Category Archives: upstate New York

What William Kennedy gave me on his 90th birthday

Tuesday night I was lucky enough to join an already in progress festive event down at Cafe Capriccio. Gathered together to celebrate Albany’s literary native son William Kennedy’s birthday were dozens of family members, friends and colleagues. I arrived as speakers began to share their thoughts, memories and best wishes and it was remarkable. The evening’s host, New York State Writers Institute director, Paul Grondahl, invited those present to share their own words in Bill’s honor and for a brief second I considered accepting the offer. It probably would have taken 2 more glasses of wine to get me to speak publicly, but the thoughts that were prompted can just as easily be shared here.

Albany has a modern literary tradition thanks to William Kennedy. His characters populate the streets and the imagination of a city which has been maligned and misrepresented for decades, if not centuries. The stories he has told portray a city filled with residents, frequently Irish American, living hardscrabble lives, corrupt, violent and often tragically funny. The struggles of his characters are familiar and universal, yet because they take place in Albany, N.Y., they are our stories. We own them, just like William Kennedy belongs to us, and despite the less than stellar reputations possessed by so many of his characters, we embrace them.

Because of William Kennedy, and his vision in founding the New York State Writer’s Institute, acclaimed authors have visited our area and shared their craft with audiences at no cost to attendees.  As an undergraduate, I was thrilled to listen to Allen Ginsberg and Joyce Carol Oates read from their work. More recently, an in-depth symposium focused on telling the truth in a post-truth era brought heavyweight journalists to our area for a weekend of timely and interesting events.  None of these experiences would have been available without the NYSWI and we as a city are indebted to Bill Kennedy for the opportunities to hear and learn from literary luminaries and embattled professional journalists.

The third gift I received that night was less tangible than the others and I don’t know if I have the words to describe it. The best I can come up with is it was a combined sense of pride, belonging and possibility. As the child of an Irishman I never met, I’ve sought out Irish culture and traditions for as long as I can remember. Witnessing a roomful of people singing a rousing chorus of Molly Malone (and joining in!) fed my soul as delightfully as Jim Rua’s always-prepared-with-love meals feed my belly. The thrill and privilege of being present at such an incredibly special event is something I will never forget. While I don’t imagine ever writing a book, the fact that Ironweed wasn’t published until Bill Kennedy was 55, and that I was present at his 90th birthday party, reminds me that just about anything is possible.

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Filed under Albany, Books, Events, favorites, Irish, Local, Observations, Restaurants, upstate New York

Facials at the Jenkinstown Day Spa

When was the last time you had a facial? It’s been a long time since I had one, which almost explains why I refused to abandon the idea of indulging myself during my holiday vacation even though it took some effort to get appointments.

Our original plan was Rhinebeck for an afternoon of window shopping, some food and drinks, maybe a little music and then a night at the Beekman Arms with spa appointments in the morning. When the forecast, though, was for single digit temperatures, we reconsidered. Plan B? A spa treatment in the afternoon, a little walk around New Paltz, cocktails and then takeout Thai at a friend’s house.

We hustled appointments at a place we had never been before, the Jenkinstown Day Spa. Reviews and recommendations considered, we booked a European facial for me and massage for her. Going in, I understood the space was a little unusual and definitely not hyper fancy. I arrived just before 1:00 p.m. to a parking area with only one car other than my own. (Upon departure the lot was full.) The front door opened to a standard bilevel stairway dilemma – up or down? The upstairs beckoned and I was rewarded with a warm greeting and a comfortable seating area, along with a bathroom that immediately transported me to 1978 (and Lisa Dietrich’s house.)

My facial took place in a room that had been carefully put together with decorative touches and all the necessary tools for the provider. The temperature of the room was a degree a two cool, but not in an uncomfortable way. Hangars or hooks for guest’s clothing would be a thoughtful addition.

My technician was very professional and provided me with an excellent facial. There was minimal conversation, which I welcomed, and zero sales pitch. Perfect. There were a couple of times when I was surprised by the texture or temperature of a product on my skin and I would have appreciated a warning, but it wasn’t a big deal. The experience was very positive and my skin felt and looked great at the end of my appointment.

Facials may be my new indulgence in the new year and I very much enjoyed my service at Jenkinstown. At $80 the facial was reasonably priced and good value and I would definitely return to repeat the experience. There are a couple of tweaks that would make the spa a bit more spa-ish, but the pricing is on par with the facilities. It was also the perfect reminder of how much I appreciate a good facial.

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Filed under aging, beauty, Christmas, Recommendations, road trips, upstate New York, winter

An extra hour, a yoga retreat and your favorite breakfast

E5C504E6-72A5-4AD2-90EE-14230974B2E6When I get busy the first thing to get eliminated from my calendar is yoga. I almost wrote “yoga practice,” but quickly decided that phrase would be overstating my commitment to yoga. I mean, I always feel better after I take a class, but making it to a class, even just weekly, is often a challenge for me. I do my best, you know? Anyway, the recent time change gave me only an additional hour, but I was able to parlay that into a full day of various classes and activities thanks to an offering from my favorite studio, The Hot Yoga Spot.

The day began with a really beautiful drive, orchestrated by WAZE, out to the hill town, Berne. The actual location for the retreat was Switzkill Farm, a property I learned was previously a pheasant farm and a Tibetan Buddhist retreat, but is now community owned. The house, situated atop a hill with glorious views, is the kind of dwelling that makes me fantasize about packing up and leaving the city for more rural digs – beautiful, a bit sprawling and absolutely ripe for cosmetic upgrades.

We convened in what must be the living room, adorned on three sides with windows and a large fireplace anchoring the space. I think there were perhaps 30 or so participants and our mats got arranged in rows facing the front of the room and, beyond, the Helderberg Mountains. Prior to beginning our practice, we were invited to introduce ourselves and share our favorite breakfast – a tough choice for me because I basically like everything breakfast – pancakes, French toast, eggs and omelets, cereal, fruit and yogurt, oatmeal, bagels and pastry…there are no bad breakfast choices in my world! I don’t know – it’s generally the first chance in a new day to provide nourishment to your physical self, isn’t it? I just can’t imagine not eating breakfast. How about you?

We settled on our mats and began what would be a 90-minute yoga class. The instructor was new to me and she gave us a great class with plenty of ab work. Next up was a breathing workshop, which isn’t necessarily my cup of tea, but there were some cool methods demonstrated and I have to admit to adding one particular technique to my toolkit for middle of the night insomnia episodes. Lunch followed and, despite the limitations of my pre-colonoscopy diet, I was able to enjoy my wrap with hummus and cheese, and especially the gluten-free cookies.

We headed outdoors for a walk through the woods which was a perfect digestif. The trails we were on were beautiful and I can see how the Dalai Lama found the property so appealing. It was lovely. By this point in the day, I had almost hit the end of my self-indulgence limit but I’m really glad I decided to participate in the 30-minute Barre inspired class. It brought me to exactly where I wanted to be – satiated without being exhausted. I cut out before the meditation and flow classes but was completely satisfied with my day and the excellent value I received for my $75 fee.

I’ve not been to Kripalu or any other facility specifically for yoga, but this event definitely leaves me open to exploring other retreats in the future. Would you have one to recommend?

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Filed under beauty, breakfast, Events, Exercise, friends, Local, Recommendations, sunday, upstate New York

3 (Lunar) b*tches and a witch

On a recent and beautiful Sunday morning all three of the Lunar b*tches rendezvoused in Greenwich to run our last scheduled trail race of the season, the Wandering Witch. It was our first time running in this event and we couldn’t have asked for more ideal conditions – the sun was shining, foliage was popping and the scene was completely chill. Truly, perfect race conditions.

Start time was a civilized 9:30, which allowed for plenty of time for packet pickup and use of the real bathrooms. It also provided us with the opportunity to introduce ourselves to a woman we’ve each noticed in other races. I don’t generally approach strangers, but she was familiar to each of us and had a librarian related sticker on her car – done. Turns out she has almost 20 years on me, yet still managed to beat my ass in that particular 10k. Bravo, sister!

The course was a two lap jaunt through the woods, over some hills and around a few turns. Nobody really likes races that simply multiple a 5k route twice to get a 10k or thrice* for. 15k, but this course was so beautiful, that two times around was a treat. So pretty!

I didn’t finish dfl, but I was one of the last finishers. I just didn’t have any juice that day and ended up getting diagnosed with a sinus inflection a few days post-race. If I needed consolation for running this race, my state of health would be a reasonable one. Everyone who got to enjoy that morning was a winner already.

*thrice cracks me up!

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Filed under aging, beauty, Exercise, friends, Recommendations, road trips, running, sunday, upstate New York

Rickie Lee Jones at the Cohoes Music Hall

Yes, RLJ at the Cohoes Music Hall. I was on the Cape when the tickets went on sale and immediately snatched up six, knowing that it wouldn’t be hard to share them with likeminded friends. You know, people who would also be blown away by the fact that RLJ was playing in a 475 seat venue in our area, even if it is a place that always feels like a firetrap to me.

I’ve seen RLJ a couple of times before and I’m familiar with her reputation for being ah…a bit difficult eccentric. The last time I saw her was maybe 7 or 8 years ago at the Bardavon in Poughkeepsie. It was a beautiful venue, but what has stayed with me since that particular show was something Rickie did to one of her percussionists. As I recall, he wasn’t a regular in her band at that time, but was filling in for an absent member. At one point, apparently, he wasn’t playing the little handheld instrument the way she wanted him to. She walked over to him, took the shaker out of his hand and stared him in the eyes as she demonstrated how she wanted it played. It was awkward.

Wednesday night, though, she seemed very pleased with her two band mates, a percussionist and a guitarist. Actually, in general, Rickie seemed to be in a good place, sharing stories and soaking in the love the audience (less than capacity) freely showered upon her. She explained that she preferred to play for small audiences of adorers rather than larger groups who might not really be present for the music. Recalling a story Aloysius had once told me about Rickie leaving the outdoor stage at a show he attended and inviting true fans to follow her to a different, more intimate venue, I took her at her word.

The show was magnificent. Her voice sounded incredible and she retains a control over her instrument which is remarkable. Her setlist was amply stocked with old favorites and more than once she brought me to tears, an experience I don’t have very often at a musical performance. There’s just a raw quality to her work that penetrated that particular evening. I was mesmerized – and not just by the fact that seemed to be wearing the same red velvet Frye boots I scored last month. It was easily my favorite performance of hers ever and I swear it’s going to be one of those shows that becomes legend.

My only criticism goes to the venue’s employees. There was way too much noise being made in the balcony where we were seated as the bar staff broke down their service bar. Buckets of ice being dumped and bottles clanging did not add to the event. What did add to the night, though, was a really good meal pre-show at The Hollow. I thoroughly enjoyed my chicken sandwich and sweet potato fries and look forward to eating there again in a couple of weeks pre-show for the Modern English concert. Maybe I’ll see you there.

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Filed under art, concerts, Dinner, Eating, Events, favorites, friends, Local, Music, Recommendations, Restaurants, upstate New York

How to spend 24 hours in the Adirondacks

Just in time for your weekend!

• Drive north late in the afternoon just as the sun begins to commit to its trip to the west.
• Settle in with a bowl of chili and more cheese and crackers than you typically consume in one sitting. Rationalize that it’s the mountain air.
• Gather around a bonfire with friends and a big bottle of rioja.
• Stare at the sky filled with magical stars.
• Walk in the deep dark to your accommodations for the night – a hilltop yurt.  CDD230E6-BB97-4242-9155-D47B5F54FAE0
• Snuggle with someone you love.
• Wake in the early morning, step outside and breathe.
• Take in the view and marvel at the beauty that meets your eyes in every direction. E67CFFCF-3FF2-418F-B634-D38079160BBE
• Meet your friends for a trail run.
• Eat a bountiful brunch in a quaint town and appreciate all the gifts you’re fortunate enough to have received.

 

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Filed under beauty, Brunch, Exercise, friends, Recommendations, road trips, running, upstate New York

Friday night at S & S Farm Brewery

F0E15BAC-3120-4965-BA64-9C6AEE710813Back in the day when I owned a restaurant, we had a collection of draft beverages of which I was pretty proud. We worked with local brewers and brought in small production brews that our guests really enjoyed. One of my favorite breweries, S & S Farm Brewery in Nassau, consistently produces some great beer and I always enjoyed working directly with family members when I needed a delivery.

I’ve heard that they throw a good party and for a long time now, I’ve wanted to get out to the farm to check out one of their events. Friday night, I finally got it together and wrangled two of my three sons into the car and headed east at about 5:45, having been warned that it gets crowded. Not an exaggeration, we would come to learn.

The ride out was stunning. I have a lot of really great memories that involve driving Route 20, but I’d not driven on Jefferson Hill Road before and it was so very pretty. The foliage and the old homes definitely had me considering if city life was as superior as I always think it is…

Upon arrival we were directed towards a parking area which was a short walk from the tasting room, tables, band and food. I had been warned that these Friday night things are popular, but I was stunned by the size of the crowd. There were probably 500 people there! Everyone we talked to was super nice and we got to spend some time chatting with a few folks as we waited in line to place our Burger21 order. Of course, being a practical person, I had thrown $20 to my kids and suggested they get soup or hot dogs from the second food truck since there wasn’t a line for the more simple fare being sold, while I grabbed a beer inside. With all of us placated, we committed to the approximately 40 minute wait for our excellent burgers and baskets of fries.

The food, my Brown Chicken Brown Ale and the setting were perfect. It’s been a particularly beautiful October and last night’s star filled sky was exceptional. I can’t imagine there was a better place to spend a couple of hours last night than exactly where I was. Let’s go again!

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Filed under beer, Boys, favorites, Local, Recommendations, road trips, upstate New York