28 February 2015

on neighborhoods and community


I spend much of my work week thinking about neighborhoods, talking about neighborhoods and encouraging others to care about and invest in neighborhoods and the people who live in them. I also spend much of my free time thinking about neighborhoods too.

We lived in Center Square for over six years. Technically, we lived in Hudson/Park for four years and the past two and a half we were true Center Square residents. Before that, I've lived in the New Scotland and Pine Hills neighborhoods. Now I'm representing the Helderberg hood. In a small city like Albany, it's easy to be fooled into thinking that there are just one or two great neighborhoods. Or that there ought to be only one or two great neighborhoods. Or, if you are from NYC, you might think that Albany isn't a city, as evidenced by a recent question I got from a Big Apple dweller about how I like living out in the country. But really, what makes a city truly great, is when all neighborhoods are great. When you can go from one to the next and feel safe and inspired and connected. When there are services and retail and transportation in each. And when each neighborhood has its own character! Neighborhoods of brownstones, ones with tudors, ones with trendy restaurants and others with small specialty shops.

When we bought our house, it was a transition to think of a more uptown neighborhood in the same way. But yes, there are families, young professionals and retired folks living in both 'hoods. Homeowners and renters. Our new place is walkable, with a few notable restaurants nearby, and we need more. I'm looking forward to the spring thaw so we can get outside and bump into more of our neighbors.

What it all comes down to is community. You don't have to live in a downtown row house, or even a city. (You could live in, for example, a coastal yurt community or houseboat neighborhood!) But that sense of place, it's really important. At least it us to me.

I'm quite not as communal or open-door as I hope to be. Like many of us, I long for a bit of space and privacy. I spent years grumbling about on-street parking and street noise. I daydream for a yurt or tiny cabin in the woods. Beneath that, though, you'll find someone who longs for community. For a tribe, defined by geography and proximity. For face-to-face experiences and conversations. For casual drop-ins, where friends swing by and I make two cups of coffee and slice up the everyday cake that is on the counter. (If I'm honest with myself, I don't really want you to casually drop. So please, don't do it. Call first, ok? Even better, just text first so I can take my time deciding whether or not I want the intrusion. Sorry, I'm working on it.)

I love that we have friends throughout the country and that technology makes it so easy to see their faces and hear their voices. But man, I long for real-life interactions too. It can happen in a small city, a big city, a town or in the country. But place matters, and so do the people that make up those places.


So where am I right now? I'm in our new house in our new neighborhood in our small city, one with backyards and driveways but also with sidewalks and neighborhood shops and some things worth walking to. I'm enjoying our space and the different bustle it brings. I'm a small city defender but still fill my Pinterest board with tiny homes in the country. That's the way it goes.

Related
Our last apartment
Tiny house daydreams

Unrelated
Everyday cake recipes from Orangette, Eating from the Ground Up, Saveur & Smitten Kitchen, in case you have any visitors popping by :)

Top photo of one of our old neighborhoods. Bottom photo of Albany Has Neighborhoods print by Aaron Wilson, purchased at Fort Orange General Store, framed at Framebridge (inexpensive custom framing).

19 February 2015

the warmth









If you live in the Northeast or any other cold part of the country/world, this can be a tough time of year. Temperatures are regularly in the single digits or below freezing. There are official warnings to stay indoors. Cabin fever sets in and, if you're like me, a bit of guilt over your winter-induced laziness. Factor in the likelihood of catching a seasonal cold or the flu and we've got the makings of a full-blown pity party. So grab some comfort food and give yourself a few moments of pity, but then you must snap out of it.

On days like this, I need to remind myself that warmth is enough. I bring my gratitude practice right down to the bare basics, starting with being so grateful for my warm house and cozy fireplace, for having a car to get me places and enough warm clothes to keep me safe and bundled up. Some weeks, this is the most creative I can get with my gratitude, even though I could fill books with all of the things I am thankful for.

But right now, I'm grateful to be warm.

I'm reading Woodswoman, the first of a few memoirs that Annie LaBastille wrote about living alone in the Adirondacks. Annie begins her story in the heart of Adirondack winter as Annie's respect for the season's harshness grows with every adventure and narrow miss. I read it from the comfort of our bed or from beneath an afghan on the couch. And I come back to the realization that, sometimes, the warmth is enough. It's enough to be warm and safe right now.

There's a different rhythm to the season, that's for sure. I can write all day long about the need to embrace it, to celebrate it as a time for retreat and reflection, but when it comes to everyday practice, I'm falling short. So here's to staying warm! To thinking warmly about others and ourselves. To knitting and hot toddies and thick socks! To the days finally getting longer- it's 5:19pm and still a little bright out!

12 February 2015

chocolate pear jam

I've had this recipe bookmarked for awhile, and a few weekends ago I took the plunge. I armed myself with an armful of Bosch pears, the new Decemberists album and the quiet of a snowy morning. That's just what you do when you find a recipe for chocolate pear jam. You make it happen, no questions asked.

As is so often the case with jam recipes, my yield differed from what was called for. Likely because of a mis-measurement of pears on my part or some science-related explanation of the air quality and humidity levels that morning. I doubled the recipe and ended up yielding only 2 1/2 half pint jars, instead of the four I imagined.


Upon finishing up, I promptly made a batch of scones because I had to. Again, it was chocolate pear jam protocol and I had no choice. Croissants would have also been an acceptable option, and in that case you would do well to just buy them at a local bakery because 1) no one has time to make croissants and 2) I never want to witness how much butter goes into them. It would ruin the experience.

That afternoon, I spread a generous portion of chocolate pear jam atop a freshly baked scone and I thought to myself, "This will save lives." Now, I don't know if that is strictly true in the medical sense of things, but I do know that I will never underestimate the medicinal properties of warm chocolatey pear jam and a pastry. It helps if you stand over the stove stirring the jam and staring out the window as the snow falls, but you might be able to get the same benefit by stealing a jar of the good stuff from someone else. I don't know, but that's why I'm on a mission to put up jars of weird, delicious things you won't easily find at the store. What was once just a shelf to show off my preserves has become an apothecary of sorts, and anything with chocolate in it is bound to show up on the prescription pad.

Would you try chocolate pear jam? You really should. I wonder if my batch is more chocolate-y than the author intended but, then again, I'm not sure that's actually a problem. This is a phenomenal fancy jam that will totally win over your house guests or make your gift of a home-canned jar of something seem really special and not like an afterthought. It's the real deal.

Recipe is another good one from Preserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces. You can find a similar, but not quite the same, recipe on the author's website Food in Jars.

05 February 2015

all toile everything, or a bathroom update




Our home is a 1930s brick English tudor with a bright red door and oodles of charm, if I may be so bold as to say so. Among the steeply-pitched roof, archway and original hardwood floors and trim, there is the toile. Toile de jouy. There was toile in the upstairs washroom and in most of our closets. I tried to make peace with it. As ugly as it was to me, I did sort of love it. Look at the country folk dancing! Watch them sing and play! Wave hello to the man playing the flute as you shampoo your hair! But, no, it could not last in our home.



So when we had a few days off around the holidays, we tore it down. Then Chris patched up and repaired the wall in many, many spots and we painted it a light gray that we though went well with the oversized original tiled wall.


We figured we might as well replace the mirror on the built-in original medicine cabinet, and in a stroke of genius and keen observation, Chris realized we had a wooden-framed mirror that would fit perfectly. Et voila, he took the old one off and put the new one up and now our bathroom feels like a whole new space for just the cost of some spackle, a can of paint and a few screws. And a new shower curtain. I love it.





We hung up a bundle of fresh eucalyptus in the shower because Pinterest told me the steam would make our washroom smell like a swanky European spa. Sold! In our old place, we were used to showering and getting ready in a windowless basement bathroom, so basically I feel like a queen every morning in this 1930s bright and airy space. Next step is re-tiling that floor.


Let it be known that I found curtains with the exact toile scene as the wallpaper that was in our bathroom. I haven't bought them... yet. What say ye? All toile, e'rything?

20 January 2015

cranberry ketchup


Continuing my strategy of canning only the weird recipes, right after the holidays I made up a batch of cranberry ketchup using the recipe in Food in Jars. While I was at it, I used the leftover cranberries to make a few jars of cranberry simple syrup to freshen up seltzer and cocktails.

What's cranberry ketchup? I, like so many of you, was totally thrown off the first time I heard about non-tomato ketchup. WHAT DO YOU MEAN, NO TOMATOES?! That's the beauty of these weird little recipes; they blow up your preconceptions and smash your traditions. I like that sometimes. As it turns out, you can make ketchup from lots of things that aren't tomatoes. What makes ketchup so ketchup-y tends to be the spices and flavor you add to the main ingredient. So for the cranberry ketchup, I sweetened it, spiced it, added onions to it and cooked it way down to a thick, french-fry-dipping consistency.

The verdict? Pretty tasty. It tastes exactly like cranberry ketchup should. Undeniably in the ketchup family, with a slightly odd tartness from the cherries. It hasn't replaced my other ketchup substitute, the beloved tomato jam, but it's a nice switch from my sugary, processed Heinz bottle.

And yes, if you are wondering, I'm a ketchup person. I bastardize my eggs with it and dip everything in it I can find and, in my wild youth, had been known to put it on my mac and cheese. It's blasphemous, but it's delicious. At least I'm trying to expand my ketchup palate, right?

09 January 2015

dear sugar


I don't know where I first heard about this book or who recommended it... was it you? Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar is a collection of advice columns written by Cheryl Strayed. For years, Dear Sugar was an advice column run anonymously on TheRumpus.net, where it attracted a huge cult following. I wasn't hip enough to know about it then, but when this book appeared on my e-book queue from my local library, I snatched it up and then devoured it.

Strayed, as Dear Sugar, is funny and direct and empathetic. At times, the book is heartbreaking. It's about messy human life is and the strange human experience is. It's wise and memorable. I loved reading it.

When I was almost done with this book, I realized that the new Reese Witherspoon movie is the adaptation of Cheryl Strayed's memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. Then, as I sat down to write this post, I read that Dear Sugar is becoming a podcast! Signs from the universe, friends, and you'd better pay attention to them.

I find myself thinking through advice more when I'm asked for it, making sure it's what I really believe and what I think is right. When I'm not asked, I really do try to keep my mouth shut but when a friend comes knocking, I want to be able to shine a bit of perspective on their situation. Being careful not to judge, but maybe illuminating the parts they can't see and then let them chart their course. It's probably too pretentious or presumptuous of me, but then again, I've never claimed otherwise :)

04 January 2015

2015, the intentions

In writing down my intentions for 2015, I realized that they are mostly the same as what I laid out last year. To find mindfulness, strength and adventure and roll them up into a good life. To take each day, each season, each moment as it comes and to not wish away the present. In pursuit of those three goals, here are some concrete tiny steps that just might help me get there.


Mindfulness
I just haven't figured out a solid meditation practice yet. I'm a champion sleeper and lounger, but quieting the mind? I haven't really tackled that yet and as a result, I sometimes wring myself into a bit of a panic over something that happened earlier in the day or, even more likely, something that might possibly happen later. I'm also a champion worrier.

This month, I'll aim to sit still on that meditation cushion for two minutes a day. That's it. Just two minutes. After a month, we'll see how it goes. 


Strength
I'm going to get strong, people. Strong willpower, strong resolve, strong biceps. All of that. 2014 was not a big running year for me, and by the start of fall I had drifted away from my regular workout schedule. I lost my motivation and didn't think I had the time to stay active. With my commitment to the Runner's World Challenge, I established a routine of movement again. I loved the challenge because it eliminated the decision process. I never had to ask myself, "Should I run today?" The answer was always yes. It may not have been that far or that fast, but it was a given that I would be lacing up my shoes and getting outside. It was freeing. Isn't that funny? I knew that no matter what, I would get out there and run, so I had less room to worry or make excuses or procrastinate. Because the challenge was only to run at least a mile, it gave me permission to go easy. On days when I was feeling crappy or tired, I ran a single, slow mile. When I felt better, I did more.

This year, I'm building strength and aiming to be active every day. Some days will be a run. Some a walk. Some days I'll do a quick 15 minute yoga session or 50 lunges around the house. But every single day, I'll move. Can't nobody hold me down. Oh no. I've got to keep on moving.


Adventure
This is all one big adventure, right? This is the toughest theme for me. As I write this, I keep thinking of reasons not to commit to whatever adventures pop up in my mind. Honestly, I keep writing suggestions and then quickly deleting them. Nerd alert.

Baby steps. This year, when things go wrong I'm just going to smile and shout PLOT TWIST! and move on. I saw that somewhere, probably on a Pinteresty little graphic, and loved it. I also have a great greeting card in my collection that says "One day we'll look back on this and laugh." So that's my goal: reminding myself that it isn't really an adventure until something goes astray :)


And also!
  • Write once a week here and do some long-form writing once a month. Plan out some topics ahead of time and stick to it.
  • Put down the phone! I've already deleted the Facebook app from my phone, and it's made a major difference in how oftenI check it.
  • Start a green tea habit. I've read a lot about it and I'm convinced I need more green tea in my life. Let's start with a few cups a week, shall we?

What are your resolutions?! Share them, please! Did you post them somewhere else? I'd genuinely love to read them. I love setting resolutions and making lists and buying new planners. It's like heading back to school armed with sharpened pencils and brand new notebooks. Am I right, nerds? Happy 2015!

Related:
intentions for the new year / 2014
looking back & looking forward / 2012 (& food-related goals for 2012)

(In 2013 I was too busy swooning over our wedding to post resolutions)

30 December 2014

it's the holiday season

Christmas has come and gone! Every year, it seems to pass by so quickly. We prepared for the holiday by blasting Christmas tunes and decorating the house, sipping every variety of egg nog and faux nog you can think of. I do love fully embracing different seasons. If it's Christmastime, then there shall be Christmas music and eggnog. On a hot summer day, you need pitchers of iced tea and mojitos. Birthdays and anniversaries must be celebrated. Distinguish the days and months and seasons through celebration. Build up traditions to look forward to. Seize the moment!


Ok, the month has gotten away from me and my planned exploration of all things house and neighborhood related. But here we go: I'll be back later this week with some thoughts for the new year and then we'll get back on track. One goal for 2015? Write at least a post a week here, and some longer form musings once a month.

Related 
Good luck to everyone this winter, it's a tough season
An old Christmas card of ours

17 December 2014

christmas wreaths

Our new house is the coziest. I'm sure I will love it once summer comes around, but if I had to move into a house right before the darkest, coldest season... I would pick this one over and over. We build fires in our fireplace, light balsam fir incense and snuggle up on the couch. It's just too much coziness for me to comprehend sometimes, but I try. In an effort to get our home ready for the holidays, I've done two things.


The first thing was to make this wreath. I made this wreath! My co-worker and I took a class at a local florist shop last week during a nice snowstorm. I have no idea how this turned out so nicely, but I can only guess that having a bright red door as inspiration and a tiny bit of experience with making floral crowns helped.


The second thing I did to deck the halls was complete an obsessive, worldwide hunt for the perfect Christmas window candles. As soon as we moved in, I thought, "This home would look lovely with Christmas window candles." You know the type, right? Well, the perfect ones aren't as easy to find as you might think. Retailers are sold out or only sellings one with a terrible haunted orange glow. I searched far and wide, increasingly worrying my loved ones with my singular focus. I'm happy to report that I found the perfect ones. Battery-operated, on a timer and with the perfect glow.

The bulk of our Christmas spirit came out on Friday, when we bought our tree and put up all the trimmings around our home, while sipping on faux eggnog (trying to save the real stuff for closer to Christmas) and blasting holiday tunes. What are your go-to decorations for Christmas? 

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