Thursday, November 22, 2007

Turkeys, Puppies & Best Friends

As I lay here on my couch, snuggled up with my fuzzy, black friend, watching the parade, I'm thinking about all that's occurred over the past year and where I'm headed. I tell you one thing, I certainly hope I'm sitting on my couch watching the parade in my own home next year. Couple more days, and I should know if my offer's been accepted.

And I think about where I was last year and that there were three of us snuggled up together then. I miss that, but I'm glad I got to experience it and remember all the times I got to spend with my best friend. Maybe I'll have something like that again someday, but for today, this is all I need.

And today, I'm offering a Happy Thanksgiving to anyone who might happen across my humble ramblings.

Maybe I'll see you at the movies later.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Hike Up Hadley

Ain't he cute?

He's just itching to get off that rock.

So, I woke up with the ambitious notion of hiking up Hadley Mountain, this morning. I'd promised Shadow I'd take him on a real hike, as opposed to the "meandering through the woods" variety we'd been doing lately. (The trick is to take no one with you, as most human hiking buddies steer clear of inclines of any degree.) I'd hiked Hadley before, and liked the idea of an actual destination: the firetower. (Although, I've recently started trying to pay more attention to the journey, too.) And I knew we'd each get a decent workout.

I got to sleep late last night and was unusually tired all day yesterday, so I didn't have high hopes for a very motivated Saturday morning. But I woke up especially excited about a decent hike to a real place on a cool, authentically "Autumn" day.

I got all layered up in my EMS and L.L. Bean garb (and various rip-offs), hiking boots, backpack, and accessories, mostly dog-related, and headed out in the Jeep. (Okay, yes; I realize the image here, but I assure you it's completely accurate.)

Hadley Mountain is listed on those "local hikes" sites as a moderate hike. They must have averaged the "up" and "back" difficulty levels to come up with that estimation. Because, while "down" is relatively quick and lacking in the whole "against gravity" thing, "up" is quite a different matter. (I'm beginning to understand the allure of the typical "human hiking buddy" perspective.) Once I stopped to stretch, once to pee (takes on a whole, new level of complication when accompanied on your hike by an energetic lab mix with a bit of separation anxiety), and once to try out the firmness rating on a particularly comfy-looking slab of gray rock.

But we eventually made it to the top where Shadow surprised the hell out of me by going immediately to the firetower steps and climbing. This is a dog with a fierce dislike for having less than four feet on the ground at the same time and skulks across those Adirondack wooden bridges with barely any light shining between his belly and the floor boards for the entire span. After agreeing to take a picture of three guys sharing a beer, with two different cameras, of course, I followed Shadow up the tower. Really, I have no idea what got into him, but he was hell-bent on reaching the top. Halfway up, it was me who forced us back down. It was really windy, and I wasn't relishing the thought of my less-than-fifty-pound dog wafting over the edge in a strong gust. So, maybe next time, Shadow. Sorry.

I took a few shots of Shadow at the top, but the light was behind him and he's really just a lean, good-looking, silhouette on a mountain. It was really too cold and windy at the top to stick around for long. And my six-and-a-half-year-old canine hiking buddy has this thing about standing around in one place for more than the time it takes to sniff something. So, relaxing at the top, flat on your back and staring at the blue sky or hovering over a rust and yellow valley with a meandering river for the length of time it would take to fully appreciate and take in such a thing, is strictly prohibited. Unless you're one of those few who can completely tune out someone else's incessant pacing, whining, and nose-nudging, while falling into one of those deep, Zen-like meditation states, it's best just to keep walking.

The way down, which was thankfully shorter than the way up, was exceedingly more painful. Some day, I'll find a pair of hiking boots that don't hurt my feet, and truly enjoy the rambling scramble of a scoot down the gravelly slope. Today, though, I actually made my knees angry with me. You see, much of the trail is flat, smooth rock. Today, those rocks were covered with slimy, wet leaves. This meant taking lots of short, stiff little steps to avoid sledding down the full height on my ass. By the time we were two-thirds down, I was seriously thinking of just camping out there for the night. How Shadow manages to plant four separate feet on the ground in rapid succession without even paying any real attention, and not twist an ankle, is beyond me. (He did take a little spill on one of those slippery rocks, though. It was quite comical, and I think he was a little mad eat me for a minute for laughing. But then I took one, too, and I swear I heard him chuckle as he trotted confidently by me.)

Well, it's late and I've got a tired puppy with his soft, warm, and snoring, nose laying on my lap. Enjoy the pictures.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Biking to Thacher Park

Here's a shot of me after biking up to Thacher Park a few weeks ago. I'd like to do it again before the weather gets too cold.

Chocolate Bubbles

Laying in a bubble bath last night... candles flickering... incense filling up the room with vanilla and my Global Meditation CD playing in the background. Very relaxing. We'd been checking out open houses most of the afternoon, me and a friend. Oh, and Shadow, of course. It was a good opportunity for some "getting in and out of the Jeep" practice. After accidentally closing the door on his tail a few weeks ago (poor guy yelped, and I felt awful enough for several hours afterward to take him out for ice cream), I've been working with him (and nearly a box of dog cookies) to help him get over his skittishness about getting back in the Jeep. This happened once before, and it took him some time to get over it. But get over it, he will.

I've been looking mostly in the Delmar area, 'cause I'd really like to be somewhere within walking distance of stuff. It'd be great to walk to the supermarket and the library. Or take an early Sunday morning walk to get coffee and a biscotti for Shadow. So, that's been where I've been concentrating. It's pricey, though, and the taxes are high. But once in a while, something interesting pops up in my price range. So, I keep looking.

Afterward, we all went to this little lake where they used to rent boats and canoes, but now rent out a pavillion instead. It means it's sometimes pretty noisy, but it's one of Shadow's favorite places to go, so I do. I usually bring a book and let him splash around in the lake, but this time we had company and took turns throwing Shadow the ball to retrieve. I just can't throw it far enough for him, though. If one of us could throw it to the other side, and I don't even know how far that really is, he'd go after it. Sometimes, I call him back just because I'm afraid he'll reach his limit out there in the middle, and I'd be forced to jump in after him.

Eventually, he did reach his limit. Thankfully, he was onshore at the time, so we all headed back to the Jeep and went through the "get the cookie" procedure. Used to be, he'd be in the Jeep before I was even ready to leave, but I suppose I can understand his hesitancy, despite not having a tail myself. I can imagine.

Spent some time at Starbucks, just talking, and feeding Shadow his biscotti. Went through all his usual tricks and walked around window shopping for a while. It was an amazing day and it felt good to spend most of it outside. I love fall, and like to enjoy as much as I can before the typical Albany winter rolls in, which could happen at any moment. One minute, you're wearing shorts and dozing in a lounge chair, and then you're pulling on your boots and shoveling your walkway. It happens so fast, sometimes I worry I'll forget to change out of my shorts before I start shoveling.

After Starbucks, we headed back, got some sushi and ate watching The Lives of Others, about a member of the German secret police who's assigned the task of spying on a writer and his actress girlfriend, but soon becomes obsessed with them. Given his own, empty existence, it's not surprising that he finds more satisfaction living vicariously through them, but he eventually redeems himself by risking himself to save the artist. It was a good movie, and I especially like Sebastian Koch, who was also in Black Book, which I really liked a lot.

I took a few minutes to drop off Shadow (joint custody... long story) and came back to a nice, hot cup of Chai tea and a steamy bathtub full of chocolate bubbles waiting for me, which is where this started. I got these various chocolate bubble bath products a couple of years ago and decided to try the chocolate vanilla. Once, a long time ago when I still lived at home, my mom had changed to a new shampoo, which was scented Strawberries 'n Cream. And as I wandered into the bathroom while she showered, she called me over to check and tell her if the bubbles were pink. I had to laugh, as she'd always used Prell before and never once did we ever have green bubbles. I'm happy to say, though, that chocolate vanilla bubblebath does not produce brown bath bubbles.

I lay there sinking further and further into the sizzling sound of all those thousands of bubbles around my face, reveling in the fact that Jellybean wasn't screaming for me, as this wasn't my place. It's nice, sometimes, to just kick back and relax somewhere else, kind of like being in a hotel room, where you don't have to think about what needs to be cleaned or whether you left laundry in the washer. And I had that carefree feeling laying there in the tub in a home that isn't mine, just thinking about the day, and the highs and the lows (one of which will, no doubt, be getting out of this bath tub) and where I'm going and who might be going with me.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


So, like I was saying, half-way down the road and the sky opens up -- big, sloppy dollops of cold rain splattering all over us. I pulled over quickly, scrambling to a skid in someone's gravel driveway, put it in neutral, yanked the brake and jumped out to start putting the roof up. Shadow had no idea what was going on and was jumping around excitedly in the back. Finally got the roof up and decided to forego the windows, as the back was already pretty well soaked and the splatter in from the windows wouldn't even be noticable. And so, we drove home like that, soaked to the skin and really wanting to get out and jump around some deep puddles. I really like sudden summer rainstorms, where it seems to come down all at once and fills the gutters with temporary rivers. On occasion, I'll run outside and stomp around, getting all wet (can't be partially wet, you know... it's just icky) until my hair drips and I feel completely washed by the sky. It's like that "urge to submerge" I start getting around the end of summer, if I haven't been anywhere near the ocean lately. Every once in a while, I have to feel like, and I know this sounds corny, the Earth is enveloping me (in the case of swimming in the ocean) or it's washing itself over me (as in the case of a sudden, summer rainstorm). It's a cleansing experience, I guess.

And it's even better if you're able to do it while running around your backyward stark naked!

Appaloosas and Downpours

I ended up riding just fifteen miles yesterday morning but, as typically happens, there was a highlight, so fifteen was plenty. If I head out from here and go up to Western Avenue and make a left, I follow that for a while till I get to Route 158. Just a little bit in on 158, the road goes through the middle of the Watervliet Reservoir, which doesn't sound like much, but at certain times of day can be absolutely beautiful. Morning is one of those times. So is late afternoon. The sun sparkles on the water and the reeds are high and everything is bright green. I always stop on the bridge, slug some water (fresh, not reservoir), breathe and just take it all in. Then it's usually a long trek to 146 and up the big hill into Altamont, before heading back toward Voorheesville. The Altamont-Voorheesville Road is a spectacle in itself, passing below the Helderberg Escarpment at Thacher Park and past Indian Ladder Farms and the apple orchards. If I can't have ocean every day of the week, the scenery in upstate New York will do for a while.

Yesterday, though, I didn't head into Altamont, but back down Western Avenue and home. Other things to do, you know.

Showered and took Shadow for a walk into Voorheesville. He loves romping around in Vly Creek that goes through the park, and I like sitting under a tree, listening to him bark at the water and watching the huge freight trains go by.

By now, you're probably wondering what the "appaloosas" are all about. Well, I have to admit, there was only one and it played a very small part in my afternoon, but I liked the word "appaloosa" so much, I had to include it in the title.

I'd gotten invited to a "barn party," by someone I'd met a while back at another get together at my friend, Diane's, place. So, I went. And Shadow was invited, too, which is a bonus. The party literally took place in a huge barn out in Feura Bush, which is apparently owned by a local bigwhig in car dealerships around here. But I wasn't much interested in who owned the place. I was more into the scenery. The afternoon was gorgeous, and the setting was idyllic. Shadow had a pond that I couldn't keep him out of, and horses trotted around the large field next to us. I know Shadow's seen horses before, but I'm not sure he's ever been so close to one. He wasn't quite sure how to act, but he definitely wasn't afraid of them. While a bunch of us were leaning on the fence and feeding them carrots, Shadow came trotting over, ducked immediately under the fence and started sniffing around eight big, heavy hooves. Not an ideal situation, so I had to resort to tethering him to a tree with a nice, juicy marrow bone for a while.

Even then, it was difficult to enjoy the horses with Shadow barking every time I ventured near them. I was busy petting their soft, snuffly noses when he noticed I was squandering my affections on another animal and barked until I stopped. He's such a mamma's boy.

One of the horses was a brown something-or-other, but the other was an appaloosa named Bam-Bam. All cocoa brown in the front until just in front of his hips, where he turned white with mottled spots. He was eye-catching. And he loved nose-rubs.

I met lots of people and ate lots of food, focusing mostly on the chili, which was probably the best I've ever had. It was someone's birthday, but I steered clear of the chocolate cake. Don't want to waste those fifteen miles, you know. A couple of guys were playing guitar, and there was talk of a band playing, but I guess not everyone showed up, so that kind of fizzled. I really wish I'd brought a frisbee or something, 'cause I started getting restless. I can sit in a lawn chair and chat for only so long, before I need to get up and get moving around. Eventually, I threw off the sandals, got the ball-throwing thing from my Jeep and threw balls around for Shadow, romping around with him in the grass, until I was usurped by a small group of children. And the bare feet, for some reason, prompted a guy to repeatedly remind me that I was liable to get a sliver if I kept walking around those old barn floor planks like that. (No sliver, thankfully.)

Early evening, the sky turned ugly, and I packed up our stuff, said bye to everyone and started home. Made it about half a mile before things really opened up and started raining all over me, my dog, my backpack and my Jeep.

Gotta go. Have plans. More later.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Morning Ride, Appaloosas, and Downpours

Wrapping up a full and relaxing Saturday, sprawled on my couch with a soft and tired puppy face across my lap, a cup of Chai tea steaming on the ottoman next to me, and a room full of creamy white candles flickering their soft light on my ceiling. Djembe drums and ocean waves nearly lull me to sleep as I write this.

I started the day being woken by that same soft puppy face, not quite so tired at seven-thirty in the morning. Although, in truth, it's not so much the face that wakes me, as it is the tail swishing itself vigorously across the carpet. And the jiggling bed, of course. It's a tough thing to ignore. And who would want to?

After Shadow's breakfast and his morning pee, we returned to bed for Saturday morning puppy-cuddling, complete with belly scratches, ear rubbing and much too much sneezing on his part, for my comfort.

Eventually, I managed to motivate myself out of bed and jump on my bike for an early ride. I've been managing to do twenty or twenty-five miles at least once a week, but I'd like to be able to get out two or three times. For now, once is enough. This morning, I was able to combine exercise with house-hunting, checking out a couple of local new ones on the market. One looks promising, and is worth checking out again later in the week.

For anyone who likes long bike rides, you know that part of the appeal is meandering slowly through places you don't even notice when racing by them in your car, and taking the time to see the world in much sharper detail and at a much more contemplative pace. I had an amazing experience years ago, on a pre-dawn ride through Boston, taking in all the scents and sounds of an intimate city waking up. I can't say this area offers the same experience, but on a bike, there are always small, unexpected treasures.

It's late, and I haven't even gotten to the appaloosas yet. More tomorrow.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Irish Festival (cont'd)

I was gonna go on and on about all the trivial stuff that happened at the Irish Festival, but if you've been to a festival, you know what goes on. There was a little weirdness at the beginning when they wouldn't take my debit card for admission, and I had to get a ride with a nice guy in a little golf cart, to get money from the ATM inside. I felt like a VIP. Well, as much of a VIP as you can feel riding around in a little golf cart with a complete stranger. And I paid the nice guy, who very well could have pocketed my admission money, but I got in so what did I care? Maybe he had himself a nice dinner on my eighteen bucks.

What I really wanted to write about took place later, after we'd been there a few hours. We'd listened to different bands, walked around, checked out the Celtic tapestries and interesting mirrored wall decorations. I saw a sterling silver ring I liked, but they didn't have my size. I discovered Karen and I have similar tastes in a lot of things, so it was fun comparing finds to each other and just sharing the experience of being someplace new.

It was also nice seeing Karen and Gary interacting and each being interested in what they were going to do next. After each band, they'd check out the program and see who else was playing and where. Gary was as excited as Karen to hear someone new, someone they'd never heard before. They'd read the descriptions and decide where to go, who to listen to. You could see they were both into it. I never got the feeling one was dragging the other around or someone was along reluctantly. They were just happy to be doing something together... sharing something together. It struck a chord. And perhaps put me in the introspective mood I inhabited for the rest of the evening.

Later, sitting in one of the big tents waiting for another band, I spent some time just looking around at the crowd. Karen and Gary enjoyed this, too, and the three of us (Cory, being eighteen and not accustomed to sitting still for very long, had taken off on his own in search of yet more food.) sat around for a while watching people, observing and making interesting comments. For about twenty minutes, a group of guys in their late teens stood in front of us while we were sitting and relaxing between bands. One guy had on those big, floppy shorts with all the pockets (I own a pair or two myself... very comfy.). His back pocket was hanging wide open and there was all this woodchip stuff all over the floor of the tent. Well, it was just too tempting for me, so I starting tossing little woodchips in his pocket. I proudly made about three shots out of ten, which isn't bad for a sport I've never practiced. Karen soon joined in, and the two of us sat there filling up this guy's pocket with mulch, speculating on his mother's reaction when she pulls his shorts out of the hamper later on in the week, and giggling like little kids. Others around us noticed, smiled appreciatively and seemed on the verge of joining in. Soon, though, our baggy trousered guy left with his buddies and we were without amusement.

About nine o'clock, a band called Gaelic Storm was doing their sound checks, which was extremely entertaining. Each band member came out and tried their own instrument and tested the microphones. Not content to limit their utterances to the typical, "Check, one, two, three. Check, one. Check, check," they soon ventured into short previews of the humor we'd hear from them once they started playing. Everyone in the crowd was rivited to this band's sound check procedure for the next fifteen minutes. Once they appeared, the actual music was no disappointment.

As opposed to some of the other bands I'd heard that day, who played predominantly modern Irish rock, this band combined traditional Irish instruments and beats with more new age and primitive rhythms. I was mesmerized from the start. I'm a sucker for drums, and this guy was great on the drum set as well as all the hand drums. And most women in the audience had their eyes glued to the bagpiper.

During Swimming in the Sea, I sat with my mouth open, watching them up there just having fun and listening to all the different sounds blending together and watching the crowd watching the band and everyone just singing and swaying and really feeling it, and I began to cry. I do this sometimes. Being in a crowd of people who are losing themselves in music and letting the music get inside me often brings tears to my eyes. I had this experience listening to a gospel choir once, too. There's something about witnessing the sheer enjoyment of others that just brings something up for me. I was euphoric (and hadn't been drinking any of that really bitter liquid the Irish call beer). It was just one of those moments where I feel one with the universe.

Eventually, their set ended and Karen and I immediately made our way over to the CD table. She bought one. I bought one. I've been listening to it ever since, but there's just something about the live experience and sharing that moment with hundreds of other people that a CD can never capture.

Afterward, we went to find Cory to bring him back to the tent. On the way, still feeling very full of everything I'd experienced, I noticed a white trailer, presumably belonging to one of the vendors. It was dark by then and there was a spotlight somewhere that cast precise shadows onto this trailer, of a small group of people standing in front of it. I walked over and started making shadow puppets. And then Karen did, too. And one of the guys in the small group of people joined us, and soon there we all were, a group of people who've never met and may never see each other again, sharing a moment of spontaneous hand puppeting.

I stayed for Hair of the Dog (not particularly impressed) and left about 10:30. It was a good day.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Covered Bridges

Taking a break from the Irish Festival saga to show off a few pics of a little trip to Vermont to see the covered bridges a couple of weeks ago.

Here's the World's Best Dog emerging from yet another weekly visit to a local swimming hole. In this case, semi-local. That person he's walking on the leash... that's me.

He's a handsome guy, ain't he? So photogenic... such presence. Okay, so I'm biased.

I love it when he's having fun.

Is that not the most adorable face you've ever seen?

Okay, so not a lot of exposure of the covered bridges, but hey... they're red, they're covered, they lead from one place to another over some miscellaneous water. You get the idea.