superette.
It doesn’t really matter if you finish, just as long as you have fun in the attempt. Here are our final results, to give you an idea of how random the letters were. Start to finish, we were gone for about nine hours, making it a full day but still fine.
Leaving no stone un-turned.
Sometimes, the joy of a vacation is letting go of work pressures, ignoring the lawn that needs mowing, and taking a timeout from your normal life. That certainly has its place, as you can de-stress, recharge, and return to your normal life with more enthusiasm. Sometimes, however, you can’t take that vacation. Maybe it’s the cost of a weekend away (“$300 per night for a double bed with no wifi? Aargh!”). Or maybe it’s a commitment that takes up part of the weekend (“who thought a Friday night game for a preteen was a good idea?!?!”). The bottom line is that sometimes you’re stuck locally but still with some free time and spending money available.
We recently challenged ourselves to fill an entire day without leaving the boundaries of our town. OK, granted, we have a place on Cape Cod, so this wasn’t a terribly intimidating challenge. But we constricted it further to just our quieter part of town, to see what we’d make of it, and had a self-imposed rule of focusing on the fun: no chores allowed while at home.
For me, the day started off at dawn, finding a scenic spot to watch the sun come up. It had this mindfulness aspect to it in which I was really plugged in to the sights, sounds, and smells around me. Again, I fully acknowledge that it’s not hard to be present watching the sun coming up over the ocean, so I’m not going to win any awards for perseverance on that one. But plenty of towns have mountains, bigger expanses of woods, farms, or even office parks perched on a hill that serve as lookout points to watch the sky transform from darkness to color before brightening enough as you then continue on with your day.
After returning to the house, the general game plan was put together over a second cup of coffee on the back deck. We threw some food in a cooler, tossed the beach chairs in the back of the truck, and headed off to the beach. Yeah, I know; not the most agonizing of decisions on a sunny, hot day. But so many towns have conservation areas, state forests, or some sort of green space if you want to have a picnic, go for a bike ride, or enjoy the outdoors in some way.
We spent a few hours on the beach reading, walking and searching for beach glass, watching boats motoring out of the nearby harbor, and relaxing. Then we packed up, returned home, and showered up. We’d considered a few options on the next part of the day, from browsing local small businesses to sampling craft beer from a brewer in town to looking into some of the town’s history. We settled on grabbing a drink and appetizer at some casually upscale local restaurants.
Both were friendly and engaging as they explained about making homemade bitters and the subtle perfection of directionally frozen ice. We also learned about some interesting classes they planned to offer during the next off-season.
The second pit stop was at Encore Bistro and Bar. This restaurant and pub is situated next to the Cape Playhouse and Cape Cod Museum of Art. A performance had just ended so the place was packed and energetic. While the attentive bartenders hustled to deal with the crowd, we were reminded that the playhouse is an option we don’t take much advantage of, and we've found an entertaining-looking play we plan to see next month.
Our final stop was right around the corner, at Harvest Gallery Wine Bar. Aside of their top-notch cocktails and ever-rotating wine selection, it’s a fun chance to sample several wines instead of having to commit to a single glass. They feature a wide array of musicians across genres. This might leave you singing along, as you blend in with others and pretend you’re pitch perfect. Or, you can get out on the dance floor to burn off the calories from the cheese plate or meals that are always spot-on. Artwork adorns the walls and is all for sale or a potential conversation-starter. Its friendly atmosphere staff promote conversations among strangers, such as learning about the experiences of another couple who relocated from Tennessee (tip from all of us surrounding them: never, ever relocate from the South to New England during the dead of winter). While we always enjoy this place, the pit-stop on this day reinforced to us that it stays fresh and interesting.
When the night was over, it was only a mile back to our house. We finished with more ideas for future weekends than we started with. Some of the more interesting moments weren’t the parts that were planned; they were the conversations that occurred spontaneously with the people around us, as a result of enjoying the moment instead of wishing we were doing something more exciting.
When thinking about our small town in Central Mass where we spend the majority of our time instead of a beach community in the summer, it still offers opportunities: small batch coffee in an historic building with occasional wine tastings we've never been to; a nearby farm with an array of fruit for picking; conservation trails we've never explored; and a farm stand that recently underwent a renovation and serves up local ice cream along with products from a number of local small businesses.
re-look at what was in front of us. Ultimately, it highlighted that we’re really only limited by our imagination.
So, now the challenge is yours: what can you (re)discover in your own surroundings?
Wondering if this will be a source of inspiration for my own family...
Sometimes, birthdays and bigger events like Father’s Day can seem more focused on the people organizing the event, or about objects, versus something more experience-based that also caters to the person being celebrated. In general, guys tend to be happy doing stuff outdoors, playing games, and maybe having a beer or some other drink. They also will never object to a group of people telling them how wonderful they are. This can often work far better than a tie or a new grill or having to get dressed up for a fancy lunch.
So, for Father’s Day, if you were to play to the Dad of Honor, you might consider starting off with something outside. Perhaps it’s golf, which tons of guys like this. And it doesn’t have to be Pebble Beach. It can be anything from playing 18 holes as a foursome to mini golf with littler ones, or something in between (such as an “executive par 3” which is a pristine-looking golf course that isn’t as long so it can be quicker to play). Courses can also be played as nine holes instead of the full 18. Kids can enjoy driving the cart, too, and you can often rent clubs. Plus, you can always play a "best ball" format or just pick it up if need be. It's not about the score!
Some examples of places that don’t get too packed or may not even require reservations include Pirate’s Cove mini golf with locations around the region and beyond; or the executive courses at the Berlin Country Club (no reservations) or King's Way on the Cape. Or the full-sized but not too hard Ellinwood Country Club in Athol (western Massachusetts) and Waterville Valley Golf Course in the heart of the White Mountains.
Or experience a more natural version of the outdoors, with a milder day hike or renting canoes. These can be casual, but can offer great views. Mount Monadnock in Southern New Hampshire and Skinner State Park both have killer views but reasonable hikes.
Even if the special dad in your life isn’t outdoorsy, the premise still applies. He would probably get a kick out of a group hatchet throwing event, or driving souped up go karts.
As noted with Vermont Canoe & Kayak, you can take the activity to a next-level experience by pairing it with something else, such as a family-friendly opportunity for a craft drink. In some cases, “family-friendly” may mean you can bring your kids, while in others it means you’re an adult bringing your older father. So, predictably, you’d just want to double check to ensure this fits with your family.
For example, Vermont’s Boyden Valley Winery and Smuggler’s Notch Distillery are more adult-oriented. But if you finished at King's Way, Hog Island is an awesome brewery, with food, lots of games, and a great atmosphere for all ages (including teens). Or the Nashoba Valley Winery, featuring a huge orchard, and wine, beer, and spirits, is extremely accommodating of all versions of a family, making it the perfect spot if you were at the Berlin Country Club; the nearby Battle Road brewery also has games, outdoor seating, and great BBQ at a renovated mill. Sunday River Brewing has a full service restaurant and often has live music, which pairs well with a couple of hours spent on the Androscoggin River.
Lastly, don’t feel restricted to a Sunday event. Sure, it’s the official day so you’d need to at least do a little something. But it could be really minor. If Saturday allowed a day without work the next day hanging over his head, or a chance to venture farther afield on a road trip, the dad in your life would understand. If it makes for a better experience with family, then the day that it occurs isn’t nearly as important.
The point of all of this is that, as a father, I can attest that experiences mean more than material gifts, and experiences that show an understanding of what I enjoy doing are more meaningful as well. These don’t have to be elaborately constructed or expensive; they don’t require reservations made months in advance. They only require thinking about what I like, who I love, and how to combine all of those things. Those simple guidelines are all it takes to create a lasting memory.
Best of luck to you and the dad in your life!
A $25 Day on Cape Cod
Finding new ways to keep things fresh.
Often, when you think of Cape Cod, you think of sandy beaches, vibrant restaurants, and other fun attractions, often filled with enthusiastic vacationers. While these are a lot of fun, they often come at a price that can add up, from $20 or more just to park at the beach, to admission to museums, to a pricy meal at a romantic restaurant or for a family. But that doesn’t have to be the case.
As fun as those activities are, we recently challenged ourselves with a goal of an inexpensive day trip on the Cape. The rules were simple: we each start with $25. Gas doesn’t count, nor do groceries, since we’d consume those even if sitting on our couch. Everything else comes out of that piggy bank. With only minimal research, we quickly found far more activities than we could squeeze into an action-packed day.
After leaving the other customers to continue admiring the display cases, we headed on to the Coast Guard Station in Eastham, one of the areas at the Cape Cod National Seashore. With an ever-rotating series of events, today celebrated Guglielmo Marconi, a Nobel-prize-winning inventor renowned for his work on wireless radio, including his transmission to Europe a century ago. On this International Marconi Day, wireless operators from around the world seek to establish as many connections with each other as possible. Coast Guard Station’s original transmission back in 1901 and the scarcity of people transmitting from this spot on the international grid makes this location highly sought after.
I’d worried that this might be boring, but discovered a niche activity with a passionate crowd and a long history. In this age of iPhones and amazing technology, it provided an interesting contrast to see how much more dependable this century-old system is. Instead of listening to a tedious presentation, we found ourselves enjoying the activity and spontaneously helping keep track of contacts from all corners of the globe. All this was at a cost of… nothing. $0 parking, $0 admission. Total cost so far: $1.
We decided to spend with reckless abandon, stopping at Orleans’ Hog Island Brewery, near the elbow of the Cape. This family-friendly brewery features indoor and outdoor games and seating, with cornhole sets outside, and ping pong tables, foosball, and other games inside. Hog Island also features guest beers in addition to its own creations, and offers a menu, which not all breweries do. We each grabbed a cold, craft beer and a gourmet hot dog to enjoy, as we processed our day’s events and watched families and friends playing all around us. After an hour, we settled up, which came to a whopping $12 after tax and tip, leaving us at $19 total.
Since we still had daylight left on a fantastic spring day, and with so many seasonal places reopening, we added one last stop where our day started: Dennis village. A couple buildings down from the Underground Bakery is Smuggler’s Ice Cream, offering delicious homemade ice cream. Indoor and outdoor seating makes it easy to linger, and to either cool off in the air conditioning or take in the atmosphere if outside. Either way, you’ll find yourself surrounded by smiling customers of all ages. After tip, this $5 treat brought our day to an end at $24.
Sadly, our day was done. But as we returned home, we realized this was an eye-opener. This challenge forced us to try new things. In doing so, we found so much more going on, from the passionate people to the varied activities. This was despite running out of time for some things we’d earmarked: whale sighting and education at another point on the National Seashore; a guided nature walk; and an earth day event featuring local artists and writers, just to name a few.
Oftentimes, we think of our community as a single, common group of neighbors. As this day showed, we live amidst a series of communities, all layered on top of each other. This creates an extremely vibrant and ever-evolving region that offers boundless opportunities to discover – and rediscover – ways to make the most of our days here… regardless of the budget you may have.
Extremely Helpful Links:
Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce: https://www.capecodchamber.org/events
Cape Cod Online: http://capecodonline.com/things-to-do/
Good adventures start as dreams. Enthusiasm turns them into great memories.
New England adventures can accommodate any season, any timeframe, any type of group, and any budget.