Sunday, June 24, 2012

Roadtrip Rendezvous - Kingston

Classic self-timer shot
Over the years, the girls and I have met in many Hudson Valley towns.  Woodstock, Saugerties, Rhinebeck, New Paltz and Kingston come immediately to mind as locations which have witnessed our antics as we attempt to squeeze in all we wish to share - thoughts, experiences, illicit indulgences, a meal...whatever.  It would be fair to say that we, as a collective group of very old friends, have been around, yet, there's always something new to see or do, as our adventure this weekend readily proved.  Have you been riverside in Kingston?  Wow!
As I said, we've been to Kingston before and enjoyed it, but our explorations were in the area surrounding the original State Capital, sort of uptown I'd say.  This time though, we (ok, me, but I'm the one who is usually responsible for sussing things out) had a hankering for Mexican and Mole, Mole at 23 Broadway had some positive comments on Yelp so we decided to give it a shot.  The part of Kingston where my Google maps brought me was completely new to us, but it has obviously been developed for centuries.  The hill which lead us down to what seemed to be an inlet for the Hudson, was a broad street with brick buildings on both sides, some commercial, many residential. In addition to the restaurant where we ate, there were a number of other options for dining, including a place I had heard of for years, but had never seen - Mariner's Harbor.  Based upon the Yelp reviews, I don't imagine I'll be eating there anytime soon, but I now know where it is.  

Our destination, proved to be a winner!  We gathered at the bar, as we were 4 girls arriving in 3 cars, and got started with margaritas - all made with fresh juices and a steal at $5.  I went with the passion fruit and it was tasty with the salt rim doing a perfect job of balancing the sweetness.  Almost scary easy to drink - you've been warned.  The staff was great - welcoming, cheery and competent, and our server helped us order an appropriate number of dishes for 4 tequila swilling hungry ladies. We went with a salad and quesadilla to start, and then three entrees; pork, chicken and shrimp. 
such a bright space
beautiful bar
citrus avocado salad
pork-y deliciousness and fried plaintains
chicken mole burrito
Let me tell you, this place was perfect.  The food was fresh and nicely presented, the atmosphere was comfortable and fun and  we had a blast.  Our meal, including 5 or 6 margaritas came to an incredibly reasonable $102 and we were more than satisfied with everything.  The location is great for a post-meal walk and we loved checking out the buildings, both occupied and vacant.  At merely an hour's drive from Albany, we'll happily plan a return visit for later this summer, maybe arriving earlier to check out some of the shops which had already closed.  Very cool, very close.  Go!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Treetops to Rooftops - 5K

image: Bob Kopac
Last Saturday, on what may have been the most beautiful morning of June, a couple of friends and I ran the 4th edition of the Treetops to Rooftops 5K in the lower Hudson Valley.  Or, to be more precise, over the Hudson River via the Walkway over the Hudson.  In 2011, this race was my first 5K since I had fallen in love with running, and revisiting the course a year later, gave me an experience beyond that inaugural race - and a time 2 minutes faster.

If you're looking for a stunningly beautiful, essentially flat run, this course is for you.  It begins on the west side of the Hudson in Highland.  Runners line up according to anticipated mile speed and traverse up a small incline and then onto the walkway.  If you haven't taken the time to visit this state park - what are you waiting for?  On a clear day, the views are unparalleled and on this particular morning, I swear visibility was crazy clear.  The east side of the river (Poughkeepsie) is lovely and wooded and the turn around to head west comes remarkably fast.  There was a single water station on the Poughkeepsie side, which seemed appropriate for the time of the race (8:00 a.m.).  

I don't know if you can tell from the photo, but I was absolutely joyful to be running this race.  At one point, maybe a mile or so in, I had to refrain from releasing a big 'ol "Yippee!!!" as I looked south along the river at the sheer beauty as far as the eye could see.  Magnificent!  There were 420 finishers this year and I was 11th out of 51 in my age group, 162nd overall.  Not bad, but there's always opportunity for improvement. 

This race is held mid-June each year, so keep your eyes open for the registration and plan to be there next year.  You won't regret it. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter

Finally - a vampire story that I can sink my teeth into! (Sorry. I couldn't resist the cheapest of laughs. You know I live with three boys, right?). Ok, hear me now, I was NOT interested in reading this book despite the positive things I heard from coworkers who raved about it. I don't like vampire books. Period. But... 

In my quest to help my middle son to meet his dreaded Readers to Leaders requirement, I was desperate. I was familiar with this book trailer and decided to entice him to pick up the novel by playing it for him. As the video ended he asked "Can I see that again?," and I knew I was getting somewhere. After the second viewing, he asked for the book and we were in business. The thing is, though, I'm always a little skeptical about his reading - does he skip around? Miss important plot details? Read the ending first? In situations like this, I think it is best to just read the same book, so I grabbed a copy for myself (librarian perk!) and promptly lost myself in a world of American history, political strife, swinging axes and blood sucking demons.  Fabulous!

The opening chapter of the novel was set in Rhinebeck, N.Y., which immediately sucked (ha!) me in to the story.  As the time period shifted from present day to 19th century, the action-filled story kept me interested to the point I was unable to put the book down.  I loved the image of Abe Lincoln as an axe wielding assassin to bloodsuckers, be they slave owners or supernatural creatures.  Grahame-Smith does a masterful job of blending the historical and the possible to create a tale that almost seems plausible.  I highly recommend this book for teens and adults alike and must admit, that there finally is a novel in this genre that I can completely and enthusiastically endorse.  

The film adaptation of the novel opened today, June 22nd, but please read the book before you see the movie.  The movie, incidentally, is directed by Tim Burton based on a screenplay by the author Seth Grahame-Smith and so help me God, if this joint effort is a repeat of the shit show that was Dark Shadows, well, let's just say I will definitely have an axe of my own to grind.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

If I were mayor - driving edition

You know what makes me insane? I mean, other than bad service and people not respecting the rights of pedestrians in the crosswalk?  Double parking when there is a space available.  I don't think I've ever seen this done with the frequency I see it happening in Albany.  It seems that usually when I observe this, the driver is still in the car - perhaps waiting for some sort of colossal geographical shift in the earth to park the car for them, at which point they will simply lock the doors and go on their merry way.  I must admit, there have been times when I have triple-parked momentarily just to ask - "Hey, are you going to park in that available space right there or did you forget how to parallel park immediately after your road test?"

My other issue with driving in Albany is red light etiquette.  It has been well documented that Albany drivers excel at running red lights.  I know that when I'm driving, I usually do a mental 5 count before proceeding through my fresh green as a precaution - how about you? And if you're making a turn at the red light, be it a right or a left at the intersection of two one way streets, you must stop first. Stop and yield are not the same thing and I find it shocking how many drivers apparently do not understand this fact. If I were mayor, I would have police officers writing tickets left and right for these reckless drivers.  It's another one of those situations where the laws are in place, perhaps it is time to simply enforce them.

My final Albany driving pet peeve originates, like many of my life lessons, in my youth in groovy Greenwood Lake. Teenagers do lots of boundary pushing and experimenting, right? Well, thanks to Aloysius' antics (with perhaps the contribution of another young man in a bathrobe. In the car. In the afternoon) we all learned the precise difference between stopping at a stop sign and rolling through a stop sign. Now, not everyone has had the benefit of having their friend arrested for such an offense, but, take my word for it - Stop means all forward motion of the wheels ceases and that's what lawful drivers are expected to do. For more information on this topic, please speak to Aloysius. He is the expert. 

Being better drivers by respecting pedestrians and traffic laws doesn't cost anything. Wouldn't it be awesome if we all tried just a little bit harder to make Albany a city that abides by traffic laws?

Drinking seasonally – a follow up to Claire’s Signs of summer

My most recent Vinoteca post when I ask - Do you drink seasonally?

Drinking seasonally – a follow up to Claire’s Signs of summer

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Finding my Father - a happy story!

One overcast winter's day in London, I learned that my father was dead.  If I were to do it all over again, I might choose a different phone box than one near the Tower of London.  The crows, grey stones and pervasive memories of death really didn't help to relieve my immediate and intense sadness. I remember hanging up the phone and feeling a sense of grief that surprised me - how could I possibly be so broken up about the death of a man I had never met?

I feel kind of envious of all the "Daddy and me" pictures flooding Facebook and Twitter and wish I had one to share of my own.  I suppose, I could be bitter about that or feel resentful, but that wouldn't add much good to the universe, would it?  Instead, I'll share a story, the amazing pre-Internet tale of how I found my father with a phone card and a page ripped from the Dublin telephone directory.

On that damp day in London in 1988 there were 32 McMenamins to choose from, none bearing the same first name as my dad.  I decided to just pick a listing randomly - I think I began with one having the same first initial.  My heart in my throat, I dialed, only to hear a recorded message saying the number had been changed.  I closed my eyes and jabbed my index finger at a different listing - and my very next phone call paid off.  The soft spoken gentleman who answered the phone, Conal, was actually the ideal McMenamin for me to have reached - calm, kind, still closely in touch with the family and not apparently scandalized in the least when I told him that I was searching for my biological father.  As I described what I knew of Jeremiah, details such as when he lived in New York and the employment history with which I was familiar, Conal interrupted me to say that it sounded like I was describing his Uncle Jerry.  When I asked if I could be put in touch with this uncle of his, he hesitated a moment and then reported that his uncle had passed on some 5 years earlier.  I was too late.

Before ending the call, I offered him my address and phone number and made a request - if he had a moment to spare, could he share his impressions of my father with me in a letter some day?  I explained I just wanted to know something about the man he knew as Uncle Jerry.  What type of man was he?  What made him smile?  What made him happy? Cousin(!) Conal agreed and I hung up knowing that while a door had been forever closed, a window was now open.  Someone knew about me and while I lost the hope of ever meeting my father, I found a new little piece of myself.

I had flown to London with a folded up phone book page in my pocket and, through my own efforts, introduced myself to the family which provided 50% of the DNA in my body.  And, they accepted me and ultimately celebrated me as a welcome addition to their family, my family.  Maybe my father and I never had a chance to meet, but we have a common love for his siblings, his country, and travel.  I know now that he was a well dressed man, quick to help a friend and he liked to whistle.  And that in addition to giving me life, he ultimately gave me a family.  

Happy Father's Day to all you daddies.  Never underestimate what you give to your children - regardless of your proximity.
My father, Jeremiah McMenamin

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Notes on film and music

That title sounds pretentious, doesn't it? Apologies. I've consumed a movie and a cd recently and, while I had distinctly different opinions of the two experiences  there were similarities in the strength of my response to each of them, And the fact that the two primary artists involved, Johnny Depp and John Mayer, are beginning to morph into the same shaggy sexy looking guy.   Purely beyond the film, in Mr. Depp's case.

The best thing about the movie I saw a couple of weeks ago, was the popcorn.  And I broke a filling on a kernel.  It is probably more a statement about me than the film, but I just don't get this Johnny Depp, Tim Burton, Helena Bonham Carter love affair.  It's over and they need to take a five-year time out from each other before I'll pay to see another of their collaborations.  "Dark Shadows" was ridiculous, camp without humor, horror without suspense.  It was so bad it made me uncomfortable.  But, that's just me.

Now, I don't know what you know about John Mayer's new album, Born and Raised, but I'm kind of embarrassed about how much I love it.  Not like Jessica Simpson was when he described her as "sexual napalm," (And can you explain what made that such a criticism?  I think I would have been flattered) but still kind of sheepishly blushing.  I think the lyrics (call me Word Girl) are earnest and meaningful, the message is optimistically positive and the music is thoughtfully sincere. Despite his having obviously stolen an idea from me in the song "Love is a Verb," I can't help but be head over heels in love with the record.  I feel like it's one of those albums which will come to define a time period in my life.  Which is way better than wishing I had the 113 minutes back that I wasted watching that wretched movie.

So - there you have it, some topical, not necessarily sage, cultural advice.  You got something to share, too?  What movies have you seen?  Maybe some new music recommendations?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Observations from a sunny day run

  • There are way too many smallish silver sedans in this town.

  • Folks continue to think that stopping their cars for pedestrians in a crosswalk is optional.  It isn't a choice, people.

  • The sweat only gets in my eyes when I stop.  Keep running = non burning eyes.

  • It was hotter than I thought and really sunny.  I should have used sunscreen.  But, damn, I think I have a tan!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Thoughts from a rainy day run...

  • Interesting isn't it, the way "letting go" and "holding on" are continually swapping positions on the difficulty scale of life? Some days I just can't decide which is harder to do - or the right thing thing to do, for that matter. 
  •  While I used to imagine my having less brains and more butt in my next life, I'm a bit surprised that the trade actually turned out to be an exchange of boobs for butt. Goodbye 36C, hello 32B. And that small almost curve in my tush? Thank you, hills of Albany Muni, for that.
  • Exchanging today for tomorrow is not a good deal.  Nor is now for then, then being either in the past or in the future. Today is much more valuable. Even when it's raining.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


I headed to Valente's in Watervliet recently to take advantage of a gift certificate and treat myself to a dinner prepared by someone other than myself.  The place was unexpectedly busy, seemed like for the staff as well as for me.  After a couple of moments, I was greeted and seated, comfortably in a booth.  I kind of knew what I wanted when I arrived thanks to a lengthy study of the menu online: an order of steamed clams ($8.25), a Caesar salad ($8.95), and their award winning Perfect Storm Mac and Cheese ($23.95), with lobster and crab.  I saw the "table talker" promoting Cupcake wine and decided to jump in with two feet - one moscato, please!

The clams were good, maybe 14 or so on the order.  I had one or two that would have benefited from a rinse off, but basically, and in a perfectly basic way, they were exactly what I wanted. Plump, tender and accompanied by a puddle of butter.  Served simultaneously with the clams was my Caesar salad.  Although I had asked for some additional anchovies, they were forgotten.  Because they were busy and there was a decent fish flavor in the dressing, I didn't bother to request them again.  No worries. Nothing special either, but I've had worse.

I watched virtually everyone depart with a box of leftovers.  And they looked heavy.  I knew I was going to have a similar future since I had over-ordered to be able to use the gift certificate that required a $40 check.  Oh, don't you worry.  I can eat. The Mac and Cheese was huge, easily enough to feed 3.  It was creamy, piping hot and sharp in a really pleasing way.  While there certainly wasn't sufficient shellfish present to enjoy some in each bite, in no way did I feel denied. I only ate about a quarter of the portion and I was staying on my game plan - which was maintain room for dessert.

Despite the fact that none of the evening's dessert offerings were made in house, I went with the carrot cake.  It was a fair representation of carrot cake - moist, iced with cream cheese frosting and a size that was shareable. Except, I was dining solo so I ate the whole damn thing myself leaving the inferior whipped cream on the plate as a testament to my willpower.

Overall impression?  A pleasant dining experience that doesn't blaze any culinary trails, yet provides a comforting repast.  I'd go back - especially since I noted that Mac's Drive-In is right on the way and I've been meaning to get there for some ice cream.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Are you my mother? And who's my daddy?

It's been a weird weekend...I kind of hit the wall on a number of levels, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, hit the wall  with numerous body parts.  Truth be told, I probably used my head the most.  I had so many options available to me; concerts, and old friends, and art and strawberries, yet I kind of shrugged it all off.  Unlike many decisions in life, I didn't get that immediate tingling sensation that confirms many of my choices.  I'm thinking maybe I'm a bit numb.  Summer vacation can't come soon enough.

Despite feeling less than great (I'm about to pop my 3rd Aleve in 2 days!) I've maintained my commitment to running 20 miles this week and it has been a struggle.  The music hasn't been quite right, and even if it were perfect, my right glute is screaming louder than any song playing.  Not tremendously fun or satisfying.

On my run Friday, I passed two elder(ly?) women walking.  They were on the opposite side of the street and I was wearing contacts, which don't do all they should to improve my vision.  I was taken aback by one of the women - she looked like my mother.  I think.  The last time I spoke to my mother in person was when she attempted a "scar-off" to prove that her heart surgery was way worse than my cancer surgery could have ever been.  Ok, you win and what have we proven?  That you have a heart and I can cut malignant things from my life and prosper? Fine.

Well, it is a little disconcerting to not be certain whether a person is, or is not, your parent. You'd think this would be a familiar sensation for me, growing up as I did wondering if every single man with a brogue was my father, but it was still weird.  I had a familiar train of thought ride through my head.  What will it be like when she's gone?  Will I stop seeing her everywhere the way I stopped imagining every Irishman to be my father once I knew he was gone?

I'm getting ready to be a stay at home mom for 10 weeks and I plan to slow down, enjoy my boys and try really hard to make sure that they always know who their parents are, two people who love them dearly.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Life's a bitch beach

Feeling my little guy's body shudder with sleep as he cuddles next to me, I consider something  said to me recently - that I make things look easy.  The manner in which I navigate through life somehow gave the impression that I don't struggle, that I don't sometimes feel the waves threaten to swamp me.  

When I think about my life, I try to remain cognizant of moderation and balance.  With my mind's eye, I see myself juggling.  Constantly.  There are three balls I continually find myself tossing and catching.  The first contains my boys, beloved friends and family.  I need to place them front and center because I love them and want them to be happy.  The second ball is the me ball.  It's about exercising and writing and reading and whatever else I might do to stay healthy and challenged.  The third ball is all about responsibilities; work and home and finances.  These are the things which, while lowest in my personal priorities list, intimidate me the most.  Probably because I don't have control over them. 

I was raised to be responsible.  Whether it was waking up and getting myself ready for school at the ripe old age of 6 or paying my rent from age 20 on, I knew if it was going to happen I had to take care of it myself.  Decades later, I have more responsibilities than ever - 3 boys who seem to look exclusively to me when they need sneakers or other clothing for their quickly growing bodies, a nearly 100 year-old house with an accompanying mortgage. And insurance. And utilities.  A professional career that garners little respect despite an advanced degree and 15 years of experience in the field...

There are days that completely, totally suck.   When I realize I have missed a due date or deadline I can feel my spine tighten and my forehead bead with perspiration.  Obviously, I don't enjoy these sensations and I try to avoid them, but, you know what?  I'm not perfect and, as I frequently explain to my children, I'm doing my best.

Sometimes we forget or romanticize what the beach is really like. It certainly can be scenic and pleasingly comfortable, but we may neglect to remember that it is also kind of messy. You know, everything ends up sticky from sunscreen and sand and sea salt, demanding a thorough rinse off. The drawbacks of the beach might be nearly completely negated by an outdoor shower, preferably starlit, but it would be naive to consider the beach, or one's life, as perfect. Nonetheless, grab your suit and don't forget to bring a towel.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Mountain Jam 2012

For the second consecutive year, I headed down to Hunter Mountain to meet the guys and drink beer listen to some music.  Although I didn't commit to getting a ticket until midweek, I had been eyeing the schedule for months.  I ultimately decided that Sunday's lineup was the most appealing to me despite my interest in seeing Ben Folds, who played on Saturday. Believe me, at this point in my life I've accepted that it simply isn't possible to have everything and I wanted to check out Steve Winwood again after having seen him at The Egg a few years ago.

The impressive thunderstorms that rocked the DelSo failed to materialize in Hunter, but it did seem as if the threat of bad weather had discouraged some potential concert goers.  Parking wasn't too difficult and other than an inordinately long line for vegetarian fare, the wait for refreshments and bathrooms wasn't unreasonable.  The hillside was a bit treacherous, particularly to those who had overindulged (side note: If you were born pre-1990, and still haven't learned to moderate your consumption, it's time.  Post-menopausal and falling down drunk are not a good look.), but a layer of straw helped provide traction and there was always the option of taking a $5 shower if one got particularly dirty.  And speaking of dirty, could someone please explain the appeal of flip flops, or even bare feet, at one of these events? The thought of mud (or worse) between my toes simply skeeves me.

Here's the bill we enjoyed.  I didn't get down there until about 4:00, which got me in right at the sweet spot of the Tedeschi Trucks Band.  I must say, while I've always enjoyed Derek Trucks' guitar skills, I wasn't always impressed with the amount of soul he put into his playing.  This show was an exception to his typical technician sort of playing and I loved watching he and the missus playing together.  Franti was his usual wave of joyful sunshine, including a rainbow inducing close to his set, and Steve Winwood played with zeal and decades of experience, but I definitely found him more captivating in the small venue of The Egg.

All in all - a great day with some terrific musicians and a couple of even better than great friends. 


Sunday, June 3, 2012

Je ne comprends pas

Things I did not understand as a child:     
  • How the band playing the songs on the car radio fit into the trunk      
  • How the French Toast could possibly be so thick.  Was there some secret             ingredient that made it fluff up? (No, they just cut the bread thick.)       
Things I do not understand as an adult:    
  • Not living a full life every day, whatever that means to you.  Taking a nap, spending time with people you love, seeing, tasting or trying something new...      
  • A grown up not able to take care of themselves financially.  I know there are situations when we all need some help, but, a definition of grown up in my personal dictionary includes financially independent.