Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins
A Good Line or Two:
"Punting the prairie dog into the library was a mistake." (p 1)
First line of the book. Gosh, I laughed so hard when I read that.
Got Me Thinking About:
Water. We live in the New York City watershed; our creek becomes NYC's drinking water. It's very wet here, it's very protected here. It might not always be.
And Watkin's article in Tin House On Pandering that I read a few weeks ago which is what prompted me to pick up her book. What a mind! What a voice! You should read the whole thing. Really! I'll wait.
Welcome back! Wasn't it amazing when she said this?:
The stunning truth is that I am asking, deep down, as I write, What would Philip Roth think of this? What would Jonathan Franzen think of this? When the answer is probably: nothing. More staggering is the question of why I am trying to prove myself to writers whose work, in many cases, I don’t particularly admire? ...
I wrote Battleborn for white men, toward them. If you hold the book to a certain light, you’ll see it as an exercise in self-hazing, a product of working-class madness, the female strain. So, natural then that Battleborn was well-received by the white male lit establishment: it was written for them. The whole book’s a pander. Look, I said with my stories: I can write old men, I can write sex, I can write abortion. I can write hard, unflinching, unsentimental. I can write an old man getting a boner!
She can write like a man, they said, by which they meant, She can write.
Mic drop. Right?
In the house, as a wedding party joyfully raged on in our meadow. See, I shut down the Front Desk/Bar at 3pm when the ceremony began and didn't have to re-open til 8:30am the next day for coffee, buuuuut I did have to stay on-site and be available in case of any kind of emergency. And Steven was out of town. This book made for a wonderful companion.
I've never been someone who enjoyed working from bed until a few months ago. A clear separation between duty and sleep felt good. But lately...
I don't know WHAT I've been thinking all these years.
Like Desmond Tutu said: "If you are neutral in situations of injustice you have chosen the side of the oppressor."
Yesterday, my white husband and our two white friends were accidentally trespassing on a nearby stream-front property.
We'd been under the (wrong) impression that Department of Conservation law in our area of New York State says that as long as you're in the water or less than 10 feet up the shore, you're welcome to enjoy the creeks. It turns out, that's only the case if everyone in your party is fishing and you're generally on the move.
Hanging out in the water, we were approached by a very aggressive property manager, verbally insulted by him, and told he was "calling the law" on us immediately, which he did. It was unpleasant and surprising. Especially when the Sheriff showed up, flak vest and all, and we were in the wrong. I worried about accidentally offending a neighbor, about creating some fodder for the local rumor mill. (Oooh, did you hear about those Spruceton Inn kids?) But you know what I never worried about?
LOSING MY LIFE IN THE HANDS OF THE LAW.
And you know why? BECAUSE I'M WHITE.
And you know what happened at the end of all this? I told the Sheriff, "We're sorry to have wasted your time here." He said "Thank you," and we all walked away. Alive.
That's not happening to black people in our country right now.
If I were black, the moment that property manager told me he was "calling the law" on us I almost certainly would have ran. Literally ran for my life.
And that's fucking tragic.
So there's my white privilege. And here's my teeny, tiny addition to the voices who are screaming #BlackLivesMatter.
I have been jonesin' to go to Croatia for yeeeeeears.
Lucky for me, one of my best friends in marrying a wonderful Croatian man! (Thanks Alexandra!) So next month Steven and I are heading to Split for their wedding.
Since it's the middle of high season here at the Inn and I can't leave it ALL on my Assistant for too long, we're being total jet-setting ballers about it and going for only THREE DAYS.
I know. It's crazy. But what can ya do?
We'll be in Split the whole time. Already rented an Airbnb in the old part of town with some of our other pals who are coming to the festivities too. Bottom line, I NEED YOUR RECS! What should we do in Split with just three days?? What should we eat? Drink? Dance to? Make sure to not miss?
Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey
A Good Line Or Two:
By noon, Beatriz had written in her first novel, the heat in Brazil was an animal’s mouth. It would swallow anything to feed itself. (p 99)
Got Me Thinking About:
The subtle art that goes into translation. The trust that must exist between writer and translator. How strange and particular it would be to spend your life working with someone else’s art so intimately.
How I’ve studied so many languages—French, Mandarin Chinese, Modern Standard Arabic, Moroccan Arabic, Bamanankan, Spanish—and how it’s always at my most fluent that I feel most acutely my failure to fully express myself.
Also in the stack of books gifted to us by a guest who works in publishing. (She edited this one!) In a hammock, so happy that summer has finally arrived.
Steven and I have this barn.
When we first moved here, every morning we'd take our coffee and walk around the property and wind up in it, giggling, saying, "Oh my god, we own a barn! How far from New York City life is that?!"
Ok, maybe only I was doing the "giggling". But still! It seemed so wild to both of us.
The previous owners used it to store hay and house their oodles of goats. So far, we've mostly used it as a woodworking shop--
Or a novel place to drink beers with visiting friends (and Waldo), even in the dead of winter.
Originally we thought we might want to have the Front Desk and Bar in the barn, but we decided to wait on that. It would entail such a massive (and expensive!) renovation, we wanted to be 100% sure it was worth it.
So we "temporarily" set up the Front Desk and Bar in Room One and it probably only took about three weeks for me to realize that that's how it should stay.
The barn is BIG, and as I've mentioned before, at our maximum capacity we hold only 20 guests, so even if every single overnight guest was at the bar in the barn, plus a handful of neighbors dropping in for a drink, it would still feel kinda empty. And I'll always take cozy over empty at a bar, especially in the cold months (of which we have oh so freakin many).
And, perhaps more importantly, I can offer much better customer service when I'm this close to the rooms.
Running a Front Desk isn't just checking guests in and out and answering the phone. It's about reading people, anticipating their needs, making slight adjustments for someone who could be enjoying themselves even more. And it's usually the "little things" that make a difference in a stay at a place as low key and casual as this. A quick reminder of where the trailhead is before you set off, a corkscrew to borrow for the wine you packed, a fresh towel after a swim, a flashlight for your nighttime BBQ-ing. Things that maybe a guest would decide weren't quiiiiite worth trekking all the way to the barn to take care of, but ultimately do make a difference in their overall comfort and fun.
So! In Room One the Front Desk and Bar shall remain.
Which leaves the barn open to possibilities again!
We've learned A LOT about renovating since first moving here, so it's much easier for us to make a viable plan than when we first arrived. (Not "easy", but definitely "easier".) And after nearly two years in business, we now have a much better sense of what our guests want:
An events space.
We've hosted five weddings, four writers' retreats, two family reunions, and flea market to name a few. And when the weather is good, everyone can spread out comfortably around the property. But if it's raining, well, people are kind screwed. Room One is our only communal indoor space and it has a legal maximum capacity of only 13! So for events, we currently require that everyone rents a tent. Like this:
Which totally works! But it would would be much more straight forward, not to mention fun, to have parties and retreats like these in a beautiful old barn. And beautiful it will be. It might not look like much on the outside right now, but it was built some time in the mid 1800s in the traditional Dutch method so the huge beams are hand hewn and it's peg construction without any nails!
So. This is what we're working towards.
Back in April we had a new, metal roof installed because the old shingle one was beginning to leak and that was obviously bad news. It was a big cost, but definitely the most responsible first step towards rehabbing the place.
Our next step was to demo and remove whatever junk had accumulated and whatever interior new construction wasn't load bearing so we could have one big open, flexible space. So we ordered a dumpster and did as much as I think we're capable of in a day. Which was a lot! Literally an entire dumpster's worth:
Most of that is from one part of the barn had this drop ceiling installed:
Which as you can see took a beating from some weather sneaking its way in. It was also filled with wood shavings, so we'd been procrastinating taking care of what we knew was going to be an insanely messy job.
(Btw, I know. Wood shavings?! Mr. Peters, who owned the property before the Schwarzeneggers, was a woodworker, so this must have been his shop and he must have used the materials he had on hand (loads of wood shavings) to make himself more comfortable.)
Yes. It was a TOTAL mess.
Steven did most of the muscling-- having at the ceiling with a crowbar, with a saw. I spent several hours ferrying garbage cans of shavings to the dumpster right outside. Tedious, but worth it! And while we still need to remove the most stubborn bits and take a shop-vac to it all, we're one significant step closer!
Eventually the interior walls, the staircase, and all the loft structure will be removed so that it's one big open space, but we're leaving that to the professionals because there's some serious engineering that needs to be considered with all that.
In the mean time, we hung some cardboard Ikea lamps we'd originally bought for our temporary kitchen upgrade (they were too big for that space, but perfect for the barn) and made a grand "table" out of some of the last of our barn wood and some leftover table horses et voila!
Next up is talking to the professionals about the rest of the demo and some new siding but for now it feels so good be inching our way towards all the good times to be had here on site!
In the mean time, we'll be enjoying the occasional beer in there while still having a laugh at the fact that we own a barn. I know, it's been two and half a years since we moved up here but sometimes I still can't quite believe how much our lives have changed! From China to Mali to San Francisco to Morocco to Brooklyn to--
Here, five miles down a seven mile dead end road in the Catskills.
Yea, I'm ending this post on a glam shot. :)
Beard Boy (about a boy who wants a beard just like his dad's) and You Must Be This Tall (two snakes who want to ride roller coaster but one of 'em is too short) were BOTH featured in the New York Times in the past few weeks! And Tall got what is perhaps my favorite bit of review goodness to date:
"A thrillingly shameless disregard for the safety obsessions of our time."
Oh hells yea it is.
And yesterday he got some test prints in the mail for some final art for another book he's working on with Simon & Schuster. I can't tell you too much about yet, but I can give you a sneak peek of how dang cute it's looking:
So, good job Steven! I'm continually impressed and inspired by you. :)
I love books. I wanna talk about 'em more. So I'm introducing a new every-so-often feature here: Bookshelf.
Modern Lovers by Emma Straub
A Good Line Or Two:
Sometimes even the brightest people had truly no idea. (p 67)
Got Me Thinking About:
How growing up in Ditmas Park today sounds a lot like growing up in Park Slope in the 80s/90s. Which I did. Skateboarding, innocent debauchery in the park, the culture and excitement around new restaurants, diversity that you knew was shifting and maybe even disappearing.
How everyone is the center of their own worlds.
So easily. Mostly tucked in bed, midday, as a break from daily madness at the Inn. Straub is one of those authors who can write about a world you already know, but show you all the nuances you haven't taken the time to notice or think on.
Wednesday, June 8th.
1. Didn't sleep a wink. One of those nights full of ten thousand ideas. So at 4:45am I surrendered and got up with the sun. / 2. Then went straight to the barn where Steven (and Waldo) and I got to work. / 3. We ordered a dumpster the other day so we could-- / 4. --remove all the crazy wood shaving filled drop ceilings in the barn. Part of the process of slowly restoring it back to its original 1860s, post and beam loveliness. / 5. HOLY CRAP WAS THAT A LOT OF WOOD SHAVINGS. / 6. Went into town. Stopped at the Pharmacy which is going out of business :( / 7. And got pizza for lunch. / 8. Took a break to read more of the oh-so-readable Modern Lovers and nap. / 9. Work up rested and ready to finish this phase. Got the place "broom clean". / 10. Hung some lights, set up the world's most rustic epic long table and-- / 11. --had two well earned beers at it. / 12. The temperature dropped to the 40s, so we snuggled up with some soup and a DVD of "Carol" before tucking it in and sleeping like logs.
Its been so, so pretty out here. Spring this year, despite the "easy" winter, feels like such a revelation.
Have I ever mentioned that sometimes when I'm gardening (ahem, weeding, let's get real; THAT'S ALL GARDENING IS) I wish I could move plants like I move furniture? Well the other day I decided to actually do just that:
My mom sent us some Japanese Cedars that were on sale which are supposed to grow quickly and densely. Perfect for a natural privacy fence between our house and the Inn guests' BBQ patio.
So we relocated a few of the more spindly trees we'd planted upon moving in that hadn't done too much in the way of creating a barrier and clustered 'em together on one side:
Then planted the three new trees in the remaining space:
Yes, they are hilariously tiny right now. But supposedly they grow up to 4 ft per year, up to 30 ft total! Also, those sparse looking bushes are hydrangeas that get big and fluffy and beautiful, so hopefully soon we'll have several layers of natural, pretty barriers that will help define and cozify the different spaces.
Yup, cozify. It's a word now. As in, to make a space more cozy.
Then we moved some small bushes from other parts of the property over to the corner of our oh so charming kitchen "patio" and potted some herbs, again, with the idea to cozify that space. This is before:
I say "after-ish" because we'll see how it grows...
Meanwhile, right upstairs in my home office, I had the obvious realization that since I'm clearly not going to figure how out to properly repair or move the broken, ugly radiator any time soon, I should just paint it so it simply goes away. I also needed to deal with my ever accumulating stacks of (mostly travel) magazines... Not to mention that bag of random crap.
So, out came the white paint once more! (First coat always looks like a preschooler had a go at it, right?)
Not the most elegant solution, but an inexpensive one that works! Just a little white paint, some more purposeful stacking, a small rug that came out of hiding, and a throw pillow.
Now I think it's time to do some reading and writing in one of these two cozified nooks...
As I've confessed before, I am a BIG fan of Ikea's special designs. Their outdoor stuff in particular. So, as our locally purchased wooden Adirondack chairs broke one by one over the past year and half, I basically spent that time figuring out how to justify the steep delivery fee Ikea would add to my dream chair purchase, the PS Vago chair I have in Room Seven:
But in grey. A) Because I didn't really want them looking like strange and notable white sculptures throughout the very green property and B) I have no interest in having to wipe these down regularly. I've got enough property maintenance work on my plate.
So how'd the math look? Well, when you buy TWENTY of them, the cost really evens out chair by chair. And holy moly was it worth not having to step foot into an actual Ikea!
Et voila! Under the apple tree!
In the meadow!
At the Bar!
By the creek!
By the horseshoes!
By the hammock!
People with an ability to count on both hands twice will notice that those pictured still don't add up to twenty. That's because we stole four for our own garden. Couldn't resist.
And yesterday afternoon, after setting them all out, planting some new trees, and replanting some others (pics of all that to come), we tested them out under the apple tree with some beers. They worked real good.
Monday, May 2nd.
1. Reading A Dirty Life. So glad I only deal with 18 strangers' needs any given day, not a couple hundred acres of farm plus dozens of chickens and horses and cows. PS Good book. / 2. Rainy spring. Aforementioned book is making me feel like it's a "blessing". You know, nature and all / 3. Laundry money. Aka money that appears at the bottom of our clean laundry pile sometimes. / 4. ERRANDS. / 5. To so many places that when driving the Subaru you can literally feel how heavy it is when you turn or stop. / 6. We've taken this road in Kingston several times and never before has it looked so San Francisco or "establishing shot". / 7. Coming home down "The Notch". People used to drive wagons down this to get to our valley. (?!) / 8. When the post-lady delivers you handmade spoons from Japan from a lovely friend (shout out Victoria! thank you!) and you look at your snack and are like, "I'm gonna make this work." / 9. Finished A Dirty Life. Cried, because I love a good cry when reading, then snuggled the dog. / 10. Birthday party at the Peekamoose, (Happy Birthday Erik!) / 11. Gotta keep a look out for the coyotes there. / 12. And the fire breathing cakes.
Nothing like good friends, a good story, and lots and lots of red wine.
I've been looking to add a little softness and some more privacy to our bedroom windows.
For the big windows, last year I made us the same drop cloth drape that we have at the Inn.
It works great, but obviously you can't see in/out at all when it's up and I wanted something between the "all or nothing" for dusk, or if I'm lounging around on my day off and reading in bed but still want good light and a hint of trees.
So I got some small, $10 tension rods off Amazon and "tailored" (aka snip snipped) two long curtains into four small ones. Two for the large windows:
And one for the small (plus one in my studio, pictured):
It's cozy and soft and extra alluring right now because it's been warm out and we have the WINDOWS OPEN and there are birds chirping and everything! Oh, spring. Without fifteen different blizzards this winter it feels like we hardly deserve you yet but I love, love, LOVE that you're here.
I'm also realizing I never posted a photo of the small Moroccan carpets I got from Baba Souk this fall that are on each side of the bed. Here's one of 'em:
I'm currently mad at myself about this one because I stepped out of bed onto it with my feet covered in Vermont Bag Balm and there's now a perfect imprint of my foot right in the freaking middle. Not pictured because this is an older photograph and I'm too pissed to find it funny yet. Any tips for removing it? The carpets are of course silk. Sigh.
Anyways. That cozy bedroom is now calling for maybe just a quick afternoon nap...
I've been pushing Vietnam as our next trip preeeeetty much since Steven and I first went there nine years ago after our stint teaching English in China.
Yup. Still reeeeeeeally wanna go back.