Essex

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.

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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!”

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Seaside

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.
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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

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

Murray's

Horseshoe and plaque on Black Swan bar

Rural life

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.

Greig Farm

Gigi Market

Farm chickens

Deer in the backyard

Where the wild things are

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:

Ducks in the reeds

Find the animal

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.

Beaver

Monet's bridge

Spiraling tree branches

Rookery

Swans at rest

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.

Boston swan boats scene

swan boats

Mt. Washington, I will not climb you

The forecast spelled rain on a recent yoga and hiking retreat to the White Mountains in New Hampshire, so our group opted for an easier hike to Arethusa Falls: a short hike with a big payoff. Except the way I remembered the hike—taken more than 15 years ago with my then-boyfriend—was that it was grueling; steep uphills and narrow ledges that we pictured ourselves slipping off of into the ravine. I have the distinct memory of repeating “Are we there yet?” like a petulant 5-year-old and asking every hiker coming down the mountain how much farther till the end. I was 22 and had never exercised a day in my life.

But while I wasn’t looking forward to this “easier” hike, I was curious to see how it compared to the hike of my younger-self. My friend offered the right mix of encouragement (“Come on, let’s go!”), while reminding me I could stay in the lodge with a book (“The fireplace is calling…”). I opted to give it a go, and in addition to it being the perfect hiking weather (no rain, no jacket) it also turned out to be the perfect hike: barely an hour and not at all painful with a spectacular view. “We’re already there?” we said at the top. There’s something to be said for being fit and 40. But then maybe it was the snacks.

We’d been staying at the rustic and comfortable AMC Highland Center Lodge, so at the end of the weekend, we treated ourselves to a leisurely day exploring the majestic Mount Washington Hotel peeking into rooms, gazing at the mountain range, and making ourselves comfortable on the veranda. In other words, pretending we were guests at the expansive resort that’s housed presidents and world leaders, who, by our count, probably each had their own fireplace. A bit of a different feel than the lodge where rugged outdoorsy types traipse in, shrugging off giant backpacks and kicking of their muddy boots. In addition to myriad cafes and restaurants (and an old speakeasy in the basement called The Cave), the resort offers an exhausting array of activities: horseback riding, golf, biking and walking trails, indoor and outdoor pools, skiing, fly fishing, and rock climbing, but the clear appeal is its enormous wraparound porch that offers stunning views from every angle. Oh, look: another snow-capped mountain to admire amidst the peak foliage. Exhausting. I better just sit here on this wicker couch and rest.

Mount Washington Hotel in New Hampshire/USA in...

Mount Washington Hotel in New Hampshire/USA in 2003 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Squash blossom season

“Hi,” says an eager 10-year-old boy behind a table of greens—lots of Asian veggies—at the Marblehead Farmers’ Market. “Can I help you?”

I spot the basket of squash blossoms, rubber banded in bouquets and know immediately that I’ll be stuffing them with goat cheese and having them for lunch.

“I’ll take these and any advice you have,” I say to the boy and his grandmother.

“Just dip them in flour and an egg,” the boy says, “and saute them in olive oil. I really like them on pizza.”

“How do you know how to cook squash blossoms at your age?”

“My mom,” he says. “Don’t forget to take out the stamen.”

I like this kid. Like that he knows how to properly cook these blossoms that is not in everyone’s repertoire, especially a 10-year-old’s. I like that he knows the word stamen.

“You thinking of becoming a chef?” I ask.

“Maybe,” he says.

“I think you should,” I say. “I would come to your restaurant.”

I recall from last year’s failed experiment that squash blossoms don’t last. They’re fickle little things. One minute they’re perky, they next they’re wilting. I take them home and plunge them in water and get to work on making a simple mixture of flour, egg (a blue one that makes me ridiculously happy) and a little water. I start with this recipe for inspiration and realize I don’t have seltzer water or cayenne pepper, and crab meat seem too much for these delicate flowers, and I certainly don’t want to use ricotta when I can use goat cheese.

I gently rinse the blossoms, letting the water open them up, dry them, then stuff them with goat cheese. I dredge them in the pancake-like batter and saute them for a few minutes until they brown. I go a little too heavy on the batter—a messy presentation that my 10-year-old friend would not approve of—but they’re crisp and delicious and I eat every last one.

Beach legs

I will not give up on you, summer! These are my long, lean legs, courtesy of the sun in the afternoon light. That flattering afternoon light that makes everyone look radiant, especially in shadow.

 

 

And this shot is virtually identical to Heidi Klum’s recent tweet, right? Right?

Me at the beach

Heidi Klum at the beach

 

 

 

 

 

Salem’s secret garden

Is there anything more enchanting than a secret garden? Well, yes. Coming upon Mr. Darcy in said secret garden. But let’s be realistic. This patch of flowers and pebbled trail is tucked away behind a church and historic home in Salem, often overlooked by tourists. Sometimes, I have it all to myself. See that red brick mansion in the background? That’s where Darcy and I live in my fantasy. We restore it to its former glory and stand gazing down upon the garden where we married, reliving the moment again and again. And then his sister saunters in and wants to play a sonata on that damn piano. Always with the piano! When will she get her own place?

These grand English-style gardens always call to mind the characters of Austen and Bronte. Can’t you just picture Jane Eyre sitting on this bench when Rochester sneaks up behind her in his creepy, romantic way?

This is where I like to sit and read about the stern yet tenderhearted men of yore. The shaded bench is better suited to courting lovers, but whatever. All I have is a book and the sunflowers before they turn brown and droop their heavy heads.

When I tire of reading, I look to the koi pond, confident that at any moment, Darcy will emerge, sopping wet in a blousy white shirt plastered to his beefy arms that he will use to lift me off the bench and into the pond for a romp.

Tips for shopping Brimfield: a primer

How to tackle Brimfield

Only at Brimfield can you find taxidermied animals, buckets of toy soldiers, Smurfs, vintage shift dresses, anchors, and rainbow parasols. For the uninitiated, we’re talking about the Brimfield Antique Show. It’s Day Two of the show that runs July 10-15 this year, attracting collectors and designers (excuse me, Martha, mine!) from all over the country, so take advantage of this sublime summer and head out to Western MA for the day. Can’t make it? The show comes around again in September.

I hit the show yesterday on opening day after scanning the tips of Brimfield organizers and scouring blogs for the inside scoop. But the suggestions read a bit like those over-the-top-cautious hiking tips to bring 17 layers, enough water to hydrate a camel, and a tent and sleeping bag in case you get stranded. Here, I offer my own tips that you may find handy.

When to go

The show is held in May, July, and September each year, so pick your favorite season. In May you have the possibility of rain, and in July, the hot sun; but September sounds just right. This week promises to be sunny and hot, as evidenced by my flagging energy at Hour Two. The show runs rain or shine, and while the elements won’t deter diehard collectors, rain may dampen (ahem) your experience. You can buy a poncho, look ridiculous, and suck it up, or you could just go another day.

Strategy comes into play when planning the time of day to visit, too. Go in the morning and you’ll find yourself on the road at 3 a.m. to compete with dealers when the gates open; but you do have the best chance of seeing the goods that get snapped up first. Go at midday and it’s a bit quieter, but the height of the day could mean you’re contending with the heat. Go in the evening and you could be one happy camper; while you miss some initial bargains, you can shop at twilight and the dealers may be ready to deal. Imagine what you could score on the last evening on the last day of the show.

Parking

Pay $5 and park in the middle of the mile-long stretch. Five bucks is reasonable (you could probably pay less but have to hoof it even farther or pay more for no reason that I can deduce) and you’ll be able to walk back to the car with your purchases. Or to take a nap.

For your trophy room?

Water

Everyone recommends you bring water. And yes, it gets HOT and you get tired and no one wants to get dehydrated in a dry field mobbed with people, but you know what? Water is heavy. A buck or two will get you cold water on the spot.

Food

Experts advise packing snacks (again with the carrying) for healthier choices and to sustain you. But where there is fair food (hot dogs, steak sandwiches, and fried dough!) there is happiness. Splurge on fries. You’re gonna splurge on that stunning chandelier anyway, so what’s another $10? I found a nice variety in the food corral, actually: Greek salads, Ben & Jerry’s, mac n’ cheese and some killer apple cider doughnuts. Life is short.

What to wear

This is no time to debut the gingham espadrilles. Wear comfy shoes that you can walk all day in and don’t mind getting dirty. The fields are dry and dusty or wet and muddy. Wear light layers and check the weather. In July, dress like you’re going to the beach. May and September could go either way: beachwear or a scarf and hat. It’s New England.

Sunscreen

Wear sunscreen. If you need inspiration, read this graduation speech from 1997.

Know your prices

A little legwork in advance could put you in a strong negotiating position. But all the research in the world will not stop you from shelling out an exorbitant sum when you spot the rare, speckled ostrich feather you need to complete your collection. Still, dealers expect haggling; just do it in a respectful manner. Try, “What’s the best you could do on this old ostrich feather?” It’s like negotiating a salary; let them name the price first because it might be less than you expected.

And bring cash—more than you think you need. Then go back to the ATM and get more.

I hoped to pick up some crocks for my patio garden, after scoring this white one at a yard sale for less than $10. But my failure to research meant I had a good laugh when I realized some vintage vessels cost upwards of $80. Geraniums just didn’t seem worthy.

Grab it

You snooze, you lose. If you circle around feigning disinterest, someone will grab the item you covet before you can finish hemming and hawing. But then, you shouldn’t exclaim, “OMG, it’s a 1970s Topo Gigio doll in mint condition!” either, because you lose all bargaining power, not to mention your self-respect.

If you see something you decide to come back to, good luck—not only because it might be gone (likely), but because the place is a rabbit warren of labyrinthine paths designed to disorient you. I like to think my navigation skills rival that of a GPS, but after a while, all the booths and dealers and fields start to look alike.

A picturesque scene today, but a dizzying maze of booths tomorrow

Transporting the goods

Show regulars suggest bringing a cart. I suppose if you’re a serious collector or have an unlimited budget, by all means, bring a cart at the risk of looking like an 82-year-old hitting the grocery store. But be aware you’ll have to park your cart outside most stalls; plus, they’re unwieldy and prone to running over errant feet. If you’re just hoping to pick up a trinket or two (and not a stone urn), ditch the cart and bring a backpack. Also, there are entrepreneurial porters who will sweat for you as they wheel your bargains to your car.

Mason jars breed like rabbits at Brimfield

Bathrooms

Bring a clothespin. When nature calls, your only option is a portable restroom facility, which we all know is a much fancier phrase for the stifling little shack that shields you while you pee in a hole in the ground. Just know that the best part of leaving Brimfield is not riding home with a carload full of treasures, but the promise of a clean bathroom.

Pets

Pets are not banned from the show, but they’re not exactly encouraged. It can be a long hot day for a beagle, and one innocent wag of the tail could mean you end up owning a broken (fill in the blank with the priciest item you can think of). But if you dog is cute (and it is, obviously), put that fuzzy face to work to get yourself a bargain.

Measurements

Bring a tape measure (not an impractical ruler like yours truly) so you’ll know for sure that the red Formica table will not possibly fit in your car—or your kitchen. Take a moment to collect yourself. I know how you feel. I left these red lockers behind. Sigh.

You shiny, lovely things

Go with your gut

The most important tip: if you love it, buy it. It’s as simple as that. Don’t worry about whether it will “go” with your decor. It’s your decor; make it go! If an object moves you or raises your blood pressure in pure joy, buy it and love it unconditionally. Until you decide to sell it at a yard sale.

Sitting on the Big Apple

New York, you make me like apples.

I love hitting the city for the simple pleasures of eating and walking—an everyday occurrence to New Yorkers but the stuff of travel to me. I could make a vacation of just looking.

You know what’s underrated in NYC though (and yet another gerund in this gerund-filled post)? Sitting. Sitting is immensely enjoyable after walking up 72,000 subway steps and switching from the C to the E to the 3 to the Z (did you know there was a Z?) and then getting on an express train by mistake and doubling back. Some savvy person should charge people to sit; I would have paid serious money for an extra wooden bench in the subway or for the privilege of stretching out on someone’s stoop.

Enjoy this slideshow (taken while walking and sitting—not simultaneously, silly) of things that interested me but will probably not interest you.

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Puppet bathtime

I’m a little slow when it comes to projects. I realized in cleaning the basement today that I had bought this trio of friendly-faced puppets fully intending to give them a good soak right away. That was one year ago.

But today was bath time for the puppets. Furry, buoyant bodies floated in sudsy water as I kept dunking their heads under to clean them (another reason I shouldn’t have kids). I left them to drip-dry while I cruised eBay, curious about their value. I learned what I suspected: they’re probably Steiff, a German company known for its collectible stuffed animals, probably worth a few hundred dollars, and probably best to check online next time before I go plunging valuable little bodies under water.

The drying cycle

 

 

Stuff I did on winter vacation that you don’t care about

I baked some double chocolate chip pumpkin cookies for an amazing cookie swap and almost—almost—went home with more cookies than I could handle. I tried some strange and tasty cookies (cardamom, green tea, goat cheese), gave some away, and shared some at our unusual office Christmas swap.

My co-worker and I chair a fun committee at the office (we’re serious about fun) and this year instituted a white elephant Yankee swap. Gifts could be small, preferably lame, and must be derived from one’s office. I wrapped up a CD and a skull and bones eraser and unwrapped a plant that was whisked away in the swap. I ended up with a testy wireless mouse that I had unloaded months earlier on my co-worker. Ah, the circle of office life.

I read more issues of Rachael Ray’s Every Day magazine than I care to admit. She’s chipper that one, but she puts out a good magazine.

Every year I make my sister a calendar with photos I’ve taken, surreptitiously, of her dog, Molly, in various states of ridiculousness. This year’s theme was “What’s on Molly’s head?” What was on Molly’s head, you ask? A colander, apple, myriad stuffed animals, coffee filters, salad bowl, and a hat. Doesn’t it seem like she really, really enjoys it?

On yet another mild January day, I walked through the near-barren orchard and watched a hawk pluck a mouse from the field, the scent of sour apples lingering.

I read some good books over vacation but the best one by far, Salvage the Bones, took me through the last days of the year. More on that in my upcoming book wrap-up.

I pressed my face to the window watching for deer in my sister’s backyard. She and her husband spot deer posses traipsing through the yard, their hoof prints pricking the yard. I’ve yet to see one of these phantom deer.

My sister and her husband took me on a hike through the woods in the backyard where the famed deer live. Sometimes a hike can be a walk.

I Christmas shopped with my mom, a near-70 Energizer bunny, and had to sit, more than once, with the old people on the bench of the outdoor shopping center while she forged on.

I rented a million movies and finally saw The Muppets and appreciated the numerous nods to the 70s and 80s and the fact that there are enough lovers and dreamers who welcome back the Muppets with a big furry hug.

Brooksby Farm and an opportunity missed…but not really

Brooksby Farm in Peabody with its barnyard bevy, autumnal offerings, and quiet orchard is a treat to wander now that the apple picking vultures have disappeared. Wedding guests spilled out of the barn, a spot some people might think of as odd for a wedding, but that I find charming. Rest assured the shindig was taking place in a renovated barn—not the one where the sheep hunker down for the night.

So I’m watching the bucktoothed llama and the irresistible, angelic-faced goat when a tuxedo-clad gentleman wanders over to the fence where I’m standing. It’s true that most men look good in a tuxedo, but this man looked especially good. And then he opened his mouth.

“Do you know what kind of animal this is?” he asked, pointing to the ostrich. The ostrich. Not a wooly mammoth or a zebu cattle that might be hard to identify on a little farm in Peabody, but a run-of-the-mill ostrich. Who doesn’t know what an ostrich looks like?

Before I could answer, he was out of the running despite the aforementioned very nicely tailored tuxedo.

“It’s an emu,” I said.

Please. Like you can tell the difference.

He snapped some photos with his iPhone.

“Fleeing the wedding?” I asked.

“Looking for a date, actually,” he said.

Now, this is where one might come up with a clever retort (“Might I apply for that job?” or “Give me two minutes; I have a dress in the car.”) before an adventure ensues. Others might insert the phrase “opportunity missed,” but I would like to reiterate that the man could not identify an ostrich. Also, his boutonniere suggested he was part of the wedding party, and what kind of friend wanders off and leaves his buddy at the reception?

I glanced from him to the ostrich/emu.

“Looks like the emu is free,” I said.

Pumpkin patching

Ah, fall. Apple picking, jackets, cider donuts, and dead, dried cornstalks. Never understood that one. This weekend was as crisp and perfect as a Macintosh, even a Macintosh picked from a barrel rather than a tree because apple picking is winding down in these here parts. Anyway, I’ve been meaning to pick out the perfect plump pumpkin for my patio and had my eye on this one, but I couldn’t fit it in the car.

I settled on one less mutant gourd from the patch at Russell Orchards in Ipswich, a sweet orchard by the ocean where the salt adds a little something extra to the produce. It’s so close to Crane Beach that once global warming kicks in, there just might come a time when you can enjoy a morning dip in the ocean and then head off to pluck Honeycrisps in the afternoon.

Check out my fine feathers, ladies