EEF33646-832E-47C7-9329-A006153AD436 Baghdad by the Bay

Walking In A Winter Wonderhell…

I knew it would be cold when we moved to Massachusetts, but we didn’t think we’d see any snow. We were wrong and we learned about several variations that came down on us since last night that caused a few minor problems today.

Last night we looked out the window and it looked like snow was on the cars, but we didn’t see any snow falling. My wife informed me that it had iced over which means the air isn’t cold enough to freeze the waters but the ground is so rain drops hit the ground and splash up breaking apart and then freeze. It made things kind of dry rain if something like that can be said to exist, but it wasn’t unpleasant even though it was 30° out last night. I stood out talking to a friend of my on a phone call for about 10 minutes and while if was cold I didn’t feel like I was freezing.

Apparently overnight the rain stopped and snow fell and there was a couple of inches of it on my car and lots of other cars in the morning. It stopped raining so it was pretty out, but hard to walk since it was still cold and the ice that remained was slippery. This caused us to hold off driving anywhere since our California Honda Civic LX didn’t have tires suited for this type of weather and we didn’t want to risk it.

Then the rain came back. The problem was it was daylight and warmer so we didn’t see any icing over, but instead the warmer rain came down very slowly melting the snow creating slush. It was like a 7-11 slushee machine exploded all over the area only it was fairly dirty if it was on the streets. As the rain melted the snow there were suddenly huge puddles everywhere. As the rain continued through the day it got a lot heavier and appeared close to what the El Niño rains were like in San Francisco. It wasn’t that bad to drive in, but there were still remains of snow and slush from earlier in the day that you had to be a little careful of.

So the last 24 hours have been a bit of a work out, but for me who’s a big kid down deep inside it was a lot of fun. I’m getting used to the colder weather which isn’t that bad I figured out because cold and clear feels a lot warmer than cold and overcast which explains why I used to complain about 50° weather in San Francisco, but 30° with the sun out isn’t so bad.

Here’s a few photos from the past 24 hours:

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Stop And Shop

I always like to visit grocery stores when I’m in a new place because you can learn a lot about people by what they buy and eat. Stop and Shop is the grocery store for people on the East Coast like Safeway is to the Bay Area. Sure there’s also Big Y, but Stop and Shop has more coverage.

For the most part you won’t see too much different than you would in San Francisco other than the price, but there were a few things that stood out to me.

  1. Cannolis: They are everywhere around here and in Stop and Shop you can buy a bunch of prepackaged ones. I’m sure they aren’t the greatest, but you know, if you want a few cannolis after ripping a few bong hits of some newly legal Massachusetts pot then they’re do.
  2. Fried Raviolis: I rather smugly thought I was the only one who ever did this and I find $5 boxes of breaded and fried raviolis here. Again, I can guarantee they aren’t as good as when you make these appetizers yourself, but if you’re lazy and hungry they’d fit the bill.
  3. Marshmallow Fluff: This is a staple of Massachusetts. You can put it on ice cream, or on bread followed by peanut butter to make a fluffernuter sandwich. My Grandmother used to make them as a treat for me which is funny because she wasn’t from New England even though she did have New England sensibilities at times. If you haven’t tried one…try it. You’ll like it.
  4. Local Ice Cream: Friendly’s is a local chain that used to be a burger and chicken place that sold sundaes and milk shakes, now they’re pretty much an ice cream place that selling a few sandwiches. You can find their ice cream and ice cream cakes at the local grocers and Stop and Shop was no different. There’s nothing great about it, but it’s the standard.
  5. Specialty Ice Cream: Since there are several local creameries here and people in these parts take their ice cream seriously you can find pints of ice cream that are of the handmade, artisanal, gourmet variety. Prices tend to be cheaper than in San Francisco, but the ice cream is very good and rich tasting, almost gelato like.
  6. Coffee Syrup: What in God’s name is this? Apparently it’s a coffee flavored syrup that people like to mix with milk to taste like a cold regular coffee or something like that. I still can’t figure it out, but it wasn’t with the ice cream topping so I don’t think you would do that.

Probably the biggest thing about Stop and Shop is its size. The place is huge like a Walmart, but it’s focused on groceries. Not everything like a Walmart. After taking a walk through here I found I’ll have everything available that I need here [even Mexican Coke!]

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Going Up The Country, Pt 2

Yesterday we went north of Hadley to Sunderland to visit Bub’s BBQ for lunch. It was a nice place about 15 minutes away from Northampton and the food was good and cheap with unlimited sides. If I thought Hadley was farm country though, Sunderland and the adjacent Hatfield was even more so.

My Grandparents came from two small towns in the foothills of the Sierras called Jackson and Fiddletown. Sunderland reminded me greatly of those areas. The houses were beautiful and large and in great shape so I can only assume that farming pays off here. I wish I could have taken pictures, but I was the one driving. I’ll get some on another trip over there next time we go.

The farming here is crops and not livestock so the houses are more spread out and the land is pretty flat. I couldn’t find much of anything resembling a downtown here, but I definitely saw lots of side of the road businesses that were aimed at farmers like tractor supply and repair. It was a pretty nice relaxing drive, but what was funny was as we were driving through Hatfield on the way back on I116 the farm land abruptly stopped as you crossed over the Connecticut River and got quite a bit more citified as we came into Deerfield heading back to Northampton. 

Today we’re moving out of our hotel in Holyoke and moving up the Greenfield for the night which is a bit north of Deerfield. Apparently there was a downside to moving at this time of year as spring break starts this week and there’s lots of sporting tournaments going on so lodging is slim here. It was 73° yesterday and nice and warm, but tomorrow the forecast is for a high of 35° and snow in the area. That’s quite a shift for us, but my in-laws say the snow if it does happen should be pretty light. Hopefully I’ll find something nice to say and take pictures of in Greenfield.

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Going Up The Country…

Yesterday we took a trip across the bridge on the Connecticut River to go to Hadley. Hadley is an odd place as the main road which is route 9 has all the shopping, but once you drive off route 9 it’s all farmland. The houses are really nice looking and I only saw one run down place, but that was next to a new place that was probably going to be it’s replacement.

The distance between houses is so great that you’d need to fire a shotgun to get your neighbor’s attention. As we drove down South Maple Street we passed lots of dairy farms offering raw milk. As you can see from the picture there’s a lot of farm land here and what they produce goes to all the cities around and beyond. I thought it was funny seeing all these farms within a 10 minute drive from Northampton since in the Bay Area restaurants and companies brag about how their food is locally sourced and travels no more than one hour. It’s literally minutes in this case.

We had originally thought of buying a house in Hadley because the property tax is really cheap, but the isolation would probably drive me nuts. The streets off route 9 are poorly lit at night and driving in a pitch black atmosphere is something I never had to do as a city kid so I’ll take living in small town Northampton and travel to Hadley when I need some raw milk or farm fresh eggs, but during the day.

The is a bit of an upscale grocery store that serves the Atkins Farm that’s pretty nice and as you’ll notice from the pictures below, not crowded. Prices for an upscale place compared to what you would pay in San Francisco are ridiculously low. Seeing organic asparagus for $2.99/lb vs. the $8.99/lb I would see in SF is a bit of a surprise. Here are some pics from Atkins Farm:

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First Impressions

Northampton and the Pioneer Valley so far has been an interesting place. You don’t have the warmth and even temperatures of San Francisco, but weather wise it’s different, yet not too hard to adapt. I’ve gone out in the mornings and it’s been between 26°-35°, yet it’s sunny so it doesn’t feel cold. On the other hand if you go out at night in those temperatures you aren’t very happy. I’ve been wearing my hoodie and a long sleeve shirt most of the time and I get hot in the afternoons when the temperature gets into the lot 50’s. Tomorrow should be interesting as we’re supposed to get into the 70’s for a couple of days before the highs drop back into the 50’s. Spring is coming quickly and we’re seeing the end of winter here for a couple of weeks.

The people of the area are really nice and friendly. I’ve read about that from mailings I received from Only In Your State which is not a bad website to use if you’re thinking of moving out of California. The people here really go out of their way to help you out if you’ve got a problem. I don’t think I’ve heard a single person swear yet either. The three homeless people I saw looked more cold than anything else and definitely didn’t look like alcoholics or drug addicts…except one guy in downtown Northampton, but he seemed more like Otis, the town drunk than some of scarier people I’ve encountered in San Francisco. People here will offer you directions, explain things to out of towners and pretty much answer any questions you’ve got and all with a smile. It’s kind of creepy after experiencing people who look at you oddly when you talk to them in San Francisco. Probably the least happy person I saw was a bus driver, but I think it was more because she didn’t have time to answer our questions [side note: bus system here is $1.25 and while not as good as regular as Muni it’s definitely not as crowded.] Also a very important thing is that no one here has a Boston accent. Bostonians are like they’re own world. You’ll get a bit of New York accent, but it’s pretty subtle and not much different than the way people talk in San Francisco.

Traffic? Compared to San Francisco it’s non-existent. During rush hour I’d say the traffic is as bad as Sunset Blvd in the mornings. It moves along, but not stop and go. You can drive for maybe 5 minutes before you can hop on I91 or State Route 5/9/10/66 which moves pretty fast. Parking? Pretty easy even in downtown Northampton and you get 20 minutes for a quarter at a parking meter. The downtown parking lot is 50¢/hour and the first hour is free. So far I haven’t seen any street sweeping signs so Northampton must find another way to make its money. Driving on I91 is a joy. I got up to 75mph in a few seconds and didn’t even feel like I was driving fast because the roads are so smooth. My wife didn’t complain about me driving too fast so that means the roads are good. You can get places quickly here because of I91 which makes the housing prices a bit higher, but they’re still ¼ of what they are in San Francisco.

Food? Not too far off from San Francisco. Lots of ethnic food, but sometimes it’s been a bit Americanized in the description. Chinese restaurants are really a mix of Chinese and Japanese food so it’s a little weird to see Oyster Sauce Beef and Chicken Teriyaki on the same menu and all of the Chinese restaurants sell Crab Rangoons that I’ve only seen in a few Hawaiian places in the Bay Area and every YouTube video I’ve seen on Asian food screams, That’s not Chinese!! OK, Mexican food. Several people have laughed at me for moving to Massachusetts saying, wait until you see what they call a burrito in Massachusetts! Well, I can tell you while the Mexican part of the Hispanic population is slim there are lots of Puerto Rican’s to help take up the slack. Most of the people who have said that have visited Boston or it’s ultra-white suburb Wellesley. Yeah, not going to find a decent burrito there, but I’m in Western Massachusetts so it’s different. What they call a burrito here is what we call a Mission Burrito to people outside of California. The only difference is they add…lettuce! It’s unspeakable, but I just told them to hold the lettuce. They’re a bit smaller, but I don’t really need to eat that much food anymore. I ordered the pulled pork burrito which was the way they Americanized Carnitas, but it was definitely Carnitas and if you specifically asked them for say, Al Pastor they knew what you were talking about because they spoke Spanish. 

I’ll stop here and drop some pics of the Yankee Candle Village for you to enjoy. 

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Up, Up and Away…

This is a little late in coming, but we got up early Saturday morning and hopped on a plane and are back east after a two hour layover in Philly. I got to have a cheesesteak from Geno’s at the airport which wasn’t very spectacular, but it was from an airport so I won’t hold it against them. The first leg of the flight was pretty awesome since it was real first class with an entertainment system, lie flat seats and decent food. The flight attendants were really, really nice. Especially when you’ve got an autistic daughter on her first flight and leaving home.

We’ve been running around while trying to get ourselves settled and adjust to weather that’s about 26° in the morning or “feels like..ARE YOU NUTS!!!!” Oddly enough I was just outside and it’s about 32°, but while it’s cold it’s not freezing. 

So far I’ve noticed a few things like, you have to drive to get places, but there’s lots of freeways and less traffic so you get there faster. We’re staying in Holyoke, MA which is about 9 miles south of Northampton, MA where we’re looking to live and it takes maybe 15 minutes to drive there. Just as a comparison, when I was driving for Uber it could take me 30-45 minutes to drive 4 miles to get to downtown San Francisco.

Then there are the stores. We got Walmart here and it’s so big along with grocery stores like Big Y and Stop and Shop that my feet started to hurt after walking so much. Seriously, after growing up in San Francisco we’re talking grocery stores that are the size of Costco and just groceries. The other upside of being here is that the groceries are cheap. We’re staying in a suite with a kitchen so we stocked up last night and have a weeks worth of food for about $20. I think I rarely got out of a grocery store in SF for under $60.

Today we’re going to try and go a little north of Northampton, MA to Deerfield to visit the Yankee Candle Factory because our daughter has been really, really good throughout the transition and that should be a fun place for her to visit. Posts will be short and sporadic unlike my usual feature length articles, but it’ll be fun to share my experiences quickly. 

Incidentally, I got up this morning to a snow flurry. While it’s been about 15 years since I’ve been in snow it wasn’t falling snow so this was a weird experience for a San Francisco Native to have. I probably looked like a goober doing this, but I shot a little video outside as I was experience falling snow for the first time since I was about 17. Enjoy!

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And Then It Happened…

Well I’ve heard about how housing moves quickly in San Francisco, but this was almost a little silly how fast the house sold. I’ve been busy cleaning out the house, but the house literally was listed off market so there were no bidding wars [which means you ask a bit more so people don’t have to go through the bidding war hassle] and it turns out the first people who came to one of the private showings chose to buy the house. I won’t say what the house sold for, but let’s just say that houses in Western Massachusetts are asking about ¼ of what we were and they tend to sit for six to eight months there. Not six to eight days like here.

There are things that you don’t really think about when you have a long move like that and have sold a house that has had four generations of your family living in it…like anything that isn’t nailed down has to go. Much of what wasn’t nailed down was stuff like old pots in the back yard and some broken down tools that my Dad had apparently just stuffed under the desk to get it out of the way until he figured what to do with it. My Dad died in 1999 and I hadn’t even seen some of the stuff we found. Luckily we found Junk King who came and literally anything we pointed out went. I have to admit, it did kind of hurt watching them take some of the stuff. I had looked at some of the furniture and just accepted it’s place in the house since some hadn’t been moved since I was alive…to me it was nailed down. But we sold the house and those are the rules and something like an old rusting workbench in the garage that folded up [I never even knew it folded up] had to go.

It’s a bit odd walking around the house you grew up in and hearing the walls echo because it’s so empty and thinking things like, gee, there’s enough room to put X here. Well, maybe we should have gotten rid of some of that stuff early and figured it out, but in many ways it’s very, very good to purge. I have developed a new found freedom in separating stuff in my life that was just there, but not adding to it that it feels good.

I realized something yesterday when I saw friends who are following my story on FaceBook who have been saying roughly the same thing, I feel like a part of my childhood is gone now. Some of these friends I haven’t seen in years, but this house because it was still there and I was still there represented a connection to the misspent days of our youths out here. I thought for a bit and of all my friends I am the only one who’s still living in the same house as when I was a kid. In some ways it’s kind of like I need to move on. Sure I’ve lived in other houses I’ve rented in San Francisco, but there was always this house as my rock to come back to at any time.

In two weeks time I’ll be in Western Massachusetts now, completely out of debt and with money in my pocket. Something I haven’t been able to say in a good many years. We’ve got almost everything booked that we’ll need to get out and get there so next time you hear from me will probably be from the hotel suite by SFO that we’ll be spending a few days at before we’re out of here.

So I’ll end this story with a little video so you can see what I was going through. Big thanks to the guys from Junk Kings in the video for helping us out. It turned out to be much cheaper than renting a couple of dumpsters and I didn’t have to carry the stuff out.  If you see anything that you don’t think we should have tossed…would you have come and gotten it? I put the word out months ago about a lot of it, but no one came for these vintage, antique, artisanal, handmade, gourmet pieces of furniture. I’m writing this article and shot the video on my new iPad Pro [yes, I got the fully tricked out 12.9” one with a keyboard case and Apple Pencil.] which is the first new thing I’ve been able to buy since the sale went through.

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