Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Dear Friends,

It’s been a hectic holiday season and as usual, we were remiss when it came to getting stuff on the blog. Luckily (call it a Christmas miracle!), we managed to get our Christmas meal on the table…

We’re spending the holiday at our “cottage” in Upstate New York and woke to a mixture of winter freeze and flurries. Here are photos from our Christmas morning (okay, Noonish) run.

Here’s wishing our warmest tidings to you and yours -- and nothing but the very best for us all in 2010.

With love,

John and Christine

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Oh hi.

I know, it's been awhile...

Basically we've been scrambling as of late. Scrambling eggs (with salmon and capers)? Nope. Scrambling up hills (to check out the jaw-dropping views of the Berkshires)? Nope.

Just. Plain. Scrambling.

At first I wasn't going to tell you (all two of you loyal readers). I mean, why break the veneer of a "perfect country life," right? But then people begin to wonder. And even worry. And then you realize that even though you've been through one of the biggest personal maelstroms of your life (9/11 notwithstanding), you still have to be grateful about what you do have...and take a deep breath, relax and know it's gonna be okay. If not tomorrow, then the next day. Or even just ...eventually.

As a bit of catching up, August went down something like this: Mom goes into hospital while Dad is out sailing. Mom has flu and maybe something else seriously, seriously wrong, but we don't know for sure. Oh, but Dad is still out to sea...oh, wait, no LOST at sea (well, just for a few days), then ends up at the hospital in the Outer Banks (thanks for saving him AGAIN Coast Guard people!).

Then my biggest/only freelance client cut me back by 50 percent. I have only myself to blame on that - it's been cushy - and I've been selfish, what, writing a screenplay or two instead of hunting down new clients when I knew that the travel biz was down the toilet. But so help me, I wouldn't give back that gift of writing time for anything.

But then you mix that in with the unforeseen over expenditures on renovating the house, (mouse nibbled electric wiring, potentially life-threatening heating systems, ice storms) and the cash tightens up and the job market dries up with the Wall Street nay, Global Market Meltdown... Well, before you know it we're not just feeling empathy for the guy we read about on about going from a six-figure job to delivering pizzas - WE ARE THAT GUY!!!

And yet, we are doing fine. (Sort of.)

In August I took a retail job at a sporting goods store in NYC where I sell running shoes to avid running New Yorkers, International visitors and regular neighborhood folks. Though not exactly what I expected to be doing with my college education at this stage of the game, it's been one of the best work experiences I've had in the last decade.


For starters, now I know I can sell and have always wanted to get into sales, but didn't think I had the aggressive quality to do it well. Now I know I can. Hell, I even "won" Sales MVP in August at the store!

I've also been forced out of the isolating cocoon of my holed-up home office back into the streets and energy of NYC. Wow...all that I've been missing! Lady Gaga, Jay-Z, the Union Square Green Market!

Oh, and I get to hang out with today's young people. They are also struggling - what with their newly minted college degrees and steep college loans. Unable to find work, they still tough it out. Resilient, really. They even make me proud, so different than those Internet bubble babies with their "Gimme Gimme Gimme" rantings.

And I lost 15 pounds! (It's amazing the mileage you log standing for six hour stretches and working in retail).

And I have one of the best work managers/supervisors I've ever had in all of my working life. So, I feel appreciated. Even if it is only for my sneaker-selling abilities, and for showing up on time.

Best of all, John is learning to cook! Hell, he's like a Gordon Ramsey in the making, what with his kick-ass Shepherd's Pie and such.

Also, John's got some good job leads when a few months ago there wasn't a thing going on "out there." I mean, we're talking tumbleweeds, folks...but for now, it's his job to find that big job, and mine to keep us keeping on. And as noted above, that works out just fine for me.

So , we're hopeful. And we're hanging as a team like never before.

So what's not to like about this "new normal"? Well, yes, we've had to find a new rhythm to our life. We've had to take stock. We've had to adjust. We even had to (GASP) clip coupons! And sell stuff on eBay!

And maybe we can't be Just Off The Taconic as much as we'd like...but we're holding onto the house with everything we've got. Because this has shown us just how much we love our lives Upstate, as well as our lives and friends Downstate.

John has a few interviews lined up. And I have just a few more script pages to write. And after that we'll figure it out all over again.

But we're not going anywhere.

And yes, we are still here. (Mido, too.) :)

Friday, July 31, 2009

Climbing Up Beebe Hill


Last weekend, for some miracle reason, it didn't rain. Well, it didn't rain on Saturday. Actually, wait. It rained on Saturday night...and Friday night...and again on Sunday.

Well, between rain drops, Tim and Allison visited and we went for a hike over at nearby(ish) Beebe Hill in Austerlitz. I found the trail on, a cool web site that lists out great hikes all over the country, complete with hiker reviews, that you can source through a zip code or other search criteria.

What drew me to this particular hike was that it was close to the house, a short trail (no need to mix up a five pound bag of gorp) and there is a fire tower on top of the hill that promised great views.

Finding the trialhead was probably the toughest part of the hike. As a warm up, we checked out a few headstones from a former family burial ground (we'd later learn that the land was owned by the Barrett family (Barrett's and Harmon's occupied the plots for the most part).

Using the buddy system, we sign our group into (and out of) the forest.

Then we tramped on up the hill. More like hitting Harlem hill in Central Park, only stretched out and not paved, it really wasn't all that "challenging," though I admit I was in the back of the pack. A nice lean-to, a pond (buggy!), an outhouse, a sea of ferns and a mess of shelf mushrooms living on the trees rounded out the scenery on the way to the top.

Accommodations are simple, surroundings are sublime.

At the top, John was sitting on a rock, casually pointing to the fire volunteer Bill Starr (he's really like a ranger) and his car. Hmmm. Bill (who's not an actual ranger, I think due to economic cutbacks) invited us into the ranger house, which once served as a cabin for the former fire watchers who would post themselves atop the fire tower...I guess, looking for fires. (except for that one time when they didn't and the area burned down).

We surmised there may have been a few great parties atop that hill at some point in the past. But I digress...and some great info on the fire tower, including pictures of the cabin, etc. are here.

Your happy bloggers.

After sending Bill down the mountain in his car, we climbed the fire tower and were rewarded even further with these stunning 360 views.

View from the Fire Tower: Berkshires?

We can't wait to get back there, bring a few friends and check out a few more trails in the hood soon!

Like Freakin' Wild Kingdom Here...

Chickadee, right after its first flight!

So you all know that I've become a bit of a birder. Two chickadees, I may have mentioned, decided to make their home in a nesting perch built into our porch and laid a few eggs. Just about three weeks ago, I noticed that the eggs hatched and there were real, live, baby birds in the nest.

Not one to get my hopes up about their survival, the next week, I was thrilled to see not two or three, but FOUR baby chicadees in the nest! Since then, I've watched over these little guys, buying my first round of bird seed and checking in on them like a doting mom. But about a week or so ago, when I waved good-bye to them for the week just before we headed back to the city, they had taken flight (a little wobbly, but they were flying!). But when we returned, they moved to a new hood. We didn't see them at all last weekend, but today, in the midst of the rainstorms, one of the chickadees came back...probably to say hello.

Speaking of saying hello... a few weeks back, I sent John back to the city while I stayed Upstate for another day (digging into the heart of the next spec screenplay). Late in the afternoon, I heard some rustling in the bushes. Then a good deal of grunting. I though it was the groundhog, but when I started to hear the FARTING (yes, farting!), I had wait to see what kind of beast of nature would make such noises.

After a few moments, this beautiful thing appeared from the woods:

When a deer farts in the woods?

I'm not sure if it was embarrassed, or just checking on me, but we had a good old stare down for a few minutes before it moved on, farting and grunting its way back into the woods. Just thought I'd share.

Monday, July 13, 2009

In Honor Of Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys Everywhere

Too late for Flag Day...

...and Fourth of July...

...and too early for Labor Day (dieu merci!)

But here's some red, white and blue from our garden
to wish everyone a Happy Bastille Day!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Bird Talk

So, I'm becoming quite the birder. Above is a photo of a hummingbird I took that feeds off of our bee balm plants just outside of our screened porch. According to our newly acquired Smithsonian Field Guide to Birds of North America (thanks Jean!) this is a ruby-throated hummingbird.

Below is a black-capped chicadee. We have two adults and a nest of babies -- about 2-3 that I can see without getting in their space.

We also have goldfinch(es?), woodpeckers, cardinals, robins and wild turkeys. Will try to get a photo of a goldfinch at some point to post. But in the meantime, I'm looking to purchase a hummingbird feeder to keep these babies around into September.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Six Things...

While Beach House covers a lot of interesting things that make me happy - including great modern design, great beef stew and great Long Island sunsets, the wonderfully dry-witted, smart and sassy modernemama recently tagged me to share six uninteresting things that make me happy.

It's taken me awhile to fulfill the assignment, but better late than never.
Here are my six:

The Roberts' Farm. Those who opt for the East End of Long Island as their weekend getaway may look to Stargazer as a sign that they're entering the Hamptons, but for me, it's the Roberts' barn and accompanying silo that serve as that innocuous indication that "we're almost there!" To our happy place just down the road, that is.

I've always been fascinated by Stonehenge and most recently, the dolmens and stone circles of Ireland. So much so that I plan to build my own stone circle in our garden at some point with this otherwise uninteresting backyard boulder to serve as the keystone.

As a kid at summer camp, fresh corn was a once a week treat, but with 500 ears that needed shucking, we needed a little bribing to get the job done. I was always that ready volunteer who helped peel back husks in exchange for an ice-pop, and the satisfaction in knowing that to-die-for sweet corn would soon follow from a nearby Vermont farm. Since then, shucking corn always brings me back to that wonderful time and place.

To be honest, it's a bit embarrassing to admit that I've recently gotten into a bit of bird-watching. But with chickadees, woodpeckers, hummingbirds and wild turkeys floating through our yard day in and out, it's kind of fun for a Citiot like me to match up the birds in the yard with the birds in the book. Next up, trainspotting?

After a round of bird-watching, there's nothing like a little country cat nap (but I'll spare you those images). ;-)

Even after a summer of renovation work on the house, we have nothing to show for it when it comes to our 18' x 18' concrete slab porch. That is, except when it comes to these white trash lights. Not only do they provide ambient light for dining, but afterwards we can push back the table and chairs and turn the entire space into an outdoor dance floor...And those who know me, know that I'm NOT kidding.

Now I'm supposed to tag other victims to share their six uninteresting things that make you happy. After which choose another six people to tag and link your post on back here.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

At War With My Musk Thistle

Above: A six-foot stalk of musk thistle,
surrounded by baby thistles.

It's been two weeks since our friend Dave stopped by for dinner, and following a walk around our "garden," he pointed out to me that the front "lawn" area had been taken over by the noxious weed called Musk Thistle. Apparently this tough, prickly stalk-like plant could take over the lawn, crowd out real flowers and other plant growth and generally make it impossible to walk barefoot in one's own grass (and that's really what any Citiot really wants to do at their country place).

Looking around and thinking he might be over-stating any real cause for concern, I realized that we were actually surrounded by hundreds (hundreds!!) of these plants. They were everywhere, hiding in plain sight. Suddenly I felt like my lawn had been invaded by alien beings and needed to be stopped....immediately.

But how?

Nothing like a round of Googling to make make me seriously hysterical about whatever situation I'm facing (whether it's an invasion of musk thistle or a papercut that might lead to lockjaw, I'm always convinced I'm gonna die) and put getting rid of my musk thistle problem at the top of my list of things to get obsessive-compulsive about.

Within hours, I learned that musk thistle weevils would be the easiest and most biologically-correct way to control my musk thistle problem. Then thinking that I could spend 25 bucks for a box of weevils to be delivered to my door via Fed Ex, I made a few weevil jokes, then logged onto to e-bay, and a couple of gardening web sites to take care of business.

But it wasn't as simple as just throwing money at the problem and releasing a few bugs into the yard. Poking around and not seeing any weevils for sale, I finally read the fine print on various State thistle-control web sites (Kansas, Missouri, Idaho and Colorado are active users of weevils for thistle control) and learned that weevils could only be obtained through the Federal government to State agencies. Hmmmm...

Musk Thistle Close Up.

So the next option was to mow down the thistle. But mowing thistle would require mowing down all the other, less invasive weeds, that make our garden actually look like a garden, so I took out my pruning shears and set to work -- snipping each musk thistle stalk that I could find, one by one. I snipped stalks both large and small at their base and gathered them together to clear the land. In the end, I gathered about 4 large wheelbarrows full of musk thistle stalks (in about a 1/8 acre section of land).

Above: Winner of this Years' Miss Musk Thistle Pageant.

According to the folks on the Internet, I'm now supposed to either set my pile of musk thistle on fire (which I'm scared to do) or cover it with black plastic so that it suffocates and dies without blooming -- though I still run the risk of the seeds getting planted and turning our gravel driveway into a hazard area for tire punctures next spring. Step two, apparently, will come this fall, when I'll have to use pesticide to kill off any re-growth before the winter. I'm not sure I want to go this route (see 'It's Not Easy Going Green), I'm just going to see how strong they come back over the summer.

Anyway, I'm taking the rest of the day off after the thistle attack. I read that what makes musk thistle "noxious" is that it can cause severe hayfever symptoms for people -- which is definitely what John has been dealing with here for awhile (though again, this could be a Google-effect -- the grass and tree pollen counts are off the charts right now, too). But to be honest, I feel a bit wheezy and itchy and I now completely understand why the Vikings put up such a fuss when faced with this menace as they invaded Scotland.

Above: My musk thistle pile, ready for weevils.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Oh My, Omi

Over Memorial Day weekend, my good friends Jean, Lesley and Peter came up for a visit. While Peter was summoned to take John to Catskill to pick up a new chainsaw, I suggested to the ladies that we go get ourselves a little "cultcha," and take a visit to The Fields Sculpture Park in nearby Omi.

All was going well when we arrived. I parked the big, honking SUV just next to the space reserved for "eco-efficient vehicles" and Jean managed to go to the loo without dousing herself by accidently turning on the random knob coming out of the wall that she didn't realize led to a showerhead (she thought it was an art installation). Then we grabbed a map from the LEED visitor center and looking out upon the vast greens, decided to lube up with some insect repellent to keep the ticks away.

Thinking we had taken all precautions, out we went, across the field, feeling all arty and stuff. But it wasn't long before Jean began swatting the air, as if having an epileptic fit.

"Are you having the same problem," she asked.

But since I wasn't flailing about, I wasn't quite sure what she meant.

"The bugs."

What bugs?

Are you sure the bugs aren't getting you?

Stop laughing, these bugs are annoying.

Okay, I've really had it now...

But bugs there were, and when the breeze stopped, there were tons of them. Well, tons if you're a Citiot, like us. So we tried to hang in there, with Jean swatting in misery, and me taking pictures of her, doubled-over laughing, and then decided to hell with it, who needs culture when there's a Dairy Queen nearby.

Which goes to show ya, bad things happen when you leave Manhattan, but there's always room for ice cream.

It's Not Easy Going Green

Nothing says "I love you" more than when a guy buys his wife a composter for her birthday. So when hubby presented me with my very own Thermoquick Express 410 to celebrate another year of living, as I'm sure you all could imagine, I was rendered...speechless.

Seriously though, this is our first full summer in the house, and aside from all the floods, clean-up of fallen trees and infestation of carpenter bees, we're eager to embrace the full country living experience. Trying to be more "green" is a big part of that (nevermind our recent use of pesticides and florocarbons to kill said bees as well as the newly found noxious weeds -- but I''m getting ahead of myself).

As I stood in stunned birthday silence, John quickly assembled the composter and I read the directions, which were a treat:
With compost bins from Remapla, you will get very quickly an effort, if you place the composter at an half-shady place, where the air can ventilate easily. (Okay, I think I got that.) The compost bin must have direct contact to the soil to let invade micro-organisms, insects, larvae and worms. (The area seems to be suddenly popular with squirrels and chipmunks as well.) Do not place the composter to close to the property of your neighbour; a distance of 20 inch might be enough (then again, it might not).
It's been about six weeks since my hopes for a diamond tennis bracelet were dashed, er, I mean since the composter has been in place, and things do appear to be happening. Weeds are wilting and onion skins seem to be decomposing...

But beyond helping me determine what the difference is between diamonds and decomposition, the composter has really given John and me a reason to take a look at our diet. In the daily peering down the compost shoot so to speak, the items we seem to be most composting are coffee grinds, onions and egg shells (we can't compost the accompanying bacon).

Also, we can't compost our cocktail garnishes such as lemon and lime (the rinds are dyed so not good for the "humus") and it turns out we're taking chances in trying to compost potato skins (apparently the skins often have pesticides lingering on them) so there's little to feel good about there. (And for the record, we eat a lot of potatoes. A lot.) But our worst offense seems to be the organic salad greens we never seem to get around to eating. Seriously, it's kind of embarrassing to take an unopened (un-recycleable) box of mesclun and walk it directly to the compost -- but at least nobody's watching. Nobody except that damn squirrel.

Suddenly I'm having serious thoughts about going macro-biotic, or at least buying a copy of "In Defense of Food," so one of my new goals this summer is to look for ways to add more compost-ables to our menu. Fresh corn, local tomatoes and even kale are just several items I'm on the lookout for at the farmer's market.

I'll keep you (com)posted on the outcome.

Above: A peek into our composter...and our diet.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Weed, Not a Weed.

I did a bit of "gardening" this weekend. I'm putting the whole "gardening" thing in quotes because I'm not really sure if you can really call what I was doing "gardening" or not.

Sure, the pouring of the potting soil into a wood-framed flower bed and then planting the purple-ish plants that I picked up at Walmart counts for gardening. And the blowing off of the planting of the rosemary, mint and basil until it warms up next weekend (we have frost warnings this week -- FROST warnings!) can also, sort of still be considered gardening (of the non-gardening variety).

The rest of the time, I walked around the property, pulling up dead bits to let room for the growing bits to, um...grow. The problem is the only bits we really have growing are weeds.

Last weekend, a friend commented that our blue weeds kind of looked like blue bells. We decided to call them "Wild Blue Bells." The rest of the flowering weeds I've turned into a game called, "Weed, Not a Weed."

Come and play along...

Bluebell or 'Wild Bluebells'?

Forsythia or "Wild Forsythia"

Verbena or "Wild Verbena"?

And what the hell is all of this???


Friday, May 8, 2009

Beer is Good

A few weeks back we took a drive up to Chatham Brewing to see what's what.

Located down the end of an alley just off of Main Street (near Ralph's Pretty Good Cafe), Chatham Brewing is what a PR-chick might describe as a "boutique operation." With three small vats brewing 100 gallons each of IPA, Amber Ale and Porter -- it looks more like a home brew kit gone mad than a fledgling operation.

Yet despite its modest looks, the line of Chatham beers packs a powerful punch. We took home a growler of IPA (Retail $10 + two bucks for deposit on the jug). The IPA is the lowest in ABV (alcohol content), tasted light but had a full body taste (yeah, like I know what I'm talking about).

Since I don't really know what I'm talking about (I drink Bud Light when Sam Summer is out of season), I'll let you know that Chatham Brewing recently got "the nod" from NYC's Dive Bar owner Lee, a guy who does know a lot about good beer (and wine!), and who regularly showcases new brewers and craft ales. Lee now carries Chatham's goods under a Dive Bar label, as well as Chatham's own.

Chatham Brewing is open every Saturday from 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. to meet all of your growler needs. Though be warned, we tried to visit Chatham Brewing about a year ago in the winter and they were closed due to a "Growler Shortage" (personally I think the brewer was probably skiing). But you gotta love a beer brewer who understands the depths of despair that come with a "beer emergency."

As an added bonus, John spotted this authentic UK Mini-Cooper parked on Main Street in Chatham, where we took some snaps (Yes, I am that tall, and yes, the Mini is that small).

Chatham or Portobello Road?

We look forward to imbibing CB's beer and ales both here (on tap at Radio Mexico in Hudson and at home) and when we're in the city (where I enjoyed the Amber Ale at Dive 75).


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

All That and a Bag of Chips

Some people hoard paper towels, others hoard chicken breast that they get on sale and freeze for years. Me? Potato chips. I don't what it is, but any time I walk into the supermarket, I can't seem to get it through my head that we have PLENTY of potato chips (of many varieties!) at the ready to accompany most any type of sandwich.

Here's my stash....

I'll be entering potato chip rehab shortly, but let me just check up on my cheese collection first.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Gone Fishing!

It's been a year of waiting for today. Last Spring, our friend Farmer Dave told John and me that he volunteers with the state to help replenish the local streams with trout from the New York State Fish Hatchery. Curiosity got the better of me, and a few weeks ago I called Dave to let him know I'd like to help out.

So this morning he picked me up in his truck and we went down to Livingston, where we met up with about 30 or so other volunteers waiting for the fish truck to show. Standing around in the KwikMart parking lot, I was introduced to Austin, our youngest volunteer of just shy of three years of age; John, a WW II Veteran and Pearl Harbor survivor and Barb, a local transvestite who used to go by the name of Burt (talk about local color!).

Soon enough, Greg from the fish hatchery arrived with about 8,600 fish (all one year old) from Rome and Van Hornsville, NY that would be dispersed into various sections of the Roeliff-Jansen Kill River (better known as the Roe-Jan).

It was Swiss precision in terms of the work (minus the few fish that jumped out of the buckets here and there - not to worry, all were saved). We did about 15 stops in all, with Dave and John escorting a small caravan of trucks and cars. In some spots, Greg was able to just dump the fish from the truck, and in others we hauled the fish from the truck to the river in 30 gallon pails.

Above: Eager trout fishers

Surprisingly, at almost each stop we made, we were welcomed by eager trout-fishers, which didn't seem all that fair to me. I mean, I would say the trout should get anywhere from a five-minute to 24 hour head start before being allowed to be lured onto a line. But maybe that's what the local game warden was trying to help out with, as he tailed along checking on fishing licenses, etc. Trout season starts on April 1 in New York and more information about trout stocking can be found here.

Below, some more photos from the day. The next drop is next Thursday, with probably about 4-5 more to follow (dates TBD).

Left: Greg with a netful of trout.

Left: Greg freeing the fishies!

Left: Flying fish!

Above: Volunteers wait for a pailful of fish.

Above: Me, novice trout releaser in action. Below: FISHIES in the wild!

# # #

Well said.