Category Archives: First Person Dispatch

Finding Home

© J.N. Urbanski – Usage prohibited without consent

I’ve been in England for a family wedding for the last two weeks and although the British countryside is in my blood, and I’m shaped like a missing piece of its jigsaw, it was moving to return to the mountains, to our densely overgrown, untended property. It had a party in our absence.

We arrived yesterday, early evening, to find that the short path from the car to the house was a thick carpet of clover sprinkled with aging chanterelle. Half of the field that was mowed around our small farm is now festooned with yarrow, bee balm, milkweed, thistle, mushrooms, mullein and wild strawberries.

Last night’s weather was its own production deserving of an Oscar, with thick, white mist stubbornly hugging these vast mountains. Rings of fog capped the peaks like fluffy crowns that dissolved into the sunset to reveal a surly, grey armada of larger clouds above.

My new sister-in-law, who I call my bonus sister, said, before I left for England: “you’ll notice how remarkably flat Norfolk is”. Continue reading

Donate

© J.N. Urbanski 6/16/15 12.39

On my jaunts around the neighborhood, I regularly bump into people who love Upstate Dispatch. Last week, a reader told me: “I love the site! I just wish there was more of it”. Me too!

Upstate Dispatch takes hundreds of hours per month to research and write. All of the food and drink you see reviewed here has been paid for, with one exception, and where tickets are sold to local cooking, foraging, writing and art classes, they have been purchased. In the past, when we’ve had contributors, we have paid them. As I a writer, I believe artists and writers should not have to work for free. We are also an advertisement-free site, so we rely on donations.

If you love reading Upstate Dispatch, please consider donating. Future donations will fund a small summer arts and literary studio in the local village for Upstate Dispatch. We want to expand our coverage over the summer, move into the community, and revive the Catskills Conversations series, shedding more light on our local luminaries and their stories.

Lastly, I want to thank our past donors who have expressed their appreciation of Upstate Dispatch in a meaningful way. I’m sincerely and immensely grateful for the love!

Please find our donation page here.

Happy Spring!

J.N. Urbanski

Shaking Off The Winter Blues

© J.N. Urbanski

After informal discussions amongst neighbors, I’ve gleaned that the cabin fever or winter blues hit a high this past winter. During a chance encounter with an acquaintance, I was asked: “how did you survive winter?”, to which I replied, “barely”. Although, most agreed that the weather wasn’t as bad as the year before. To be honest though, cabin fever aside, happiness seems to be quite rare these days. Last year, I was surprised when at a social group in NYC, as 20-plus ladies sat around in a circle, I asked how many of them were on anti-depressants and they all raised their hands. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a journalist or if people are being more honest lately, but in my experience, we’re opening up about anxiety. There’s a lot of be anxious about; the proposed revival of the coal industry is one of them. (Coal, really? Are we in Victorian England?) In my experience, the winter blues and bouts of cabin fever have been held at arm’s length by writing, reading, diet and lots of booze exercise (and the latest research, below, seems to indicate that what you eat affects your mental health). Even if you’re not a writer, a ToDO list or a journal can help enormously. As a writer, one has to get used to solitude, but spring is on the way, the buds are on the trees and after last night’s rain there might be mushrooms. There are definitely ramps in the valleys.

Here are some links on the latest news on health and exercise from some respected media outlets and some tips on writing:

On the benefits of solitude from The Atlantic and how to be alone from Brain Pickings.

More research into how gut bacteria can affect our minds as well as our bodies. A study suggests that eating probiotics like yoghurt relieves anxiety. The book Gulp by Mary Roach and foods to restore our gut bacteria from The Scientific American.

Interval training benefits the aging body. It’s never too late to start exercising. Links to some remarkable interval training DVDs from Jillian Michaels.

How perfectionism kills creativity from Anne Lamott.

Zadie Smith’s 10 Rules of Writing. “Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never ­being satisfied.”

And for fun:

How one writer tried to stop complaining.

How one writer said yes to everything, including crossfit, and ended up in the hospital, from Vice.

A Village Idiom: The Local Library

© J.N. Urbanski

A decent portion of my formative years was spent in the local library where, due to being English born in the seventies, my innocence was cruelly shattered by George Orwell. I don’t think Orwell or Golding is on the syllabus for eleven year olds these days, but for a sensitive soul like myself, the novels 1984 and Animal Farm ruined my taste for literature thereafter, but just being in a library now feels like home. My mother was an avid reader and our weekly trips to the library I will never forget, but sadly I don’t remember reading anything after being assaulted by Lord of the Flies, except for a feeble attempt at some Jane Austen and a lot of Oscar Wilde. Thanks to George, I switched to non-fiction.

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A Village Idiom: This Writer’s Life

© J.N. Urbanski

I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone for reading Upstate Dispatch. This week, we were thrilled to receive some high praise, kind attention and a surprise donation: it’s enlivening to know that all the hard work is appreciated. All the analytics and visitor metrics in the world won’t tell us if you actually enjoyed reading it or not! UD has thousands of readers every month, from near and far, but hardly any comments. I also received some other feedback: you want to read more about me in particular, my life. My writing and consulting work takes me far and wide, introduces me to some incredibly interesting people and places. While I’m formulating a plan on how to deliver more of these stories on this website, here are some back links to some popular posts (at the bottom of the page). UD was started in September 2014, so there’s a lot of history here. Feel free to dig around and comment. I’ll be publishing back links from this site every couple of weeks.

This year, as a writer, I decided to get back into fiction and vowed to read more. I also vowed to attend at least one writer’s group, or start one, because my romance with the blank page can’t beat a night out with actual people. I will also be going down to the local library more: Skene Memorial Library in Fleischmanns to write my fiction. Country life can be isolating, especially if you work from home like so many local writers, farmers and producers. If you buy books, like I do, donate them to the local library when you’ve finished. It’s a great way to share some of your collection, while still having access to it.

Finally, I have been neglecting the high peaks, having ten more hikes to complete the Catskill 35. Tomorrow: North Dome and Sherrill – that’s if I haven’t signed up too late.

Popular Links from Upstate Dispatch:

Alfie, my black lab/shepherd rescued from the Kingston ASPCA, has his own fans and this post, entitled For The Love of Dog, about him was picked up by Mrs Sizzle in New York City. He was photographed by Shannon Greer at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

My thoughts on work, now that I’m closer to the real work of country life and also my thoughts on food and the food system.

Our instagram feed and my own: jnurbanski.

My local: go drink some vodka, drink local. A recipe for a winter warmer: mulled, spiced port.

Last year, I became a trustee on the board of Woodchuck Lodge, John Burrough’s ancestral home. I’ll be writing a post on community service at a later date.

Thanks again for reading,

J.N. Urbanski

Happy Winter Solstice!

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

Today, December 21st, is Winter Solstice, officially the first day of winter. The northern hemisphere of the earth is pointed the farthest away from the sun and, tonight begins its slow return towards it until the June Solstice of 2017. The ancient tradition of Yuletide, one of the oldest winter celebrations in Europe began this morning and will end on January 1st, 2017. Yuletide was a fire festival celebrated by the Northern Europeans. Pre-Zoroastrian Persians and ancient Romans celebrated something similar before the common era. Hannukah, the ancient Jewish festival of lights takes place almost concurrently with Yule this year, starting December 24th. The most enduring British tradition from Yuletide is the Yule Log, a small firestarter from a larger bonfire that was shared with many households by landowners in England. Evergreen trees were fashioned into wreaths and other decorations for the interior of the house for their refreshing smell. The Brits still make cakes fashioned into Yule logs and, of course, we still bring in pine trees, decorate them with lights, but now we call it Christmas. Happy Solstice!

Edible Hudson Valley’s Winter Issue

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

My piece in Edible Hudson Valley’s Winter Issue on Wayside Cider was published this week. I wrote a long profile of owners Irene Hussey and Alex Wilson, a short version of which appears in the Whisk section in the front of the magazine.  What I had not submitted for publication, was the results of the photoshoot I did with Alex Wilson of Wayside Cider, that took place in Andes. I followed him around with the camera, over hills and dales, while he foraged for apples. Edited out of the published piece was a brief paragraph or two on the humble Catskills apple.

New York State has been an apple state since before the first settlers decreed that each household should have its own orchard back in the sixteenth century. A wave of planting crept up and down the Eastern seaboard shortly after the settlers arrival, but Native Americans were cultivating apples long before then. Andes is, in fact, adjacent to the homesteads that were once historic Shavertown, one of the first settlements in the area and home to an ancient apple orchard that was planted hundreds of years ago by Native Americans. Sadly, both ancient orchard and town are now submerged under hundreds of feet of water that is the Pepacton Reservoir.

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Downstate Dispatch: The City

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

It’s about this time of year that a city makes a special guest appearance on Upstate Dispatch to honour my urban roots. There’s a lot that I miss about the city, but the most prominent difference between country and city life is that, in the country, you have to drive everywhere. In the city, you can walk or take readily available public transportation. Small towns and villages in places like my home country England are mostly very, very old and designed for walking or riding (animal or bicycle). British Towns radiate outwards like a rash instead of sprawling along lengthy American roads. You would never have an English address with more than three numbers in the street address, but yesterday I visited someone whose street number was 53939, which is unheard of in England and quite astonishing to foreigners. Even our longest residential roads, straight thousand-year-old roads that were built by the Romans, were split into sections called “high streets” like the A10, which is 90 miles long. It runs from central London to Norfolk at about a sixth of the entire country’s length.

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On Hunting

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

Today is the first day of hunting season for shotgun users and I’ve been hearing gunfire echo over the mountains for the last month in preparation. The past few weeks of hunting season have been strictly for bow users only. Over the next month or so, there’ll be a plethora of camouflaged, gun-toting neighbors creeping around in the woods that abut my property, and sitting in makeshift deer stands. My husband saw a crossbow wielding neighbor stealthily striding out of the woods last week and felt like I had dodged an arrow.

As a new country lass, the first experience I had with a hunter was when I was hiking. Rounding a corner, our group chanced upon a man; perfectly still, holding what looked like an AK-47, looking like a stocky, camo-version of Bruce Willis in Die Hard. The gun made him look at least eight feet tall. He stared. We stopped. He silently crept towards us and then passed us without so much as an excuse me. We kept calm and carried on.

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Downstate Dispatch: Daily NYC 11/12/15

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

My Daily Catskills Canon camera has been with me through thick and thin: sun, rain, snow, blizzards, storms and horizontal hail that sprays you in the eyeballs like a Santa’s Visine. Co-incidentally, a few days before I was due to come down to New York City this week, the camera stopping working. So I took it to the storied Nippon Photo Clinic in Manhattan and just by virtue of it crossing Nippon’s venerated threshold, it miraculously became fixed. I was hoping to show the technician how it didn’t work, but it snapped away perfectly. I asked him if this was typical, but he shrugged his shoulders with a chuckle. Sod’s law, I thought as I checked the camera in for a clean and wondered how many famous photographers had paid the infamous Nippon Clinic a visit to have their equipment restored.

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Happy Birthday Upstate Dispatch!

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

It’s been another beautiful Catskills summer. In the last few weeks, red leaves have been scattered sparingly on the forest floor like clues to a treasure hunt, leading me to my autumnal prize. A spectacular show, like the forest’s own Mexican wave, a static riot of color will commence later this month. A benevolent Mother Nature now has a cool wind in the works while Old Man Winter waits behind her gleefully rubbing his hands. I hope she flicks an acorn in his eye.

It’s at the waning end of this glorious summer that Upstate Dispatch celebrates its birthday. It turns a year old tomorrow, September 9th. I would, firstly, like to thank you for reading and all your wonderful comments, feedback and admiration. Readership support means such a great deal.

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Feminism in the Catskills

Photo4Girls_4761For the last three years, I’ve produced and hosted a radio show on WIOX that airs live on alternate Mondays at 9am out of Roxbury, New York. Two years ago, I did a series on feminism called Women in Film and set about doing research for the series. At the time I did my research two years ago, in about July 2013, the UK’s Guardian newspaper had reported the previous week that a recent study of 2012’s 100 highest grossing films found that only 28% of the speaking roles went to women. To say I was shocked and saddened is not exactly true because I was already certain that we have a long way to go before there’s some equality in Hollywood, so I just hunched over my desk with a long sigh and put my face in my hands.

A more recent statistic from the same publication is not much better: “women accounted for only 12% of on-screen protagonists in 2014, and just 30% of characters with speaking parts”.

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First Person Dispatch: Work

© J.N. Urbanski A Tom Otterness sculpture somewhere in Idaho

© J.N. Urbanski A Tom Otterness sculpture somewhere in Idaho

Scrolling through back issues of Brain Pickings this week, I stumbled upon the post entitled “How To Avoid Work” and read it with interest. My eye lingered on one quotation in the article: “Your life is too short and too valuable to fritter away in work”. The artist in me agrees with this sentiment but my other half is too pragmatic not to find it irksome. Frequently paired with this idea is the notion of only “doing what you love” and the pursuit of this idyll. Because Upstate Dispatch is devoted to the city folk who are making the country their home and their business, I decided to ask the question: what is work?

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Downstate Dispatch: NYC

© J.N. Urbanski 7.15am Brooklyn

© J.N. Urbanski 7.15am Brooklyn

When cabin fever sets in, sometimes there’s nothing to do but jump in the car and drive to New York City. Book an evening or two with friends, feed sushi to your dog, drink with a million old friends in your favourite bar and exaggerate like a true New Yorker. Driving in the city sharpens the mind as much as a good 25-mile assault course and, once you’ve survived the hair-raising journey, you’ll only be in the city for a few hours when the opportunity for a robust debate will present itself. Quirky customs and foibles are brought vividly into focus when you don’t live here. Strangers receive smiles with downright fascination and will swerve graciously out of the way for your gorgeous dog, but not for you. In fact, NYC dog lovers will converse with your dog like an old, dear friend and completely ignore the human on the end of the leash. Stern police officers on the RFK Bridge will take your toll without returning your gaze and then, out of the blue, light up like a five-year-old and yell: “HEY PUPPY!” after spotting your dog in the back seat.

There’s such a lot to miss about city life: furniture on the street (covered in snow); street vendors selling old, pristine issues of Life Magazine for five dollars; Wholefoods; opening up a coffee shop 7am, for a large tea, croissant and dog biscuit; Strand Bookstore; exciting visits to Manhattan offices bringing back old memories; sushi; La Duree macarons; the sprawling Brooklyn Navy Yards; cyclists; roof farms; the dulcet, reassuring tones of NPR on the radio.

First Person Dispatch: For The Love Of Dog

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

Years ago, a new country neighbor confided that whenever her husband went away on business she slept with a loaded shotgun by the bed, but I believe in accidents, sleepwalking and all the other disasters that Hollywood screenwriters can mustre. A shotgun only wakes you up after it has blown off your leg when you knocked it over reaching for a glass of water. A dog, however, wakes you up before something happens (or will ever happen).

Enter Alfie, my first dog, who barks when someone crosses the street a mile down the road, has a sense of smell so strong he can tell that the UPS guy will be here in an hour and follows me from room to room like a family member who’s afraid I’ll commit suicide. I only have to look out the window with a slight frown and he goes to the window and starts barking ferociously. Last night I gasped at a movie and he awoke with a start and issued a dead stare right in my eyes with one ear cocked until he was confident that all was well. He takes his position in the household as Head of Security as seriously as a Black Lab/Shepherd mix can. In Alfie is combined both the sheer comedy of a Black Labrador with the bossiness of a Shepherd. More important, as a first-time dog owner I don’t even see myself as the master of this dog; he’s not my dog, rather I’m his human. I can’t be alone in believing that the master should not be picking up faeces off the road and carrying it in a little bag. No, I am the servant for the next… ever.

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First Person Dispatch: The Hipster

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

To open the new year, I wanted to post a piece I’ve been itching to publish for some time. Last year, Britain’s Guardian newspaper asked the question: What is a Hipster? This question remains inadequately answered just about everywhere I read it. So here’s my tuppence for the record.

The hipster, borne of necessity, like most American inventions, was quietly humming along by its introverted self until it was “discovered” like the next top model, propelled to stardom and repackaged. No longer the studious, dedicated urban outlier it once was, it has been devoured by contemporary culture: replicated, refined and turned into another brand like Pandora or Urban Outfitters. I’m keenly familiar with its recent history.

New York City has been a cultural icon for most of its life, but it’s a city that is almost unrecognizable from that which I visited for the first time almost 20 years ago. By 1998, I had moved permanently from an empty, crumbling mid-nineties Shoreditch in London to New York City’s Williamsburg and found something similar to what I had left.

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First Person Dispatch: Phoenicia Diner

© J.N. Urbanski

© J.N. Urbanski

No words can possibly describe the Wild Hive Skillet Polenta with Eggs and sauteed greens. The menu offered “sunny side up”, but the server offered them whichever way I fancied, so I took them scrambled and they were cooked to perfection: lightly buttery and moist. Was there cheese in the Polenta? Who knows? There was something magical in there, whatever it was, that made me feel like going straight to the Blue Barn and spending $36 on an antique red silk dress from Shanghai. Last time I did that it was the biscuits and gravy from Diner in Williamsburg, and two dresses from Pima Boutique in the Girdle Factory on Bedford Avenue… circa 2001. Remarkable dining experiences that make me go shopping are as rare as rent-stabilized apartments.

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First Person Dispatch: Food

5023haysmMy first experience in a New York restaurant went exactly like this:

Me: ‘What’s in season?”
Waitress: “This is America: Everything’s in season.” (Italics hers.)

Duly silenced by this exchange, I flipped through the gigantic menu, struggling to make up my mind as the waitress stalked away proudly. One thing that stood out was the salmon. It was really cheap and back in England at the time smoked salmon was a luxury that I used to roll up in napkins and stuff in my pockets at corporate events. It was difficult not to be impressed by the range of choices and the prices, and in retrospect, I wonder today: what exactly is a luxury in times where “Sunday Best” is a quaint anachronism?

I’ve also recently given more thought to the thorough dressing down my American friend had given to a British sandwich on her first visit to London in the mid-nineties. Taking stock of what now seems like meagre offerings in Britain’s Marks & Spencer Food Hall, my friend exclaimed loudly: “call that a sandwich?!”

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First Person Dispatch: Camping in New York

5798mountain.jpg

copyright J.N. Urbanski

It all starts innocently enough. One uniquely New York City 105-degree scorcher during which the breeze sears your face and you contemplate frying an egg on the sidewalk. Freckles pop up on your cheeks in real time. Someone suggests camping again and this time you don’t laugh in their face. Now facing another blazing, humid weekend without air-conditioning, you’re ready to click together your ironic Mary Janes and chant: “there’s no place like the forest!”

Camping is one of the best activities America has to offer. Stunning scenery and plenty of room for everyone (including kids, pets, gear and cars) combine to provide a thoroughly refreshing alternative to the city. Camping is the “gateway drug” to country life, especially for those who work remotely. If you can work anywhere, why not a bolt-hole in the woods? You can’t find out the temperature by popping outside in your underwear in New York City.

Camping relaxes even the most hardened city folk. Just the first few gulps of fresh air on the Taconic State Parkway have you thinking you can taste green. As you drive up Route 87 with the car window down, you can feel the remarkably hefty burdens of the city fly off into the wind like jettisoned cargo. As you pull into the campsite at dusk, you wonder what all the fuss was about back in the Big Smoke: a big fuss about nothing. Your editor was once an inveterate city girl but this is how you get turned. Continue reading