Monday, September 28, 2009

Cruising the Champlain Canal in the rain

A couple of weeks ago, I was the high bidder at a silent auction fundraiser and got two tickets for a tour boat ride on the Champlain Canal. Yesterday, despite a steady drizzle, we drove to Schuylerville and spent an interesting hour and a half on the M/V Sadie piloted with relaxed skill and charm by Captain Foster. (This photo, taken before our ride, is of an earlier, smaller generation of the canal.)Champlain Canal Tours have two boats but due to the damp day, only six of us wanted to go out so we took the smaller Sadie, which looks a bit like the African Queen.
First, we headed south, down through lock C5. This took us from the canal into the Hudson River. Here, we are approaching the lock from the north. To the side, our captain pointed out the little one hundred year old boat, a buoy tender, which is still used for repair work on the canal.

Here, we are entering the lock.

In the lock, Captain Foster, formerly a Boston Harbor tugboat captain, explains how the lock works and adds some good historical details. He reminds me so much of my Maine coast raised grandfather and father and his raconteur brothers that it almost hurts: the New England accent, the easy comfort around boats and machinery...
Here, Captain Foster uses a homemade hook to keep the little boat from bouncing around in the lock as the water empties out into the Hudson below. Lock C5, our guide tells us, is the deepest in the Champlain Canal.
Here we cruise out onto the Hudson and head down river for a bit. Even in the rain, there is beauty in the gray afternoon light...

We cruise around Schuyler Island and head back up river.

Some leaves are beginning to turn...

Here, we approach the lock again, this time from the south, and wave to some hearty folks out fishing despite the rain.

Entering the lock from the low end...

Once the doors close, water begins to bubble dramatically as the lock fills to raise us up.
As we leave the lock...
a Canadian sailboat waits to enter it, heading south.We continue north to see the falls that the lock was built to get boats around. There are stone pilings and cables with buoys to help boats avoid going over the falls accidentally.
We see the remains of an old railroad crossing....
and more early fall foliage in the mist.

After our cruise, we headed back home to have a supper of steaming, spicy chili, cooked in my old dutch oven. It hit the spot.

Click on photos. Most will enlarge. I do not know why some will not. (Sigh.)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Last Days of Chez Sophie

It's the end of an era. Chez Sophie has been a popular restaurant for special occasion dining in Saratoga for a good many years, but it will close forever on September 30. Our friend Lou drove out from Rochester to catch the final Saturday night. We joined him and ate very well. Both Lou and the HH* are former Daily Gazette (Schenectady, NY) employees and they knew Cheryl Clark when she, too, worked there. Cheryl married Paul Parker, son of Sophie, and for the last several years they have been running the restaurant. But the strain on the two parents managing a busy restaurant in a tough economy while raising two little ones prompted them to think about making some changes. So they are heading to France to live and Chez Sophie will soon be no more.

Cheryl wrote: This fall we are moving with Nico and Léo to a glorious vineyard in the south of France. We will be working as a family to market and present the property as a vacation destination (complete with a cooking seminars with Chef Paul) and helping to restore a medieval castle on the site. We'll serve guests meals from local produce cooked over olive wood and grapevines in an eight-foot wide fireplace under the vaulted stone ceiling of a 15th century farmhouse.

We wish them bonne chance and bon voyage.

Pictured here left to right: Bob Conner (PlanetAlbany), Cheryl Clark of Chez Sophie, and Lou Rappaport, retired Gazetteer.

* HH = Handsome Husband

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Manhattan Transfer and the Lovely Luawana Ladies

When my older sisters were around ten and twelve (they are now, cough, in their sixties) they saw a Cecil B. DeMille movie called The Greatest Show on Earth. This film about a circus featured many stars of the time including Dorothy Lamour in a sarong singing Lovely Luawana Lady
as she did a sort of hula. My mother somehow got the sheet music for this song and it eventually became part of our family lore. As adults, my sisters and I would sing the song and do the hula whenever we got together and could use this "act" to appall or embarrass our children. I believe that my own children feel that it is time to put this routine to rest for good.

The HH*, knowing that I have long been a fan of The Manhattan Transfer, kindly bought (fairly expensive) tickets for us to see them perform last night at The Egg in Albany, NY. The singing got better as the evening went on. But during the first two or three songs, I felt like my children watching another family reunion performance by their mother and aunts as Lovely Luawana Ladies. I was at first appalled, then embarrassed that it was because of me that we were at this show. I do not wish to be unkind or thought of as ageist, but these folks need to either retire or rethink their act. Ladies of a certain age cannot pull off the same shimmies and wiggles that looked good forty years ago. And the men: between them, an odd-looking toupee, Sansabelt slacks overhung by a paunch, and voices that couldn't quite do what they once could.

Is it a crime to be older and broader than you once were? Lord, I hope not, because I can certainly be described that way. But at least the act and the clothes need to reflect what is now and not what once was.

Last night's show was far from a sell-out and I fear that if The Manhattan Transfer come around this way again, the audience will likely be even thinner. You hate to be discouraging to folks who are trying to keep on keepin' on, but I think it's time for them to rest on their laurels and go spend some quality time with the grandchildren.

*HH = Handsome Husband

Sunday, September 20, 2009

I almost can't bear it.

Gold Star father John McKenna, pictured here with Kay Moody, Blue Star Mother extraordinaire, spoke at our monthly Blue Star Mothers meeting today. Mr. McKenna lost his handsome son three years ago in Iraq. Captain John McKenna IV was on his third tour of duty when he was shot while trying to go to the aid of a fellow Marine, Lance Corporal Michael D. Glover.
The father, John McKenna III, has started a foundation in memory of these two Marines and his latest effort is to establish a military courtesy room at Albany Airport. Albany Airport is too small for USO to serve, but plenty of service men and women come and go through here. Occasionally, soldiers on their way to Fort Drum in the northern Adirondacks get stranded by weather delays. Sometimes young and inexperienced, they may not have the money to book a motel room. Mr. McKenna says that the local sheriffs (there are always some on duty at the airport) will pool their money and get a room for a wayward soldier.
The new courtesy room will be well-stocked and staffed with volunteers so that traveling service men and women can have a quiet place to snooze, something to eat, and a phone to call home. What a terrific idea.
Mr. McKenna will need some donations: recliners (a bunch of those) a microwave, a TV or two, some video games... Please contact him if you can help. Thank you.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Gardening with the Simpsons (Doh!)

Marge Simpson used to subscribe to a magazine called Better Homes Than Yours. This came to mind today as the HH* and I were doing some yard work. We planted a couple of shrubs, lopped off some errant limbs, and generally tried to tidy things up.
Good gardeners no doubt have some lovely things going on in their yards at this time of year but weeds and slug-eaten hostas seem to be the theme around here right now.

Still, there are some things in bloom here and there and I think that if I had been more conscientious about pruning and weeding a little earlier, I might have more to enjoy.

I resolve to do better next year. For now, I will keep weeding and dividing.
A tip I picked up somewhere: I now use inexpensive plastic knives in a variety of colors to mark where I have stuck in some small transplant. By next spring, I will not remember what I have tucked in where, and these markers tell me the (approximate) color and the location of the things I do not wish to accidentally yank out again.

* HH = Handsome Husband
Click on photos to enlarge.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A military mom's week

A military-intensive week, it's been for me:

I am somewhere in the process of being appointed by the local Blue Star Mothers to be a deputy representative for the Veterans Administration Voluntary Services.   On Tuesday, I attended my first meeting at the Stratton VA Medical Center in Albany, NY.  I have lots to learn, but here are some of my first impressions:
  • The Stratton VA hospital is a very busy place. Parking is impossible.
  • There are lots of good folks working and volunteering there.

As the mother of a young woman currently serving in the army, I was especially interested to learn the the VA hospital is in the process of significantly adding to their services for females. There hasn't been much need before, but with the increase in females serving in the military (I have read in various places that women are now 20% of those on active military duty) the VA is having to play catch-up. Stratton is adding a Women's Wellness Center. Previously, they had no doctor on staff trained to do primary care for women. So, they are conducting "mini-residencies" for their primary care doctors and are trying to hire a half-time GYN specialist. Stratton didn't even own any pajamas or robes for women, but I understand those are on order, along with the equipment to do mammograms and DEXA scans...

If you live anywhere near a VA hospital, call their volunteer director and ask how you can help. Whether you want to cheer a lonely patient or just donate a $20 CD player, there is something that needs doing at nearly any level you're comfortable with. Please consider it.

Last night, I joined ten or so other Blue Star Mothers to help pack 70 boxes and prepare them to be shipped to deployed military service men and women.
After hand-writing about half of the 70 customs labels that needed to be prepared, I got grumpy about the fact that we must use these forms at all! How unfriendly the process is to groups like ours. Why should customs forms be required to send packages to US troops via US military planes to US bases?
Grrrrr!!! But here are the finished boxes, many now on their way to the 10th Mountain soldiers from Fort Drum we've adopted. I hope they enjoy a little taste of home.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Swilling Brewskis in Ballston Spa (for a good cause)

The Handsome Husband and I headed over to the Brookside Museum  in Ballston Spa Saturday night for their annual Oktoberfest fundraiser. (Hey, it was a civic duty, okay?) 
The crowd was cheerful and the food provided by Rolf’s Pork Store of Albany was good and hearty, if not exactly a veggie lovers dream.

We enjoyed our serendipititous table companions, two pleasant couples with a teacher spouse each.
Lively German music was provided by this fellow, who did a great job looking and sounding the part...
The museum was hoping to raise $10,000 last night for education programs.  This is a tough time for charities and non-profits and Brookside was showing some signs of this. As we strolled about the grounds, HH pointed out that this beautiful old building desperately needs a coat of paint. I hope somebody will come to the rescue for that project.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Freedom Walk and Dating Tips

Last night, the Handsome Husband and I attended a memorial event in honor of those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001. The Capital Region Blue Star Mothers group I belong to was sponsoring the Freedom Walk at The Crossings in Colonie, NY. Despite a drizzle, there was a respectable turnout and the guest speakers moved me with their tales of volunteering at Ground Zero and serving in the armed forces.
America Supports You Freedom Walks  take place in many communities around the country.

On a lighter note: After last night's event, a little tired, cold and hungry, the HH and I stopped at Milano in Latham, a restaurant we've been to before. Last night, we were seated next to a 40-something couple, apparantly on a first date. This has happened to us before at this restaurant. I guess it's popular with the slightly older back-in-the-game crowd. I tried not to listen to this dating couple, not just to be polite, but also because the conversation was extremely boring. However, the tables in this restaurant are very close so it's almost impossible not to hear what is being said by one's neighbors. 

My husband and I came away from the evening with slightly different takes on what we'd overheard.
HH said something like: I don't care what anyone says, being married is never half as boring as that conversation was.  (A left-handed compliment if I've ever heard one, thank you!)

As for me, I had to restrain myself when the attractive lady at the next table excused herself to go to the restroom. I was dying to lean over and advise the nice-looking man and would-be suitor: The word "amortization" never belongs in a first date dinner conversation.

I guess HH and I can claim some expertise on these matters. Our 25th wedding anniversary is coming up this Tuesday, September 15.  I hope we make it another twenty-five years. That Milano dating vignette made me shudder...

Click on photos to enlarge.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Bee Balm Gal has been enjoying the remains of the summer with family and getting SchoolTool and Smartboard trained for the new school year. Late August and early September always have something of a bittersweet flavor to them. It's the certain knowledge that the warm weather and relaxed schedule won't last forever.

As the mother of a deployed soldier, I can't decide whether to follow the news from Afghanistan more closely or try to ignore it altogether.  What I do read is not very reassuring.

On the other side of the Adirondacks from us is Fort Drum, home to the 10th Mountain Division Light Infantry. The news from there continues to be somber. Since my last post, two more soldiers have been lost in Afghanistan.
The photo on the left, from the Fort Drum website, is of Cpl. Darby T. Morin, of Victoria, Canada.  Cpl. Morin died of injuries sustained during a vehicle roll-over on Aug. 22 in Logar province, Afghanistan. He leaves a wife and two sons. Cpl. Morin was 25.

This photo, on the right, is of Spc. Abraham S. Wheeler III, of Columbia, SC. 
Spc. Wheeler was killed when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle on Aug. 28 in Logar province, Afghanistan.
Spc. Wheeler is survived by his father and brother. Spc. Wheeler was 22.

I look at these photos and think: Too young, too handsome, too soon to be gone.

My sincere sympathy to the families of  Cpl. Morin and Spc. Wheeler. I honor the service of these men. May they rest in peace.