You can’t go home again, but home does ship UPS

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When we moved from Syracuse back to the Capital District, there were a few things left behind that we knew we’d miss and had a hard time finding replacements for – Hofmann’s coneys, fisherman’s cheese, Hyman Smith coffee (and, in restaurants, Paul deLima coffee). But we settled in and picked up the food traditions of greater Albany, and largely forgot that when we moved to the depths of Pennsylvania, there would again be some things we would miss. Some were to be expected, some were complete surprises. And while the local devotion to pretzels is . . . charming, and there are these satanic cookies called Sweetzel’s mini-cremes, it doesn’t quite replace what we left behind.

  • Bagels. You don’t have to tell me that, on the whole, bagels in the Capital District aren’t like bagels in New York City. I know. (But, hey, try Psychedelicatessen’s, because they’re pretty damn good.) In fact, these days most of the bagels in New York aren’t like the bagels in New York. But trust me, if you lived where I live now, you’d be dying for something that even remotely resembled a Bruegger’s bagel. Most of them come out more like a hard roll than a bagel.
  • Ginger biscotti from Our Daily Bread in Chatham. Please, ODB, please: Offer to ship. Right now we rely on friends, relatives and our occasional trips back home to keep our stockpile going.
  • Lucy Jo’s Coffee. While we love what they serve up at Spill’n the Beans, we became big fans of Lucy Jo’s as well. We didn’t think we’d have trouble finding another coffee roaster in the trendy suburbs of Philadelphia, where we have a whole foods store that isn’t that whole foods store. But, weirdly, haven’t found anything local that wowed us. Happily, Lucy Jo’s does ship, and quickly, so we can keep getting our Brink on.
  • Not actually from the Capital District, but similarly, we haven’t been as smitten with local pasta makers as we were with Flour City Pasta, which makes a tremendous variety of grain types and flavors, and it’s all of such quality that I swore off ever eating grocery store pasta again. They’re from Macedon, out near Rochester, but they come to the Troy Farmer’s Market most weeks, and are also more than happy to ship us their great stuff.
  • Fish fry. I didn’t understand that fish fry was a regional thing. Don’t misunderstand: there are restaurants with fried fish of the haddock/cod variety. It exists. But there aren’t delicious homey little seasonal fish fry stands that serve a simple fish fry in a paper boat with enough fries to put you under.
  • Cider donuts. Pennsylvania has amazing apples. Pennsylvania has good cider. Pennsylvania has good donuts along the nature of a fry cake. But do they have cider donuts as an upstate New Yorker would recognize them? They do not.
    • I need to qualify that statement, and then unqualify it. When I tell people around here that I can’t find a cider donut, they look at me amazed, and then recommend places where they are supposed to exist. Most of those places are miles and miles from here, and on the rare occasion when I have tried to hunt them down I’ve found something that really wasn’t what we’d consider a cider donut – they may be donuts, and they may have cider in them, but something isn’t right. And then I make the point that I shouldn’t have to drive half and hour (around here, that’s about 10 miles) to find such a thing, that in fact I can hardly cross the street without tripping on one where I come from. Further, we have stopped at tens of farm stands that absolutely should have had cider donuts, only to be greeted with quizzical looks.
    • Then, at the local farmer’s market, one of the cookie and scone bakeries had cider donuts. I kvelled for a minute, in a way that may have startled the proprietress. She asked, “How many do you want?” I said, “I want ALL the cider donuts!” “Oooohhhkay.” “How much are they?” “Two dollars.” I thought I had misheard, because surely a half-dozen cider donuts has to go for more than two dollars. Well, I had, and it does . . . because what she meant was two dollars per donut. And by that time, I was so desperate for a fix that I paid it. It was, if you have never had an upstate New York cider donut, a perfectly fine piece of confectionery . . . a firm, flavorful fry cake that in absolutely no way whatsoever resembled a cider donut.

A mere 32 years ago

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CJ Lee wedding stairs 3.jpgWe’re not good at remembering our own anniversary. This post probably wouldn’t pop up today if I hadn’t remembered to schedule it a few weeks ago. Doesn’t mean I love her any less. We were married in our apartment in Syracuse by Judge Bersani (not because we knew him, but because he was the one who was willing to show up). I’m not sure what the vows were. I wore a freshly bought suit that her mother basted the hems on the night before (oh yes, and my favorite red leather skinny tie). She wore a dress she made herself. Some of our guests were uninvited, some of our invited guests couldn’t be there; we may have squeezed 20 people into the apartment. Our parents showered us with some of the things we needed to transition from college students to married people, such as an upholstered couch instead of plastic-webbed lawn chairs. After the ceremony, we went out to dinner at a simple restaurant we liked on the west side.

Our agreement was to do it ringless, for three reasons: 1) neither one of us cared a whit about diamonds and gold (still don’t), 2) we were children of the ’60s/’70s, and 3) we had zero money. At the last minute, my father apparently decided that wouldn’t do and sent out an inexpensive ring, so I was obligated to break that agreement and present her with a ring. Years later, at a time when we thought the marriage would probably take, we bought matching rings that we wear today.

When I hear of people spending $40,000 on a wedding, it makes me insane. If that were money I wouldn’t even miss, I still couldn’t spend it on a party. If people put half the focus on their marriages that they put on their weddings, the divorce rate would be very different. Focus on the marriage, not the wedding.

Lee and CJ Presidential Plaza 1984 3245770406_95617402b6_oJust look at her. I’d marry the heck out of that.

Back to the Music

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Imelda May at Union Transfer, Philadelphia, 11-7-15

Imelda May at Union Transfer, Philadelphia, 11-7-15

Not sure if it’s the empty nest syndrome or just where we live, but after being a rare event in our lives for many years, going to hear live music is now pretty much a regular occurrence. Living in a major metro area, there are just a lot more shows that are of interest, and living in a town with two great small venues, a coffeehouse and an historic theater, and within a comparatively short drive of many others, it’s hard to sort out all the acts we could hear.

When we lived in Albany, we got out for the occasional show at the Egg, the Palace, sometimes Proctor’s. I’d pretty much given up on SPAC; their “pop” series never had anything I was remotely interested in seeing (that I hadn’t already seen in the ’70s). For classical, we’d go to the Albany Symphony Orchestra or over to Tanglewood. There was the occasional free show at the Empire State Plaza, or even in Washington Park. But it was a few times a year, at most, and if it was on a school night, that was a problem. Our only real exposure to local live music was at Troy Night Out, which was always enjoyable (especially, to me, if Oobleck was playing).

Since moving to Phoenixville, live music has been a constant, both big acts and small. We’re a short walk from three regular open mic nights, but our allegiance is to one at our local coffeehouse, Steel City Café, which boasts the best open mic night in the galaxy. The talent is really remarkable, the styles diverse, and the crowd extremely welcoming. At our town’s First Friday, there is live music all over town, so you can stroll from band to band, and, again, there is some incredible quality. The bars and restaurants (and the Farmer’s Market) in the area strongly feature live music, so you get a real chance to see some talented musicians.

And then there’s that whole metro area thing, so we’ve gotten to see some incredible acts, both right here and in Philly. Last night we made a last-minute decision to walk four minutes away and see Lucy Kaplansky, whom we hadn’t seen in years. (And, tipping the scales on that decision was that a local singer/songwriter we had seen at open mic, Anna Spackman, was doing a full opening set.) The week before, we got to see Phil Alvin, Dave Alvin and the Guilty Ones absolutely blow the roof off World Café Live in the city, where we previously got to see The Church. We chanced upon blues legend John Hammond playing in Ardmore just a couple of weeks back (by the way, blues historians should be writing down everything he says between songs, because the man has some stories). We sat almost uncomfortably close to Marshall Crenshaw as he played Steel City. At the Colonial Theater just a couple of blocks away, Leon Russell sang songs and told stories this past summer. Imelda May was incredible in a medium-sized hall in Philly, the same place where we’re going to see Aimee Mann, Ted Leo and Liz Phair in just a few weeks. We had to skip Joe Jackson because there’s only so much you can do, and, to be fair to our former town, Squeeze and Difford & Tilbrook have been there twice while giving the City of Brotherly Love no love at all.

On any given night, having to decide whether you’re going to venture down the street to hear some live music or not is a good problem to have.

Old City of Brotherly Love

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Old City Festival 2015 DSC_3942
Old City Festival 2015 DSC_3942
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Philadelphia has a place called Old City. These are pictures of that.

Worcester Rural Cemetery

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Worcester, Massachusetts has a lovely rural cemetery, filled with the families that founded industry there early on in the 19th century. Here are just a few views of that grand place.

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The Collar City, 2015

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One or two things I know about cycling

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Broken chainring

Guess what? It IS possible to break a chainring.

I grew up on bicycles. Sadly, a couple of scary accidents in my twenties, including concussions, took me off them for a while; I never did more than the occasional casual cycling and some light bike commuting until I took up road biking again with a vengeance somewhere around 42. So now it’s been about 13 years back on the bike, and I’ve learned a thing or two. If I’m being honest, I’ve learned more about myself than about cycling.

  1. A bike ride is always a good thing. I have never regretted a bike ride. That it is so hard to convince myself to go out is just further evidence that my brain is trying to kill me.
  2. I am delusional. Every time I go out, I say I’m just going to go easy. It never happens. Make no mistake, I’m no kind of athlete at all; I have zero natural ability. It’s all work. But every single time, even when it was intensely sunny and pushing 90 degrees, I say I’m going to go easy, and then I end up tackling hills in the blazing sun.
  3. I have just about zero interest in serious riding with anyone else. A casual ride with wife or daughters aside, the logistics of joining a group ride, being a certain place at a certain time, matching pacing, being with people who run stop signs – none of that interests me.
  4. Sunscreen. I spend all my time putting sunscreen on, and then scrubbing it off. Putting it on, scrubbing it off. I’m starting to wonder how much I hate wrinkles and cancer.
  5. Little makes me happier than managing to exceed the speed limit on my bike, especially if one of those temporary speed monitors confirms it in flashing LEDs.  They should be put on downhills more often, because I like seeing I’m doing 35 in a 30, and that only happens when I’m gravity-assisted.
  6. Cycling in the middle of the day, when I have to work, is a bad idea. I just feel too good when I’m done to concentrate. Stupid endorphins.
  7. I have a disease, where no matter where it is we have to end up as a family, I try to plan it so I can get there separately by bicycle. Somehow I’m indulged in this.
  8. I believe in the progress of bicycles … freewheels, integrated shifters, all this. (Well, maybe not disc brakes.) I do not understand the hipness of fixies (nor do I live where it’s flat), and have no desire to return to having to take my hand off the handlebars in order to shift. Progress is good.
  9. That I only possess two bicycles is only through a sheer act of will. If I could, I’d have a dozen.

A year later

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Phoenixville markerSo, it’s been more than a year in our new surroundings. If we’re friends on social media, you already know that we’re completely enamored of our new town. We can walk nearly everywhere. It’s a short ride to the bike path (although road riding around here is not great). We’re five minutes from great kayaking where motorboats can’t go. There are great coffee shops and open mic nights with serious talent. We get into Philadelphia from time to time (visitors are surprised by the mustard). It’s fantastic.

On the other hand, we’re part of the disaster that is metro traffic and live in a town that isn’t connected by rail. Some select bridge outages have made this the summer of whining around here, not without reason, and extensive roadwork has made things temporarily worse. Getting back and forth to Albany/Troy is either smooth as silk or rough as burlap, and then there was that one time when flooding in New Jersey made us those people who drive through floods and took more than 7 hours to make a five hour drive.  Getting to Worcester is never easy. Who knew there was so much Connecticut, and so many opportunities to enjoy it at zero miles an hour?

I determined after several summers of total dedication to renovations that this would be a summer of some level of fun, so not a lot got done on the house, but it is slowly turning into what we want it to be. We solved the problem of the sectional that was bigger than our living room, and got up some stylish shelves. The dining room table, made of beams reclaimed from an 1864 Troy building, is finally finished (well, the surface is. Still don’t like the legs). Many books still need to leave, but since our local library doesn’t do a used book sale, we’re dragging our excess back to East Greenbush. Daughter’s room got half-painted before she left again for school. Air conditioning was installed. There was less cycling than I would have liked, but considerably more canoeing and kayaking than we’ve been able to do in years.

Now, fall will be coming soon and we’ve got plans for painting, rearranging, lighting, and a crazy thought about what to do with a stair rail (so crazy it just might work). Hoping to get into all that soon.

But first, a quick trip back to the ALB.

Getting a jump on the holiday weekend with technoinsanity

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For years now I’ve reserved a little bit of time around Labor Day weekend to do something that will completely screw up my websites, but since this year we’ll be traveling on that weekend for perhaps the first time ever, I thought I’d better just get the technical explosion out of the way now. So I did.

My sites have been hosted on a Movable Type template for years. It was easy and free and it worked, and I knew how to use it; when I started, serious blogs were kinda evenly split between MT and WordPress. But over time Movable Type atrophied, more customizable templates never appeared, and WordPress really took over. But, what the hell, trying to move everything over seemed daunting, and I just stayed with MT.

Similarly, I’ve had a webhost for quite a few years that has been just fine, but now they’re not. Lots of downtime, my cPanel keeps getting moved around to different servers without notice (meaning I can’t find it), I’ve gotten locked out of my own account for reasons they can never quite explain, and I’m just done. So while I work on moving things over to a new host, I thought I’d do the WordPress migration too.

It actually went mostly seamlessly. This should allow people to comment more easily (commenting features were never updated on MT), and give me some more flexibility. One thing that is weird — if you use the Archives drop-down, it still delivers the old-style pages from MT. If you search for the same pages, they come up in the new WP format. Working on it. All solutions welcome.

Update: Hey, fixed it. Had to hide my old MT archive pages from WordPress. Somehow it found them, but as soon as I hid them, it generated its own archives.

Does this mean I’ll be reviving my blogging on this site? We’ll see. There are only so many hours in the day, and Hoxsie takes up a lot of my blogging energy. Sometimes I still have some non-historic things to say, and I’ll try to get to that a bit more.

Home where I’ve never lived

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Third Lake Vacation June 2015 DSC_3051Odd but true that it’s possible for a place one has never lived, doesn’t have a family connection to, and has rarely spent more than a few days a year, to feel just like home. For me, that’s the Fulton Chain of the Adirondacks, the stretch of lovely waters from Old Forge to Raquette Lake.

Boats we have paddled there: a brick of an Old Town with gunwales broken from having been run over by a car, propelled by moose-killer paddles; a Sawyer X-17, a nice wilderness tripper that’s perfect for Adirondack lakes; a smaller Sawyer solo; and a Dagger tandem kayak that has just about outstayed its welcome but does carry two nicely. Lakes we’ve been on: Old Forge Pond; First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth and Eighth; Limekiln; Big Moose; Stillwater; Raquette. Places we’ve camped: Alger Island, Tioga Point, Eighth, Raquette, Limekiln, Stillwater, and others I’ve forgotten, mostly in tents until recent years when a desire to sleep dry has pushed us more toward cabins. This year, we took the big plunge and actually rented a private camp for a week, with its own lakefront access, beautifully situated on Third. Despite a week of rain, I got out in the boat every day, got threatened by a beaver, got to float for 20 minutes with a loon, and even went for a hike that gave my boots a wetland scent that may never come out.

My family connections are further east and north, though a great great something or other was a guide on the Fulton Chain in the late 19th century. I never went there growing up, and discovered the area when we lived in Syracuse, but now it feels more like home than anywhere I’ve never lived. The skies, the waters, the hills, the flora and fauna, it all seems like home when I’m there.

Others recharge their batteries by going places they’ve never been before. Me, I need to go home.