Locust Grove

Locust Grove

Nestled in the Hudson Valley is a historic home and nature preserve called Locust Grove. Once the home of Samuel F. B. Morse, "the Father of the Telegraph" , this mansion is a hidden gem on the Hudson River, that speaks of a bygone era.  In these times, homes were often the center of social life and entertainment.  It is evident that the people who lived here had an appreciation for animals and natural beauty.  The sweeping views are impressive and the mansion's unique architecture is almost enveloped in a warm embrace by the the nature around it.

Maple Weekend, Dutchess County, NY

SAMSUNG CSC Lineup of our maple tour breakfast, Cronin's Maple Farm, Crown Maple, and Soukup Farms Products

This weekend our drive focused on touring the sugar houses in our area for Maple weekend. Agricultural tourism is a great way to appreciate nature and support local vendors.    You can make maple weekend an annual tradition, and visit some of the farms that are open during the year, as some remain open after maple weekend or host special events during the year.  All the farms we visited also have websites that sell their products and will gladly ship them to you directly.


During maple weekend, many host pancake breakfasts and allow you to sample their products.  The thing I love about maple weekend is seeing the pride the farmers take in producing these wonderful products, and knowing this in turn protects beautiful natural areas and wildlife, among other benefits.  My girls enjoy learning where their food comes from, and it is something that has been such a good experience for them to make healthier food choices.   As you taste all the products, you can select your favorite products to make some amazing gift baskets. Best of all, if you buy a sampling, you will have maple syrup for awhile.

Last year, maple syrup production in New York state reached the highest rate in 70 years, despite the season being reduced to a mere 26 days. Currently, NY is the second largest maple syrup producer in the nation after Vermont (Governor's Press Office Release, 2015).  According to the press release, the growth is due in large part to modern vacuum systems which replaced the more labor-intensive tree taps with metal buckets, which has helped increase production per tap.

SAMSUNG CSCThe drive through Dover Plains to visit the maple farms.

First, the number one site you should visit to plan your maple weekend is The site allows you to search maple farms across New York State plan your tour using an interactive tool.  The site also provides educational resources, such as videos for each grade level, and lessons with materials for students to learn about maple syrup production which tie into science, social studies and math. In addition, there is a section that provides recipes for all that maple syrup you will bring home.


Our tour began at Crown Maple, one of the larger maple farms.  Driving up to the farm provides a beautiful, picturesque view of typical Dutchess county scenery.  The girls stopped to enjoy smores in the outdoor firepit and a sampling of maple popcorn, granola, and maple cotton candy.  All of these products give me really great ideas about how to use maple at home, as it is better to use natural sweeteners.  What I most love about Crown is the grounds, as they provide a seasonal trail for walking around the farm and a gift shop that is really beautifully decorated.  The tasting room is very elegant, it is set up much like a wine tasting room, and the employees are very friendly and provide us some of the details about their seasonal maple production. My favorite product from Crown is probably the light Amber Syrup, as it is very golden in color, it has a more delicate flavor, especially for cocktails and things that require a lighter maple flavor.  Crown is open year round.


We continued down the road on our tour to find Soukup Farms, a family owned operation. There we were warmly greeted by Jennifer Soukup, who gave us a wonderful tour.  Soukup has been in business for 61 years, and recently her son left corporate America to join the family business. Originally a dairy farm, the farm recently added a new sugar house and has been growing.  I really enjoyed seeing how the boiler is operated, as they have a traditional, wood-burning boiler for the sap, and it really makes you appreciate the process.


Soukup has some really delicious maple products and our favorite is the maple hot sauce- it's amazing. smokey, maplely and then the heat hits you.  They have an array of unique, elegant maple bottles, probably my favorite selection of bottles of the whole tour. I loved the gingerbread shaped maple syrup bottles, perfect for holiday gifts. I also loved the flavor of their syrups, they are earthy, sweet, and perfectly balanced.  It is evident that they are very knowledgeable about maple production, and it comes through in the quality of their products.

Maple syrup comes in four grades, Golden, Amber, Dark, and Very Dark.  All are equally delicious.  I had a conversation with someone at the counter, and he felt that maybe with the dark you need a little less, because there is more maple flavor, and the lighter ones are a bit more delicate in flavor.  Whichever you choose, they are all great.


The farm has benefited from the new system of vacuum extraction, instead of metal buckets as the owner explains these required being emptied up to twice a day.  The farm continues to grow.  Ms. Soukup explains to my daughters that the new tubing system needs to be checked for visitors like squirrels, who also love the sweet taste. :)   My daughters really enjoyed watching the traditional boiler with the wood burner being loaded to boil, the smell is smokey and sweet.  I was highly educated at this farm and really got to see an in-depth view of the process from start to finish.

Also worth making note of was JSK Cattle Company who made an amazing London Broil and were giving samples during our visit.  We ended up buying a roast and brisket, all pasture raised and horomone/antibotic free beef, and it tastes so delicious, really like restaurant quality beef.  JSK Cattle is a family farm and provides a CSA for those local in the Hudson Valley.  They are trying to expand their business to include Hopewell Junction, for those neighbors who might be interested.

Our last stop of maple weekend is Cronin's Maple Farm.  This farm is actually owned by one of our neighbors, right here in Hopewell Junction. We've been eating their maple syrup throughout the year, delivered to our door, and my favorite is the dark amber on pancakes, it is dark and rich, viscous and just the right amount of sweet.  They also making an amazing maple cream that comes in large jars, as well as maple nuts and candies.  Their maple cream is probably my favorite because it tastes like maple caramel, it would be great as an icing or on cookies. I also picked up their Maple Bourbon, which I am planning to make some deserts with.

As we entered, we could see someone creating art out of the tree stumps right before our eyes, a very interesting hobby.  It was pretty amazing to watch how quickly he carved the bear out of nothing but a tree stump with an electric saw, and made it look like a work of art. The girls sat there about 10 minutes observing the process. These beautiful wooden sculptures are available for sale.

Our Maple Tour Breakfast

To end our tour the next morning, we made a breakfast with all the new ingredients we collected on our tour.  One fond memory I have of my childhood is of my mom making French Toast and Pancakes.  It was one of our traditions.  In our house, Adam now makes the pancake mix from scratch, and I make the French Toast; it's our little deal to take turns making breakfast.  We usually have pancakes more often.   The French toast is very easy to make. I first soak the bread in plain milk and then dip the bread in beaten eggs with all the ingredients I feel like using that day. Today I opted to use natural, bourbon vanilla flavor, pumpkin spice, maple sugar, and a little cinnamon inside the french toast batter.  It looks like adding the maple sugar helps caramelize the toast, just keep a close eye on it.

The hot sauce from Soukup Farms went great on the eggs and sausage.  We put the maple we already had open from Cronin Farms.  We also used some of the maple sugar from Crown Maple in our French Toast batter.  We will probably be comparing all the different maple syrups throughout the year, and using them in different recipes, all are slightly different but all equally good.  The NY state maple website I mentioned above has some recipes worth a try.

The best part about maple week, other than eating great food, is providing this experience to our kids. The girls really take pride in supporting local farms, as they should, and I am just proud we can provide them the opportunity to understand the work that goes into making natural foods, and have them pass on this tradition to their families.

Upcoming Events: 

Some of the farms had flyers for upcoming events, so I will list these below, so check out their webpages for more details.  All the pages are linked above in the article if you want to buy syrup from them directly.


Governor's Press Relsease, June 23, 2015, Accessed 4/3/2016






Pez Visitor's Center, Orange CT

SAMSUNG CSC There's something very appealing about feeling like you're Charlie at Willy Wonka's factory, and this weekend we followed the kid in us to Pez Candy Factory.  The Pez factory gives a history of the candy in American pop culture through the decades, and a brief history of the candy starting in 1927.  The candy's name comes from the German word for peppermint, "pfefferminz" (Pez Visitor's Center Brochure 2016).  The candy started as a breath mint as an alternative to smoking, originally made in Vienna, Austria(Pez Visitor's Center, 2016).

The original peppermint flavor mints, called "regulars", were marketed in tins.  These were recently reintroduced to the line.  Adam and I were able to buy peppermint, sugar-free Pez for our dispensers too, which was cool.  The candy was introduced with toy heads in the US in the 1950s, following WWII.  You can actually see some of the first toys that were introduced, including a "Space Gun" which was popular in the 1950's.    You might also see a "Pez Lady" uniform from the 50's worn at many events and strange psychedelic Pez dispensers from the 1960's.

Kids Stuff (OK for adults too :) )

The Pez Visitor's center sponsors a cool scavenger hunt, and you guessed it you get a Pez dispenser as a prize if you complete the challenge.  The girls really like this aspect of the tour, because they literally had to look through every display to find all 7 of Snow White's dwarfs.  I saw adults doing this too, it's actually pretty fun.You can also stick your head in a Pez dispenser and take a photo, and also fill a bucket with Pez candy of your choice from dispensers for $5.99.  The visitor's center is actually also the factory which you can see from glass windows, and it produces all the pez in the world.  The cool thing about this is that you can find every flavor imaginable, including chocolate Pez.


Pez Trivia

At the visitor's center you'll learn some cool Pez trivia, and the nerd in you will go totally wild a this point.  Like did you know Pez gave JFK a Donkey-head Pez?  Yes, weird but true. You'll also see a special plated Star Wars set to commemorate the launch of the first Pez gift set; these were given to Lucas Film executives. In fact, the most valuable collectible sets have been the Star Wars collection sets (Wikipedia 2016).  I couldn't resist picking up an R2D2 myself during my visit, it's a cool looking pez for my peppermint, sugar-free pez. You'll also see that Pez has an educational line of all the US presidents in history, so if you're a teacher that'd be one cool display for a history lesson.



The Drive Home From Pez

On the way back, we stopped by a cool coffee shop called "Last Drop".  I'd highly recommend it, as they have a latte for every candy bar created, and you will be in the mood for candy after this tour.  It is one of those cozy coffee shops with free books to read, pastries, good service, and lunch type food.

This tour was fun for all ages, to include our one year old, Emma.  Here she is feeding daddy a Pez dispenser and holding her mickey themed Pez.  She really loved those.  I guess Mickey was one of the first Pez dispensers too, so she's starting her collection early, so she can attend the worldwide Pez conventions when she's my age.   Now you can count how many times I said "Pez", if you guess correctly I will send you that R2D2 collectible in 20 years.  :)

West Point Museum, United States Military Academy

West Point Museum, United States Military Academy

The West Point Museum is the oldest military museum in the country.  The museum includes over 60,000 army historical artifacts that chronicle our nation's founding and history, including some that are on the grounds and buildings at USMA (David Reel, museum director 2016).  According to David Reel, "the mission of the West Point Museum is to collect, preserve, exhibit and interpret historically significant artifacts and stimulate interest in the United States Military Academy at West Point, the United States Army and the Profession of Arms."(West Point Museum official website, 2016).

Covered Bridges, Washington County, NY and Antiquing in Bennington, VT

Covered Bridges, Washington County, NY and Antiquing in Bennington, VT

A road trip to see the covered bridges of Washington county, NY.

Yankee Candle® Village, South Deerfield, MA

20160214_173117About a two hour drive from southern Dutchess and Putnam Counties, you'll find a flagship store for Yankee Candle, the largest candle retailer in the world.  We went this past weekend and the store had a great deal more to offer than I had anticipated.  This store in Western Massachusetts, draws two million visitors per year, and clearly, there is something very charming about it.  The store is extremely family-friendly, and they often host events catering to children.  In March, they are hosting a Lego-building contest and the Peeps candy mobile, the details are at the end of this blog. First of all, the drive to get to South Deerfield is beautiful, it runs past a  long winding river. I highly recommend getting off the highway early and taking your GPS local route, so you can see what I mean.  This time of year, the trees were covered in snow, yet the river is still an impressive sight; I can imagine in fall this has to be an even more beautiful drive.  It felt relaxing just to take in the countryside of this out of the way part of Massachusetts.  If you're driving back from Boston, this stop would take you an hour out of the way, but I think it'd be a fun detour.

 In recent years, Deerfield has been trying to draw more tourists, as a day drive destination, so they are very open to visitors.  If you have time swing by Historic Deerfield, this is essentially an outdoor Americana museum with 11 historic homes, in an 18th century villlage in the Connecticut River Valley of Masschusetts.  The museum calls it, "a celebration of New England heritage", and they are very proud of the fact that this village is the real thing.  Here, you have the chance to tour authentic homes that were restored, and experience parts of daily colonial life, such as metal working, textiles, ceramics, furniture and crafts.   A visit here in warmer months, is a great way for kids to get an insight into life in colonial America, as their offer different workshops and interactive experiences.  In winter months, the museum has been hosting Open Hearth cooking classes on Saturdays, using old cookbooks and Colonial cooking techinques.

When you arrive at Yankee Candle, there is a wraparound porch with rocking chairs and a beautifully landscaped outdoor picnic area, which in the warmer months I am sure would be super fun.  The entrance looks like an old country store; you are immediately greeted by friendly employees and displays with the scents of the month. The store has plenty of brickabrack and pretty decorations like a beach bicycle and an antique car kids can sit in. There are huge displays for each new scent, and they do not skimp on space for each candle, so you can literally find any type of candle your heart desires.  The cool thing about this, is that if you like aromatherapy, you can really spend a lot of time comparing scents, since there are literally 400,000 candles in over 200 scents.


Their new scent, called Catching Rays is my absolute favorite and it smells like a turquoise rain shower on a spring meadow.  Many of the candles in their new line have smells of the ocean, like Fiji Beach and Sand and Sun; I especially love that they have natural essential oils and burn longer than any other candles I've bought before. You'll have a hard time finding just one scent you like, you'll probably end up with 10 and need to narrow down. There really is something about scent that triggers memories, and relaxes you, so if you enjoy that type of thing, you will be in scent heaven.  There are certain scents, like Vermont Maple that are only available in the flagship stores, and I must say it really smelled like a woodsy, sweet maple syrup.

Once you navigate past the first candle room, there is a second room with candles, if you can believe that!   The kids favorite section is a part called, WaxWorks.  Here you have the option to dip a candle in wax, make your own Yankee candle from various scents, or dip your hand in wax.  Our daughter, Lilliana made a  rainbow candle with several different layers, and the employees were very friendly and helpful.  We've been burning it in the past few days and it smells wonderful because every time we light it, it has a different scent.  Amada, on the other hand, choose to dip her hand in wax.  There is a station where you can dip your hand in parafin wax, and then a colored wax to make a molded sculpture.  She chose to do a peace sign, and used it as a decoration in her room.  The girls really enjoyed the interactive aspect of the store and it was very memorable for them.

While the girls were doing their activity with Adam, I walked around with the baby.  There are several rooms dedicated to different interests.  There is a kitchen room with cooking products and country store type items like dip, pancake mix and jams.  I then found the cafe and had a snack with Emma who was screaming for food :).  Luckily, the store has a cutely decorated cafe right in the store, with an array lunch type food, like soups and sandwiches and there is a large cute sitting area in the middle of the store.  If you are a bit hungrier, there is a restaurant called Chandler's on the grounds that serves New England cuisine and wine.

Another aspect of Yankee Candle that is a bit bizarre and endearing at the same time, is the all-year round Bavarian Christmas village.  This section of the store has enormous Christmas trees and Christmas villages.  Imagine a Bavarian village in the middle of Massachusetts; it pretty much it makes you feel the holiday spirit, even if it is nowhere near December.   The displays are full of ornaments and nutcrackers; and if you collect those tiny Christmas houses, this is the place for you.  My cousin has a big collection of these houses, so I could not resist buying her one, because the displays were so beautifully arranged.  And to top it off, it snows every 4 minutes.  Emma, our one year old really loved that aspect. There is also a year-round Santa Claus with a letter writing station, yes you read that correctly, year round.  I am imagining if your kids need to pick a bone with Santa, this would be the place to take them.  Santa actually seemed super friendly, but to not have a very confusing conversation with Lilliana about why Santa was there, we skipped it.  Maybe in the pre-holiday time, this would be an amazing place to visit him.  I will not miss Yankee Candle next year in November and December time frame, especially to stock up on gifts.


Once you get through the maze of the Christmas village, there is a toy and candy section.  There is a great array of toys to play with, and if you like popcorn, caramel apples, fudge and ice cream the store has a small kiosk for each.  We bought some zebra popcorn, and the prices were actually very reasonable.  The employees once again impressed me as they were so patient and understanding with the kids while they made their choice between a candy apple or the many different flavors of popcorn; as a mom I really appreciate little things like that.

Perhaps my favorite section of the store, where you can usually find the most people, is the discount room.  It has a huge selection of discontinued or seasonal candles at 50% and even some at 75% off.  Sometimes, they run special deals, so I was able to get a Valentine's day scent for $7.  At the end, I think I went home with 8 candles, so be prepared to have  space for candles and give some to friends and family.

I think the best part of this drive is that it is really relaxing and it can be as long or short as you prefer.  There is a candle-making museum that we missed, so we will definitely be back to see that, it explains the art of candle-making and some of the history behind it.


Yankee Candle® Village South Deerfield, MA.

Address: 25 Greenfield Road South Deerfield, MA 01373


Hours: Monday - Sunday from 10:00 am - 6:00 pm.

Closed Thanksgiving & Christmas 

For More Info on Deerfield, see

Yankee Candle Upcoming events

Peeps Day

PEEPS® Day Date: Saturday, March 5 Time: 10:00 am - 1:00 pm

Activities include:

  • Visit with the The Peepsmobile and PEEPS® Chick Mascot. FREE PEEPS & Company giveaways! (while supplies last)
  • Receive a PEEPS Scratch Off with any purchase between 10am-1pm.  One lucky guest will win a $100 gift basket of Yankee Candle® Easter products. Lots of other prizes!
  • FREE* first 50 guests make their own PEEPS® treat with Santa and Mrs. Claus (while supplies last)
  • Watch an ice carver make a very cool PEEPS® chick!
  • $5 Easter Illumalid with any Easter Candle purchase
  • Guess the number of jelly beans in the jar for a chance to win a Wax Works package! (Includes MYO Jar, Wax Hand, Dip Your Own Critter)

Builders Day Date: Saturday, March 19 Time: 10:00 am - 1:00 pm

Activities include:

  • FREE LEGO® Set to build and take home! (while supplies last)
  • LEGO® Traveling Exhibit: Check out the amazing models by the New England LEGO® Users Group!
  • Building Contest & Exhibit: Enter your creation of LEGO® bricks (built at home) for a chance to win a Family Fun Day* at Yankee Candle Village. All participants receive a FREE 4” dip-your-own taper candle.

* Family Fun Day Package for 4 includes Wax Works Package, Ben & Jerry’s kids cones, and a fill-your-own Yankee Candy Jar. Entries for the building contest and exhibit accepted from 10am until 12pm. Judging will be done by a special guest -  winners will be announced at 1pm. Submissions must be picked up after the judging at 1pm. Yankee Candle Village is not responsible for lost or damaged models.

Mark Twain House, Hartford, CT

Mark Twain House, Hartford, CT

Many of Twain's important works were written in this house, such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, The Prince and the Pauper, among others.  The house was under both private and public ownership for several years, until it was saved by preservationists in 1929.  His daughter, Clara, donated furniture and artifacts(Mark Twain Museum and House, tour guide, February 2016). His belongings were dispersed according to historians due to the family's worldwide travels and some sold at auction by his daughter Clara (LeMaster & Wilson, The Mark Twain Encyclopedia, 1993).  Conservation efforts began and it was declared a Historic Landmark in 1963(Mark Twain Museum).