Snow Days

trees

A few nights ago, I turned on the local news to watch the weather forecast. Hearing rumors about snow coming, I wanted to put my finger on the pulse and get the (hopefully) unexaggerated story. If you live in the northeast, you learn to quickly to dismiss most accounts of a “huge snow storm coming” until you have the local weatherman’s prediction. It is easy to get people up in arms these days about the weather. A few inches of snow coming? The lines at the supermarket become unbearable. People flock to stores to stock up as if we will be alone in our houses for days with no means to obtain provisions. Generally speaking, there seems to be more concern about the weather than there ever was when I was a young person growing up in Glens Falls. Affirming this theory was the news broadcast of widespread school closings the night BEFORE the storm hit. This occurrence of preemptive school closings is unprecedented (as far as I know) for what was going to be less than a foot of snow.

This mild hysteria got me reflecting on snow days in Glens Falls. Most parents today greatly exaggerate their childhood challenges of walking miles to school every day, over hills, in any kind of weather, without shoes (just kidding). For those who grew up in my hometown, this depiction is not that far from the truth. We did (and students still do) have to walk to school and back home everyday. There are no daily buses for the city school district. As students, we walked to elementary school, junior high, and high school. Without the concern for getting buses safely to and from schools, snow days were scarce. I can remember mornings of becoming really angry because every school district surrounding Glens Falls was closed, yet we had to schlep to school. My sister and I would lie in bed with the clock radio tuned into WWSC waiting and hoping to hear that we had a snow day. On the rare occasion that our school was closed, it meant there was a lot of snow, and we were incredibly excited!

SignSome of the greatest memories that I have of my hometown revolved around snow days and a hearty snowfall. Today, with a foot or so of fresh snow on the ground, I set off to explore my favorite winter spot in Glens Falls—Crandall Park. Engulfed in sunlight and sparkling, crystallized snowflakes blowing through the trees, the park looked as beautiful as I remembered it. The snow was piled deep and the city had plowed all the roads through the park, so I was able to take in all the sites.

Spotting the pond, I stopped my car and got out. Although the ice was frozen solid, the city had not yet plowed off the snow to make way for skating. In fact, I don’t know if the city clears the ice anymore at all, but when I was younger, this park was my very favorite place to be in the winter because I could skate all day.

In my youth, I had a ritual for getting ready to go over to Crandall Park. First came warming my skates on the forced hot air vent in our home on Flandreaux Avenue. The hot air blower was prime real estate in our house, and you had to fight for your moment on the big vent in the living room. Once I was successful in securing my turf and the chill was taken off my skates, I’d tie on a new pair of homemade yarn pom-poms. This little craft project of making pom-poms was executed by wrapping one long piece of yarn around my mother’s pack of cigarettes, over and over again. Once the winding was significantly adequate, I would tie the yarn together on one side of the pack, and then cut the opposite side of the yarn bunch to free the cigarette pack and form the pom-pom. The final step was securing it to the laces of my skates. Usually by the time I got home hours later, the entire thing had unraveled and I didn’t mind. It meant that I got to make another for the next trip to the rink.

Skating for me was a time of daydreaming and quiet. Sometimes, I went alone. Sometimes, I went with friends. Sometimes, I went to watch the boys in my class play hockey in the rink near the YMCA. The feeling that is captured in the recesses of my memories is one of peace and self-worth. I liked to skate, and I was good at it. (In fact it was the only athletic activity at which I excelled.) Overcoming fears of falling by challenging myself to skate backwards or conquer the long, steep icy ramp that led from the clubhouse to the big rink helped to create confidence that I may not have had otherwise. If there was a chance to go skating at night under the lights, it was pure magic.

Crandall PondToday, I watched as a couple of determined citizens cleared a patch of ice on the small pond and skated around shooting a hockey puck back and forth. The foot of fresh snow could not stop these skaters from having some fun. Hearing the sounds of skates and laughter brought a wonderful and nostalgic sensation to my heart and mind.

I wandered over to the clubhouse to visit the large rink from my past that was created by flooding the baseball playing field on Glen Street. Much to my disappointment, the rink was not there. The clubhouse, which looks nicely restored, stood on the hill alone—no kids running in and out and no icy hill to navigate before entering the large rink. My heart sunk. I could not help but think that this is a big loss to the city. Having free outdoor activity accessible to all is vital to retaining families at every socioeconomic level. Crandall Park certainly provides free family benefits in the summer months and provides beautifully maintained walking and skiing trails in the winter but the elimination of the rink leaves a hole in this recreational treasure.
ClubhouseI have no idea when the City of Glens Falls decided to stop providing the residents with a skating rink or when it stopped plowing off the pond, but it is sad. As I stood there in the park, there was also a part of me that felt slightly responsible for being so out-of-touch with something that meant so much to me. Perhaps my generation, many of whom have left our hometown, took the value of the skating rink with them when they migrated. I wondered if there are people who miss skating and want the rink back, like me?

Looking over the field and thinking about my childhood spent skating at the park, I took another moment to find the beauty in this place without my past and without an agenda. I realized that the park (with or without the rink and skating pond) is still a truly magnificent place to explore. I hope that someday, there will be children on skates gliding, twirling, and falling across the pond and the rink again. As Glens Falls continues to recover and prosper, perhaps the resources and demand for winter skating will emerge and materialize. The park is waiting. Can you hear it calling?

House-Crandall

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Unusual Turf

Rare earth signAs I walked the downtown streets of Glens Falls on a cold winter afternoon, there were cranes and construction vehicles on display in front of a large vacant building on Glen Street. Windows covered with paper and grime advertised the promise of a new cafe soon to join the ranks of the downtown business sector. Walking past Sterling and Company, a prominent home goods store that has been open for 7 years, I couldn’t resist taking one last stroll through before they close their doors for good in a few weeks. The shelves were all but empty, and it looked like a ghost town. It would have been completely depressing if it weren’t for the fact that the space is so beautiful—-brick walls, tin ceilings and polished hardwood floors. I sent a wish out to the universe that this space will soon be filled with some vibrant and successful enterprise.

This is an example of the commerce cycle that I have witnessed for the last 35 years in my hometown.  One store opens, and another store closes. Yet, something seems different right now. Though tenuous, there is a spark of hope that things are getting better here. There is a palpable momentum in the energy of the town. People are living downtown. There are fewer vacant storefronts. And everywhere you look, construction and building rehab projects are sprouting up. And if that doesn’t give you hope, then take a walk over to the newly opened Rare Earth Wine Bar.

photo(1)Two weeks ago, Rare Earth Wine Bar on Glen Street opened their doors to the general public for the first time. Following this establishment on Facebook, I have been waiting for them to obtain all the necessary approvals from the state so that they could begin serving. The anticipation was building on the Facebook page. You might ask what the big deal is? That answer is twofold.

First, the owners of this establishment, Paul K. Parker and Michael Belanger, are first-class foodies. Parker, with deep roots in his family-owned business (now closed) Chez Sophie, and Belanger, a passionate wine authority, make up the dream team that manage Rare Earth. The food and wine, I predicted, were going to be fantastic.

Second, Rare Earth has taken over an important space on Glen Street. They are highly visible near the traffic circle between Raul’s Mexican Restaurant and the newly opened 166 Glen storefront. Filling this space helps to cement the feeling of vibrancy that is coming back in Glens Falls. Clearly, there are people who are taking on risk, working hard to cultivate a new downtown, and they should be applauded and recognized. The commitment these folks exhibit to downtown inspires me, and I’m eager to support them.

After just one visit to Rare Earth, I am compelled to talk about these guys. Just to be clear, I am no food writer. The proprietors of this restaurant truly deserve a serious critic’s review. What I hope to share here is the excitement of a new place and the experience of finding something of great value in Glens Falls. I hope that the regional media and local food lovers will flock to this place, and give Rare Earth the attention that they deserve for the years of experience and expertise of the ownership.

photo(2)The evening of our dining experience, we arrived at peak dinner hour and were greeted by a friendly hostess who quickly got us a table near the bar. The place was bustling. Surveying the scene, the vibe of the place immediately felt different from anything else in Glens Falls or Saratoga, for that matter. The walls were completely covered with paintings—so many in fact that one could make multiple visits and notice something new each time. There is a lounge area at the front of the room near the door so that patrons can relax in soft leather chairs and watch the crowds on Glen Street. (OK, I am being optimistic about the crowds.) There are tables in the middle of the room for larger groups and bar tables lined up against a wall near the bar. The whole place feels cozy, friendly and intimate.

Probably the most unusual aspect to this place is the use of iPads on all the tables. The menus are displayed on the tablets. In the near future, patrons will be able to order food right from the iPad and the request will go straight to the kitchen. Visiting Rare Earth Wine Bar before the official opening, not every bit of technology was working yet. The iPads displayed the menu but were not interactive and the credit card system had not been implemented, so we were asked to use cash. Not a big deal in my book. I was happy for the privilege to vet these proprietors out during the “soft opening.”

photo 3Philip and I settled in quite easily and started exploring the menu. Rare Earth is one of those places where you want to try everything. Fortunately, they make it really easy to explore a range of wonderful food options. The wine menu is priced on three levels: taste, glass and bottle. This encourages sampling and pairing with all of the food options available. Belanger is a Saratoga acquaintance, and his reputation for growing grapes, making wine, and investing in the wine industry precedes him. We put our wine choices in his capable hands and sat back to enjoy.

Now sometimes, you go to a place where the staff knows a lot about wine and you can’t trust them to pair all of your food courses for you without breaking the bank. That is not so here. The wines are all reasonably priced. Three of the choices (Riesling, Chardonnay, and Prosecco) are offered on tap. Belanger explained that Parker and he spent months trying thousands of wines to find the most interesting, affordable, drinkable ones for their customers. It was evident that the time invested in the research has produced some very fine and affordable choices. We tried some really super wines from Spain and France that neither Philip nor I had ever had before.

Getting right into the food and wine pairing, we explored the menu thoroughly. Each plate ranged from $9-$16. Hoping to find a great meal at a relatively moderate cost, Rare Earth Wine Bar did not disappoint us. Starting with raw oysters and a French white wine, we slurped down two briny little numbers from the coast of Massachusetts followed by two sweet and fresh little guys from Nova Scotia. Oysters were priced per unit and there is a special price when you buy 6.

It’s hard to follow such a wonderful opening, but the rabbit terrine was just the thing to transition us into the warmer, richer choices awaiting us. The terrine was perfectly seasoned and wonderfully moist. I was also happy to see that the bread being served with the terrine was from Rockhill Bakehouse, housed around the corner from Rare Earth. Seeing local businesses collaborating is important to me as a customer, and I am sure that there are others like me who appreciate the importance of building community between merchants.

For courses three and four, we asked that they be delivered simultaneously. Our Hereford strip steak with Bordelaise sauce arrived perfectly prepared along with our escargot-filled turnips. Belanger sent over a glass of Spanish white to be sipped with the escargot and a French red to drink with the steak. I was absolutely in heaven! This is the kind of food experience that makes me really happy. For me there were no weak points or “just OK” moments. I was inspired by the thought put into the food and wine and the enthusiasm with which it was presented. By the time we finished our meal with chocolate mousse and bubbly, corks were popping in the chef’s kitchen and some of the customers were watching (and drinking) as Chef Parker worked his magic. Everyone in the place was having a great time.

On our way out the door, I stopped to speak with three gentlemen that I knew from Glens Falls High School. I could tell that they too were swept up in the energy of the room and shared in the hope for this wonderful establishment to succeed. What I thought was going to be a quick exchange of words with my fellow alumni, ended up being a long, laughter-filled conversation. The perfect way to end the evening. I guess that’s how it is at Rare Earth Wine Bar….the place just brings out the best in people.

photo(3)

Hanging out with friends.

From Left to Right: James Morrison, Michael Belanger and Philip Reynolds