Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Winter's Welcome

There are simply too many wonderful things going on here (between 3-hour dinners and napping on the couch to music)! I apologize for the blog hiatus; the gorgeous Berkshire autumn surrendered itself weeks ago to the cold, and now we're under several inches of snow in the thrusts of winter. Admittedly, I've ditched my Olympus camera (don't worry, Dad, it's in my room) for the sheer convenience of my iPhone. I have plenty of photos to share--bear with me here.

I visit Albany more often now that I'm a Massachusetts resident! There are dozens of awesome acts that pass through, and a few friends from St. Lawrence to catch. Here we saw Start Making Sense, a Talking Heads tribute band, at a sweet venue and restaurant called The Hollow. I still need to eat there!

For Columbus Day weekend, Elsa invited me to Cape Cod where her extended family owns a home. I really enjoyed visiting in the off-season without the crowds. We wandered the beaches and explored parks with her parents, and attended a concert with a virtuoso guitarist named Chris Eldridge (of the Punch Brothers). It's a 3 hour drive from the Berkshires, making it a nice mini-vacation.

Back in Pittsfield, Elsa's two sisters visited for a weekend and we went to the Colonial Theater for another show. It's this marvelous, restored theater right in the downtown, with two balconies and ornate design. This performance was banjoist Noam Pickelny (also of the Punch Brothers--who I will finally see as a full band this March) and fiddler Stuart Duncan. The show was so intimate, they had us sit on stage, rather than in the auditorium seats!
The view from the top of Monument Mountain during the peak of fall ... and a visit from Elizabeth!! She was my first friend to come out and spend the weekend with me, and hopefully not the last. Being with her reminded me of how much I miss my St. Lawrence friends.

 Elizabeth, me, and Elsa at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge. We brought a picnic and ate on those steps.
While many of my classmates returned to Canton for Homecoming at the end of October, I headed North for my 3rd year of an ultimate frisbee tournament in Montreal! It's hosted by the McGill University team and it's always a blast. We combined Ruckus Bus alum and Haos friends and didn't win the tournament, but certainly won the party.
 Halloween was an outrageous display of pirates, wenches, Don Quixote, and a lot of dancing at bars we don't really frequent (it was a blast).


 The beginning of November ushered in my 22nd year of life! How lucky am I to have coworkers and friends who share such love and appreciation. I received bouquets of flowers, a double-layer purple confetti cake, house decorations, a headlamp, bok choy kimchi, my favorite wine, and a dreamy cashmere sweater that makes me feel grown up. I also had quite a bit of whiskey, which wasn't unwarranted.

 That weekend I was able to catch Rubblebucket for the second time this fall! What can I say, my ears have devoured their new album Survival Sounds since I purchased it. I loved that I could sing and dance along even harder than in September!
 Often, my work with Central Berkshire Habitat extends to six days. I frequently join the volunteers at the job site on Saturday to meet these people who are generously donating their time, and get my hands dirty on these projects. We're currently constructing handicap ramps from a City of Pittsfield grant and preparing for an interior rehabilitation project that should last all winter. Check our website here for updates! 

If there's one aspect that's already left a deep impression on me from serving as a Vista and living in Berkshire County, it's that the mission of Habitat is an ever-evolving matrix. We are tackling the larger glut of affordable homes by building and helping out those who just make it achieve their dream. I'm always astonished of how many facets of this mission are deployed by our small non-profit. We serve the community by mobilizing construction volunteers, teaching financial literacy, filing income taxes for free, organizing neighborhood coalitions, using an asset-based approach to support the needs of our neighbors, and more. I've only been here four months and I feel how tireless and dauntless the task can be--but together, we're making it work! Idealism can be merged with action. That being said, please consider donating to our organization this holiday season if you're feeling generous to support Central Berkshire Habitat's many operations! (And give me a heads up if you'd like to know how.)

 The rest of November left my stomach and heart overwhelmingly full. This is from my first of four Thanksgivings, this one with friends from around the Berkshires (hence, 'Friendsgiving')! The turkey and entire potluck was impressive, including leftovers for brunch the next day and ladies vs. guys football to work it all off!

 Thanks/Friendsgiving #2 was just across the border in New Hampshire with my ultimate frisbee teamates from Haos. Once again, an exasperatedly delicious spread of food and stomach pain (from laughing, but also food). Of course, we bundled up and played some ultimate together, as well as Polish horse shoes frolf (disc golf). My disc landed in the lake at one point, which was certainly a shock to wade in for it, but hey, the shit I'll do for frisbee.

 Then, was my marvelous return to the Finger Lakes and Rochester. My parents drove all the way up from Florida and we reunited with family and dear friends. I can't emphasize how exciting and satisfying it was to drive familiar roads, shop at my favorite boutiques, hug the ones I love, and finally eat at the German restaurant in Canandaigua (above) and catch a reservation at my favorite, Ember Woodfire Grill (in between the turkey).
 My best friend Kristen and her family generously welcomed me into their home to enjoy my fourth (and final) Thanksgiving! The next day we went shopping at Salvation Army and beer tasting, then partied with all my favorite people from Honeoye. I couldn't think of a better way to spend black Friday. Home doesn't need to be where you live. I miss them tremendously!


And now it's December and the wreath is on the door (thanks, Mom!), a mini fake Christmas tree sparkles in the corner, colored lights hang around the window, and I have a lot of cards to create. Thanks for staying with me on this one. Everything continues to move quicker than I can grasp, but I am undoubtedly happy.

Listening: Explosions in the Sky

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Massachusetts Overture

I'm having a hard time catching up on my blog because there's too many great things happening. So much has happened between VISTA pre-service orientation in Cambridge (north of Boston) and now, just having finished my first full month at Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity! Needless to say, I'm finally settled in and love exploring the Berkshires. I'm still trying to adjust to the proximity and convenience of everything; ten minutes in any direction and I can grocery shop, go to the mall, chill out to jazz at a tapas bar, dig into wings at a cozy tavern, swim and kayak in two lakes, attend a stage production, pour through museum works, walk through state forests and parks, or hike some of the state's highest peaks. For a small city on the rise from a post-industrial recession, Pittsfield is treating me well.

AmeriCorps VISTA training was at the Hyatt in Cambridge. This was my view of the Charles across to Fenway and downtown Boston. Between long sessions on capacity-building and eliminating poverty in the U.S., we were spoiled with classy rooms and scrumptious meals.
Although training was only three days, I met an inspiring batch of VISTAs who are serving throughout the northeast. Our focus areas include neighborhood revitalization like my own, housing, military and veteran families, education, and sustainable lifestyles. My ultimate takeaway was that even though poverty poses a tremendous challenge, every gesture can make a difference. How we help one another at the human level is just as important as more abstract action at the policy level.
Onota Lake, five minutes from my Pittsfield apartment.
My first assignment with Habitat? Selling charity raffle tickets at the local baseball park on a glorious summer evening that had one of the best turn-outs of the season (and fireworks).
Office views.
I love this paperweight that a family friend gifted.
My housemate, Elsa, is also an AmeriCorps VISTA at Central Berkshire Habitat. Her focus is on family services, whereas mine is on volunteer engagement. I've had a blast living with her so far. We make it a point to simply do things after work, like stroll around the woods, visit our friends, cook 'fancy' dinners, and revel in our selective frugality. It's not too bad!  
Another fantastic point of Pittsfield is that my former St. Lawrence Habi housemate, Luke, also lives here and works with me! I may have explained this already, but he's the primary reason I ever considered my VISTA position. It's pretty awesome to work with him.He and his girlfriend Emma (who I was also friends with at college) live on another small lake called Pontoosuc. This is the dreamy view from their dock across the lake and off to Mount Greylock in the north. It's the highest point in Massachusetts, but I still haven't hiked it.
As seen on one of my bi-weekly drives south to Great Barrington for ultimate frisbee pick-up games.
Hard to resist an afternoon roll with views like this (far side of Pontoosuc).
A pine-filled park along Pontoosuc where I brought my parents two weekends ago. It was muggy that week, but the weather is finally sinking into sweater season.
Labor Day weekend was celebrated with more lazy lake time and a hike up Monument Mountain, just south of Stockbridge. A quickie but with interesting trails, good company, and wonderful views.
A historical home at an arboretum in Pittsfield.
Pitt Park, which wraps around our office. Things are significantly quieter now that summer camp is over and kid's are in school.
Elsa and her dad strolling through a nice fountain park that is unfortunately placed in a very busy portion of downtown.
I hope these images grant some sort of vision of my time here so far. If you can't get enough of my rambling, I invite you to also check out my blog post that was posted on the Central Berkshire Habitat page. Onward to more adventures!

Listening: "The Last Day" by Moby

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Adios to 5118

I have been alive and thriving in Massachusetts over five weeks now! But first, just a few photos of the house I will miss so much in Honeoye, for the record:

Kristen came to see me off that morning. She's the best.

One last barn portrait.
Since my departure, my parents have been toiling away to remove material items. They squeezed in a visit to me last Sunday and said that it no longer quite feels like a home without it all. They've signed the legal documents and will be closing the door to our home at 5118 Old West Lake Road for the final time on Friday morning.

I'll be in a car on the way to Boston, dreaming of my past life and moving toward my future one.

Listening: "Nevermind the End" by Tei Shi