September 09, 2019

Peaking After 60

Peaking After 60
By John R. Greenwood

One of my favorite quotes is, "Life Begins Outside Your Comfort Zone." Living outside your comfort zone can be invigorating, but it can also cause you bodily harm when it comes to painting the peak of your house from the far reaches of an extension ladder. Surprisingly, I'm not as brave as I used to be. Well, to be honest, I was never all that brave—especially when it came to working high above the earth. Yes, I've worked from scaffolding and extension ladders before, but I'm not as nimble as I used to be. Let's just say I could never be mistaken for, "Jack, be nimble, Jack, be quick." One thing I have been known for is; being careful. My job as a driver supervisor for thirty years was teaching and preaching safe driving and working practices. That penchant for safety exposed itself during my house painting project when I moved from the back of my one-story ranch to the peak on the gable end of the house. The peak of a one-story house is two stories above the ground and a substantial fall for a man with 60-year-old parts. I was using a borrowed 20' extension ladder which at full extension delivered me and my paintbrush to their lofty destination. My dilemma was the weight rating of this particular ladder. It was a hair shy of the reading on our bathroom scale. It's a challenge to paint while holding a paintbrush in one hand, white-knuckling the rungs of an aluminum ladder with the other, and praying to the DIY Gods all at the same time. My heart said, man-up, my head said shut up and listen. Listen to the voice on your shoulder, yelling at you to commandeer a sturdier ladder. I'd spent years telling hundreds of drivers in my Safe Driving Courses to listen to that little voice on their shoulder. When that little shoulder-voice whispers to you to get out of the truck and take a second look before you back up—you listen to it! In the case of the sketchy extension ladder, that little voice was screaming at me to do something different. A two-minute call to Trax Equipment Rental on Circular St. Saratoga and $25 provided peace of mind and a taller, beefier ladder. My confidence and safety were in much better hands.

I have decades of DIY stumbles and scars to prove my skills as a homeowner are less than professional. Still, my desire to DIY is always full throttle. Balancing ability, want, and safety has plagued man for centuries. Not unlike our willingness to ask for directions is our unwillingness to ask for help or look for time-consuming alternatives when faced with a seemingly simple task. The words, "I can build it cheaper," sends chills up Mrs. G's spine. She's spent 45 years paying for my adventures at "cheaper." It's a story we're all familiar with. In my defense, when I had the time and energy, I didn't always have the funds. Now that I'm a tad more fluid, my energy level usually finds itself at half charge. 

In the end, my peak-painting adventure was successful and even rewarding. Now I'm ready to move around to the front of the house where step ladders rule and fear is limited to a stray wasp attack. 

House-painting may seem boring to you, but for this creaky grandfather, its become my Mt. Marcy. Maybe, I'll tackle that next summer? It would be a piece of cake after this. 

August 22, 2019

En Plein Air

En Plein Air 
By John R. Greenwood 

"En Plein Air" 

Now that I'm retired I thought I would join the ranks of my artist friends by taking a brushstroke at Plein Air painting— with a twist. Instead of a palette and a French easel, my version includes a step ladder and a 3" paintbrush. Instead of buying my paint in little tubes at AC Moore, I do gallons of Benjamin Moore. I won't make a nickel selling my landscapes, but I might save a buck or two with hard work and rolled up sleeves. In between August's scattered showers and lightning strikes, I decided to paint my 1950ish house. It's a one-story ranch which reduces the impact of my extension ladder phobia. The siding is aluminum and paint-peel-free. The bad news is, after decades of UV-ray exposure, my once bright white house has faded to a soft grey. The good news is, my paint scraper and wire brush can be replaced with soap and water—and a much a lower supply of elbow grease. 

I got a quote from an experienced house painter last summer. The price was fair, and I had total confidence he would have done a professional job. The decision to paint my own house was testosterone-based. What little of it remained in my creaky-boned body, teased me into wanting to man-up and do it myself. There's something about the act of painting your own house that appeals to me. The "Tim The Tool Man" syndrome was still floating around in my grey matter, and all it took was someone to suggest that I might want to hand the job over to a younger age group that tipped the scale. 

There was one more reason for my decision. The thought of painting my own house reminded me of the time my father painted our family home back in 1968. That house was a more significant challenge than mine. It was a vintage two-story farmhouse covered in dry wood shingles. Maybe twelve out of twelve-hundred of those shingles didn't require the attention of a scraper and wire brush. The house was so old and weathered you would have sworn we lived on Cape Cod. 1968 was my first summer as a teenager, so I wasn't much help. Back then, I had a tendency to vanish like Houdini, appearing only at dinner—and even that was sporadic. It took my father an entire summer to paint that house. When he was done that barn-red house shone like a bright, fresh monument to self-reliance. He was so proud of the job he'd done he talked about it for years—with a little added to the story. Less than a week after my father finished painting the house, I had a group of my friends over for a game of ball tag. Ball tag was a pre-video game era pastime that satisfied all aspects of growing up happy and healthy. As if ball tag wasn't exciting enough, I, in my infinite wisdom decided to crank up the volume by grabbing a half-filled pail of water that sat next to the house and throw it on my friends as they came running around the corner of the freshly painted home. My plan worked to perfection. The water doused its targets with precision, and the result was a lawn covered with teen-fresh boys rolling around, gripping their sides in laughter. Those laughs were muted for this author the next day when my father got home from work. It was then he informed me that the pail of water I used to spray my friends and the side of the house, was the same pail he used to change the oil in his International Scout. It was not pure water, it was an oily mix of water and Quaker State 10W40. If I have to explain what that concoction did to dad's fresh paint, you probably won't understand how close to death I came that day. 40 years later, dad was still sharing that story with anyone who even mentioned the subject of house painting. 

In my late teens, I was a razor's edge more responsible when I helped my grandfather paint a rental house he owned and was planning to sell. My grandfather also took great pride in house painting. He treated his tools with care. I think that gene may have jumped out of my pool. Thank goodness it showed back up in both my sons. My grandfather taught me a lot about painting and home maintenance in general. To this day I scoot down Ludlow St. when I can just to bring that summer paint job back in to focus.

My hopes of becoming a fine-artist fade quickly every time I touch a piece of indoor trim with a shaky paintbrush. In fact, one summer, when I was sixteen, my father's boss asked if I wanted to paint the building where he worked. It was a big job with two-story scaffolding and planking. That was the summer my father tagged me with the nickname "Shmear."  As I "Shmeared" away on the back of my own house today, I couldn't help but channel my father and grandfather in hopes they might keep an eye on how I was doing. Hopefully, they'll be proud of the finished job? 

If nothing else, it paints a nice picture. 

RIP Bob Ross

July 31, 2019

60 Days In

60 Days In
By John R. Greenwood

"Look Closely"

Wow, that went fast! 

It’s been 60 days since I used my prox-card, 60 days of waking up without a job, 60 days of re-working my non-work brain. 

What can you accomplish in 60 (free) days? 

  • Mow the lawn on Tuesday morning before noon.
  • Paint that rusty old plant stand you promised your wife you’d paint during the last Bush Administration.
  • Go to the actual library to get a new library card— when you can find an actual parking spot. 
  • Ride the new bicycle you retirement-gifted yourself—whenever you feel like it. 
  • Spend the day exploring the Town of Greenfield with Town Historian, Ron Feulner—and learning things you never knew.
  • Go to the market with your wife—on a Thursday morning
  • Take your 6-year-old grandson to swimming lessons—in the middle of the day
  • Stay up past 9pm— or even later! 
  • Volunteer to man a non-profit's booth at the Saratoga County Fair for three hours—on a Friday afternoon. 
  • Work on an indoor remodeling project(s) you’ve put off since the first Bush Administration.
  • Go to breakfast with your wife—on a Wednesday 
  • Go to lunch with your wife—on a Monday
  • Eat dinner at dinner time—or not

The list was simple and relatively short. The first 60 days were more of a settling in process; re-organizing our habits and routines; prioritizing our priorities; redefining our lives and goals. Realizing just how much of your work had soaked into your body. Not on purpose, but slowly by osmosis. Its like shedding a heavy wool coat while standing in front of a roaring fire—comfort is more comfortable without the extra weight. I’d dreamt about having hours and hours of free time to sit and contemplate my words on to sheets of paper. First I have to uncluttered my desk. The years of, “I’ll get to it later,” had overflowed its banks. Restoration would take time. At least I had more choices now. 

As I write this I’m sitting at a metal picnic table in front of the business I dedicated the majority of my working life to. In the last 60 days, the customers haven’t changed, the employees haven’t changed. But, I’ve changed. Now I have more time to reflect and digest my life. I can sit next to a busy convenience store parking lot and dissect my life, appreciate it in chunks, savor it in nibbles. It went from a spring run-off North Hudson torrent to a meandering summer Battenkill in just a few short weeks. I feel calmer, happier. It’s not about having little to do, its about having lots to do—but from a higher vantage point. 

Today’s goal is to get this posted on my blog. I foolishly thought that I might be able to post once or even twice a day after I kicked work to the curb— how naive. I keep forcing myself to enjoy the moment—the feeling of untethered freedom. My wife and I have worked hard for this moment. Adding pressure to it isn’t necessary or healthy. Take that walk now, the lawn will wait another day for a haircut. 
In a few hours, I will be headed to the Greenfield Town Historian’s Office to work on my last Stewart’s project. It will encapsulate much of my life from beginning to the present. I have to keep reminding myself to enjoy the project and not let the importance of it overtake the process. It’s a constant conversation I must have. 

Time’s a-wastin' — just a phrase…

June 25, 2019

A Little Magic

A Little Magic
By John R. Greenwood

Magic Dick and Shun Ng
June 21,2019 @ Caffe` Lena
In 1972 I was a High School Junior—a Saratoga Springs Blue Streak. My wife and I were dating, and we’ve now been married for 45 years. Three weeks ago, we retired hand-in-hand on the very same day. We are looking forward to a work-free summer filled with dates, day-trips, and mini adventures. Last night I enjoyed one of those mini-adventures when I witnessed a little Magic at Caffè Lena. 

"My 1972 Album Cover" 
The music was going to be a trip back and step forward all in the same night. That music was provided by Magic Dick and Shun Ng. Richard Salwitz known as Magic Dick, born May 13, 1945 was a member of the J. Geils band in 1972. That was the year I purchased the J. Geils Live album Full House (Yes, I still have the original pictured here). Full House was recorded at the Cinderella Ballroom in Detroit, Michigan. "Whammer Jammer" the #4 song on that album was always one of those songs that made me feel good. It got your “heart pumpin’” and looking forward to whatever was coming next. So, when I saw Magic Dick pop up on Caffè Lena’s upcoming event page, my curiosity and nostalgia kicked in. Three minutes later I had an Eventbrite Ticket Confirmation. 

"Magic Dick in 1972"
Photo from the back of the Full House Album
Magic was now partnered with Shun Ng. The promo said Shun was an acoustic guitar sensation. Although the name was not familiar, I trusted Caffè Lena and Magic Dick. That’s the adventure part of this retirement gig. A short Shun Ng trip on Google and Youtube indicated this was going to be more interesting than I first thought. I was not disappointed. 

Even the search for a Saratoga parking spot on a Friday night in June turned into an enjoyable adventure. Finally, after circling nearby lots and streets, I settled on a quiet spot on Regent Street a few blocks away. The walk to 47 Phila began the walk back in time. This was the other end of the street, where I went to Jr. High. A few buildings south of that is where we'd drop my son off at Marilyn Rollison's "MarLyn Nursery School". It was the street where I would steal a kiss from my girlfriend, now wife, on our walks from the Eastside to SPAC for a James Taylor concert. It was a block away from the Spring St. Market and Eartha’s Kitchen where I delivered milk back in the 80s. An endless loop of fond memories and sights was playing in my head. 

My wife and I have differing likes when it comes to music, so tonight was a solo flight. It was okay, the camaraderie of a Caffè Lena crowd was sure to provide some interesting conversation. The show was spectacular. Magic, now seventy and still sporting black leather was energetic and engaging as was his sub-thirty partner Shun Ng. 

This story is more than a music review. I wanted to focus on the living beyond work part, and the re-wiring of our goals and aspirations for life on a monthly check and weeks with no weekends. Caffè Lena presented me with a priceless gift Friday night. Never in my wildest dreams back in 1972 did I think that in forty-seven years I’d be sitting in a quaint music venue enjoying one of my teenage music heroes just a few feet away. This isn’t about going back and trying to recapture youth, it’s about savoring the entire dish. Life for me has all taken place within a 30-mile radius, but when I start pulling out the strands of experiences, friendships, characters, and memories, it’s a mountainous collection of joy. Finding joy and not regret is what we should strive for in life after work. How many times have we heard, “life is what  you make of it.” Sitting at that little table on that beautiful Friday night in June, I had the immense pleasure of listening to 1972 again. It’s not about re-creating it, it’s about letting those sounds and voices inspire you to want more—even after the workdays end. May 31st, 2019 was my last day of employment but the first day of school for me. Excitement and curiosity are alive and well. Thanks to some old friends and places, it’s tasting delicious. 

Thank you Magic, it was an honor to shake your hand and have an opportunity to tell you face to face how much your music meant to me when I was 17. Thank you for introducing Shun Ng and his music to me. Thank you, Sarah Craig, for pouring your heart and soul into Lena’s place and helping it thrive. Thank you, Joe Deuel, for your gentle demeanor and undying commitment to capturing the essence of Lena’s in sound and photographs.

Thank you, Saratoga, Wilton, and Greenfield for the buffet of life you’ve laid out for me, Chapter # 1’s been a great ride. Chapter # 2’s off to a great start!  

* Fun side note and testament to my lack of music nerd-ness. As I was Googling around J. Geils and all the Wikipedia side trips I stumbled upon the simplest of facts. The poker hand on the cover of Full House is not a full house. I've owned that album for almost a half-century and listened to it hundreds of times, and I never realized it! See what I mean. You're never too old to be curious. You may be surprised at what you find. No wonder when I looked at the Queen of Hearts closely she was winking at me. ;)

And just in case you're wondering: 

"Whammer Jammer" - Let me hear you Dickie!

June 06, 2019

Owl Pen Books

Owl Pen Books
By John R. Greenwood

What is beautiful, yet covered in dirt?
"Riddle Road"
Day three of
retirement found me rumbling down an old dirt road in my pickup. The sign said Riddle Road—it’s across the river in Washington County, and it brought me to used-book-nirvana.
Owl Pen Books is a therapeutic blanket of knowledge and history, wrapped in old books and musty air, all encased in barn-red buildings, draped in a canopy of century-old maples, and surrounded by moss-covered stonewalls— a virtual, “Book Heaven.” I knew it was out there somewhere, and my heart knew it had to be a special place. I was not disappointed. I regret that it took me so long to get there. My search for yet another copy of Jack Lewis’ 1960s book “The Hudson River,” was what finally brought me there. An internet search in December revealed Owl Pen Books possessed a copy among its 100,000 plus book inventory. 

Edie's Checkout Counter
The problem with my discovery was, it was the dead of winter, and the Owl Pen Book Barns are closed until mud season. As much as I wanted another copy of my all time favorite book, I wanted to buy it in person, not via UPS. An email request to hold the book was as easy as pie, and the kind voice of owner Edie Brown assured me the book would still be here whenever I was able to make my pilgrimage. Talk about worth the wait. 

The mother of all book stores...
When you head to Riddle Road this summer, be sure to use your GPS or a map from the early 1900s because this treasure is buried deep. I’ve read some other online reviews of columnists who have written about their visit to Owl Pen. They all, including this piece, focus a large part of their observation on how much joy they derived just getting there. Even a well-traveled adventurer should plan to stop at the Greenwich or Argyle Stewart’s for a handful of Slim Jim’s and a few cold bottles of Saratoga Water as back up, on the off chance you end up in Hartford. Either way, you will pass through some of the most calming farm vistas known to man. 

Real. Live. Classics.
When the friendly voice on my Garmin signaled my destination was just yards away, I saw a sign that said, “Owl Pen Parking” and it was pointing to a small field surrounded by fresh-leaved trees full of chirping birds. There was one lone Prius parked randomly between the invisible lines of a make-believe parking lot. There was no paved walk just a worn dirt path leading to the main chicken-coop/book-barn. This place has history. Born in 1960 by Barbara Probst, and now run by Edie Brown and Hank Howard. Owl Pen oozes a sense of nostalgia and what-will-I-find-next-mystery. I was on a bit of a time crunch, so today’s visit was more exploratory than full day campout so when it came to cruising the shelves I barely scratched the surface. What I can relay is how this place made me feel. It wasn’t just shelves of books; it was a like a Thoreau retreat. There is peaceful calm that permeates the entire property. The never-ending rain of this spring had everything growing a deep green and to its full potential. If I hadn’t retired just a few days earlier, I would have asked for a job application. 

No Need To Knock
I can’t wait to return to Owl Pen on my motorcycle. This time I will pack a lunch, a fresh camera battery, and a pad and pen. I won’t need my Garmin or a watch, and I will be smiling when I get there. I will be book happy when I leave. 

When you go, be sure to tell Edie that Raining Iguanas sent you, My hope is; she smiles in return. 

If you aren't grabbing your keys yet, wait until you see the rest of these scenes from Owl Pen Books 

This is my Disney. 

"Can I wrap this to go?"

"View with a room" 

"Help Fight TV--Buy a Book" - Owl Pen Books

Where it all started

"Wood you miss this shot?"

"The End"

June 02, 2019

Day One

Day One 
By John R. Greenwood 

Day one of “rewirement” has begun for my wife and me. I compare it to summer vacation as a child. Hopefully, it exceeds expectations. This will be the first summer in our forty-five-year marriage that we will be able to enjoy more than a long weekend free from work. The thought of it has left us feeling like a house-cat loose in the backyard—skittish of the songbirds we’ve long been salivating over from the windowsill. 

It was an emotional roller coaster of a week. We both had the good fortune and pleasure of working for long time employers who treated us with respect and generosity from beginning to end. In today’s work environment, that is rare. There are few words to express how grateful we both are for that employer/employee relationship.

The perpetual weekend is now upon us, and it will be a challenge to savor every drop of joy we can. For me it will begin with the keyboard I’m using to write this post. For my wife, it started with a bouquet of flowers from yesterday’s send-off. She has an artist’s touch and can transform a simple bouquet into a dramatic centerpiece. Seldom does a day go by that there isn’t a prize winning arrangement gracing our dining room table. 

We both have our own lists of want-to and have-to. My hope is having enough time on the laptop to be able to write without having to look at the keys. For me, it’s important to set the bar low and slow. That book of mine may take a while. 

The hardest part for us both was leaving our coworkers. These are the faces that have blessed our workday for decades. We’ve watched each other’s children grow and have been there when parents passed, or tragedy reared its ugly head. In both cases, our jobs were an integral part of who we are. Spending a lifetime solving the problems of others takes a toll on you, but it also comes full circle when you realize people were paying attention and pay you back ten-fold with their friendship. That list is long and dear to us both. It doesn’t mean staying in touch comes to an end, but realistically the opportunities shrink like the list of friends who would line up to help you move.

Sunday afternoons may seem longer now without the dreaded Monday peering in the window. Hell, I may even stay up to see the third quarter of a Monday Night Football game. Tuesday’s can become the new Friday, especially if that’s the day our now monthly paychecks arrive. We can get groceries on Wednesday mornings instead of Saturday afternoons. Those crowded aisles of stressed moms, impatient fathers, and rambunctious three-year-olds, now replaced with shuffling feet and grey perms—Booyah! I can mow the lawn on Thursday’s starting at 8am—and take all day if necessary. Friday has now lost its rank among the favorites, but knowing the joy it brings to others still shoveling the pile will take up the slack. Saturday’s will be errand-free, taste delicious, and will feel like they last all week. 

In closing, I know I also speak for Mrs. G., when I say thank you to all those people who crossed our paths in our long and blessed careers—you made it all worthwhile. 



February 10, 2019

The Chair

The Chair 
By John R. Greenwood 

This story is about more than a chair. This simple little antique ladder-back contains a lifetime of family history, family friendship, and family memories. It has traveled around Saratoga County for its entire life. I don’t believe the chair was intended to be a family heirloom at first, but based on the journey it has taken since the 1960s that is what it has become. 

This story was revitalized recently when I received a phone call from Judy (Atwell) Cleveland. Judy’s family lived adjacent to ours growing up in Greenfield Center. She called to tell me she had a chair that my parents had given her when they were downsizing to an apartment back in the early 2000s. She described it briefly and asked if I remembered the chair. At first, I didn’t, but as she described where it sat in the house I was finally able to visualize it. Because Judy knows I wax a little nostalgic, she thought I might like to keep the chair in the family. I knew my grandfather had refinished the chair and given it to my mother and father. He was a skilled antique furniture collector and refinisher and did dozens and dozens of pieces after he retired. What Judy told me that I didn’t know, was that my grandfather had also re-caned the seat himself. That is no simple task as you could imagine. As a kid growing up, it was just another chair against the wall in the living room. Now, with the additional knowledge of the seat, along with the fact that someone had taken such good care of a part of my family’s history, the chair began to take on an entirely different look. She told me the caning was very brittle so the only one allowed to sit in the chair for the last several years was a cherished Teddy Bear. I hope Teddy didn't commandeer Judy’s husband Ken’s recliner now that the ladder-back was gone. 

I told Judy how grateful I was for her thoughtfulness and a few weeks later I stopped by to pick up the chair. 

This is where the story really begins. 

Judy and Ken live in Judy’s childhood home. The home I’d visited hundreds of times throughout my Wonder Years. The very minute Ken opened the back door I was flooded with a wave of fond memories. The stories told around their kitchen table. The beer induced pranks that our fathers played on one another. The laughter and good times that were generated in that house and neighborhood began to overwhelm me with emotion I couldn’t control. I could see my old backyard from the kitchen window, the grove of pine trees where I covered myself in pitch and boyhood joy. There just a few feet away was my old minibike trail that led to old friends that enriched my life. Out the other window stood two giant maples that hosted a neighborhood swing that seemed to swing so high you could touch the treetops. Just a few yards west was the old firehouse our fathers built and manned as volunteers for decades. The firehouse where I competed in a Pinewood Derby and received my first Merit Badge. The firehouse where my wife and I danced our first dance as husband and wife. The firehouse where I learned how to drive a firetruck and roll up a 2-inch canvas firehose. On the other side of the stone wall was the field where our fathers flooded the village skating rink late into the cold night and “The Hill” where toboggan runs lasted forever. The field where we sped around in old field cars was now a forest, but the sight of my friend Rick, rolling a Volkswagen Bug over and over with nothing but a lap belt and his Bell Motorcycle helmet on, was as clear as the smile on my face. The dirt path where I learned to peddle my first bike was right outside the door. The country store where I got my first cavity and cashed my first leaf raking paycheck. The store that had a wooden bench out front with my initials and a hundred others carved all over it. There was a time I knew every person, in every house, in every direction for a mile or more. Our old cabin that a handful of pre-teen boys built themselves, lay just out of sight, in the woods on the other side of the hill. The cabin where we played tag in a scotch-pine field, in the light of the moon, laughing until our sides hurt. The cabin where we hid stolen pumpkins and warm beer. The cabin where we told jokes, farted and watched old Shep singe his wagging tail on the fire-red wood stove. Vision upon vision came rolling over me like a freight train. As I tried to thank Ken and Judy for their kind gesture of returning that little ladder back chair I started to well up. I couldn’t stop, I tried. It wasn’t sadness, it was gratitude beyond the words. I was truly blessed with an unbelievable youth and life. The friends and experiences I’ve accumulated are priceless treasures. I can’t tell you how lucky I feel for having enjoyed the people and stories of small-town life. The chair, the gesture, the opening of that backdoor was a gift too large for words. 

Judy and Ken, Dot and John, Diane, Jackie, Rick, Gary, Brian, Bill, Chris, Paul and Jean, Randy, Greg, PM, Duane, Kevin, Bob, Bill, Barry, Harry and Edna, John and Dutch, Bill and Pearl, Doug, Dot and Bill, Charlie and Philly, Perrin, Brad, Chip, the list goes on and on. Thank you, thank you for the friendship, the mentoring, the meals, the open doors, and watchful eyes. 

Thank you for the chair, the memories, and the time…