All posts by Alan J. Block

Farmer, IT guy, dog butler

Pizza and Pipes and Appreciation



Last night I gave Chris a few options for dinner: Vietnamese (there’s a pho place downtown ‘Bula), sushi (there’s a new Japanese place on the way to downtown ‘Bula), or pizza.  She said her usual, “You decide.”  But I pressed the issue and she caved by saying, “chicken tortellini soup,” which meant the pizza place.  It also meant I could have craft beer (I went with Smuttynose’s Big A IPA) and delicious pizza with out driving to Vero or Bar Cento.

Purola Bros Pizza, also known as Bridge Street Pizza, was hopping last night.  There were only a couple of open tables–great to see so many people out.  Courtney, whom we met on our first visit, took care of us, bringing Chris a hot tea immediately and informing me, sadly, that they were out of the Ba Ba Black Lager.  It was only our third visit to the place, but she exclaimed that we’d now been there “like 75 times!”  Very sweet and kind and happy–she is sunshine embodied.

The food was great, and we have a weekend of lunch leftovers ahead of us.  We also learned a lot more about downtown.  We learned that the Briquettes barbecue and craft beer haven used to be in a smaller place across the street.  We learned that the are plans for an artisanal bakery.  We learned that the ‘Bula Farmers Market is held right in the parking lot at Bridge Street Pizza.  We learned that a couple who moved from NYC, who are classically trained French chefs, are opening a place right across from the pizza place this summer.  We learned about all of the motorcycles that will be cruising around in the summer, going to Geneva on the Lake and all of the wineries (Courtney advised we buy earplugs).  We learned about Jake, the young man who founded Harbor Perk, the coffee roaster downtown.  Courtney told us he was  a true driving force behind the rebirth of downtown Ashtabula, that he motivated others, that he was upbeat and engaging, that he was kind and caring.  We also learned that he, at 36, died of brain cancer, a tragic end of a life too short.  You can sense the unstated but real  commitment of those who knew him to assure his dreams for his chosen region in life are carried on even after his death.

We also learned about the Happiness Store.  This is Courtney’s name for Mariann’s Chocolates.  She said she keeps a small stash of cash for when she is having a bad day, and she dips into the spare change and dashes across the street for a slice of the homemade fudge with caramel and sea salt on top.  As Courtney said to us, “how have we not been there yet?”  We will rectify that mistake soon.  Like today.

I’ll be heading downtown for a haircut.  My hope that haircuts out here would be cheaper than in Cleveland have been dashed–still $20.  But hopefully they don’t butcher my crop and have plenty of info to dish on about the area.  I mean, there are few better sources of info than a hair stylist, right?  Except for Courtney.  She’s a gold mine.

The rest of the weekend will be filled with chores and naps and appreciation for the lives we have, the little things and the big things and the people and places and pups.  You need to take time, at least I do, every day to appreciate it all.  You never know when it will be your last time to do so.

But back to the chores and thoughts of the Happiness Store.  We have another workbench to build for Chris, I have an epically shedding sled dog that I have to rake, we might put in a storm door or two while it’s in the 40s, and I have a dratted plumbing problem to figure out that will certainly drive me to, well, drive to get a slab of fudge with caramel and sea salt and embedded smiles.  (I installed a Utilatub for Chris to use for her etching, and the water comes out of the faucet just like it should.  It’s the draining part that’s not cooperating right now.  I must be missing something somewhere…)


Belly Up Dog Yoga Pose


If there’s one thing I’ve learned about yoga, it’s that the animals that certain poses are named after are way better at said poses than I am.  But, there may be hope.  For me.  Yoga-wise.

Here, Sammy demonstrates a new pose that I think I can accomplish very effectively: Belly Up Dog.  All it requires is a warm fire nearby, a hardwood floor (though carpeting will also work), and a carefree attitude.



Dogs, Cats, Cold Snow, and Warm Sunshine


The day started out notably cold today, like three degrees above zero cold.  When I slipped my legs from beneath the comforters (plural, indeed), the cold in the air reminded me of my youth when I lived in a farmhouse that had a thin layer of plaster and lath as a wall, with a pocket of cold air layer behind it, then a layer of asbestos siding, and then the harsh winds outside.  The difference between those walls and those of a canvas tent were fairly minimal on a frigid winter day.  But, it’s what we had and we made do, sometimes without heat, in the years of greatest struggle and, truly they were the years of greatest achievement.

So the cold today in Saybrook was not as bad as when I was a kid and we warmed our shoes on the opened oven door that Mom had turned on in the kitchen to warm the room and adjacent bathroom before we dashed from under the cold blankets.  Still, the dogs were curled nose-under-tail on the couch and the living room thermostat read 55.  Chilly, to be sure.

Soon, though, the sun came up and angled itself upon its low winter arch in the southern sky.  The warming rays pour beautifully into the kitchen when we slide the old farmhouse door out of the way like that very portal was designed by the ancient druids to gain maximum solar effect through openings in stone.  The dogs first gazed out at the neighbor’s yard a couple of acres away and soon succumbed to the sun’s warmth on the wood floor.  The napped all in a row like seals on a warm Cali beach.

But, I am a devotee of weather apps and it sure looks like we have some winter on the way.  Tuesday’s high of no better than two or three above zero, and minus eight Monday night has a way of feeling damned ominous.  And while the HVAC guys who wandered around the basement Friday afternoon like Inspector Lestrade and co. are due back Monday afternoon to fix a stuck zone valve, I am skeptical their work will do enough to warm the zones where the valves are already open.  Not many houses and heating systems are designed to make minus eight feel like San Diego.

The dogs, though, they live in the moment.  And they are napping in all sorts of warm places, belly up to the world, no need to tuck their noses today.

And lest I forget the cat!  Pokey has arrived in Saybrook, safely making his way in a milk crate atop a flannel blanket all the way from Cleveland Heights yesterday.  He’s safely tucked into Chris’s temporary studio for now, with it’s warm printer and cozy closet–far from Stout, who knows not of cats as friends, only foes.  Indeed, tonight he routed a stray one from under the front porch–it shot in front of me like a swallow on a summer’s night and climbed one of our few trees as quick as an ember rises in the night from a campfire.  Tasha yipped at him up on his shaking branch.  Stout kept looking where the cat was moments before (Pokey’s best hope is Stout’s stubbornness), and Sammy just wanted to get back to the cast iron stove in the kitchen, where it’s always warm, sun or no sun.

The cold makes us appreciate the warmth, much as the darkness makes us appreciate the light and the longing makes us appreciate the having.


Snow to Write Home About


The snowstorm of January 2, 2014 in Saybrook, and all of northeast Ohio–heck the whole northeastern USA–is one to write home about.  It’s been falling for over a day now, the wind is shaping it into smooth drifts and cliffs, and the temperatures are falling well closer to zero than they need to be.  But, this is January in the North.  We have heat, power, blankets, and three dogs.  And if there’s been a more ready-made three dog night, I am not sure it’s been in the last decade or so.

Our first week and a few days in Saybrook out in Ashtabula county have been our kind of adventure.   We’ve seen ring-necked pheasants on the roadside, watched over 30 wild turkeys (yes, the bird; not the bottle) jostle in our neighbor’s back acres, discovered remarkable pizza and freshly roasted coffee, met lovely people, painted a room, built a workbench, replaced a zone valve controller, and reminded ourselves that every house built in 1860 needs work even when it seems perfect when you buy it.

The dogs are in heaven every trek we make in the back five acres, all brambles and puddles and darting moles and stinking scat.  Good times, in dog land.

And we are loving the house, and its remarkable kitchen and lovely wood floors and rooms and rooms and rooms–and let’s not forget the kitchen cast iron stove that heats the room and all of us quite happily.

It’s a good life, already, here.  The snow just reminds us it’s winter and we have to wait on the garden, the chickens, and a duckling or two.