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

steer hide

shaggy sheep

sheep face

toy farm animals in rice

grains of rice

Woodstock sign

Woodstock flea market

Ride a bike sign

Country mouse

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.

Red Hook windows

House at night

The same view at night. And this is with an exterior light on.

Dark dirt road

 

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:

Suitcase of books

I have a suitcase, books and magazines too. This will happen pronto.

Maple on washer

Maple finds it is coolest on the washer

Odd lots

> You know what costs more than a root canal without dental insurance? Window treatments. I got an Amazon local deal (think Groupon) for a local home decor shop and was excited that I wouldn’t have to install a damn thing. Already prepared for the investment after getting quotes for two custom shades at Home Depot, I thought this place might be a bit more than the $200 estimate, but worth it. They do the measuring and wield the tools. So the saleswoman and I browsed dozens of colors of “product” in the comfort of my living room, and I chose a set of shades in cinnamon blush that opened and closed like butter, and already I was picturing the light streaming through them on my patio doors, when she said something that sounded like “They’re $800,” and I said something that sounded like laughter. Then she said, “each” and I said, “Thank you for your time,” and showed her out the patio door.

> I watched NY Med, despite my aversion to Dr. Oz, and you know what? It was good. Or I need a doctor.

> This is why I hate ordering online. SO much packaging. To be clear, I don’t actually hate ordering online, because that little shopping cart is so darn cute and there’s little effort involved (click!), but with all the cardboard, paper, and bubble wrap you could destroy the earth while also losing a small cat. But my set of plates did arrive unscathed. Still, with all this bubble wrap, I could set up an eBay account and be able to ship things in a very cushiony matter for a long time.

> You can tell by looking out the window how hot it is by how slowly tourists are walking through the city. Like turtles on vacation.

> I participated in a video shoot this week, providing a quick overview of academic support services at the college where I work, and like a good reality TV star, I practiced what to say, so that I’d be ready. I was feeling prepared until the director and interviewer arrived with two cameramen with towering lights and an audio guy in tow, and before I knew it, a microphone was snaked up my skirt and I was talking into the camera. My speech went out the window when I realized we were improvising a sketch, apparently.. Suddenly, I was acting. Just a heads up that if I disappear for a while, I’m probably answering a flood of calls from agents.

Happy spring!

March should not be bathing suit season, but we’ve had too many snowy spring equinoxes, so no complaining. The parking lot was packed at the local beach this weekend—you know, when it was still winter. People piled their kids in the car with a pail and blanket and declared it a beach day. I was wrapped in multiple layers, but the Salem University kids toughed it out in shorts and flip flops, shivering. But what’s better than stretching out on a blanket, hoodie drawn tight, while the sun directs tentative spring rays to sun-starved skin?

Devereux Beach, Marblehead

We may be in a four-day stretch of 80-degree weather, but this kid shrieked after two seconds in the water. August water it is not.

The “S” word

In a moment of sheer betrayal, the amiable weatherman, who has so far delivered delightful fall news and reports on the waxing and waning moon, has uttered the “s” word, and not the short “s” word that one associates with California, but the other “s” word that made me scream at the TV using yet another unkind “s” word.

The “s” word. In October. As in before November and December. I have only just put away my summer wardrobe this week after storing my sandals with a muffled sob.

After remembering that I do live in New England, and that a flurry is a flurry and it will be gone tomorrow and that this is really an opportunity to buy a new scarf and glove set, despite the fact that I can never find a decent scarf and glove set and will inevitably settle on something from Target that will last exactly one winter, I just read the revised forecast: potentially THREE INCHES. Excuse me while I have a nervous breakdown.

October summer

Columbus might have worn a fuzzy, cable-knit sweater and thick woolen pants when he cruised the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria up to these here shores. But on this Columbus Day in New England, more reminiscent of August, boxers would have sufficed. It’s hot. The windows are open and the beach was packed with celebratory sunbathers. Global warming, we welcome you.

Good Harbor Beach, Gloucester

People swam despite the water temp and dogs frolicked and romped, savoring the surprise summer day. Clouds took the day off.

Even the kites got into the holiday.

It’s not the heat

it’s the humidity in the basement that’s wilting the cardboard boxes and making my belongings damp. A damp that invites a green film on my sleek winter coat and my vintage, stickered suitcase. Ew. I finally break down and buy a dehumidifier, one of those appliances that are annoying to research. Small? Large? Quiet? Timer? Apparently I’m the only person buying one anyway now that the dry winter is coming on, so there are only a few models left. I tote this contraption home and immediately I’m emptying buckets of water sucked from the air.

The manual (yeah, I read it) says to ventilate, lest the room be oxygen depleted and thus, dangerous. I can’t ventilate, so when I go down there, I take huge gulps of air to see if there’s oxygen. It does feel funny down here. Is this what it feels like to play at Mile High Stadium? What if I pass out? Should I train Maple to dial 911?

A cable repair guy is down there now and when he goes quiet, I wonder if he’s gasping for air. Should I call for help or does a dead repairman on the basement floor look bad for me? He emerges, breathing.

Repairman down

In the morning, I wake up to a bedroom where the air is as dry as Palm Springs. I can’t drink water fast enough and realize I need a humidifier. Unbelievable. Every floor needs regulating. I consider making my bedroom a storage area and sleeping in the basement.

What’s up with the wind?

In the past few years, I’ve noticed an irksome type of weather that’s starting to bug me more than snow: wind. Is it not bad enough that the winter is cold and snowy but that it has to be windy enough to exfoliate your skin without any pretense of a spa? Not only that, but the wind has been infiltrating the summer too; beach umbrellas? Nearly impossible to plant the last couple of seasons. They tumble off down the beach, stopped only by an unsuspecting, drowsy sunbather. Not only does my beach bag come home with a pound of the Cape, but my scalp totes home a layer of salt and sand—so much that I wonder if there’s any beach left.

I’ve wondered if this extreme windiness was just my perception or if it had any basis in fact. Turns out this article in Discovery News confirms the worst: the Earth is getting windier. Scientists can’t say if this is a result of global warming or if we’re just in a windy cycle that could stretch over decades—a mere blip in meteorology history. I don’t know either. But I do know one thing: I don’t like it. And I’m pretty sure this mother duck doesn’t like it either:

Die, trees, die!

I didn’t buy a Christmas tree this year, but I think I will next year, if only so I can throw it on the pyre that Salem has for its dried-up pines. No, not very green, but the bonfire is a community event that draws a crowd to Dead Horse Beach (answer: no) with music, hot chocolate, and burning trees—definitely a step up from burning witches.

I had a cool video of the night, but it seems it’s impossible to get it on here; instead, picture flames rising over the harbor, while you take in a smoky breath, and hear Ring of Fire playing in the background.

 

Smelly soap

It’s easy to take the smallest things for granted, and I realize now, that I did that with the soap in our office bathroom. Suddenly, perhaps to ward off the Norovirus that has infiltrated our school, there’s a strong-smelling, undoubtedly antibacterial soap that’s appeared in the soap dispenser that makes me feel like I’m a surgeon scrubbing up before an appendectomy. You know the smell that says doctor’s office. Or worse: hospital. I feel dirtier than when I went in. I don’t like it, even if it is to protect us from some virus. More likely, it’s a cost-cutting measure, and we’ll never again have that pink, sweet-smelling soap that ranked only marginally higher that I now so desperately miss.

Are you low impact?

No Impact Man is a documentary about a family that embarks on a year-long project to live without making an environmental impact. The movie evolved from the clever, informative blog No Impact Man written by a man who believes that efforts like reducing waste and eating sustainable food should not be about deprivation, but about making the world a better place to live, which will ultimately make us happier than all that stuff anyway. I found myself nodding in agreement throughout the entire movie.

It may be tricky to give up toilet paper, but it’s not so hard to bring your strawberry cartons back to the farmer’s market to reuse, or just to start shopping at a farmer’s market, or to eliminate household chemical cleaners, or just to think about each purchase.

Suffice it to say, there are about a million things you can do shrink your impact if you want. Here’s No Impact Man’s Top Ten Eco-Lifestyle Changes to get you started. Or you could just rent the movie for inspiration. It’s a balanced portrayal of the project (they have plenty of critics) and an honest profile of a marriage in the midst of a stressful experiment. Their 2-year-old daughter is perhaps the most natural environmentalist, comfy in her cloth diapers and squealing in delight at the worms in the compost. She didn’t complain about reading by candlelight and taking the stairs; she thought cleaning the laundry by stomping on it the in the bathtub was the most fun a girl could have. Perhaps, then, the key to being a good friend to the planet is to reclaim your 2-year-old self and find joy in the everyday. 

Cookbookery

I’ve been reading the newish cookbook Earth to Table like a novel and prematurely contemplating a spring menu. The theme is eating locally and seasonally, a philosophy that makes sense for the environment and if you care one whit about food, because the ruby strawberries of July are a far cry from the wan strawberries of March. Also, the photos are good enough to eat. 

Descriptions of the slow food chefs’ partnership with a local farm and interviews with chefs like Thomas Keller appear in between a batch of seasonal recipes. Reading about foraging for fiddleheads and uprooting ramps has me itching for spring. Dishes I can’t wait to try: corn soup, apple cider muffins (from Craft in NYC), and a simple pan of sauteed mushrooms that make the fungi look like a medley of copper and gold.

Wait a minute

Boston, you’re so fickle. Today, I’m in love: you’re in the 60s. Tomorrow, you’re still pretty amazing for November: hello, 50s. Saturday you’re looking average, 40s, but I’m sure we can work it out. Sunday, damn you, you’re gonna be in the 30s, so we might have to break up. I refuse to look at Monday’s forecast.

Sucky sticky bun

I eat cereal most days for breakfast. Cheerios, in fact, because they’re good and they’re duh, heart healthy. It was no different today. But this morning, I got in a 5-mile walk that left me spent and ravenous. By 9 a.m. those Cheerios were but a distant memory. Enter: cute cafe on Charles St. where I asked the guy behind the counter what was satisfying.

“Lemon poppyseed muffin?” he offered.

Boring.

“I don’t want to be good,” I said. “I’ll have the sticky bun.”

He proceeded to grab said sticky bun with some wax paper while trying to wrangle it into a plastic container. 

“Just a bag,” I said. You can’t walk and eat out of a plastic container—and the thought of needing a container for the 45 seconds it would take me to wolf down the bun seemed ridiculous.

“You sure?” he said. “This thing is very sticky. I recommend using a fork and saving time to wash up if you have a meeting or something.”

I left with the bun in a bag, now craving the sugary delight in a crack kind of way. Somehow though, in his gushing about the stickiness, he neglected to mention that the sticky buns had been sitting there for two days and were sticky only in the way a brick with a dab or mortar is, which is to say, not much. If I hadn’t already walked so far, I would have gone back, plunked down the sticky brick, and demanded my $3 back, glaring at the lemon poppyseed muffins, which were probably hard as golf balls.

Summer is NOT over

Just a warning: if I hear you say anything like “Wow, summer went by fast” or “Fall is right around the corner” or you mention the word “school” or anything that even suggests that summer is on its way out you might get decked. Fair warning. Summer is not over. And if there is any seasonal justice, this fall will be ridiculously summerlike after the rainy summer we endured. Aside from that melty heat wave, I carried that damn sweater with me more days than I wore a skirt, and that is not right, Mother Nature. Not right. But the ocean is still warming up, naysayers, and there are plenty of beach days left. K?

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Outstanding in the Field

My friend and I went to one hell of a farm dinner the other night hosted by a little organization called Outstanding in the Field, a handful of people who travel the country on a bus putting on communal dinners the likes of which you’ve never experienced. The dinners are lavish and local. The tables are long and laden with food. The guests are true foodies, and while there is lively conversation, there are also lulls, even at a table of 155 people, because the food robs you of speech. Forgive me if this post is long. The food was plentiful and I must share photos of the whole experience so you will be sufficiently jealous.

The dinners, which run just shy of $200, include a tour of the farm, appetizers, five courses and wine pairings—everything hailing from just a few miles away. The farmers join the table; you might sit next to the cheesemaker or the couple who grew the greens. Good stuff happens. Organizers pride themselves on the placement of the table, sometimes in a meadow, other times in a sea cave. It’s a surprise every time. This particular dinner was held at Aquidneck Farm in Portsmouth, RI on a gorgeous piece of land. The chef, Matt Jennings of Farmstead in Providence, labored in the sun to bring us the perfect meal.

We're here!

We're here!

On our tour, we saw chickens and the cattle the farm is known for. Hours later, we’d be eating said cattle. Sorry, guys.

Thank you for your sacrifice.

Thank you for your sacrifice.

We toured the grounds on a tractor, probably one of the few tractor rides that affords an ocean view.

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Clouds blanketed the sky in a perfect puffy pattern despite a pesky hurricane approaching that threatened to send us into the barn. Instead, the sun shone a warm afternoon light and even, for a few moments, offered up a rainbow.

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And then there was the long table that spanned the field, reaching for the ocean.

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And the food. I used to be happy with a little butter and salt on my butter. No more. These ears came drizzled with Louella’s queso fresco, aleppo pepper, and aioli. Why yes, I will have a little corn with my cheese.

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Summer would not be summer without tomatoes. Unfortunately, tomatoes will never again be tomatoes without the creamy aussie feta that accompanied these heirloom varieties.

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Thanks to the sacrifice of the cattle that grazed these grounds just days before, we enjoyed a grilled flank steak on a pole bean and cherry tomato “chow chow” with salsa verde.

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After dessert—a cinnamon johnnycake biscuit with fire roasted peaches, whipped Narrangansett ricotta, and South County honey, the tea lights came out and with the last sip of wine (hello, six wine pairings), dinner came to a close. On the hay wagon, we were delivered back to the farm where our cars were waiting to take us back to reality. Sigh.

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Coop sweet coop

Everywhere I look, someone is writing or blogging about keeping chickens; apparently, raising the little fluffballs in not just for the farm anymore. Chicken coops are cropping up on city dweller’s little patches of land as urbanites, old hats at shopping at farmers’ markets, try to take it one step further and get in on the raise-your-own-food movement. The idea of fresh eggs is attractive (how pretty are those blue ones?), but for a single gal, one chicken would do me. For those of you thinking of getting a hen house, this company makes funky habitats for chickens; they’re like airstream trailers for chicks. And they’re almost as cute as the chicks themselves—before they grow up and into their feathers and start flapping and clucking.

Coop sweet coop

Coop sweet coop

Mow, baby, mow

I feel all manly when I mow the lawn. 

Once the weeds hit mid-calf in the spring, I know it’s time to wrangle the lawn mower out of the garage, kick the tires, and rev that puppy. I’d like a push mower so I can feel even heartier and eco-friendly, but the house came with a mower, so I wield it, happy it’s not snow I’m blowing out of the way. I have old sandals I keep for mowing, but my feet still get all green and grassy, part of the charm.

The growth in our yard can hardly be called grass, but it’s nice nonetheless to mow it in orderly stripes. While my front yard will never resemble Fenway or a golf course (watering the lawn feels ridiculous and wasteful), it’ll do. Plus, it’s satisfying to mow down anything that gets in the way. Except for the random violet that crops up in the most inopportune spot. Hello fragile violet.

And with a yard sale scheduled for Saturday, we can’t be losing items—or shoppers—in the weeds.

mowing weeds

Die thoughtfully, please

If you’re gonna die (and something tells me you will), could you do the world a favor and not pollute the earth with a honkin’ coffin? Really, dead people are already cluttering up the land, but the big ‘ole boxes just make things worse. Eco burials are where it’s at. Find yourself an eternal resting place in a green cemetery (i.e., a meadow) and be done with it. Of course, you’ll have to wait till they spring up on the East Coast as they’re primarily in California right now, so take care of your health until then.

If you must go out in style, at least consider a biodegradable option like the Ecopod, a stylin’ container made of paper. And if you’re really environmentally conscious and have decided to be cremated, check out this nifty little vessel called the Acorn Urn. I mean, if you gotta go, at least go out in a nice felt-like acorn.