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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Real or Fake? The truth about Christmas Trees

The ability to cut down my own tree at an adorable farm in December was something I really missed the last two years.  While living in Salt Lake City, you can really only get pre-cut trees unless you can get a state permit to cut a tree through land management agencies like the BLM or other forestry departments.   Living in my apartment I wanted the cut tree experience, but really didn't have the supplies to be chopping down a tree in the middle of a National Forest.  What this meant is that the last two years in Utah, we headed somewhere with a mass amount of cut trees like Lowe's to pick up our already-dead-needles-everywhere Christmas tree.  A few days after bringing it home, our poor tree was losing needles faster than I could sweep them.  I missed that hype of selecting and cutting a tree, that piney smell in my house, and our pre-cut tree barely made it to Christmas Day. 

Yes, I could easily avoid the hassle and just grab a fake tree at the store and solve my Christmas tree woes.  But if you are an all-natural Christmas tree fan it is hard to stop cold turkey and go the artificial route.  And I must say, I have some solid reasons for sticking to this Christmas tradition:  
  1. Storage! when you live in an apartment with no storage and tend to move a lot, hauling around a fake tree is just one more thing to put in the moving van.  They take up a lot of room and the fewer holiday items I have to store and move, the better.
  2. You miss the fun outing!  Think hot cocoa and sleigh rides with Christmas music.  What better way to get in the holiday spirit?
  3. It's more environmentally responsible.  Artificial trees are actually less environmentally friendly.
So a cut-your-own at a local farm provides a fun outing, the freshest tree, and no storage room needed after the holidays.  But why is cutting your own tree the most environmentally responsible option?  Glad you asked.  

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Hiking the Seven Sisters- Mount Holyoke Range, Massachusetts

I spent the month of November in a hiking rut and I needed to switch up my routine.  I needed some elevation, sunshine, and vistas in a new town to kick off the sunny November weekend.  

I wanted to stick to a 2-hour radius of home that way I could for-go hotels and keep it a day trip.  So on my quest for a new hike I did what any last-minute-lazy-hiker does: I hit google maps to do a little research and see what I could find.  Pretty soon, I stumbled upon the ridge walk among the Seven Sisters across the Holyoke Range in Western Massachusetts, a hike that appeared to be exactly what I was looking for.  Elevation, a good workout, vistas, summits, historical hotels and an overall great hike in a really fun town.  The hike itself was a treat and the college town of Amherst with its breweries and restaurants was an added bonus. Hike, a new town to explore and a few breweries? That is the Katie Wanders Way 

We jumped in the car and drove the two hours across the state of Connecticut and into Massachusetts to start our hike in Amherst. The plan was to follow the 6 mile hike along the ridge of the Mount Holyoke Range, following the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail (a section of the New England Trail) across 10 peaks, to the Summit House and end at another trailhead on Mountain Road. If we were feeling really adventurous we could retrace our steps back across the 10 summits (as the famous trail race does) or the more practical option: call an Uber which would take us the 6 miles back to our car at the opposite trailhead ($8, 10 minute ride).  And yes, we are practical (and sometimes lazy) hikers.  

Monday, November 21, 2016

KW Fall Favorites - hikes, bikes, beers and drives

New England just received its first official snowfall.  Up to a foot in the northwestern portion of the state, and a mere dusting here on the shoreline.   Here in Stonington, it was just enough to shut down major highways when our bridges turned into a sheet of ice.  So as the snow falls and the accidents pile up, let's take a quick second to reminisce about fall (because who is ready to let go of the beautiful leaves and warm afternoons yet? Not I).  

Fall is one of the best times of year and it goes by so fast.  I've been lucky enough to spend many October months in New England, and a few out west.  Last year, I wrote a post on the fall foliage of Utah, and this year, I am updating the list throwing in some New England gems with the bunch.  Below, I have included some of my favorites as a farewell to fall.  Featuring some of the best hikes, drives, and the most quaint towns, this list below is some of my favorite things about fall from New Hampshire to Utah.   Enjoy. 

Oktoberfest at Snowbird (Utah)
To start the best of Fall on KW list, we have Snowbird's Oktoberfest.  Snowbird Ski Resort in Utah is beautiful during the fall months and Oktoberfest makes the scenery even better.  Beer,
bratz and the start of the foliage in Utah, this is the perfect way to kick off fall in the west. Be warned it can get crowded as Snowbird's Oktoberfest was voted one of America's 10 Best Oktoberfests by Men's Journal Magazine. Snowbird's Annual Oktoberfest attracts over 60,000 visitors and has grown to become one of the largest festivals in Utah.

Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah)
Bryce Canyon makes the list not for its fall foliage, but the chance to see snow covered Hoodoos and a less crowded park.  Bryce is my favorite National Park and it is so fun to visit with that chilly in the air as you hike the loop among the hoodoos.  Catch this in the fall where there are less visitor's and see the snow-capped hoodoos down in the amphitheater.  Be warned, because of the higher altitude this park can be quite cool in the park, bundle up and anticipate snow.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Stonington Vineyards- CT Wine Trail

On the Connecticut/Rhode Island border, where the Towns of Stonington and North Stonington merge and shift from coastal community to farms and casinos, three vineyards offer a variety of Connecticut grown wines on beautiful estates.  There is Jonathan Edwards in North Stonington, Stonington Vineyards right on the Stonington/North Stonington line, and Saltwater Farm Vineyard at the edge of the borough, closest to the water.  Stonington Vineyards was my second stop on the Stonington Wine Trail and I was pleasantly surprised by this vineyard nestled in by farms and field in beautiful Stonington.  Pour yourself a glass of wine (it is Friday after all) and read all about Stonington Vineyards.

. . . First Impressions . . .
One of the oldest vineyards in the state.  SV is a vineyard first, and venue second with opening hours that make sense, a nice change from most vineyards whose priority seems to be weddings.  This vineyard is dog-friendly (outdoors) and you can bring your own food.  There is a beautiful patio and lawn for the nicer days, as well as a gorgeous tasting room renovated in 2014.  The tasting was the cheapest I have been to yet, at $10 including a glass to take home.  The wine was good, but nothing "blew me away".  The prices were affordable and I brought home their award winning Seaport White for just $12.  

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Best Connecticut Hikes: Lantern Hill Hike

*** If you entered my giveaway on Instagram, head to @Katie.Wanders to see if you are the winner*** 

When the weather drops to the 50's and the last few leaves are clinging to the trees I try to soak up every bit of sunshine I can.  The hiking here is so different and sometimes I get a little discouraged to get out there as our hikes don't get above the tree line and we don't have amazing peaks or high altitude lakes.  Instead, our hikes are more of a nice stroll through the woods. 

Wide start of the trail to Lantern Hill Overlook
I did some research on some of the best hikes in the state and this hike came up a few times.  Okay Connecticut, I have been spoiled rotten by Utah hikes but let's see what you've got.

I know that Connecticut hikes rarely reach any sort of view point (we're always below the tree line) so I was excited to find a hike with a vista.  It is a popular classic because of its rock faces, little climbs, and vistas.  Oh and in the fall, this is an amazing spot to take in the fall foliage.  You can also spot Foxwoods Casino, the biggest casino in the country. It's mostly of an eyesore, but kind of a cool view at the same time.  If you want a classic easy fall hike with some of the best vistas above the treeline, here is your hike.  

According to a local newspaper, the Courant, local historians in the state claim there is a special spot on this hike known as "the Sachem's seat" on the steepest side of the hill.  History has it that this is the spot where "Pequot chiefs would scan their territory in search of enemy tribes and, later, English ships at sea. According to local legend, during the War of 1812 the hill became known as Tar Barrel Hill, when residents gathered at the hilltop and burned barrels full of tar as a warning that British warships were entering Stonington harbor".

Monday, November 14, 2016

Gear Review & Giveaway! Hill Hiking Water Bottle/Thermos

It feels good to sloooooooowly start upgrading some of my gear.  And as I find products I like, or companies that I love, I thought this would be a perfect space to share with you all the additions to my gear shelf.  If it is a product was given to me (as this one was) or if it was something I purchased full price on my own (as most my gear reviews are), my opinions are still my own and 100% honest.  So lets ease into a gear chat and talk about my new Hill Hiking Bottle, a Double Walled Vacuum Sealed Insulated 16oz Hill Hiking Water Bottle/Thermos.

Testing out my new bottle on the trail 

I have been wanting to join the fancy water bottle bandwagon for a while.  My beloved Nalgene has stood the test of time, and as sturdy as it is, I needed something with a little more "va va voom".  I wanted something that would keep my steamy drinks hot and my iced drinks cool.  Because taking a nice swigs of hot plastic nalgene water is pretty much the anthem of my summer.  The ice cubes melt instantly and you are left with a jug of uncomfortably warm water.   On the other hand, I need something to keep my hots hot.  Equally as frustrating is when you head out for a quick winter hike with your thermos just to realize your perfect hot tea you lugged to the top is officially of the iced variety.  

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

B.F. Clydes Cider Mill - Old Mystic

It's fall so and the leaves are turning and PSLs haven taken over the nation.  So, let's rave about some boozy cider and a historic cider mill.  Today we are talking about a mill in Old Mystic, the iconic Fall New England day trip, B.F. Clydes.

Oh, B.F. Clydes.  I had such high expectations for you.  I have heard so many amazing things about your boozy cider and oh-so-New-England vibe.  Here are my first impressions on my visit:  The cider was good (really good) and I loved the variety from normal cider, to alcoholic/fermented ciders, to fruit wines.  The setting cute and the history of the place makes it what it is.  You can purchase a variety of locally made goods from dressings to pickled eggs, and a variety of baked goods. 

But the reality was the customer service was awful, the whole operation crowded and confusing (and highly unorganized) and the apple cider donuts were a cold sad mushy interpretation of one of the best things about fall.  The weekends are a zoo and I am sure a trip mid-week would be much more inviting. So now that you have a quick overview,  let's discuss the good, the bad, and the 12% cider.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

In and Around Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Portsmouth, New Hampshire is constantly being talked up and the "new" spot in New England. That new trendy city where 20 something and 30 something New Englanders are flocking to eat good food, drink local beer, and enjoy what city life has to offer. Well, city life in New Hampshire that is. 

Mid October was my first trip to Portsmouth (ever). Since returning from Salt Lake City in May, I have made my quest back east to really explore more of New England. When two good friends moved to Portsmouth and then bought a house, we had more of a reason to visit than ever. We cleared the weekend, sent the dog to Auntie Ashleys, and made the 2 hour trip north across Rhode Island and Massachusetts to the beautiful state of New Hampshire.

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Famous Tugboats of Portsmouth- Photo: Mr.TinDC
Portsmouth New Hampshire is only about 20-25 minutes north of the Massachusetts border, and sits on the Piscataqua River, serving as the border between New Hampshire and Maine. Just an hour north of Boston, and an hour south of Portland, you are between two amazing cities. At the mouth of the river, and on the Atlantic Ocean as far as location goes, Portsmouth has it all. This was the biggest selling point of the area for me- a hub of amazing places to visit? Yes, Please.  Awesome location with that New England small town feel. You can surf, and bike, hike and ski all in the same weekend. Watch out California... East Coast is the Best Coast.