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All that is within me cries out to go back to my home on the Hudson River”

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

I hear ya, FDR. My trip home was too short. Any longer, and I’m sure I’d be complaining that it was too long. But this quick jaunt upstate was just what I needed. Fresh air, mountain views and my mother’s home cooking…seriously, what could be better?

Yesterday morning, before heading down to Poughkeepsie for lunch with my grandmother, my mother and I hit up the Kingston Farmer’s Market. I haven’t been to the market in nearly a year, so it was nice to see new stalls and a few familiar old ones.

Chocolate- and fruit-filled and tarts at my family's fave, the Dutch Desserts table.

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That’s how coming back to New York feels. It was business as usual all day at work in Rockville. After work, Metro back into the District. Then the walk from the Metro to my apartment, from the door to the kitchen and the kitchen to the balcony to watch planes take off into the sunset (and yes, that sounds corny as hell, but I swear that’s what we do every evening).

From apartment to Metro to airport. That’s where the transition begins. Eric, a friend from college had a delayed flight to Chicago, so we met up and entertained each other while wondering when Eric’s 7:35 flight would leave (ended up being around 9). On my almost-empty DCA-ALB flight: a magician, a child who kept claiming to be a Mexican jumping bean and my seatmate, a woman from Las Vegas who had undoubtedly spent a bit of time at the terminal bar during the last layover.

Eric hard at work at DCA.

The Albany airport, the baggage claim, waiting for my dad at the curb. The hour-long drive home, figuring out plans for the next few days, secretly praying we don’t crash as my dad swerves back and forth between lanes. (And I quote: “There was nobody else around, so I figured ‘What the hell?'”)

We exit at Saugerties and drive the dark, windy roads to Sawkill. Or Ruby. Or Ulster. Or Kingston. Even after 23 years, still not entirely sure where I live. Technically all of the above?

Home, into the house, hugs from my mother. I’ve only lived in Washington for three months, but for some reason, they now seem longer than the five months I lived in Prague or the 14 months I was in Asia.

Leftovers from Rosh Hashana dinner make their way into my stomach: matzah ball soup, salmon, turkey, quinoa (and we debate how to pronounce it constantly), and to throw some Italian into the mix, zucchini lasagna. Then, migration to the deck. I look up and there are stars. Hundreds. Thousands. Millions. They blanket the sky and I make a comment about how many there are. My mother looks up and tells me the night, with its partial cloudiness, is not a good night for stars. But that’s why I have three more nights here.

I fell into bed, exhausted after a full day of work…followed by travel…followed by lots of turkey. I’m ready to take on this new year with its surprises and lessons and whatever it wants to throw at me. I’m ready for the new apartment. I’m ready for new adventures. But first, I’m going to enjoy a few days at home with my family. I’ve slipped out of my DC world, with its 40-hour workweek, constant overstimulization and full schedule of happy hours and dinners. Now I’m in upstate mode — driving my car around town, making plans to meet at a local brewery for mason jar night and hanging out on the deck. When I’m in one, the other seems like something out of a different life.

When I was getting ready for work Wednesday morning, I stood on the balcony as I brushed my teeth and watched the people below head to work. I thought about how happy I am in Washington, how settled and content I am and how I didn’t think that would ever be a reality. And right now, I’m just as happy to be in Kingston, though I know that’s a short-lived feeling. The six months I lived here when I moved back from Korea were good, but after awhile I stopped being happy. The move to Washington was good and healthy because it gave me the best of both worlds. My goal for the next year is to learn how to combine the two so that it feels less like slipping between two worlds and more like joining them together. With that, I wish you a shanah tovah, a happy new year, and head to synagogue.

When I was a kid and school was canceled because of snow, my mother would take me into work with her. At the time, she worked at the county courthouse, in the heart of uptown Kingston. I remember parking in the lot behind the courthouse, dodging around mounds of shoveled snow, walking in through the side door, past the metal detector and the old county bar association photos, up the elevator and into my mom’s office, where I’d tap away on a typewriter all morning. (Oh yeah, foreshadowing much?) Around lunchtime, we’d head down the elevator, past the photos and the metal detector, out the door and down the bluestone sidewalk, already wet with melting snow, to Nekos, the luncheonette that everyone uptown went to, where a man I called “Eggy Eddie” stood at the grill and made me lunch as I spun around on the wobbling stools at the counter. Nekos had something for everyone — for the attorneys who worked uptown and came in every day for lunch, for the poor souls on jury duty down the street at the courthouse, and for annoying little children like myself who just wanted some candy or a homemade chocolate rabbit the size of my head. (Yes, “size of my head” is a completely accurate measurement. Leave it to the little Jewish girl to completely devour the milk chocolate Easter Bunny. Yum!)

So naturally my heart skipped a beat last week when I got a text from Tori telling me that Nekos Luncheonette was closing up shop after 109 years of cooking up lunch for half of uptown Kingston.

A few summers ago, hoping to save up money for Prague, I swung by Nekos and asked Eggy Eddie if he needed any extra help. The next week, I was pouring cups of coffee, serving up eggs and chatting up the regulars who sat at the counter. As the summer went on, I learned that Ed (apparently you can’t call your boss by your childhood nickname for him) had been trying for ages to sell Nekos, started by his grandfather and now a Wall Street institution. Owning Nekos meant that Ed never had a free moment. He couldn’t go on vacation, he couldn’t get the surgery he badly needed, he couldn’t ever sleep in. Ed lived and breathed that business, something that I really respect about him. I didn’t make a whole lot of money that summer, but I got something different out of the experience. Kingston isn’t a big town — some of the regular customers had known me since Joanna and I were those little kids spinning on the stools. When I turned to the sink to wash dishes or restock the creamers, I’d hear Ed telling a customer, “That’s Marsha and Jerry’s kid” and before you knew it, I’d have a stranger telling me some story about my parents or about myself as a toddler.  Nekos didn’t have flashy decor or an exciting, ever-changing menu, but it had that homey, familial feel. When you were there, you belonged. Day after day, year after year, Ed chatted up the folks eating at the counter as he worked the grill. I cleared plates and listened to him talk. He knew everyone and everything that went on in that town and found a way to relate to every person who walked through the front door. The food might have been cheaper and quicker at the diner down Washington Avenue, but at Nekos, everything had a personal touch.

The property is going to be turned into a sustainable diner, and the new owners, who currently own an organic butcher shop next door, have said that they hope to incorporate aspects of the luncheonette into the space.

I did some shopping uptown when I got back from India. In a rush to get back to my car before the meter expired, I didn’t poke my head into Nekos to say hello. I slowed down and glanced in the window. Ed stood at the grill wearing a white apron over a white t-shirt, head turned over his shoulder, talking to a couple sitting at the counter. His daughter poured coffee for someone seated a few stools down. It was a scene I’d seen hundreds of times over the years, something I never thought I wouldn’t see again.

Last week, flying back to New York, I noticed that the plane was flying on a strange path. Most of my past transatlantic flights had glanced over Iceland and Greenland before heading southwest, coming in over Cape Cod and then flying over Long Island. But this time, we flew farther north, coming in through Canada, heading straight south over Albany and following the Hudson straight down to JFK, which meant flying over Kingston. Albany, Kingston, NYC and then back to Kingston again.

Foreshadowing for this weekend, I say.

While I was in India, Tori took it upon herself to leave the nest and move up to Albany. Her new apartment, just down the street from the Capitol building, was in dire need of a visitor. The drive up to Albany was only an hour, not even enough time for me to realize that exactly six years earlier, I had made that same Kingston-Albany drive and hit a Mercedes somewhere near Thruway exit 22.

My car and I made it to Albany unscathed, where champagne, homemade bruschetta and The Real Housewives of New York City reunion awaited my arrival. Watching Countess LuAnn perform her hit, “Money Can’t Buy You Class,” I proclaimed to the Internet world that I wanted to be a countess. Because really, who doesn’t? My post brought comments from friends around the country, including Alex, who I literally haven’t seen in a decade. Friends since my first summer at Long Lake Camp, we stayed in touch sporadically, via instant messenger in its heyday and now through Facebook. On Friday, he commented that he’d seen Countess LuAnn performing a few night’s earlier in the city and I was reminded that he lived in Brooklyn. I shot him a message and we made plans to meet up for a reunion drink the next night when I was in New York City.

Saturday morning. We hiked up to Lark Street and found Ramona’s, a hole-in-the-wall joint with excellent breakfast sandwiches. After that, the Capitol to check out the day-time view under an impossibly blue sky. Highlight: the Capitol building and the Egg. (Quote Tori: “It looks like the Starship Enterprise!”)

Saturday was my in-transport day. A quick stop back in Kingston to shower and grab clothes for New York, and we were on our way to the city. I had barely enough time to drop my bag off at my uncle’s place in Park Slope before heading to Koreatown to meet Maia and Robin for dinner. This year, I’ve taken it upon myself to introduce loved ones to the best Korean meal ever — dolsat bibimbap. And you know what? Everyone likes it. Rice + veggies + beef + chili sauce = really, really good Korean food. After dinner, I ducked into the Korean grocery store for a Melona pop, my not-so-secret addiction. Robin and I said goodbye to Maia and grabbed a cab to the East Village, where we met long-lost camp friend Alex at Black and White. I learned how to use Foursquare and Alex told Robin stories about 12-year-old Melissa that even I don’t remember. By 1 a.m., the bar was too loud and our glasses were empty, so we headed outside. Robin had a train to catch, but Alex and I weren’t ready to call it a night. We walked down to Cooper Square and I realized that we were only a few blocks away from Pommes Frites. For the past six months, every trip to the Village has included an attempt to eat at Pommes Frites, but the line is permanently stretched out the door and down the street. The air was warm and there was nothing better to do, so Alex and I took our spots at the end of the line. Fifteen minutes later, we were holding piping hot cones of Belgian fries and toting a bag of four dipping sauces: peanut satay, wasabi mayo, curry ketchup and parmesan peppercorn. We found a nice little nook a couple blocks away and sat down to enjoy whatever Manhattan has to offer at 2 a.m., which happened to be inebriated college kids.

At some point, a guy with a guitar came up to us and asked to play us a song. He asked for three topics (we gave him India, babies and french fries) and came up with a song off the top of his head. It was…well, impressive. After he sang, he sat down with us and we got to talking. He was from Miami and living in a van with nine other people. They had overestimated their funds and were down to their last pennies. From what I’ve gathered from Facebook, he’s on tour right now, but he didn’t mention that at all on Saturday night. Then his girlfriend sat down and joined the conversation. They had scraped together about $20 that night, she explained. She’d only slept one hour the night before and just wanted a bed and a shower. I felt for her, but knowing very little about Manhattan, couldn’t give her any suggestions, and certainly couldn’t take them back to Park Slope. Alex gave her some fries and I gave her boyfriend my Metrocard. A friend of theirs came over and said he’d found a place for them to sleep. They said goodbye and walked off into the night, leaving Alex and me to try and piece together what had just happened. A few minutes later, we stood up, looked at the remains of our snack (in a moment of clumsiness earlier, I had knocked my fries out of my own hand and onto the sidewalk) and walked into the night ourselves.

Sunday, Father’s Day. Breakfast, History of the World: Part 1 (despite my distaste for Mel Brooks) and a drive back upstate. Joanna and I met Dad at the Bowery Dugout for dinner. (And yes, that book in the background was part of my Father’s Day gift.)

Dinner was tuna sashimi, mozzarella sticks (I was in Italian-food withdrawal) and a tunasteak with light wasabi sauce. Dinner conversation was all about the food-in-the-mail diet that has taken the Weiss family by storm (yours truly excluded), next month’s Baltimore baseball trip and catching up with owner Bruce’s daughters, friends from high school who were helping their parents manage the holiday rush.

After dinner, Jo and I headed home and I went straight for the photo cabinet to find an old picture for Facebook. Came up with this, but also found another gem, which I’ll post here. I don’t know what’s better: my dad’s amazing mustache or my grandfather’s acid-wash denim shirt. Or, you know, how cute I was as a child.

Last week’s warm temperatures got me pumped for the weekend’s St. Patrick’s Day festivities. If there’s one thing you should know about Kingston, it’s that this city knows how to party. And really, nothing beats nice weather, friends and a parade.

But then the forecast shifted. Rain was predicted from Friday through the weekend. Gray skies had not given way to sun since Thursday. Long story short, the parade was going to be a wet one.

But we brought our umbrellas and ponchos and we prevailed. Why? Because in spite of rain, in spite of the relative chill, there was a parade that needed to happen. You can’t just go canceling one of the biggest events of the year, you know? This year’s parade was dedicated to former City Clerk Kathy Janeczek, who passed away after a brief illness last year. Rain or shine, it was going to be a good day. Kathy would have wanted it that way.

Angry drinking leprechaun float! Not pictured (and easily my favorite sight of the day): the tiny Asian boy wearing a large hat and leprechaun beard.

I met up with Alex (who deserves extra credit for braving the wet weather and accompanying me on the day’s adventures) just before things got underway. After the Shamrock Run kickoff, a slew of tractors, green cars and walking politicians inched down Broadway. Candy was thrown, free beer was drunk (thank you, Keegan Ales), green bagels were eaten and a solid time was had.

This photo doesn't come close to reflecting the actual greenness of the bagel and cream cheese.

After the parade, Alex and I, along with half the town, squeezed into newly reopened Mariner’s Harbor. We were inside for no more than 10 minutes before a couple dozen musicians, clad in kilts and carrying drums and bagpipes, pushed inside. A few of them climbed on top of the bar and gave a show (especially the girl on the right…thumbs up for extra bobbing):

St. Patrick’s Day isn’t until Wednesday, so I’m planning on a couple more days of celebration. Does that mean painting shamrocks on my nails, watching Veronica Guerin and wearing green eyeliner? Yep, that’s celebration enough.

The thing I love most about Christmas isn’t what you think. It’s not the trees, it’s not the music, it’s not the food, it’s not even the Christmas spirit. Oh, and it’s not the Chinese food and a movie that my people love so much. It’s Christmas decorations on front lawns, lights dangling from overhangs and blow-up Santas waving to passing cars. Yep, I’ve caved to the commercialism of Christmas. It’s that allure of all things bright and shiny, I tell ya.

Every year, the Daily Freeman prints a map of Kingston, highlighting the best-decorated houses in town. The “Holiday Lights Tour” has been a highlight every December for the Weiss family. Last night, we bundled up, packed in the car and took to the streets. Special thanks go to my mother, who stopped at nearly every lit house along the route so I could go out and snap these photos:

This house had an electronic countdown to Christmas! (Right above the entryway)

Now, this house played Christmas music all night. Definite bonus points right there.

But even better than the music was the illuminated North Pole mailbox that opened and closed all night. That house was a definite win.

Christmas decorations after my own heart. Twenty-seven world championships!

The sign reads "SANTA STOP HERE." I hope he does.

I'm such a sucker for candy cane lights. They make me hungry.

Santa hanging in a tree--mildly sadistic, or artistic license?

The ever-classy simple white lights. Love them.

The ever-classy simple white lights. Love 'em.

The lights this year were alright. We weren’t terribly impressed with much of what we saw (nor the confusing directions in between Broadway and the Strand), but as always, a few houses impressed. Meeting up with friends for drinks at Keegan’s and the Basement brought the weekend to a solid close. On the schedule for this week: lots of gift-wrapping at the mall and a Jewish Christmas with my college roommates in the city. Bring on the Chinese food!

“It’s a funny thing about coming home. Looks the same, smells the same, feels the same. You’ll realize what’s changed is you.”
Well, I’m home. The original plan, crafted over the summer, was to come back to New York to surprise my sister just before the show she’s producing at Marist. Until a few hours ago, she thought I wouldn’t be getting home until after Thanksgiving. Oh, the lies I tell. After some last-minute planning, I decided to spend the last few days of my trip in Hawaii, visiting my friend Sumner in Honolulu. The 25-hour trip would take me from Hanoi to Seoul and Tokyo before finally getting to Hawaii. To say that’s anything less than a great schlep would be lying.
I arrived in Seoul at 5 a.m. only to learn that the next part of my journey, the two-hour flight to Tokyo, had been canceled. No explanation was given, and for the next five hours, I had to wait around Incheon for someone from United Airways to help me. I was finally assisted by the most adorable Korean woman who spent a good 45 minutes trying to sort me out. She gave me two new options to get to Hawaii, but neither of them were particularly good. One had me getting to Hawaii the next night, further elongating my journey and cutting down on necessary beach time. The other had me going through San Francisco, then back to Hawaii, which was also unattractive as I didn’t really want to go thousands of miles east only to fly halfway back across the ocean. In the end, she booked me a flight to New York.
The wheels were down at JFK 24 hours and 10 minutes after she handed me my ticket. Despite nearly 40 hours of hassles, turbulence and lackluster plane food, I was in high spirits as I met my parents. By the time we got to Kingston around midnight, my body was starting to feel the effects of sleep-deprivation. (I slept, in total, three hours over the course of the trip. And that’s not including the full day I’d spent touring Hanoi before getting my 11 p.m. flight. to Korea.)
The first day back was low-key. I treated my stomach to old friends, a whole-wheat bagel and hummus, before unpacking a few things. Went to Mizuna Cafe uptown for lunch. (Highly recommended: the chicken, spinach, tomato and brie wrap.) A quick trip to town hall and an official job offer preceded a visit to my high school mecca, the Hudson Valley Mall. Picked up a few things that were non grata in Asia and gave a smile to the Target security guard, who didn’t recognize me. Still not sure how I feel about that one.
Next up, Hannaford. I was nervous to go to an American supermarket. Everyone talks about his first visit to a grocery store after a stint abroad, and now I understand why. I stood in the deli section, gripping my cart for stability as I stared in awe at the hummus selection. Garlic hummus, artichoke hummus, chipotle hummus, pine nut hummus, red pepper hummus. And that’s not even half of the selection. I had forgotten what it’s like to have anything I want at my fingertips, to not even know how much I wanted something until it was right in front of me. At that moment, I wanted it all. This only grew when I walked five feet to the cheese section. I had to peel myself away, but vowed to return.
I called Rachel during the hummus debacle, and she kept me company on the phone for the rest of my shopping. I panicked when I couldn’t find the aisle with mac and cheese, but a friendly shelf-stocker pointed me in the right direction (away from “Pasta” and toward “Packaged food”). By check-out, half of my cart was mac and cheese, the other a random mixture of turkey bacon, Indian food and vegetarian baked beans (beans on toast, easily my new favorite breakfast).
Dinner was at the Bowery Dugout, where I satisfied a long-standing craving for French onion soup. After dinner, I headed up to Woodstock to surprise a certain best friend of mine at work, who happened to be under the impression that I was in Hawaii. Tor’s parents had swung by the store to drop off some food, making my timing even better. As I hugged the Burhans fam, Tor just stared at me, her eyes and mouth opened wide in shock. As her parents walked outside, her mom shouted, “Melissa–mac and cheese, champagne, root beer floats, Law and Order: SVU–whenever you want it, just let us know.” Ah, Mrs. Burhans knows a few of my favorite things. Indeed, all of those things were had at my going-away dinner last year, or as Tor accidentally blurted out, “when we got rid of you.”
After Surprise #1 was the long-awaited Skytop Trivia Night. I was determined to kick some ass, but it was not meant to be. What was meant to be, however, were several Absolut and grapefruits. Jerry and the Pacemakers didn’t win, but I have a good feeling about next week. Really, I do.
I’m now on my way to see my sister, who I’m fully expecting to bawl for a few hours after I surprise her. After that, I’m off to Poughkeepsie to visit my grandmother. Tonight is a party at the Dugout, a Sam Adams beer-with-every-course deal that I’ve been looking forward to.
It’s been a bit odd to come home. Same town, same house, same family–but all a bit different than when I left it. Physically, I’m sort of adapting. (That is, if you call shivering in a sweater and winter coat when the temperature is 60 degrees adapting.) I’ve somehow avoided jetlag, which is absolutely shocking, considering southeast Asia is a full 12 hours ahead of New York. So far, my digestive system has been receptive to the absurd amounts of dairy I’ve been putting down, and for that I am most grateful. I’m incredibly allergic to my cat. Having been away from animals for so long, my body is in rebellion at the moment. Constant Benedryl and inhaler use has been getting me through the days.
Kingston is going to take a bit of getting used to. I’ve lived alone since leaving for Korea. It’s weirder still not having my sister around. Even though Marist is only a half-hour drive, she feels an eternity away. My days of promoting Kingston are over, but I’m hoping my new job will be just as fun. (And if not, at least it’s only two minutes away–and that counts for a lot up here in winter.)
Home feels good. After nearly 14 months away, this is where I need to be, at least for right now. I’m already looking for jobs, both in Washington and New York. Any leads would be appreciated (thanks already to Carla, who has e-mailed me several openings in the past few weeks). Next week I’ll head down to Washington to catch up with friends and celebrate my birthday. The weeks after that are a mix of holidays things, family get-togethers and hanging around Keegan Ales. Is my beer of choice, Super Kitty, out yet?
I sincerely thank all of you for reading, commenting and encouraging me to keep this up. It’s been a whirlwind of a year, and I’m struggling to believe that it’s over. Having this blog was a good way to keep track of my thoughts and keep my head straight. I’m not sure what I’ll have to blog about anymore, but I’m sure I’ll find something…after all, my life doesn’t stay quiet for long.