I'm always on the hunt for unique toys for my son, and I recently came across the work of Maple Landmark Woodcraft, based in Middlebury, Vermont. The family-run company of about 40 folks makes all their products in-house, and there are a wonderful range of gifts for kids. Among my favorite are the beautifully engraved alphabet blocks (above), created from locally sourced, sustainably harvested maple hardwood. I also adore their list of "fantasy play" toys (swords! magic wands!) and old-fashioned hobby and rocking horses. Here's a look at more of their work, and you can shop the entire catalogue on their website.
I just finished reading this marvelous story on NPR about Farm to Ballet, the brainchild of dancer and Vermont native Chatch Pregger. The dance performances, held on farms across the state and set to classical ballets like "Swan Lake", are meant to depict the life of a farm from Spring to Fall, the choreography evoking planting, irrigating, harvesting. During the dance the farmer also takes a moment away from the crops to work with the animals and celebrate their contributions. The production ends with a celebratory farm share pick-up scene before the geese fly back for winter. What a wonderful thing to celebrate farming this way, and also bring ballet to such an unlikely setting. The last shows will be this weekend in Barnard and Essex Junction. Read more about the project.
This week's check-in is at one of my favorite hotels in New England, the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont.
If the name Trapp is conjuring up scenes from The Sound of Music, there's a good reason for it: the Von Trapp family portrayed in the film came to the U.S. in the early 1940s, touring the country as the Von Trapp Family Singers and eventually settled in Stowe, where the mountain scenery reminded them of their native Austria (you can read all about the full family history here).
The current 96-room alpine lodge was built in 1980 and sits on 2,500 acres. For me, of the best part of the lodge are all the cozy great rooms throughout. We met up with friends on our last visit here, and our evenings were spent nestled around fireplaces chatting and sharing a bottle of wine in the various public spaces. The atmosphere is relaxed and homey, great for those traveling with kids, and they also provide L.L.Bean dog beds and blankets, treats and dog-friendly trail maps should you want to pack your pooch. Here's our dog, Harold, taking in the snow.
In the winter the lodge offers cross-country skiing and snowshoe trails. If you're up for a workout, take the trail to Slayton Pasture Cabin for lunch. The three-mile journey to this little cabin in the woods is largely uphill, but you're rewarded for your hard work at the top with hot soup, sandwiches and apple cider. No need to bring your own gear. Guests can rent the required equipment at the hotel's ski center a short walk from the main lobby. And, if you have little ones, the lodge also offers horse-drawn sleigh rides across their beautiful, snow-covered fields.
When you're ready to warm up back at the lodge, there's an indoor pool and an outdoor hot tub with views of the mountains. Or, head to the lounge for afternoon tea with freshly baked cookies. The Main Dining Room also serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. My favorite thing on the menu? The schnitzel with noodles, naturally.
What: Over 40 local cheese makers across the state of Vermont, collectively known as the Vermont Cheese Trail
Why: The fun of driving along winding country roads and across the state's picture-perfect covered bridges in quest of some of the country's best goat, sheep, and cow's milk cheeses to start. Along the way you'll also have plenty of chances to stop at roadside stands and shops for other treats like locally-made maple sugar ice cream and apple cider and donuts. It's fun for animal lovers and kids too, as many of the farmyards are open to the public.
How: The Vermont Cheese Council has created a handy map of all of the cheese producers open to visitors, and if you plan to visit several we recommend making a long weekend out of it so as not to feel rushed. Important note: since many of the farms are family-owned and operated, they'll need a heads up before you arrive so that they can be sure someone will be there to greet you (They're happy to. Just give them a call).
One of our favorite places along the way is Shelburne Farms. Cheese-wise you'll find excellent farmhouse cheddar, but the large grounds with beautiful walking trails, children's farmyard, and an Inn with a delicious Sunday brunch make it a spot you can spend several hours visiting. Wine enthusiasts should also plan on visiting the nearby Shelburne Vineyard for a glass overlooking the grape vines. Other picks include Fat Toad Farm in Brookfield for goat's milk caramels, smoked chève at Stowe's Sage Farm, and burratta, mozzarella, and ricotta at Maplebrook Farm in Bennington. Be sure to check the farms' websites before you go as visiting hours can vary by season.