We're Hiring at the Spruceton Inn

UPDATE: POSITION FILLED! Thank you everyone who applied. 

We're hiring another Assistant Innkeeper at the Inn

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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

Returning to Morocco

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. 

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We basically landed and headed straight to our old block. So many heart-melty, happy tears. Giggles. Kisses. Like I said on Instagram:

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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.

@SprucetonInn

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. 

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

 Yup, those two little windows are our room.

Yup, those two little windows are our room.

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

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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. 

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Frivolous

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. 

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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. 

Yaaaaaaay.

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.

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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.

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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!) 

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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.

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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.

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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… 

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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.

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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.

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I Love Lamp: Some Rooms Are Nearly "Done"

I put "done" in quotes because let's get real; nothing in a house is ever "done". At least no house of mine. I mean, just the other day I was laying in bed thinking, "Hmmm, it might be time to update this room."

And then I had the much more sensible thought of: "HOLY HELL CASEY YOU JUST DID THIS ROOM FIVE MONTHS AGO. Relax. You're in bed for fuck's sake."

And so, on that note, here are some rather relaxed photos from two rooms that are nearly "done", aka rooms that we've made some good progress on, for which I still have a few plans up my sleeve.

Let's start with the bathroom which I got partially through only the realize, "Ugh, this white ain't right."

Then Steven went to one of our local hardware stores and one of the employees kept insisting he get Direct To Metal paint. Probably because Steven said he wanted the glossiest paint they had. Needless to say it was blotchy and drippy and weird, so Steven unfortunately got a taste of the same "this white ain't right" medicine I had.

Not one to wait around, he got a new batch of regular old house paint the next day in a pure white and ta-daaaah!

Phew! I'm gonna do some more futzing around with the toiletries/TP set up, get some clear plastic soap dispensers and such for about $20 total just for a streamlined face lift, probably switch out the basket, but we're close. And the most annoying part is done!

The other room I wanna show you is Steven's former studio, where I now have a PIANO! All caps because I am still SO FREAKING EXCITED that I have a piano.

I'm realizing now that the only real change here from the last pic is that we keep bringing over more pillows from other parts of the house to use in the window seat.

As an East facing room, it's turning out to be our new morning coffee spot since it floods with sunshine. (The sun is setting on the other side of the house in these pics so you'll just have to trust me that it's glooooorious.)

I've also still got my eyes peeled for a big fat oriental carpet. My mom said she actually might have the perfect sized one which she was about to put in storage, so fingers crossed that one works out! (My mom's an interior designer with impeccable taste. Pretty much anything sophisticated and/or cool I own is from her. No joke.)

AND today we went to a nearby nursery to get those herbs for the garden that I was talking about earlier this week.

According to the dude who helped us there, it's still a little too chilly to put 'em in the ground, so for the next week or so they will be our kitchen companions. Rosemary, sage, lemon thyme, lavender, parsley, and fennel. We'll go back to the nursery towards the end of the month to pick other greens goodies like kale, chard, and basil once they come out of their greenhouse.

The things I didn't know a lick about until we moved here!

Gardening, generators, and basic plumbing to name a few. Septic systems, circular saws, and how to build tables to name some more. How to electronically file sales tax. How to hire and fire someone. How to fly fish!

Did I mention we went fly fishing last week with local legend Judd Weisberg?

Did I mention I'm really happy we live out here? And that I'm still shocked every damn day by how much I love it?

This is kind of an intense idea to just tack on to the end of a "la di da I love furniture" post, and I'd like to go into more detail about this soon, but essentially I'm starting to realize that moving from the city to the country is kind of scratching that same itch that I used to think could only be scratched by international travel. Which makes me excited because it puts every other "I can only be happy if I [blank]" into question. Which frankly, re-opens the whole damn world.

Like I said-- more on that later. For now, I've some play off hockey to watch! (Seriously. It's Rangers vs. Caps.)

(What is I Love LampThis is I Love Lamp.)

 

I Love Lamp: The Garden Grows

We inherited a big, beautiful garden from the previous owners. Here's a pic of what it looked like the very first day we visited the property:

By the time we actually moved in in December though, it was mostly a rock garden, haha:

And that winter, like this one, was pretty fucking rough weather-wise, so the whole thing took a bit of a beating. The white picket fence especially. So that April, almost exactly a year ago, a handful of friends came up for a work weekend and one of our nine hundred tasks included removing the broken fence and weeding like crazy to make room for the spring growth.

That day we decided that while we loved all of the slate stone garden beds, there wasn't actually anywhere within the garden to hang out. So we removed (and replanted elsewhere) the stuff from the central bed to make room for just that.

We didn't get to it that day, but maybe a week or two later, Steven and I had an Andy Goldsworthy moment and took all the stacked stones from that central bed and laid them flat:

Then brought over a picnic table and voila! Here's our buddy Kate enjoying it a few months later:

As you can see, we left the white posts in from the fence that had been dug in deeply. We figured that we'd see how the first summer went with deer etc to decide what kind of fence we'd need the next year. I forgot about them pretty much all season because the flowers and bushes grow up around them so huge. Here's a pic from one of my days off during the summer which I spent reading (and drinking) in the garden, with guests coming to and fro and never spotting me. Perfection.

After our first summer of use we decided two things:

1. We love plants that basically take care of themselves. The fancy way of saying that might sound more like, "We're re-wilding most of our property and focusing on native species". Which is true. But so is this version of that sentence: "These thumbs ain't so green and we'd rather spend our free time doing other things." So this year, we're planting some pretty low maintenance stuff like rosemary, mint, basil, chard... Stuff we (and hotel guests) can use in cooking, stuff that basically takes care of itself.

2. We want a discrete fence that will keep Waldo in. Because it turns out, deer and rabbits and such weren't so much of a problem (especially because we're not actually growing too many edible things) and it's much more relaxing to simply close a fence door than have to keep an eye out for the pooch to make sure he hasn't wandered off to explore what guests are grilling for dinner that night.

Until quite literally three days ago it was way too cold to even consider addressing #1, so we started with #2. The first step of which was to paint the white posts grey so they would simply disappear.

And I love it already! It looks so good, and took Steven all of an hour at most. Frankly, I don't know why we didn't think to at least do this part last year, but oh well.

Next up is installing black deer fencing. This will require some more digging (which again, we couldn't even consider doing until the ground thawed, which out here is RIDICULOUSLY late in the year) and stapling and such, but once we're done, that should also mostly disappear in the flowers and bushes as they grow up. And then we'll have a wonderful garden sanctuary to enjoy all summer!

We're still waiting for the delivery of those materials, but I'll post some pics as soon as we're done. Til then, I hope you're all enjoying this burst of spring! I sure as hell am.

(What is I Love LampThis is I Love Lamp.)

This + That: Mon, April 27

1. Set up coffee for guests then did some trouble shooting for a malfunctioning heating unit. / 2. Cleaned a room as quickly as possible so I could move the guest from that room to one where they'll be warm. / 3. Disposed of a dead bird that came to its ultimate rest right outside of Room Ten's window. / 4. Put on bright lipstick to distract everyone from my dirty hair. (After a busy weekend I prioritized sleep over showering.) / 5. Propane delivery. / 6. Hired a new full time cleaning staff member! HOORAY! Oh my GOD hooray. / 7. Dog run. / 8. Calculating distances and whatnot for a split rail fence for the bar patio. / 9. Setting up for happy hour. / 10. Kept the bar open an hour and half later than usual because I couldn't stop talking art/family/life/EVERYTHING with two of our Resident Artists. I feel so happily fueled by interactions like this. / 11. Chef Steven, who is way too tall for this kitchen island but kicks kitchen ass anyway.

(What is “This + That”This is “This + That”.)

I Love Lamp: New Studio For Steven And....

Last Sunday, our neighbor Robert came by and picked up the mattress from our guest room for his new cottage.

We'd offered it to him because we'd realized that we didn't really feel the need to have a dedicated guest bedroom in the house considering we've got nine of 'em in our backyard:

(No, it's not that green yet-- that's a pic from last summer!)

So what to do with the room instead? We talked about moving the TV up there, hanging some hammock chairs... but nothing seemed to excite us as much as when Steven suggested, "What if I move my studio up there?"

It turns out, as much as he loved having a huge space and a mountain view, it was also a very public space with a distracting view. Our front door leads directly into that room and the stairs are open and right there too. And while you can see the mountains, you can also see where guests park so it's a lot of coming and going.

We tried to solve the privacy problem by rearranging his desks, moving shelves around to create a kind of faux-wall right when you walk in, and more, but nothing ever fully worked.

It looked significantly better when we gave the shelves a few coats of glossy black back in January, but it still wasn't functioning that much better which let's face it, is rather important in a work space.

One of the many things I like about Steven is that when he has a good idea, he acts on it immediately. So yes, we moved his studio that very night!

We had a momentary challenge when realized we'd have to dismantle his desk to get it through the door--

But then we kept going strong! Brought all the book downstairs and made a total mess...

And brought up some of Steven's stuff to his new space. I say "some of" because he decided to bring up only what he uses every day.

I forget where, but last year I read about a family who moved to a new apartment very near their old one (I think it was a duplex and they moved to the upstairs unit...?) and rather than moving all of their things at once, they went to their old place to get their things only when they actually needed them. In this way, after a month or so, it became really clear what they could live without and give away.

Anyway! Steven's new space is nicely streamlined like that. And he loves it! Here's what it's looking like after just a few days of use:

I'm so happy that he's enjoying it so much already!

So what did we do with the huge room downstairs? Well first, we put all those shelves to use and arranged our books:

Next we moved our dining room table in for a belated Seder with friends:

Then we moved it back and I drove to Albany and BOUGHT A BABY GRAND PIANO!

I know, that probably sounds borderline insane and random, but I've been dreaming of getting a piano of my own since, well... since I moved out of my parents' place at eighteen! And it never made sense til now. I kept moving, I lived in apartments, and now, here we are in a big ol' house without plans to move any time too soon so voila! And oh my god, it's only been here a few hours but already it makes me SO. DAMN. HAPPY.

I pulled out all my old sheet music and played through years of pieces. I played my favorite piano piece in the world first, Debussy's Dr Gradus ad Parnassum, and I literally cried.

I'd been looking pretty seriously for the past few months, but it all came together the morning after we'd moved Steven's studio I pulled up Craiglist again and there it was: a baby grand built in 1935, lovingly played by a lifelong musician since the 50's, in great condition, an hour and a half away, and within my budget...! It had to be viewed that day and picked up no later than the next. So when I finished doing coffee for guests I drove straight to Albany, played it for thirty seconds and surprised the hell out of the guy when I turned around on the bench and said immediately, "I'll take it." I hired VIP Piano Movers to pick it up and just like that, it's now mine!

I have to wait about two weeks to tune it-- let it adjust to the temperature and humidity etc of the house.

But it's in tune enough to play around on for now!

I'd love to get a big beautiful rug for the room... the sound is a little bouncy with all the wood, and come on, it would look amaaaaazing.

For now, rug or not, I'm more than happy to simply play an play and play as Steven works away upstairs...

(What is I Love LampThis is I Love Lamp.)

This + That: Sun, April 5

1. Cookies for breakfast. (Hey, the've got oatmeal in them.) / 2. The snow melted. Then it snowed again last night. Sigh. / 3. Coffee at the Front Desk all morning. Checking folks out or sending them on more adventures. I closed that bar at 2am last night so I'm a liiiiiiitle sleepy. / 4. Steven and Waldo swing by to say hi. / 5. Housekeeping is a no-show so I spend most of the afternoon cleaning rooms. / 6. Still snowing. But at least it's melting! / 7. Sneak over to Steven's studio to read the latest version of a manuscript he's working on. / 8. Our neighbor brought us tulips for our anniversary the other day. (So sweet!) Next to our books on fly fishing it's like a little shrine to spring. / 9. Turn on the exterior lights and lock up the bar at 7pm after a visit with someone who wants to get married here and a few drinks with guests before they head off to dinner. / 10. Computer closed! Time to read more of Peter Heller's "The Painter" and watch Jeremy Wade's "River Monsters"! Yup. Got some serious fishing on the mind apparently.

(What is “This + That”This is “This + That”.)

I Love Lamp: Bathroom Upgrade Begins

The last room upstairs that I want to do a little DIY changing to is the bathroom. Nothing major-- just a paint job, maybe some new fixtures. A minor face lift that matches our style. Here's what it's been looking like for a while now, minus a few towel racks and TP holder which we removed before I took these photos:

Not terrible. Just a little cluttered and little beige. And more than a little odd that the shower curtain has to be so low because of the angle of the roof. One day I'd like to make that a standing shower with a door but that's "one day", aka not now.

So for now it's a fresh coat of white paint (surprise!) and some decluttering.

First coat went on and things look decidedly brighter. Naturally it was a total pain to paint around the fixtures but I just didn't feel quite up to removing anything that large.

While that was drying I hung a wire rack in the closet just outside the bathroom (where we store our "adventure" gear, aka tents and rock climbing gear etc):

Wow! That might be THE most fascinating photo I've ever posted, here! Hahah! Oh man. Anyway.

Next I put up the second coat and...

It was too blue. I accidentally bought the "high hiding" version of the white that I'd used in the rest of the house and it just ain't right. This photo maybe doesn't do it justice but it makes the sink, toilet and tub look like a dirty cream and it makes the brown tiles of the shower look super dark. I was a little miffed, and lied to myself for an evening pretending that I was fine with it. Watched the sun set from the bathroom window--

And decided to go back to the hardware store next week. If I'm gonna do this I'd like to do it right. Besides, it gives me some more time to find a medicine cabinet and/or mirror which will all give the room a bit more punch while solving the clutter problem.

Not a big deal, just a teeny bit annoying. But I'm willing to be patient about it because I've realized: this and my closet are the lights at the end of the upstairs tunnel, you know? Or as Steven asked me the other day, laughing, "What are you gonna do when you're done painting things?"

I don't want the answer to be "repaint things", so I'm gonna do it right!

(What is I Love LampThis is I Love Lamp.)

Hotel Movies

Unsurprisingly, I'm a bit of a sucker for movies that take place at hotels. When Hotel Transylvania came out, I went to an 11am Tuesday showing, alone, on my day off (I was working at NU Hotel at the time) and I'm only slightly ashamed to say I quite literally laughed and cried.

And my heart went out to pour Dracula as he was trying to greet his arrivals and get folks happily checked in when in comes this human dresses as a zombie who is about to eff up his entire operation! Seriously. I was totally admiring Dracula's customer service.

When Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel was released we'd already moved out here where the nearest theater is about an hour away so I had to wait to rent it, and when that Netflix DVD appeared in our mailbox I probably squealed aloud.

I know it's no longer cool to like Wes Anderson but I don't care. That film was beautiful and funny and odd and totally fucking delightful.

I was also deeply impressed with Ralph Fienne's character's concierge abilities. I mean, he's dealing with Nazis for godsake! And the way he brings Zero Moustafa (Tony Revelori) up the ranks from Lobby Boy is just damn good management. (Plus, you know I think Tilda Swinton can do no wrong, so.)

And of course, one of the ultimate hotel movies--

No! Not The Shining! Yes I saw it, but I'm refusing to put it in this happy little round up of mine because it's terrifying. And yes, loads of people ask me if I've seen it, if it was filmed in the Catskills... Which it wasn't by the way. West Coast. Very far away. Anyway!

Lost In Translation! Which I suppose you could say is almost more of a love letter to Japan as opposed to hotels, but still. The hotel is very much a part of the film and how the characters interact with each other.

I think the last time I saw it was on a bus ride in Colombia. Because why else would we have dressed up Steven as Bill Murray in the poster at that random hotel in Colombia?

I'm realizing right now that's a lot of leg.

Onto the next film! I'd walked by the copy of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in our movie rental store back in Brooklyn many times, never quite able to convince Steven to watch it with me. Then one night he went out to the bars with some dude friends and I stayed in and watched it and... cried my eyes out.

And oh my GOD in Googling this movie poster I just realized there is in fact a SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL playing in theaters RIGHT NOW! How did I miss this??

But back to the first one-- I remember my heart going out to Sonny as he was racing to meet all the various needs of his elderly guests and sometimes failing rather spectacularly.

I also remember admiring the perfectly charming patina of the supposedly run down hotel then having to remind myself that that's a movie set.

I've been to run down hotels in India and there is nothing charming about them. Although I just took a quick peek at photos from my last trip there and while the whole thing left me feeling totally wrung out, from this distance, I can now safely admire the experience of say, taking a sunrise boat down the Ganges in Varanasi.

So those are some of my favorite hotel themed films. I'm sure there's more, but I should probably get back to running my own hotel, eh?

This + That: Tue, March 17th

1. Can finally see our stairs again after the big melt. / 2. Dropped a friend off for the bus in Phoenicia. / 3. Got a latte while waiting for a prescription to be filled and overheard lots of weather talk. / 4. Pooping dog juuuust out of the frame. / 5. Decided to listen to the entire "Idler Wheel" Fiona Apple album while doing nothing else but laying on the floor-- wanted to treat her lyrics like reading a book. This might have to be a new thing I enjoyed it so much. / 6. Leftover cornbread for lunch. / 7. Had some trouble getting the wood stove going. Always makes me feel incompetent. / 8. Warmer weather = cluster flies. / 9. Getting my snob on aka practicing French by reading Camus. / 10. Was interrupted by a flash in the window-- part of a box that covers some exterior pipes flew off. Struggled to get that back on in the terrible wind. / 11. So THAT's where the swing went. / 12. Took Waldo in the pine trees after swinging by the front desk to chat with our assistant Colleen. / 13. Happy hour.

(What is "This + That"? This is "This + That".)

I Love Lamp: A Dreamy Closet Begins

I am a lucky girl for a bajillion reasons. Including the fact that I have an entire ROOM for a closet...! The previous owners have 5 kids, so all of the upstairs rooms used to be bedrooms. And they had to get creative with space, hence loft beds with storage built in like our former "crazy" room I just had a go at--

But Steven and I don't have 5 children quite yet, so we've got guest rooms and closet rooms, haha!

And while I loved how much space my closet room had, it wasn't actually as efficient as I wanted it to be and had some unfinished bits that needed some loving. Here's what it was looking like pretty much since we moved in:

What I really wanted, was to get that dang loft out. It was bulky and those storage shelves went really far back but were basically unaccessible past a first row of clothing.

Enter, Steven and his tool box. (Yes, I could have used the tools too but Steven was pretty amped for some demo!)

Some parts were screwed in, like the top and some of the front boards, which was great because all we had to do was unscrew 'em and pop 'em off.

Unfortunately, some parts were nailed together. Which mean we just had to get kind of aggressive. And for that, Steven brought out his maul:

Meanwhile, I was filling the former "crazy room" room I'd JUST emptied with every single piece of clothing I own SIGH.

Steven kept at it while Waldo and I mostly got in the way.

Although then again I don't know. Because below is the exact moment he said, "This is totally a two person, one dog job."

And then TADA!

SO. MUCH. FREAKING. WOOD. It took approximately three thousand trips up and down our steep stairs to get it all out of there.

At this point we decided to quit when we were ahead and call it a day. Order some Chinese food. Oh wait, there's no take out here. So we made some instead.

The next morning I rolled out of bed and grabbed a paint brush. White, white, white, shiny and bright on the ceiling, the trim, and the walls. I only took one progress shot:

Then it was time to have a go at the floors that had taken an uneven beating over the years. The other week I did the living room floor with olive oil, white vinegar, and warm water and it looked amaaaaaazing so I did the same thing here.

Yes, the place smells a bit like a salad for a few hours but it's totally worth it!

Next up was bringing all my clothes back into this room. But in order to do that right, I needed to make a plan. Shelves? Racks? Armoires? I thiiiiink I've decided on a combination of one long rack on the right wall, a series of shoe shelves on the left, and a whole bunch of shelves in the actual closet which will have a door.

So I started bringing clothes back in, piece by piece, asking myself each time: Do I wear this? Do I love this?

I had to add the second question because here the usual "Have you worn it in the past 6 months?" strategy doesn't work because there aren't quiiiite as many opportunities in the country for, say, silk dresses as there are in the city. But does that mean I should toss them? NO EFFING WAY.

Still, I managed to eliminate an entire contractor's bag worth of clothes and oh my gosh does it feel goooooood.

So we're getting there. Bit by bit, day by day.

Hopefully I'll be able to show you photos of a finished closet in the next few weeks. And hopefully I'll be able to actually wear some of those dresses pictured above in the next few weeks too! Seems almost reasonable-- I saw my first patches of BARE GROUND today:

And to wrap it up, a little Before and nearly After for you:

(What is I Love LampThis is I Love Lamp.)

Introducing "This + That"

Along with "So how'd you guys find this place?" and "Have you always wanted to open an inn?", the Number One question I'm asked is: "What do you guys DO out here?"

Depending on the guest and how they imagine they themselves would cope living in the country, the tone can range from curious to accusatory to dreamy...

Overall, most folks who visit us from NYC have a very hard time imagining how we could possibly fill our days without office jobs, restaurants, bars, museums, concerts, and time spent on the subway.

So I figured I'd show you!

"This + That" will be a reoccurring column that shows, in photos, moments throughout a day in the country. Some beautiful, some mundane. I'll do my best to give you a little window into rural life. Sometimes we'll be working, sometimes it'll be one of our days off. You'll see, it's very much the same and yet... totally different.

First up: today!

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 11th, 2015.

1. Plants I should water. / 2. A walk down Spruceton Road with the dog. / 3. And up Rusk Mountain Road because it's finally above freezing today. / 4. Forgot to wipe down Waldo's paws and close the door to the bedroom. / 5. Doing some closet organizing and dreaming of summer. / 6. A quick snuggle in front of the wood stove. / 7. Another walk down the road, this time in the opposite direction. / 8. Catching the sunset through the trees. / 9. Collecting our change piles. / 10. Having scotch and grapefruit juice while making cookie dough before dinner. / 11. Washing those muddy sheets. / 12. Watching hockey.

 

Oh, To Wear A Gown

I'm suffering from a serious case of Oh-My-God-Not-Another-Bulky-Sweater-And-Snowboots. I pretty much look like this all the time:

So I'm finding the Oscar red carpet coverage especially swoon-worthy and am drawn to what are probably the most outrageous and impractical dresses like these two:

Not exaaaaactly shoveling in the snow friendly, but a girl can dream.

(Oscar photos by Getty.)

I Love Lamp: the "Crazy" Room Redo and a DIY Meltdown

While the downstairs of our house has the kitchen and two large rooms, the upstairs is a bit more of a traditional farmhouse labyrinth with low ceilings and a door to a room just about everywhere you turn. Each one of which I've wanted to update. I've been taking it on room by room. First I did my office.

Then our bedroom.

Then the guest bedroom.

Which left two more (I know, I told you, there's like a thousand little rooms upstairs): my closet and the room we'd taken to calling "the crazy room". Yeah. It went from being a small "guest room" to a "closet" to a motherfucking "crazy room". Exhibit A:

No, your eyes don't deceive you. That's a feather boa peaking out. And a child's rocking horse. And sewing machine. And oh THAT'S where the bandaids went!

Sadly, the first step of having a go at this room meant emptying it. Which meant turning another room into total chaos. I chose the guest room, figuring that since "the crazy room" was so much smaller I could probably at least contain the madness to the bed.

Right.

But at least the little room was empty!

The pink drawers and tiny floral wallpaper weren't so much our thing, so I figured I'd paint the built-in loft glossy black (my new favorite), strip the wallpaper, and paint the rest white. It would be a new guest room/closet combo with no "crazy" to be seen. A cozy place to snuggle up with a book. A reading room if you will.

The glossy black went on easy enough. Though oh my gosh how BAD does it look with just one coat, right? If painting things white makes them feel clean, painting 'em black feels like you're making a filthy mess. Until the second coat that is.

Anyway! Next up was stripping the wallpaper.

Sadly, I'd thrown out my heavy duty wallpaper stripping formula from my go at the hallway. So I tried a homemade solution of vinegar and warm water which did about as much as if I'd simply wished it off. So I bought some more, applied it and--

...it didn't do a damn thing because much like the hallway, this wallpaper had been applied directly to drywall without any primer in between. Short of renting a power washer, I was screwed. I pulled and scraped and pinched and succeeded in two things:

1. Making it look worse than when I'd started.

2. Working myself into a bit of a fit.

At this point I took a time out to email two dear friends, Dominique and Mary, and vent, part of which I'm going to paste below because I'm of the tribe that believes some good old fashioned honesty on the Internet is a good thing: (And please excuse the excessive amount of f-bombs, I was really frustrated)

I'm just tired of working on this house right now. And so sick of it taking over my "off" time when I'm not working. Because it feels like I'm kind of working all the time then. And it's my own fault that I can't just relax in a messy/dirty place but it's just the way I am. I will literally keep thinking about the room until it's done. Then feeling guilty that I'm so annoyed by this 'white person problem' of sorts.

I would like to punch something. Or go somewhere that's not this fucking house. But I'm not actually violent so I won't punch something. And I can't fucking go anywhere because I have to wait for our wine distributor to deliver and for our florist who's dropping off pre-ordered Valentine's bouquets to come and the snow is so deep I literally cannot even go for a walk around the property. Where the fuck would I go out here anyway??

Plus it seems like I haven't felt my toes in weeks. No amount of Smart Wool socks can conquer this fucking winter.

Yeah. Re-doing this room brought on some pretty epic frustration and bouts of despair which my oh so empathetic and intelligent friends heard and helped me through. GOD BLESS ELECTRONIC COMMUNICATION when you're living out in the country.

I felt especially better when Dominique pointed out: "Not for nothing is that famous creepy short story about a woman going mad in a room centered around wallpaper ["The Yellow Wallpaper"]... Wallpaper could drive anyone mad."

So there it was. The "crazy" room was threatening to drive me "crazy".

Continuing my fit, I decided fuck it. I'll just paint the whole thing white because even if put I up a wallpaper of some kind, I'll want an even base.

And it was SO cathartic. It felt like a cleansing of the room somehow. A brightening. And while yes, you could see uneven texture where I'd had a go at the wallpaper, or where the rolls met, it wasn't horrible. I mean, it's not like I was trying to turn this room into a royal receiving suite or something. The room could be 90% ok and that would be 100% ok.

I considered hanging lots and lots of Steven's art on the walls "salon" or "gallery" style, but I feared that would overwhelm such a small and severely angled space. And I didn't want it to look busy and compete with how busy the hallway wallpaper looks.

Several coats of white paint and a few nails later, I settled on this:

If you look closely you can see that not all of those pillows have been fully sewn yet, but it's progress! And like I told Dominique and Mary in a (much calmer) follow up email, the room makes me smile now. And really feels like it's a part of our house. And is a strange testament to Steven's and my bizarre path from Mali (where he made those paintings and where all the fabric is from) to the American woods. All of which makes me happy!

And you know what else makes me happy: side by side Before and After shots!

The view from the hallway:

The loft:

The other corner:

Yes, sadly there is still a bunch of crap piled up in the big guest room because I haven't had the time/will to put it all back in the drawers and closet yet (have I mentioned I'm supposed to be running an inn??). Besides, I'm going to put a fair chunk of that stuff in my closet once I redo that room the week after next. Mwahahahahah!

That's my evil can't-stop-won't-stop with the updating laugh. Well, it's that or the yellow wallpaper really did get to me after all.

(What is I Love LampThis is I Love Lamp.)

P.S. We actually got to give this room a run as a guest room last night when my brother came up for a visit. We just popped the little twin mattress that's usually on the daybed near the wood stove up on the loft and bam! A guest room with a door that actually closes, where no one has to walk through to get to the bathroom. How sophisticated.

Only Lovers Left Alive

We watched "Only Lovers Left Alive" last night and it was...

...totally entrancing.

Moody, delicious music, lovely cinematography and of course Tilda Swinton can do absolutely no wrong.

I think my favorite part about the whole experience though was that it was unpredictable. Which sadly, is not a word that can be applied to most movies that make their way through Hollywood and Netflix and all that.

The most intriguing part of any vampire story to me is always the living-through-so-many-centuries aspect. What would you do with all that time? What would you learn? What would you produce? How would you keep your heart afloat after watching humans tragically repeat history so many times?

Check it out next time you're in the mood for something just a bit unusual.