My Friday Favorites

Friday Favorites

Raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens… Happy Friday!! Today I’m sharing a few of my Friday favorite things:

Electricity. Sometimes, it’s the little things… On Tuesday, our power went out just before 1:30 in the afternoon. A power outage is never ideal, but because we have well water, it means basically means we lose our water supply. (A small amount of cold water remains in the tank, so I could at least wash my hands when I needed to.) Most power outages are pretty brief – an hour or two, at most. But on Tuesday, the power remained off until almost 8:00, for a total of 6.5 hours!!! In addition to being without access to anything that requires electricity – hello, A/C! – and a normal water supply, my car was in the garage. Despite watching a few YouTube videos about how to manually open an automatic garage door (shout out to my sister for suggesting this), I was unable to open the door and leave my house. This was unfortunate, because I was supposed to pick my daughter up from camp at 4:00. Thankfully, my husband was able to leave work early and get her. While I was waiting for them to come home, all of the smoke detectors in our house starting going off, presumably because the batteries had been drained. To escape the deafening noise, I went outside and sat on our front steps. While there, I looked to the side and noticed a very large bees’ next in the ground next to the steps. It was an all-around, banner afternoon! But the power finally came back on, my husband showed me how to manually open our garage door, we replaced the batteries in the smoke detectors, and I’ve been enjoying my hot showers since then with a renewed appreciation for electricity.

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This cookbook. While the power was out on Tuesday, I randomly grabbed the Real Simple: Easy, Delicious Meals cookbook from my collection, and started paging through it. I quickly realized that I was in possession of the best. cookbook. ever, and couldn’t believe I’d never realized this before! (A big thank you to my husband, who I’m pretty sure gave me this book for my birthday, about five years ago!)

I do not enjoy cooking in the least, so I try to keep the meals I make as simple as possible, while still feeding my family reasonably healthy and tasty food. This cookbook is made for people like me. The ingredient lists are short and include store-bought shortcuts, like puff pastry; the directions are simple and clear; and the food looks delicious! Some of my favorite recipes include Easy Ice Cream Cake (made with ice cream sandwiches – genius!!), Curried Rice with Shrimp, and Lasagna-Style Baked Ziti. I can’t wait to try the recipes in this book!!

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The seasons. My sister shared the frightening image above with me this week, and if it’s correct, winter is going to be back with a vengeance this year. I dread almost everything about winter – the cold, the darkness, the ice – but I still love the change of seasons. I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for a little over a year, and I really missed the changing seasons. Having lived in the Northeast virtually all of my life, seasonal change is inextricably linked with the passage of time for me. In the Bay Area, everything always looked pretty much the same – no autumn leaves, no glistening snow, no return to life in the spring. So while you’ll hear me complaining about winter from November through March, I know couldn’t live without it.

What are some of your favorites today?

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What’s Up Friday

Happy Friday!! It’s been a while since I’ve written, so here’s an update on what’s going on with me: (I borrowed and adapted this post’s format from the What’s Up Wednesday posts at Joyfully Prudent.)

What I’m Loving: Summer!!! While the back-to-school sales are proliferating, and mums and pumpkin spice coffee are starting to pop up at local stores, I’m still in complete summer-vacation-mode. Winters are long and cold here, so I look forward to the warmth, color, light, and life of summer for far, too long to wish away a nanosecond of summer.

What I’ve Been Up To: In addition to prepping and packing for our upcoming vacation – and tidying the house since my in-laws will be cat-sitting while we’re gone – I’ve been shuttling my daughter to and from theater camp this week. I also met a friend for lunch, took my car in for service, and ran some other errands.

Whats We’re Eating: We’re headed to Maine for vacation on Sunday, so I’m trying to use up as much of the stuff in our fridge, as possible. So far this week, we’ve had pasta with grilled squash from my garden, BLTs, stuffed peppers with couscous, and pork chops with green beans, for dinners. Tonight I’m planning to make chicken satay for the first time, with jasmine rice and broccoli. That should clear out all of the veggies and proteins in the fridge, so I think take-out is likely on Saturday…

What I’m Reminiscing About: I’m not sure why, but this week I’ve been thinking a lot about my sweet cat, Tony, who died in January. He was a complete mush, and truly a special guy. I adopted him and his sister, Sophie, when I moved to California in 2000. Sophie is 16, and still hanging in there with me, but I miss my buddy, Tony.

What I’m Dreading: The end of summer. Also, I’m a little concerned about how the seven-hour drive to Maine is going to go…

What I’m Excited About: Eating lots of amazing seafood in Maine. I cook seafood on a somewhat-regular basis, but usually stick with swordfish, salmon, and shrimp. In Maine, I plan to stuff my face with fried clams, lobster rolls, scallops, and other forms of seafood. I. Can’t. Wait.

What I’m Reading: I just finished reading, Before We Visit the Goddess, which I really enjoyed. I’ve been really happy with all of the books I’ve read so far from my summer reading list. In addition to a stack of recent issues of The New Yorker, I’m bringing, The New Countess, on vacation with me.

What I’m Listening To: I’m a podcast junkie. I listen to several NPR podcasts (Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, Codeswitch, etc.), Sorta Awesome (which has been on hiatus and I really miss), The New Yorker: Politics and More, and a couple of personal finance podcasts, including Listen Money Matters, and Afford Anything. When I’m alone and doing things around the house, I’m almost always listening to one of these podcasts.

What I’m Doing This Weekend: Finishing packing on Saturday, going to bed early, and getting up at the crack of dawn on Sunday to leave for Maine.

What I’m Planning for Next Month: September is always busy for our family. I return to my part-time job in the career center at Union College, and my daughter returns to school. Extracurricular activities start up again, so we have a new routine to learn. Because I love fresh starts and routines, I actually look forward to September every year – with the exception of the whole summer-ending thing…

What about you? Have you gone on vacation this summer? Are you ready for fall, or still hanging onto every second of summer?

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Week in Review

Happy Friday! The ending of every summer week makes me a little sad, but we have a fun weekend to look forward to. We have good friends coming for a visit tomorrow, and a ladies’ get-together with a couple of my daughter’s friends and their moms, on Sunday.

Here are some highlights from this week:

  1. The deck is finished! Our big house project of the summer is complete, and our new deck is in place. My husband quickly pulled the deck furniture out, so we’re ready to enjoy it.
  2. Summer is not over!! I’ve received several end-of-summer-sale and back-to-school catalogs this week. It’s July, people!! School starts on September 7th in our district. Can we please just enjoy the summer while it’s here??
  3. Swimming lessons are over. My daughter finishes her two weeks of swimming lessons today. For the second year, she took her lessons at Skidmore College, and their program is great for her. There’s a 30-minute lesson, once a day for two weeks in a row. (No weekends.) It’s sort of like swimming boot camp, without the yelling. It really builds her confidence, and her skills improve greatly during the sesson.
  4. Cleaning out the closets. Most of the clothes my daughter outgrows are in good-to-excellent condition, so I try to make a little extra cash by selling them. I generally participate in twice-annual consignment sales, but this summer I’ve been dabbling with selling them on eBay, as well as apps like Kidizen and the Styled Child group on Fam. I just started with the latter two, so stayed tuned for results…
  5. Reading! I’ve been working on catching up on old issues of one of my favorite magazines, The New Yorker. This often feels like a losing battle, since it’s a weekly publication, with tons of great, but dense, articles. I’m also reading another book on my summer reading list, Before We Visit the Goddess. I’m only about 30 pages in, but so far, so good.

How was your weekend? What are your weekend plans?

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A Favorite Upstate Place: Lake Placid

One of my favorite places to visit in upstate New York is Lake Placid. My husband, daughter, and I have been making an annual day trip there for several years, and last fall, my husband and I spent a weekend there celebrating our tenth wedding anniversary. A few days ago, we took my parents there for the first time, and they enoyed it, too.

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Just before the start of the boat tour

More than anything else, I absolutely love the gorgeous scenery in the area. We always take a boat cruise on Lake Placid, and enjoy the views of the lovely, shoreline Adirondack “camps”, the protected lands, and the amazing beauty of Whiteface Mountain, as well as some of the other Adirondack high peaks. We also always drive up to the 4,865-foot summit of Whiteface Mountain, and marvel at the amazing views in all directions. (This time, we actually saw the Montreal skyline!)

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On Whiteface, with Lake Placid in the background

The village of Lake Placid has lots of shops and restaurants, as well as a movie theater and other attractions. (And a Starbucks, if you just can’t go without.) Since we’re usually just passing through the village for lunch and some quick window-shopping, I don’t have a lot of favorites to share – with one exception. If you’re looking for a place to celebrate a special occasion, I highly recommend The View at Mirror Lake Inn. My husband and I had our anniversary dinner there, and it was amazing! The restaurant is lovely, the food is beyond delicious, the service is wonderful, and the views are breath-taking. (Oh – I thought of two, additional favorite spots for food: The Scape Cafe (great, vegetarian sandwiches!), and Cake Placid (fantastic crumb cake!).)

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Anniversary drinks at Mirror Lake Inn

We’re not a particularly active family, but for those who are, there are TONS of activities in the Lake Placid-area. There’s hiking, water sports, skiing and snowboarding, biking, rock climbing, and, of course, the annual Iron Man.

If you’re looking for a truly stunning location in upstate New York, with something to do for everyone, Lake Placid will definitely fit the bill.

Have you been to Lake Placid? What’s your favorite thing to do there?

Weekly Recap

Happy weekend! With abundant heat and humidity, the July 4th holiday, and a full week of summer camp, this week felt like the first true week of summer. Here’s a recap of the highlights:

July 4th

As you know, July 4th was on a Monday this year. My husband’s uncle throws a big party at his house in New Jersey every year, and this year it took place on the preceding Saturday, the 2nd. It’s a great chance to catch up with his extended family, and there’s always a huge spread of food. This year was no exception, and even included a whole, roasted pig. (I like pork, but I couldn’t bring myself to eat it with the butchered corpse seeming to stare at me from the carving table. I stuck to burgers.)

The actual July 4th holiday felt kind of strange to me, since my daughter’s camp week started on Monday. As a result, we skipped the parade and other festivities in downtown Saratoga. Instead, my husband and I spent the day doing chores around the house. I did some cleaning – okay, and some reading – while my husband worked on dismantling our deck, which is being replaced next week. We finished the day with some delicious grilled fish at home.

Summer Reading Update

I finished reading Long Live the King while we were in New Jersey, and started reading The Nest. Long Live the King was pretty good, but I’m absolutely loving The Nest! I rarely read very new fiction, but I’m so glad I did this time. This book is about a group of dysfunctional siblings, who were planning to receive a substantial inheritance, until it was spent cleaning up a big mess made by the oldest brother. The other siblings desperately try to get him to pay them back, since they’ve basically dug themselves into financial holes, in anticipation of getting the inheritance. I plan to finish it this weekend, or early next week.

Summer Camp

Summer camp is a touchy subject in our house. My daughter is an only child, so it’s important for her to have socialization, especially over the summer. Also, camp gives her something to do, to help avoid the summer doldrums. She’s a shy kid, and it takes her a while to get comfortable in new environments, and with unfamiliar people. (This is one of many traits she inherited from me.)

We’ve tried a variety of different camps throughout the years, and she’s had fun at some, and disliked others. But no matter how much fun she has, she tends to insist that she didn’t like the camp in question, and refuse to return the following year. For example, last year she attended a very affordable, half-day camp in our town. It’s a pretty basic camp, with high school and college-age counselors, leading standard camp activities – crafts, games, and the like. Since it ended last year, my daughter has said she didn’t want to return to that camp this year because they “made me play tag.” She steadfastly maintained this resistance, even though almost all of her school friends are attending this camp this summer.

Instead, this year she wanted to attend a theater camp, offered by a great local theater organization, Saratoga Children’s Theater. Each week has a theme, and the activities throughout the week all relate to the theme. At the end of the week, the campers put on a show for parents. Last week’s theme was Frozen, so we were deluged with snowflake and snowman crafts, and got to see her sing several songs from the movie at yesterday’s show. It was adorable, and I’m pleased to share that I managed to get through the show without crying. (An unusual feat for this weeper, indeed!) Best of all, she seemed to have a great time at this camp! She’s returning for two additional weeks, later in the summer.

Sneak Peek at Next Week

Starting on Monday, our deck is being replaced. I’m overjoyed about this, since reading, sitting, and eating on our deck is something I love doing in the warmer months. We’ve known for a while that it needed to be replaced, so my husband started dismantling it early in the spring. This means it’s been out-of-commission all season, and I’ve really missed it. After gathering quotes from several contractors, we’ve finally selected someone to do the work, ordered the materials, and scheduled the work to begin!

How was your week? Did you do anything special for July 4th? Are you planning any big home projects for this summer?

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The Trouble With Track Season

Signs at the Saratoga Springs city lines read, “Health History Horses.” Sure there was a pretty significant Revolutionary War battle here, and yes, the mineral-rich springs and spas have been enjoyed for centuries, but Saratoga is probably best known for its horse-racing track season.

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Every summer, Saratoga Springs hosts a seven-week meet, culminating with the Travers Stakes. Pretty much everything about the city changes during track season: The population swells, hotel and restaurant prices spike, parking becomes scarce, and everything becomes a lot more crowded. Can you tell how I feel about track season?

It’s undeniable that the people and businesses of Saratoga and the greater Capital Region benefit tremendously from the revenues generated during track season. The hotels and restaurants are jam-packed, area employment opportunities increase dramatically, and individual homeowners can earn enough money to cover their annual property taxes – and sometimes more! – by renting out their homes to visitors. According to a 2015 report from the Saratoga County Industrial Development Agency, the summer season at the track generates $237 million and nearly 2,600 jobs throughout the Capital Region. Who am I to complain about that??

While I don’t dispute the many ways in which Saratoga Springs and the area benefit from track season, as a local resident, track season is my absolute least-favorite time of the year to be in Saratoga. It probably doesn’t help that I don’t enjoy attending the races at the track, or even horse-racing, in general. In the eight years that I’ve lived in the area, I’ve attended exactly one day of races at the track! It was hot and crowded, I don’t enjoy gambling, and while the (quick) races themselves are exciting, the approximately 30-minute wait-times in between the races are an absolute snoozefest.

The town that I love becomes so packed with people during track season, everything takes longer and becomes more complicated. Want to go out for a spontaneous, restaurant dinner? Good luck getting seated in under an hour. Meeting a friend for lunch? Leave an extra half hour for searching for a parking space. Love sitting quietly in Congress Park and enjoying the peace? Come back in mid-September.

For many good reasons, track season is here to stay in Saratoga. But on Travers Day 2016, you’ll find me hunkered down at home, and counting down the number of days until life returns to normal.

How many times have you been to the horse races in Saratoga?

Where Exactly IS Upstate New York??

I identify as a resident of “upstate New York”, but what exactly does that mean?? There are many different views on what comprises upstate New York, and where its boundaries lie. Having lived in New York City (definitely NOT upstate), about 60 miles north of New York City (upstate to anyone in NYC), and now in the Capital Region (undeniably upstate), I’m comfortable with this definition from Wikipedia:

“The region includes most of the state of New York, excluding New York City and its environs, as well as Long Island, though the precise boundary is debated. Upstate New York includes the major cities of BuffaloRochester, Albany, and Syracuse.”

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(If you’re particularly interested in this topic and would like to read what some other people think about it, there have recently been articles on it in the Gothamist, The Washington Post, and The New York Times.)

To me, one crosses into upstate New York around the southern border of Dutchess County, or the northern border of Orange County, as you head north along the Hudson River. I feel this way less because of geography, and more because the vibe of these places starts to feel very different from the “downstate” vibe. For starters, very few residents of these areas commute into New York City for work, whereas quite a few people in the areas south of them do. Upstate feels much more outdoorsy to me, and much less urban. (And I don’t just mean the land, but also the lifestyle.) I won’t say much on this difference I’ve noticed, but – and I realize this statement is something of a generalization – the overall political leanings of many residents seem to be different in upstate New York. (When my husband and I moved upstate in 2008, we went for a drive and passed a white bedsheet hanging from two trees in someone’s front yard, with, “Go Home Foreigners”, painted on it. While I don’t think this is reflective of how MANY upstate residents feel, it’s certainly not something one would see in the five boroughs of New York City.)

And then there was the comment from one of my husband’s former coworkers in NYC, as he organized a going-away party, just before our move upstate: “Let’s toast Pete and his move to Canada!”

For a more (or less) scientific definition of how one knows if they’re from upstate New York, check out this fun list of 49 Things People from Upstate New York Love. (Yep on Stewart’s ice cream, apple picking, SPAC, and arguing about where upstate New York starts, for me!)

Where does upstate New York start to you? What’s you favorite thing from upstate New York?