Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Getting on with James Urbaniak, Episode 16: "Buyer's Remorse"

I wrote the latest episode of the actor James Urbaniak's podcast, "a monthly radio drama wherein James navigates the darkly comedic recesses of his troubled yet charming mind." Give a listen as an impulsive art purchase provokes second thoughts. A particular auction house is referenced fictitiously.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Hudson Valley West Holiday Shopping Gift Guide

If you want to give Hudson Valley gifts this season and don't live nearby (or if your recipients don't live here), here are a few candidates.
  • I looked for regionally produced items you can order online and have shipped. 
  • I also tried to find a range of item types, from the homey and traditional to the chromium-steel badass.
  • Yes, I would like your money to remain in, or enter, the region where I live.
  • No, no one asked me to do this. 
  • I kept my focus on the west side of the Hudson to the Delaware, from the Highlands to the foothills of the Catskills.
  • Suggestions? Please comment, keeping in mind ease of ordering/shipping specific items, produced on the west side of the Hudson River in Orange, Ulster, and southern Sullivan counties.
I met Elizabeth Ryan on a recent country drive, tried some cider, and got to talking. She's got a lot of sense when it comes to apples and land preservation. Hard cider is good, and easy, and this kit makes it even easier. So buy it for the apple of your eye. (Williams-Sonoma also offers Ms. Ryan's Mead Making Kit, which you can buy for your honey.) (You can also help with Elizabeth's fundraising campaign to preserve Stone Ridge Orchard as a working farm.)

Prima Pizza, of Cornwall NY, has been shipping pizzas around the country for years. As they say it: "Your pizza is cooked to perfection and sealed in a special package using a unique process. It is then ready to be shipped via FedEx (or other overnight delivery service) right to your door the next day by either 10:30am or 3:00pm. All you have to do is heat/cook the pie to your preference. Buon Apetito!" I haven't had one of their shipped pizzas, but I've had dozens of their oven-fresh ones, which are true high-quality New York pies. December 26th dinner, anyone?

There's no shortage of cool gear available online from the nation's best-known custom chopper designers and fabricators (their new show premiered on CMT last week), but this particular shirt is modeled by patriarch (and secretly nice guy) Paul Senior.

Custom woodcarving by a true master. This is a consultative purchase with prices in the high three figures (and up, I assume), which will make sense when you look at the pictures of Mr. Boone's work.

It's a plug-in charging station for your devices that looks like an outlet and leaves your outlets free for, like, blenders and whatnot. Switchable "power tips" make it work for any device (the tips store in the back), it has two USB ports on the bottom just in case, and there are NO WIRES. Your phone, tablet, etc., stands directly on the thingCHARGER. You can even plug them into each other to charge more than one device on the same outlet -- again, without taking up the outlet! Invented about a mile from where I'm typing this, by some nice people I know. It's launching on indiegogo (having reached 800% of its funding target), and pre-orders will ship in 2014.

Sugar Loaf, NY, is an artisans community making everything from soap to furniture. If you can't get there, many of the manufacturers, like Paula and Elie Aji of Into Leather, ship their products. If you're into leather but not into masks, you can also get a jacket or a cool bag or a belt or other clothing and accessories. You're into leather, right?

Bridges Over Time of Newburgh, NY offers its inventory through 1stDibs, which will ask you to create an account to view prices. This piece caught my eye, but there's plenty more where that came from.

Order by phone for prints of original paintings by Hudson Valley artist Paul Gould, like this vibrant view of a local scene.

For the sports fan/patriot/aspiring officer on your list, the West Point Black Knights lend their distinctive team identity to all manner of cool gear, clothing, and more.

Hint: if you're shopping for me from this Port Jervis concern, here's the ship to specify.

Give your family and friends the chance to look at the beauty of the Mohonk Preserve year-round, wherever they are. (The photos are ridiculously gorgeous.)

Based in New Windsor, NY, these soaps and lotions are a favorite at area farmer's and craft markets.

Furry friends from Chester (home of Neufchatel cheese and the legendary horse Hambletonian) have been shorn to provide your loved ones with these comfy high-top slippers.

"One of the world's greatest coffees - light, clean flavor, wonderful fragrance. Silky, full bodied with rich acidity. Well-balanced with a lingering aftertaste." Rain Forest Alliance certified, and roasted in Kingston, NY.

"Ken Greene started the Seed Library in 2004 while working as a Librarian at the Gardiner Public Library. Having developed a strong interest in preserving heirloom seed varieties, he decided to add them to the library catalog so that patrons could 'check them out,' grow them in their home gardens, and then 'return' saved seed at the end of the season." They've since branched out in their Accord HQ, offering apparel and artwork in addition to seeds.

Your mother-in-law likes a nice bottle of wine, doesn't she? This holder, hand-made in Cornwall-on-Hudson by Randy Hornman, makes a great conversation piece and offers a beautiful way to display your favorite vintage. Keeps the cork wet, too, if your MIL's not cracking it open right away.

When I started this list, the guys at Newburgh Brewing didn't have an online store to share their great logo designs with the wider beer-loving world. Their beer and ale is served for miles around (as well as in their incredible taproom) and now you can get the right glass to enjoy it at home -- or make another brew feel better about itself.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Most Valuable Skill

Outcomes are easy to visualize. Process, less so.

When my parents moved into the house I mostly grew up in (I was two), my mother apparently said "first thing we do is change this kitchen around," which they did 20 years later.

Readers of this blog will remember that in 2007 I wrote an AWFUL LOT about fixing the drainage around our foundation, which we did in 2013.

I know how the launch party for my first novel goes. You are invited.

Yesterday men came and ground our road up into pebbles, then laid the pebbles back down and shaved and graded them and rolled them flat in preparation for laying down new blacktop. (This was to replace the dug-up roadway where the sewer and drainage lines had been installed back in January and February.)

(Yeah, we had the drainage project done in January and February. When it started, it was going to be a ten-day job—because outcomes are easy to visualize—and the ten-day forecast was for temperatures in the 40s. It wasn't a ten-day job. Temperatures were not in the 40s.)

One night a few years ago, around New Year's Day, a logical, disciplined woman who lives with me and I went out for a date and took a notebook and drew a timeline of our lives. Things like college dates, anniversaries, milestone birthdays, retirement &c. (There was an asterisk at the bottom indicating that all future events were speculative and conditional.) Since then each year we've collaborated on a big brown sheet of craft paper capturing all the stuff we want to pay attention to that year. Outcomes, mostly.

But what I love is what happens on that paper throughout the year. It gets rolled up and put on top of the washing machine in the alcove in the front room (we call it the parlor, because fancy). It gets unrolled, usually by me, okay, during stressful moments, just to make sure we're on track. We amend it. Check things off. X out stuff we don't care about anymore, or that we've written off as eggnog-driven delusions. Sometimes we write in interim steps toward a goal. We see the year unscroll. Process.

The thing I'm trying to show myself, when I pause, is that even the goals are process. Late tonight, feeling an urge, I sat down to write something and faced the usual wall of dull facts staring at me about blogging: it's not important; it's not advancing your career; it's not your best work; it's not your novel; your big revelations were captured in English in the early 1800s and by the ancient Greeks before that and by you in 2008; &c.

But, outcomes. The first thing we do is change this kitchen around. Someday I'm going to get that water problem fixed. Gonna publish that book. You can't do an outcome. You can only plug away. That's where I think I meant to be going with this. An easy message that had to be approached obliquely, worried at, whittled down to, before it could be reached: Plugging away is the most valuable skill. I've highlighted it for the kids. Outcomes don't even matter, really, when you plug away.

Said all this before, of course. Nothing new here. Except, in a day or two, someone's going to repave my road. And after, I'll unroll the big sheet of craft paper labeled 2013 and I'll check off "repave." I'll tweak a scene in that manuscript. I'll look back at the sheet and see that "insulation" is next and I'll look at the life timeline and I'll see we're right where we hoped we'd be: alive. Doing things. Plugging away.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Skip to the Link at the Bottom of this Post, as You Would Go to the Bottom of an Onion to Eat It

Sometimes I drive around the region where I live and talk with farmers. I've never had a bad conversation with a farmer. One Texan rancher I interviewed for a magazine article eighteen years ago was a racist and mentioned it, but otherwise no. Farmers tend to be really interesting.

So when one offered me a bag of onions last weekend because I pleased him via Twitter, I threw a couple of digital devices into the back of the car as bait for the kids, then begged a supportive and onion-friendly woman who lives with me to go driving. Our path led south, into the Black Dirt region. Once we piled out of the car near Pine Island, NY, onion farmer Chris Pawelski informed me that I was standing on the largest patch of U.S. muck outside of the Everglades.

Good ol' muck.

The Black Dirt region was formerly known as the Drowned Lands. Chris's family has been farming onions in that muck—the incredibly rich soil of the Walkill River floodplain, deposited over eons when what's now the Walkill was the Hudson's route to the sea—for four generations. He's good at it. The bag he gave us has yielded one tasty soup so far. The remaining 49.5 pounds will take us deep into next year.

Back to the muck real quick: Chris told me that some of the topsoil in the Black Dirt is 18 feet deep. (That's a lot.)

He also told me a few other things. In fact, what happened when I met Chris was that he engaged me in fascinating conversation about onion farming, about the region, about its soil, about the way political realities impact the people who farm it, about the history of his house and family, about the time he tried to sell a bag of onions on eBay for $150,000, and about this one time when some guys came prowling around looking to steal scrap metal. Although we only visited for a half hour, he covered a lot—and he didn't seem to talk fast. He even asked questions and got our story.

There's something about the way Chris talks. He's an incredibly engaging storyteller. Clearly (he's going to read this but I'll say anyway) he's honed a lot of his stories over time. He commutes to Washington and Albany only somewhat less than he commutes out to his Black Dirt fields. When he enters the corridors of power, he demands (and attracts) audience with his representatives, and works with them to help farmers. His messages are tight.

Now we come down to the flavorful bulb of this entry. Chris has written a memoir focused on his pro-farms public policy work. He's the first to admit it's a little raw right now. Cracking it open, you might find it a little rough-flavored, and strong, like an onion freshly pulled from the soil. However, he's found an editor who has promised to julienne it—maybe sauté it in a little butter, put it on low and stir for 40 minutes (or a few weeks) to get it caramelized perfectly.

But a good chef don't work for free.

...Which brings me to the very root: a request. What do I ask? I ask that you help unlock the rich dark flavors of Chris Pawelski's "Muckville" memoir with a donation to his Kickstarter campaign, which will finance a professional edit.

Chris's Kickstarter.

If you need more convincing, dice an onion (you have one) and throw it in a pan with some butter over a medium-low heat. Wait two minutes. Inhale.

Sunday, November 3, 2013


Neglected to post on Day Two, but that's okay. Because Day Three was a humdinger; sailed on the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater from Cold Spring to Poughkeepsie. Saw the Half Moon. It was cold.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Options: Open

My friends used to compete in something they called the Triathlon of Bullshit, which I believe to have been darts, bowling and billiards in the same evening. There may have also been a drinking component.

I thought of it because I am amused at the way November has transformed into Achievement! Month! in the last few years—this gray collapse of the year made warm with effort and creativity and hair growth. November athleticism, for the more literary/social mediaesque classes, could conceivably include writing a novel while posting on one's blog and growing a mustache. Of what is that a triathlon? It is surely a triathlon of something.

This post is just to ensure that my foot's in November's door; that I haven't missed my chance to Achieve! Daily! Blog posts!

The facial hair will take care of itself; I'm growing a beard. I'm doing another "final" polish on my 2009 NaNoWriMo effort. For this triathlon, of whatever it may be, count me in.

There may be a drinking component.


Monday, June 10, 2013

Getting on with James Urbaniak: The Dead Thing on the Shoulder

I wrote the latest episode of James Urbaniak's fictional podcast, Getting on with James Urbaniak, titled "The Dead Thing on the Shoulder." Did you read Exurbitude during its heyday? You'll like this.

Getting On is terrific, and you ought to listen to every episode. Go.