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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Holidays are a time of suffering for tag sale shoppers. It’s all beach and BBQs and nary a garage sale to be had. So I bring you something I didn’t buy at a yard sale: a camel stool. Why? Because what does one do with a camel stool? No idea, but it was unique, straight from Egypt, and only $5.
Regrets, my friends. I’ve had a few.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
My friends give me a hard time because I don’t have curtains on my windows. They’re just . . . too much. Yes, I suppose someone walking by could see me half-naked, but the chances are slim because I live across from a cemetery. I’m cool with ghosts checking me out. So when I arrive at my vacation rental and see a wall of windows, I am in heaven (ironically, where all the ghosts are). It’s like staying in the Philip Johnson Glass House. The only difference is that my house is not in the middle of the country so when it’s lights out on vacation, it’s the darkest darkness I’ve ever seen. Fireflies are welcome little flashlights.
As you might imagine, it’s also very quiet, aside from moths batting themselves against the windows and really, really big beetles that hurl themselves at the door so fiercely it sounds like someone is knocking. Which is a scary thought in the middle of the night. In the middle of nowhere. Insect static aside, the quiet and stillness are welcome in a world filled with noise. And serendipity being what it is, I happen upon a fantastic podcast, On Being with Krista Tippett and the first episode I hear is an interview with Gordon Hempton, an acoustic ecologist trying to preserve the few remaining quiet places in the world. The man really listens. Also, is that not the coolest job? Anyway, he doesn’t define quiet as the absence of all noise, but the absence of man-made or non-natural noise. Even in the quiet woods there are leaves rustling and water dripping and birds singing. I hear it all this week.
The same view at night. And this is with an exterior light on.
The daylight trickles in, dampened by thick tree cover that keeps the house cool in the midst of a heat wave. Maple roams the house sniffing everything, while I appreciate the well-appointed house and its mid-century modern charm. I pretend that I live there, enjoying the Bose system and walk-in shower, and devour weeks of New York magazine. I’m stealing a lot of their ideas–an old hospital cart that holds toiletries, taxidermied animals that are not as creepy as they sound, and this fantastic suitcase idea:
I have a suitcase, books and magazines too. This will happen pronto.
Maple finds it is coolest on the washer
Why didn’t anyone tell me about the Hudson River Valley? What a beautiful, well-kept secret. Now that I’ve brought it to your attention, visitors by the millions will flock there–aside from Manhattanites who do seem to know about it, buying up old homes in towns along the river and renovating them into stylish weekend retreats. I rented a house in Red Hook for my birthday week, packed up the cat (no, into the crate) and headed west. A mere three hours later, we turned onto a dirt road with no street sign, signaled by a row of mailboxes on the main road, and bumped a slow mile to the end and where the house stood nestled in the deep woods. A deer welcomed us into the yard, then bounded away down to the creek flowing under an old trestle bridge. The place promised solitude and darkness and delivered both. The instructions said to bring a flashlight if arriving after dark; had I arrived in the dark, I probably wouldn’t have made it halfway down the road before turning around, terrified.
I took a leisurely drive (while it was still daylight, mind you) around the area dotted by farmland and thick with wildlife. Painted homemade signs announced farm stands or baby goats every few miles. Fresh farm breakfasts and pies abounded. Well, when in Rome.
A 7-day heat wave ends tonight. And weeks of a yard sale shopping drought ended this morning. Traveling and weather have thwarted my bargain hunting, but today, in 90° temps, I made it to the handful of sales that were on (picture sellers languishing in the shade of a tent after dragging their belongings out into their hot yards) and got exactly one thing. And that was enough.
The lump in the bed is not a giant pea but my cat enjoying the cool sheets.
I found the loveliest patchwork duvet cover that looks like vintage tea towels sewn together. At Anthropologie it would be $325. At a yard sale, it was $20 for the cover, bed skirt and two shams. I hesitated because it was a full size and my bed is a queen, and while I’ve made that mistake before (but this chenille bedspread is so cute it HAS to fit), this time it was the perfect size, proving once and for all that the full / double bed designation is a strange one.
Pigeons cooed in a train shelter aviary this morning in a tone so hushed and lovely that they might have been doves. A church choir of pigeons is not a bad way to start a morning.
On a perfect, sunny, dry, tick-filled day, I explored the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary, an Audubon property chock full of birds, birdwatchers, bridges, and beavers. You had to walk quietly and really look though. Animals weren’t exactly basking in the sun, craving human observation. They hid around every lone reed . . . standing tall, waving boldly–sorry, You’ve Got Mail diversion. It was easy to feel like John James Audubon himself, except that I’m not a male and I have close to no bird identification abilities. I’m good with sparrows, mockingbirds, crows, mourning doves, robins, nuthatches, and probably couldn’t mistake an eagle if one landed on me, but that’s about it. Thus, a duck:
Test your creature spotting skills: find and name the animal.
A volunteer at the visitor’s center told me late afternoon was not prime time for beavers that come out at dusk. But every time I lingered on a wooden bridge, a beaver came gliding by, darting into a narrow clearing in the weeds and heading for a dam, a virtual rush hour of beavers heading home. Turtles sunned themselves on logs, and herons stretched their wings in flight, casting enormous shadows. And just as I emerged from the path into a small section of woods at the end of the day, four deer crossed just in front of me, a meadow of sweet grass in view. I held my breath as they crossed; perhaps they held theirs too.
I’m not a big fan of zoos, but I respect the movement toward enrichment ideas to keep animals engaged in activities that challenge them–ones that they’d find in their natural environment. To that end, I try to keep my cat occupied while I’m at work. I use whatever’s handy–egg cartons, yogurt cups, cereal boxes–and hide treats that she has to find. It seems to work for a few minutes anyway. When I’m home I try out new items to make sure they’re safe, which is how Maple came to have a paper bag on her head.*
*No cat was harmed in this exercise. In fact, I think she’d endure this embarrassment daily if I kept the treats coming.
Then I found just the thing: this activity box you can stuff with mice, balls, and treats. Maple loves it, but if I had to fish out my treats from a box, I would not be pleased. Another reason it’s good I’m not a cat.
My friend tells me that my cat, Maple, is a little vandal. “Sit on the right side of the train when you head home and check out the abandoned train with graffiti all over it. You’ll see ‘Maple’ spray painted in a couple of places.”
Apparently, my cat has been tagging trains.
OK, so it probably isn’t my cat because I lock the door at night, so I know she can’t get out, but seriously, whose gangsta tag is “Maple”? It’s so . . . sweet.
On a lunch excursion this week, I spot this amazing piece of work on Stuart St. in Boston. The clever style smacks of Banksy. If you haven’t seen the documentary on this artist–Exit Through the Gift Shop–you should. It’s weird, like graffiti done by a cat.
A little research turned up the fact that the artists behind this are Os Gemeos (twins) who have also contributed art to the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston.
Because it’s spring and I work a block from the Boston Public Garden, I head over for a mini-retreat after lunch some days. When the swan boats are launched and the real swans return, it’s officially spring. No matter that scarves and gloves are still needed some days, it’s spring. Overnight it will be summer and kids on their last field trip before school ends will wonder why the swan boats aren’t air-conditioned.