Like I said on Instagram: My baby is still a *little* too young to work the Front Desk and Bar so WE’RE HIRING! Assistant Innkeeper, 30 hrs a week. You’ll be joining me and our other Assistant Hannah (@comeandgoblues) as we do the little bit of everything that it takes to run this place. No hospitality experience required. Ideal start date is ASAP, but if you’re worth waiting for, we’ll wait! Details on our website including how to apply at sprucetoninn.com/jobs
I was nervous to return to Morocco. Excited too of course. After a long and rather relentless winter we all needed a break from daily life here.
But I was anxious about a lot of it. Would I feel stupid and tongue tied having forgotten all my Arabic? Would it be awkward with our old friends? Would the plane ride be a nightmare with a baby? Would we get sick? Would the baby sleep in all these new places? Would we feel old and unadventurous having all our hotels reserved in advance, leaving no room for spontaneous adventure?
So glad I spent all that time worrying instead doing, oh, anything else. *Smacks forehead with hand*
I want to write about 10,000 parts of the trip but look, it's already been a month since we returned and I'm only just getting around to posting so let's get realistic Casey. For now, I'll tell you about two parts:
1. The meeting of the Aminas was the sweetest thing ever.
We basically landed and headed straight to our old block. So many heart-melty, happy tears. Giggles. Kisses. Like I said on Instagram:
14 years ago Steven and I met here while studying Arabic. I lived with a host family who showed me what genuine, unfussy, and fun hospitality is. We’ve been coming back for years, usually showing up unannounced at their door with a big box of cookies. This year we brought cookies and a baby named after my host Mom.
It was so tender and fun and I somehow found enough Arabic in the recesses of my brain to communicate easily, to just chat and laugh. I've written about my love for "Big Amina" (vs. our "Little Amina") here before. It was such a joy to fill each other in on everything that's been happening in the six years since my last visit, all while Little Amina was passed around and fed nibbles and generally spoiled.
I'm really glad we planned our trip so that we began and ended in Rabat. Having several opportunities to hang out together put less pressure on everyone.
Ugh, I might cry all over again just posting these photos. And by "might cry" I mean, "am definitely crying right now". Special can seem like such a trite word, but this family is so special to me, and bringing Little Amina over to meet them was basically the whole point of the trip.
2. I really enjoyed all of our hotels.
Back in the day, we'd arrive somewhere and spend the first hour or so trekking around town with our backpacks, checking out hotel options until we found a place that was suitably cheap, convenient, and clean (enough). The combination of a) having less time but more money b) a baby and c) hotel-owning experience all came together to mean that I reserved all of our hotels in advance. I'm happy to report that it was totally the way to go and each was enjoyable in their own way.
We started at Riad Zyo in Rabat. It's Moroccan owned which is rad (I'd venture to stay that most hotel riads are owned by Europeans), and it's a less than five minute walk from Big Amina's which was super convenient.
The staff was also oh so welcoming and accommodating to Little Amina and they seemed to take genuine pleasure in whisking her off during mealtimes. They all got quite a kick out of her name too of course!
Being able to put her to bed in our room and then hang out on the terrace just us was also convenient and lovely.
In Marrakesh we stayed at the very "gypset", Instagram-y El Fenn which I've been stalking via design blogs for years. In all honesty, it was gorgeous but the aren't-we-so-cool vibe of some of the other guests and the level of stress they caused the staff made for a sometimes awkward and less than relaxed vibe. Not sure if that's something I would have picked up on as much were I not in the industry myself, but it felt notable.
We were also stashed away in a far corner of the property next to the utilities and under the restaurant in what we jokingly called The Baby Annex. What it lacked in glamour it made up for in privacy which was nice because we definitely didn't worry about disturbing other guests when Amina inevitably cried. My favorite detail of the whole experience was how hilariously off-brand their crib was.
The place that takes the cake was Kasbah Bab Ourika out in the Atlas. I am not joking when I say that the car ride there (in our itty bitty rental through washed out dirt roads that climbed up the sides of mountains as Amina slept in the back) was one of the scariest rides of my life, but it was 100% worth it! The design was impeccable, the staff so sweet and professional and efficient and welcoming, and the location simply stunning.
We stayed three nights and it felt like a week in the best way.
Like I said in the beginning of this post, there are 10,00 more things I want to say-- about traveling with a baby (do it! people spend way too much time talking about the downsides!), about how smart phones are ruining the world (stop looking at them all the time people!), how it was kind of emotionally intense to return to a place where I've spent so much time in such different phases of my life (hello ghosts of anxiety past!)--but the baby only naps so long and the barn renovation calls so I will leave you with a few more pictures that will hopefully tell you some of those 10,00 words.
Should we come up with a better term for "late winter/early spring"? Wring? Nope. Springter? WOW. Both of those are terrible. What I'm trying to say is for the past month, you wake up in the morning and never know if it's going to be snowflakes or daffodils or both.
Any weather is good reading weather though as far as I'm concerned, and here's what I've been devouring lately:
Winter by Ali Smith. I read Autumn a few months ago and was so excited when the second of the four book collection came out so quickly after. In all honesty I think I preferred Autumn, but don't get me wrong, Winter is absurd and lovely too. Lots of different points of view which is always a narrative fave of mine. A little less experimental in the language but still some satisfyingly unique voices. Maybe my only actual beef with is was that it was taking me a while to finish while winter outside was also taking its sweet time to wrap up too...
I Am Not Famous Anymore by Erin Dorney. Erin was one of the Inn's Artist Residents in 2016 and I have been SO EXCITED for this book to come out! She writes erasure poetry, which basically means taking existing texts of some kind, removing words, and creating poetry from what remains. In this book Erin used statements made by the oh so strange actor Shia LaBeouf. It is such a hilarious concept. And so well executed! I think the poems would be rad even if you didn't know the story behind them.
The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui. I'd seen this around and had been intrigued and decided to pick it up after another Artist Resident, Grant Snider, recommended it when he was here this winter for his Residency. It's fantastic. Such a good marriage of global and personal history, such compelling illustrations. I can't believe she didn't start painting and drawing until this late into her career!
Setting the Table by Danny Myer / Be Our Guest / The Customer Rules by Lee Cockerell / Front of the House by Jeff Benjamin. We have so many exciting things happening at the Inn right now in terms of expansion-- we've added a new nearly full-time employee, we put a new metal roof on the motel, we're finishing up the barn renovation-- all in time for the beginning of high season and so, I wanted to make sure that our service stays even more stellar than our physical property.
I read Setting The Table when I first started dreaming about opening a hotel of my own, and it was absolutely worth a reread. It all felt so theoretical the first time around, and now, almost five years in (!!!!!) I can finally relate to it specifically with my own experiences of when we've gone above and beyond for a guest or when we'd fallen short, what it's like hiring and managing people... I will forever be a fan of his idea that no matter how badly an interaction with a guest begins, you get to write the last chapter of that story. And that in fact, the stories that begin the worst are often the ones that folks will go on to tell their friends, so you better deliver a great ending!
Be Our Guest and The Customer Rules are both of the Walt Disney hospitality training family. Walt was not only a rad storyteller and visual artist, he was also an epic host who was so, SO good at building a world for guests using all of their senses to delight them. Some of it was kinda crazy corporate and conservative (women had to wear pantyhose until 2010??) but I definitely learned a thing or two. I like their phrase, "Everything speaks". Aka, every little detail of your space-- from the smell of the hand soap to the feel of the carpet under your shoes to the conditions of the baseboards-- all tell your guests something about your place, so make sure it's all saying what it you want it to.
Front of the House was more restaurant specific but helpful nonetheless because we are trying to bring it up a notch in our little bar. All in all this book made me mostly grateful that we didn't open a restaurant, haha!
For Bread Alone by Mohamed Choukri. I brought this one to Morocco with us (more on that trip in another post soon!) because I like to read fiction written by local authors when I'm visiting a place but OH MY GOD WHAT A FUCKING HEART BREAKER. It's an autobiographical novel (translated by Paul Bowles) that follows a young boy as he grows up under the terrible rage and abuse of his father and the grief of his mother who keeps loosing children and the general hardship in the streets of northern Morocco in the forties. If say, A Little Life wasn't sad enough for you, try this. Still, glad I read it.
And Now We Have Everything: On Motherhood Before I was Ready by Meaghan O'Connell. TOO SOON. I never would have bought a book about pregnancy and early motherhood right now for myself, but my mom had read it and when she finishes books she gives them away instantly like they're going to start rotting on her bedside or something, so I took it and ooops. Some people find comfort in other people's "unflinching" accounts of whatever they're also going through, but I find that it kind of... muddies my own experience? There are too many opportunities for direct comparison. All that said there were parts that were objectively funny and I completely understand why so many people would enjoy it.
My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell. Oh my gosh this is one of the most charming books I have ever read! I actually haven't finished it yet because I have been savoring it, little by little, each evening, but I've been recommending it left and right. (After it was sent to me by another Resident Artist, Dasha Tolstikova-- thank you Dasha!) It's a hilarious account of a 10 year old boy who moves with his British family to the Greek island of Corfu for a year. Durrell would go on to become a famous zookeeper, naturalist, and conservationist so it's about half wacky family drama and half keen observation of flora and fauna. I've never read so many spot on similes about water and trees. His writing has fine tuned my eyes for spring.
Speaking of, it is suddenly gloriously sunny out after a stretch of gloom all day so I'm going to pop outside with this book right now!
It's been BUSY.
We had our annual Seder, this year topping out at 18 people plus 2 babies!
Steven has a trout painting show up at Clove & Creek in Kingston and it's gorgeous. Big ones, life size ones, and adorrrrrable mini ones!
My dear friend Kate visited from California and was maybe the only person withinin a hundred mile radius excited about the never ending snow.
And real deal interior demo begins on the barn this week and I am SO AMPED! There are a lot of finishing details I still need to finalize and that's been been both exciting and stressful. Much like with our initial hotel renovation, my mom and her twenty-plus years of experience as a designer has been super helpful. (Thanks Mom!) Not to mention we're working with the same contractor who did our kitchen and he's great at helping come up with sensible solutions along the way.
And of course this baby. OH this baby! I love her so much. She gets more and more fun each day.
We're hiring at the Inn again! Expanding our team to include an Assistant Innkeeper. 30ish hours per week doing a little bit of everything because you've gotta wear all the hats out here.
More details about the position, including how to apply, on the Inn's website here. Don't let my most recent post about the massive snowstorm scare you, haha! Read further back and you'll see, it's pretty damn great living and working out here.
Running a hotel can feel frivolous. Especially these days. I’ve got friends who work in immigration reform, in global healthcare, with bereaved children… and I help people with discretionary income go on vacation. Womp womp.
But this past weekend there was a massive snowstorm (think thirty plus inches in just twenty-four hours) and the whole area lost power and suddenly, we weren’t just helping these people have fun— we were keeping them alive.
I know I know! That sounds kind of dramatic. But in the depths of winter, with roads that became more impassable by the minute and all of the hotel’s heat, electricity, and running water depending on the strength of two generators well, these people’s lives were in our hands.
Four years in, I now know that in the middle of a Mother-Nature-meets-mechanical-failures shit-show I go into an adrenaline fueled survival mode that feels eerily calm as it’s happening. It’s a deep and bright calm that immediately illuminates what is important, and as the chaos flies in my face, each problem sorts itself into one of two clear categories:
#1 Things I can control
#2 Things I cannot control
Things I can control I make a plan for immediately. I become Action Casey! Things I cannot control I do not worry about right then. Later? Oh, you bet! But right then? No fucking way, because I’ve got stranded guests to feed and comfort, a baby who needs the same, and oh what’s that? The generator attached to our house and well just inexplicably kicked the bucket? Cool. So now I have no running water at the hotel and no water or power of any kind in the house. And the snow is still piling. And it’s dark out. And it’s getting colder.
My first thought is: At least it wasn’t the hotel generator. Heat in the rooms is a necessity. A shower and flushing toilet just became a luxury.
So did making much of a profit on this weekend.
Steven and I can hang with “rustic”. We’ve done 120 degrees with no electricity in West Africa, we’ve done eight months in a house with no heat or hot water in Morocco, we've spent years using squat toilets that don't flush. It’s easy enough to tap back into those old selves. Especially in a house as well insulated as this one, with a wood stove and all of our sweaters on hand.
But paying guests are another story. These New Yorkers used to Seamless and Uber and landlords and constant connectivity are another story. I swear, since opening, literally hundreds of people have told me they are afraid of the dark. And it’s dark out here even when the electricity is on.
So it’s a delicate dance, accurately conveying the potential severity of the situation to guests so they can be prepared without accidentally scaring the absolute shit out of them. (“No, I don’t think you’ll be able to head back out for dinner since I just heard troopers closed Route 42 because of fallen trees and an acci—did you bring any snacks with you? Could I tempt you with a soup and sandwich here at the bar? Tell me more about that two bedroom in Bed Stuy you said you guys might move into it sounds amazing.”)
So Steven and I communicate with our eyes, whisper about generator error codes, and generally just keep moving and moving like we’re sharks who will die if we stop. We do NOT say aloud what we are both fearing: that the second generator will stop working and we will have eighteen people we need to figure out how to keep from freezing. (Can't control it! Won't worry about it until I have to!)
Obviously we all made it. The hotel generator held on, we poured free beers and discounted the rooms and sent everyone home in the morning once the storm had stopped but the power (and therefore water) was still out. Steven probably spent eight solid hours shoveling and helping push cars out of the parking lot as I bounced and nursed the baby and made coffee for guests from melted snow. Everyone hit the road in remarkably high spirits. There was a bit of a “we’re all in this together” vibe that took over the group which was very heart warming. You never know if things are gonna go the way of Lord Of The Flies.
Steven and I could breathe easier once the Inn cleared out; now it was only ourselves we needed to take care of. Well, us and our six month old baby. But we leaned into it. We buried the meat from our freezer in the snow to keep it from spoiling. We read Mary Oliver poems about the beauty and strength of nature. We used the fold-out bed in the living room not just as a cozy place to sleep near the wood stove but as a giant mat for extended “tummy time” and now the babe can roll over on her own. We went to bed at 7pm because hell, it was dark out and we were tired.
When the power came back on a little over two days later of course we rejoiced. We showered and flushed with abandon. We ran the space heater and the white noise machine in the nursery. (Living on the edge!) We opened and closed the fridge any time we wanted to even consider a snack.
Oh so quickly we were back to normal. Which felt great! And then… irritating. Because all those things we couldn’t worry about when we were in the thick of it, we had to worry about and take care of now. Like fixing the fire alarm in the boiler room that got fried in the surges, washing the towers of dishes that had piled up in the bar, getting the parking lot a clean-up plow, sending out refunds and receipts, ordering more propane since we’d used nearly all of it, fixing the second generator, replying to the onslaught of unanswered emails, digging out our own car…
Yesterday afternoon, after getting barely halfway through my to-do list—neither Steven nor I feeling like we were getting enough done as we passed the baby back and forth—I pounded an IPA and realized:
I wanted to punch Mary Oliver in her nature loving face.
Oh the trees and the wild hawks and the oneness with everything! Fuuuuuck that. I didn’t need a walk in the woods or a goddamn poem. What I needed was four more beers and a personal assistant who was also a mind reader and a babysitter and a licensed electrician. What I needed was a vacation somewhere warm and Chinese delivery and to sleep through the night again one day please!
I was emotionally hungover.
So I started to write this. Because my friend Dominique once told me, “You bitch compellingly,” and it made me laugh. And because writing can feel just a frivolous and life-saving as running a hotel.
I have to thank our neighbors who helped us through the storm as well. Knowing that we live in a community made of people who actually help each other in moments of chaos and crisis is part of what helps me keep my cool throughout it all. Thank you Gary for plowing, thank you Mike and Brian and Garrett for coming down and helping get Gary out of the ditch he got stuck in, thank you John for the parking lot clearing... Keeping our bar open so neighbors could use the WiFi and the outlets and have some free beers was the least we could do.
Also, thank you Amina for being chill AF throughout the whole thing. If only we could all be this happy with a spoon and some boob.
In the last few weeks of my pregnancy I read greedily. (See my picks here.) I was so afraid that I would never be able to read a book again. Ok, if not ever again then at least not uninterrupted again for a really long time, and not at the cost of taking a nap I desperately needed instead for a really long time, ya know?
So I was pleasantly surprised when it turned out I could read with a newborn! I just had to read a little differently.
First off, physical books were just about impossible. Hardcovers in particular, because they're awkward and heavy and pointy and always trying to close themselves and in those first few weeks Amina felt so... delicate and breakable and nursing her was still a bit of a two handed dance each time. So I switched to ebooks on my phone and it was a GAME CHANGER.
Second, the only remotely sensible time to read was in the dark in the middle of the night while I was nursing and trying oh so hard to simply STAY THE F*CK AWAKE as she ate. So again, ebooks on my phone were the way to go.
So here is the pretty bizarre collection of books I read in the first month or so of Amina's life, as the rest of the world slept soundly around me:
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. This was required reading at my middle school for my brother but somehow not for me and I've always meant to give it a go. (He hated it, but I think we have literal exact opposite taste in books, so.) I wound up really enjoying how brief the chapters are, how much like poetry they read, and the fact that there isn't much of a through-narrative I had to keep track of. All very handy for blurry reading.
At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson. I'd tried this two different times since it came out and was intrigued but just didn't have the patience for it. Figuring I had what felt like ALL the time in the world as I fed my adorable milk monster through the night, I was able to actually enjoy meandering through the history of a traditional English house. Really it should be called 10,000 Facts About English Sayings And Objects In Your House That You Can Share At Cocktail Parties. Or, People Really Weren't That Into Privacy Until Recently.
Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick. Ok, first I have to say that I CANNOT with the title and I CANNOT with the pose and the outfit on the cover. However, the inside? Hilarious! Oh so personable, with such an enjoyably sassy voice. It's a kinda fascinating window into that awkward time in someone's career right as they're starting to make it big but they're not there quiiite yet and there's no guarantee they will be and they're still living with Craiglist roommates but also going to the Oscars... By the time I finished I thought Damn, I want to be her friend. (You hear that Anna? Are you out there..?)
The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae. Steven and I really liked Season 1 of her HBO show Insecure and so this seemed like a good idea. I probably shouldn't have read it right on the heels of Scrappy Little Nobody because I was getting a little awkward-storied-out. Which is totally my fault, not the fault of the book. So I'm going to officially recommend it because I did enjoy it despite that. Though my god, it sent me back to 6th grade in some really visceral and yes, awkward, ways.
A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn. In an effort to tack away from funny-memoirs-written-by-accomplished-women and head back towards the land of tidbits-of-history where grey haired white men like Bill Bryson roam in sweater vests with snifters in hand as the elucidate you on this or that matter I chose this book. Which funnily enough was also required reading at my middle school. (Yes, I went to a pretty progressive school.) But OMFG THE HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES IS DARK AND SO F*CKED UP. I mean, I knew this. I knew this! And like I said, I'd already read some of it for school back in the day but my god. Everything awful is so much worse when you have a little baby! I think I probably cried my way through three chapters and then was like, F*ck it, this can't be good for me or Amina. She doesn't know I'm reading-- she doesn't really know anything right now-- but she can probably feel that I'm crying and that's not not exactly the cozy, welcome-to-the-world vibe I'm going for. So I'll have to finish this one another day.
Seriously... I'm Kidding by Ellen Degeneres. Aggressive tack back towards funny-memoirs-written-by-accomplished-women gave me Ellen, because she always makes me giggle. And giggle I did! But this book basically felt like her stand up. And I only really like to watch stand up for like half an hour at a time, maybe once a month, so again, this was another kind silly choice on my part. So I actually never finished this one either but it so happened that by then Amina was no longer eating for such insanely long stretches in the middle of the night and so, I could suddenly stay awake without needing to read.
All of which meant I could finally return to reading physical books at other times of the day again! So I jumped back into Ali's Smith Autumn, deciding to start from the beginning again and gosh I loved it. LOVED IT.
It's tender without being cloying, absurd without being twee, experimental without being so just for the sake of it. think I've recommended it to forty different people since finishing it.
So there you have it! Can't say this is my Recommended Reading For New Mothers, but it got me through!
When we were getting ready to open the Spruceton Inn, all of our design decisions were made to fall within that sweet spot where style and budget overlap. Sure, it all would have been a lot easier with a larger budget, but in the end I think that the process forced us to really focus the vision of the place in a way that was helpful for the entire operation.
Everything, from the website to the dishes to the window trim to the logo, had to reflect our guiding philosophy of a return to the simple pleasures in life.
Which is how we wound up hand making our original sign with leftover paint on barn wood that had been laying around. You can see the whole post on that process here but basically we did it the super old fashioned way with charcoal rubbings, and it came out great.
That said, over the past four years, some of our budget friendly choices have taken a literal beating. From the insane weather (hello NEGATIVE 35 with windchill last weekend!) to the constant wear and tear of strangers on vacation (you've never seen a bath mat so thoroughly murdered until you've washed hotel linens), it means some elements have required replacements and/or upgrades.
Which is where our new signs come in!
It was the weather that finally took the old ones down. Rain, wind, and snow were all doing their damndest to wear away the paint which you can see was starting to chip just under "catskills" on this one here:
I looked into a few local companies that make large signs but they all felt a little lifeless in comparison to what we'd had. Then Brett, our Managing Innkeeper, said he'd heard of a local-ish guy who was a real sign artisan. Hand carving, hand painting, all that good stuff. His name is Roger Baker.
Being an unsurprisingly old fashioned kind of guy, Roger has no website, just a phone number we got from a friend and so we called him up and he came by that day-- drove a whole hour just to check out the place! And luckily he fell in love. With the valley, with the view, with how we had touched so much of the place with our own hands. He was ALL about the little wabi-sabi imperfections of our signs in particular and was dead set on not eliminating that from the new ones which just warmed by heart.
He hung out with all three of us for probably an hour at the bar, talking about everything from illustration to hand-gliding to how the Catskills have changed over the thirty-ish years he's been here. The next day he drew us a rendering, we made a few adjustments, and then we waited.
He sent us a few updates along the way which was a great window into his process. Like this one emailed to us that said "cutting out letters on bandsaw w all the little imperfections in the right places".
And these that showed us the pegs going in the back of the letters so they are easily removable for touch-ups and the stands drying and everything all assembled waiting to be painted:
On New Year's Day (my first in probably fifteen years not hung over, haha!) he came to install them. It was barely ten degrees but oh so sunny and I was a certain kind of nervous/excited that I hadn't felt since our early renovation days.
Would I like them? We wouldn't exactly be able to return them...
Of course I'm happy to say I FREAKIN LOVE THEM.
They look simultaneously brand spankin' new and like they've been here from Day One. They look professionally made and perfectly imperfect. They are, in a way, my new guiding philosophy for the place. It's not that we're getting rid of our "simple pleasures in life" mantra. It's more that four years in, it's time to reinvest in this place while making sure that in our efforts to improve it we still hold onto the founding spirit of it all.
Our initial renovations were such a wild ride and everything was so completely new and exciting and a little bit terrifying. Now we know this place. We know our guests, we know our neighbors, we know people with whom to work, we know how we want to grow the business, we know we want to stay here longer than just a few years... It's all got me SUPER excited for our barn renovation. It's finally happening! For reals guys. I mean, we have 5 weddings booked for this summer SO IT HAS TO F*CKING HAPPEN. I'll do a separate post with progress pics soon, I promise. Just keep in mind that by "soon" I might mean like a month from now ;)
'Tis the season of cozy-as-fu*ck around here now.
It's muck boots every day, wood stove every day, baby all bundled every dang day.
OMG HOW FREAKING CUTE IS SHE?!
Am I allowed to say that about my own baby? Because clearly I think she's the most adorable squishy cuddly fun bundle around. Honestly though, over the past two weeks I've become newly obsessed with her. I mean, I've always loved her. But something really did change around the three-month mark where she went from tiny animal we were taking care of to a little human with a personality and I CANNOT GET ENOUGH. Like, I'm considering waking her up from her nap because I want to kiss her. TERRIBLE IDEA! I know, I know, I won't. I'm just trying to be honest with you all, ok?
Btw, that sweater/hat combo was mine when I was a baby. Yes, my mom saved it all this time. Thank you Mom!
Also on the baby front: returning to work at the Inn has been enjoyable in no small part because Steven has been a kick ass co-parent and we're so damn lucky he works from home. I think all in all having this flexibility keeps our stress level around child care down. I'm not saying it's 100% stress free but, for example, I might have Amina strapped to me and bring her into the bar for afternoon service--
--which I feel comfortable doing knowing that if she wakes up and is no longer down to be chilling in the Baby Bjorn I can just pop back into the house and pass her off to Steven, or he can cover me at the desk/bar for a few while I feed her.
Like I said, we're really lucky we have that kind of flexibility.
We're also getting to know her and her schedule better so we can kind of predict her disposition and do our best to set ourselves up for success.
Ok, off to wake the baby and kiss her! I'M KIDDING. I'm just going to wait longingly with Waldo outside her room instead.
I was SO EXCITED to see this NY Times article this morning on how more and more women are fly fishing and how fiiiiinally, more and more fly fishing gear companies are hopping on it.
Fly fishing was something I didn't really give much thought to until we moved up here and Steven became, frankly, obsessed. I've gone with him a bunch of times. Even took a lesson with local legend Judd Weisberg.
It's become Steven's thing more-- his way to get into the woods alone-- and so I've drifted to other solo activities of my own. But when we do go I've found I prefer Tenkara Rod fishing on the little feeder creeks nearby to doing the whole waders/casting in big water thing. It's simply less of a to-do. Tenkara rods are a super lightweight Japanese design that telescope down to about 20" and have no reel so they're easy to say, bring on a hike but ANYWAY! I'm getting lost in fishing technicalities when what I really started this blog post to say is--
Well, a handful of things. And forgive me as I bounce from thought to thought perhaps a little erratically, but that's what I have the baby-is-napping-time for. SO:
-Reading that "women make up about 31 percent of the 6.5 million Americans who fly-fish... [and] in 2016, more than two million women participated in the sport, an increase of about 142,000 from the previous year" made both me and Steven go, I thought that was happening! But I couldn't tell if that was true across the board or if it was something I was simply more personally interested in these past few years.
-Waders for women DO suck... when they even exist! Fly fishing seems to have historically been for wealthy overweight dudes whose body types resemble Santa Claus; even Steven had a hard time finding a slim pair for himself a few years ago when he first started the sport. So I'm glad to hear that Patagonia, Orvis, and Simms are all working on designing waders for women and have decided to NOT, as the Patagonia fishing director says, "take a men’s wader and dumb it down and color differently for women. Women don’t want something that’s designed for a man. They want something that’s designed for them.” Yes STOP MAKING WOMEN'S VERSIONS OF SPORTS CLOTHES JUST SMALLER AND PURPLE WITH ABSTRACT FLOWERS ON THEM. It's so irritating! I mean, even my camping sleeping pad has fucking flowers on it. Whyyyyyy??
-So what do waders for women have aside from a different shape? A drop-seat so you can actually go to the bathroom in the great outdoors without having to strip all the way down. BRILLIANT.
-Weirdly, American fly fishing goddess Joan Wulff was not mentioned in this article. She's an important figure in the fly fishing community regardless of her gender. Steven actually got to meet her this summer when he had a trout painting show at the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum!
- I think Joan Wulff's Internet image suffers from the same thing that Joan Didion's does-- this black and white romanticization/sexualization of her youth over her actual talent. I mean, look at this pic of her from seventy years ago that's still one of the top Google Images of her:
And look at Joan Didion's Google Image collection too:
Lately my Instagram feed has been so awash with these supposed-to-be-feminist sexy-Joan-Didion-smoking-and-pouting posts that I literally cheered aloud when I saw this one of her via The Strand Bookstore BECAUSE IT'S FUCKING CURRENT AND REAL. THIS IS WHAT AN EIGHTY SOMETHING WRITER LOOKS LIKE PEOPLE.
- All of this makes me think about how sometimes as women we tell ourselves that being sexy will do the job of initially getting us in the door and THEN we'll be listened to right? Riiiiiight. I mean, why else does the Orvis rep pictured in the NY Times article have perfect Hollywood beach waves that are the epitome of current female I'm-not-trying-but-actually-it-took-an-hour-to-create-this-I-look-like-I'm-not-trying-look?
-At least that's better than the “cupcakes in waders” or “fly-fishing Barbie dolls" mentioned in the article, aka the women in bikinis holding fish who tend to dominate a certain section of women in fishing online.
-Then again, who am I to pretend I'm totally above that? We posted this pic on the Spruceton Inn instagram account right before we opened:
Yes, I really was fishing while wearing that. A mini skirt was good for wet-wading since only my legs got wet but I wasn't just traipsing around in only a bathing suit. HOWEVER, we deeeeefinitely knew it would get more likes than Steven in his suit. So, I'm just your average hypocrite.
- I sincerely hope Amina comes to like fly fishing on her own terms out here. We've been taking her since Day Three.
There's less than a month left of my maternity leave, and today I started to feel noticeably anxious and sad about it for the first time.
While there have been a few tasks that have kept me tethered to the Inn work-wise (picking our Resident Artists, hiring new cleaning staff, paying bills, and maintaining our social media to name a few), for the most part it has been an incredibly successful transition away from the day to day operations (thank you Brett and Michelle!) and so, I have been able to spend all my time with this squishy, adorable, laughing-- and yes, crying-- baby.
And what a treasure it's been! I honestly don't think an hour goes by without thinking, "Damn, I'm so lucky I get to do this."
"This" being... what exactly though? Because sometimes it feels like it's, well, nothing. I'm barely getting the dishes or thank you notes done so I'm obviously not making art, not growing my business, not bettering my community. I'm not even napping when she's napping, so sometimes as I take stock at the end of the day I ask myself: But seriously, what the fuck did I do all day? Like literally, where did the hours go?
They went to breast feeding, to diaper changing, to giving baths when diapers changes go awry, to dancing to really loud Talking Heads with her in order to get her to nap, to walking down the road in the fresh air also to get her to nap, to several loads of laundry, to making ridiculous faces at her so she'll giggle, to making even more ridiculous noises at her so she'll learn to use her own voice, to swaddling and un-swaddling and re-swaddling, to reading her the news aloud (and usually stopping shortly because it's way too fucked up these days for a baby), to bouncing and burping, to more breast feeding and diapers changes and...
And all together that often feels like "nothing". But what I need to remember is that it is something.
It's raising a child. It's spending time with her that everyone says will go so quickly and holy shit it does, it DOES. Where have these past 10 weeks gone??
Oh right, see above.
I'm lucky (again) that when I return to work it will be literally in my own backyard and that Steven works from home 99% of the time. In some ways, that will make the transition to working-and-parenting easier. And in some ways I'm sure it will also be harder because I guarantee we're underestimating just how difficult it will be. All in all I think it'll be a "cross that bridge when we get to it" kind of thing. Like so much of parenthood it turns out. Because for all the thinking and prepping and reading and wondering--
--you of course have no idea what it's really going to be like until you're actually living it.
So no more beating myself up about supposedly "doing nothing". I've got three more weeks of maternity leave, this precious "something", and I'm going to do my best to revel in it. And after that I'm going to do my best to revel in whatever new balance we create. Please hold me to it, ok?
Even through we're about four years in to living out here, I still have a laugh at what our every day life has become. Back in Brooklyn we used to spend Sundays hung over reading graphic novels as we had some hair of the dog at a bar, or during football season, hollering at the game, also at a bar.
Today we stacked wood.
Amina napped the whole time-- she's not exactly helpful yet. But I will give her a virtual high five because SHE IS STILL NAPPING, which is how I'm typing this right now.
But I kiiiinda can't wait until she wakes up because COME ON, HOW FREAKIN CUTE IS SHE??
One of my favorite parts of not being super pregnant? Being able to rearrange furniture again! Among other things of course, like sleeping on my back, having a beer, and not living in constant fear of going into labor on a busy weekend BUT REARRANGING FURNITURE! Woohoo!
The set up of our living room had been bothering me for a while. In our four years here it just hasn't ever quiiiite gelled the way I've wanted it to.
But after about a year and half of working there, Steven realized that rather than a big space with those big windows, what he actually wanted most out of a studio was a goddamn door he could close. Aka, the ability to work uninterrupted by the comings and goings of the house. So we moved him upstairs where he's now much happier to be working and I no longer nag him-- I mean ask him nicely-- to clean up his studio when folks are coming over because whatever, it's no longer the very first thing they see when they walk in our front door.
Funnily enough, hotel guests also stopped mistakenly coming to the house with as much frequency once he moved as well. The big computer probably made the room look like a Front Desk from afar.
Then, briefly, the room held only the piano. Which was SO dramatic and cool!
I also painted those built-ins black which was a nice upgrade. But what happened after? Why did we change it? I'm only realizing just now that it's because we started to acquire a rather ridiculous amount of chairs. Seven to be precise. All from my mom who, over the spring, was in the process of downsizing since she and my dad sold their brownstone and moved into a significantly smaller apartment. And bought the property across the street from us. SAY WHAT?! I know. It's bananas! Most folks who hear that are horrified, but most folks don't actually like their parents, so. Steven and I are thrilled and yes the arrival of Amina is 100% the only reason my city-girl mom is into this.
Their whole house process is totally wild and fun and deserves its own post so I won't get into it here right now so back to the seven chairs--
By no means terrible but we weren't actually hanging out in that room--an obvious sign that something needs to change.
We also got that amaaaaazing oriental rug in the process of my folks' move which definitely cozied up the joint. But it drove me NUTS that it couldn't be centered (because of our tiled entrance-way where I am standing to take that picture above) so it kind of awkwardly split that (totally not comfortable) window seat area like this:
And on top of it all (I know! the interior design injustices never end!) we have recently become the proud owners of two strollers which are realistically going to live near the front door for a few years so that space actually looked like this:
So! We started by moving the piano over and I immediately felt a) elated to be moving heavy things again as stated waaay back in the beginning of this post and b) pleased with how it occupied the otherwise awkward non-rug corner.
I like how the far leg is on the rug though, like, "Hey guys, I'm still in your living room party, right?"
Then on the other side, I grouped all the chairs together. Steven was (rightfully) insistent upon the two most comfy ones facing the windows and so, voila!
And all this left back wall empty so we can keep our strollers there, right by the front door but not in the way of our hang out areas, and not visible from the other room.
It might be hard to tell from photos, in which case you really must come by for drinks some time, but this set up is SO MUCH MORE intuitive and welcoming! And there is so much more room for toys to be strewn about, which is the next interior design challenge I am of course looking forward to. ;)
Btw, it's also stuuuupid pretty out these days. It looks like fall but feels like summer. I'm ALL about it. Minus the whole it's probably because of climate change thing but oh well.
Just wanted to come up for air from Baby Land to say hi!
It has been craaaaazy beautiful out here this past month. Warmer than the rest of the entire summer weirdly enough! So we have been spending loads of time outside... before the six month winter sets in. ;)
And when we're not outside, you could safely bet eight million dollars that we are inside a) changing a diaper b) napping or c) feeding ourselves and each other.
We're also slowly getting better at swaddling her so she can nap peacefully (apparently newborns thrash around and startle themselves which is why they have to be burrito'd) and we have FINALLY FIGURED OUT THE FREAKIN MOBY WRAP. Man, that was embarrassingly difficult for us there for a moment. And that's how I'm typing this righ
Naturally I got interrupted as I typed that and had to feed her immediately. Which is how I'm typing NOW. Boom! Breastfeeding while blogging = new skill.
Aaand she's done.
We could probably work on our selfie game, but I'm still impressed with our newly acquired Moby wrap skills so whatever. Thanks for the little smile Amina!
I read approximately 10,000 books my last few weeks pregnant. It was the best way to keep my mind off all the waiting. Here's a few of 'em:
Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris. About the absurdity of office life. Could have been so mundane but was somehow hilarious. Told in the second person which can sometimes feel forced in other books but it was perfect for this story.
The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht. I didn't read this when it first blew up. I'm her age and was working on my own writing so let's get real-- it was 100% jealousy that kept me from this during its initial wave of awards and popularity. At first it felt a little... overworked? Or precious? Or MFA workshop-y? But by about the halfway mark I was all in. It's strange and haunting and I'm now looking forward to whatever is next from her.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. Obviously a tough read since it's about a family tree, half of whom stay in West Africa and half of whom are captured to be slaves in America. Each chapter is a new character which gives the whole book a delightfully fast pace for something so intrinsically heavy. By the end though, I felt like a few too many characters were living conveniently historically "interesting" or symbolic lives. Like they were checking certain boxes. Prisoners coal mining in the south? Check. Union organizing? Check. Harlem Renaissance? Check. Drugs and single parenthood? Check. Still, a satisfying read.
We Are Never Meeting In Real Life by Samantha Irby. The BEST book in this stack. SO. FUCKING. FUNNY. When I read her first chapter, which is a fake application to be on the Bachelor (or maybe it's real??), I seriously couldn't stop laughing aloud. I think Steven had to leave the room it was that annoying :) Such an original voice, such a unique perspective. I've read a lot of memoirs recently but I don't think I've ever read a more bracingly honest and shine-a-light-on-it-ALL-no-matter-how-"bad"-I-might-look one ever before. And you just never knew what she was going to say next. I'm a fan of hers for life now. Kiiinda wish I could meet her in real life despite the promise of her title though...
The Readymade Thief by Augustus Rose. Fast paced, totally bizarre mystery that combines teenage runaways with the dark web and raves and DuChamps. Devoured it in one day. Sometimes mysteries just really hit the spot.
One Day We'll All Be Dead And None Of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul. Amusing, tender. I'm always interested in second generation stories (her folks are from India and moved to Canada where she was raised). Not as laugh-out-loud as Irby's memoir above, but I don't think it was supposed to be quite as outrageous. Her chapter on the cyber bullying she's experienced as a woman was particularly good.
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. Another read-it-in-a-day affair. The kind of book someone would lovingly call "a guilty pleasure" or "trashy" but I think that undersells how smart it is. Wanted to read it before checking out the HBO show which Steven and I started the night before last. So far so good! Adaptations are always hard.
Transit by Rachel Cusk. Just lovely. One of those books that's not really "about" anything. The opposite of books like Big Little Lies or The Readymade Thief which are soooo plot driven. It's that kind of writing that brings you deep into someone else's mind and points out the details of daily life with such graceful nuance that when you look up, suddenly everything and everyone around you seems more interesting. It made me want to reread Pond.
Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta. I loved reading The Leftovers. (Haven't watched the show yet, probably because reading it felt like watching show.) So I was inevitably a little disappointed by this one in comparison. It was hard to care about the characters who were all adrift and making questionable decisions while being mean to each other. Maybe especially so since I was pregnant and thinking a lot about parenthood and role models.
Currently reading Autumn by Ali Smith and What Happened by Hillary Clinton and LOVING them both! Autumn is surreal and delicious and so original. What Happened is well, also unfortunately surreal. Also incredibly important and insightful and even funny. Amina is posed next to the book because I think about how one day I am going to have to explain to her what the f*ck happened.
(Yes, we dressed our baby in plaid for promotion. I believe we have eighteen years minus two weeks until we need her consent for stuff like this, right?)
Set here in the Catskills, it's the story of a beaver who falls in love with the badass lumberjack-ery of a little girl. Beauuuutiful watercolors, a silly but heartfelt story-- I just LOVE it.
And how great is this all plaid case??
Through the month of September, writers and 2D artists can apply for a week long, no cost stay at the Inn. Residents are announced October 20th and come stay at some point between January and March.
Last year we had over 300 applications for 8 spots. We can't WAIT to see this year's applications! Check out previous Residents, program details, and how to apply right here.
Aaaaaaaand here she is! Amina Hemlock Weinberg!
Sooooooo, we had to drive over an hour in the middle of the night down our winding roads to get to the hospital while I hung my head out the window during contractions like the family dog. And yes Steven totally got pulled over by the cops (who graciously let us speed on). But yes we made it just in time for this bundle o' love to arrive!
We spent the first 36 hours at the birthing center, where, just like everyone out here says, the staff was super kind and helpful. Then we came home to the most gorgeous day.
The sunshine, the valley breeze, THE BABY. It was simply lovely. We were all so happy to be home all together!
Since then we've just been hanging out. Getting a hold on the whole feeding and changing and swaddling and napping while she's napping thing. She's way more alert than I thought she would be which is super fun. I mean, check out this deep soul staring:
Btw, does her name sound familiar? That's because she's named after my Moroccan host Mom about whom I've written before. I'm so excited to see what kind of strong woman of her own she grows up to be! And I just love that her name connects her to where Steven and I first met once upon a time. As for Hemlock, that's just a little a bit of the Catskills for her too.
Ok, back to the baby haze!
Here it is! That is, the nursery. Not the baby yet... So as I wait with this bowling ball belly I figured I'd show you her room!
Overall we wanted something soothing and kinda neutral knowing that all of her books and toys and such will be bright and fun. So we stuck with the wood/white/cream thing we have going on in other parts of the house. Shockingly for us, the only thing made of barn wood is the shelf below the window from when this was my closet. Though Steven did threaten to build her a crib out of it... :)
I especially love the Alexander Calder inspired mobile she has. (Happy Birthday to him today btw!) And I of course adore the little school of trout Steven painted.
(Btw yes that is a gaping hole next to the electrical outlet perfectly within reach from the crib, and yes we are getting that fixed ASAP. She'll be in a bassinet in our bedroom for the first handful of weeks anyway.)
I originally thought I wanted to get the Sniglar Ikea crib and changing table because they're simple and inexpensive but then we were like, Wait, when are we going to drive down to Ikea? Fuck that. So instead we got the Dream On Me crib and matching changing table from Amazon. SO EASY. The changing pad is the Keekaroo Peanut about which I've read rave reviews. (Just wipe it down!) And I got a handful of storage baskets from H&M (which is killlllling it in the home department these days). I'm sure we'll wind up moving what goes exactly where once she's here and we're using the space, but for now I feel good enough about the system.
We went with the classic Diaper Genie which is kind of hidden between the table on the closet. The curtain over the closet and the curtains in the window are from Target which I simply trimmed down to size. I like how the big tabs echo the lines of the crib and changing table. And the rug is from Target too which I got for an $89 steal! At first I thought we'd want something totally plain but I'm glad we went with a pattern. It livens things up a bit.
We got floating shelves for her books-- so much more fun to browse that way! Especially when you're little. And speaking of little, we purposefully hung them low so that she'll be able to reach them. MAN was that fun picking out her first load of books! And I'm sure the collection will only grow. Steven and I keep joking that we are going to be those parents who say yes to her every whim whenever she's in a bookstore because that's basically how we are ourselves in bookstores already...
The rocking horse was mine and my brother's growing up and the baby monkey is Bubba Jr., my first stuffed animal. My folks also came across some of my baby dresses so I've added them to her little collection of onesies and such that hang in her closet.
The full circle of all that is hard to wrap my head around. I can so easily remember being little and playing on that horse with my brother, making Bubba Jr. dance to The Specials in the living room... and then here I am, 39 weeks pregnant, 30-some years later... and she'll be wearing the same dresses, playing with the same monkey?! It's also kind of impossible to imagine Steven as a baby even though I've seen the pictures. Can you imagine the owner of these socks once fitting into infant ones??
Those baby socks were a real moment for me. I was moving them from the washing machine to the dryer and suddenly I understood so clearly, There's going to be itty bitty baby feet in these socks. Which yes, is of course something I already intellectually knew but it all just flooded over me in this rush of visceral understanding, so much more real than it had ever been before.
That's kinda how it's been in general. Anticipating what-- no, who-- is coming, while also knowing that really WE HAVE NO IDEA. Everyone keeps telling us to simply enjoy this time. And while yes, the other day I woke up at 3:30am and couldn't get back to sleep so I decided Fuck it, I'll just get started on this quarter's taxes so I won't have to do it with a newborn, I'm also officially on maternity leave and have on balance been able to truly relax BECAUSE MY SPRUCETON INN TEAM KICKS ASS. So Steven and I have been spending loads of time in the creeks--
And in the garden--
Simply enjoying the summer and each other.
One member of the house has had absolutely zero trouble relaxing during this waiting period...
Rather adorably, the chair in the nursery is his favorite spot these days. As is napping on the floor halfway under the crib. And any time we've been in the middle of building stuff for the room, he places himself literally in the middle of the action. We keep laughing about how he thinks we've made this room for him and he's all, I love it! Don't know why you're bothering with the little baskets of stuff but whatever. Thanks! Looks like he'll be in for the biggest surprise of all of us.
Guests ask me all the time what my favorite season is out here and I always wind up waxing poetic about the beauty of each. The rainbow riot of leaves and tasty apples right off the tree in the fall, the perfectly snow capped pines and cozy time around the fire in the winter, that muddy but oh so earned and delicious smelling spring as the world comes back to life...
But let's get real. IT'S SUMMER.
I mean, right??