Category Archives: Uncategorized

Sometimes life isn’t a beach

5f29a6a7e27014926b505f9d7a663911For the first time in 18 years I don’t have summer accommodations booked for Cape Cod. After last year’s trip, which took a lot out of all of us despite the great house and nearly all good company, and buying the restaurant which kind of put a new limit on the length of time I can be out of town, I had decided to wing it for Summer 2016, thinking I would keep my eyes open for maybe a last minute cancellation or other opportunity. Spontaneity is something I’m working on.

About 2 weeks ago I started getting antsy about not having a plan in place so I consulted with Aloysius and we both started looking for a suitable property. We were confined to a single week of the summer and despite that limitation, we found a house. Well, actually, two houses. Unfortunately, the owners of the first property, after responding that the house was indeed available for our desired week, seemingly dropped off the face of the earth never to be heard from again. House number two went even further – I paid a deposit, including a Jeter fee, and entered the dates on my calendar only to hear two days later that the house owners planned to occupy the place during the week we needed, thus, voiding our contract. Back to square zero…

So, now what to do? It seems that maybe the Cape isn’t meant to be the spot of our family vacation this year and I’m taking our lack of success as a sign from the universe to take a break from our usual summer destination, Wellfleet. The boys and I are talking about checking out some new places – perhaps a couple of days in Canada or a trip down to Mystic or egads, even the Jersey shore. I wouldn’t be opposed to a cabin in the Adirondacks for 2 or 3 nights, maybe on a lake? We’re thinking a couple of 2 or 3 day trips rather than the regular 2 weeks in a single area.

How about you? How is your summer shaping up? Any ideas to share with me about slightly offbeat, semi-low budget family destinations? We’re open – let me know!

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Filed under Aloysius, Boys, Cape Cod, family, favorites, friends, road trips, Summer, travel, Uncategorized, vacation

Dinner reservation for Marissa, party of 5.

imageCommencement weekend in a college town means a lot of things, like unexpected traffic, parties and a surge in no-show reservations in area restaurants. You see, it seems that to many graduates picking a restaurant and keeping a reservation is akin to selecting and committing to an undergraduate major – they simply can’t do it.

This past weekend was our first experience at Lark + Lily with the no-shows which unfortunately define graduation weekend in this area. Continuing with the academic metaphor, it was a fail. We had two parties of five no-show that night, which is a lot of wasted real estate in a restaurant the size of mine. This occurrence has prompted me to evaluate our reservations procedure moving onward. Before I move forward, however, let me share with you how events such as this have been managed in my experience as a server in another restaurant.

When I worked at Yono’s in the late 80s and early 90s, our policy was to require a deposit of $20 per person to be paid when the reservation was made. When the guests arrived we would give them “Yono’s $” which they would then apply to the check at the end of their meal. We learned that this was necessary because deducting the deposit from the total of the check often resulted in a gratuity which did not reflect the actual total of the bill. Example: a table of 10 runs up a tab of $500 but having paid the required deposit of $200 they receive a check with an actual total of only $300 due, which they tip 20% or $60 on instead of $100. I don’t know what system Yono’s is using currently, but those Yono’s $$ worked out very well for everyone back in the day.

As for us at Lark + Lily, while our formal policy has been to accept reservations only for parties of 5 and larger, we’ve tried to be accommodating to smaller parties, taking a name and requested dining time in an unofficial capacity without actually calling it a reservation. As a diner, I understand the appeal of knowing that a table will be available for me when I arrive, especially in an area where parking may require a few minutes effort.

Thanks to Marissa, (the name on one of the no-show reservations) we’ve made some tweaks to our reservation policy. Effective immediately we will be requiring a deposit for parties of 5+ during commencement season. This includes the upcoming flurry of high school graduations in the next few weeks. I’ve also advised staff that should an expected party be more than 15 minutes late without the courtesy of a phone call, that table is no longer considered reserved. Does this seem unreasonable?  What are your expectations as a guest or your experiences as a hospitality veteran?

Marissa may not have grasped the concept of basic good manners during her years in Albany as a student, but this alumna appreciates the lesson she taught me.  Time for us both to graduate.

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Greenwood Lake abbreviated

Before I say another word – a note, know this: I love where I grew up. Greenwood Lake provided me with a foundation – friends, experiences and memories that will reside within me until the day I die. Even after nearly 30 years in Albany, Greenwood Lake is my heart’s home. What follows isn’t a criticism of a place or a population, it’s a lament.

imageWhenever I tell someone where I grew up, I nearly always have to repeat it. Sometimes more than once. Greenwood Lake, N.Y., often abbreviated as GWL, is a small village in Orange County. Despite its proximity to NYC and Bergen County, N.J. and Westchester, GWL is a modest village with a mixture of blue-collar and professional residents. There are folks who have lived there for generations, marrying and merging families into a stew of blended characteristics and histories that would be impossible to separate without an elder spokesperson, a piece of paper and pencil. There’s a comfort in that.

Recently, I became aware of a couple of losses that had been suffered. A young man and a middle-aged man, who had been cut down as a young man, were both laid to rest this month. Even from my safe distance of nearly 100 miles and 3 decades, I was rocked by these deaths. A tidal wave of sorrow hit me and I was swamped by the memories of all the other premature deaths of GWL residents I have witnessed over the years. There have just been too damn many.

I don’t know what it is that makes these deaths seem so perversely frequent. Is it simply that the names are so familiar? Do tragedies occur in my hometown more than in other places? Does everyone need more than a single hand to count the number of wakes and funerals for peers which they attended prior to finishing high school? Jesus, I hope not.

Through the years, there have been far too many car accidents interspersed with horrible illnesses, unshakable addictions and previously unimaginable suicides. There are parents I know who have buried 2 of their 3 children, families who have suffered in ways I don’t ever want to suffer and it makes sad and scared and a bit angry, too. Why do these deaths continue to happen? When will the lessons of risk and danger and speed and mortality finally be learned?

An elected representative of my hometown district told me last week that Greenwood Lake, along with Port Jervis, has the highest incidence of heroin abuse in the county. It doesn’t seem like the abbreviation of the lives of Greenwood Lakers is going to end anytime soon.  I only wish my sorrow about this situation could be equally short lived.

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Mother’s Day 2016 –3 sons, 7 Sisters and two many moms with lost children

13131375_10154112636582889_447523597177719350_oBeing a mom to 3 boys is sometimes an exercise in acceptance. There will never be breakfast in bed or handmade cards decorated with lace doily hearts and glitter or prom dress shopping, but, I’m ok with that. I wouldn’t trade my guys for the world. Knowing that Mother’s Day has the potential to be basically another Sunday morning of me whipping up pancakes for the gang, I immediately embraced the idea of running the 7 Sisters Trail Race in Amherst, MA as a potentially more satisfying way to spend the holiday. The idea had been presented by Lunar B*tch, Chrissy a few months ago as a “race to works towards,” but quickly became a “What the hell? Let’s just do it,” thing. We signed up.

After registering for the run, I did a little research in an attempt to learn what to expect from this 12 mile trail run across the Holyoke Range of mountains outside of Amherst, MA. This was probably an even worse idea than impulsively signing up for a 12 mile trail run across the Holyoke Range of mountains outside of Amherst. The various blogposts and reviews I read each added a little fear and nervous excitement to my pre-race mental prep, but honestly, nothing could have prepared me for the reality of the trail.

Although I intended to get a complete night’s rest, Saturday, like the rest of the week at Lark + Lily, was busy and I ultimately racked up a total of less than 5 hours of sleep. I woke before my alarm and had an opportunity to eat a solid breakfast, a fortunate set of circumstances because my body and mind would demand every available resource I had available as the race progressed. We arrived at the start with enough time to score parking in the upper lot and mentally settle in for our 8:43 Wave 4 start time.

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Pre-race

As I started up the first of the countless climbs my intentions were clear: to finish uninjured – and to smile. For the most part, I met my goals, but there were nearly 4.5 hours of propelling my body up and down mountains to endure before I could proclaim my mission accomplished… The out and back course was extremely challenging with a tremendous amount of potential to be truly dangerous in the wet, muddy and slippery conditions we faced. It really wasn’t a run as much as a clambering hike, at least for me. Although I never went down hard, I did gracefully glide down to earth a minimum of 3 times, earning a muddy ass and saturated socks along the way.  The shale was slick, but in the few areas where the trail was actually trail, the running was sublime.  The shades of green were dazzling and on the return trek the view of the rolling hills and Connecticut River in the distance was beautiful.

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Post race

The discomfort caused by the aggressive terrain was, at times, nearly unbearable, particularly in my hips.  As the race continued,  there were moments when I wasn’t sure if I would be able to make it to the finish line as the pain spread to my calves and feet.  When I briefly considered not finishing, I turned my internal attention to a true circumstance that would potentially prevent me from going on – the loss of a child.  I focused on the moms I know who have for various reasons lost a child and I recommitted to the race thinking that if they can survive that truly hellish reality, I could gather the strength to complete this course.  I was no longer running just for myself and when I finally crossed that finish line after hours of exertion, I did it with gratitude and thoughts of appreciation for my children.  Their presence is truly enough of a gift to me.

Here are some photos from the race taken by Greg Saulmon for The Republican.  The shots are awesome and really provide an accurate picture of the day. In addition to some tangible memories offered by photographs, I’ve had soreness in pretty much every muscle of my body, abs and forearms, included. As I said Monday morning, the only muscle which didn’t ache post- 7 Sisters and Mother’s Day was my heart.

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Lisbon Love

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Home, sweet home

After more than 20 hours on a bus (actually, 3 buses) we arrived in Lisbon as darkness fell. There was a failed connection with an Uber driver and an eventual cab ride with a driver who could not locate our desired address and instead dropped us off at the bottom of a formidable hill and advised us to simply walk an unknown distance until we located #4 Beco do Mirante. We wandered down a street so narrow that it felt more like an extended driveway than a road, before encountering a mound of trash and a gang of street cats taking their evening meal. We turned around and started over, eventually stumbling upon our home for the next three nights and being warmly welcomed by Renata, our AirBandB host.

It was not an auspicious start.

Despite the less than positive beginning to our stay, Lisbon absolutely captivated me. The view from our flat, both from the front and rear balconies, was memorable, with a beautifully lit dome filling the night sky when we arrived and the rising sun glowing over the river greeting me in the morning. The architecture was remarkable with many of the building facades tiled in dizzying patterns to whose charm I could never imagine becoming immune. 13131683_10154099899137889_3291232505187124338_o

The sounds of Lisbon included barking dogs and cooing pigeons and Fado music. Of the three, I preferred the pigeons. The sidewalks are made from small, rough cut stones which are surprisingly slippery even when dry and the narrow streets wind about with complete disregard for a more modern city’s commitment to a grid pattern. The hills are impressive and I felt no guilt about not running when I instead happily walked for hours up and down and around and about.

Portuguese people are handsome – both males and females. Dark hair and eyes and golden brown skin dominate. The men are more direct with their attentions than I had expected, dispelling any stereotypes I previously held about aggressive Italian or Spanish men. These guys were open about their admiration without being threatening.  If I were younger I might have found it intimidating, but, at my age, I’ll take it as a compliment.

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Look at that tile!

The wines, (with decent rosés  selling for 2 euro a bottle in the corner grocery store), and sangria we sampled were tasty, as were both the red and white ports we tried.  The traditional custard tart, pastéis de nata, was a delicious treat any and all times of day and there were other baked goods, including a bread studded with chorizo and ham, that were also excellent.  The meals we had were not quite on par with the food in Barcelona, but there weren’t really any bad dining experiences.  I could not find the fish stew I had imagined, but it gives me yet another reason to go back.

Breakfast with meat bread front and center.

Breakfast with meat bread front and center.

This is a place I definitely want to revisit.

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Filed under Europe, Observations, Portugal, travel, Uncategorized, vacation, Wine

Running reflections

IMG_8550Last week while I was in Barcelona I ran four consecutive days, including the very day we arrived. The leisurely pace of our vacation and the magnetic pull of the Mediterranean made taking a run an impulse that I could not deny. It was a gift I gave to myself, almost a souvenir that took up space in my memory and not my luggage. It was wonderful.

I’ve been running on and off for more than 25 years, with the last 5 or 6 years being my most prolific. I now run distances I never imagined in earlier years – 10 miles? Sign me up! A half marathon? Where and when? I’m in! My favorite way to spend a Sunday afternoon, my only day off each week, is to take a long run, with the lunar B*tches or solo. It gives me an opportunity to process the preceding week and get ready mentally for the upcoming week – an undeniable two-fer.

I enjoy running in a way that transcends the physical discomfort that can accompany this hard on the body activity. Truthfully, my mind needs it even more than my body does most days. At this point in my running career, my body knows what to do in terms of breathing and exertion levels so my focus often turns inward and I find myself simultaneously working out problems and working out physically. Don’t believe me? Read this.

I ran yesterday for the first time since I was in Spain and honestly, I wasn’t really psyched about it. It was a grey day and the skies were spitting a bit and I was tired because I still had a little jet lag and I knew Jeter was going to get dirty and need to be cleaned up and my house really hadn’t received any attention since before my trip and did I mention I was tired from a busy night at the restaurant??? You see how scary easy it is to allow the reasons not to run to snowball?

One of my running partners and some sidewalk love.

One of my running partners and some sidewalk love.

But, I reached for my running clothes, cued up my recently created Barcelona running playlist and tied up my laces and headed out. Like always, it was exactly what I needed. The music was great and my legs and lungs welcomed the stretch. The air smelled like lilacs and the rain was the lightest of sprinkles on my face. My fatigue lifted along with my spirits and I found myself smiling knowing the truth in this statement: The only bad run is the one we do not take.

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On the edge of seventeen

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He’s on his 3rd passport and has visited 5 countries, so far.

A little more than 17 years ago, I was expecting my second child. At the time I thought I was living a busy life with a husband, a 2 year-old, and a full-time career. Little did I know what the future would hold, right? As my due date approached I had three items to take care of before I would feel ready to birth this child of mine – there was grout to scrub from the new bathroom floor, a professional conference to attend and a religious ceremony in which I would be sponsoring a special young woman as she made her confirmation.

Midweek, I managed to wedge myself into a pew to attend the service and witness Alexondra receiving the sacrament. One box checked. On Thursday, a beautiful and sunny day, I made it to the Century House for my annual conference after which I went home, changed clothes, put a chicken in the oven to roast and got down on my knees to start scrubbing grout. At which point, naturally, my water broke. Griffin was born Friday afternoon.

Flash forward to Thursday, April 29th, 2016, seventeen years later, another beautiful spring afternoon. My now 6 foot tall son and I were in Lisbon after a few days spent in Barcelona. The trip had not been without adventure as we negotiated with mixed success around an unfamiliar foreign city and sampled a cuisine which was new to us. There was that missed flight and subsequent 20 hour bus ride, but I was more focused on the novelty of having him map out our route on the metro and his bold approach to the tapas menu, trying items I never would have imagined him tasting – grilled octopus and fried pig snout to name two.

As the planets aligned in a manner that could never have been predicted, we were joined by none other than Alexondra who had flown  from Rome to join us for the weekend. Along with her was a Spanish friend and the four of us went out for a typically late southern European dinner. There was sangria and my boy ate quail for the first time, an amusing to me echo of the days when he would only eat “big chicken,” as he called a roasted chicken.

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This was one weird place – I recommend it!

On the way to our Lisbon digs, we stopped for a nightcap and to allow the clock to push past midnight marking Griffin’s 17th birthday. It was a bizarre little dive bar that invited us in with a soundtrack of terrific music and we sat with another pitcher of sangria and toasted this kid who has both challenged and delighted me every single day of his life. He’s now precisely half of Alexondra’s age.

I can’t wait to see where both of them are in 2033.

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