Monday, March 09, 2015

Iceland in the winter?

As you can see, the trusty Ice Cream Diaries seems to get little attention for anything besides my travel adventures or a new coffee table book.  As I've explained before, it's not because I don't still love the gig or that I'm not still entertained by the cool stuff that happens in my little slice of ice cream paradise.  Case in point, the very cool marketing poster handmade by my buddy's 10 year old daughter Mallory..



In any event, one of the many 'off-season' thoughts that runs through my head and often falls onto my 'projects list' for the new year is to resurrect the old ICD blog for more the just the aforementioned travel and book release entries.  Suffice to say, I wish I could promise a weekly new entry or even a monthly one, but in the more likely event that this snow actually does melt and ice cream chaos returns to consume my life as it does every year starting around April 23rd, I've learned better than to make such a promise.  But who knows.  Perhaps something or someone will inspire me between now and next January..

In the meantime, let's talk about my latest winter break, or 'January of Jim' as I like to call it.  As you probably know, in addition to my usual trip west for some Utah skiing and Colorado quality time with great friends, I like to boldly go to a place I've never gone before.  Ideally, it's a destination on my travel bucket list.  Last year's Galapagos Islands trip was a tough act to follow to be sure.  An African safari was high on the list this year, but the whole Ebola thing spooked me from that a little bit.

Perhaps next year.   If anyone has any tips.. Or would care to join?
http://www.intrepidtravel.com/uk/tanzania/serengeti-trail-83385

But let's talk about this year, shall we?  As you probably already know (and if the title of this blog didn't give it away), this year's port o' call was Iceland.  It didn't click off the 'warm and tropical' box on my January destination criteria, but it's been a place I've wanted to go for some time.  Sure, a July visit to Iceland has its advantages, but the reality for me right now is I'm not able to leave my teenager alone for more than a day or two during the high season.  And by teenager I mean Mt. Tom's of course.   I knew Iceland wouldn't be warm in early February (I booked it as late as I could in my break so as to have more than the four hours of daylight I would have gotten in early January).  It was a lot of great things but I can't say warm was one of them.  Then again 30's and 40's felt balmy after the single digit highs I left here in snowy Massachusetts.

And besides, who wouldn't want to go to a place where there were 130 volcanos and 80% of the population believe that elves are real.

Who knew when I booked the trip back in November that I'd be flying right in the middle of the Superbowl.  And much more importantly, who knew our beloved Patriots would be in said Superbowl.  I did get to watch the first half in the international wing of Logan airport.  As luck would have it, I got to travel on one of the few IcelandAir planes equipped with Wi-Fi.  Eight euros well spent..


Just five short hours and one missed night of sleep later, I stepped foot on the same giant chunk of lava our first lunar astronauts trained on, the magical treeless isle of Iceland.


I couldn't resist the map with the volcanoes on it. 

I could tell from the spotless Ikea-like airport, this was no ordinary country.




Even the airport bathroom was something..




It was just a quick and sleepy forty-five minute shuttle from Keflavlik to downtown Reykjavik.  I was a little leery about staying in a hostel, being over 21 years old and not traveling with a backpack, but my fears were unfounded.  It didn't hurt that I had chosen one of the best hostels on the entire planet.

Loft Hostel

Super cool, nice rooms, downtown location, clean and peaceful, happy hour every day, and live music most nights.  Hostels everywhere could learn a lot from this place.



And what's not to like about a place that cuts your morning cold cuts into heart shapes?


After check-in and a quick jetlag-induced power nap, it was off to get the lay of the land and book a few excursion for my week in the land of ice.


Looking across the bay..





The Hallgrimskrikja church...



The view from the belfry of the church...



Ok, I didn't go here.   It claims to be the only one in the world.  Proving that there truly is a museum for everything.


Moving right along.   Did you know what is the most popular restaurant in Iceland?



Yes. it's true.   Don't ask me what the brownish condiment was because while it was yummy, I have no idea.

It was much tastier than this would have been, despite what the label might lead you to believe..


Dried fish and fermented shark are the 'local foods' tourists are told to try while they are here.  Luckily, one of my travel guides gave us some helpful tips on that.   He told us about the process of fermenting the sharks, which involved months of hanging in a barn, among other not so pleasant things.  He also mentioned the locals call it rotten shark, and it's about the last thing they would choose to eat.  Ok, maybe just before pickled ram testicles and blood pudding, other tourist temptations he told us to avoid, although he probably didn't need to.  He also said they would probably 'turn your stomach upside down'.   I agreed, and wisely stuck to hot dogs and Paninis. 


Although I must admit I was tempted by the reindeer..

 
 
Speaking of ice cream (it is the Ice Cream Diaries after all), when I see a sign in a window that says 'Authentic Icelandic Ice Cream', I must investigate...


Truth be told, while the consistency (aka overrun) was decent, the caramel pecan lacked flavor.  On the bright side, it left me feeling better about my ability to go head-to-head with Iceland in an ice cream taste-off.

Did you know that professional boxing is illegal in Iceland?

And that geothermal power heats over 90% of the homes.  For cheap.



Above is one of the turbines to prove it.  Below is what I call 'sunrise over a power plant'..



It was interesting to walk through town in the dark.  At 10:30 in the morning..
 


 
When there's a bar next door called the Lebowski Bar, you know it's really just a matter of time before you find yourself there. 



Sure enough, I did.  While I expected it to be Hard Rock Café-like, full of American tourists and tacky collectibles all over the walls, I was happily surprised by the healthy mix of locals and tourists.   The bartenders were friendly, and the movie trivia game was a lot of fun.  Of course it always to helps to win, thanks to my movie Mensa friends from NYC who I met at the bar.  The place did have a life-sized bowling alley, Big Lebowski trivia on the walls, and a full white Russian menu, so they did quite enough to live up to tourists' expectations..







Beers weren't cheap (around 10 bucks a piece on average pretty much everywhere you went), but I did manage to find a sweet old pub at the end of the street that offered a big beer and a shot (some kind of vodka I think) for 570 Kronur, about six bucks.   Olsmidjan Bar
 
By the way, did you know beer was illegal in Iceland until 1989?
 
Happy place, Iceland style..




Speaking of beer, I thought this was funny.  And worthy of an ice cream version for my own window..



Unlike the dudes from New Jersey I met at the Lebowski Bar who were just there to party, I was actually there to see what I'd heard were some amazing landscapes in form of glaciers, mountains (volcanos), waterfalls, and geysers, so I booked the obligatory Golden Circle tour.  None disappointed..







Pingvellir National Park..







 
Gullfoss Waterfall
 

Strokkur geyser.  The tour guide suggested we 'stand as close to the geyser as you can to get the full effect'.  Not something you'd hear at Yellowstone..



Icelandic horses, they are a hearty breed.  They are purposely kept out of the barn so they don't get soft.   And if you're thinking about bringing any other type of horse into the country, not gonna happen.  This line is staying pure.  And I was told they don't like to be called ponies..
 
 
 
After a long and amazing day being at one with the cool and chilly Icelandic landscape, one owes it to themselves to spend a day in the infamous tropical oasis near the Arctic Circle, the Blue LagoonNational Geographic calls it one of the 25 wonders of the world.  She's got my vote.





My picture doesn't do it just so I'll have to steal one from their site...




The reason I didn't get a good picture that day is because I just didn't want to get out until they kicked me out.  100 degree mineral-infused water, swim up bar, saunas, mud masks, refreshing waterfalls, and in-water massages.  This place truly was a slice of paradise tucked inside a volcano crater.   Words just can't fully describe the awesomeness of this place.

And of course, last but not least, what would a trip to Iceland in the winter be without a search for the Northern Lights.  Aurora Borealis.   Downtown Rejkavik, although it is the capital of Iceland and where two-thirds of the country's three hundred thousand inhabitants live, looks more like a sprawling suburb than a city.  It does throw off some light, but I wouldn't be surprised if you could still see a strong night of the Northern Lights from the rooftop deck of my hostel.  But that's not the way you typically do it here when you really want to get a good look.  You book an excursion to a dark part of the island at least a half hour out in any direction.  Yes, you can go by boat too.   Our bus left at 8 pm, and by 8:45 we were standing in a snow-covered field in quite literally the middle of nowhere. 

              



 It was darker than this photo makes it seem.   Unfortunately, you can't force the northern lights appear.  They come and go as they please.   All you can do set up your tripod, wait, and hope.  When you get cold, you go inside the little snack bar and grab a hot cocoa.



Standing in that dark and snowy field with a hundred strangers from many corners of the world, each of us trying to satisfy a curiosity, was very cool, bordering on strangely spiritual.  I've always preached it's much more about the journey than the destination, but that field on that cold night really felt like a destination for me and this collective group of strangers.  Who doesn't have 'seeing the Northern Lights' on their bucket list?  Through some strange versions of the alignment of our planets, we had found our way here, like Richard Dreyfuss and his band of summoned strangers standing in the desert in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  None of us knew exactly what we were going to see, but we knew it had the potential to be big.  I tried not to make this trip all about seeing the lights, but I still couldn't help but be caught up in the anticipation, camera at the ready.



We stared at a still beautiful starry sky for a long time, with only an occasional shooting star as a reward.  After what seemed like hours, my frozen toes surrendered, and I sought refuge in the warm shuttle bus.   I flipped through many of the photos I've just shared with you and reminisced about all the amazing sights and experiences I'd had during my week in Iceland.  Sigur Ros, Takk played in my ears.  I had met some great people and been exposed to a whole different way of life while reaffirming we all still crave the same things.  I'd built upon my 'get out of your comfort zone' traveling solo confidence and enjoyed some much needed time of reflection with my journal and a strong latte with the locals in their favorite cafés.   I was in a good place.  I didn't need to see the lights to make this trip a success.  I was fulfilled.  Bus driver, I'm ready to go home now.

And just as it is with so much of life, when you release your need for something, it finally appears...






























Thanks for listening.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Another scoop of countertop reading hits the.. counter!


I'm not sure how I did it, but somewhere in the middle of making ice cream nine hours a day and completing the endless tasks required to keep an ice cream shop going all Summer, I managed to put together the long-overdue follow-up to my first coffee table photo book 'Hand-me-downs: Some Slightly Used Tips on Life for my Little Brother'.   It's called 'Ice Cream Parlor Wisdom: Another Scoop of Slightly Used Life Tips from the Guy Making Ice Cream in the Back'.  

The format is the same, but the images and essays are all fresh.   I hope you like it.

As form of introduction, I've included the introduction you'll find in the book.   Here it is...



How've you been?

It's hard to believe it’s been nearly ten years since I gave the one hardcover copy of Hand-me-downs to new high school graduate little brother Ted. I still look back on that day with pride and satisfaction. I had created a book from a tiny voice born out of the experiences and observations of my life. I don’t know if Ted has picked up my little life instruction book since. I hope so, but I try to focus on the things I can control. It was the process of creating it that brought me joy - the challenge of channeling my thoughts into a form that might be used again by someone else. And by me. It was immensely satisfying, and I still get a charge out of seeing a customer leafing through the tattered copy while they eat a cone of cookie dough.

It occurs to me that the life I had leading up to that day I shared the book with Ted barely resembles the life that followed. I've completely reinvented my life to the point of it being unrecognizable from the one I enjoyed all those years before it. I left the confines and comforts of corporate life for the challenges and insecurity of small business ownership. It’s been a wild ride of learning, trying things, and constantly adjusting the sail. Starting something new puts you out of your comfort zone. It’s scary and uncertain; the prospect of success or failure hinging on the decisions you make and the way you direct your efforts. It’s also immensely satisfying and rewarding. Creating something from nothing. Your baby.

During my annual winter break this year, I took a trip to the Galapagos Islands. Located five hundred miles off the coast of Ecuador, this ring of tiny islands is both breathtakingly beautiful and fascinating. Teeming with wildlife that harbor little fear of humans, these underdeveloped volcanic islands provide a rare opportunity to see and interact with marine life. Sea lions lounge on park benches. Marine iguanas scurry about on the beach. Playful baby sea lions swim along with the adventurous snorkeler in a lagoon. Giant hundred year old tortoises lumber along the side of a dirt road. It’s a natural habitat unblemished by the progress of human civilization.

It’s also the birthplace of evolutionary theory. Charles Darwin visited Galapagos in 1835. It was here he noticed the subtle variations in similar species from island to island, particularly the beaks of finches. Darwin collected massive amounts of samples and data. This data would eventually become the basis for his landmark thesis, ‘The Origin of Species’. He observed that in just a few short generations, the beaks of finches had changed to be better suited to the unique environment of their island home.

In short, they evolved.

That’s where it hit me. Isn’t that what our own lives are all about? Evolving. Darwin called it natural selection. Whether it be on a soccer field or the thoughts in your mind or in a bird's beak. We are constantly evolving. I’m not the same person I was ten years ago, and neither are you. My basic philosophies may be similar, but life has molded me into something different. Our cells are constantly dying and being replaced by new ones. Life’s experiences teach us lessons, point us in new directions, and show us what works and what doesn’t. A decade ago, I steered my life onto a new path, and that’s brought me new lessons and experiences. New teachers have come into my life. I’ve made some of the same mistakes, but I've tried to learn from them. I've evolved.

The day I decided to say goodbye to cubicle life was the beginning of my evolution.

Forcing myself out of my comfort zone was the game-changer for me. It changed everything. I may or may not know you. You may or may not be itching to shake up your life right now. If you are, I hope I might in some small way convince you to consider the possibility. Perhaps a thought or two in the stories that follow might nudge you toward a new path in your own life. In any event, I hope you enjoy the images.

As always, I never claim to be an expert in areas of human behavior, spirituality, or even small business ownership, so I trust you'll filter my ideas through the same sand sifter you employ with anything you read. I don’t know you like I knew my little buddy Ted, but I can still imagine you sitting at the counter of my shop, dark chocolate almond sea salt ice cream dripping down your cone onto your hand as you leaf through this book. If one story makes you think or smile, my effort will have been an overwhelming success. I thank you in advance for listening. Let's get back to it, shall we?

Ice Cream Parlor Wisdom is now officially on sale.  Have a look next time you're at Mt. Tom's for a cone or a bag of Swedish fish.  While you're here, check out the show on the wall.  It includes images from the new book! 

Hope to see you soon.

Jim

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Words to the new grads..

'Tis the season for graduation speeches, and Williston Northampton School up the road always seems to have really great ones.  This year was no exception.  Local artist, author, and former Williston teacher, Barry Moser took the podium last weekend.   Awesome speech and important message.  Well worth sharing..



Just as I was careful not to compare my speech to Alan Alda's when I wrote it a few years ago, I would never even consider trying to compete with Barry's.  Having said that, I though I'd repost a link to my attempt at a graduation speech.   It's a little dated, but I like to share it with my new grad scoopers most years, so here it is.  If you haven't already seen it, you're welcome to give it a read...

http://icecreamdiaries.blogspot.com/2011/06/my-graduation-speech.html

Happy almost Summer to you!

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

How I got into ice cream, unabridged version.

 


I'm often asked, 'how did you get into ice cream?'

The most accurate answer is 'because a manager I hardly knew didn't consider me for a promotion'.

But that's never the answer I've given.   Until now. 

At first glance, my foray into ice cream might seem like a no-brainer. My Dad worked his whole career in the dairy field. He and my Mom built and operated a couple of successful ice cream shops back when I was in my twenties and thirties. In business school, I even wrote a business plan about a small ice cream shop. But I was an engineer. I had an undergraduate degree in engineering, along with a similar engineering master's degree and an MBA. I'd been working at the prestigious Bell Laboratories for over a decade. Heck, I'd just gotten my third week of vacation and had a nice 401K and pension. The work was fairly interesting and the company had treated me well. But I felt stuck. There had to be more to (work) life. I wasn't unhappy. I just wasn't excited about the work and the predictable life I'd built around it. Unfortunately, I wasn't unhappy enough to do anything about it.



That all changed one otherwise unremarkable Tuesday in April.  I had heard through the grapevine that I wasn't a candidate for a promotion that I felt extremely qualified.   The hiring manager, at the advice of her boss, wasn't even considering me for the job.  The truth was this blackballing boss barely knew me.  I'd become a victim of office politics.  That was it for me.  The next day, I uploaded my resume to monster.com.  Within a week, I got a call from a promising tech startup.  Within another few weeks, I would leave that big, safe company life for a risky new start-up, full of scary smart people with what seemed like a really good idea.
 
I think you can probably guess how the start-up experience went. It was really fun and exciting at first, full of promise and big paychecks. The ride was fast and stressful and was over in a little more than a year. I'd given up security and comfort for risk and excitement, and it landed me on the unemployment line. I learned a lot at that start-up and enjoyed the experience, but the day I remember most is the last one.

This is how it replays in my mind..

It was more than a decade ago when I found myself walking on a beach in southern New Hampshire in the middle of the day on a Friday. I skipped stones on the water and contemplated the events that had unfolded so unexpectedly an hour before. What had started as an innocent meeting after lunch with my boss saying, ‘follow me’, had become a moment that would completely change the direction of my life. As soon as I walked into that conference room and saw my human resource director sitting on the other side of the big oak table, I knew what was about to happen. I remember that feeling of shock and utter helplessness as he explained the terms of our breakup. As I walked on that beach that day, filled with rejection and anger at not having seen it coming, I made a vow to myself.

I will someday look back at this day and be able to say was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Sitting here now, in the middle of my little ice cream venture in the coolest little town on the planet, I can wholeheartedly say it truly was the best thing that ever happened to me. And by 'it', I mean not getting that promotion.

 

'It' made room for nearly two years of amazing travel, the conception and birth of the business I always wanted, and a new way of life, free of the creative confines of a factory floor and a claustrophobic cubicle.

The first part of my ‘life after layoff’ involved driving cross-country in my little Acura Integra. I bought an oversized road atlas at WalMart. (think: pre-GPS, pre-Iphone days). I excitedly highlighted a route from Boston to California and back. Into my trunk went a tent, a sleeping bag, a handful of t-shirts and shorts, some camping gear, a laptop, a camera, and my trusty journal.

It was a morning in May that I pointed my car in the direction of the left coast and began what would become a nearly three thousand mile adventure, taking me to thirty-eight states including Alaska, fifteen national parks, countless friends’ couches, seedy campgrounds, and Motel 6’s. It was a summer of the road, just my thoughts and me. I had no timetable.  I had a rough idea of where I wanted to go, who I wanted to visit, and what I wanted to see, but after working ‘for the man’ for fifteen years, I was determined to let this summer be about just ‘going with the flow’.



What followed was an amazing, spiritual, eye-opening, cleansing journey that took me to the best places our country has to offer, from the Badlands to Grand Canyon to Telluride to Mitchell’s Corn Palace. I met many interesting people and reconnected with distant friends and family. I took thousands of pictures. I ate incredible amounts of bad food. I survived a dust storm in Utah that made driving through a New England blizzard feel like a walk on a tropical beach. I mountain biked with bald eagles in the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska and drank 25 cent cups of coffee at the infamously tacky Wall Drug tourist respite. Cathartic is the best word I can think of to describe it.

And it was where ‘Hand-me-downs’ was born.
 

If you haven’t leafed through the ice cream-tattered copy on the counter of my ice cream shop, 'Hand-me-downs: Some little used tips on life for my little brother', is a coffee table book I created right around the time I opened the shop. I was inspired to write it by my little brother. Not one of my own little brothers, although neither is little anymore, but my ‘little’ from the Big Brother program. His name is Ted, and we have been buddies since we were introduced through the program when he was eight. His parents were heroin addicts, and he, along with his four brothers and two sisters, were raised by his saint-like grandparents. Despite all the adolescent challenges that go along with growing up in such a high risk situation, he turned out to be an amazing person. My role in that was simply to spend some time with him every week and try to be a good role model for him.


 
I can say without hesitation being a Big Brother for Ted and my association with that program has been one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done. I’ve gotten as much, if not more, out of that experience than my buddy Ted. In the spirit of that feeling, I wanted to create something that might serve to continue that role after our lives began to head off in other directions. Hand-me-downs began during those long rides across Kansas and Nebraska. I asked myself, ‘if I was sitting with Ted on the night before he graduated high school and about to start his life in ‘the real world’, what kind of advice would I give him?’ What are the lessons I’ve learned along my journey that might be helpful to him. What observations could I ‘hand down’ to him that might help him direct his life and his decisions in the future?

With that thought in mind, I began to write down one-liners into a notebook. ‘Be aggressive.’ ‘There are plenty of unhappy people in big houses.’ ‘See the world.’ At first, the pen couldn’t capture my thoughts fast enough. I went inward to retrieve all the life lessons buried inside. I read inspiring books and articles on-line to lubricate the process. I looked for signs along my cross-country journey. I took pictures that would eventually become part of the presentation of my ideas. That process continued for the four months I spent living out of my gold semi-sports car.

When I finally got weary of the road and traded in my tent for the comfort of my own bed, I opened up that notebook full of thoughts, affirmations, and inspirations and began to fill in the details. I recalled and wrote about moments in my life that taught or reinforced these beliefs I wanted to share with my little brother. It was a long, slow process, but one I recall as fondly as my cross-country adventure and the Australia/New Zealand backpacking trip I took shortly after my return from my trek across America. The process of capturing ‘the world according to me’ was not only satisfying for its original purpose but helped me visualize the kind of life I wanted going forward. I knew my life would never read as perfectly as my thirty-eight little lessons with accompanying photographs, but each were and still remain helpful reminders when my life gets bogged down in the mundanes of daily life.

It was nearly ten years ago when I gave the one hardcover copy of Hand-me-downs to high school graduate little brother Ted. I look back on that day with pride and satisfaction. I felt like I had offered Ted and the world something of value. A tiny voice born out of the experiences and observations of my life. I don’t know if Ted has picked up that book since that day. I hope he has, but that’s out of my control now. It was the process that brought me joy - the struggles of channeling my thoughts into a form that could be used again by someone else. By me. It was immensely satisfying, and I still get a charge out of seeing a customer leafing through the tattered copy while they eat a cone of cookie dough. I smile every time someone buys one for themselves or for a graduation gift. I guess it’s a validation that my words mean something and that my images bring them pleasure. I don’t make any money when I sell one, but that doesn’t matter. It’s never been about the money. Aside from having enough to pay the bills and feed your family, I've always believed it should never be about the money anyway.

It occurs to me that the life I had leading up to that day I shared the book with Ted barely resembles the life that followed. I completely reinvented my life to the point of being unrecognizable from the one I enjoyed all those years before it. I left the confines and comfort of corporate life for the challenges and insecurity of small business ownership. It’s been a wild ride of learning, trying things, and constantly adjusting the sail. Starting something new puts you out of your comfort zone. It’s scary and uncertain, the prospect of success or failure hinging on the decisions you make and the way you direct your efforts. It’s also immensely satisfying and rewarding. Creating something from nothing. My baby.

During my annual winter break this year, I took a trip to the Galapagos Islands. Located five hundred miles off the coast of Ecuador, this ring of tiny islands is both breathtakingly beautiful and fascinating. Teeming with wildlife that harbor little fear of humans, these underdeveloped volcanic islands provide a rare opportunity to see and interact with marine life. Sea lions lounge on park benches. Marine iguanas scurry about on the beach. Playful baby sea lions swim along with the adventurous snorkeler in a lagoon. Giant hundred year old tortoises lumber along the side of a dirt road. It’s a natural habitat unblemished by the progress of human civilization.
 

It’s also the birthplace of evolutionary theory. Charles Darwin visited Galapagos in 1835. It was here he noticed the subtle variations in similar species from island to island, particularly the beaks of finches. Darwin collected massive amounts of samples and data. This data would eventually become the basis for his landmark thesis, ‘The Origin of Species’. He observed that in just a few short generations, the beaks of finches had changed to be better suited to the unique environments of their island home.

They evolved.

That’s where it hit me. Isn’t that what life is all about? Evolving. Darwin called it natural selection. Whether it be on a soccer field or the thoughts in your mind or in a bird's beak. We are constantly evolving. I’m not the same person I was ten years ago, and neither are you. My basic philosophies may be similar, but life has molded me into something different. Our cells are constantly dying and being replaced by new ones. Life’s experiences teach us lessons, point us in new directions, and show us what works and what doesn’t. A decade ago, I steered my life onto a new path, and that’s brought me new lessons and experiences. New teachers have come into my life. I’ve made some of the same mistakes but I've tried to learn from them. In a word, I've evolved.

The day I decided to leave the big company job was the beginning of my evolution.

Forcing myself out of my comfort zone was the game-changer for me. It changed everything. I may or may not know you. You may or may not be itching to shake up your life right now. If you are, I hope my story might in some small way convince you consider the possibility.   You can do this.   Time goes by fast, best get to it.  I find it hard to believe it's been ten years since I peeked at my future through the window of 34 Cottage Street.   It's been a great ride so far.  I thank you for listening and for allowing me to continue to do what I do.  The pleasure and honor is mine.    Truly.
 
Stayed tuned for the long-promised follow-up to 'Hand-me-downs - Some Slightly Used Tips on Life', 'Ice Cream Parlor Wisdom', due to be completed sometime during the summer of 2014.  
 
 
 
Hopefully. :)
 
And I hope you can stop by on Saturday (May 10th) to help us celebrate as my baby turns 10.
 
 
 
 
Jim 

 









Friday, May 02, 2014

Life advice from an ice cream god.

Have I told you about the time Ben Cohen was in my shop?

Yes, the Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry’s Ben Cohen.   So what was he like?  Was he cool and funny and did he tell funny ice cream war stories?   Well, the truth is I never actually met him, but I am still 99% sure it was him.     He stopped into the shop one day last summer, wrote the note you see above, sealed it in an envelope addressed to ‘the proprietor’, and dropped it into the suggestion jar.    Also included in the envelope were five crisp twenty dollar bills.   Yup, a hundred bucks in cash and wise advice from an ice cream god.  Coolest suggestion ever, by far.
 
As you could guess, Ben Cohen wasn’t the first name that popped into my head when I opened the envelope.   There were a few clues that led me to the godfather of super premium ice cream.

1. The words ‘chocolate matrix’ and ‘inclusions’.   The only people I know who describe the ‘stuff’ in your scoop of ice cream as inclusions are ice cream makers.   Just like I wouldn’t expect you to describe that chocolate swirl in your fudge brownie cone as variegate.   
 
2. A hundred bucks is a lot of money to just drop into the suggestion jar at your local ice cream shop.   That certainly got my attention.   It took me a long time to actually take the twenties out of the envelope and even consider spending them.   



3. A friend had recently gone to a fundraising event where Ben made an appearance.   This friend, a small business owner on Cottage Street who sells records (Platterpus), chatted with him about, among other things, local ice cream shops, and mentioned my shop to Ben.


4. I’ve heard stories from other small ice cream shop owners having a similar experience.

This seemed like more than enough evidence to convince me I’d been visited by the one and only Ben Cohen.   I couldn’t help but wonder if he’d actually bought a cone.   And did he like it?   When you’re in the food biz, you’re constantly being evaluated and critiqued, if not on yelp or someone’s Facebook page, certainly in the minds of your customers.   All opinions matter, and if they didn’t, what would be the point, but the opinion of Ben Cohen would, well, do I even need to say?

Since he signed it ‘an admirer’, I’ll just wallow in the fact that he liked something I did here.  Even just for the fact that he knows how much hard work and commitment goes into what we do.

So the question you probably have in your head now is did I spend the money on developing a chocolate matrix and not-hard mint inclusions or wine, women, and song?

I did what I thought Ben would want me to do of course.
 
I spent the first bit on his ice cream idea, and the rest on his other fine suggestions.

A most unexpected work-life balance lesson from Ben Cohen.   

The hundred bucks is long gone, but his words continue to remind me of the important things in life.    Work hard, always try to do better, but don’t forget to have fun along the way.