Tag Archives: oswego

I have strange comfort food, but for decent reasons

Chinese food -- pork fried rice, pork

To me, this is comfort food.

Growing up in a small town, we pretty much never had Chinese food (unless one counts LaChoy, and one shouldn’t), so I didn’t really start eating it until after college. When my brother Colin and I moved to Oswego, we didn’t have a lot of money to spare after the princely sum of $269 per month for our apartment over the since-departed Paura’s Liquor and a steady stream of cheap beer in one of the half-dozen bars in our neighborhood, so the also-since-departed Main Moon Chinese takeout was an early favorite.

For about $4, you could get a quart of pork lo mein, a decent amount of rice and maybe an egg roll or wonton soup. This, to us, was a lot of food — at least a couple of meals’ worth — and much better than the likes of generic mac & cheese, ramen and cereal that were our staples. So it was a fairly regular treat, as it were, until Main Moon closed one day with the owners saying they would return in spring (but like Charlie on the MTA, they never returned and their fate is yet unlearned).

With money being tight, we hadn’t dined out much as kids (and Weedsport more recently did finally get a Chinese takeout place), to the point that even eating at McDonald’s seemed like a big deal. You can scoff at this if you want, but many people are still in this kind of situation. Eating food made by somebody else was a mini-festival, so to discover Chinese takeout that I could afford and enjoy really made me happy.

My local takeout of choice is now KQ on Oswego’s east side. Their $7.25 lunch special allowed me to get the not-unfamiliar combo of pork lo mein, pork fried rice and wonton soup. Delicious and a good value. And it takes me back to a time when such a meal felt like a celebration.

In a way, it still does.

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Ready for the closeup, while taking the long view

Mayor Billy Barlow speaks at Water Street Pocket Park grand opening

A warm sun illuminated the bricks — both those more than 150 years old and those placed in the past few weeks. A crowd of everyday people and business owners and officials talked and shared smiles. The news crews pointed their attention toward a small stage. A local rock band stood at the ready. Oswego was ready for its time to shine.

Earlier this week, an official ribbon-cutting and celebration of the new Water Street Square pocket park heralded the progress the Port City has made with the $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant from the state, a lot of brilliant planning and plenty of minds and hands and hearts coming together to bring imagination to life. Billy Barlow, the mayor in his late 20s who is running unopposed for election this year, gave a short and optimistic speech congratulating everybody and cheering the community’s cooperation, the traditional ribbon cutting unfolded and then 3 Of A Kind (plus fourth member Johnny Luber) played some rock favorites. 

It was Oswego and yet it was also unlike the Oswego I had known for years.

When I moved to Oswego, I found a sizable quotient of curmudgeonry, generally older folks talking about some “good old days” of Oswego yet not particularly doing anything positive to make it better (political will in those days often had an awful lot to do with personal interests). Letters to the editor often included the sentence “Wake up, Oswego!” warning about horrible things like progress and new ideas and not being stuck in the past. In truth, they were sleepwalking in a haze of memories, wanting to pull Oswego back to that real or imagined past instead of looking for a better future.

The DRI funding woke up the community in a different way. Sure, some people immediately fixated on the waterpark which seemed like a curiosity, but far more important were the proposals inviting people to live in our historic downtown. I lived downtown my first years here and, despite not having much to spend, had more than my fair share of dinners, pizza and beverages in the heart of the city. When the lofts in the Browne-Davis building opened, young professionals responded (a waiting list was almost immediate) and kept much of their business downtown. Many of the renovations and mixed-use construction continue to swell the downtown population.

As people sung and swayed and held their beers aloft with 3 Of A Kind (+1) on a night Barlow waived the open container law, you could still see For Sale and For Rent signs around you, but you also knew whomever took those opportunities would see a more vibrant scene and willing audience. It’s no exaggeration that everybody I talked to that night was excited and happy for progress. It’s something I discussed repeatedly during New Faculty and Staff Orientation, and something our newest employees had already noticed.

While we await more progress for the next 150 days, and the next 150 weeks, and ponder its legacy for the next 150 years, the sunshine and warmth are both physical and palpable, as Oswego steps up for its time to shine.

A quartet plays rock music for a crowd in Water Street Square

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Oswego shines: less a diamond in the rough, more just a gem

Water Street Square, a new pocket park in downtown Oswego

I spent a good portion of yesterday walking around Oswego during Harborfest and — at the risk of sounding like a homer — I don’t think the city has ever looked more beautiful. And that’s despite Harborfest being a time that can put stress on its neighborhoods.

Terry Prior, as good of a public historian as I’d ever met, said that during the Port City’s shipping heyday, the west side neighborhood nearest the lake, down the hill from around West Fifth to the river, was known as “The Flats.” It was where sailors could find everything they were looking for: women, fights, intoxicants and related items, or some combination. And for decades after, despite the lack of sailors and other “services” that supported them, it would not be unfair to say these neighborhoods still could look a little rough.

I took a turn on West Second from Lake Street, going through a stretch where I previously may have seen run-down houses, wild and unruly lawns, discarded items and refuse. Instead I saw renovated and new structures, neat lawns and hardly any litter. On one side, construction for the new mixed-use buildings rose toward completion, while on the other Skip’s Fish Fry had out a shiny and neat food truck. Sure, I passed a few parties and the occasional drunk, but it most certainly wouldn’t be a walk I’d fear making with a six year old.

Around town, I saw so much improved curb appeal, construction and renovation, new businesses. Water Street Square, the brand new pocket park, looked ready to open and cast an attractive and welcoming presence. The new brickwork in the sidewalks and the remade storefronts are so much more pedestrian-pleasing and inviting. I learned the city has gained a new gaming store called Convergence (bravo for the ascendance of nerd culture!). And the festgoers themselves, local and visitors alike, were the most diverse I’ve ever seen in every measure.

Much of the credit can go to groups like the Oswego Renaissance Association, which has supported with money and positivity the rebuilding of neighborhoods across town. The $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative grants are evident in the new, rehabilitating and rising buildings. Mayor Billy Barlow has made improving neighborhoods, and getting more people to want to live and work downtown, priorities and it seems to be working.

Look, I know Oswego is far from perfect. Some people could use more tolerance, more empathy, more understanding. You can find plenty of areas for improvement, such as the zombie properties that still cast a blight over too many neighborhoods. Pockets of crime and drugs still exist.

But on the whole, I agree with what Bill Reilly of River’s End Bookstore said during a Friday visit: He’d never seen so much activity in Oswego before — and he wasn’t talking about Harborfest. Bill was talking about year-round, of touches large and small, immediate and ongoing. As I walked along the West First Street business district after the fireworks, I noticed strings of lights illuminating the heart of downtown. They were both quaint and sophisticated, in the best senses of those words. I smiled and, thinking of everything else I passed that day, realized I’ve never been more proud to call Oswego my home.

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How new urbanism infuses Oswego’s $10 million downtown funding

When I saw the details of the $10 million in grant funding to the city of Oswego’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative, I immediately thought that somewhere Jane Jacobs must be smiling.

In the middle of the 20th century, as America begun sprawling into suburbs and throwing up highway systems, and as planners pondered the disastrous and destructive concept deceptively called “urban renewal,” Jacobs penned a counterpoint that inspired a new look at how to revive cities with the influential The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

Contrary to the desire to (over)stretch city and suburban geography at the time, Jacobs instead pointed to urban density — putting people as well as living, eating and shopping spaces closer together as fomenting vibrancy, citing the likes of Boston’s North End and NYC’s Greenwich Village as examples. She saw “the need in cities for a most intricate and close-grained diversity of uses that give each other constant mutual support, both economically and socially.” Lively downtowns are self-supporting, she adds: “A well-used city street is apt to be a safe street,” giving “people — both residents and strangers — concrete reasons for using the sidewalks on where these enterprises face.”

Her theories were a large inspiration for what is known as “new urbanism,” which rejected the idea of paving paradise to put in a parking lot.

According to the New Urbanist website, its movement:

promotes the creation and restoration of diverse, walkable, compact, vibrant, mixed-use communities composed of the same components as conventional development, but assembled in a more integrated fashion, in the form of complete communities. These contain housing, work places, shops, entertainment, schools, parks, and civic facilities essential to the daily lives of the residents, all within easy walking distance of each other.

While one can kvetch over details of the DRI funding (it’s 2017, that will happen, particularly in the comments sections of media websites), the announced details aim toward making downtown Oswego much more livable, workable, walkable and shoppable.

Building blocks

1924204_38182887343_3361_nMy brother lived in the first converted downtown loft spaces in Oswego, in the Browne-Davis building, and they far exceeded expectations because it easily found a crop of professionals who desired urban living with great convenience. But it becomes a chicken-and-egg proposition: People who live downtown will shop and eat there, but how do you build shopping and eating centers if you don’t know what traffic you’ll get? The DRI looks at these as intertwined.

Ben Kail of The Palladium-Times has started the process of unspooling the funding (subscription required but recommended) and also posted the original news release. While at least one local media outlet looked straight at the shiny (new indoor waterpark!), focusing on novelty is not seeing the forest for the trees.

Among the commendable features that dovetail with new urbanism:

  • Mixed-use developments on West First Street at Bridge Street, Harbor View Square (First and Lake streets), and a redeveloped Midtown Plaza (providing more downtown residences mixed with places to eat and shop)
  • A multi-building development to fill a vacant lot and upgrade structures on West First Street with an eye toward 24/7 vibrancy (also encouraging more foot traffic by better connecting anchor attractions)
  • Renovating the Cahill building to include housing and dining (historic preservation as economic development)
  • River Walk improvements (cultivating natural beauty as another downtown draw)
  • Funds to support additional renovation of the Children’s Museum of Oswego (already an anchor for family activities that positively impacts surrounding businesses)
  • Create a “pocket park” on Market Street (a compact recreational space as an attraction uniting parts of a business district)

While many more details are forthcoming, it’s an exciting box of building blocks.

Back around 2000, when I was features editor at The Palladium-Times, I wrote a series of articles on historic preservation and how urbanism tied into a community’s sense of history and togetherness. But even as I covered very vibrant places, the missing piece of the puzzle was a resolve and a philosophy to dedicate to a city core instead of sprawling strip-mall exurbs. Today’s announcement shows, at long last, a dedication — financial and philosophical — to make new urbanism work in Oswego.

Will the last piece — people to live and revive all the corners of downtown — fall into place? That’s the final question here, but a confirmed commitment to downtown, to say nothing of millions of dollars, gives us hope.

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What’s there to do in Oswego? Kwame Belle’s Bucket List has answers.

Student-produced, student-focused web video has long been a goal of ours, and this year we’re thrilled to have not one but two hit video serials. In addition to the previously-mentioned freshman advice series Alyssa Explains It All, we have Kwame Belle’s Bucket List, which introduces viewers to interesting facets of our campus and community.

Kwame has been one of my best bloggers and this year stepped up to a social media internship, which requires producing some major work or works. One day he mentioned an idea he had of a bucket list where he solicited things to do before he graduated– in the Oswego community as well as around campus — and blog about doing them. I suggested a video series directed by talented graduate assistant Kevin Graham, and subsequently learned we’re all fans of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservation series, which influenced the project.

In “Hitting the Ice,” Kwame gets skating tips from Olivia Boersen, captain of the Laker women’s hockey team.

Thus Kwame Belle’s Bucket List unfolds as a bit of a travelogue (minus Bourdain’s excessive drinking and swearing), as Kwame pursues each episode in a journalistic vein. He’ll interview fellow students partaking in a polar plunge, locals learning how to rock-climb or the captain of the women’s hockey team showing him skating tips. Kwame himself is a character, an engaging host and eager participant, never afraid of how foolish he may look in the process. He also brings intellectual heft to the proceedings: During an apple-picking episode, he juxtaposed the freshman and senior experience, discussed Sir Isaac Newton and pondered the anthropology of dating.

Since our major social media efforts should meet a goal, the bucket list answers one of the biggest questions from prospective and current students: What’s there to do in Oswego? We’re a small city on Lake Ontario and while scenery and a charming downtown are draws, we’re far from a metropolitan or cosmopolitan area. Students considering Oswego wonder if they’ll find anything to do and frequently ask the question.

We’ve focused on things to do that characterize the campus, town and region. For example, Kwame went fishing from the banks of the Oswego River for a recent episode; to send him on a chartered boat trip would have made for good video but would have represented something not affordable to most students. That he spent one episode soliciting opinions from students, which led to some subsequent shows, and seeks feedback via social media makes it interactive and somewhat user-driven.

The series draws respectable numbers — not as high as Alyssa’s, but constantly building — and has developed an ardent following among members of the campus community and alumni. The episodes are longer than I generally recommend for web video, but they create a compelling tale with the help of other characters and guides, so watching a whole episode is worth it. With he and Kevin working hard from a meaty roster of ideas, the main challenge will be when Kwame fulfills the ultimate item on his bucket list … and graduates from Oswego. Wherever he goes from here, it’s good to know his video adventures will live on.

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seek and ye shall find: thoughts on content and serendipity.

“I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” — Thomas Jefferson

Some folks would tell you an immense amount of planning and work should have to go into a Facebook wall post with 275 likes, 48 shares and 28 comments. But it’s also possible to find that kind of content just walking out your door.

Or at least that’s what happened last Friday when I left work to find a brilliant sunset overspreading our campus. I took a simple iPhone photo and posted it on the SUNY Oswego Facebook page shortly after I got home. Oswego is known for its spectacular sunsets, so I figured maybe (if we’re lucky) a few dozen folks would like it and others may mention missing the sunset.

But never, ever underestimate the power of good content.

The most impressive figure in there, I think, is the 48 shares. I consider a share by far a better metric of engagement than likes or comments, because it means someone has found a piece of your content they like enough to “buy” it and make it their own. Also interesting that some alumni began reminiscing about a fellow student who used to play the bagpipes (!) at sunset every night.

It’s good that the photo speaks for itself. You don’t need a caption to explain what a beautiful sunset is, and it’s an arresting image to see on your Facebook feed, one that makes you stop and take notice.

Is finding this kind of content serendipity? Yes. And no. If you make a determined effort to seek out and document images, stories and links that are compelling content, you’ll have a better chance of finding it. This purposeful process has helped our Facebook page over recent weeks.

The reaction to this post does not exist in a vacuum. Thursday I posted a link to a story about SUNY Oswego meteorology graduate Thomas Niziol being named the primary winter weather expert for the Weather Channel (47 likes, 11 comments, 2 shares). Wednesday featured a story from the Oneonta Daily Star on a local student on our 23-member team climbing Mount Kilimanjaro (45 likes, 7 comments, 2 shares).

Which leads to the following observations on posting quality content to Facebook:

Be curious and be prepared. The Wednesday and Thursday articles came via Addictomatic, which I check regularly with a bookmark for references to SUNY Oswego. And while photographic skill is not required (obviously!) to get the sunset shot, it comes from recognizing quality content when you see it and being ready to act.

Build quality content and they will come. If our Facebook page was just spouting drivel or posting advertising taglines (I’ve seen this elsewhere, and it’s cringeworthy), no one would pay attention … or they may unlike the page and/or hide it on the feed. Our fan count of 10,663 is not large compared to many institutions, true, but we seem to have a very high level of engagement. One reason: Once you begin providing interesting content on a regular basis, audiences are more likely to stay tuned.

Content calendars can be overrated. OK, maybe a bit harsh, but when I hear consultants and agencies describe meticulously planned social media content calendars, this is ignoring how life really works. Yes, you should plan content around key events and dates (admissions deadlines or cycles, for example), but there are more things in heaven and earth than are in our content calendars, Horatio. Last week, our most popular Facebook content ever literally came out of the sky. We should recognize this possibility and remain flexible. (And those who fret over finding the ideal time, like 9:02 a.m. Thursday, to post things: Note this was posted at a “down time,” 5:21 p.m. Friday.)

Finding great content can involve serendipity, but it involves looking in the first place. Thomas Jefferson would have never even dreamed of Facebook, but he certainly had the right idea.


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social media for a very special birthday.

[Charles Wainwright photo]

We celebrated a very special birthday last week to mark the Oct. 4 birthday of our institution’s founder, Edward Austin Sheldon, in the middle of our sesquicentennial celebration.

How does one celebrate such a momentous milestone? With a large group picture where hundreds of people detail the year of our founding, 1861. With free food. And cupcakes. And, of course, social media.

I posted several photos live via our official accounts through Instagram onto Twitter. We have many, many more followers on Twitter than Instagram at this point, but each photo filtered onto Twitter makes more of our connections aware of this service and our presence on it, as we picked up some new Instagram followers. Our posts drew a lot of retweets as well, which garnered an appreciable amount of new Twitter followers.

In addition, viewing our Twitpics gives a quick look at major components of the celebration …

You could say the reaction was pretty good on Facebook when we posted up the main 1861 photo. At least that seems a reasonable assumption with 121 Likes, 26 comments and 31 shares. That people started tagging themselves and their friends greatly extended the image’s shelf life. This is what I mean by quality content with high sharability.

I also borrowed our office’s small video camera and took snippets as the event came together. I then went into iMovie and spliced together a quick take video. [View video]

Last and not least, we had the opportunity to deliver some happiness to one of our students who missed out on getting a free T-shirt. This thread, which also is my first attempt to use Storify, shows how that took place.

Thanks for all the free food! @sunyoswego http://t.co/XLJJZ3MF
October 4, 2011
@yuhhboiii Bon appetit!
October 4, 2011
@sunyoswego any way to still get a t-shirt?! I didn’t get one 😦
October 4, 2011
@yuhhboiii Uh oh. We saw some boxes headed in the direction of the alumni office, but don’t know if they had shirts in them. : /
October 4, 2011
This was actually an incorrect assumption on my part. I later learned Auxiliary Services, which runs our bookstores and other entities, had them. So I put a quick request into the person in charge of Auxiliary Services, who came through. (Thank you, Mike!)
@sunyoswego Mail me one!
October 4, 2011
@yuhhboiii We’ll check and get back to you! : )
October 4, 2011
@yuhhboiii We have something for you! What do you want us to do with it? http://t.co/k53HvL0X
October 4, 2011
@sunyoswego name the place and time!
October 4, 2011
I sent him a DM of the time and place, lest others descend upon our office to claim the shirt. And, after the hectic day, failed to realize our @sunyoswego account wasn’t following him back yet, i.e. couldn’t receive his DM. D’oh! We worked it out.
@yuhhboiii This is waiting for you! http://t.co/Tn7tECji
October 5, 2011
RT @sunyoswego: Here is how our giant 1861 photo came out. Thanks to all who made it happen! http://t.co/jQB6PUmj
October 5, 2011

Was it all a bit more work? Sure. But hey, you only get once chance to celebrate your founder’s birthday during your 150th anniversary … so we may as well find as many ways to tell the story as possible!

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who are the people in your twitterhood?

I always find interesting the way we make friends — in real life, as well as cyberspace. In either realm, I’ve noticed friends rarely fall into one encompassing group but instead spheres that only occasionally overlap.

I’ve noticed this on Twitter, where my Tweeps tend to fall into three different, almost entirely exclusive groups.

1) The Higher Ed Social Media Circle. Many are thanks to @rachelreuben, who metaphorically took my coat, handed me a drink and dragged me into the Twitter living room. Most work in higher education in various forms of Web 2.0; many are experts and bloggers and excellent resources. This is the busiest and largest group of Tweeps, where I interact with the likes of @andrewcareaga, @bradjward, @circa1978, @debrouillard, @donnajlehman, @fienen, @girlmeetsweb, @jesskry, @karinejoly, @KarlynM, @lyuda, @mherzber, @tsand and many more. I know Rachel and Donna and Lyudmilla from annual conferences, and briefly met Matt Herzberger (@mherzber) and Karine Joly at UWebD, but most I only know online. I’d like to meet more of these interesting folks, and have booked some of them to speak at this year’s SUNY CUAD conference.

2) The Xanga Group. These I know from my other blog, including @ailec, @bastetmax, @danrapp, @dianeharrington, @fern_forest, @itsjenjen, @laurakins, @Lenore_Happenstance, @mydogischelsea, @rowdeezy227, @sapphire769, @scifiknitter, @shahrazad1973, @tarkka and @thinlizzy. I’ve only met Laura (@mydogischelsea) and Naomi (@shahrazad1973) in real life, but from reading blogs and interacting, I really feel like I know many of them well. Weird, eh?

3) The Real-Life Peeps. People I made friends with from Central New York, many of whom I’ve known since before Twitter existed. Most I know through SUNY Oswego in some way, including @jlongley, @mjoyner, @phred6179, @river868, @sliebler and @tjsoundguy. This is the smallest and least active group of friends. Maybe Twitter just isn’t that big here yet?

(Granted, I also follow the likes of @BarackObama, @JohnCleese, @PeteYorn and @ZeFrank, but don’t interact with them enough to have a fourth celebrity circle. And if you read this and weren’t mentioned: Sorry, but I follow nearly 150 peeps.)

Intriguing that these groups have almost no overlapping relationships, with the exception of fellow Oswego employee @sliebler who follows many social media types. While things like Twitter can build communities where anybody can meet anyone, lots of people still stay within their own tribes. Some things never change.


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