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. 

Portland Maine Getaway

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!

Women's March... Up A Mountain

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.

Bookshelf: White Teeth

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.

Obama, Reader in Chief

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]!

Bookshelf: Private Citizens

Private Citizens by Tony Tulathimutte

A good line or two:

"--or like the over-groomed beard a perfect emblem of masculine ambivalence emerging from a progressive subculture rooted in regressive nostalgia and pride mingled with shame not to mention sincere aestheticism performed through ironic mediums--" (p. 202) (Part of a HILARIOUS party scene monologue that goes on for literal pages.)

Got me thinking about:

When Steven and I lived in The Mission in San Francisco during the same time depicted in this book. Kinda riiight as the second tech bubble was beginning. Oh my gosh he just NAILS the scene. In a rather exaggerated way, but I think that made the reading all the more enjoyable.

How punishing authors can be to their characters.

How excited I am to meet the editor of this book, Margeaux Weisman, when she comes to the Inn as one of our 2017 Resident Artists!


Mostly right before bed which made for some manic, talk-y dreams. 

This + That: Thurs, January 12

Thursday, January 12th

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1. Had a slumber party staycation at Brushland Eating House last night. Ate our faces off and Sohail surprised us with some hilarious and delicious off-menu items between courses. / 2. Drove home in the misty rain. / 3. Walked the dog around the property. / 4. Pulled out some vintage maps that were part of my original visual inspiration for the Inn's logo. Time for some little updates here and there. / 5. Transferred some scans from my old computer to my new, like all the old post cards that former owner Karl Schwarzenegger brought by before we opened. / 6. Frozen Chinatown dumplings for a lazy lunch. We've been trying to save these so we can eat them during our kitchen renovation WHICH IS STARTING IN JUST A FEW WEEKS (!!) but they're too delicious to hoard. / 7. Rain let up a bit so we hit the trail. / 8. Rain picked up again and melted aaaaaall the snow. / 9. Finished The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore. Enjoyed learning about her early feminist roots and the untraditional family structure of her creators. / 10. Put in a scary movie but it was kind of slow, and we had a screener's copy of Moonlight calling... so we watched that instead which was of course absolutely heart wrenching and wonderful like everyone's been saying. 

Dress Up

I've got an unofficial tradition going with some gal pals of mine where the morning after a big red carpet event like the Oscars or Golden Globes we pull pics and review the good, the bad, and the goofy. 

My faves this year are these two gems:

As I told my girls: I can't decide if it's because I've started watching Outlander and am IN LOVE or because I actually like this dress on Caitriona. Either way, I'd have never pulled this off the rack but am totally digging it on her here. And maybe I've lost it but Nathalie's number feels oh so Jackie Maternity chic to me.

I also mentioned I am DEEPLY disappointed in my imaginary pals' Emma and Keri's choices:

Such a shame they went time traveling only to shop at some bullshit California mall shop in 2002 called Stars & Leopard Prints & Kisses. 

Or maybe it's just my jealousy talking. It's all jeans and muck boots and bulky sweaters on repeat here. I've got some serious gown envy!

P.S. I need to mention that this email chain, in addition to sartorial analysis, has also managed to include discussions of Meryl Streep's speech, the troubling ways that following a celebrity on Instagram can make you feel like you "know" them, separating art from an artist, and power/rape/race in Hollywood. This is why it's important to have smart friends.

I Love Lamp: Renovating The Barn, Part Two of Many

Well, life took over and we pretty much didn't touch it again until now. In the dead of winter. Because that's a totally ideal time to be doing work in an uninsulated, unheated barn. 

We had some friends up for New Year's Eve and in between walks to the waterfall--

And lighting massive bonfires--

We put them to work building tables! Out of barn wood, OF COURSE. And with some legs from ModernLegs.com just like we did for our coffee table. Then today, Steven and I went in and swept up, rearranged and ta-da!

Why on earth did we decide to do this today? Because we're having a Dungeons & Dragons retreat here this weekend and they're going to use the barn for their Friday night welcome event! I'll snap some pics then too so you can see it in all of its tapestry/string light/electric candle nerding out glory.

We're still planning on doing a real-deal renovation in the spring/summer, but for now it's great to have this space even remotely usable!

Writing Staycation

One of my favorite places to write is in a hotel room.

The anonymity, the isolation, the little bit of luxury. It's part of why I love hosting writers here at the Inn. I've been known to take over one of the rooms on occasion, but if I really need to delve into some pages it can't be my own hotel. It's just not the same.

So yesterday I packed a bag with a few essentials--

(yes, books, anchovies, and arugula all count as "essentials") -- and hit the road for the Emerson Resort just twenty minutes away where I spent the better part of twenty-four hours on this bed writing writing writing. 

And now I'm back to my own hotel where there's loads to do before the busy weekend!

Currently Reading Peachy Pink Femme Books Only!

Just took a peek at my recently viewed and recommended items on Amazon and apparently all I want for Christmas is a whole lot of peachy pink femme books:

Although to be fair, my most recent browsing history looks a lot less fun:

(Oh, winter.)

Btw, I am NOT only reading peachy pink femme books (though yes, I love a lot of those in that photo!). I'm currently reading Private Citizens by Tony Tulathimutte. Steven saw him speak at a panel at the Texas Book Fest few months ago and said he was a riot. Bookshelf review coming soon!

Happy 3 Year Move-iversary!

Three years ago today we woke up in our house in the Catskills for the first time. It was cold (no wood stove yet) and empty (our moving truck had broken down and would be three days late) but we were fucking ELATED anyway because it was the beginning of what we knew would surely be an adventure.

It was scary to say goodbye to Brooklyn, to all our friends and our way of life there-- to trade it for the mountains and small town life and so many unknowns, all because I had this stubborn idea to open a hotel.

But I'm so damn glad we did.

To everyone who's ever stayed at the Inn or dropped in for a drink or to say hello, thank you! To all our neighbors and friends out here, thank you! You are all such a big part of what makes this home

Happy Move-iversary Steven!

Bookshelf: Women

A good line or two:

But now it is occurring to me that by offering you these details about Finn, I could ruin things for you as well. I could tell you her favorite book of poetry or how she liked her hamburgers cooked, or the words tattooed across her knuckles. But depending on what I tell you, I could lose you. (p 6)

(Btw, I should really be highlighting one of the oh so many good sex scenes, but I don't wanna spoil 'em for you!)

Got me thinking about:

How Joan Didion talks to the reader in this casual, breaking-the-fourth-wall kind of way too. 

How I know only women who have been surprised by same-sex attraction in their own lives after years of identifying as straight, not men. 

How people are simply never ever going to tire of writing and reading about love and sex.


In one sitting. Knowing it was about an intense but relatively brief affair I wanted to experience the whole up/down passion, drama, heartbreak in one fell swoop. 

P.S. Caldwell's essay collection I'll Tell You In Person is also great. Personal, vivid, precise.


As in, America Ferrera!

I saw Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer both link to this article this morning and yes, I'm still in bed as I type this and yes, in some ways it feels like something I've read before, and no, I have ZERO INTEREST in doing a triathlon but still, it was... inspiring.

I even sprung a few surprise tears for this part:

As I powered past people, more often than not, they would start walking. I’m going to be honest — the first few times, it felt good. But by the third or fourth time, it lost its novelty.

I know how it feels to be passed by. I know how it feels to allow someone else’s success to be my own failure. I know all too well how hard it is to battle a nasty inner voice.

So I started to talk to each person I passed. I smiled as I hurled cringe-worthy enthusiasm their way. “GO, GIRL!” “You GOT this, man!” “We’re almost there!” My only goal was to yell louder than the voices in their heads. And you know what? People smiled back. Some started running again.

I think it struck a chord with me because right now I find my own inner voices battling--

About the election ("Now is a time for ACTION!" / "Nothing I could do would ever make a difference, we are all so fucked.").

About business development with the Inn in the face of lots of new spots opening ("I love what I worked so hard to create and other people love it too!" / "We will be a passing fad and fall into oblivion. Hurry! Work harder! Or fine, just give up and roll over already.").

About writing ("You have things to say!" / "NO ONE CARES. Stop adding to the noise.").

One of Ferrera's points was that a seemingly simple and superficial change-- say, chanting Beyoncé lyrics to yourself during a run so you just literally talk over your inner critic-- can have surprisingly big results.

On my next run, I gave it a try. As I approached the last leg of my lap, and the sensation that I might throw up or pass out began to rise, I dug out my inner Beyoncé. I began to chant: I’m a survivor. I’m not gone give up. I’makeep running, ’cause a winner don’t quit on herself!

I sounded like a crazy person, and it still hurt like hell. My shoulder, my lungs, my legs — my whole body ached. But for the first time, I didn’t feel beaten down at the end of a run. I felt like a badass.

So when I got out of bed this morning (at about the "Nothing I could do would ever make a difference, we are all so fucked" portion of this post), I put on the silk blouse I bought myself when I decided I was really SERIOUS about opening a hotel. 

 Casey Scieszka

Casey Scieszka

The first time I wore it, it was to meet with my accountant-- my accountant! Perhaps that doesn't sound thrilling but it WAS. It meant I meant business. My accountant. My lawyer. All that would lead to my hotel, right?

I felt like a fraud when I first put it on. Like I was literally just dressing the part of a business owner. But somewhere along 34th Street, as I weaved through the crowds in the sunshine, I felt that particular brand of New York City optimism and thought, "I can DO THIS," and the shirt felt like a battle shield--

and then a middle aged man holding a Macy's bag yelled, "Nice tits!" in my face.

Womp womp. 

But the meeting went well, and that accountant is still my accountant, AND I OWN A FUCKING HOTEL NOW.

That was my triathlon. 

So. Today I'm wearing my blouse. Today I am a badass. Thank you America Ferrera for reminding me.

This + That: Wed, Nov 16

Wednesday, November 16. 


1. I first read Mary Karr's The Liar's Club when I was 12. Reads so differently all these years later. / 2. It poured rain yesterday aaaaall day and night so the creek is finally looking healthy again. / 3. Not to mention the waterfalls! / 4. Time for our quarterly deep clean where we scrub every goddamn inch of every room to keep it looking brand spankin' new. I listened to the end of Book One of Harry Potter as I did one room. Loving that I've come so late to the HP game and now have so many books and movies to look forward to! / 5. Called some local representatives to express my extreme discomfort with Stephen Bannon as the president elect's choice. I was surprisingly nervous to do it. But my friend Ariel posted this great script document on Facebook that really was helpful. Glad I did it. Going to make myself call more folks this week. / 6. This is what it looks like at 5pm now. / 7. Headed over to our friends Tracy and Jamie's house for a slumber party. (Btw, they're the fabulous duo behind Brunette Wine Bar.) Tracy is a sartorial queen and so I always have to bring my fashion A game-- / 8. Even for just a night of dumplings and ramen! / 9. Slept like a baby. / 10. And woke up to an adorable puppy party downstairs. 

Bookshelf: The Arab of the Future 2

The Arab of the Future 2: A Chilldhood In the Middle East, 1984-1985 by Riad Sattouf

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(Please forgive the coffee stain.)

A good line or two:

That last panel, where he's called on and it turns all red. LOVE it. (p 103)

Got me thinking about:

How on earth he remembers so much about his childhood! And how so very good he is at capturing a child's logic and point of view without getting twee or condescending.

About what's going on in Syria these days... Ugh. And how I almost went to do a Modern Standard Arabic program there one summer during college but decided to go back to Morocco instead. In some ways I wish I'd gone, to have seen it. Not that this book's portrayal of village life in Syria reads like travel advertisement in any way but still. 


Greedily. I always have to force myself to sloooooooow doooooown when reading graphic novels. I'm a word person first and foremost, so it's tempting for me to just read it as quickly as I can. But what a terrible way to enjoy a graphic novel! The pictures of course tell half the story, if not more.

P.S. This is the second book in a series. I can't wait for the rest!

I Love Lamp: Urban Outfitters?!

Ummmm, can we talk about how Urban Outfitters Apartment is nailing it right now?

When did this start happening?

Also, I admit, it's mostly knock offs, yes? Which of course is terrible. Corporate slave labor robbing artists etc. And it's perhaps not the highest quality. I truly don't know.

The price point though is frankly confusing me. I think of college kids and recent grads when I think of Urban. But what college kid is buying a $3,000 sofa? Is this a part of the whole indefinite stretching of young adulthood well into people's 40s?

I mean, what I am doing looking at it at 32? Oh kettle, you're so black.