Tuesday, June 15, 2010

10 Things

As soon as I wake up (as in become functional, which will require much more coffee and a shower), I'm off to Michigan for the summer.

This must mean I've finished my first year here. So what I really want to know (and undoubtedly you do, too) is this: what have I learned?

Here, in random order as they occur to me in my caffeine-deprived state, are 10 things I've learned from my year of living solo in New York:

  • How to ride a horse. Although this had been on my bucket list for years, it wasn't until a friend and colleague nagged me incessantly that I finally signed up for lessons. I'm definitely not a natural talent, but I'm improving. Hopefully I won't lose it all over the course of the summer

  • How to meet strangers in the laundromat. The laundromat is a great place to meet people. Seriously. I picked up my hairstylist there.

  • That when it comes to corresponding with people I have great intentions but horrible follow-through. If it weren't for Facebook and email, I would've lost touch with just about everybody I know who doesn't live in New York. (I always knew this one, but really saw it in action this year.)

  • Fry cakes, when done right, are vastly superior to donuts.

  • That trusting the universe will get me much farther than pretending I have all the answers.

  • Also, when I shut up and listen to them, I have good instincts. And that trusting my instincts sometimes requires counterintuitive actions.

  • How to make a terrific mustard-maple chicken. Heck, before, I didn't even know New York had a maple industry. Sad, but true.

  • That I'm okay by myself. I miss my boys, but one of the things this year has required of me is that I function externally rather than internally. I may often be socially awkward, but I'm still social and I think this is strangely easy to lose sight of this when we're part of a cohesive unit.

  • The pronunciation difference between Keuka and Cayuga is this: one has a voiceless velar plosive (k-sound) in the middle, while the other does not.

  • And finally, I have discovered that I can do, or find a way around, pretty much anything I decide to take on. Sometimes it requires rational approaches; sometimes it takes the help of friends; sometimes it takes a little more hard work than I had budgeted but at the end of it all, the goal is met. (Or modified. What it isn't is abandoned--which may have been the hardest lesson of all)

Now, on to summer in Michigan.

Friday, June 11, 2010

There was a time, not that long ago really, when New York existed only as an inconvenience. Starting about ten years ago, we would go to Maine for the summer--something unheard of in Michigan, as most Michiganders prefer to go "up north." (Make a mitten with your hand, and everything from the base of your fingers to the tips is "up north." The Upper Peninsula isn't up north, by the way--it's the U.P.)

We love Maine, though, so every summer it was the same big question--"how are we gonna get there?" Flying has become increasingly painful since 9-11, increased security issues compounded by luggage fees, long lines and generally annoyed people. Driving takes longer, but we can carry on all the liquids we want. Driving from Michigan to Maine also requires going through New York, and the annual conversation went something like this:

"How are we getting to Maine this year?"

"Well, we could fly, but I hate dealing with the airport, and we'll have to rent a car, and we won't get to stop in Vermont."

"Yeah, but if we drive, we'll have to go through New York. I hate that stretch through New York. There's nothing there. Miles and miles of nothing."

"True, but when we finally get out of New York, we're at Bennington."

Every year, the same conversation.

Recently, on a drive back from Plattsburgh, I was trying to explain this to a friend who has always lived in New York. I also admitted that on the big list of places I've always wanted to live, New York didn't even make the semi-final cut. In all of my wanderings, both real and imagined, it wasn't even up for consideration.

But here I am. I'm cleaning up my apartment, tossing things that will spoil over the next 3-4 weeks, and getting ready to head to Michigan for a bit. I'll enjoy my time in Michigan, seeing friends, doing the things that I have typically done there, and spending some much-needed time with my family. But I know, even though New York is an inconvenience, and even though New York isn't on my list of places I want to live, that to some extent I'll be marking off the days. I'll be ready to come home to this unlikely place.

I have plans. Big plans.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Finger Lakes Cooling

Once upon a time, I did all those things that need to be done once in a while--change the flat tire, unclog the sink, take out the trash, kill the black ants, get the oil changed, move to Alaska. If you're a single, obstinate woman, this is what you do--it all by yourself.

Then, eventually, I got married and someone else changed the tires, unclogged the sink, took out the trash, killed the ants and got the oil changed (that move to Alaska thingy was a singular event predicated on the fact that I was in my mid-20's and thought "what the hell. I've never been to Alaska." So I moved there).

And then, even more eventually, I moved to New York, leaving the tire-changing, sink-unclogging, trash-taking, ant-killing, oil-changing spouse in Michigan. And I am proud to admit that I have relearned how to do all of those things without asking for help. Well, sort of. When my tire went flat my first reaction was to call my husband who, while sympathetic, wasn't really in a position to help beyond asking "so, what are you going to do about it?"

One thing I had never done--and that almost made me break down and ask for help--was install a window unit air conditioner.

We had a string of extra-toasty days here in Upstate New York which were manageable during the day but really, who can sleep in an 84 degree bedroom? So I marched myself into Lowe's and stood there gaping at the assortment of window units.

Who knew there were so many features, options and variables? Since it was just for night, in my bedroom, I chose the smallest, cheapest one, dragged it off the stack and carried it to the checkout. (Did I get a cart? No. Did I ask for assistance? Of course not, though I found out after I was in line that one of the employees was chasing me with a cart--in my determination to get the thing done, I never even noticed. And for what it's worth, men who are shopping at Lowe's are really, really, amused by watching a short, fat, middle-aged woman dragging air conditioners across the store.)

I lugged it upstairs and into my bedroom, managed with only mild cursing to get it out of the box and sat there, aghast at all of the pieces that needed to be attached. My trusty Ikea tool kit next to me, I eventually got it assembled. (I have a few screws left over if anyone needs 'em. ) All that remained was putting it into the window, plugging it in, and turning it on.

Well, except that the way the window is set up with vinyl frames for the storm windows, I couldn't get it stabilized. And my bed was in the way. And the only outlet that would accommodate the plug is on the farthest wall.

So I shoved my bed into the middle of the room and managed to break off one of the bed frame wheels. Then I squashed a stack of paperback novels into the window crevice to stabilize the thing. The shiny covers made them a little slippery, so when I tried to get the air conditioner tilted to the correct angle, they slid out from underneath each other, tumbling out the window in a gruesome display of flying fiction.

Then I realized that there was no way the cord was going to get anywhere near the outlet. Plus the directions made a really big deal about having a dedicated, direct-access outlet as power source.

Really, all I wanted was cold air--did it have to be so hard?

Again to Lowe's where I bought packs of shims, a role of electrical tape, and spent 45 minutes staring at extension cords, certain that I was about to blow up the entire house. (To my credit, I had checked the volt/amp requirements and knew what I needed in an extension cord. I bought the heaviest one they had.)

Back home, I removed the slippery paperbacks, built a stack of shims and taped them together, put the damn air conditioner back into the damn window, adjusted the angle, attached the side-thingies to fill the extra space, wrapped tape around the whole mess, attached the extension cord, plugged it in, shoved my bed against a different wall, put the stack of books under the leg with a missing wheel, held my breath, counted to ten and turned the a/c on.

Ahhhhh. I slept well that night.