Category Archives: Recommendations

A Monster Calls

Written by Patrick Ness and beautifully illustrated by Jim Kay, A Monster Calls, relates the story of young Conor, a boy in England living in denial about his divorced mother’s health prognosis.  At night Conor is subjected to a recurring nightmare of such horror that he cannot even verbalize the events he witnesses, while during the day he is repeatedly the target of the school bully’s attentions, a situation which he initially does nothing to address.

He begins to be, amazingly enough, visited by a monstrous yew tree.  While he is initially fearful of this beast that leaves berries and spiky tree leaves in his wake as evidence of his presence, Conor’s waking reality is far more frightening.  The nocturnal visits by the beast are ultimately the only time that Conor feels “seen” and he anticipates the monster’s call along with the stories he shares.  As the novel progresses, Conor must learn to accept the questionable manner in which life doles out rewards and punishments, as well as find a way to once again feel present.

This book broke my heart.  Of course, the parallels between the divorced mom and her (far more devastating) cancer battle struck a chord with me, but it was the thought of that child’s anguish and grief which absolutely wrenched me.  I’m sure every parent in the universe shies away from exploring the thought of prematurely leaving their child(ren), but this book makes that sort of avoidance impossible.

Answering the monster’s call will most certainly ring a bell.  Read it.

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Filed under Books, Boys, Recommendations

Doing it myself

It was a busy weekend, filled with soccer, long walks, friends, sunshine and household tasks. Jeter got back in the game with some dog park playtime and an attention grabbing amble through the neighborhood. I did a little cooking, some cleaning and even a more personal maintenance task – for the first time in many years I colored my own hair.

I’ve got to say, I’m pretty pleased. Don’t get me wrong, I know that my stylist does a wonderful job with my hair, but her schedule is really limited and there was something really appealing about being able to color my hair at home at my own convenience. Factor in the price ($15 vs. $110) and it seemed like a good idea. After reading some positive things about an online company called ESalon, I decided to give them a shot at mixing up a personalized batch of color for me.

My color, “dark brown copper golden,” was arrived at following a series of questions about my natural color (who can remember that?), current color and a few other details. I also uploaded a recent selfie for my color consultant to use. The site encouraged setting up a regularly scheduled delivery of hair color, but I declined that service for now.

Personalized instructions!

Personalized instructions!

From order to delivery was approximately one week and I was quite pleased with the package I received. My little box contained the color and developer, two pairs of gloves, an application brush, individual packets of color and conditioner and products to prevent staining along the hairline.

Pre-ESalon

Pre-ESalon

Saturday afternoon I gathered some old towels and got busy. 25 minutes later I got my results… My ultra blonde summer hair was now a richer shade of strawberry blonde, warmer and more even than my previous color. Now, it’s a semipermanent formula so I don’t know how long it will last or if my hair is going to fall out in clumps, but, today I’m happy with it. I think my satisfaction is due in part to the fact that I wasn’t attempting a dramatic change, more of a slight deepening of current shade. While I have no intention of permanently breaking up with my professional colorist, the price, convenience and results make ESalon an option that I will consider again in the future.

Post-ESalon

Post-ESalon

 

 

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Filed under Random, Recommendations

Has anyone seen the bridge?

That's "my" board - all the way on the right!

That’s “my” board – all the way on the right!

After vacillating for days, I made the decision Sunday morning to spend my afternoon catching some bonus paddle boarding time.  My early obligation of the day went surprisingly smoothly and I just couldn’t resist the opportunity to get on the water for one more time this season.

I arrived at the Kayak Shak in Saratoga a little before 1:00 and was on the water, solo, 15 minutes later.  Unlike my previous two paddling adventures, this time I immediately headed east.  The less traveled path was definitely the way to go yesterday.  As I paddled along, the view on either side of the water was truly spectacular.  The leaves were popping red and orange and the sky was blue, blue, so blue.  As the creek curved and turned, there were times when there was nothing man-made to mar the scene – just trees, reeds and shrubs in various rainbow shades.  And turtles.  Lots of turtles.

The man who had set me up on my board said that two miles down there would be a bridge and that became my goal.  As I twisted my core left and right, left and right, the surprisingly mild water splashed my feet and enticing me to jump in for a refreshing dip.  I decided to indulge myself once I had finally reached that confounded bridge, and it was absolutely liberating when I finally made the leap from my board into the warmish water.  I’m certain that September 28th is the latest I’ve ever gone swimming in upstate New York, and I am so very glad that I seized the opportunity that Mother Nature provided.

If you haven’t attempted Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) yourself, think about giving it a try.  I think it is easier than it looks and, from what I read, it burns a fair amount of calories.  It is also the most fun core workout I’ve ever experienced.  I’m going to start investigating waterproof bag options because I really missed my camera yesterday.  I would have loved to have captured some pictures of Saratoga’s natural beauty on an early fall day which felt like summer.

So – does anyone have any recommendations for a waterproof bag to stash my Nikon in?

 

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Filed under Albany, beauty, Exercise, Recommendations, Saratoga, upstate New York

Labor Day – sunshine and duck butts

After a summer spent working and vacationing, I elected to spend this holiday weekend, quietly at home. Friday night I ate al fresco at The Cheese Traveler, devouring my burger and merely indicating yes or no with the motion of my head. So good! Saturday, following a run, I ate at Mingle’s bar very much enjoying my salad and paella, along with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Sunday was a day for leftovers and binging on Orange is the New Black with a side order of tennis. It was definitely a lazy weekend, other than for Jeter who spent quality time each day at the Normanskill Dog Park.

Today needed to be different. I needed to burn some energy in the hopes that I would get a good night’s sleep tonight and feel fresh for tomorrow’s back to school activities. I decided that today was the perfect day to give paddle boarding a try – weather, opportunity, mood, it all added up and so, I hit the highway for Saratoga County’s Kayak Shack. I had a Living Social deal, bought earlier this summer for $20, which gave me 3 hours of paddle boarding for two. I was solo (do you think the businesses in receipt of deals for 2 being redeemed by only 1, tsk tsk silently and sympathetically?), which provided me lots of time to focus on keeping my balance, something of which I really need to remain cognizant in a general sort of way.

So, what was it like? I loved it! I had no issue getting on my board and moving from kneeling to standing. There was a strong current, with an accompanying wind, which made my trip out quite an exertion. It is a real abdominal workout, which I welcomed.  Seems like I’ve taken a few shots to the gut recently and any assistance in keeping that area defensively taut is welcome.  For every 4 or 5 strokes on the left side of the board, I had to take a dozen on the right side to remain on a semi-straight path. There were a couple of moments when I absolutely wobbled and fought to maintain my balance, usually when I neglected to pay attention to what was going on in the water around me. I dumped once, but welcomed the refreshing dunk in the lake and had no issue climbing back on board. Literally.

Here’s what I found kind of interesting – I grew up in lake community and feel like I have some experience with boating, be it from my teen years waterskiing or my brief time spent sweep rowing/sculling. Today, I discovered fairly quickly that motor boaters had no real regard for paddlers. There were all sorts of instances when a boat’s wake provided an experience similar to what one would find in a wave pool. It was mostly ok, but I still felt a bit irritated by the lack of respect for those of us with a paddle rather than a throttle in our hand.

I booked along at a pretty good clip as I worked to raise my heart rate and turn my fun into a true workout. The shore on both sides was marshy with leaves threatening to begin changing colors and tons of ducks greedily going bottoms up as they munched on some delicacy underwater. I paddled to a wider part in the water where things really started to feel a bit like the Wild West with motorboats and kayaks and stand up paddle boards chaotically strewn across the water. I grew up in a town filled with cowboys, but we had more of a sense of water traffic regs than most of the people I encountered today.

Bottom line – it was a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours. If anyone wants to give it a try some weekend before the water grows too cold to be described as invigorating, let me know. I’d love to go back.

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Filed under Delaware Avenue, DelSo, Exercise, ideas, Local, Normanskill, Recommendations, road trips, Saratoga, Summer, upstate New York

Reflections of Disney

DSC_0188Well, we survived our theme park adventures relatively unscathed.  Quinn has a bit of a cold he picked up as a souvenir, along with the small tower of maps, used tickets and a Disney-esque handbook and completed passport.  He wore his new Mickey Mouse shirt yesterday and absolutely rocked it.  Good boy, good trip, good memories.

The past couple of times we’ve gone to Orlando, we’ve rented an offsite condo.  If you’re on a budget, it truly is the way to go, in my opinion. For just under $400 we had a one bedroom, second story unit in a resort approximately 15 minutes from Disney World.  There was a nice pool area, washer and dryer in the unit, a full kitchen and sleeping accommodations for 4.  I’ve been lucky using Craigslist for this sort of thing but, of course,  I always check reviews and feedback before committing.  This experience was really positive and I wouldn’t hesitate to book it again.

During past visits to Disney, I remember being put off by the expense of food and merchandise.  I don’t really know what’s changed (perhaps traveling with only 1 child rather than 3?), but things didn’t seem too outrageously priced to me this time around.  We generally ate breakfast at “home” and went with a late lunch at whichever park we happened to be in.  I usually got a decent salad for about $8 and Quinn dominated chicken tenders wherever we went.  We actually had a sit down meal in “China” while in Epcot and that was our biggest indulgence at $53, sans alcohol.  The quality of the food was better than decent but less than stellar.  I think Disney knows their market.
DSC_0035Here’s the thing about Disney – it pretty damn expensive.  Two days of park hopping set me back nearly $500 and that was with Quinn still considered a child at nine-years of age.  But…once you’re in, there are no additional charges for entertainment or rides.  We went to Universal for a day and their “fast pass” system comes with a hefty additional fee, while Disney’s is included with your admission.  The employees/ cast members were, with only one exception (yeah, you Ms. Norway),  were helpful and friendly, the bathrooms were clean and well stocked and there were plenty of spots to escape the heat of the day.  I do think they should consider a new attraction, though, something I’m calling the Cat Napper.  The way I envision it is a boat ride a la It’s a Small World, but silent and dark with individual reclining seats and eye masks scented with lavender.  It will last 20 minutes and will only be available to adults 25+. Build that, Disney World, and I won’t hesitate to come back again in August.

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Filed under Boys, family, Recommendations, Summer, travel, vacation

Adirondack Tubing Adventures

image: lakegeorgeguide.com

The other day, Quinn and I cashed in a Living Social offer I had purchased for Adirondack Tubing Adventures in Lake Luzerne. Summer seems unrelenting in its march towards Labor Day and the return to school and I knew that Monday’s forecast was the best one of the week. We made a reservation and up the Northway we went.

We arrived at the rustically modest shop after about 75 minutes on the road. We had been warned that we should print our voucher in advance because we wouldn’t have cell phone service. Good call. We checked in and at the appropriate time received our life vests and boarded the bus for a bouncy 15 minute ride to the “putting in” spot. Once we arrived, we were given our tubes (we went with the basic, un-upgraded model) and a few simple directions and then, as a group, we were off.

The pristine waters of the upper Hudson were fantastic. The water temperature was reported to be about 68 degrees, but when the sun was shining, it felt even warmer. The water was soft and without clouds, never getting deeper than about 5 feet, from what I could tell. The fresh smell of the air, faintly cedarish with an occasional whiff of campfire wood smoke, was lovely.

We floated, Quinn and I tied together once again by a cord, doing our best to stay in the middle of the river for the best currents. Along the shore we observed 3 ducks whose remarkable camouflage kept them hidden until one moved ever so slightly revealing their presence. There were pretty wild flowers punctuating the scenery, including some tall, vivid red ones* which I don’t recall ever seeing before. I wished I could have gone closer for a better look, but going with the flow was the day’s agenda so that’s what I did.

A little more than an hour into the trip, we paused on a sandbar for a little beach time. The kids on the trip really enjoyed being out of their tubes and feeling the sensation of the river pulling them along as if it were indeed the ultimate lazy river. I appreciated the chance to stretch a bit, but as our time on land passed, I felt myself growing cold and was happy to get moving again. We reached the “taking out” spot after about another 50 minutes, I think. The times are all approximate since I didn’t wear a watch, and the old Timex one I pulled from the river’s bottom, unfortunately, took too much of a licking to still be ticking.

We were met by our bus and, after a 5 minute bus ride, returned to the shop and our vehicles. Quinn and I changed and drove over to outlets area of Lake George and grabbed a few quick slices from a place called Frank’s on Route 9. I’ve got to say I was pleasantly surprised with the pizza. The crust was crisp, the toppings generous and the sauce flavorful. I’ve had way worse pizza and I wouldn’t hesitate to stop there again. It was a good day.

*When I checked out All Over Albany’s weekly neighborhood roundup I learned exactly what they were, cardinal flowers!

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Filed under Boys, family, pizza, Recommendations, road trips, Summer, upstate New York

Pie-eyed for the Scottish Bakehouse

imageOne, okay two, of the best things I put in my mouth while on vacation this year was pie from the Scottish Bakehouse in Tisbury. I think I’ve mentioned this place before and am happy to report that, like some favorite books from years gone by, this special bakery continues to satisfy.

When I rolled in to their parking lot in the late afternoon midweek, I was worried about what the remaining selection might be. Come to find out that the limited choices available for me were perfect – key lime and blueberry. Naturally, I took both, along with 2 peanut butter cookies, 2 chocolate chip cookies and a hunk of cardamom cinnamon coffee cake. Total: $54.00. We’ll talk more about that in a moment.

While my order was being put together, my attention was attracted by a woman wearing kitchen clothes. Turns out she is the chef (owner?) of the Art Cliff Diner at the Bakehouse to pick up their order of baked goods. See how it works? Good places source from good places, a truism always nice to see.

How were the pies? The blueberry pie with an intriguing hint of cinnamon was a simple pleasure. The fruit was tender and sweet and I thoroughly enjoyed the single slice to which I laid claim. I focused on the key lime, one of my all-time favorite flavors and one which they do a great job. It’s tart and tasty, sitting up tall on a graham cracker crumb crust. I’ve singlehandedly eaten almost the entire thing. I’m not sorry.

Now, let’s talk about the prices. When I first was presented with the total, I was a little taken aback. I don’t really buy a lot of baked goods, but it seemed a little pricey. I’ve been thinking about, though, and have decided that I’m really okay with the expense of my splurge. The quality of the items certainly justified the price and when you consider the brevity of the season, it seems fair. I highly doubt that anyone at the Scottish Bakehouse is getting rich off pie, you know what I mean?

I’ve got one slice of that key lime pie left. I’m calling it breakfast.

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Filed under baking, Eating, favorites, Martha's Vineyard, Recommendations, vacation