Monday, December 14, 2015

Boogie into Christmas!

My friend, Peggy, grabbed the arm of my chair and rolled her eyes.  I tried not to giggle.  This was the most unusual piano recital I had ever attended, but at least now I understood how she and I fit into this mixed-up group.

A few weeks before, Peggy and I were practicing Christmas violin duets to play for my parents, our third duet concert for them this year, when she said, with some hesitancy, "A friend of mine asked me if we could play our duets at her students' piano recital at the Beverwyck Senior Community."  Middle-aged women playing violin duets at a student piano recital?

"My friend, Shirley, is 99 years old," Peggy explained, "and she still teaches piano.  She thought we could add some variety to the program."  A 99 year old, still teaching?

I couldn't refuse.  If anything, I owed Peggy, since she is so generous, sharing music with my parents.  Still, I was baffled by what seemed like an incongruous concert.

We pared our Christmas repertoire of seven melodies down to four for the recital.  Our "interlude" was to last only 5 to 7 minutes.  We timed ourselves and would play "Silent Night" twice through, "Coventry Carol," "Simple Gifts," and "Jingle Bells Boogie," each once.

We both arrived appropriately early for the event, so Peggy pointed out various people to me. Shirley, who sat with her cane, held court.  Peggy went to speak to her, and I followed, thinking I would introduce myself.  I never got the chance. Shirley was surrounded.

Shirley's granddaughter, an attractive woman of about 40, seemed to be keeping track of the time and protocol.  Her young son, would play a violin piece at his great-grandmother's student concert.  Inclusion of a violin student, even with his family connection, was an additional clue that this was not a typical piano recital.

The recital began and piano students began to play.  All of their pieces were memorized, and they showed recital nerves, making occasional mistakes, but getting back on track a few measures later.  The audience, a mix of young parents, grandparents, and community residents, applauded for each student enthusiastically.

When the great-grandson stood up, violin in hand, a woman, who had been introduced earlier as hostess of the event as a resident of Beverwyck, sat down at the piano to accompany him.  The young boy played with confidence, but the accompanist could not stay with him.  She dropped out totally, coming back in at the wrong place, while the little violinist ran sixteenth notes up and down the violin's fingerboard.

When the piece ended, the accompanist apologized to the audience for not having had a chance to practice with the student.  She said that she hoped to do better on the second piece.  We hoped so too, but she did not.  It was worse.  By now, we wished the student were playing unaccompanied.  He plowed on. Peggy and I winced in pain.  I noticed that the student's parent had stopped recording the performance.

In the meantime, half a dozen adults and children opened the door quietly and came into the room.  They shuffled to the back near us, their feet inches from our open violin cases.  We both winced.  Chairs were brought in, even as students played.  We watched the feet of the newcomers and held our breath.

As the students played, I thought about our upcoming rendition of "Silent Night."  The song's real beauty, besides the melody and words, is its simplicity.  I began to think that this was not a good first piece for us.  I need a verse or two to relax when playing in front of people. "Silent Night" required a smooth gentle tone.  I worried that I might be a little shaky at first--too late to think about changing the order of our pieces now. They were printed right on the piano recital program.

And then the Beverwyck resident pianist returned.  She announced that she would play seven of the thirteen "Scenes from Childhood" written by Robert Schumann, and that she would describe each piece as she went along.  This is when Peggy gripped my chair. Whose recital was this anyway?  Everyone's, apparently!  The pieces and commentary dragged on.  Despite all, I suspected that the pianist may have been a very good soloist n her prime.

At long last, it was our turn.  I set up our stand and chairs, while Peggy gave a brief history of how we came to play together, having known one another most of our lives.

"Silent Night" went okay, not stellar, but passable.  "Simple gifts" was fun and lively. At "Coventry Carol," I confirmed with Peggy quietly, "Just once through?" She nodded yes, and we began.

The piece sounded good, in tune, but not quite right. We had determined weeks before that we would take turns playing melody or harmony and "Coventry Carol" required harmony from me. I forgot to drop down to the harmony, and we were both playing in a pure melodic unison, giving the piece a sort of angelic sound, but not what we had rehearsed.  When I eventually added the harmony, the music sounded so much more beautiful, that I wished we could play the piece twice.

Our final piece, "Jingle Bells Boogie," is pure fun.  Beginning with a swing harmony rhythm, the melody comes in with double stops, loud and lively, me playing melody this time.  To my surprise, Peggy began the opening rhythm twice as fast as we had previously practiced it. Fast is fun, and the piece is easy.  If she could keep the pace, I could too.

That horse raced with the open sleigh, zipping over the fields, and it was fun "to laugh and sing!"  At the end, we got a good round of applause.  One man called out, "Thanks, ladies!"  This concert had needed a bit of comic relief.

One student played after us, and then it was over.  I looked at my watch.  It had been a long concert.  What!?  We had only been here an hour?  Peggy spoke to a few people as she headed for the door.  This gave me just enough time to down two chocolate chip cookies from the refreshment table.

When we were in the parking lot, I laughed and said, "I couldn't believe the tempo you took for 'Jingle Bells!'  We flew through it!"  She looked nonchalant. "Oh," she said, "I didn't really think about it." And then she added, with a slight smile, "Anyway, it was time to be done."  It was, definitely.

In a few days, we are scheduled to play a morning duet performance for my parents in their Saratoga home.   "Silent Night" will be smoother, "Coventry Carol" will have proper harmony, and the horse in "Jingle Bells Boogie" can run as fast as he likes.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Albany County Rail Trail

My friend, Claudia, introduced me to the newly paved section of the Albany County Rail Trail.  She said, "We need to walk it first, so that you can see all the interesting sections more slowly than you would on a bike."  Generally, walking a bike path is pretty deadly, but Claudia and I were long overdue for a visit, so I was glad to meet her in Delmar.  The path was, indeed, interesting, so, the following Saturday, I suggested to Bill that he and I ride it.

This rail trail has been in the works for a number of years.  It will eventually be paved for nine miles, from Albany to Voorheesville, a rural hill-town in Albany County.  For commuters along the way, the trail will offer an entirely new and safe way to ride a bike to work.  And for the rest of us, it will provide one more pleasant biking experience in the Capital Region.

(finding a starting point on the partially paved trail can be tricky)

Thanks to my first visit with Claudia, I was able to find the starting location for Bill and me. Just off of Elsmere Avenue in Delmar, we parked the car behind the VFW building.  Construction equipment left for the weekend gave us hope that continued progress is being made on the trail daily.

From here we had three miles of pavement, a bit short for a Saturday ride, at only six miles round trip, but enough on a cold blustery Halloween day.

(This section begins in a residential section of Delmar.)

Rail trails offer the casual biker a fairly flat ride.  My sister, a rail trail afficionado, has told me that trains in the old days could only run at a maximum 3% grade, which accounts for modern rail trails having very gradual ups and downs.  Heading north, as we were, the trail has a slight descent, not enough to make us concerned about the uphill return.

(Once past the houses, the trail passes through woodlands.)

With the foliage off most of the trees, we could see into ravines on either side, where the terrain became more rugged.  In the spring, early wildflowers likely grace the trail's edge.

(A tributary below flows into the Normanskill Creek and on to the Hudson River.)

Before long, we reached a bridge over the Normanskill Creek, which flowed calm and placid beneath, in a dull green-gray color. No migrating water birds could be seen, but I imagined that they landed here often during their travels.

(Bill approaches a bridge over the Normanskill.)

I was curious about a short path that went down to the water, just beyond the bridge, and left my bike to check it out.  A huge log parallel to the riverbank looked like the perfect spot to spend some quiet time.

My musings were squelched, however, when Bill pointed out a posted sign, indicating that this was private land belonging to the Noonans, a longtime Albany family of far-reaching political fame.  I remembered that the 60-acre Noonan compound, for sale with multiple family homes, had recently been in the news as a possible location for a Casino.  In the end, the state did not choose this property for a Casino; and we, the walking and biking public, could enjoy the water and woods here, even if only from a distance.

(Wouldn't this be a cool spot on a hot day, if it were not off limits?)

The real surprise on this short stretch of paved trail, is the raging torrent that the Normanskill becomes.  The water pounds through and over dark rocks--such an abrupt and dramatic change from the quiet section of the creek we had just passed.

(The Normanskill passes through a brief period of fury.)

This scene is unfortunately disturbed by the thruway overpass directly overhead.  Separating the natural beauty from the traffic noise above is next to impossible. Still, I had never seen this part of the creek until Claudia brought me here, and I could appreciate the width, breadth, and power of the water in this section as it heads towards the Hudson River.

(Gorgeous foliage and the thruway above.)
Continuing on, we glimpsed the creek a few more times. How close the trains must have come to the edge of the steep bank.  I had almost no room to park my bike and peer through the trees for the picture below. 

(Final views of the Normanskill before reaching Albany.)
Stopping to take pictures slows me down, and I saw Bill far ahead cruising amidst an entirely new geological formation.  Those long ago railroad builders had blasted their way through solid rock. Before the thruway stretched above, train travelers must have marveled at the variety of terrain within such a short distance.

(Bill is a speck in the distance.)

Eventually, we could see the Port of Albany, and businesses nearby.  A traffic light and a nice parking lot signaled the trail's end at South Pearl Street in Albany.

(An official trail head at South Pearl Street.)

I was not very familiar with South Pearl Street, and felt a little disoriented.  Where were we in relation to those state offices in downtown Albany, the destination for many future commuting bikers?  I decided to continue riding on the the street to see what I could see. Within a few minutes, I recognized the Ezra Prentice public housing complex, where "bomb trains" come within a few feet of the backyards in which children play.

(See those black train cars in the background?)

I had been here last year to attend a memorial for the victims of the Lac Megantic explosion in Quebec, where trains carrying oil-by-rail left 47 dead.  An anti-bomb train rally followed the somber memorial. The proximity of the oil-filled train cars to the houses was shocking when viewed in person, as compared to seeing this scene on television or in newspaper photos.

(Tidy yards with outdoor grills on the left, bomb trains on the right.)

I turned back, now that I knew where I was in relation to the new path, met up with Bill who had waited at the parking lot, and began the three-mile return to where our car was parked.

(A bit of sunshine lights up remaining fall color.)

When I reached the neighborhood of houses, I veered off the trail and rode on a parallel street, admiring these modest homes.  I passed a man raking leaves, another checking his car, everyone doing end-of-season chores.  I also passed front steps laiden with jack-o-lanterns.  Bill and I needed to get home.  Ghosts and goblins might be arriving at our house on this last day of October!

(Suburban charm)

Later that evening, I was still curious as to how far commuters would have to ride on busy streets before reaching their workplaces, and what plans might be in place to ensure bikers' safety.  To find out, I emailed the Conservation Chair of the Adirondack Mountain Club. who has been working with other groups to secure funds to extend the path.  He sent me a detailed map of how the trail will connect with the well-established Mohawk-Hudson Bike Hike Trail by the Hudson River in Albany.

He said that a cost projection needs to be determined and a grant written, since there's funding in the waterfront revitalization component of the Environmental Protection Fund.  Progress always comes down to money,  time, and the efforts of many concerned citizens working together, but, eventually, there will be a safe connection through the southern end of the City of Albany to downtown and the Mohawk-Hudson trail.

In the meantime, I have to thank Claudia for inspiring Bill and me to ride this finished portion of trail, while we wait for the other six miles to be completed through the countryside to Voorheesville.

Monday, October 19, 2015

What I Did Last Summer

I am torn between the words of my friend, Rachel, "You should write about your amazing year. When you see your life, there is before 2015 and there will be after 2015," and those of my mother, "Why would anyone be interested in reading about your life?"  Guess whose words are winning out?  In fact, the events of the past five months have been so consuming, that I have nothing else to talk about.  So, here's hoping you find this post to be an enjoyable read.

In mid-winter, when my son, Thomas, and his wife, Marlie, announced that they were expecting a baby in early fall, and my daughter, Meredith, and her fiance, Brian, announced that their wedding date would be in late summer, I knew this would be a stand-out year.  And these were not the only events.  Meredith and I intended to finish our 15-year quest of the 46 Adirondack High Peaks, and I had a 90th birthday party planned for my mother.  I began to make lists, and more lists, and lists to replace the lists that I lost.

The summer did have a few glitches: Bill had surgery on his right hand, that is still healing, and my father had a few health issues, both pesky and scary.  But, now in October, I look back and see a summer of friends, family, and festivities. The following is a photo journal of my spectacular past five months.
I thoroughly enjoyed the preparations for Meredith's bridal shower in mid-June.  It was just my style--simple, with a dozen close friends and family, and all food that I had prepared.  I had requested that guests give Meredith something from their own homes that they felt would be meaningful.  Many of them did, and those who did not, gave her gifts that were equally heart-felt and personal.  Every gift had a story.
(Marlie was in charge of the "bar.")

(lunch began with Watermelon Gazpacho)

(Meredith, the bride-to-be, on our porch with her gifts)

The day after the shower, Meredith and I headed north to hike our forty-fifth and forty-sixth mountains.  Our transition from ladies to woodswomen was abrupt, but underscored our versatility. We felt fortunate to be able to cater to these different aspects of our personalities.

Our first peak, Sawteeth, was fun, even though we hiked in a drizzle with no views.  We were excited about our plans to hike our final peak the following day, and I had booked indoor lodging--no backpacking and camping on this final adventure!
(Meredith shows off the completely clouded view)

Unfortunately, the next day dawned dry and clear, as predicted, and then turned to torrential cold rain. Hiking our 46th peak on this day did not meet our expectations. We were deflated and exhausted.  Despite my "46" sign, don't I look like a waif from a Charles Dickens' novel?  I would fit right in on an 1800s London street corner, begging passersby for a roll to eat.

And then, who should arrive an hour after we got off the trail, all the way from Syracuse to the Adirondak Loj, but our friends, June and Roger.  They were excited for us, and began to sweep us into the mood of what we had accomplished, with gifts, a card, and their overwhelming good cheer and generous spirit.

(Clean and dry, we are surprised by friends, June and Roger at the Loj.)
Three days after Meredith's and my return from the Adirondacks, Bill and I headed west to the Canadian Rockies' national parks of Banff and Jasper.  If this trip had not been planned months before, I doubt that it would have happened.  And yet what a getaway--gorgeous scenery, time together in a beautiful place, and all the gifts that nature and charming towns can provide.
(Moraine Lake in Banff National Park)

July was not to take a backseat to June.  My Aunt Dorothy's arrival from Toronto, to coincide with my mother's 90th birthday, began with lunch at my house.  My friend, Peggy, and I had been working on violin duets to play for my parents and aunt, on the porch.  What fun!  Music, food, and great conversation.
(My friend, Peggy, and I serenade my parents and aunt.)

(Chicken salad and fresh summer fruits)

And then came the party.  I hosted 10 of us at the Spa Park for a "hot dog" picnic, my mother's request for her birthday dinner, and then 19 of us for cake.  The muggy weather made me fear for the "Yaddo" cake that I had created to recognize one of my mother's long-enjoyed hobbies, working in the gardens there.  But rain held off, the family came from near and far, and the cake received rave reviews, both for its decoration and for being our favorite chocolate with mocha frosting.
(My re-creation of a Yaddo statue and rose arbor.)

(Bill grilling hot dogs at the Spa Park)

(My mother, father, and aunt)

And what did Meredith and I do next??  We headed back to the high peaks, to rectify our previous disappointment.  We felt fit and energetic, the sun shone, the atmosphere was clear, we soaked in the iconic views, and reveled in our accomplishment.  We considered this the true completion of our 46er journey.  To top it off, Gillian Scott, a columnist for the Times Union, wrote about our adventure for the newspaper.  I am still, months later, being congratulated, thanks to the widespread press we got locally and through Facebook.
(This is the iconic view of Mounts Colden and Marcy from Algonquin on the way to our final peak, Iroquois.)

(Meredith and I were thrilled with this hike.)

Marlie's baby shower began the month of August.  Marlie's mother, Nancy, and I had scoped out locations for the event, and chose the Olde English Pub in the Quackenbush House in downtown Albany.  Nearly forty people came and shared in the excellent brunch there, finishing with frosted rose-topped cupcakes that I made for the event.  Marlie had everything she would need for the baby.

(Thomas and Marlie, expectant first-time parents!)

(Four dozen cupcakes, in two flavors)

In mid-August, Bill and I went down to OWO, One World Observatory, to see Thomas's new work place.  As Director of Finance for OWO in the new One World Trade building, Thomas gave us the VIP tour on this clear summer day.  Unbelievable views, a delicious lunch overlooking the city, and sharing part of Thomas's day at this phenomenal new New York destination, left us awe struck.
(The Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and boats on the Hudson, from 102 stories up!)

(Thomas taking time from his work day to show us around.)

And what a finish August had!  Meredith's wedding could not have been more perfect for her and Brian.  In the dress she made, Meredith looked fabulous and glowed all day long.  Marlie made the cake, a masterpiece and an incredible gift, especially considering how far along she was in her pregnancy.  This day was filled with love, fun, music, and all that parents could wish for their daughter's wedding.
(We walked  from Meredith's Brooklyn apartment to the wedding venue.)

(Meredith and Brian)

(Marlie is a professional pastry chef.)

September dawned bright, but by the 3rd, Marlie was on bed rest in the hospital. Apparently, the baby wanted to join our party summer.  Hayden Sophia Traver was born just three weeks early, on September 19 and weighed 6 lbs. 12 oz.  Could 2015 get any better than this?
(Marlie, Thomas, and baby Hayden)

(Virginia strokes Hayden's silky soft skin.)

(Bill examines Hayden's tiny toes.)

And now, I have just returned from a week in New Jersey, helping Marlie since Thomas has gone back to work and Marlie's mother has returned to Albany.  What a joy!  Hours passed by and all I did was hold little Hayden.  Her warm fuzzy head and her little coos and gurgles filled my days.

Marlie tells me that I was, in fact, a help to her.  I didn't just spend my time on the couch cuddling my first grandchild, but it was all fun having so much time with Marlie and Hayden, and snatching moments in the evenings with Thomas.

And now?  What's left for this year?  Life is the current project.  Momentous events lead to a new daily world.  Summer 2015 will always have a special place in our history.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Ogunquit, a Meditation

Most of you know that I am just nuts about mountains, the Adirondacks in particular, but there's another place that draws me, where Bill and I have gone for thirty-four years. We have made almost-annual trips to Ogunquit, Maine, before children, while raising our children, and as empty-nesters. 

(Ogunquit River from our lodging, and dunes beyond)

We know what to expect, so decisions are few.  We have stayed at the same lodging since 1981, and we eat out or get take-out at most of the same places. Some things have changed and we could do things differently, of course, but the location suits us and the food can't be beat.

Years ago, Thomas and Meredith thought we owned the cottage that we rented. We would put them in the Radio Flyer wagon we had brought from home, and walked the 3/4-mile to the Footbridge Beach.

(heading to the beach, 1986)

Now, we no longer get a cottage just for the two of us, but have a room with an efficiency kitchen, and cruise through the quaint neighborhood on our bicycles. Going to the beach is always our first activity after we arrive.

(Ogunquit Beach)

We walk over the Ogunquit River on the wooden slat Footbridge, up the board walkway over the dunes, and there it is, the 3-mile stretch of beach, spread out before us.  We've been there in drizzle, high winds, and on perfect blue-sky days.  Regardless, it smells like sand and salt, and we like the subtle gray-toned water crashing into white foam as much as the deep blue. We walk long distances on the sand.  Relax and breathe.

(Bill helps Thomas and Meredith make sand castles, 1988)

Eating is easy too, because we know just what we want.  Back in the day, when Thomas and Meredith's interest in daily seafood didn't quite live up to ours, they were thrilled to have a night of hot dogs on the porch of our cottage.  Bill and I would steam up the kitchen cooking lobster for ourselves.

(Oh yeah, hot dogs and Doritos! 1992)

But the big favorite for all of us was, and still is, the Clam Shack in Kennebunkport. We think the Clam Shack serves the best fried haddock there is. For decades, we have bought our fish and carried it in the back of the car to the stony town beach, where Bill serves up plates and we eat while watching the people, seagulls, and waves as they hit the shore. Listen to the rhythm of the waves rolling the small stones.

(the Clam Shack in Kennebunkport has won numerous awards)

Kennebunkport is a quaint village of shops and pleasant walks.  After our fish dinner, we often walk along Ocean Drive, past the big houses and inns, all the way to the first President Bush's estate.

(Thomas, Meredith, and Virginia play on the rocks in Kennebunkport, 1987)

When the kids were young, we searched for shells between the rocks or found stones with interesting colors and shapes.  Now, Bill and I watch the spray of water shoot into the air at the Blowing Cave.

(Blowing Cave and the Bush estate)

In recent years, Bill and I have added Cape Porpoise to our list of favorite places to go for fish.  It is still most-frequented by lobstermen and fishermen, and feels like the active fishing harbor that it is.  Here, we eat outdoors at picnic tables on a deck overlooking the harbor.

(Cape Porpoise is off the beaten path)

Our list of must-do activities always includes one or more walks along the Marginal Way, a paved public walkway across rocky waterfront to Perkins Cove, a pretty point of land in Ogunquit.  High tide or low tide can make the difference between thunderous waves crashing on the rocks or peaceful whitecaps rippling across the blue. Stormy weather brings its own drama.  Be mindful of the water's colors and textures.

(a good-weather scene from the Marginal Way)

Perkins Cove has lots of shops as well as being an active fishing harbor, where lobstermen get designated parking spots in this high-tourist area.  If we stay enough days to get tired of fried fish, we like to get chowder and a lobster roll on the Cove.

(Perkins Cove)

While walking the beach, eating fish, and climbing on rocks are all well and good, one must have ice cream at the ocean.  Granted, there are myriad ice cream shops in southern Maine, but we choose to go to Brown's on the way to Cape Neddick in York.  Going to Brown's is an excuse to drive the very beautiful Shore Road and to visit Nubble Lighthouse.

(Nubble Light at high tide on a cloudy day)

Mr. Brown used to serve us through the open window of the ice cream shop. Now, after almost 50 years, Brown's has closed and his protegee has opened Dunne's nearby.  Ice cream at Dunne's is still worth the trip.

This year, Bill and I had a summer full of major family activities, with fall promising more to come! We decided to take a few days just to get away.  What better place to let-down than coastal Maine, where everything is familiar and surprises are few.  Carry the serenity of the early morning into the day.

(sunrise on the Ogunquit River)