Man, do I have a lot of quality time with this keyboard ahead. I still have so many exciting summer trips to share with you all — to Aruba, Arizona, Bonaire, Boston, California, Kentucky, Tennessee, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nevada! To conferences and festivals and family reunions and beyond. But the biggest piece of my summer is the humble one I’m writing about right now — hangin’ out in my childhood home.
Unlike my fairly polished typical blog posts — cue snort-laughter for those of you who were reading when I was still confused about its and it’s — today’s is dashed off pretty spontaneously, a bit scattered in topic, and littered with mediocre iPhone photos. But this one comes straight from the heart.
I spent forty-two days in Albany between May and August, spread out over seven separate trips Upstate; the shortest, one day, the longest, eleven. My hometown was good to me this summer. Family, friends, weddings, graduations, birthdays. Lunches barefoot out on the deck and dinners all dressed up out at hip new restaurants. Movie dates with my mom. Jogging dates with myself. Cruising around in the same car I drove in high school with my favorite pup hangin’ out the passenger side window.
Yes, it was a good summer. But also, in some small way, a sad one. Every happy moment was tainted with nostalgia before it even had the chance to crystallize as a memory, an ominous flag from my subconscious that change is looming in my life. But more on that at the end of this post. First, some warm and fuzzy things.
Like this. One of the reasons I love returning to Albany is it’s a space where I can focus on my health. My mom is an inspiration when it comes to eating healthy and staying active (for part of her sixtieth birthday celebrations we went to a high intensity training circuit class) and I love being surrounded by her clean cooking and healthy snacks. I also love getting back into my old workout routine.
After one class back on my old Body Pump grind I pounced on a great Groupon for a summer package at the local barre and yoga studio. I adored those classes and looked forward to them every time I was on my way back Upstate. Also on the health front, as usual, I ran around seeing my circle of Upstate New York doctors, though that’s one routine I’ll soon be kissing goodbye as I age out of my parents’ regional insurance and start searching for an international plan instead.
Another thing that keeps me occupied Upstate is my stuff. Despite enormous efforts to declutter when I gave up my apartment in Brooklyn, my childhood bedroom is still rammed with clothes, shoes. books, art supplies, photos, albums, crafting crack and just general junk. I’m not sure why, but these physical possessions seem to psychologically taunt me. One one hand, I’m a nostalgia-filled accumulator who, left untreated, could one day star on my own episode of Hoarders, showing off eighth grade Spanish workbooks, ceramic elephants painted for me by my little sister when she was six, and the first boarding pass I ever took to Thailand. On the other hand, I yearn to feel free of the mental weight of these things and to live as simply and as minimalistically as possible. This creates a pretty tortured back-and-forth whenever I’m home agonizing over whether or not to throw away I belt that I purchased at H&M in high school — and haven’t worn since. But might again someday!
I’m proud to say that this summer I hauled three enormous garbage bags full of clothes and other items out of my life and into the arms of a charity I hope can find a new home for them, plus trashed quite a few things that I finally accepted had run their course in my life. I did this over the course of packing and unpacking for various trips so it was really an ongoing project throughout the summer. It was a cathartic task and I am planning to get more aggressive with it next time I’m home — Kondo Method, anyone? I’d love to hear any other tips you have for transforming from a pack-rat crazed caterpillar to a care-free, carry-on-only elegant butterfly.
my antique camera collection — definitely not going anywhere
When I did leave my declutter cave, my couch, and my work chair, it was for good reason — to catch up with friends around town. I was excited to check out new businesses that have opened in the area including Peck’s Arcade (dining so trendy it could be in Brooklyn), Slidin’ Dirty (fun food but still working on service) and Fort Orange General Store (I window shopped only), all of which made me proud to be an Upstate original — and reminded me I really need to do an updated Albany guide.
Overall, however, I felt like I saw less of my hometown crew than I usually do. It makes sense. We’re collectively getting just the teensiest bit older, and with that comes advanced degrees and weddings and babies and bigger jobs with more responsibilities. While most of those might not apply to me, my own hectic work schedule certainly didn’t help. Still, I was grateful for the brunches and lunches and dinners and yoga classes and movies and backyard wines we did share. Not many people my age are still so close to the friends that knew them when they had braces. I’m a lucky girl.
an old favorite, City Beer Hall
new obsessions, Fort Orange and Peck’s
As usual, I scheduled my summer timing around being home for certain milestones and events. My mom turning sixty was one of them! With my sister starting her new job in Boston just a week before, my mama had resigned herself to the fact that her dream of spending the day with both daughters wouldn’t come true. Her consolation prizes were us going to see Gloria Steinem speak at Bennington College and dragging me to her gym instead of my beloved barre class. But, drum roll please, Olivia pulled strings and showed up anyway (duh!) adding the perfect surprise element to our non-surprise backyard barbecue party that evening.
Combining this birthday with a close family friend’s graduation festivities, I was surrounded by my not-technically-related-but-basically-might-as-well-be tribe for two straight weekends. It means a lot to me when I get to be around for these milestones.
birthday cake for the woman who doesn’t eat sugar
Another big affair? My fellow Shaker High art department survivor Kenzie tying the knot! Kenzie was one of my closest friends from high school, and she texted me within hours of booking her wedding venue so I’d lock it into my schedule — smart girl!
Kenzie missed her calling in life when she didn’t go into comedy (girl makes me laugh harder than Amy Schumer) and there was no way I was missing any of the festivities celebrating my funny, sweet, big-hearted friend and the man that was lucky enough to wife her up.
After a super chic bridal shower up in Saratoga, we ditched our fancy-pants dresses and headed to the Paint & Sip for the first part of the epic bachelorette Kenzie’s maids put together. I’ve been itching to try one of these places for ages and was thrilled to finally get the chance, especially apropos as Kenzie and I first bonded in art class (she was actually a year above me, making ours an unlikely high school BFF-ship).
Man, did it feel good to put paint on a canvas again! I’m ashamed to admit that this was my only time doing so all summer — getting back to my fine arts roots was a goal of mine for this trip home — but it was a good, and hopefully motivating, start.
And then there was the big day. A note in the program asking guests to refrain from taking photos left me feeling like the wedding police were going to come get me every time I took out my dSLR, so I took a lot less photos than my usual wedding overload. Hence, you’ll just have to take my word for it when I say the Crooked Lake House was a stunning setting to say I do…
Who’s that handsome man escorting me, you ask? It’s another one of my high school besties and a wedding guest extraordinaire, Anthony. With both of us bouncing all over the place these days, our time together is rare and precious. But this wasn’t the first time the two of us went arm-in-arm. Can you spot the shot from Anthony’s middle school military ball? I think we’ve aged pretty well, all things considered.
I loved being there for such an enormous moment in one dear friend’s life while spending some quality time with another. And the sparklers. I loved those too.
The final big event of the summer was one that it was pure luck I happened to be around for. My favorite comedian Aziz Ansari came to Albany… and did a show not at The Palace, not at SPAC, but at Comedy Works, a teensy hibachi-restaurant-turned-comedy-club that just so happens to be a four minute drive from my childhood home.
Years ago, I saw Aziz at Carnegie Hall and paid pretty dearly for the honor of seeing him the size of an ant from my nosebleed seats. So when I saw he was doing three back-to-back surprise shows right around the corner from me — tickets were announced the night before the show and sold out in two hours, a cutoff I missed — I knew I had to be there. After a day of scouring Craigslist, calling the venue pretending to be my own assistant, and cursing myself for not checking my email throughout dinner the night before, I finally decided to just show up to the final show of the night.
I would have happily gone alone, but I was touched when my mom, who normally nods off around ten, rallied to storm the midnight show with me and try to work our magic at the door. To my amazement, work magic we did, and $80 later (for both of us!) I was close enough to Aziz to tell if he’d flossed that day or not (the man has amazing oral hygiene). Photos and videos were strictly forbidden as the star was flexing new material for an upcoming Comedy Central special, but this spontaneous mother-daughter-Aziz date was one of the highlights of my summer.
forgive me, internet, for the sad quality of this snuck selfie
So that was the happy stuff. Here’s some of the sad. My family has always had an unusual custody arrangement with our dog — he lives with my dad the majority of the time with my mom and I taking over whenever I’m back in the USA. But with my dad relocating to California, Tucker too moved to the West Coast at the end of the summer. It was an anxiety-wrought and heartache-filled move that was the absolute best decision we could have made as a family.
I know Tucker will be so happy to be back with his favorite human (I sit solidly in second place on that one) but I’m heartbroken by the end of an era — no more dognapping my pup back from Dad for the summers. Our last walk down our street together, a walk we’ve done a thousand times, I just bawled. It’s hard to imagine my baby might never come back to the house we first brought him home to. Being in Albany simply will not be the same without my little sidekick to snuggle, and I suspect I’ll be trading some of my East Coast time for West Coast weeks now that Tucker is based there. Closing the door on that chapter of our lives together felt monumental to me, and a magnetic pull to be with him definitely kept me Upstate for a much larger percentage of the summer than my typical 50/50 split between Albany and NYC.
With my sweet pup across the country, my mom spending more and more time in Martha’s Vineyard, many of my childhood friends now off on adventures afar, and my impending lack of US health insurance (which once kept me tethered to upstate New York doctors), this summer felt like a turning point, one that made me wistful even before I knew exactly what form it was taking.
The thing is, my mom has begun flirting with the idea of selling our house, a fact that weighed on me all summer. At this point, it’s just a conversation. But it feels like a real one. As much as I know that my relationship with Albany is shifting, and y’all would be justified telling me to grow up already, the idea of losing my home feels like a punch I couldn’t handle.
I know it’s not rational to request someone hold onto a house I spent forty-two nights a year in, but what can I say? That stack of walls sitting on a spit of land is my safety net, my comfort zone, and ground zero for every warm memory I’ve ever had of my childhood, my family, and becoming me. My compass always points back there, and without it, I feel like I’d just be spinning.
So what does that mean for me and the place that made me? Albany will always be home, for as long as I have a pillow to lay my head on there. However, in the spirit of simplifying, I’m hoping to organize next summer so that my time there falls into two big chunks instead of seven little ones; one at the start of the summer and one at the end. I also want to make sure I organize them so that they align with the time my mom is home from Martha’s Vineyard. Ideally by that point I’ll have successfully restructured my business so that I have a lot more free time (more on that later), so that whatever days I do spend in Albany are spent less in front of a screen and more in front of the people I love. Because after all, that’s what returning to our roots is all about, right?
Thanks for sharing these memories with me. On my blog they might take up just one post worth of space, but in my heart, a lot more.
See you next summer, 518.