Tuesday, July 8, 2014

American Pastimes

Independence Day is one of the best holidays to celebrate in the northeast. The weather is balmy, barbecue smoke fills the air, everyone wears their crispest reds, whites, and blues, and as fireworks thunder across the sky we take a moment to remind ourselves that, dang, this country is beautiful and it's ours. At least, that's my take on things. 

Unlike last summer when I was on a rooftop in China's capital haggling for over-priced Pabst Blue Ribbon, this year I visited my teammate and good friend Eric at his family's cottage on Keuka Lake. There was no shortage of clear blue skies and warm water (and PBR, haha). I watched the local Fourth of July Parade with his family and other kids, cheering for the volunteer fire departments, antique tractors and fire trucks, and local residents tossing candy-- a quintessential rural America celebration. It was a nice moment to appreciate these small-town traditions that I seemingly try to escape.

Some other St. Lawrence and Habitat friends came as well, which was fantastic. We cruised down the lake to Hammondsport, swam near the bluff where the lake branches meet (Keuka Lake is shaped like a Y), sailed in Eric's little laser (which capsized at one point!), indulged in barbecue and salads, and played in the front yard until the sun went down for fireworks. Then we stayed up even longer at his friend Bobby's house up in the hills to have a bonfire next to a small wooded lake. The Milky Way was the clearest I've ever seen, and all in all, it was a glorious day.

Hammondsport, at the south end of Keuka Lake.

The Bluff 

Playing Spud with guests of all ages, and their golden doodle, Gracie!

The best lake cottages are those that have been passed down generations, like with Eric's family. They have prime front lake property with their wide, flat front yard and sizeable docks.

 Saturday morning while Eric and Phil went fishing, Eric's mom took McKenzie and I blueberry picking up the road. The patches are situated up a hill among equally long rows of vineyards. I may have mentioned in the past that Keuka Lake, hands down, has my favorite wineries of the Finger Lakes. Obviously I'm biased because of what my parents purchased, but it turns out the blueberries there are equally delicious. It was the opening day of picking season, so a lot of berries have a way to go to ripen, but I was thrilled to spend another weekend harvesting fresh fruit. Although the guys came home without a catch, we picked nearly four pounds of blueberries that generously joined our pancake breakfast.

And finally, our house is for sale (anyone looking to move to the Western Finger Lakes?) so my parents have been tackling every room to clean, renovate, and restore for potential buyers. The other day my dad took down the recessed vanity mirror of the master bathroom, revealing a pleasant message from nearly twenty years ago that reads "whole house remodeled." Looks like we have these previous owners to thank for the beautiful living space we've inhabited. I love thinking of houses as physical frameworks for memories and life, with predisposed characters based on their architecture, cultural significance, and general design. Yet the soul, that truly breathes through its inhabitants. I remember doing something similar when we replaced the kitchen counters of our former house in Brockport. I hope whoever finds it next smiles at the handwritten momento of the seven-year old girl who used to live there.

Listening: "Tempest" by Lucius from their 2013 album, Wildewoman

Monday, June 30, 2014

Wine and Climb

June brought a wide array of adventures in and around the Finger Lakes, two of my favorite involving wine and the outdoors. I went to a Gewurztraminer (say that fast three times) wine tasting at Keuka Spring Vineyards on Keuka Lake, just outside Penn Yan, with my parents earlier in the month. I was thrilled that they were hosting an event like this because Gewurztraminer became my favorite wine when I first tried with Alsatian grape at a wine and food exhibition in Rouen--it's smooth, earthy, a bit sweet. It was a gorgeous day and we sat under a white tent with sommeliers who enthusiastically described the origins of the grape, the wine-making process, and guided us through five varieties of pressings. Years ago we visited Keuka Springs in late November for a holiday-themed tour (I of course drinking grape juice), so it was great to return and experience the vineyard in the summer. It's in a stunning location with Keuka College across the lake in clear view, and a very friendly staff. I hope we can go back for their other wine and tasting events later in the season.

 Taking notes on the technique and grape sourcing while indulging on their crudités, brie and crackers, java-rubbed pork loin, and chutneys all regionally-sourced.

This past Friday, I went on a mini-hike with Kristen and Deonza at Grimes Glen. I've been there a few times because it's so close, just off Main Street in Naples. Despite it's close proximity to the village and even residences just beyond the park driveway, it's a wonderful shaded area with smooth shale creek beds, clear water (that wasn't too cold), and a few waterfalls. The park management even encourages exploration; there's permanent ropes tied to tries along the waterfalls so they can be scaled. I scrambled up both of them, feeling more confident than the first time I visited a few years ago because of muscle memory from the climbing wall. I always forget how magical, albeit crowded, the glen is, and I hope we go back again soon and trek in further.

 The second waterfall. 

The view from the top of the second waterfall, which has three drops. 

Climbing up was never the problem, it was always how to go down! The hills were muddy from past nights' rain and other visitors, making it hard to gain traction.

 Climbing up the first waterfall!

I feel like the majority of my posts during the summer unabashedly promote how awesome the Finger Lakes are, but hey, I'm proud of where I live. Come visit me!

 Listening: "Tous les Memes" by Stromae (a Felmish-Rawandan dreamboat from Belgium)

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Gibbs Street Groove

The annual Rochester Xerox International Jazz Festival just came to a close. I live a solid hour from downtown, but I managed to make it there Thursday. I went with my close friend from school, Jenny, whom I haven't seen since graduation. Her family has generously welcomed me to their house these last few years, so it's always nice to catch up with all of them. 

The Jazz Festival runs the entire week at venues throughout the city, many centered in the East End near the Eastman School of Music. Janelle Monae was the premier kick-off concert, and Earth, Wind, and Fire were the closing; Steve Martin always makes it back with his banjo, and there were dozens of performances with groups from around the country. My pathetically small budget couldn't afford the club passes, so we headed for the open-air community stage wedged on Gibbs Street. In between the food tents and trucks, lawn seats, cafe tables, and other attendees, we squeezed into the front row to dance!

We grooved to the funk jazz tunes of Soul Stew through the golden hour and into the night. 

 Jenny and I

 Between sets we took a break in a cafe, and I ran into my old friend from work, Katherine! It was a thrilling shock because I haven't seen her in two years, especially since her family moved nearer to Rochester. She was the first person I went to the Jazz Fest with a few years ago. Catching up over cheesecake and ice water (it was a steamy night) was wonderful, and seems things are falling into place really well for her. 

I always enjoy visits to Rochester for cultural events like this. Temporary funderemployment aside, I hope to own a vehicle and have more mobility to take advantage of these festivals. At the end of the night, though, I like returning to the dark, star-filled solace of the countryside.

Listening: "Don't Count Me Out" by TeamMate