tree trimming party 2014

The weekend before Xmas is busy with parties. We had our annual tree-trimming party on Saturday. Oona is home from college and she has a good eye for picking out a good Xmas tree. Saturday morning we set out on foot to our usual Xmas tree spot on Houston St. where the French Canadian guys will deliver the tree to your apartment for ten bucks. Oona was lamenting about how much fun it was when we used to carry the tree home ourselves on foot. We reminisced about the time we brought one of our Toy Fox Terriers with a tiny Santa hat on his head and he was so cute walking next to us while we carried the Xmas tree, that we were not only photographed multiple times but also filmed by a passing video crew.

NYC_xmastrees

A toy fox terrier in a Santa hat - Millie

A toy fox terrier in a Santa hat – Millie

We carried the tree home this year. I’d forgotten how much fun it is. When people in New York see you schlepping a pine tree, they smile and wish you a Merry Xmas. Random men offer to help you carry it. People sitting in restaurants smile and wave to you from the windows. It’s a jolly trek home when you are carrying a Xmas tree in New York city.

NYC_xmasTreeornaments

This year’s party featured cocktails made with drinking vinegars or shrubs. Shrubs were popular in colonial America as way to preserve fruit and make a refreshing drink. Oona had concocted some at school and so we decided to make wintery shrubs for our guests.

Beet Balsamic Shrub (recipe from Ashley Marti of Local Haven)
2 cups raw beets, peeled and sliced
½ cup maple syrup (I used sugar)
½ cup apple cider vinegar
1 tbs balsamic vinegar

Put beets in a quart mason jar and cover with sugar or maple syrup and shake it up to coat the beets. Put into the refrigerator for 24 hours and shake occasionally. After 24 hours, add the two vinegars and shake it up. Put back into the fridge for another 24 hours, shaking occasionally. Then strain the liquid into a clean jar and store in the fridge.

This makes a syrupy drinking vinegar which we then added to seltzer. Make it as strong or as mild as you like. This was especially good with vodka and a slice of lemon.

Cranberry Sage Shrub (adapted from Jerry James Stone’s blog Cooking Stoned)
1 cup fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 cup Champagne vinegar
2 fresh sage leaves

It is the same steps as the beet shrub, except you should roast the cranberries to soften them up first. Put them on a baking pan and roast them for about 20 minutes in a 350 degree oven till they are mushy. Then put them into a quart mason jar, shake with sugar, let sit, add vinegar, shake and sit in the fridge – then you’ve got the wonderful syrupy tart sweet shrub to add to your seltzer and cocktails.

The flavor combinations are endless. Now that we’ve got the hang of it, the experimentation will begin. Happy Holidays, dear readers.

XmasBikeNYC

hello winter

We spent the Thanksgiving weekend at our rural homestead arriving on the heels of the first snowstorm of the year. We had the foresight to leave two snow shovels propped against a pine tree at the top of the driveway on our last visit when it was still autumn. The mountain greeted us with twelve inches of heavy snow. Fat snow – the kind that is perfect for snowballs and snowmen and makes for a very good workout in shoveling. We cleared out a parking space for the car close to the road. Then we shoveled paths to the trailer, the pile of stacked firewood, the solar power shed and the well. The snow was as tall as her so little blind Millie finds her way on the paths by following the crunching sound of your boots on snow.

The back meadow in winter

The back meadow in winter. All photos were shot with my iPhone using the Hipstamatic App (one of my favorites) with the Lowy lens and the Blanko BL4 film

Millie on a snow path. Nothing stops her

Millie on a snow path. Nothing stops her

 

Our lipstick red plastic Adirondack Chairs buried. See you in the Spring!

Our red plastic Adirondack Chairs buried. See you in the Spring!

photo 2 copy

I don’t cook on Thanksgiving, we are always lucky guests at other people’s elaborate and delicious dinners. This year, we decided to just drive upstate to the country and eat a regular meal. We ignored shopping and sales and just stayed holed up in the trailer feeding the fire in the wood stove. I curled up on the couch in wool socks with little dogs tucked all around for warmth and caught up on reading.

A French parlor wood stove from the early 1900's.

A French parlor wood stove from the early 1900’s.

 

A great read for the winter, with beautiful illustrations by the author

A great read for the winter, with beautiful illustrations by the author

At 4:30 in the afternoon it is already dusk on the mountain. The snow turns blue in the waning light. The sky is grey tinged with gold from the last rays of the setting sun. It is very cold now, the kind of cold that makes the edges of your nostrils numb. The air smells clean and it feels like you are inhaling snowflakes. Time to bring in more firewood.

View from the front porch at dusk

View from the front porch at dusk

dove love

I’ve been a little down and I haven’t written. Sometimes life gets in the way and becomes the excuse. But then writing makes me feel better so I decided to just write.

I’ve been busy nursing my pet dove. A beautiful ringneck dove named Ruki. She has a story and a bit of magic about her. She is a talisman.

ringneckdoveruki1

Ruki came to us in 2003. We don’t know how old she is because she was an escaped pet that we rescued. I believe she was meant to live with us. I think she was very young when she came to us, at least, I hope that she was. She is the color of a very light café con leche with a touch of peach. The feathers that form the delicate ring around her neck are a soft charcoal grey.

Late this summer I noticed that when Ruki flew free, she seemed out of breath when she landed. I thought it was because she wasn’t getting enough flight exercise or because she was getting older. But it became worse and so I took her to an avian vet in our neighborhood. I was told it could be many things – none of them good. I was told she was a flock animal and so she would hide any disability above all. The fact that she could not hide it anymore was a bad sign. I was given an antibiotic in the hope that it was only an infection.

I turned to the specialized Internet forums for help. I began using Internet forums in the 1990’s for things such as knitting questions and advice about parenting babies and young children. They are an early form of community interaction on the Internet. The forums are a beautiful expression of how people united only by a common interest, give selflessly and freely to support other people who they do not know and will never meet. I think the people on the forums tend to give more in depth advice than other Internet support groups. Following the advice of kind dove fanciers, I force fed Ruki thawed frozen peas to keep her strength up and so that the antibiotic would not upset her stomach. I draped her cage in blankets and added a hot water bottle for extra warmth. On the fifth day of treatment, she started to show signs of improvement. She started eating on her own and there was less open-mouthed breathing.

ringneckdoveruki Ruki continues to get better but she is not out of the woods yet. Yesterday I was heartened to see her up to her old mischief of sneaking up behind one of the dogs and pecking the back of his leg. The dove is dominant over the dogs. Right now she is perched on the couch next to me as I write,  softly breathing, relaxed and dosing. A late afternoon bird nap.

autumnal bike commute

The first days of autumn in New York City are still balmy even though you can spot a yellowish tinge on the leaves of the street trees and it is now dusk at 7 o’clock. When its not hot I like to ride my bike to work the long way, all the  way around the southern tip of the island instead of the quick way straight across from east to west. It’s easy to forget that Manhattan is an island because it is so dense with people and buildings from edge to edge. On the morning of 9/11 as I was shepherding the children home, through the shock and fear in the streets, we passed a cluster of people gathered around a parked car listening to the radio for news, when a woman shouted “they’ve closed all the bridges and tunnels to and from the island” and I thought “we are trapped”. After that, I’ve never forgotten that we live on an island.

East River Brooklyn Bridge

East River Brooklyn Bridge

My bike commute starts on the eastern edge of the island where the East River looks over to Brooklyn. In the old days, they say that the river froze so solid that people could walk over the ice from Brooklyn to Manhattan. They say that entrepreneurs  sold hot potatoes on the icy river to commuters. The workers carried the potatoes in their pockets to warm their hands on their trek across the iced over river and then have the roasted potatoes for breakfast.

Williamsburg Bridge

Williamsburg Bridge

As you ride on the paths of the East River Park you pass many sports fields. You can smell the salt in the air and the morning sunlight sparkles on the water. It is much cleaner now and you can catch glimpses of ducks and other water birds living there. As you hit the eastern edge of Chinatown by the river, you see clusters of Chinese seniors practicing Tai Chi and exercising in the park near the South Street Seaport. Fishermen in baseball caps line the railings with long poles in their hands.

The old Fulton Fish Market

The old Fulton Fish Market

You hit a wall of commuters getting off the Staten Island Ferry and subways as you round the southern most tip of the island and move from East River to the Hudson on the West Side.

rsz_nyc_commuters-2

At this point, I ride on the sidewalk dodging the walkers and taking care not the scare them. They have enough stress. To ride in the street here is dicey because they are curvy and packed with speeding commuter buses bringing in Wall St. workers from the land of suburbia.

Westside bike lane heading north

Westside bike lane heading north

Once you cross the street at the tip of the island at Battery Park, you can get on the West Side bike lane north and now you ride along side a different river – the Hudson.

Remnants of an old pier on the Hudson River

Remnants of an old pier on the Hudson River

summer’s end 2014

It was a good summer. The best summer in a long time because I was at the trailer in the country working from home for most of it and my daughters were close. There is nothing better than to be around your family and your dogs. Being in the country allows a slower pace that is that is good for observation. In the city you miss things because you have to move at a certain pace or you will be the one blocking foot traffic. You can’t look up at the sky for too long or you could step in dog shit. In the country your eye and your mind have the freedom to wander.

hayfieldrev

This summer I saw how the deep green of the mid-summer vegetation changed. Now everything has a yellowish cast to it. The fields are lime green from the goldenrod in bloom. There are tiny flowers blooming making splotches that look like pink smoke. Over anxious maples that are turning red and russet colored bushes signal the wan of summer and the start of autumn. Everywhere you smell the sweet smell of the last of the hay being cut. The nights are heavy with the song of black crickets.

Here are some things that I learned this summer:

I enjoy seeing livestock when I look out the window.

I like to doze off to sleep and wake in the morning to the sound of softly tinkling goat bells.

I write more when I’m alone

Water boils faster on the mountain

Jersey cow milk makes the best butter

We went through a lot of sugar due to the hummingbird feeder, the brewing of Kombucha and the canning of peaches

It sure is nice to have lights on in more than one room (first full summer with solar powered electricity)

There are more women farmers than I imagined

If you leave your hair loose when you walk in the woods, deer fly get caught in it and it’s easy to kill them that way

Blue jays have a beautiful way of swooping down when they fly and they really love wild blueberries

In the country you experience sudden unexpected fragrances depending on the direction of the wind and which plants it is blowing through at the time

Hummingbirds chitter

Cowbella Farm's Jersey cows and a woman farmer

Cowbella Farm’s Jersey cows and a woman farmer

redChairs

Lolo, a Toy Fox Terrier sun bathing

Lolo, a Toy Fox Terrier sun bathing

First sighting of Fall

First sighting of Fall

a country flea market

I love yard sales and country flea markets. The possibility of finding treasure and a good deal is irresistible. In the northern Catskills, yard sales seem to be an art form. Towns even hold community-wide yard sales that are like rural block parties with live music and the volunteer firemen barbecuing chickens on Main Street.

Every Sunday there is a Flea Market in the Town of Broome in Schoharie County. I am spoiled by this flea market. I don’t ever bother to go to any of the flea markets in New York City because I consider them to be overpriced and yuppified. The country flea market has a great mix of stuff. Real antiques and tools, handmade garden ornaments and old lace, garlic and tomatoes from someone’s garden. I find good stuff here.

Some of my favorite treasures found here are:

– A bright yellow garden hose for the day we have running water
– A garden tool that is shaped like a hoe but has spikes that is perfect for mixing compost into flower beds
– Old cast iron skillets that are smooth as glass inside so that you can fry an egg in it without sticking.
– Hand embroidered cotton pillowcases and linen dishtowels from the 50’s.
– A hand forged meat cleaver

schoharieCountyFleaMarketWS

BlackSmithSignFleaMarket

FrillyGlasswareFleaMarketRollingStoneAlbumFleaMarket

OldtoolsFleaMarket

PiesFleaMarket

rsz_butterickpatternfleamarket copy

MatchboxCaseFleaMarket

heather ridge farm – good food, good friends

I met Carol in April of 2011. It was the start of the college search for Oona in the spring of her junior year of High School. We had scheduled time for an interview for a summer internship at Heather Ridge Farm where animals are lovingly raised on pastures and they operate the Bees Knees Cafe which serves “fiercely local” and delicious food. A tall woman with beautiful curly hair cut in a pert bob and a wide smile welcomed us at the door of the old farmhouse that serves as the café and farm store. All the while smiling, she sat Oona down at one of the tables in the Bees Knees Café for her interview while I made myself scarce in the farm store. After the interview Carol invited us to visit the barn where the spring lambing season was underway. Farmer John (why are there so many farmers named John?) showed us around the maternity ward where we saw a newly born lamb still wet from birth.

Heather Ridge Farm and the Bee's Knee's Cafe

Heather Ridge Farm and the Bee’s Knee’s Cafe

Carol and John feed us with both the food they grow and their friendship. They give us advice about things that city folk don’t know about such as goat fencing. When Hurricane Irene devastated the area in August of 2011 and the roads off the mountain were washed away and the town was flooded, we ate their beef and chicken. They serve seasonal food, everything has its time and place. The following spring, again in April, I stopped by after driving up from the city on a Saturday afternoon for lunch. It was a week after the funeral of my only brother and I’d driven up to the trailer by myself just to get away and dig in the dirt. Carol served me up a bowl of Nettle soup. I’d never seen anything like it. It was an intense green and creamy, thick and very hot. On a small plate was a slice of homemade Irish bread smeared with the yellowest butter I’d ever seen. It was a grey day and I looked out of the farmhouse window to the view of the mountains shrouded in mist. The green soup warmed me to my toes. Its warmth was as soothing as a mother’s fingertips on your brow. The green soup was spring itself.

Morning farm chores, feeding the pigs

Morning farm chores, farm intern feeding the pigs

farm solar power

farm solar power

Devon beef cattle

Devon beef cattle

The Bees Knees Cafe's Chef Rob with his file cabinet smoker

The Bees Knees Cafe’s Chef Rob with his file cabinet smoker

the county fair

County fairs and summer go together. Lemonade and funnel cakes. Cotton candy and roller coasters. Here are some photos of our visit to the Sunshine Fair in Schoharie County in New York.

Sunshine Fair

Sunshine Fair

In the show ring - the dairy goats

In the show ring – the dairy goats

SunshineFairSchoharieCounty2

An old grain thrasher from the late 1800's on display

An old grain thrasher from the late 1800’s on display

The cow beauty parlor

The cow beauty parlor

New York State's Agriculture Commissioner, Schoharie County's own Richard Ball

New York State’s Agriculture Commissioner, Schoharie County’s own Richard Ball

A pretty Brown Swiss cow

A pretty Brown Swiss cow

the trailer

A 1976 Marlette mobile home, compact and apartment like, it sits on 20 acres of piney woods and meadow.

photo shot with the Hipstamatic app - Yuri 61 lens and Rasputin film

photos shot with the Hipstamatic app – Yuri 61 lens and Rasputin film

The previous owners brought the trailer in and used it as a hunting cabin. They tinkered with it and added things like the front porch, which is built of pieces of scrap wood, metal and cinderblock. The porch is wide enough to feel like a New York City stoop. All similarity ends there because the porch is draped with leafy Sweet Autumn Clematis vines and we have a visiting porcupine that likes to gnaw on the steps. The beds of Hosta that ring the trailer are in bloom now and buzzing with bees and hummingbirds. The tiny hummingbirds stick their heads inside the lilac colored flowers so deep that half their bodies disappear.

marletteTailer2

We have no running water so we pump from a well that is outfitted with an old-fashioned hand pump. The water bucket system flushes the toilet that is connected to a primitive septic system. The sinks and bathtub are connected to a grey water system where the water is flushed out to the back meadow. Only biodegradable soaps are used. Pumping water for the buckets is really good for your core and your triceps.

Bucket power

Bucket power

I’ve become really good at dishwashing without running water. Everyone, even guests are trained to remember which is their water glass and to be conservative about creating dishwashing volume. We grill a lot and make one-skillet meals. I use sturdy Bagasse dinner plates that are made from sugarcane waste and go straight into the compost bin. Marinating meats takes place inside zip lock bags.

The back meadow has a nice view of the woods. In June I like to sit on a lipstick red Adirondack chair and watch the light show that is fireflies. In August, we are lulled to sleep by the song of black crickets. Moss grows like a carpet in the shady parts of the back meadow and red squirrels chitter like monkeys in the pine trees.

adirondackChairs

We have been here for six weeks. This is the first time we are spending all summer here. I’m getting spoiled by the smell of the mountain air and the feel of grass under my feet. The dogs run free without collars on and chew meaty bones on the grass, their heads greasy with marrow. For the first time, I have seen the cornfields growing up from little green tufts in rows of dirt to what I see now where the stalks are over my head and topped with a cornflower.

cornfield

off the grid connections

We bought the piece of land nine years ago as refuge from our urban lives. A green and wild world in the Catskill Mountains of New York. We got it for a good price because we are off the grid. No electrical poles for a half-mile in either direction. We have a mobile home the size of an average New York City apartment, so we feel comfortable within its confines.

no poles, no wires

Look Ma – no poles, no wires

We installed a solar system last summer and then we yearned for more connections. Namely, phone and internet. We don’t get a strong enough signal to use our cellphones. Year by year, the signal inched tantalizingly closer to us. The first year, we could sometimes make a call if we stood next to a chicken coop about a half mile up the road. It depended on the weather. Now the signal is just a quarter of a mile away. Our next door neighbor has two bars on an elevated spot on her land so we tried climbing ladders in different spots in our meadow. We even went into the forest and climbed to the top of an abandoned deer stand. Nada.

We are friends with a couple who live nearby and are also off the grid. They are fully connected with a landline and DSL. They became our advisors. They’d asked the phone company to put a box on the nearest pole and ran telephone cable for a half mile to their solar powered cabin. And it worked.

In our town the phone company is independent and has been in existence since the late 1800’s. They understand rural folk, unorthodox situations and the desire for connectivity. The planner came and walked with me to the closest pole. That pole is on the land of our neighbor to the north about a quarter of a mile away from our mobile home. “Yes, we can put the box here”, he said, “but the cable is your responsibility in every way”. Our neighbor said “Yes, we will help you and you can connect using our pole, but we don’t want to see your cable, make sure you tap it down through the forest”. It is important to be neighborly in the backwoods. One hand washes the other. And people like to help.

Our neighbors Martha and Richard, the architects of this thing gave us their left over telephone cable along with instructions about how to connect the pieces. The cable had been salvaged from a dumpster and it was in pieces, wrapped in a coil. It was like a ball of yarn to be unraveled and laid out along the roadside. Then we had to run each piece through the woods and splice them together. Each spliced connection had to be housed in a waterproof casing. We were instructed to go to the electrical store in the next biggest town to find the waterproof housing. It was just me and Oona since our resident male (Frank) was out of town. Electrical store + do it yourselfers + females = Offensive Macho Bullshit. I started out by being polite and humble – more flies with honey and all that. Oona, from her experience with male shopkeepers in feed stores, said “Ma, they don’t respect humble, you have to be assertive”. So I countered with “I’m the customer and I’m explaining to you what I need”. It worked. The grumpy guy went to the back and emerged with pieces of plastic that would serve as the waterproof enclosures for our spliced cables.

cable1rev

On a brilliantly sunny afternoon we began the work of unspooling the roll of cable along the roadside so that we could connect the pieces and run it through the woods from our mobile home to our neighbor’s telephone pole. David and Lily, our upstairs neighbors in the Loisaida homestead and our 15 minutes away neighbor in upstate New York, stopped by and volunteered to help. Thankfully David took some photos because I was yelled at twice for stopping work to take photos for the blog.

cable photos - david schmidlapp

cable photos – david schmidlapp

I was nervous. I’d been working from home at the town library for the use of the wireless. I had the schedule of the hours of operation for the libraries in three neighboring towns. I kept a folding lawn chair in the car trunk after having sat for half a morning with my laptop on the stone steps of a closed library connecting to the wireless leaking from the building’s interior. I was on conference calls in the library’s parking lot, running away from the knots of laughing kids heading over from the town pool.  It was stressful to duplicate the connectivity that one has in an office in New York City while being off the gird in the backwoods of New York State.

oona was in charge of the splicing

oona was in charge of the splicing

this houses the connected splice

this houses the connected splice

insulating foam for waterproofing. this was then covered with a thin black rubber cut from a mat for extra protection from moisture

insulating foam for waterproofing. this was then covered with a thin black rubber cut from a mat for extra protection from moisture

The nice guy from the independent phone company that is over one hundred years old arrived on a bright morning after a night of violent thunderstorms to hook us up. I kept waiting for him to tell me that what we were doing was not possible – crazy in fact. But he waded calmly with me through waist high blackberry brambles to reach my neighbor’s telephone pole to add a box for our phone and internet. When we returned to our mobile home and he asked me where I would like to put the phone jack, my heart soared. I watched as he expertly drilled and connected and pulled a modem out of a box. I handed him the plain black phone I’d bought that requires no electricity. And then it rang.

internet tv via roku

internet tv via roku