Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Whining about service

My most recent contribution to the Vinoteca blog.  You DelSo regulars know where I'm talking about...

Whining about service

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

I can see clearly now the rain has gone

No, literally.  I have new glasses and an intense rain shower just moved furiously through the DelSo. Things look different, both sharpened and softened somehow, and I feel as if I am seeing my surroundings with new eyes. 

These two events got me to thinking about my vision over the years, recalling when I first knew I needed glasses.  I think I was in third or fourth grade and I was struggling a little when I read the chalkboard.  Naturally, my mother said it was because I read too much and that my eyes were fine, an assessment I accepted until 5th grade when the school nurse referred me to an optometrist after  I failed an eye exam. I got glasses. 

In high school I decided I needed contact lenses to be pretty.  I saved my money ($100!) and got myself a pair of lenses despite my aversion to touching my eyes.  I'll never forget the sensation of looking at the streetlights as the sky grew darker, and truly seeing the preciseness of the light emanating from tall street lamps.  It no longer appeared to me as a fuzzy cloud of light, I could see the individual bulb and it was remarkable.  Equally unforgettable was my inability to take my contacts out that first day.  It might have been the beer which caused me to balk at the thought of pinching something off my eyeball, but there's no doubt I'd still be wearing that pair of lenses if my friend Anthony hadn't matter-of- factly plucked them out for me. 

And now, 25+ years later, I'm sporting my first pair of progressive glasses.  You know, the line-less lenses that have distinct areas to look through for distance viewing, reading, and normal vision.  The first few days were a little rough - there was a bit of nausea and a little frustration as I learned to move my head up and down to utilize the area of the glasses necessary for the task at hand.  Two weeks in and I have to say they're working for me.   

What have I learned from my history with vision correction?  Well, I understand that sometimes children know more than their parents.  I know that seeing distant things more clearly doesn't negate our need for friends to sometimes take charge of a situation close at hand. And I'm beginning to grasp that clarity can occasionally be achieved by a mere shift of one's gaze.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Troy's Botanic Studio

I used to really have a way with plants.  And I don't mean that in a good way.  Other than a single plant that somehow survived the days when I had to choose between nurturing the children or some potted greenery, I pretty much killed plants. 

Something shifted, though, about 10 years ago.  I inherited a rubber plant (tree?) from a friend departing town, and unlike our friendship, this plant has thrived.  Two re-pottings later this plant towers over me and is beautifully lush all year long. My confidence grew and I took on a spider plant, which became multiple plants as it happily threw off shoots.  I began forcing flowers during the winter and more seriously puttering around my tiny front garden.  But the day I knew I had arrived as a competent plant tender was when Lisa gave me a mostly dead fern, a type of plant that I have killed on a routine basis, and told me I could make it live.  And I did.

Last year I added an asparagus fern, also nearly dead, to my indoor garden and its beautiful  feathery fronds make me happy every time I see them.  I also dug up my parking strip (the grass between the curb and the sidewalk) and added some herbs and iris to my landscape. Yeah, I got this.  
Whether you struggle with gardening or have a natural green thumb, Botanic Studio on River Street in Troy is bound to inspire.  The space is gorgeous and tranquil and each eyeful of the shop is pleasing.  Get yourself to Troy and bring some of that peace to your home.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Jennifer Donnelly, who resides in upstate New York, writes very engaging historical fiction.  Prior  to my reading Revolution, I had read a previous novel of hers, A Northern Light, which takes the Theodore Dreiser story An American Tragedy and changes the narrator to a female teenager working in an Adirondack boarding house.  Do you know this story?  In the early 20th century, Chester Gillette was convicted of murdering his pregnant lover Grace Brown and was put to death in the electric chair.  The novel was also adapted into a film, A Place in the Sun, starring, among others, Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Cliff.  You know it's a good story when books are still being inspired by it a century later.  Check that one out, too.

But, on to Revolution... Andi, a seriously depressed, Brooklyn teenager trying to survive the loss of her younger brother,  is the narrator of this novel which alternates between the 18th century French Revolution and contemporary Paris.  Andi is a gifted musician who depends upon her guitar to retain her precarious grasp on life.  Her suicidal state of mind is addressed with powerful medication, both pharmaceutical and musical, and the descriptions of both "drugs" are boldly honest.  I was struck by the following description of a very familiar, to me, Pink Floyd song:   "...a moody guitar comes in, there's a pause, and then four notes, clear and stunning: B-flat, F, G, E....David Gilmour got sadness down in four notes." 

The novel contains countless musical references beyond Shine on You Crazy Diamond.  As I was reading I was continually impressed with the author's knowledge of music from a wide array of genres - classical, pop, hip-hop, rap, traditional and others.  The musical descriptions were informative and added to the sensory stimulation present in the work. As someone who knows very little about the French Revolution, I found the history component to be really interesting, particularly the descriptions of the catacombs in Paris and the daily life of the royal family.  Despite her negative reputation, Marie Antoinette was portrayed with sympathy.  She may have been a shallow, spoiled woman but in this novel we are reminded that she was also a mother who has suffered the loss of numerous children.

A little history, a little mystery, some music and romance...sounds like a good summer read, friends. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Rock & Run recap

SPAC ~ May 20, 2012
Can I blame my less than stellar time (28:27) on Max London?  No, probably not, but I can thank Capriccio Saratoga for the excellent Pasta Puttanesca carb load we enjoyed Saturday night.  I can also say,  that it was a hot morning and a hillier than expected course.  And a lot of fun!  I wish I had taken more photos but I learned during this event that it is really difficult to participate in and photograph the same event.  There were so many shots I didn't get, including of the bands scattered along the course, that I left feeling a tad disappointed.  Really though, how down can a girl feel after running on a beautiful day with a couple of great friends?

This was the third year for this event and I'm already looking forward to running it again in 2013.  And besting my time, of course.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


I wrote an awesomely bitchy note on my iPad earlier.  My intent was to work it into a blog post but, as I was polishing it, it somehow disappeared.  Poof!  Gone.  It was a verbose piece.  I used lots of big words, inspired perhaps by my stay last night at the Saratoga Hilton, formerly Cheryl Clark's digs.

The post was prompted by the dining experience I shared last night with two friends, each  of us restaurant server alumni.  We went to Max London's for dinner.  This was the second time around at ML's for two of us and, unfortunately, the experience was unerringly similar to our last visit - thoughtfully prepared food, nicely presented at the appropriate temperature contrasted with abysmal service.  I'm talking comically bad.  Epic.

It all began with the complete lack of welcome.  Both times I've ventured in to this place, the greeting, aka as the tone setter for the evening, in my opinion, was completely absent.  The folks standing behind the bar - posing perhaps for some unseen camera, didn't acknowledge us whatsoever.  All right then.

The hostess was busy and eventually got to us, estimating the wait for a table as about 20 minutes.  I set the timer on my phone and we walked and window shopped, returning in 12 minutes only to learn that we had lost our table.  A good hostess estimates a bit better than that, I think, and a great hostess notes the time she spoke with the prospective guest and does her best to honor it.

We elected to wait at the bar the second time around and, miraculously, 3 seats magically appeared.  We sat.  And sat.  And sat.  I would estimate it took a minimum of 5 minutes before we were acknowledged.  Please be aware that there were 4 or 5 people working behind the bar, none moving with any sense of urgency.  Not very impressive.  At last, we ordered 3 simple drinks (2 glasses of Prosecco and a g&t) and waited again, probably closer to 10 minutes this time.  By the time the cocktails were served our table was nearly ready and we were advised by the hostess to settle up at the bar because we would soon be seated.

Now, there's a nice way to convey to a guest that you'd like them to wrap up their check at the bar, I suppose, but her approach was not it.  The way she spoke, her tone of voice and her choice of words, was abrasive.  Nonetheless we attempted to pay the check as soon as it was presented (maybe 2 minutes after we requested it. Pretty good, right?), but after waiting more than 5 minutes to have our credit card processed, we ultimately took our unpaid check to the table.  And a tip?  Forget it.

Our server was earnestly green, a welcome change from arrogantly jaded, and he did his best to provide us with what we ordered.  And the food, by the way, was terrific.  Everything you've ever heard about their polenta fries?  All true - delicious!  When we ordered a second mixed drink and the wait to receive it was pushing the ten minute mark, we knew it was time to abandon any hope of the evening being redeemed.  I texted a friend and we headed to Capriccio Saratoga for the remainder of our dinner.

I would be remiss if I didn't share the funniest moment of the meal.  When we questioned our server about the missing drink he responded, without batting an eye, that the bar was very busy. The laughter that erupted from my table was the purest moment of joy prompted by our dining experience.  Overall impression: the kitchen deserves a much better front of the house presence - an effective dining room manager is sorely needed, in my professional and personal opinion.  You're welcome.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Attention: males over the age of 6!

When I see you wearing your baseball cap sideways, I know you think you look like this:

Hate to break it to you, but, in reality you look way more like this:

 Now you know. You're welcome.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Commencement - a beginning or start

So, that's my natural hair color!
The word commencement is an odd one. While it is defined as a beginning or start, it clearly is most often used to describe a ceremony which acknowledges the end of something.  Seems that endings and beginnings can get all sorts of mixed up, huh?

Almost exactly  20 years ago, I received my college diploma. The path I took to that mass commencement ceremony was circuitous and prolonged. Or so it seemed to my-then-25- year-old self.  I remember that the morning was beautiful; a perfect May Day with blue skies and fluffy white clouds. The graduation was my first since my 8th grade commencement in 1980  - they didn't give GEDs with an iota of pomp, regardless of circumstance.

I wished I was feeling a bit more triumphant about my achievement, but I was nursing a broken heart and was just desperate to get the whole thing over with.   My plan had been to avoid the entire day by going to Syracuse for my brother's awe inspiring graduation from medical school, an event which naturally was scheduled for precisely the same day.  One of my best friends, though, had timed a trip to New York from Australia  to witness my achievement (with binoculars in the vast feeling Knickerbocker Arena) and so, there I was in a sea of fellow B.A., English, recipients.

Honestly, the entire thing is a blur now.  I don't recall who was the speaker or what the message conveyed was.  I just remember itching to get out of there.  Now.  I needed to go home, to Greenwood Lake.  I needed to get out of Dodge and see something new.  I needed what was NEXT.  I wanted to commence already, dammit.   I had a sense of freedom similar to possessing a passport and a credit card.  I could go anywhere.  And, unlike my bruised heart, no one was ever going to take that away from me.

The following month, my brother and I traveled to Europe for 3 weeks of debauchery family visits and sightseeing. We hitchhiked, staying with family, friends and in hostels, both of us smart enough to recognize that this opportunity to travel together would probably not present itself ever again. I returned to Albany with an increased awareness of where my family was from, and a pocketful of fresh memories to cherish as I began the next chapter in my life. 

In the two decades since graduation, there have been other heartbreaks survived, additional diplomas bestowed and numerous European adventures.  And, of course, countless endings and beginnings. I've come to learn that, unlike my sheepskin, some things just aren't meant to last forever.  Some courses are finite, pass or fail.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Very nice, funny and huggable

At least that's how my youngest described me in this year's utterly precious Mother's Day card.  Yep, it's a keeper.  This was my 16th Mother's Day and it contained both poignant and annoying moments. Kind of like motherhood,  in general,  I guess.

Quinn gave me a marigold, Griffin gave me a song and dance about the present I was going to receive at some undetermined point in the future, Liam gave me hope that he will one day shave that caterpillar of fuzz from above his top lip and they all gave me a hard time about walking the slightly over a mile distance to the Capital City Gastropub, our chosen brunch spot.  Just another day in paradise, right?

The death march walk on a beautiful late spring day was filled with conversations and complaints, probably in nearly equal measure.  I don't really remember Mother's Day 2011, my first as a separated parent, but I believe that this year was my first public Mother's Day as an unattached mom.  And it was a little weird.

The boys and I sat on the Gastropub's sunny front patio seated next to another unaccompanied by a partner Mom and thoroughly enjoyed our bountiful brunch.  I felt proud of my children for their appetites and their manners, Quinn's requests for a beer, aside.   When it was time to walk home, the older boys went ahead of Quinn and me, moving at a different pace than a 7 year-old with comparatively short legs and a 45 year-old with a belly full of smoked salmon and eggs.  As we approached Albany Academy, I suggested that Quinn hand his glasses over to me and take a tumble down the grassy hill, an idea that he enthusiastically embraced.  After his third spin, he staggered to his feet and remarked that he would have missed the opportunity to have that fun experience had we driven rather than walked.  

Very nice, funny, huggable and, dare I say, sometimes able to teach my boys that taking a walk and roll or two down a hill is a much more enjoyable way to travel through life than merely being a passenger. Hugs for everyone.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

If I were mayor - crosswalk etiquette

To me, living in a city means not always relying upon a car to get my errands done.  As a matter of fact, my favorite days are those when I don't have to even get in my car.   

I've noticed there are some problems when negotiating one's way around Albany on foot - namely cars and their drivers.  If I were mayor I would make it a priority to both educate the public, and enforce the existing laws regarding  pedestrians and crosswalks.  

 A couple of years ago when Delaware Avenue was improved, a number of crosswalks were included in the plan. These crosswalks are clearly marked on the pavement and are actually engineered from an alternative material from the rest of the road. some sort of faux brick outlined by white striping.

Now, you'd think that drivers would take note of this and perhaps abide by the law and allow pedestrians to cross the street safely.  Unfortunately, this is not the case and crossing Delaware Avenue continues to be a risky prospect.  I have to admit that sometimes I yell at drivers who refuse to yield to pedestrians.  Yep, that crazy woman shouting "Crosswalk!!!" and pointing at the previously described street markings was probably me. 

Is it possible that drivers are unaware of the status of the pedestrian?  Maybe the crosswalks need to be even more clearly defined?  Perhaps additional signage, or even lights, could be added to attract the attention of the drivers who do not seem to notice the crosswalks.  And, for those on foot, utilizing the crosswalks is the civilized way to get from one side of the street to the other.  Enough of this "crossing wherever I feel like it" nonsense.   

Pedestrians and cars - it's a two street.  Let's make it better for everyone, Albanians.  

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Light(en) up

After a day booked so full of errands and chores that the only thing I didn't schedule was time to breath, I took a long run tonight.  There were moments when I knew I needed to take a break and walk, but I didn't.  The route I took was  a new one to me and I mentally dubbed it the "big girl route."

The run was the perfect, late spring evening run - absolutely sublime.  There were only good smells, and the moisture in the air which felt like dampness this morning, now only added to my glisten.  My mind let go and provided a good example to my muscles which released as the miles ticked off.  I began considering all the meanings of the word "light" and realized that I had been using it pretty exclusively as a measurement of illumination.  But, didn't it describe so many other actions?

I ran past gatherings of people on porches and decks and stoops.  One group of second floor porch dwellers taunted their buddy in his convertible to "Light 'em up!!" I hadn't heard that particular phrase in so long that it caused me to remember another phrase of the same era - "Light up." I smiled a bit broader. 

I approached a corner and continued straight instead of making my usual left turn.  I was unfamiliar with the traffic light I now faced - new territory, more exhilarating than scary.  I saw a beautiful grassy lawn behind a romantic brick wall and the most meticulously maintained home I had never noticed.  

I continued and thought about how important it is to lighten up sometimes.  Stop carrying that which weighs us down.  Or maybe share the burden with someone.  Consciously release to something new.  

You remember the steps - Stomp hard on the gas.   
                                          Inhale deeply.        
                                          Let go.                                                    

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Motherhood - adapted and adopted

When my oldest son was born via an unanticipated c-section, I felt incredibly removed from the process.  I suspect it was more because of the drugs I was given than his method of arrival.  I believe I've mentioned I don't really care for pharmaceuticals before. Afterwards, I remember confessing to a friend that I could have been given any baby and would have loved it equally as much as I did that less-than-6-pounds-wonder that was handed to me by the trusting nurse in the operating room.  The process was completely unexpected but I adapted to the circumstances.  I became a mom. 

By the time I was expecting my second child, the friend I had confided in was anticipating the arrival of her daughter, via adoption.  After years of interventions and attempts at conceiving a biological child, my friend and her husband had navigated the foreign adoption process.  They brought their infant home a couple of months before I delivered, naturally, my full term, full sized baby boy number two.  Our babies were introduced in my newborn's first week of life on the outside.  My friend told me she had been comforted by my admission years earlier, that those words had helped convince her that having the capacity to love a child had very little to do with having the ability to birth one.  She became a mom. 

Adapting to becoming a mom or adopting to become a mom, are equally enormous leaps in a woman's life, certainly too huge to be honored in a single day. To all you women out there who have ever made the decision to love a child - I wish you a Happy Mother's Day.  

Bridgeford Hardware

I will always remember the hardware store in my hometown, Greenwood Lake, N.Y. Despite the time of day, it always seemed like dusk inside and I can remember being fascinated by the uncountable bins filled with washers, nails, screws and other unnamed shiny metal things. On the hottest of summer days, the store emanated a mildly damp coolness that made walking the aisles a quiet treat and I don't remember ever complaining about it being my turn to run a hardware errand. 

That store is long gone, but in the DelSo we have Bridgeford Hardware, a throwback to those simpler times. Unlike the "big box" stores it is unnecessary to waste time searching for someone for assistance. Employees are readily available to help with practical suggestions and expert advice. Last week I finally decided to suck it up and replace the the screening in my sliding door to the deck. Now generally I'm not the worst person in the world in terms of home maintenance issues, but my hesitation was prompted by my experience the last time I replaced the screen a couple of years ago. On that particular day, the door was placed back on its slider and within an hour Cassidy Lilly (our family's sweet black lab) felt the need to open the door with her sharp claw creating a new puncture. A hole which naturally has been expanding ever since until it ultimately became an ad hoc doggie door. 

With the arrival of spring, and my desire to improve my homeowner maintenance capabilities, I called Bridgeford and asked what we could do to prevent another screen repair job from going awry. Was there plexiglass which could be screwed to the lower part of the door? Perhaps chicken wire (aesthetics are secondary to function in some instances) could be stapled over the screen to provide an extra layer of fortification from Cassidy's need to independently let herself out to the deck? It was explained that neither of these were an option as the plexiglass would crack when affixed by screws and chicken wire was not available. As an alternative, the patient man suggested using a flat sheet of metal, the type typically used when making covers for old school radiators. He did caution that they were expensive, probably close to $25, which would bring the cost of the repair up to about $50. I ended the call and considered my options. And then - I remembered that I already had one of those sheets of metal! I even knew where it was - bonus. I carried the door and the metal to my car and mere hours later, I was pleased to rehang the door that would let a breeze into my family room, yet keep the majority of pesky bugs out. 

Despite the additional labor and hardware involved with affixing the metal sheet, I wasn't charged anymore than the regular price for a screen repair of that size, $25. As for Cassidy, she hasn't even attempted to let herself out, so the solution has been a complete success. And my childhood love for hardware stores, like my sliding door's screen, remains intact.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Immediate impressions - Champagne on the Park


Stunning setting.  Beautiful people. Delicious food.  Great vibe.  Rocking music. 
And a young man who made me feel like Gina Davis in Thelma and Louise.
Ah, Albany,I love you!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Pink House Pottery

NOT Janine's real house!  image:
When Janine and Matt had their DelSo residence painted last year I wondered if that shade of pink was reeaally what they were going for.  Once their daughter was born, however, I understood.  Paint your house pink and you will have a girl baby - even after two boy babies!  Apparently the fact that my house was white and red, wasn't quite enough to make pink. 

Prior to the birth of their third child, Janine, a certified art teacher, taught pottery at the Albany Art Room.  The closure (and anticipated eventual re-opening) of the Art Room coincided beautifully with the arrival of some pink in the DelSo neighborhood and it seems that Janine has been enjoying her time at home planning her next artistic endeavor - Pink House Pottery.  We've already established our neighborhood as a great place to live, eat and shop.  It only seems natural to begin developing our area as a place to explore the arts.  I mean, the Spectrum is already here as well as Davey Jones Locker and my wonderfully talented artist neighbors, why not a pottery place, too?

Janine is competing to  win an All Over Albany - Sunmark Credit Union Startup grant of $1500 to turn her dream of having a basement studio for sharing her love of clay into a reality.  Voting ends Friday so get yourselves involved by clicking here and supporting Pink House Pottery!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Dining Out for Life

After an inexcusable length of time, I finally got to Mingle last week. The stars aligned and I was unexpectedly free and there was a seat available at All Over Albany's table - perfect! I've been inside the restaurant since it became this more recent incarnation, but hadn't seen things going full throttle. It was busy! I found the variety of patrons to be refreshing, families, couples, groups of friends...a nice mix. The volume issues have been addressed with the addition of fabrics and rugs, but it is still a noisy place. Not really a complaint, just an observation.

This visit to Mingle was the second time I had been in a restaurant on this particular day and I was hoping for a better experience than I had suffered earlier in the day. That situation was truly bizarre, even for me. Essentially, I was driving with 3 other women, one of whom was hungry. When we pulled up to Chili's I was dismayed, but prepared to order a salad or something else equally healthy and light. Well...I sat down with that laminated menu and had a complete (internal) meltdown! There was absolutely nothing on that menu that I was willing to ingest. Everything I read screamed FAT or SODIUM or NOT FRESH. I just couldn't do it. Fortunately, I had a couple of oranges, some granola bars and yogurt pretzels in my car. And that is why I don't take road trips without packing rations.

My expectations of Mingle were much higher, and generally met. I had a salad that was a beautiful array of gorgeous fresh vegetables in a generous portion. My only complaint was the scantness of the blue cheese - for $12 I guess I just expected a little more. For my second course I had a half order of the lobster mac and cheese, influenced by Steve Barnes' endorsement.

Now, don't try to order a half portion of this super rich dish because it isn't really available. I was specifically told I would never get a half order of this pasta again and that an exception was made because of the evening's fundraising event. I guess I'm a bit confused by this, I mean, it's pasta and I can't imagine it is cooked to order so how much more difficult is it to serve half as much and charge $2 more than half the price? It is a lovely dish and I can almost imagine them selling more of it if it were available in a more petite portion. We all know how much fat is in mac and cheese and not everyone wants to reheat leftover lobster, so why not make it available in two sizes? Just a thought. This was my first time eating lobster mac and cheese so I obviously don't have a reference point, but I was surprised by the strong garlic flavor which overwhelmed the delicate taste of the shellfish. I was very pleasantly surprised that the lobster didn't suffer in terms of moistness by the time in the oven. A nice entree in a perfect for one portion.

I've heard really good things about the Korean tacos and those are next on my list to try.  Do you have any Mingle favorites to share?

P.S. I LOVE that they use DelSo on their homepage!!!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Rock n Run

Delmar Dash Day
I haven't really written too much about running lately...because I've been too damn busy running!  I ran a couple of races in March, including the Running of the Green (4 mi., 37:10) and the Ice Breaker Challenge 5k (26:25), while April's focus was the Delmar Dash (5 mi, 43:50).  You should know that I never imagined being able to bang out a 5k like it's nothing - when did that happen?  As far as running 5 MILES - well, I certainly didn't ever think I would be able to do that in my lifetime.  So, you know what that means, right?  Time to start pushing to 10k distances! 

I've been running with a couple of girlfriends and we're exploring the Normanskill, as well as the Pine Bush.  I love running down by the 'kill and would love to organize a couple of moonlit runs during the warmer months.  I think we could do a sweet 5 or 6 mile loop through the Normanskill area to the back nine at Capital Hills and then across New Scotland to Whitehall and back to the DelSo.  If you're interested let me know.  We'll probably have to be semi-stealth about it - shhhh.  As far as running in the Pine Bush - wow!  It is challenging and beautiful and kind of scary (ticks!), but it is also the perfect spot to meet my Niskayuna running friend, Chrissy.  And did I mention that it is stunningly beautiful?

May promises to be fun with the Rock and Run 5K, especially fun, in fact, if you're hitting Saratoga Saturday afternoon for a quick spin through the park's trails followed by a nice dinner and perhaps a cocktail.  Or two.  The run doesn't start until 10:30 Sunday morning so there are definite opportunities for fun!  Why don't you sign up, too?  Let's make it a real party.