Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Ted's Fish Fry - Wolf Road

My oldest son is an unusual kid with a wide range of interests. He loves history and trains and inexplicably NASCAR and Broadway musicals and opera. A real renaissance guy. When it was time for him to choose where he wanted to eat for his recent birthday, he had a local request and a suggestion for when we're in the city this weekend that clearly illustrate his divergent tastes. Local choice: a fish fry, NYC: Bobby Flay's Bar Americain. Yep, that's my Liam!

Based on a good friend's recommendation, we ventured up to Wolf Road Tuesday night to indulge in some fried fish, despite middle son's repeated admonishings that "fish are friends not food." Whatever - bring on the cod!

We've been to the Ted's in Troy and enjoyed the classic drive in quality to the joint. This location is different, more comfortable for sitting, more modern. We stood to the side of the counter and consulted to determine our order and stepped up to the man behind the counter prepared with our dinner request. Well...the man at the counter was a bit rude intimidating and my efficiency really was tested as he barked, sometimes at me, sometimes at the line cooks behind him. It was so extreme that I was left wondering if they have some sort of shtick a la Soup Nazi. We suffered through his inhospitable disposition, placed our order (2 fish fry platters, 1 chicken tenders, 10 mild buffalo wings, 1 bowl of New England clam chowder, 1 small order of onion rings and 3 beverages and a water. $46 + a tip for the pleasant (or "hot" as my youngest boy declared. Loudly) teen aged girl who rang us up.

We sat with our drinks while our food was cooked and observed that the counter guy was consistent with his lack of warmth, but when the Lilly boys retrieved the food and served me (!), it was all worth it.  Piping hot, crispy, moist...absolutely delicious. The fish was served with a sort of concoction that I can only describe as the bastard child of tartar sauce and cocktail sauce.  Red, relish-y and sweet. I wanted to take photos but was concerned that I would upset the counter guy and that was a risk I was unwilling to take. Liam did not offer me a taste of his chowder, but he said it was terrific and, more importantly, he shared his oyster crackers with his brothers. Speaking of sharing, I ordered only a small portion of onion rings because the boys indicated they weren't too interested in them. Well, I think I got maybe two of those rings - and that was after I wrestled one away from Quinn. Sorry, baby boy, mommy really needed that ring. We'll get the large order next time. The fries were forgettable and the cole slaw tasty, with a peppery bite offset by a vinegary sharpness. The chicken tenders looked really good, while the mild wings were a little more spicy than I would have expected, but the had a nice crispness to them and were perfectly sauced - not dry, not too messy. Not a single complaint about the food could be made.

All in all, probably the best fish fry we've had in the area, good value, comfortable spot (counter ogre aside), and decent location. We'll be back!

Madame Tussaud's with Quinn

Thanks to a Groupon deal, Quinn and I visited Madame Tussaud's last week while we were in D.C. This sort of place isn't usually my cup of tea, but Quinn was excited to see the Presidents and celebrities, so off we went. At $20 for 2, I thought it was a decent value - at any more than that I would have felt ripped off. The photos below should give you an idea of Quinn's often inappropriate irreverent sense of humor...

George and Quinn
Quinn Wilkes Booth

Quinn and Franklin

Winston and Quinn
Soldier Quinn

I like Ike (and Quinn)

Quinn Kennedy

Space Boy Quinn
Quinn and Bob

Quinn and Tiger

Quinn and Ali

Michael and Quinn

Monday, February 27, 2012

15 years of parenthood

Fifteen years ago today, on the warmest February 27th on record in Albany, I became a parent.  While I've spent the last decade and a half teaching my son about life, the world and his family, I would be remiss in not acknowledging all the things he has taught me.  

1.  His birth, from the earliness of his arrival (5+weeks premature) to the method of delivery
(c-section) taught me that despite a combination of meticulous planning and the miracle of
conception, being a parent is often about yielding control.
2.  My post delivery drugged condition left me with very little interest in holding my new baby
boy.  His dad demonstrated the beauty of paternal love and attention as he cradled his son
in his arms.  Beautiful.
3.  Life changes with parenthood, but balance remains important.  People who have nothing to
talk about other than their children are tedious.
4.  Exposing children to travel and culture from an early age is as valuable as any formal
education they will ever receive.
5.  There is no pain that my children have suffered that I wouldn't gladly absorb as my own.  
Since this isn't possible, my job is to help them develop tools for dealing with negative
situations and experiences.
6.  Providing my boys with a healthy mixture of reality and possibility is an inspiring part of
being a parent.
7.  Time moves quickly.  Really quickly.  I lost my breath recently considering that in 3 or 4
short years Liam will be in college.  Wow.
8.  Children come with their own preferences.  Accepting these preferences is an excellent
9.  My ridiculous rate of speed and multitasking is not a realistic thing to expect from my
children.  I've been told a number of times that I need to stop giving multiple directions
simultaneously.  I'm working on it.   
10.  Having my first baby at 30 was pretty ideal.  I can't imagine having started my family any
sooner than that.
11.  Traveling with children is like taking two trips - yours and theirs.  Twice as cool,
frequently twice as exhausting.
12.  Seeing how other people perceive your child is fascinating.  
13.  From their first steps, children are preparing to walk away from their parents.  It's ok!!  
They'll have so much to share when the come back home again.
14.  I always imagined myself as a "girl" mom.  I was wrong.
15.  Fifteen years have gone faster than I ever could have imagined.  There is nothing like
parenthood to teach the value of time.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

DelSo Cookies!

Did you see this over on All Over Albany?  Geesh - leave town for a week and miss all kinds of exciting stuff!  You get excited about cookies, right?  There's a contest to come up with the perfect cookie to celebrate All Good Bakers' impending arrival in the DelSo.  I've been thinking about what would be the perfect representation of our neighborhood in a cookie form, and I've got some ideas...

Although the Wine n Diner didn't survive, something Mikey, the owner, said stuck with me.  I agree with his (co-opted) statement that Delaware Avenue is where Lark Street goes to grow up and believe the DelSo cookie needs to have some adult qualities...dark chocolate chunks,  Really dark chocolate with a bitter note. I'd say.  There's also the fact that Delaware Avenue was known as an Italian enclave so maybe toss in some toasted pignoli nuts to show proper respect to the family.  And then we'd need something to sweeten them up a bit - maybe some dark brown sugar?  Lastly - a little spiciness is present in our 'hood and I think a little ginger would add just the right touch.  

What do you think?  Get to Facebook and share your thoughts asap.  Contest is open until Monday only!!

Friday, February 24, 2012

5 Travel Don'ts

1. Do not overbook. What's the point of running yourself ragged? If you schedule an event or activity for each moment there's zero time for spontaneity and unexpected cool things.

2. Do not overpack. As the girl with the heaviest suitcase on my first trip to Europe, I learned a couple of important lessons, including that my friends won't let me forget that I had the heaviest suitcase. And that it is way more satisfying to use every single article of packed clothing than it is to bring items that remain unworn.

3. Don't hesitate to ask for late checkout and register complaints about accommodations when appropriate. On my latest trip, I tweeted my dissatisfaction with the fact that our hotel's pool was not available, just like it had been last time we were there 6 years ago. I was contacted by the hotel and ultimately was given a credit equal to the cost of one night's accommodation.

4. Don't ever, ever, ever go to chain restaurants when traveling. Branch out - ask locals or Yelp for suggestions on where to eat. Or stay home.

5. Don't underestimate how important it is to leave your home in the condition you want to find it upon your return. Remember - nothing says welcome home like clean sheets.

Monday, February 20, 2012


Last week I got a postcard in the mail touting a program my insurance company, I mean Health Plan, offers. There's some sort of rewards program that I can opt into earning points towards gift cards and other discounts if I register and then log my healthy choices. I went on line and registered already imagining how I would spend my "money" buying more running clothes. After I selected my user name and password, I prepared to begin logging all those runs and sculpting classes. brand new login and password didn't work. Hmmm. So I requested a new one. Which also didn't work. At this point, the process was proving to be more detrimental than beneficial to my health so I abandoned the task, for now.

Two days later I received a letter from CDPHP thanking me for enrolling in the program. Or, to be accurate, I received THREE identical letters all dated 2/9/12 saying exactly the same thing. Really??? I couldn't help but recall that each time my union made concessions to the contract we had agreed to, I watched my health insurance premiums continue to increase. I understand that companies are people and all, but why aren't these businesses being asked to toe the fiscal line? Is the company that is sending out an identical letter 3 times to me doing more effective, important work than the professionals teaching our children? I don't mind doing my part and I'm a practical person. I get it. My problem is that I'm sick of having to justify my existence professionally annually. As if being a librarian didn't already come with its own lack of educational street cred.

The governor has demanded a change to teacher evaluations and I'm now supposed to be rated on the same rubric as a classroom teacher. Which means that 40% of my annual performance should be based upon standardized tests. Thinking back on your time as a student (or what you have observed) do you recall taking any exams or filling in bubble sheets in the LMC? How about during your time in the guidance office or while in P.E.? Exactly.

From what I understand, folks are upset about the benefits teachers now possess, things like our "part time" status, excessive retirements and practically free insurance premiums. For the record, I didn't ask to discontinue contributing a mandatory percentage of my salary to my retirement. That decision was made by someone else, probably a financial expert. And, incidentally, I opened a 403B immediately after becoming "vested," to continue saving for my retirement, because I'm not, nor have I ever, asked for something for nothing.

I've invested - in my education, my profession and my future. Guess I'll just continue making healthy choices for myself and not count on my health insurance plan or my government to reward me for my efforts.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Personal Inventory

I recently admitted something to myself, which naturally means I need to share it with you... I've got a bit of a pre-running ritual. I won't divulge all the personal details, yet, but, basically it includes a lot of peeing, preparing my iProduct (music and running app) double knotting my laces, moisturizing... It is kind of involved. I am getting more efficient about it, though, and I've accepted that this what I really need to do to be in the best position to enjoy my run. I'm okay with it.

Once I finally get out there, the first mile of so of my run also involves an inventory of sorts. Typically this part of my run is what I would consider to be the most difficult piece. Or at least that is what I've always thought.* Something changed a bit recently, though,  and my perspective has shifted.  I now recognize that the first 8-10 minutes are when my body is simply saying hello. The twinges, aches, pains, sensations are all means of communication, and I'm learning to tune in and listen. Hips, quads, calves, feet, all checking in and informing me of their presence. My body is just waking up and wants some attention.  I'm working hard to respect and accept this process knowing full well that the hurt is temporary.  The ultimate reward, being fit and strong, and anything, please God, other than numb or unstimulated, is endless.

There was a moment recently when I considered an alternative to running and being physically active, wondering what it would be like if I opted to keep my body quiet instead. I'm sure there's something to be said for an existence of muted living, but that is not for me. Because, feeling alive is a prerequisite, in my mind, to being alive. When I place myself in a situation in which I am vulnerable or challenged, I do it with consciousness. Better to expose myself and risk feeling something, than to cloister myself and avoid the risk of exertion. I'm definitely more inclined to feel the pain knowing that my strength will only be stimulated by the threat to my comfort and, at this point in my life, I know one's strength, or lack thereof, becomes most evident when a situation demands it. That is when we truly show what we are made of, action by action, muscle by muscle.

*I've come to realize the worst part of any run would be not taking it..

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Another verb...

To add to our conversation about action words, I offer LOVE, along with some adverbs.


Sunday, February 12, 2012

Verb - that's what's happening

I'm a person of action. If something needs to get done, I do it. If you say "can't," I'll say "can." When projecting into the future, I don't want to hear "would," because I'm already thinking "will."  Are you with me? In case you're not, this is what I'm talking about:

I get my thing in action.
(Verb, that's what's happenin')
To work, (Verb!)
To play, (Verb!)
To live, (Verb!)
To love... (Verb!...

Or perhaps you need the whole song and dance to get it...

Intentions are grand.  Plans are wonderful.  But, doing, making things happen, aligning words with actions, well, execution doesn't always mean death.  Sometimes it actually means life.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Royal treatment at the Emperor's Palace

Fried squid
Yesterday was the youngest Lilly princes' birthday, and as we usually do, we went to his favorite Chinese place, Emperor's Palace, to celebrate. Now I'd say there are probably 20 Chinese restaurants that are closer to our DelSo home, but Emperor's Palace is special. It's where the boys developed their obsession with Peking Duck and Fried Squid with sea salt and peppers. It's the place where I ate the night before Quinn was born, when my labor was finally beginning to become serious instead of just teasingly annoying. And it is where we go, apparently, when we have no money. Huh?  Say what?

Roast duck wonton and noodle soup

Here's what happened... I was hungry. Really, really hungry. When I arrived home to pick up the boys following my class at the Y, I couldn't get on the road fast enough. We hauled up to Wolf Road, with an intended quick stop at Toys R Us for one last birthday gift. As Quinn and I got out of the car, I realized (with a barely restrained expletive) that I had forgotten to bring my handbag. After a fast mental inventory (how long could that take, right?), I accepted that I was going to have to go back home to get my new happy wallet, but then Liam said he had some cash. Stopping on a dime and reassessing the situation, I decided to buy the $10 gift with Liam's money and then hit another Chinese place for dinner. The Wine Bar guys had enjoyed a recent meal at Shining Rainbow and I figured we could give that a shot instead. Present purchased, we got back in the car to head home.

Peking duck
Then, I had a thought...we've been eating at Emperor's for so many years that maybe they would consider allowing us to eat and then call them with the necessary bank card info to pay for our meal. The boys and I consulted and agreed it was worth a shot. I pulled into the Emperor's parking lot and went inside where I was greeted by a big smile from the two male servers who have been there forever. I explained my dilemma, not even playing the birthday card. Without hesitation, they agreed and I went out to retrieve the elated boys. And we had a killer dinner. In a world of chain restaurants and mediocre customer service, it is such a treat to go to an authentic Chinese restaurant and feel so completely at home. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

7 things you might not know about Quinn Lilly

  1. He was born on Chinese New Year (Year of the Rooster).
  2. He has been described as "formidable."  At the time, he was 2.
  3. He is funny - really, really funny.
  4. He possesses an uncanny ability to mimic voices and accents.
  5. He has a fantastic memory.
  6. He has a generous heart.
  7. He is now 7!!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Apple-Oat Scones

I've got a little thing for scones.  Ever since the first time I experienced them on a British Airways flight, complete with clotted cream and strawberry preserves, I've had a particular fondness for them.  They're also one of those baked items that look like they were more work than they actually were, which seems to impress people.  Last weekend I gave this Martha Stewart recipe a try with okay results.  I was originally attracted to the recipe because it used buttermilk, which means fried chicken in my house, and because they were promoted as fairly healthy.

I didn't follow the recipe exactly, opting to make the dough Saturday and baking the scones Sunday, which made the dough a little wet because the apples released some juice overnight. The scones definitely weren't dry.  They also weren't particularly sweet, which I appreciated, but I still might add a little more sugar and cinnamon to them next time.  And, there will be a next time.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

How do you negotiate a mountain?

Here.  You fill in the blank, as if you were me:  Today while I was _________ , I got to thinking about __________. Seriously, I'm getting predictable.  Anyway, this afternoon, I ran the back nine at Albany Muni Capital Hills, which has some monstrous hills, and I was mulling over how one gets to the top of the mountain - to the other side.  As I was making my way up the absolute biggest hill on my route, gasping and forcing my ever-so-heavy feeling legs up the hill, I took one peek at the top. Or at least what I perceived to be the top. Sometimes our minds play tricks on us, don't you think?  I locked in my goal mentally.

Once I knew where I was going, all I needed to do was focus on the next step. Again. Again. And again. My eyes carefully scanned the ground directly in front of me for obstacles, stumbling blocks. Sometimes it's like a regular steeple chase on the ungroomed trails, but it's never boring and my ultimate destination is motivation enough. My pace varied, the internal vision I have kept my drive strong.  Up I went.

But, I know there are other ways to scale a mountain. Some are devoted to a constant stare at the peak of that mountain. Gaze never wavering, a steady and consistent pace. Not eyeballing the ground immediately ahead, but visually projecting to some future place.  While I respect this other method of mountain climbing, it seems to me to lend itself to more frequent falters and falls. Because if you're not looking at what's next - if your focus is too distant, how do you leap the rocks in your path?  The piles of decaying leaves and the mud that sucks at your shoes?  How do you negotiate a mountain?

Dreadmill Blues

When I first began running after my shoulder surgery, it was winter and I made use of the treadmill at the gym. I really had no complaints about the experience. I could listen to music, watched muted Home and Garden television and people watch - all at the same time without tripping. I was motivated by the display screen and played around with the incline and speed, watching the calories count off. Actually, it was probably one of the few times I considered myself to be a numbers person. I never really understood the blanket dislike of running on a treadmill, I mean, what's so bad about running like a hamster in a cage?  For outdoors time, I had the golf course for cross-country skiing. Remember when it used to snow here in the winter?

In the past couple of months, though, I've found myself  beginning to understand the disdain for this type of exercise. Maybe it started at the Greenbush Area YMCA where they have televisions mounted from the ceiling rather than individual screens on each machine.  It might have been the incessant FOX "news" assaulting my eyes that first turned me off to running as fast as I can without creating any distance between myself and something I find repulsive.  And if it wasn't that, the episode of Paula Deen "cooking" with canned mushroom soup and multiple sticks of butter certainly was enough to make me uncomfortable.  Gross.  But, I believe my major issue with running on a treadmill comes from the basic fact that I simply enjoying being outside.  In recent months, I've actually had a couple of moments when I've been running and I thought to myself, "If it all ended right now, I'd be happy."  I've never replicated that emotion indoors on a treadmill, believe me.

Quinn and I are preparing for our epic train trip later in the month and I'm a bit stressed about getting my weekly miles in.  I'm hoping to cob together some sort of babysitting when we're on the road and I'll bring a swimsuit also, just in case.  Last week when I was in Boston, the hotel had a running concierge - have you ever heard of such a thing?!? Apparently it is a weather dependent service, but I thought it was a really cool amenity to offer guests.  The timing of it didn't work for me, but check this out:

Now, granted, it was Boston and I always get lost in Boston, but it was an awesome little map nonetheless.  As I try to push my weekly mileage closer to the 20 mile mark, my acceptance of a lack of snow, (and thus no cross-country skiing), feels far more natural than running indoors.  Let's hope D.C., Baltimore and NYC offer opportunities similar to Boston or else the only thing more dreadful than the dreadmill will be my mood.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Super Bowl Madonna

So, everyone around here is totally excited about the big event this weekend.  Apparently some of the heroes are called BIG blue but are actually wearing road whites, while the others will actually be wearing blue.  It's a huge day for sports fans in New York and New England - and it's going to be fun.  Although, it could be even more fun if they would ditch this Superbowl Sunday nonsense and play on Saturday instead. Trust me, I think folks would indulge and spend even more if they didn't actually have to take a recovery sick day on Monday.  But, I digress, what I really want to talk about is Madonna.

Last night, while I was watching American Idol (I've lost your respect, haven't I?)  there was a preview of Madonna's new video  and suddenly I remembered why I've always loved her...

She created herself - she is fabulously self-made.  Madonna wasn't packaged or produced by a record label in the same way many of today's female artists are manufactured.  And she most certainly isn't one of these Disney princesses.  Every song she sings does not sound like the last song she sang and her style has changed a million times.  She writes some of her own stuff and truly has a catalog of material.  I'm not saying it compares to what great bands produced but, damn, Madonna's been doing her thing for a long time and I admire her hard work.  She doesn't seem afraid to try anything and I respect her for living the life she wanted. I'm kind of excited for the half-time show for the first time in a long time. 

Well, what part of the game are you most looking forward to?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

(Un)Chain My Heart

I'm all about independence. Looking in my pantry and seeing shelves filled with good food that I selected, purchased and carried home in my reusable bags gives me pleasure. Writing that check the other day for the property taxes on my home gave me a twinge of happiness that originated in the realization that I can make this thing called life work. This penchant for independence carries over into many areas of my life and influences my decisions on a regular basis. For instance, if there is a choice between two items, one made by an individual and the other mass produced, well, it's a no brainer. My optician is a real person in an office that bears his name. And no, his name isn't America's Best or Lens Crafters. I can't imagine ordering pizza from Papa John or Domino's or choosing cheesecake from a Factory when we are blessed with Cheesecake Machismo.

Once in a great while, however, an exception presents itself. As in Mr. Fussy's predilection for Chipotle or the love I have for a perfectly prepared Caramel Machiatto from Starbuck's. Rules are made to be broken, no? Which brings me to the fondness I have for a chain (gasp!) restaurant I was turned on to in Boston. It all began a couple of years ago on Labor Day weekend. I had arrived in Boston hungry - and clueless about where to go to rectify the situation. If you've traveled with me before you know I refuse to go to chain restaurants preferring to find something representative of my location. I'm also kind of particular about what I eat. I just don't feel good about eating poorly prepared or overly processed foods, so I avoid them. Walking down Newbury Street seemed my best route to find something good and my obsessiveness patience was rewarded when I encountered a couple exiting a place that looked promising - The Capital Grille. In my defense, I had no idea this place had multiple locations. The menu looked good, the departing diners were very enthusiastic about their experience and the bar was inviting. I was in.

Everything about my meal was enjoyable - the carpaccio, oysters and salad, the wine selection by the glass, the nice folks I talked to throughout my meal. Not a single bump in the road. Then dessert came along...

I was in Boston last weekend - eating this was my motivation for a run!
Holy coconut cream pie!! Have you ever seen such a gorgeous hunk of creamy, toasted coconut goodness in your life? The pie is served in an individual shortbread-ish and coconut shell that could easily serve three polite sharers. The filling is creamy with a hint of rum and the topping is miraculously light, even with that drizzle of caramel sauce. Unfrigging believable. I tracked down a recipe that looks promising and may attempt it this weekend. I make no promises other than if I do, I will visually share my results.