I've never been this excited about spray foam and dry wall in my life. CHECK IT OUT!
I swear, insulating this extension has made the entire house that much warmer. We basically used to have a gaping hole off our living room. Now? This shit is toasty.
And today, in just one day, because as I mentioned before this team is made of rock stars, all the dry wall went up!
Of course a massive snow storm is coming our way tonight and tomorrow and so there'll be another delay in work. Mother Nature just does not give a f*ck about our renovation schedule but hey, I suppose she does have bigger concerns.
At least we'll be warmer than ever before!
You can't live in the country and NOT talk about the weather at least, oh, four times a day. Especially if you take a trip to the Post Office, in which case the weather must be commented upon with each and every person who comes and goes.
But seriously? We have a big ol' storm coming our way tomorrow. Upwards of two feet! My skier is quite excited. Our kitchen team a little less so. And we have loads of folks staying at the Inn this week!
We'll see which brave souls actually get out of bed for coffee service tomorrow morning...
So it's been exactly one month of washing dishes in the bathtub, and there's plenty to show for it!
Last you saw, the crew had finished up the demolition work. These past few weeks have been all about rebuilding, plumbing, electric... and concrete floors! Which I'm clearly the most excited about, but frankly that's only because it's the most visually notable difference. I mean, the electrical team can be here all day banging around and you pop your head in six hours and later and it looks... the same. With loads more wiring that you'll truly appreciate down the road, but it's nowhere near as exciting as say, the day that our gravel was delivered via big-ass truck.
As you can see, it drove up next to our house. They set out some gravel to create a ramp up our weird kitchen patio thing.
And then drove right up it and dumped the gravel directly in the open door!
HOLY SHIT WAS IT LOUD.
Next was spray foam insulation of which I didn't get a picture because I was scared to go near it when it was still consolidating. Aka when it was still toxic.
Just a few days later, our concrete went in!
It's got to cure for a bit longer before they put the final polish on it. Luckily though, in the mean time they can work on it.
Like I said, otherwise it's been a lot of electric (What height should the scones be? Where exactly do you want your outlets? What about your microwave, because that needs its own outlet! How about your switch placement?) and plumbing. All essential, but way less sexy.
Some other not-so-sexy work so far has included re-routing a waste pipe from upstairs that used to run in the crawl space in the drop ceiling, eliminating the siding we boxed over it outside (because yes, the pipe used to run outside before joining the rest of the septic plumbing), raising the doors 3" for the floor...
And of course our pipes have frozen twice during this process because it's been literally zero degrees and this space, uninsulated, is basically outdoors. Luckily we have ten other bathrooms and showers at our disposal!
So that's where we're at. It's been loud and dusty but the crew is so kind and hard working and we're getting closer every day. In the mean time, it's a wonderful excuse to hit up the Phoenicia Diner significantly more than we usually do!
More like, How To Murder All Your Free Time.
So binge-readable! And addicting! Which is of course an uncouth thing to say about a memoir that's about binge behavior and addiction but I have a feeling Marnell wouldn't mind...
I picked this up when I was out running errands yesterday and stayed up way too late nearly finishing it. Silver lining: it was easy to get up for the contractors at 6:30am because I knew I could go back to reading it once awake!
Bookshelf on it coming soon.
It's probably that we're in the hardest part of winter (as in, "It's STILL WINTER? Wtf?), that we're renovating, that the travel bug is something that's always in my system... either way I've been jonesing hard for Oaxaca all week.
So I've decided to torture myself by revisiting pics from our trip there last year.
Anyone wanna come run a hotel for a week so I can sneak off to Mexico?? Gracias!
Wednesday, February 22nd.
1. Up at sunrise with the kitchen contractors. / 2. Waldo gets used to them being here and banging around, totally forgets about them and barks like wild, is cool again. Sigh. / 3. Collecting a quarterly water sample for the Department of Health-- / 4. Which I drop off at a water analysis facility in Hunter. / 5. Loads of errands this morning actually, including a stop at the mechanic to get Steven's truck inspected. "Ya'll must be avid readers!" the mechanic laughed at us as we each pulled out our books. / 6. Went to Selina's Diner on 23 for some much needed pancakes. / 7. Came back to quite the construction site. The kitchen floor was being filled with stone which is delivered via truck-- / 8. Which DROVE UP ONTO OUR PATIO so it could dump the stones directly into the kitchen door! / 9. Tried to hang out on our "Saturday" and just read and paint but it's so dang loud. / 10. So we snuck off to the woods for a bit. / 11. Been all about rose water and orange blossom in seltzer lately. / 12. Writing inspiration struck during golden hour. / 13. Read more as the sun set of Nadja Spiegelman's I'm Supposed To Protect You From All This which I'm really, really enjoying. / 14. Did our entire dinner on the wood stove! Quick bread and cumin lamb chops in the grill, chickpeas and spinach in a pan on top.
The demo part of this project is done! Gone are all the old appliances, walls, drop ceilings, floors... The space feels ENORMOUS now, especially with the floor dug out.
And now it's time to start rebuilding the place.
Last week they added more support to the roof which apparently had a bit of a sloping pagoda thing going on. They also did a bit of straightening of the walls which meant our south facing windows moved a full two inches!
Currently I'm finalizing the exact placement of all our electrical work so that can go in this week-- including in the bathroom/laundry room right off the kitchen.
Tomorrow the plumber comes and is going to move some awkward waste pipes and set us up for our sink and dishwasher. (A dishwasher! I know! THE LUXURY.)
Then come the stones and the concrete floor which needs to get in asap so it can spend time curing.
Watching the demo has been so damn satisfying but obviously I'm thrilled to moving on the rebuilding part so soon!
The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra
A Good Line Or Two:
They may begrudge us, may think us unambitious and narrow-minded, but someday they will realize that what makes them unremarkable is what keeps them alive. (p 83)
Got Me Thinking About:
How I never want to live in Russia.
How this is THE BEST book of interconnected short stories I've ever read, no hyperbole. Sometimes books like this can feel like the author was too intimidated to conquer just one big plot. But this, this felt like it had to be in this format.
So slowly. Probably too slowly. At times I had to reread dozens of pages because I couldn't remember all the characters from the last time I picked it up. It was just such a sad book I had a hard time wanting to dig into it each day.
As promised, here's a pic of our mini kitchen:
So glamorous right?
The table is actually a shelf from our barn. Steven sawed off the bottom part (which is now a coffee table in the barn) so it could be counter height. And I scrubbed the shit out of it for about forty-five minutes to make it people/food friendly. Because this is what it looked like when we first dragged it in:
We've got a full size fridge, microwave, and hot plate. We were total idiots and had all of that plus our air filter plugged into one outlet via an extension cord so naturally we blew a fuse immediately. But we've since moved the hot plate to the dining room table and we're all good. We're also trying to cook more on the wood stove since we've got it going all the time anyway. Most successful wood stove meal so far? Chili! It just hangs out in one pot simmering as long as you'd like.
As for the actual kitchen progress-- the guys ripped out the drop ceiling and down came all of the insulation we'd sprayed in there back when we first moved in and the kitchen kept freezing.
Once they cleaned that up they had a go at the floor:
Which was entirely ripped up by the end of today exposing the old beams which were whole damn tree trunks!
Next up is laying down some more stones into the crawl space to be a base for our concrete floor and I am SO EXCITED. I have loved polished concrete floors for ages and ages. Yes I know they can be chilly, and yes I know whatever you drop on them breaks, but I wear babouches in the winter and don't think I'm a clumsy person so there!
Different note: the guys found some old tobacco tins and other stuff in the walls which they saved for us.
Kinda cool, no?
I've been seeing Mary Oliver's book Upstream everywhere.
And by "everywhere" I mean on my lit-heavy social media feed, haha! And so last night we met up with some pals in Woodstock--and I simply cannot go to Woodstock without stopping at The Golden Notebook-- so we popped into the bookstore and I picked up a copy for the Inn's library.
Like everyone, I AM IN LOVE.
I read Steven this paragraph aloud last night before we went to bed from the end of the first chapter:
Sometimes the desire to be lost again, as long ago, comes over me like a vapor. With growth into adulthood, responsibilities claimed me, so many heavy coats. I didn't choose them, I don't fault them, but it took time to reject them. Now in the spring I kneel, I put my face into the packets of violets, the dampness, the freshness, the sense of ever-ness. Something is wrong, I know it, if I don't keep my attention on eternity. May I be the tiniest nail in the house of the universe, tiny but useful. May I stay forever in the stream.
Isn't that just... so right?
It took so much self control to not hover around the kitchen all yesterday. There was loads of clanging and banging and ripping and crashing which surely meant progress and HOLY SHIT LOOK AT WHAT THEY DID IN JUST ONE DAY!
I have never been happier to see such destruction!
My main impression beyond, "It's dusty as fuck in here" was: this room is huuuuuuuuuge. And once we get rid of the drop ceiling and vault it to match the pitch of the roof, well, I think it's gonna feel downright enormous. Which is nothing I've ever said about any other kitchen I've ever lived with! That's country life for you.
Here's a panorama:
Last night Steven had a presentation in Tannersville to the county's reading teachers, and so he stopped at the Chinese take out place. Because come on, what's a kitchen renovation without some take out?
And of course, because this is how construction goes, Day Two was cancelled this morning due to heavy snow and dangerous roads. Which is fine by me because I'm convinced these guys did two days' work in one I mean come on, look at this side by side:
Here's to Day Three being just as productive!
Once upon a time, the kitchen in our house was the commercial kitchen for the Schwarzenegger's Sunshine Valley House.
Which sounds super cool in theory. Big, shiny, stainless steel appliances, easy to clean surfaces, right?
Riiiiight. More like, busted yellow 1950s linoleum, a giant but haggard stove that works only about 60% of the way, and no heat. Because who needs heat, this is Florida! To be fair, Maria Schwarzenegger certainly didn't for the 50 years she had the oven on as she served up three meals a day for dozens of people. Which is not at all what we're up to now, so it was high time for an upgrade.
This is what it looked like the day we moved in, back in December 2013:
I swear we were WAY more happy to be here than Steven's shocked face suggests.
And once we started moving a few things in, trying to sort out what exactly was going on amidst all these layers of wall:
We painted a whole bunch in the beginning. First all white, then we added some black. (Good lord, the painting of the inside of drawers and cabinets; it's three times the surface area you think it's going to be!) We removed a few of the built-ins. And when the new siding went up on the whole house that first spring, we popped in new windows and doors at the same time. (You can relive that with me here.)
So it's looked pretty much like this the whole time we've lived here:
We had a few failed improvements along the way. Like when we tried to paint the awful linoleum with porch paint which promptly scratched right off.
My favorite improvement by a mile was the addition of the barn door. I also like our sweet little bar.
But now it's ALL GOING! Well, everything but the barn door actually. We're bringing the whole thing down to the studs, we're vaulting the ceiling, installing all new appliances... And by "we" I mean the royal we of our kick ass contracting team. This shit it is WAY above our DIY skills.
Steven and I spent all yesterday removing absolutely everything for the crew so it'd be ready to roll for their 6:45am arrival today. Et voila!
I'll show you pics of our "jail house kitchen" currently set up in the living room next because yes, we are of course going to have no kitchen during the two month-ish process, way out here in the middle of nowhere where absolutely nobody delivers Chinese food or pizza. That said, we've lived in way stranger and more sparse set ups around the world. For example, when we lived in an old radio station above a bus station in Mail where there was no kitchen at all! Or private bathroom for that matter. Or shower.
And you thought we were nuts for moving to the Catskills and opening a hotel. Pshhhht.
I'm not saying this is going to be easy, but I am saying I'm going to try to remember we've lived through weirder when the inevitable renovation frustrations fall.
But look! Already, they've been here hardly three hours and there goes the stove!
BOOM! Oh my gosh, demo is so freaking thrilling.
I'll be updating here with pics and such, so come on by again soon for more renovation tales! And send frozen China town dumplings. PLEASE.
First off, Simone de Beauvoir is ten thousand times cooler than these new book covers. Which are very cool and that's why I'm posting pictures of them. But I just had to state first and foremost that she is SUCH a brain. The Second Sex? America Day By Day? Both so freaking brilliant.
These covers though. Also pretty damn good eh?
This is an entirely unsponsored ode to Squarespace because I FREAKING LOVE SQUARESPACE.
It's ridiculously simple to use, especially if you've ever mucked around with Wordpress or, god forbid, actual html. And they've got all kinds of beautifully designed templates you can use as a launching off point. Plus everything is optimized for mobile devices as well.
I just redesigned the whole Spruceton Inn BY MYSELF over the course of two evenings and I could not be happier with how easy it was to do and how well it came out! (If I can toot my own here for a second.)
You'll have to poke around to get a feel for it since screen shots won't do it justice. But I'm so pleased to finally be able to easily highlight this place's beauty throughout all the seasons, as well as some of the more fun and particular stuff we get up to like our Artist Residency and our Workshops.
And since I was diving down the website redesign rabbit hole, I decided to upgrade both our other websites from back in the day: our book website for To Timbuktu, AllTheWayToTimbuktu.com--
And our old joint website TelephoneAndSoup.com simply because that web address still appears on the back of our book.
Also, some asshole bought up LocalLanguageLiteracy.org and is trying to sell it back to us, but fuck that noise. I just put all that info in AllTheWayToTimbuktu.com since most folks find out about the project via the book anyway.
Now, of course, this means I keep squinting and this website and thinking, What if if just...
This is Amina, my host mom from my first Arabic program in Morocco back in 2004.
This photo is from 2007 when we showed up at her door unannounced on our way home from a year in Mali. We rang her bell, she popped her head out the kitchen window to see who it was and literally screamed with delight when she saw us. Which promptly made me cry tears of happiness. (I'm crying just thinking about it now.) She hurried us in, made sweet mint tea, fed us until our stomachs ached, laughed at our stories about the past year in West Africa.
Even though we were still several thousand miles from home, it felt like coming home.
When we moved back to Morocco in 2008, again, we got off the plane, off the train, and went straight to her house where we were welcomed, again, with her open arms and tea and snacks and love and laughter. We wound up renting an apartment literally right next door to her and it was the best part of living there. Having this family right next door. There were parts of that year that were rough-- I often felt lonely, lost, isolated, unsure of my career, my place in the world-- but she was the light. Steven knew, if I was starting to sink into a slump, to nudge me next door. Because even just half an hour of helping her peel vegetables for Friday couscous would lift me.
She is the epitome of hospitality to me. I think of her, truly, almost every day as I run this hotel. I aim to have a heart as open as hers for every stranger who walks through our doors.
And she's just one of SO MANY Muslims who have welcomed me and Steven into their homes throughout our travels. So it just makes me heart sick and disgusted that we as a country are turning our backs on Muslims right now. Fuck the Muslim ban. Fuck the wall. Fuck the black heart of the Trump Administration.
I still believe that people are, deep down, good, and that's because of the way I have been welcomed into so many people's lives across the world. So here's to hoping that the American government will open its heart and borders again.
In order to survive the winters out here, you neeeeeed to take at least one quick getaway. Even if it's to somewhere just as frigid as home. Like say, Portland Maine!
Which is exactly where Steven and I snuck off to this week with our buddies Tracy and Jamie.
These photos imply we spent more time outside walking around than inside somewhere stuffing our faces when in reality that was how we spent most of our 48 hours... We went to Eventide, Duckfat, Honey Paw, Central Provisions, Oxbow, and Drifter's Wife, chowing down on everything from oysters to putine to lamb stew to bone marrow toasts to razor clams to potato donuts. Ayayay!
The absolute highlight though was Tandem Coffee. Our pals Kate and Will moved up from Brooklyn to Portland maybe five or so years ago and opened their wonderful coffee roastery which has since expanded to include a bakery of most epic delights headed by their pal Brianna Holt.
I didn't take any pictures of our quiche, sticky bun, egg sandwich, buttered biscuit, or everything scone stuffed with cream cheese BECAUSE I WAS WAY TOO BUSY STUFFING MY MOUTH so here's their pic of their salted chocolate chip cookie (which we took to-go) to get you drooling.
Seriously though? That everything scone stuffed with cream cheese is literally one of the best things I've tasted in my entire life.
So here's to trips big and small. To local culinary delights. And to friends who are always down for an adventure!
Being a small business with a small staff, getting down to DC for the Women's March was proving to be a logistical nightmare.
But doing nothing at all in the face of this actual nightmare felt worse.
And so, yesterday, Steven and I marched up Hunter Mountain in solidarity with all the kick-ass people who are marching across the country today.
Steven's plan was to get to the top of the Fire Tower and scream. Which he did. After which he took this epic shot:
It was a pretty burly, icy hike that took us about three and half hours. We spent most of the time talking about the political situation at hand. Which has been a daily topic of conversation ever since the election. We're trying to make a little difference out here in a red county in a blue state. Volunteering at the local school, donating to Planned Parenthood on the regular, donating the Inn as a retreat space for advocacy groups. (By the way-- is that you? Email us! Info@sprucetoninn.com.)
Still, it felt brutal to come home to the inauguration on TV. To hear that information on LGBT rights and climate change had been removed from the official White House website within the hour.
We've got a lot of work to do. And I'm so proud of all my friends and colleagues who are out marching this exact moment, doing the work.
Love trumps hate people. Let's do this.
White Teeth by Zadie Smith.
A good line or two:
Once the car started to fill with carbon monoxide, he had experienced the obligatory flashback of his life to date. It turned out to be a short, unedifying viewing experience, low on entertainment value, the metaphysical equivalent of the Queen's speech. (p. 11)
Got me thinking about:
How I couldn't get through On Beauty when I tried it 10 years ago. The characters were just so fucking irritating. How these characters are too but at least there are a whole slew of 'em so you don't have to spend too much time with any of them!
How supremely intelligent and thoughtful Smith sounds in every single interview I've ever read with her.
How damn good she is at dialogue.
In front of the wood stove over two gloomy days.
Oh, Obama. How I'm gonna miss you so. Which I already knew, but that Michiko Kakutani interview this weekend just really made me want to live in my bookshelf until the next four years are over.
First off, I love how self-deprecating he is. In describing a reading-heavy phase of his twenties he says:
I was hermetic -- it really is true. I had one plate, one towel, and I'd buy clothes from thrift shops. And I was very intense, and sort of humorless.
I picture him scowling in his dad jeans, ten paperbacks of Nietzsche under his arm.
And when she asks about his writing during his Presidency, "But did you keep some form of a journal?" he says:
I've kept some, but not with the sort of discipline that I would have hoped for.
Yeah, remember that next time you're moaning about how you don't "journal" as much as you used to...
But onto actual books. I just couldn't agree more when he says:
Fiction was useful as a reminder of the truths under the surface of what we argue about every day and was a way of seeing and hearing the voices, the multitudes of this country... And so I think that I found myself better able to imagine what's going on in the lives of people throughout my presidency because of just a specific novel but the act of reading fiction. It exercises those muscles, and I think that has been helpful.
"The act of reading fiction." Ah, he gives such grace and elegance to my favorite pastime, haha! And because he's no longer just a "humorless" guy of course he adds:
And then there's the occasion where I just want to get out of my own head. [Laughter] ... [Liu's Xixin's book] was fun to read, partly because my day-today problems with Congress seem fairly petty -- not something to worry about. Aliens are about to invade!
And in a time that can feel so scattered, bitter, fast-based, shallow, and hopeless, Kakutani says, "We're bombarded with information. Technology is moving so rapidly" and he says, I imagine, without missing a beat:
Look, I don’t worry about the survival of the novel. We’re a storytelling species.
And then I cried.
Walking the dog today, Steven and I were talking about the article and he said, "It'd be amazing if he didn't publish his Presidential memoirs first but instead did a collection of short stories. Dude can deliver to his fans like none other!"
Can you imagine? I see a signing and Q&A with George Saunders. Amiright? DO IT OBAMA! YES YOU CAN [PUBLISH A COLLECTION OF LITERARY SHORT STORIES]!