Category Archives: Recommendations

ARE – Summer Trail Series, Week 1

On a night that felt borderline oppressive in the city, I loaded up my wagon with lots of water, towels and Jeter and headed south to Schodack Island State Park for the first trail run of the summer season. One of my summer goals is to make at least half of these runs and, so far, I’m batting a thousand.

I’ve never visited this park before but I know I’ll be back. The drive took about 20 minutes from the DelSo, yet ultimately felt much further away. The trails were amazing – wide, soft and flat. The breeze coming in off of the river was lovely and the temperature was absolutely perfect.

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Lush!

I’m really working on simply enjoying these runs and to foster that mindset, I left my phone in the car. That means no Runmeter recording my miles and no motivating playlist. You know what? Other than my unfamiliarity with the course and where I was in terms of miles, I didn’t miss either. The magnificent green ferns and plentiful pink, white and purple phlox along the trail were stimulation enough.

This particular run was followed by a potluck bar-b-q, which I didn’t participate in due to a need to get back home. Jeter, however, was rewarded for his efforts when he scored a charred burger that he found on the ground. I believe we both left the park happy.

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Filed under Exercise, Flowers, Local, Recommendations, running, Summer, upstate New York

How do you smell?

Did it always look like a sex toy?

If you had asked me that same question 35 years ago, my response would have been “baby soft,” as in Love’s Baby Soft. Unless it was summer, of course. In summer I was devoted to Love’s Fresh Lemon. You 70s girls know exactly what I’m talking about, don’t you?

In many ways I’ve moved on since those days. I progressed through Estée Lauder’s White Linen and Clinique’s Elixir (there may even have been a brief interlude of Elizabeth Arden’s Sunflowers, but I’m not willing to admit that publicly) until I finally landed about 8 years ago on Chanel’s Chance.

Everything about Chance was perfect for me – the name, the package, the slightly spicy, definitely sexy nose…it was a grownup fragrance in every way. I wore the lighter version (eau fraiche) during the warmer months and imagined that my fragrance, like the tinkle of my charm bracelet, would be a signature for those closest to me. I had found my scent.

Recently, though, I found myself sometimes going days without a spritz. I didn’t feel the desire to punctuate my presence with Chance. I was over it.

imageOn my return from Paris we had a layover in Dublin, an airport that happens to have an excellent array of Duty Free boutiques and stores. I spotted the Jo Malone shop and immediately thought of my friend, Will, who wears a Jo Malone fragrance that makes me want to lick him whenever he has it on. Which is exactly what I told the lovely older woman working at Duty Free. After she recovered, she assured me in her lilting brogue that we would certainly find that, immediately.

The shop is simple, almost stark. The 16 available colognes were arranged in general categories – citrus, floral, spicy and woody. I assumed that the fragrance I obsessed over was woody or spicy because I love cedar and bergamot. After applying two scents and grabbing a bite to eat, I returned to the store disappointed that neither was quite what I was looking for. The saleswoman handed me a floral choice, I inhaled and immediately knew I had found my new fragrance – Pomegranate Noir, the very same scent that Will rocks. Will’s scent was now mine, and for a bargain of only 81 euro or about $85. The same bottle retail goes for $120.

I smell good.

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Filed under Fashion, favorites, friends, Recommendations, travel

Echo – Pam Munoz Ryan

One of the benefits of my job is the opportunity to purchase new materials for students and faculty. Even after nearly two decades, the thrill of unpacking and handling a box of new books remains a highlight of my professional day. A recent shipment included Pam Munoz Ryan’s latest novel, Echo.

My first impression was “This is a really long book. How am I going to get kids to read this nearly 600 pages long historical fiction novel?” After reading Echo myself in less than 4 days, I know my bigger problem is going to be maintaining the waiting list of students who want to read this absolutely enchanting book.

Echo is a little hard to explain without giving too much away. Essentially, there are three narratives which ultimately combine into a heartwarming and satisfying ending. The thread which waves the story together is music and its power to inspire, comfort and convey emotion via a special harmonica which almost magically lands in the hands of each of the three essential characters.

The first is Friedrich, a 12-year-old in the Black Forest of Germany during the Nazi buildup in the years leading to World War II. His love of music, nurtured by his father and uncle, provides him with an escape from the harsh realities he contends with as an often bullied young boy living during an increasingly scary time.

The story then shifts to Mike, an 11-year-old orphan in Pennsylvania committed to remaining with his younger brother despite challenged beyond what any child should have to endure. His innate ability to play the piano, previously fostered by his now deceased grandmother, provides him with the means to communicate emotions and wishes he often does not have any other way to express.

And finally, we meet Ivy, an American girl of Mexican descent living in California with her family as they struggle to improve their circumstances during the early days of America’s involvement in World War II. The harsh realities of gender roles, racism and the consequences of war are daily insults in Ivy’s world, abated only by her ability to make and appreciate music.

Each of these three young people come to be in possession of a very special instrument, a harmonica which provides them with opportunity and hope during their time of need. The selflessness with which Friedrich, Mike and Ivy eventually, in turn, part with the instrument is one of the most striking and beautiful parts of this very special book. I can’t wait to reread this book over the summer with my boys. Wonderful!

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Filed under Books, Boys, Librarians, Recommendations

Sleeping around – France

In my 25+ years of traveling around Europe, I’ve slept in quite a variety of places. My very first trip back in 1988 provided me with both my most crude and my most refined accommodations; specifically the floor of a ferry crossing the North Sea and the lovely hotel in London where my friends and I were ultimately put up after our flight home was overbooked. The bathtub from that semi-posh place remains a luxurious memory of what was a very low-budget trip.

Since that time, I’ve stayed in an array of places – bed and breakfasts, a botel (a hotel on a boat), pensions, dormitories, a villa, apartments, small boutique hotels and larger chains. I’ve never had a single dreadful experience. After hearing a number of things about Airbandb, I decided to give their service a shot. I was not disappointed.

63d77637_originalMy Paris needs were kind of specific (3 beds, 2 bathrooms, near the Metro and with wifi), but not unreasonable. I wasn’t particular about which arrondissement we were in, but parking would be a bonus since I had family driving from Germany to join us. Here’s the apartment we ended up selecting for our stay. The area was reminiscent of the London Docklands or Battery Park City in Manhattan – not in the middle of everything, yet easily accessible. The flat was super modern, yet warm and the bathrooms were spacious and clean. It was a bit pricy (we paid a total of $616 for 3 nights), but when divided by two, it was a downright deal, particularly when you factor in the secure and free parking.

Selecting an apartment in Normandy was a challenge because I really didn’t know where to stay – coast? City? Country?9a9bea81_original I ultimately made the decision to stay in Bayeux because it had survived WW II relatively unscathed and there was a train station. The apartment I chose was a wonderful blend of old world charm and modern amenities in a central location. There were 2 bedrooms, a loft with a large bed and skylights, a washing machine, a contemporary kitchen and numerous small terraces. There was only one bathroom, but the WC and bathroom were separate facilities. Again, we had a parking space for my Uncle’s car and were able to easily walk to bistros, shops and historic sites. The total for our stay was $372, again divided by two.

We spent our last two nights in Paris at a hotel. I booked the rooms in advance using Hotwire and spent a total of $396, my share being $198. Our hotel, The Mercure, was in a super convenient spot near a train station and numerous Metro stops. The neighborhood was lively with no lack of venues for entertainment, eating or drinking. Our 4th floor room was generously sized and had a table and chairs as well as a small fridge. My son was very impressed with the speakers throughout the room (including in the WC) which prevented him from missing a moment of the BBC station he enjoyed in the morning. Personally, I loved the large window overlooking the busy street and our ability to walk to the Eiffel Tower. It was exactly what I was seeking at a more than reasonable price.

For 8 nights, $600 seems like a bargain amount to spend on accommodations.  Airbandb  delivered on their promise and I’ve already begun browsing their site for a potential place to stay next year when I go away with my middle son. His pick? Portugal and Spain. Tips, anyone?

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Filed under Europe, France, Recommendations, travel, Uncategorized, vacation

Unforgettable lessons

There are books that I read which are impossible to put down, a recent example being The Girl on the Train. I was so eager to find out what really happened that I refused to stop reading until I finished the book. I was neither disappointed, nor regretful of my decision to push on until I reached that final page and felt a welcome sense of resolution. It was a really good read.

The book I’m reading now though, is, if you’ll pardon the pun, a whole different story. Unforgettable: A Son, a Mother, and the Lessons of a Lifetime by NPR newsman, Scott Simon, is a work that I don’t want to finish. You see, if I finish it, the story will end and I so want the story (and Scott’s mother’s life) to continue.  Simon’s book, a memoir of his mother, and their life together, originated as a series of Tweets during his mother’s time in the intensive care unit at the end of her life. The time Simon and his mother shared together in the hospital was a quilt of memories, thoughts, laughter and songs that provided comfort and solace to them both as they faced their final days together.

Below are some my favorite nuggets of wisdom. Simon’s Tweets appear, as in the book, in bold text. Quotes are the words of his mother, Patricia.

  • I just realized: she once had to let me go into the big wide world. Now I have to let her go the same way.
  • “You tell your children something a hundred times…You’re lucky if they remember one or two. Dos, don’ts, count for almost nothing. All they remember is what you do. Whether you want them to or not.”
  • I love holding my mother’s hand. Haven’t held it like this since I was 9. Why did I stop? I thought it unmanly? What crap.
  • “Show children the best people and places. Let them know they belong.”
  • She will make the face of heaven shine so fine that all the world will be in love with night.

There’s so much wisdom in this book, so much love and laughter that I wish it went beyond the mere 244 print pages, that Patricia’s life went beyond only 84 years. As a mom to three sons, I can’t help but read this and hope that at the end of my life my “boys” will honor me with an iota of the respect and appreciation that Scott shows his mother. I don’t need one of them to write a book or anything, but I love the picture I’ve drawn in my head of my children sharing the memories and moments that have woven us together forever.

Mother’s Day is coming. Buy this book.

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Filed under aging, Books, Boys, family, favorites, holidays, ideas, love, moms, Recommendations

Getting around – Paris

When I’m in a new city, I like to walk as much as possible. In my mind, it makes it easier for me get my bearings and it helps me to see as much as possible of a new place. That being said, our Paris accommodations weren’t as central as they might have been and we needed to rely upon public transportation to get where we wanted to be. Fortunately, Paris has some excellent options.

We arrived in the early afternoon after traveling for nearly 14 hours. I was a bit foggy from the Valium I had taken and I simply wanted to get to our Airbandb* in the Boulogne- Billancourt neighborhood. Prior to flying, I had downloaded the Uber app and gotten a 50 euro (about $54) estimate for the ride. It was a bit of an indulgence, but ultimately was a good value for the nearly one-hour, door to door ride. After collecting our luggage, I opened the app and let Uber know we were ready to be picked up.  Within minutes our car had arrived and we were on our way. It was my first Uber experience and it was positive.

For our remaining days in Paris we relied upon the excellent Metro. We (read Liam, my remarkable adept subway map reader) quickly figured out the system – locate your starting and your ultimate destination. Determine the direction you need to take the train by looking at the last stop in both directions on a particular line, i.e our line, the 9, has end points of Pont de Sevre and Mairie de Montreuil. To go into the city center we went to the platform labeled the latter. There are maps posted and readily available in the stations and, once on the train, all of the cars had maps of the line. The newer train cars have maps with lights to indicate which stop will be next. Easy – and cheap. Tickets are euro 1.80 individually or sold in packs of 10 for about 14 euro. Two of the days we intended to do a lot of exploring so we bought a 2-day pass for less than $10 a person per day.

When it came to time to leave Paris and return to the airport, we were departing from a different, more central location, the Montparnasse neighborhood. We were  much more experienced with getting around, so, instead of a cab ride we went with a combination of Metro and RER trains. While the Metro covers zones 1 and 2 of the city, the RER includes all five zones and it is the way to go if you’re heading to more suburban areas or to either of the airports. We had a couple of extra Metro tickets on hand, so we elected to take the 6 from Gare Montparnasse a couple of stops to Denfert Rochereau where we bought  tickets to Charles de Gaulle at a price of $10 euro each (approximately $11). It was super simple and maybe one day traveling to JFK will be as seamless.

A couple of additional points – the trains are clean and run frequently. I don’t think we ever waited more than 4 minutes on any platform. There are clocks indicating when the next train is expected to arrive and they are amazingly accurate. Also, some of the stations are absolutely beautiful with tile mosaics and other eye appealing design features. I was more than a little obsessed with the street level light and sign indicators. A couple of my favorites are below.

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*More about my Airbandb (excellent!) in a future post

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Filed under Europe, France, Recommendations, travel

No sleep till Brooklyn*

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My picture does NOT do the work justice. Apologies!

On Friday, despite Mother Nature’s attempt to disrupt my plans, I ventured down to Williamsburg, Brooklyn to attend my uber talented neighbor, Ken Ragsdale’s art show opening at the Front Room Gallery. As someone who doesn’t often attend gallery openings (read: hardly ever), I was a bit out of my element, and, as a person who doesn’t stray from Manhattan usually, I was definitely outside of my borough of reference. After consulting my Facebook friends regarding attire and Google maps for directions, we hit the road in the late afternoon. Next stop: The Hundred-Acre Wood!

View from the Roebling Tea Room on the first evening of spring.

View from the Roebling Tea Room on the first evening of spring.

The drive was uneventful, other than my imagination working overtime creating vivid scenarios about how the piece of Ken’s which ended up in the back of my wagon could be damaged during the trip to Brooklyn. Rear-end collision, encounter with a remarkable pothole resulting in the shattering of glass…

imageSafely parked around the corner from the gallery, wearing the suggested attire of skinny jeans, ankle boots and a cool hat, we met up with some of the Albany contingent and enjoyed a lite bite and a round of drinks at the Roebling Tea Room. My cocktail, an excellent old-fashioned with a clean, citrus element was wonderful, the small plates equally perfect.

The show was an absolute triumph. The work vividly expressed a time in the artist’s life and is truly stunning.  The presence of so many familiar faces must have made the opening a dreamy blend of memories and modern day moments.  So friggin cool.  Can’t get to Brooklyn?  Check out the group show opening Friday, 3/27/15 at the Albany International Whatever Airport right in the 518.

*This post has nothing to do with sleeping in Brooklyn or the Beastie Boys. Nothing.  I just love the sentiment.  Here – watch the video anyway.

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Filed under Albany, art, DelSo, drinking, Events, friends, Local, NYC, Recommendations, road trips, Spring