Lemon trees and sunshine

My former neighbors sold their place and headed back to California last year, refusing to take me with them. Maybe three’s a crowd, but I tried to explain that I’d be at the beach all the time anyway, or taking walks, or eating al fresco. They held firm. So I was left here amid yesterday’s two feet of snow and teeth-chattering temperatures dreading the shovel-out, which really takes all the fun out of having a snow day, you know? So I broke down and hired someone on Craigslist to shovel my driveway, and spent half the night wondering if he’d be like most posters on Craigslist: people who promise to meet you to buy that thing and then flake out. But he arrived this morning in a 4-wheel drive vehicle ready to work, and  while there was some guilt in watching every shovelful blow back in his face, there wasn’t enough to guilt me out of my pajamas to help. Instead, I am gorging on Scandal and about to watch multiple full-seasons of every show ever positively reviewed thanks to Santa’s gift of Google Chrome and my stunning ability to set it up, despite online comments rife with warning.

Then another neighbor came by with a gift; he and his wife had been out to visit my former neighbors who had fled to California.

“This is from her lemon tree,” he tells me, as I stare dumbfounded at the white piles of snow and these two perfect, plump little lemons.

“Her lemon tree?” I ask. “Her lemon tree?” It strikes me that I am not sounding very grateful.

When life gives you lemons, better to make hot chocolate.



Yard sale finds


The yard sale season came to an abrupt halt this fall when it became too cold to stand in a stranger’s yard looking at their crap. On a mild day anything can be interesting, worth purchasing even. But when it’s freezing the eye turns critical and exacting.

Before the end of the season, I rescued a smooth, sweet-faced seal and a glazed bowl from a woman with an admitted pottery addiction. I hear ya, sister. Let me take those off your hands.

Seals with adorable faces always remind me of that classic meme.

seals clubbing


I use to keep everything. Every thing. My bedroom was colorful but cluttered, childlike but claustrophobic. And while part of it had to do with a sentimental streak the width of a comet’s tail, the other part of it was being young and confined to a bedroom or studio; one simply cannot contain one’s worldly (cheap, abundant) goods to a single room. One could argue my Zen-like shift toward simplicity is eased by having my own place with more room to spread out my trinkets, but really, I just ditched and donated the excess, keeping just the things I love and nothing more. I still have the occasional pang when I see someone’s cozy kitchen stuffed with cookbooks and plants and coffee mugs jumbled on the counter, but simple is my mantra now. It’s so much easier to dust.

Still, I hadn’t parted with everything. I’ve carted my vintage linens and bonanza of blankets from place to place, using them for the occasional picnic. But mostly I just liked the look of them piled high in the cupboard. But after reading this article on medium.com (addiction forming to these quick, likable reads), I culled even the linen collection down to the bare bones, with a couple of extras thrown in just because I don’t live in a 200-square foot cottage. I feel better already.


Black Friday

Today I give thanks for not having kids, thus avoiding the chaos of Toys ’R Us on Black Friday. Or Toys ’R Us anytime, really. Both make me jumpy. I give thanks, too, for having the kind of family that does not expect anything with “plasma” in the title. Nothing that would require me to join the stampede at Target or the running of the bulls at Best Buy with a concealed weapon ready to threaten the competition. Nothing that demands I line up inside, and most especially not outside, or take a number or fight a tween for a gadget that requires batteries. I am content, this Friday, to relax in my living room, assembling nothing, needing nothing. Except an elephant print silk blouse I scored at the consignment shop for $17. I mean, I’m not without a soul.


Yard sale finds


A few weeks ago I bought a pine tree. Just a small one–an indoor Norfolk pine. Someone had bought the other one or I would have gone home with a pair. Just as well. My house is turning into a jungle. Better to collect plants now and stock up on oxygen before Boston goes all Beijing. Anyway, it’s doing well after transitioning from a pampered home where it was probably fed fancy fertilizer. Here, it just gets water. It seems to like looking out the window though.

pine tree

For the record, I went to this other house sale with the cool door back in August, but no one answered the knocking fox. I even tried the door, but it was big and heavy and stuck or locked. I bet they had good stuff. 


My friend and I took a cruise last weekend. Not the kind of cruise that involves lido decks and midnight buffets, but a sweet glide through the pristine Essex River Marsh. The kind of cruise that would disappoint Captain Stubing and Gopher but that delighted two ocean-loving beachgoers. And while we enjoyed the green marsh against the blue sky, the occasional heron, and boat passengers waving as we went by, we were surprised to discover that the tiny pontoon boat had both a bathroom and a bar. Nice amenities for a long day at sea, but kind of odd for a ride that lasts an hour and a half.

While the bar might be a welcome treat for passengers, it is not when one passenger imbibes and then proceeds to talk so loudly as to drown out the riverboat guide who is giving a little history of the area. SOMEONE WHO TALKS THIS LOUDLY FOR THE ENTIRE CRUISE. I started to understand why some women weren’t offered a lifeboat when the Titanic went down.

As for the bathroom: really? A tiny port-a-potty on a boat was exactly that–the kind of place you’d only go if you were truly desperate. Apparently, 80% of the cruisers were truly desperate. I know because we sat by the bathroom. Astounded by the number of people with weak bladders, I was more astounded that the culprits were not the older folks you’d imagine might need a bathroom. They were antsy people and kids and bathroom lovers who I think used the facilities with a saloon-like door for the novelty of it. I was very, very close to making a public announcement about USING THE BATHROOM BEFORE YOU GET ON THE BOAT and REMEMBERING THAT THERE WILL BE A BATHROOM WHEN YOU GET OFF THE BOAT. But then I remembered that I’d be trapped on a little boat with angry people who might pee on me or toss me overboard, which, in retrospect, does not sound so bad; I might have enjoyed a leisurely sidestroke back to the dock with the soft chirping of birds and the gentle lapping of water on the shore.




Yard sale finds


How cute is the print from The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Boook Art? Answer: super cute. Also, a museum dedicated to picture book art? Amazing–and apparently two hours from my house. Yes, the elderly caterpillar may be a bit creepy, but I choose to think of them as a colorful, spunky duo with excellent eyesight. I bought it from an older woman and her 30-something daughter who said it had been hers–I assumed when she was a kid.

“Don’t tell anyone I don’t have kids,” I told her.

“That’s great!” they agreed.

“Would you like a minute to say goodbye?” I asked.

“It’s OK. We’re glad it’s going to such a good home.”

Which made me wonder why they assumed it was going to a good home. I could be a collector-turned-destroyer of picture book art. I could banish it to the basement. I could despise caterpillars and torch the print.

More likely, I will find a good spot for it on the staircase or in the bathroom, because every bathroom needs a whimsical caterpillar print.

At home, I noticed the exhibit was in 2004, nine years ago. I quickly did the math (well, not that quickly) and realized that the previous owner–let’s say she was 30–must have also bought it as an adult. How interesting.


Thwarted by the weather, my friend and I gave up on our planned beach day and had fried haddock and clams by the Essex River marsh. This duck, thinking deep duck thoughts, took advantage of the muggy overcast day to contemplate his life. We stopped at a colorful, cluttered farm stand where the chatty Greek owner told us in great detail how to cook everything and chastised the women in front of us for never having tried heirloom tomatoes. Rookies.




Yard sale finds

Can you be mildly obsessed with something? If so, I’m mildly obsesses with Pinterest. I see the line and I’m not stepping over it. Nope. I saw these painted oars in stylish designs on Pinterest and decided I needed one even though I don’t have a log cabin or canoe.

painted oar

Todd Farm is an antique / flea market on the North Shore that I’ve been meaning to go to for years, so naturally I picked a rainy weekend to visit when the vendors were sparse but the bargains were plentiful. I’m sure they were even more plentiful if I were out there at dawn with a flashlight among the hardcore bargain hunters, but there’s no need for that.

I scored this vintage oar for $20 and am torn between its patina and sprucing it up with some color. I’m also torn between hanging it above my living room mirror or along the staircase as a decorative bannister. My indecision will probably paralyze me until spring. Cat appears for scale or because she’s hoping to be a model.


Landlocked sailing

I don’t like to brag, but I went out on my tricked-out luxury yacht last week and sailed around (and around) tiny Redd’s Pond in Marblehead until I realized it was not the open ocean. This guy in a rowboat was in my way, so I didn’t get very far. Also, a little boy was fishing and I was afraid he was gonna reel me in. Then I realized this was a race of model yachts and that my giant yacht could take out the whole fleet of toy yachts in seconds. I stood at the helm yelling “I will crush you!”




Yard sale finds


I never understood why museum goers enjoy gazing at the portraits of strangers. I mean, why? Even someone noteworthy like George Washington, a fine subject with perfect curls, is not a face I need to study. Art for art’s sake, perhaps. Or maybe I’m meant to have a moment of communion with the father of our country.

But this weekend at a yard sale I spied a luminous rendering of a woman I’ve never met staring back at me from the driveway. I walked around browsing the goods, but I kept going back to her.

“What’s the story with the portrait?” I asked the young woman selling it.

“Oh, that’s Jane,” she said. “But we call her Edith. It was done in the fifties. She was a neighbor.”

Several questions sprung to mind:

Why Edith? She was a plain Jane but Edith did seem to fit more. I thought of Edith from All in the Family, Edith from Downton Abbey.

Why would anyone have a portrait of a neighbor?

Why did this young woman keep it for so long?

Who painted it?

Was Edith part of a neighbor love triangle?

I didn’t pry. But I wish I had.

“How much are you asking?”

“Twenty dollars,” she said. “I really don’t want to sell it.” In the background her husband indicated that he did. “We’re moving to Michigan and we can’t take her with us. Really.” He silently pleaded with me to rid them of Edith.

Indeed, Edith, rendered in pastels and trapped in her vintage frame, is not cut out for Michigan. She doesn’t have the outerwear. For $15 with a couple of shirts thrown in that Edith would never be caught dead in, I brought her home and propped her up to see where I might hang her. Every time I look over there she’s looking at me. Such a starer.



I think what you will take away from my day trip to Annisquam, Rockport and Gloucester is that the sky was very, very blue. Boats bobbed on the river and boys jumped off a bridge but only when I turned my head. Let this be your moment of tranquility before fall begins and you are tugged in different directions. Maybe you’re a student or teacher beginning a new chapter which will be unrelenting until the holidays. Or maybe you’re just someone sniffling softly at the waning of summer. I’ll keep this spot here for when you need a moment.





Yard sale finds

At a raucous yard sale with kids and dogs milling around the merch, I ask an old woman how much she’d like for her vintage olive suitcase.

“Can’t take any money for it, dear,” she says. “I can’t remember the lock combination.”

I test it out and confirm that yes, the suitcase is locked, but since I intend to use it on my stack-of-suitcases nightstand, it hardly matters. Though it does feel strange to buy something you can’t open or use for its intended purpose. It also feels wrong to take it for free.


“Wait, is there drug money in there?” I ask.

“I should think not! It’s empty.”

I offer her some money, but she won’t hear of it, so I head home with a small suitcase that a stranger tells me is empty, but that makes me wonder, especially when my cat sniffs it all over. If you are a retired spy and know how to bust open a locked suitcase, let me know.

In addition to the mysterious suitcase, I also score a couple of necklaces and tops before something compels me to buy this kitschy fisherman needlepoint from a woman who says it was her mother-in-law’s, and who perhaps isn’t sorry to see it go. I add it to my wall of eclectic art.




Summer of sunsets

This is a summer of lavender and tangerine sunsets. Beach trips and warm water. Ice cream for dinner, two nights in a row. New flavors. Outdoor concerts. Long lunches al fresco. Waterfront walks. Farmers’ markets. Road trips. Heat waves and autumnal days. Ferry rides. Breakfast on the patio, under the umbrella. Gardening. Cookouts amid twinkly lights. Disc golf antics. Day trips. Musings at picnics. And an August with plenty more room for summer.

Sunset at home

Cape Cod sunset

Sunset at Bard

Peace and love

I head to Woodstock not as a pilgrimage (though Jimi Hendrix is playing on the local radio station and I wander through the village) but to see the animals of the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. From the cat that greets me assertively at the gate to the steer that, allowed to be full grown, is imposing yet sweet, I fall in love with every creature. Miss Piggy jumped off a slaughterhouse truck in North Carolina. Ducks Brian and Kath were saved from a foie gras factory. Goats and sheep sidle up to visitors for petting or a snack as volunteers provide a tour packed with anecdotes about the animals–their personalities and history of abuse or escape–and info about factory farming and how to be a successful vegan.  If I didn’t live three hours from here, I would volunteer at the farm and muck out the barn just to be with the animals, whispering to them how glad I am that they found their way to a sanctuary.

sanctuary sign

Cat greeter at sanctuary


steer hide

shaggy sheep

sheep face

toy farm animals in rice

grains of rice

Woodstock sign

Woodstock flea market

Ride a bike sign

In Hudson, I buy antlers

Hudson is a not-yet-comfortable mix of super high-end antique stores and families living in poverty on the next street over. A tough mix but a reality of so many towns converting their old buildings downtown to lofts and studios. It’s a destination for Manhattanites furnishing their summer homes and for me looking for a treasure under $50. The Red Chair, a beautifully curated shop of Belgian and French antiques and textiles, invites visitors to linger, but the prices reflect the time and energy it must have taken the owner to scout out treasures in the French countryside and lug them back to the States.  The street is one long stretch of colorful shops and cafes, and it feels like scouring a flea market with air-conditioned pockets; a view of the Hudson awaits at the end of the street.

The work of artist Lee Musselman graces numerous storefronts along the main street, many in the form of doll head figures the artist calls “spiritual guides.” The shops are showing support for an artist who celebrates found objects–a man now in failing health. One shop where Lee worked has two deep bins of his art scraps: antlers, bones, dolls, tin. I dig out a pair of antlers with a tuft of fur still attached and buy it; the money will go to his caregiver. I spend a moment thinking of this artist I’ve only just learned about and about the deer who shed its antlers, unaware that a piece of it might the next day become art.

Hudson shops

Lee Musselman art

Dreams of river swimming

Beacon is still in the clutches of a week-long heat wave while I’m there. I stop at the farmers’ market by the train station and take a moment to gaze at the Hudson River, so wide, cool, and inviting. I nearly cry when I see a sign directing visitors to the “River Pool” and grab my bathing suit and a towel from the hot car and make my way through the park, envisioning along the way, a refreshing soak in a cold, cold river. I picture an Olympic size pool and recall a saltwater pool filled by ocean water I saw on TV once.

And then I see it.

The River Pool in Beacon in all its cute but disappointing glory.

The River Pool in Beacon in all its cute but disappointing glory.

A child is frolicking in the water with her father while I stand by feeling dejected and pathetic. And also hot. Still very hot.

“Is there a place for adults to swim?” I ask the lifeguard. “You can swim off the rocks, if you’re adventurous,” he says. I take one look at the thick carpet of lily pads and decide that I’m not adventurous.

Thankfully, Beacon has other things to offer: a tiny vintage shop with amazing finds, an eh flea market that is at least an interesting diversion, and a bagel shop where a dog knows just how close to the door it can sit before it is rewarded with a doggie bagel with peanut butter.

Beacon Vintage shop

Dog at bagel shop

I head over to Saugerties, another artsy town along the Hudson and linger in its sweet shops and cafes. Lucky Chocolates delivers what I need–a chocolate Buddha filled with caramel and Himalayan sea salt. What other chocolaterie crafts edible French bulldogs? The real question though, is how could you eat something so precious?


Miss Lucy's


I love (Tivoli) NY

Movie scouts, listen up. You should film something in Tivoli. It’s quite possibly the sweetest little town in New York. I walk past the book shop, the vegetarian cafe, the colorful Mexican restaurant, the corner laundromat and half-wonder if real people live here. Its small, four-way intersection has stop signs, no lights, and is the hub of the town–the type of place where your waiter yells out to the guy walking by, “You got a haircut!” then continues taking your order.

The library, located in a renovated fire station, is open on Friday nights for neighborhood kids to gather and make stuff. Couples bike through town on old-fashioned bikes and precocious kids order their steak quesadillas medium-rare. I realize later that Bard is down the street. The waiter at Santa Fe tells me that yes, real people live here, some families, some professors, some students who attend Bard and some who never leave. The restaurant has the requisite twinkly lights. The porches are reminiscent of New Orleans or Savannah. The street signs are funky. Gardens are in bloom. When I visit the restaurant later in the week, the waiter comes over to say hello, like we’re old friends. I really like it here.

Santa Fe restaurant

Tivoli library

Children's room at Tivoli library

Tivoli library entrance

The Lost Sock

Painting of Tivoli four corners


Horseshoe and plaque on Black Swan bar