Archive for September, 2009

Home, At Last

For someone who has moved as often as I have, it’s odd to admit I have something of a phobia about moving.  Whenever I’m planning a move into a new apartment or house, I reliably have a nightmare about some ghastly fact that I happened to overlook.  Sometimes this nightmare exacerbates some actual flaw — like before we moved into our New York apartment, I dreamed that it turned out to be so narrow you couldn’t even fit furniture in it.

Before moving into our home in Providence, I had two nightmares.  I dreamed that I came back to visit our house to discover it was actually on a major street, almost a highway.  I also dreamed that the new owners of our New York apartment were able to convert it to a spacious three bedroom layout.

So it was with much anticipation that we finally moved into the house with just a handful of things before the ‘official’ move of all our worldly possessions.  The first night in a new place (and I’ve been in dozens) can be a wonderful or horrible revelation.  I remember waking up in the middle of our first night in New York wondering why people were honking at 4 am, only to look out the window onto 7th Avenue and realize that yes, there was enough traffic to perhaps warrant honking.  After living there, I’d never imagine noise would bother me but a few years later on our first night sleeping on Massachusetts Avenue in Boston, I actually had to go down to CVS in the middle of the night to buy earplugs.

Anticipating our first night in our Providence house, I tried to moderate my expectations — for example, I didn’t expect any of us (especially Madeline) to sleep well the first night in a big, old house after spending the last few years in modern, compact apartments.  It will take time, I told myself.  So I left several lights on, kept all the doors open, and got in bed.  As we were falling asleep, we heard the comforting sound of some people chatting as they walked by the house.  Because as much as I detest sirens blaring by my head at night, I fear silence much more.

And just like that it was morning.  We all slept great, even Madeline.  And there’s nothing quite like a peaceful night’s sleep to make you know you are home.

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An inside view of Farmstead.

An inside view of Farmstead.

We moved to Providence, Rhode Island 48 hours ago, and have had a decent meal every six hours on average. With no particular bias except geography, here are the first eight Rhode Island restaurants we tried since we became residents of the state. I’ve ordered these from what I thought was the worst to the best, for fun, so the reader can understand my personal preferences for food and why.

8. Haven Brothers Diner – By far the worst meal of the lot. I’ve been to this movable diner once before at 2am, and it seemed a lot better than it did on my recent day visit.  Nothing is cooked to order, frozen food is reheated in an underpowered microwave in unwashed containers. The staff is all family and perfectly friendly, but tonight they are much more interested in the novelty of running a diner than the food quality. One would think the novelty would have worn off considering that they’ve been around forever. Walking up those stairs into the portable restaurant is really great, but the food is worse than poor. Save it for 2am. (Fulton and Dorrance Streets, Providence, RI)

7. Minerva Pizza House – Standard fare. Americanized Greek and Middle Eastern food. I didn’t try the pizza yet, but falafel fell short. A heavily seasoned grilled chicken salad (iceberg lettuce) wasn’t half-bad. (20 South Angell Street, Providence, RI)

6. Amenities – This little owner-run deli makes decent sandwiches, with good proportions, on fresh bread. A few inventive items decorate the whiteboard menu. A turkey Reuben was tasty the other day, and the sandwich was made to order with care. (10 Dorrance Street, Providence, RI)

5. Eddie & Sons Diner – [Ed. note: Eddie & Sons has closed permanently] The atmosphere at this central downtown diner can’t be beat. Newspapers waiting in a neat pile for their readers to pore over during a breakfast taken with black coffee. They failed my official ‘diner litmus test’ with canned hash, but Michele liked the pancakes, which is no small feat. Lots of gossip, lots of regulars, and even a refusal to serve a customer — “I can’t fill that coffee cup, it’s too big,” our waitress practically hollers to a workmen who walked in. “Let him fill it,” a voice rings out from the back.  “I already told him I won’t!” she shouts back. I love it. Potatoes (another test) were not crispy but otherwise very flavorful. (4 Dorrance St Providence, RI)

4. East Side Pocket – The long line is a giveaway. This place is good. Fresh-made sandwiches, and solid Middle Eastern food. Chips and hummus where both the hummus and chips taste homemade. (278 Thayer Street, Providence, RI www.eastsidepocket.com)

3.  Seven Stars BakeryThese simple sandwiches of ham, cheese and butter on a baguette could have been made in Paris — tasty although a bit dry (here you are welcome to add mustard or mayo).  They also make a delicious cinnamon swirl bun and ginger star cookies. They carry soda made in Rhode Island! (820 Hope St and 342 Broadway, Providence, RI www.sevenstarsbakery.com)

2. Loui’s – This snug diner offers great diner food at reasonable prices.  Favorites are the delicious (and huge) breakfast sandwiches on toasted long rolls or English muffins and tasty pancakes (no maple syrup though).  Sometimes the portions are a bit absurd, like two scrambled eggs that look more like five.  They also have lunch and dinner items — although we tried to go there for dinner on Monday, and they were closed.  The service is perfect — our quick-handed waitress was able to save a huge OJ from being knocked off the table by an over-eager Madeline.  We’ve been back quite a few times since we first discovered this place on one of our trips to Providence — it’s a keeper. (286 Brook St, Providence, RI)

1. Farmstead – Glad to see this top-notch little sandwich shop in Wayland Square.  A BLT with thick, smoky bacon (perfectly cooked, IMO) on even thicker bread is a delicious, if a bit heavy of a lunch.  The braseola with fig jam, cheese and lettuce definitely won us over. They have a wide selection of cheeses, and even sell chips and sodas made in New England. (184-188 Wayland Avenue, Providence, RI, www.farmsteadinc.com June 2014: Farmstead has been sold and will no longer be run by Chef Matt Jennings

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Middle of Nowhere Diner

The Middle of Nowhere Diner in Exeter, Rhode Island

This is the kind of place that usually causes Geoff to declare, “That looks fantastic,” as we drive past. I’ve come to realize his criteria: the dingier and dirtier, the better he imagines it is. Sometimes, he’s right and we discover the best pancakes ever, but just as often our meal turns out to be a disappointment.

So last night as we stopped into The Middle of Nowhere Diner in Exeter, Rhode Island, I knew it could go either way. At 5:30 pm on a Sunday, the place was bustling with a mostly over-60-something crowd, but still plenty of tables to choose from (it’s larger than it looks from the outside).

We started with the wedding soup which nicely done with delicious homemade meatballs, fresh greens, and teeny balls of pasta. I’m not going to lie to you — it’s not even half as good as Geoff’s grandmother makes. But, it was pretty good for a diner, and since I ate two bowls, I must have liked it. For our main course, Geoff had meatloaf (also freshly made with robust flavor), and I had a perfectly wonderful roast chicken which they called All-You-Can-Eat Chicken alongside a more ordinary pasta with sauce. Sadly, we didn’t get to taste the homemade desserts because Madeline had decided it was time to go. And when a two-year-old says it’s time to go, trust me, you listen.

But we’ll be back, hopefully next time to try their pancakes and four-egg omelets.

The Middle of Nowhere Diner
222 Nooseneck Hill Rd
Exeter, RI
www.themiddleofnowherediner.com

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Friend or foe?  Without a leash, I never know...

Friend or foe? Without a leash, I never know…

Sometimes I think it is my personal mission to inform dog owners of the local leash law.

The other day, I even called the local police to report a golden lab who wandered aimlessly in King Park in Newport, RI. After a few minutes, I did see a police car drive down Wellington Ave — impressive. But about a half hour later and block away, I passed two women attempting to leash that same dog — not as impressive.

“Is that your dog?” I asked the two women.

“No,” one of them said. “But he has a collar and we’re going to phone the owner.”

“Oh, I said, “I called the police earlier but I guess they didn’t find him,” I answered.

“Thank you so much,” she said.

When I was a young child, my dad was bit by an unleashed dog, and I’ve never forgotten the memory of his bloody hand in the car afterwards. I guess that’s why I’m a bit afraid of unleashed dogs (especially when they’re chasing my toddler at a children’s park). So, I’m all for the law that requires that you keep your dog on a leash. Is it really so much to ask? I don’t care how nice he or she is, how gentle, how old. If your dog needs to run around, then run alongside your leashed dog. If you can’t manage that, then take the poor creature to a dog park — I’ve listed them all below to help you out. If you can’t even manage that, are you sure you want a dog?

And if you don’t heed my advice, just remember I have the number of Animal Control, and I’m not afraid to use it (or post it, see below).

Rhode Island Off-Leash Dog Parks

Haines Park Dog Park
On the west side of Haines Memorial State Park
Rt 103
Barrington, Rhode Island
http://www.riparks.com/haines.htm

Bristol Paw Park (coming soon)
Bristol, Rhode Island
http://www.bristolpawpark.org (not yet live)

Newport Dog Park
At the base of the Pell Bridge, across the street from the Newport Playhouse.
Connell Highway
Newport, Rhode Island

Gano Street Dog Park
Gano Street and Power Street (adjacent to basketball courts)
Providence, Rhode Island
http://www.providencedogparkassociation.org/gano_street.htm

Warwick Dog Park
In Warwick City Park down the road, past parking on the right.
Asylum Road
Warwick, Rhode Island

To Report an Un-Leashed Dog

Call the (non-emergency) number for your local police station or one of the animal control offices listed.

Animal Control
Providence, Rhode Island
(401) 243-6040‎
www.providenceri.com/animal/

Barrington Police Animal Control‎
Barrington, Rhode Island
(401) 437-3936‎

Bristol Dog Pound
Bristol, Rhode Island
(401) 253-4834‎

Central Falls Animal Control‎
Central Falls, Rhode I‎sland
(401) 727-7411 x3106‎

Charlestown Animal Control Shelter
Charlestown, Rhode I‎sland
(401) 364-1211‎

Coventry Police Department: Animal Control & Rescue
Coventry, Rhode Island
(401) 822-9106‎

Hopkinton Animal Control
Hopkinton, Rhode Island
(401) 377-7785‎

Lincoln Town Animal Control
Lincoln, Rhode Island
(401) 333-0950‎

North Kingstown-Exeter Animal Rescue League‎
North Kingstown, Rhode Island
(401) 294-1115‎

Pawtucket: Animal Control Officer
Pawtucket, Rhode Island
(401) 722-4243‎

Portsmouth Animal Control
Portsmouth, Rhode Island
(401) 643-0136‎

Smithfield Animal Control‎
(401) 233-1055‎

Animal Rescue League‎
Wakefield, Rhode Island
(401) 792-2233‎

Tiverton Animal Control
Tiverton, Rhode Island
(401) 624-6624‎

Warwick Police: Animal Control Officer
Warwick, Rhode Island
(401) 468-4377‎

West Greenwich Animal Control‎
West Greenwich, RI
(401) 397-8999‎

Animal Rescue League Westerly‎
Westerly, Rhode I‎sland
(401) 596-2090‎

Richmond Animal Control‎
Wyoming, Rhode I‎sland
(401) 766-6571‎

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That's me out in the 'washing machine' waves that were last weekend.

Not the most impressive wave, but at least I'm out there, I caught it and I'm standing.

I want to be a surfer. I know the sport seems much cooler than I am. Plus, I’m a woman, and a mom, and not terribly athletic. Still, I want to be a surfer.

Once the waves from Hurricane Bill subsided last weekend, I finally decided to paddle out on the 8’2″ epoxy surfboard I bought last year. To my frustration, I spent most of the time getting knocked around in the water. It’s funny how the waves always seem so small from the shore and so huge from my surfboard. So I decided to come back the next day and take a lesson with one of the instructors from Island Surf whose fully-stocked truck parks all summer at Second Beach in Middletown, RI.

My friend Tarek (who surfed once before last year) and I had both signed up for a joint lesson. When we pulled in and saw the wild, high waves (instead of the clean, calm 1-2 foot crests more typical of Second Beach), I hesitated. But not Tarek. “Confidence,” he advised. Joe, another 40-something surfer, taking his board off the car next to us agreed.

“How long have you been surfing?” I asked Joe.

“A year,” he said. How is it that a 40-something-year-old guy who’s been surfing a year has more confidence than I do? My first surf lesson was in 2005 — does that mean I’ve been surfing four years? If so, I think I’ll keep that to myself.

“Just go out there and laugh a lot,” said Joe.

Before we headed out, I got a quick lesson on ‘turtling’ which is how you handle a longboard in larger waves like these. As the wave comes toward you, you grip your board on its sides and roll sideways underwater so the board is on top of you. Then when the wave passes, you roll back, supposedly no harm done. It sounds simple, but terrifying. I’m not sure I can do it.

I’ve been swimming in the ocean all my life. I never hesitate to go for a swim even in ‘overhead’ waves. But with a surfboard, everything changes. Utter panic rushes through me as I see a 6-foot wave heading to break on me. Our instructor kept us in the whitewater (the foamy water rushing in after the wave breaks). Here, you are pretty much guaranteed to catch a wave, which we both did. And as I slide along that wave, I tingle with an electric exhilaration that keeps me coming back.

Still every time I faced the ocean to head back out, I felt terror. My instructor had called the conditions a “washing machine” and I certainly agreed as I felt myself drawn in, tossed about and spitted out by a wave.

“Hey great turtle!” my instructor beamed at Tarek. I looked over and spotted him taking his second perfect turtle and thought, what is wrong with me? This is his second day surfing, and here I am hogging the instructor, letting my board fly all over the waves and panicking instead of turtling. Confidence. So I turtle. It works, so I turtle again. The only problem is that I seem to be swallowing a lot of water in each turtle — I’m thinking so hard that I keep forgetting to hold my breath. After a few more minutes battling with the water, I surrender, exhausted, and head back to shore.

The next day, I go back out and play in the whitewater without an instructor but I feel like I’m cheating — I should be surfing real waves.

The next day I went out was the Saturday on Labor Day weekend. I thought I’d beat the crowds to the water, but by 9 am I found at least a dozen surfers out in 3-4 feet waves — both which intimidated me. I worked up my courage and went back later, simply trying to avoid injuring myself and anyone else. At one point, I started to catch a wave and my board nosedived and spiraled so that I got crushed under the water for a seeming eternity. Winded and frightened, I called it a day.

Sunday, I arrived even earlier at 8 am. What I’m lacking in confidence, I’m sure I can make up in determination. A group of people performed tai chi on the sand, and another small group socialized in the parking lot. But not a soul in the water: perfect. The waves were smaller about 1-2 foot: even more perfect. So I gathered my board, and set it on the sand as I started to put on my wetsuit. That’s when fellow surfer Ron approached and asked me if I was heading out.

“Yeah they look about small enough for me today,” I answered.

He laughed and said everyone’s been hanging around trying to decide if it’s worth going out and then they saw me suiting up. So apparently here I am, leading the way. Ron says he’ll get his board and come out too. He’s been surfing six years, so I ask him if he knows why my board nosedived the day before. He says you need to find that groove where the nose of your board is a few inches out of the water as you’re paddling out. You’ll notice it, he says, because you’ll be able to paddle faster.

I catch my very first wave but I lose my balance as soon as I pop up, and fall off. Ron meets me out in the water and congratulates me for catching a wave. While we’re out there, a third surfer comes out: Bill. When I ask Bill how long he’s been surfing, he says “Since 1963.” Not surprisingly, he masters the water brilliantly, catching small shallow waves and larger waves with ease. He seems to know instinctively where to line up to catch the. He makes it look easy. I take some comfort in knowing that in another 40 years I might be able to do that too. And actually we do have a few laughs. I miss a lot of waves, but no tossing about — the waves come easy today even if the rides don’t. Still, I make a deal with myself to stay out until I catch one good ride. And I do.

Related Resources:

Island Surf & Sports
86 Aquidneck Avenue
Middletown, RI 02842
401-846-4421
www.islandsports.com

Second Beach Surf Report
www.surfline.com

Wax Buddy
Invented by surfer Ron, the Wax Buddy helps you remove old wax from your board.
www.endlesswave.net

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Long Live the Farm

Sweet Berry Farm in Middletown, RI

Sweet Berry Farm in Middletown, RI

The Providence Journal recently reported the growth of RI farms (Number of RI farms is growing). It’s promising to think that while the RI unemployment climbs and local employers and governments make cutbacks, that at least local farms might be flourishing.

The Census of Agriculture, Rhode Island saw a sharp increase (the highest in New England and likely the U.S.) in the number of farms and total land in farms. The 2007 data found 1,219 Rhode Island farms compared with 858 in 2002. However, since the Census is only done every five years, we won’t know how the farms weathered the worst of the recession (not to mention the rain) until 2014 (when the 2007-2012 data would be released).

So, take a look at the impressive list of 2,040 farms listed on Farm Fresh Rhode Island and support as many as you can. I’m doing my part, but there’s only so much I can eat.

Highlights from the Census:

  • The number of RI farms was 1,219, up 42 percent from 2002.
  • Land in farms totaled 67,819, up 11 percent from 2002.
  • Market value of production totaled $65.9 million, up 19 percent from 2002.
  • Direct market sales totaled $6.292 million, up from $3.697 million in 2002. 249 farms (20 percent) reported direct market sales.
  • Organic value of sales totaled $1.2 million, up from $270,000 in 2002.
  • Agritourism income totaled $689,000 on 43 farms, up from $23,000 and six (6) farms in 2002.

Learn More:
Farm Fresh RI: Local food guide, farmers’ markets
Get Fresh Buy Local: Government campaign to foster local food
Census of Agriculture Report

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The stairs in our new house.

The stairs in our new house.

The other day an older couple stopped to smile at Madeline’s bouncy curls.  The man asked me casually, “Where are you from?”  This simple question always leaves me tongue-tied.

How do I quickly explain that we’ve spent many summers here in Newport, RI, even lived here year-round at one point, that we own a house here, currently rent another house here, but don’t really live here?  And if not here, where are we from?  Boston?  New York?

Since I don’t know where we’re from, I told him where we’re going instead:  “We’re moving to Providence.”  This, of course, prompted the whole Why Providence question, which I answered masterfully.  Not satisfied, he still wanted to know where we were from. So I told him.  Poor guy, but he asked for it.

I realize it’s odd when you can’t answer basic questions like “Where do you live?” “Where did you grow up?” “What do you do?” It’s like when someone asks, “How are you?”  They don’t want to hear your life story, they just want to hear “Fine.”  So over the years, I’ve learned to simplify.  If people ask me what I do, I pick something — usually writer, filmmaker, or publisher.  If they ask where I grew up, I say Riverdale (or the Bronx to sound edgier) since I did at least go to first through fifth grade there.  In Paris, I told people we were from New York because it was a place foreigners knew (and we did still own an apartment there).

If I do delve into the details of how we’ve spent the past decade, people assume there must be a good reason (“Military?” the old man asked us).  No, we’re not in the military or the CIA or the witness protection program.  I’m convinced we’ve been on the run from only one thing: ourselves.  In my defense, I will say that I was trained to move as often and as cavalierly as one might change their favorite purse.  By the time I was 11 years old, I had lived in nearly as many number of places.  At one point, I went to five different schools in five years.  And despite the fact that I vowed never to do this as an adult when I had the power to choose such things, I found it actually became part of my nature.  For Geoff, I think it was the opposite.  He spent his whole childhood in one Midwestern town where most of his former schoolmates now raise their families.  His grandparents literally went on their honeymoon to Niagara Falls 60-something years ago and haven’t taken a trip since.  But despite our different backgrounds, we’ve both tacitly agreed: If you keep moving, you can’t be stuck.  Which also might be seen as: something better might come along.

And that’s exactly how it hit me.  Because the first time I saw our new house, I didn’t want anything better.  I’ve never fallen in love with a house before, and it seems quite silly since it’s just a house, but I do love this house.  Geoff hesitated, but I knew that if we didn’t want this house then we must not even want a house.

So here we are, 10 days away from our closing date.  I am still careful how I phrase things to Geoff, and even myself.  I deny that we will acquire any clutter despite the fact that we’ll have more rooms than we can fill.  I convince myself that a house is not that much work after all.  And I most certainly, under all circumstances, refuse to call it settling down.

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