17hundred90 and Segway of Savannah: Our experiences

Happy second wedding second anniversary to my lady love! A little explanation: We got married in a small private ceremony on July 24, 2014, then had a big ol' family wedding on July 26 of that year. So, celebrating two years of marriage, and this happens to be the date of our second wedding.

So. We got a recommendation for the 17hundred90, a beautiful little haunted inn and restaurant with a bar attached.

We made reservations but showed up 15 minutes early and were seated immediately anyway. The dining room is like stepping back in time. A piano player sits in the corner playing everything from Pachelbel to Disney themes. The dining room is small, and the carpet and low ceiling keeps the sound in check. It really is a lovely room with great atmosphere.

We shared a house salad with a house-made raspberry vinaigrette (creamy and delicious) and an appetizer of bacon-wrapped scallops, seared in butter. The scallops were amazing.

We each opted for a blackened New York strip steak with a bleu cheese sauce (medium rare), served with mashed potatoes and green beans. Everything was excellent. I paired with a Malbec; J— with a white zin.

The restaurant comped us dessert for our anniversary — we opted to share a "chocolate bomb," essentially a chocolate tort — and a cup of coffee.

If we'd paid for the dessert, dinner would have come in just under $125, including four glasses of wine. Definitely reasonable for such a nice place. I'd highly recommend it.

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We'd been talking about doing a Segway tour for over a year now, and J— surprised me with one. It was a lot of fun. It started with a quick lesson in how to actually work a Segway — pretty easy if you balance well or ride a bike often. And then off we went onto the streets of downtown.

Now, I don't know about the place you live, but it's easy to play tourist in the town we live in. The city itself has about 100,000 residents. We get something on the order of 12-17 million tourists a year.

We take a lot of different tours — trolleys, walking, museums, houses of worship. We hear a lot of the same stories, but this was fun. It was only us on the tour, so we got to trade stories with Bill, our guide.

We stopped at famous houses and squares and got to hear stories, and experience the city at a pace we don't often take time for, particularly without a destination in mind.

Again, something else we'd highly recommend.

Date night Savannah: Bar Food, CO, river, Bohemian and Leopold’s

We set out for a networking event last week, and found it was canceled. Woo! A reason to go out and try new places!

2015-06-18 18.00.06We'd been meaning to get to Bar Food for a while, but it's in a part of town we don't go to a lot, but it was right around the corner from our canceled event, so we went, had a beer and a snack. They have a solid selection of craft brews and the other usuals. I had a Two Boots, while Jenny had a cider. We shared a cheese board, which came with some toast, four cheeses, local honey, some pickles and strawberries. Great way to start the evening. The menu looked really good; the crowd was interesting — it's a contemporary, kind of hipster place, but the crowd leaned not exactly biker, but not exactly not biker.

We then headed downtown to another place that was on my list, CO, which recently opened in Savannah after having restaurants in Charleston and Myrtle Beach. Our server, Grace, soft-sold us some cucumber mojitos, which were light and refreshing on a 103-degree day. We had summer rolls and gyoza (pork dumplings) as appetizers — both delicious — and Jenny ordered some pad thai while I had a tiger roll, which their menu describes as "shrimp, surimi salad, cucumber, yamagobo, avocado, unagi sauce, spicy aioli." We were both very pleased with the meals, and with the overall atmosphere. We sat at the sushi bar, but there's also a bar in the front, some booths in the back, a couple of high tops and some long tables should you decide you might want to meet a couple of people. The electronic dance music was quiet and suited the space well. We'll be back, though we're worried this will become a hot spot and we won't be able to get a seat next time.

A photo posted by Josh Shear (@joshuanshear) on

Left, from top: Pork gyoza, cucumber mojito, summer roll. Right, from top: Pad thai with chicken and shrimp, tiger roll

With quite full bellies, we wandered on down to the river to sit for a bit. If you're ever wondering why we might have moved here, it's because we can park, walk and have this view about 330 nights a year.

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We finally decided after almost an hour to get up and visit a bar we'd gone to once and found it too crowded (at 10:00 on a Friday night). Rocks on the Roof at the Bohemian Hotel. The rooftop is open on two sides, one overlooking the Savannah River, and one overlooking the crowds on Bay Street and Founders Walk. We sat on the river side on a sofa and sipped a gin and tonic, and met a recently engaged couple. The electronic dance music seemed a little loud out of place for a space that's reminiscent of more of a jazz cocktail lounge, but it's still a cool spot.

Cute, happy and on a rooftop. #visitsavannah #savannah #datenight

A photo posted by Josh Shear (@joshuanshear) on

2015-06-18 21.47.03-1Our last stop for the night was, of course, at Leopold's. If you're new to the area or just visiting and the line out the door has turned you off, don't sweat it. The bend in the line at the curb is about a seven-minute wait, the ice cream is homemade and the soda fountain is basically the same as it was in 1930-whatever. I love the butter pecan ice cream, but pictured here is a dish of chocolate chewies and cream and a hot fudge sundae, which are both also delicious. They even have seasonal flavors; the Japanese cherry blossom is light and creamy and wonderful.

And apparently they also make good soups and such, but for now, we're happy working our way through the ice cream menu.

Where should we go next, Savannah?

Shooting Savannah’s squares (photos)

The city of Savannah has a downtown that is, I believe, unique among American downtowns. It is certainly not the only planned city in the country, and it may not even have been the first — some of those New England factory towns were drawn out from the beginning — but it may be the most beautiful.

The original city was built in 1733 and included 24 squares, designated as public parks and meeting places, sprinkled every couple of blocks. At the northern end of downtown is the Savannah River, which provides a natural border between Georgia and South Carolina, and at the southern point is Forsyth Park with its signature fountain. In roughly the center of downtown is Colonial Cemetery, which has been shrinking over the centuries as the need for wider roads came about and some of the ground was paved over (the headstones have been moved to a wall of the cemetery).

My wife and I undertook to walk all the squares one lovely morning recently. Here you'll find photos from all 22 squares, Forsyth Park, Colonial Cemetery and Emmet Park, which lies above the river. We started at Forsyth and then moved on to Chatham Square, working our way west through the squares to Whitefield Square, then up to Troup Square and east through the squares to Pulaski; you'll get the idea if you follow the map from our starting point to our ending point.

We did stop to look around the Scottish Rite building, which, at six stories, is among the tallest buildings in town, and we stopped at a couple of shops along the way, as well. All told, we walked a bit over five miles from Forsyth to Emmet; we then walked to lunch at the Pirates House, took a tour there, and took a more direct route to our car back near Forsyth; probably closer to a mile, maybe a little more.

More on Savannah's squares from Visit Savannah »

You can see the squared version of the photos on Instagram, or continue reading for the full versions.

As I mentioned, we started at Forsyth Park. The decision to start at a southern point and walk north instead of going the other way was based entirely on the abundance of free parking near Forsyth. Here's the park's famous fountain:

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Next up was Chatham Square, a shady spot with several large live oaks.

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Then over to Monterrey Square, home of a monument to Casimir Pulaski. Monterrey is, I think, my favorite of the squares. It is close in proximity to two of my most common destinations downtown (Congregation Mickve Israel and the Scottish Rite building), and some of its benches are outside the flow of most of the foot traffic.

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Then to Calhoun Square.

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I'm not sure I'd ever made it out to Whitefield Square, but there were about a dozen people there, though none sat in the gazebo.

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I'm very curious as to why there's an armillary sphere in Troup Square. I do know that a drunk driver once ran it over and people really missed it while it was being repaired.

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Lafayette Square, named for the Marquis de Lafayette, who was famously a visiting orator in Savannah, is one of many squares with a fountain in it.

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Sgt. William Jasper stands guard over Madison Square.

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Pulaski Square has some of the gnarliest oaks downtown (some of the midtown parks compete well, though).

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Orleans Square is another one of my favorites. It tends to stay quiet, but there is often a child balancing along the fountain wall. The low-hanging oak branches provide plenty of shade.

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James Edward Oglethorpe, the man who founded the colony of Georgia (named for King George) and the city of Savannah, watches over Chippewa Square, which is what you see in the background during the bus stop scenes in the movie "Forrest Gump." Trivia: In the film, the bus goes the wrong way around the square. Also: The bench is in a museum; don't visit the square looking for it.

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This arch is the entrance to the Colonial Cemetery, which sits at the intersection of Oglethorpe and Abercorn.

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This little gazebo sits next to a basketball court in Crawford Square. Thanks to the kind gentlemen who didn't mind us taking photos that included them.

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Oh, look, there's a tour going on in Greene Square.

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Another fountain, this time in Columbia Square.

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More shade, in Oglethorpe Square — where, apparently, it's autumn.

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Wright Square has a really, really tall monument.

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I don't have a lot to say about Telfair Square, other than it's fun to see the view at the rear of the Jepson change every now and then. But you can't see it in this photo, so I guess you'll just have to come visit.

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This monument in Franklin Square is dedicated to the chasseurs voluntaires, who came to help fight the British in the Battle for Savannah in 1779.

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Ellis Square is known for its fountain (which a lot of people and animals cool off in), but I love this sculpture of Johnny Mercer reading a newspaper while leaning on a fire hydrant. I've said, "good morning," more than once.

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Johnson Square has two of these fountains.

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John Wesley, who founded the Methodist Church, preaches in Reynolds Square.

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Despite the fact that it sits next to a parking garage and boasts some of downtown's only 10-hour parking meters, Warren Square is really quiet. And green.

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Washington Square is named for the volunteer fire company that was once at that site.

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And finally, anchoring our walk, is Emmet Park, overlooking River Street and the Savannah River.

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If you live in the Savannah area or have visited, what's your favorite square? Why?

Date night Savannah: The Olde Pink House and 22 Square

One thing I'm finding in Savannah is one of those things that's nice to see in a business community: businesses in the same industry recommending each other. Without variety, an industry dies down. Without competition, an individual business can get lazy.

In a big tourist town (12 million visitors a year, and they don't allow cruise ships to dock here), there will never be a shortage of restaurants. But that doesn't mean they can't strive to be the best.

My conversation with Chef Brandon Whitestone of The Olde Pink House started with me saying we had a great night that included a dessert stop and him recommending another bar.

I went on to say thanks, and that my wife and I would have to give his restaurant a try, too; he responded as if it almost hadn't occurred to him to recommend himself.

Nice.

We got our reservations in (even two weeks out, a Monday, a 7 p.m. seating request had to be pushed out to 7:15, so if you're planning on a trip, call early), and spent way too long staring at the menu over those two weeks. We made sure we read the bad reviews on Yelp so we knew what to watch out for (mostly the complaints were about cold food and long prep times; not only did we not experience either, but the latter isn't something we were worried about — if you're looking to not wait for your food, either pick a fast food place or pick a destination not in the deep south).

So, Monday night, off to The Olde Pink House we went.

We managed to get parking nearby; Miss Kimberly and Chef Brandon both made sure to introduce themselves. We were seated in what was the master bedroom of the original house, next to a window overlooking Reynolds Square. The window still had some of the original panes in it (you can tell because old panes had a higher lead content, creating the appearance of waves in the glass).

Now, it was need-a-flash-on-your-camera-dark in there and people were enjoying their vacations and Valentine's Day celebrations, so we didn't take pictures of our food; we'll have to let the words do it.

Jenny started with a semi-sweet riesling; I ordered a Sazerac cocktail (Herbsaint is essentially absinthe, so that's what's typically used, if you're looking cross-eyed at the recipe). Both were delivered promptly and cold.

We shared three appetizers. First, a charcuterie that included a fantastic mustard that must have been house-made and a local camembert-style cheese, along with some Berkshire meat and tasty accoutrements. After that, we had artichoke fritters; these were artichoke hearts stuffed with goat cheese and lightly batter-fried, done with a spicy sauce. Then, jalapeño poppers, stuffed with some very creamy mac & cheese. All were delicious.

For dinner, Jenny had sea scallops and shrimp tossed over fettuccine with a cream sauce, and asked them to toss in some spinach. I had their house specialty, scored flounder, which is a whole fish (sans head), scored into little medallions, then cooked and topped with a spicy apricot glaze. It was delicious. To eat it, you pop up the medallions, chew, swallow, repeat, then flip the fish and do it again on the other side. They claim to be the first to serve it in this style, though it's a popular method for cooking flounder in other locales as well.

While we dined, a maitre d' came by a couple of times, as did our server. We felt well-attended-to and well-fed, and will most certainly be back.

We then walked five blocks to the Andaz Hotel (which Chef Brandon mentioned in his first tweet to me), for coffee and dessert. The hotel restaurant, 22 Square, offers a much different environment from Olde Pink House, very contemporary, with modern art on the walls and some exposed brick. The cocktail list looked interesting, but we were at a nice finishing-up point.

Jenny had ice cream and berries. It was a raspberry base with some Italian wedding cookies mixed in, made by Leopold's specifically for the restaurant and only available there. I had a dark and stormy chocolate cake, which, as the name implies, is derived from the rum-and-ginger ale cocktail. The cake tasted like a chocolate gingerbread, and the rum was pleasantly infused in the icing. It came with a scoop of very creamy vanilla ice cream, which I can only imagine must have come from Leopold's as well.

I think next time we try 22 Square, it will be for pre-dinner cocktails, and we'll sit at the bar. While the food was delicious and I love what they're doing with local food, the contemporary atmosphere was a little overwhelming to me with the bright colors and the art and the more open space allowing sound to travel a little more. But we'll definitely be back to Olde Pink House at some point.

Where to next, Savannah?

Savannah social media successes, so far

Well, we've been in Savannah almost two months now, and we've had some good experiences with some businesses doing social media well.

Let's start with this one:

I went over to the local sports bar, tweeted my beer, and within a couple of minutes, the owner walked over and introduced herself and chatted for a few minutes. We've been back a few times since. If you're in Georgetown or Southside Savannah, go pay Rachael's 1190 a visit.

***

You may have seen my post about our experience at Gribble House a couple of weeks ago. Whoever's handling their Twitter account has been very responsive via favorites and saying thanks every time I mention them — including when we checked in on Swarm, when I dropped the audio into SoundCloud and when I posted about our evening.

***

Another one who's all about the favorites are the local foxes (I think they're sister shops, but I'm not 100 percent sure on that), Coffee Fox and Foxy Loxy. They serve different neighborhoods, but both with excellent coffee and food that smells really good (we haven't eaten at either). PERC also gets a shout for being helpful; the foxes both serve their coffee. It's delicious.

***

We're still new here, though, and have lots more places to try. Chef Brandon at The Olde Pink House has been really friendly; we're excited to get over there some evening, hopefully soon.

Whom are we missing? Tell us, please, we're still out exploring!

Gribble House


Six-year-old Thelma says hello to us at Gribble House.

In 1909, a triple ax murder took place at the downtown Savannah home of Eliza Gribble. The crime was never really solved. Just before she died, one of the victims said her husband, JC Hunter, did it, and he was tried and convicted, but then had his death sentence commuted to life in prison and he was later pardoned.

It seems Hunter walked with a cane and was in his 60s. You'd think one of the three victims could have gotten away.

The house was torn down at some point in the 1940s or '50s to make room for a warehouse, which still stands on that spot and is used for things like parking and charging Segways for tours.

And at night, the building opens for the Gribble House paranormal experience. It's no ordinary ghost tour.

First, you sit in a welcome room, where your guide for the night plays you some of the recordings made during some visits, and then you see a video from the show "Ghost Adventures."

You're next invested with a flashlight, an AM transmitter, which apparently ghosts can manipulate, a K-II meter, an infrared thermometer and another sensor that lights up "when a presence is nearby" and "can be manipulated by a presence blinking the lights" — I'm putting that in quotes, because, well, I don't know what the actual science is and I don't know what this device was originally created for.

The guide brings you around to the places you're likely to find a presence, and lets you explore for an hour or so. Our K-II meters didn't do much of anything, but the other device lit up quite a few times, and we got some interesting audio out of the transmitter (hear a snippet at the top of the post).

Overall, it was fun. If you're in town, go enjoy the experience. And then you can walk down the street to Lulu's Chocolate Bar, where you can get something to eat or drink, like, say, a piece of pecan pie with some homemade caramel pecan ice cream.

Find your relax

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It's been 32 days since we pulled out of New York and 14 days since I felt like a passed-out cat. We've learned a bit about our new city, some about our neighborhood, and it took us 10 days to figure out all our utilities, the last of which was the garbage, which has been piling up a bit.

The landlord told us she'd notify the HOA when she got our paperwork. The paperwork is at the listing agent's. The listing agent's firm doesn't handle anything outside of the paperwork. The neighbors we've met largely take their trash to work, where they have dumpsters.

The listing agent then told us to call the people who handle our water – they would handle our trash, unless they didn't.

They don't.

The other day, I saw some barrels out, and they were stamped with the name Savannah Waste and a phone number.

Turns out they're a small, locally owned private hauler, and that the city (who handles our water) doesn't go beyond a certain point. Our first recycling load will be picked up sometime today; we can finally get rid of some trash on Monday.

On top of that, we've now had stuff like furniture and boxes full of our belongings for three days. So, we're unpacking on top of everything else.

We're both working full time, too.

feetWe're also figuring out where to find some relaxation, and one of those places, it turns out, is Tybee Island, a half hour drive away, with restaurants and beaches and restaurants and beaches.

It's exactly what you'd expect from a beach community. Really expensive housing with the occasional tiny bungalow or trailer park thrown in. Nice restaurants that look shabby because the salt air has messed with the paint and the wood.

We took two hours at brunch on Sunday, then walked over to the beach, where we hung out for another couple of hours. The water was chilly, and I guess the air was too cold for the locals; it was really sparse out there.

But it was beautiful, and relaxing, and even though I had a tough night ahead at work (busy and short-staffed), everything felt right.

Onward we march, until we bury our feet in the sand.

Autumn, here

This is what a sunny autumn afternoon looks like in our backyard. By autumn, I mean that yesterday, it was 60 degrees and sunny, while those back in Central New York (and in other parts of the northeast) were digging out from a 15-inch snowfall.

The stuff hanging from the tree, which is a live oak (after they shed their leaves in fall, they bud again immediately instead of waiting until spring), is Spanish moss. It's pretty and it gives an ancient, mysterious feel to the trees it hangs from. It's also home to a mite called the chigger, which will inject a digestive hormone into your skin and live off an inner layer of skin for a while until you start seeing a rash and get rid of it (which means you don't touch the stuff).

We're starting to meet our neighbors, getting accustomed to walking out the door and spending 15 minutes chatting before getting on our way. The dog is off leash during the day, typically.

We got to meet the good Brothers of Roger Lacey Lodge No. 722 and their Ladies at their election and installation. We're finding community.

We have enough stuff unpacked to cook a decent meal. The first thing that wasn't a simple veggie omelet was ox tail soup, with yucca root, carrots and onions. I took some of the beef fat from the soup, cooked some kale in it and poured the soup over the kale.

We found some sriracha amongst our things, and added it for some spice.

If you haven't had it, yucca root has sort of the consistency of a chewy potato, but with a hint of a sort of coconut sweetness to it.

By early next week, we'll have most of the amenities of home. Our furniture will be out of storage, as will our washer and dryer. Our TV and Internet hookup will be connected. We'll have stuff to get rid of and trash day to figure out, but that can all wait until it needs to happen.

In the meantime, we have fresh air and sunshine, and we've spent a lot of time speaking to the neighbors. We miss our friends back in CNY, but we'll connect soon, there, here or in between.

Enjoy Thursday, friends.

Not goodbye, see you later: A note to Syracuse

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By the miracle of WordPress scheduling, as this writing publishes, I'm spending my birthday unloading a giant truck into a storage unit in Savannah, Georgia.

Many of our friends know we've been eyeing Savannah for a long time. We expected we'd be down here sooner, and we expected we'd have more time to say our goodbyes.

Our house didn't sell, but we got a lot of rental interest from a Craigslist ad. And the couple who wanted to rent from us had to be out of their house in Kentucky on Nov. 13. That was too quick for us, but we signed the lease Nov. 4 and told them we'd be out the door by Nov. 17.

In the world of packing up a house, reserving a truck, getting a driving route, booking hotels and still figuring out where I'm going to be able to work, since they need me, too, this is not a very long time. It's barely even enough time. In fact, we're unloading into a storage unit because we had to be out of the house before we were able to scout out places to live.


I came to Syracuse in 2003. While I had some built-in connections in my grad program, it was a very specific group of people and we had a lot of work to do. There was very little socializing, and no one knew anything about the city.

So I went out and I found communities. One person I befriended, who eventually left town, had grown up in Syracuse and thought there was nothing to do.

As a gay black man, maybe that was true until he was an adult in mainstream society. Until I walked into his cafe, he didn't know there were brewpubs in town. He had never sat in the bleachers at a Chiefs game.

Sometimes it takes an outsider to show the lifers what's going on.

I got involved in a lot of stuff. A poetry reading, 40 Below, CNY SPaRC, the Future Fund, Alchemical Nursery, SyracuseFirst, some recreational sports leagues. Probably a few other things I'm missing. Someone nominated me for and I won a 40 Under 40 award.

I've made a lot of friends, who are all very much my local family, with my blood relatives scattered throughout Massachusetts, South Carolina and Texas, and wherever else all the distant cousins went.

I became a Freemason in Central New York, something which has provided me with some amazing friends as well as a sense of focus and purpose I didn't have before.

Central New York and I have given each other 11 years. It's hard to say how much of each other we've taken, though I am removing with me my lovely wife, so either way I'm the winner there.

Her family is all in the Syracuse area, so we will, surely, be back several times a year. It's not goodbye, just see you later.


What's in Savannah? We don't know, really. We've met some people already. We've seen the city; it's lovely. Palm trees, live oaks, beaches. People who are generous, friendly and still somewhat guarded about themselves and their city, but welcoming anyway.

There are lots of people our age starting things, there's an art and design school, there's a TEDx contingent. There's a tech movement and a maker movement. There are lots and lots and lots of parks.

We're hedging our bets a little, going down to rent, figuring if we end up not liking it, it'll be easy enough to pack up and move on without dealing with trying to sell another house. And we're already done with the wedding, so planning that is off our plates, too.

I'm sure over the next month or two there will be a lot of posts in this space, some of them dealing with culture shock, some of them dealing with things we've discovered. Maybe some photo essays.

Here's to new starts.