Relaxing on a Busy Vacation
Published on July 15, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about my recent vacation, and how busy it was.

Here's an excerpt:

"In the days leading up to my annual July 4th vacation, I surveyed my time off from afar, as if gazing at a vast, open field just waiting to be traversed.

I imagined all the things I would do during my vacation.

I would bring my laptop along, and write for leisure, carving out time every day to sit down and be creative. I would visit some of my friends in New Hampshire. I would go for bike rides and run every day. I would watch movies every night, after the rest of my family had retired for the evening. I would read five or six magazines, and a couple of books. My vacation was endless, and full of potential.

My attitude began to change shortly after I arrived at my parents’ house in Maine.

All of a sudden, it seemed like I had plenty to do.

For instance, I had to go to the beach twice a day: once in the morning, and once in the afternoon.

We kept these beach trips fairly short, to accommodate my 1-year-old niece Kenzie’s nap schedule. Kenzie took to the ocean almost immediately, which was good. Her father, Tom, doesn’t particularly like the ocean, and her mother and I felt it was important to instill a love of the ocean in her as early as possible. At first, she seemed sort of wary of the cold water and crashing waves, but her wariness was short-lived. By the second day, she was walking down to the water of her own accord and laughing joyfully whenever my sister Rebecca lowered her into the surf and pulled her up again.

'I’m glad she likes it,' Rebecca said. 'I was worried we had another Tom on our hands.'"

Click here to read the whole thing.


Simple Satisfaction
Published on June 23, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about some of my simple satisfactions.

Here's an excerpt:

Occasionally I’m accused of being a person who is never satisfied with anything.

And it’s hard to argue otherwise.

There are, in my mind, numerous things to be dissatisfied with. All I have to do is step outside, or read the newspapers, to start feeling dissatisfied. The numerous vacant buildings that I drive or walk past on a daily basis are a source of dissatisfaction. So are the potholes I frequently drive over, and the people who honk their horns on my street early in the morning, and the trash I see on the side of the road and hanging from trees.

The trash is always a particular source of discontent. Years ago, one of my old colleagues frequently called the city of Albany to alert them to a plastic bag that had been trapped in the branches of the tree outside her office window for months on end. 'This bag has been there for a really long time,' she would say. 'Can’t someone remove it?'

Of course no one could remove it. That goes without saying. For all I know, that unsightly plastic bag is still ensnared in that downtown tree, bringing a little bit of ugliness to someone else’s daily view.

A single bag in a single tree isn’t such a big deal. But it’s certainly indicative of a world that’s far from perfect. And I don’t know why I should be satisfied with a world that’s far from perfect. Every day, I find myself asking why the world can’t be better than it is now. It’s hard to read reports of war and joblessness and corruption and crime and just shrug my shoulders and accept it.

That said, there are plenty of things that I find satisfying. Here are some of them:

* Mountains, particularly when I am standing on top of them.

* Seafood, especially lobster, but also shrimp and clams."

Click here to read the whole thing.

A Very Pleasant Saturday
Published on June 19, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about my very pleasant Saturday morning, which I spent eating and looking at waterfalls.

Click here to learn more.

Finding Friends, Anywhere
Published on June 10, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I humbly suggest that it's OK to be friends with the people you work with.

Here's an excerpt:

"I used to hang out with a colleague who didn’t believe in forming close friendships with the people she worked with.

'We can’t really be friends,' she once told me, during a day spent sailing and picnicking. 'At least, not good friends. We work together.'

I didn’t really know what to say to this.

For one thing, it seemed like the sort of thought you might just keep to yourself. Even if it was true, why point it out? But it was also the sort of comment that made me feel like just packing up and going home. Why would I want to spend the day with someone who could never be anything more than a good acquaintance? Wouldn’t I rather devote my limited energy for socializing to people I actually care about? And who care about me?

Not surprisingly, my friendship (or nonfriendship) with my colleague eventually fizzled out. We drifted apart, as people sometimes do, but the nature of our rupture was ultimately philosophical: I believe that you can be friends with the people you work with, and she does not.

If you Google the words 'workplace friendship,' you’ll find countless articles and essays and blog posts on the topic. They have titles such as 'The Three Rules of Workplace Friendships' and 'Workplace Friendships: Asset or Liability?' and 'The Top 10 Tips for Workplace Friendships.'

This last piece, from U.S. News and World Report, offers such tips as 'keep your business and personal lives separate,' 'use the friendship to your benefit' and 'don’t complain about your boss.' Another piece, on The Daily Mail website, seemed to view workplace friendships as a tragic consequence of modern life, suggesting that our 'work colleagues are our closest friends because we are too busy to keep in touch with old mates.'

I read the articles on workplace friendship with the same curiosity I might bring to an etiquette guide from an alien planet."

Click here to read the whole thing.

More Bacon Than Onions
Published on June 2, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about my Memorial Day weekend, which started off cold and dreary but finished rather nicely.

Here's an excerpt:

"I spent Memorial Day weekend in New Hampshire.

Before I went, I put a good deal of thought into packing my suitcase.

I was only going to be away for three days, but the somewhat grim and unpredictable weather forecast forced me to plan for a wide range of conditions.

Would it rain for three straight days? Would it be cold? Would it be warm? Should I bring both sandals and sneakers and hiking boots? Should I bring multiple fleeces and thick woolen socks? Would a winter hat and gloves be necessary?

I answered yes to all of these questions, which made for a very full suitcase. I looked like I was leaving on a weeklong vacation.

The temperature dropped steadily as I headed northeast on Saturday, dipping to 38 degrees as I drove over Hogback Mountain, a 2,400-plus foot peak in southern Vermont. Gloomily, I wondered whether it would snow. The rain that had awoken me earlier in the day showed no signs of letting up. Strong gusts of wind shook the trees and the American flags displayed for the holiday. Most cars had their headlights on because of the increasingly dark skies."

Click here to read the whole thing.


Graduations: Dull, But Exciting
Published on May 28, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I reflect upon graduations, and the value of education.

Here's an excerpt:

"I think we can all agree that graduations are generally pretty boring.

Occasionally there’s a decent speaker, but there’s no getting around the fact that a long list of names must be read, and a big stack of degrees handed out. This process will ultimately turn even the most interesting graduation into a long slog. Just thinking about sitting through a graduation makes me feel sleepy.

But when my friend Bruce invited me to attend his commencement at Hudson Valley Community College, I responded as if he’d offered to treat me to a trip to Europe. Of course I wanted to go to his commencement. In fact, I was honored to be invited!

I’ve always taken my own graduations for granted.

It was never really in doubt that I would graduate from high school and attend college.

My parents are college graduates, as are most of my relatives. And I was fascinated by the idea of college from an early age. My parents brought me to one of their college reunions when I was in elementary school, and I loved roaming around the campus and participating in organized group activities with the other kids who were there." 

Click here to read the whole thing.

Stress in Stressful Times
Published on May 20, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about stress.

Here's an excerpt:

"When I have a headache, I often tap into the bottle of pain relievers that a colleague of mine keeps on her desk.

Usually the bottle contains ibuprofen, which works well enough.

But when an article in the journal Psychological Science reported that Tylenol has been found to reduce anxiety associated with 'thoughts of existential uncertainty and death,' I suggested we make a switch.

'Let’s get Tylenol,' I said. 'It will make us feel better about life.'

I’m always looking for ways to reduce stress and always feeling stymied in my efforts.

I take vacations. I swim. I walk. I set aside time for leisure and enjoying the company of my friends. I climb mountains. I own pets.

Occasionally, I splurge on a massage. I did this a few weeks ago, partly because I was experiencing some tightness in my neck and shoulders and partly because I thought it would help me relax. Ideally, a good massage contributes to an overall feeling of calm and well being that lasts for a little while.
However, my most recent massage simply did not work.

And it wasn’t the fault of the massage therapist."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Memorials That Hit Home
Published on May 15, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about my old friend Jeremy Charron, and how I feel in general about memorials.

Here's an excerpt:

I traveled to my sister’s place last weekend to celebrate my niece’s first birthday, taking my usual route through southern Vermont and New Hampshire. This is a lovely drive, highlighted by winding, rural highways that run alongside rivers and lakes and over rolling hills and small yet impressive mountains.

One of the things I enjoy most about this particular trip are the old haunts it takes me through, such as the small New Hampshire town of Hillsboro, where I lived until I was 14. Driving through Hillsboro always makes me nostalgic, and although sometimes I stop to visit old friends, I often pass through as quickly as possible, on my way to other places.

My sister and her husband live about an hour northeast of Hillsboro. Every time I go there, I pass through a traffic circle in the town of Epsom that I’ve been driving through since I was a child heading to Maine on vacation. On one of my more recent trips, I noticed that the traffic circle had been renamed for two fallen police officers: Jeremy Charron and Michael Briggs. A portion of the highway that runs through Epsom is also named for Jeremy Charron.

I didn’t know Michael Briggs, who was originally from Epsom and was shot and killed in the line of duty in 2006.

But I did know Jeremy Charron.

Click here to read the whole thing.

Just Like Old Times
Published on April 29, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about my vacation to the Deep South.

Here's an excerpt:

"For my spring vacation, I decided to take a road trip.

It had been about five years since I’d seen my Southern friends, and so I mapped out a route that would take me to Birmingham, Ala., where I lived and worked for several years after graduating from college.

But my first stop was in Virginia, at my friend Heather’s. I met Heather in Albany, when we lived on the same street, and I was excited to see her new house, where she’s putting into practice many of the things she’s long talked of doing: gardening and raising chickens, and building sculptures in a large backyard shed. Before I arrived, she asked whether I’d be willing to attend a mushroom party hosted by a member of her sustainable living group.

'What do you do at a mushroom party?' I asked.

'Cultivate mushrooms,' Heather replied.

She explained that she and her friends were hoping to grow their own shiitake mushrooms, and that this entailed drilling numerous holes in logs, nailing small wooden plugs colonized with mushroom spawn into the holes, and sealing the holes with wax.

I agreed to go, mainly because when I hear the word party, I imagine something fun, with music, drinks, snacks and interesting conversation. Instead, I found myself performing physical labor for about two hours, my ability to converse with people limited by the loud buzzing of drills and pounding of hammers. Once the logs were inoculated, Heather and I began carrying them over to a pickup truck and tossing them onto the flatbed.

'Just like old times, huh?' she said.

'Yup,' I said.

Click here to read the whole thing.

Goodbye To Winter
Published on April 16, 2013 by Sara Foss

I'm a little late posting my most recent column, as I've just gotten back from my spring vacation.

In any case, here's the link, for posterity's sake.

Movies That Ruin Your Night
Published on April 1, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about why I watch sad, depressing, soul-shattering movies.

Here's an excerpt:

"A couple of weeks ago, I finally got around to watching the 2010 film 'Never Let Me Go.'

An adaptation of a highly acclaimed novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, the movie is a compelling blend of science-fiction and coming-of-age film that depicts a world where medical advances have enabled people to live well past 100, but at a terrible cost: Cloned children are raised in isolation at private schools and facilities, and when they reach adulthood, their organs are harvested and given to nonclones. The film focuses on three friends destined for sacrifice and early death, and though I kept hoping they would find a way to escape their tragic fates, I sensed that a happy ending was not in the cards.

And I was right.

By the time 'Never Let Me Go' reached its devastating conclusion, I felt like I’d been stabbed in the heart. If I was the sort of person who cried at movies, tears would have been streaming down my face. I idly wondered whether the film deserved a spot on my mental list of Movies That Will Ruin Your Night — movies that are so sad and bleak and anguished that they leave you shattered and emotionally drained.

And yet I was impressed by what I’d seen.

Just as I was impressed with 'The Deer Hunter' and 'Requiem for a Dream' and 'The Ice Storm' — other films on my list of Movies That Will Ruin Your Night. None of these movies were fun to watch, but they were riveting — well-acted, well-written, expertly filmed, insightful and provocative. And yet I can understand why people might balk at the idea of watching them. After all, not everyone wants to have their night ruined by relentlessly depressing cinema.

In fact, most people go to the movies to be entertained."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Arts and Books Inspire Trips
Published on March 25, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about how reading and looking at art make me feel like traveling.

Here's an excerpt:

"Last weekend my parents were in town, and so I took them to the Albany Institute of History & Art to see the Currier & Ives and Hudson River School exhibits.

Both exhibits are quite good and well worth seeing. But I think the Hudson River School exhibit is of particular interest to people who live in upstate New York, as it features numerous paintings and prints of the Adirondacks and Catskills and other Northeastern attractions, such as New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

I’ve visited many of the places depicted in the Hudson River School exhibit, and I enjoyed seeing familiar places transformed by an artist’s eye and imagination.

As I wandered through the galleries, I reminisced about hiking in the Catskills and Adirondacks, and marveled at Albany’s heyday as a bustling port city with a vibrant riverfront teeming with boats. I remembered my awestruck first trip to Niagara Falls and was reminded of my newfound appreciation for communities to the south of the Capital Region, such as Hudson and Woodstock. And when I stopped to gaze upon a depiction of the Cohoes Falls, my first thought was that my parents and I should drive out to Cohoes and look at it. After all, my mother is wild about waterfalls.

Why not take a little drive, and see the real thing?"

Click here to read the whole thing.

Photographic Memories
Published on March 17, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write how photographs help keep my memory of people and places sharp.

Here's an excerpt:

'Last weekend I visited friends from college in Burlington, Vt., and eventually we got to reminiscing about our undergraduate days.

We recalled the good times we had eating together in the dining hall, at the round table over by the window, and working at the school newspaper. Each year, my friend Zach and I stayed on campus following the end of exams to put out the commencement issue of the newspaper, and when I mentioned the week we spent together at the conclusion of my sophomore year, Zach nodded.

'That was one of the most fun weeks I had in college,' he said.

Me too,' I said.

Zach and I are obviously different people, with different memories, but our memories of that special week were very similar. They involved working hard and listening to music (mainly Prince), filling up the office water coolor with beer (which is not something I’d recommend) and going out at night to parties. Of course, pictures help: One of the photographs I took that week features an upside-down Zach hanging from the exposed pipes in the newspaper office. Would I remember that moment without the photograph? Or would it have disappeared into the ether, like so many other moments from the past?"

Click here to read the whole thing.

Quiet, Please! Part II
Published on March 11, 2013 by Sara Foss

I loved this Ta-Nehisi Coates post about the jerks who talk and act rowdy on the Amtrak quiet car - it reminded me of my recent column about people who go to the movies and gab and play on their phones.

Why do people act this way? 

Probably, Coates suggests, because they're assholes.

It is not unlike what I've noticed here when commenters arrive and complain about the prohibition against threadjacking, the deleting, or moderation as a whole. The Internet is filled with comment spaces, most of them only barely regulated. But that is not enough. One must have the right to talk however one wants, here, specifically.
I think what we have here is a working definition of an asshole -- a person who demands that all social interaction happen on their terms. Assholes fill our various worlds. But the banhammer only works in one of them.
Yup, sounds about right.

Tightwad or Spendthrift?
Published on March 10, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about how sometimes paying more money for stuff is worth it.

Here's an excerpt:

"When I was a kid, a candy bar was something special, often enjoyed on a long drive.

My dad would purchase a Snickers or a Milky Way, cut it into thirds, and distribute the pieces to me and my sisters.

At the time, this was a wonderful treat.

But now, as adults, we make fun of my father’s frugality. When he asks whether we need anything from the store, we often reply, 'Could you buy us a candy bar and cut it into three pieces?' Then we laugh uproariously. Sometimes we follow it up by requesting a single can of soda, which we can all share.

Anyway, I think this little story illustrates where my reluctance to spend money on basic necessities might come from.

My parents were always looking for good deals on groceries, clothing, cars and toys, and tended to be slow to adopt new technology. I still remember the magical day my father brought home a VCR, and my glee when we finally got a Nintendo. Though it’s probably worth noting that a family friend gave us the Nintendo and that without this act of generosity it’s unlikely video games ever would have entered our home.

For the most part, I didn’t care about having the best.

Fashion was of little interest. I was fine with clothes purchased on sale and hand-me-downs. I wasn’t into shoes — I wore my sneakers until they wore out, then got another pair. I was happy with the inexpensive CD player I purchased with earnings from my first job — I saw little need to spend a bundle on a state-of-the-art stereo system. And I was perfectly content to drive around in my parents’ old Ford Escort. I didn’t care that it wasn’t mine, or that it wasn’t a newer, more attractive vehicle — I was grateful that I had access to a vehicle and that I was allowed to drive my friends around in it.

Over the years, my attitude toward money has evolved."

Click here to read the whole thing.

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