Sunday, October 27, 2013

Fall in the Berkshires - Steepletop

About a year ago at this time I took a spontaneous road trip to Pittsfield MA to check out the Pine Cone Hill Outlet and was rewarded with beautiful linens at bargain prices (you can read about that adventure HERE).  One of my blog readers was kind enough to leave me a comment about a special tent sale they have every Columbus Day weekend.  

Now you must know by now I would not be able to pass this by.  

So after spending a week here

On top of the world thanks to a Pink Jeep Tour in
Sedona AZ

I got home just in time to hop in my car and meet up with one of my pals and hit the tent sale which was absolutely fabulous (I will be going back next year!) and then visit Edna St Vincent Millay’s house in Austerlitz NY.

Edna St Vincent Millay was a Pulitzer Prize winning poet who spent much of her childhood in Camden Maine (as did I) and spent a bit of time in Union Maine (as did I) she also lived in Massachusetts for a time (as do I) and upstate New York (as did I).  She also lived in Paris (as did I…oh wait a minute that was only a dream for me).  Born in 1892 she was just a little older than my great-grandmother so her life really brings images of the stories my grandmother used to tell us when we were kids.

This summer my reading list included the Nancy Milford biography of Ms. Millay, Savage Beauty. Although she was very famous and from the very small town in Maine I lived, I knew amazingly little about her so it was particularly fascinating for me to read about her.

I can’t say enough good things about the biography.  Nancy Milford really did a stellar job at painting the picture of the enigmatic, complicated, beautiful, tortured poet who went by Vincent.  Pick it up, you won’t regret it.

Ok, back to my Berkshires visit.  Vincent & her husband Eugen Boissevain bought Steepletop in 1925 and both lived there until their deaths – hers a year after his.  It was a blueberry farm that they bought from a New York Times ad and renovated to look like a New England farm house.  

The pool bar...lots of friends gathered
photo source
The pool - #1 rule was no clothes...ever.
photo source
The pool now...needs a little preservation work

They lived here as bohemians with much love, life & hard work.  They lived self-sufficiently not even having electricity until the 1940’s.  

Ladies Home Journal put a state of the art kitchen for Vincent in 1949 to feature in their magazine
photo source

photo source
photo source

After both Eugen & Vincent’s deaths Vincent’s sister Norma lived at Steepletop carefully preserving the house, living around Vincent’s possessions for decades until Norma’s death in the 1980’s.  Steepletop didn’t open to the public until 2010.  

Vincent's one was allowed in this room but Vincent...Ever.
photo source
photo source

The really great thing about this house is it is filled with Vincent & Eugen’s actual possessions many of which are in the exact same spot as they were when Vincent died in 1950.  Amazing and there is such a sense of Edna that remains in this house.  You can really feel her work and life here.

To add to the pleasure of the day it’s Fall in New England…what can be better? 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Cleaning House...Landscaping Update

It’s been a quiet summer project wise at my house.  I had great plans of getting all kinds of things done this summer but for many reasons (most of which have been schedule related – mine & others) it’s been a lot of that frustrating hurry up and wait. 

Well, a couple of weeks ago it’s been a huge two steps forward!
Step 1 - The landscaper came to do major demo on my yard….so excited!!!!!  It’s really starting to look better but it sure hasn’t been a smooth process.
If you remember this is some of the before.  Unfortunately I really did not take great photo’s of how overgrown it really was when I moved in.  But I have since snapped a few so you can get an idea it just based on of how full the planting is.
Before - just before I signed the papers to be responsible for this lawn
Another Before...the back yard.  That red roof in the center is actually a wishing well.  I was a bit nervous
there would be an actual well  below it...luckily no.
Another before view of the backyard
Before...after I had done some major cleaning out of the over growth.

I originally hired a non-professional who needed a job to do some demo for me with the hopes that if he could get it all cleared out I could simply level the dirt and lay sod down.  Well, half way into the project my non-professional dropped off the face of the earth (of course after he had been paid for the time he had already put in) with not a word.  Luckily he didn’t burn me financially and didn’t leave a huge mess but it did leave my yard unfinished for most of the summer.  I knew that there was a risk that this would happen but it was worth a shot right?

During...after the initial demo.  Unfortunately this was my back yard for most of the summer

So after several weeks of waiting I moved forward and called a professional landscaping company having also decided to just turn the whole project over and forget the DIY fantasy I was having.  Couple of weeks later I had a quote in hand.  By this time it was almost August…where was the summer going??? 

And since it was August already I figured no reason to pay the extra for sod I might as well wait until September cooler days and use seed.  I’ve heard a lot of pros/cons on the whole sod vs seed debate and since we were so late in the season the major pro of instant gratification of sod was really becoming irrelevant. So seed it is.

During...freshly leveled, tilled & seeded

During... .aerial view from my 2nd floor window

I am most definitely not a gardener and had actually never even mowed a lawn before I moved into this house 5 years ago (condo living does have its perks you know).  So less is definitely more in my world on the gardening front.

Before...the garden on the right side of the front was a raised bed and FULL of weeds (and a couple of bushes).
During...fully demo'd and new grass is planted

 I have left 1 flower garden in place in the front of my house, next to my driveway.  This I can manage.

This is the after...this was so full of growth when I moved in that the cement wall was not even visible.

The rest I am happy to say is one step closer to clean & easy plantings that require minimal care.  Stay tuned for what's next now that I have a blank slate to work with.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Cooking with Gas

This week was a good week for my kitchen, a very good week.  I have grand plans for this kitchen but am a way away from execution since I’m on a cash-only basis with all my repairs….so for now I’ve painted and made very minor updates to get me by until I can start moving some walls but it’s definitely a less than ideal kitchen.

Kitchen...the before.  This was taken on one of my walk through's before I actually closed....Remember this
wall paper from my diningroom before post?  Yup it really was everywhere

Part of the joy of not cooking in my kitchen for the last couple of years has been this baby…

Cooking old school on my Magic Chef Gourmet Collection Stove...

Yes, there are only 3 burners…and a metal plate soldered in the hole where the 4th burner used to be…and the oven….oh the oven.  Everything either over baked or under baked…..and no working broiler left me pan frying sirloin tips one night when my grill unexpectedly ran out of gas….ugggh.

So, I have known since I moved in it was past time to replace.  The only problem…and this was sort of a big one…I wanted a gas range…and my house was not piped for gas….and natural gas doesn't run down far enough on my street to reach my house (I’m toward the end of a dead end).

This was going to be work….not just your routine shop and wait for the delivery.  I called my plumber (thank you Tim Liporto!) to get the piping going and scheduled a site visit with a gas company who stood me up (a little longer story here but the crux is they stood me up after I rushed out of work early one day and battled traffic to get home to meet with them…not pleased!), then called a different gas company who not only showed up on a snowy Saturday morning but was so pleasant & helpful in walking me through exact next steps….thank you Adam Scott at Scott Energy in Gloucester!

I did quite a bit of online “window shopping” to find just the perfect stove…an LG double oven, 5 burner so I was prepared when I went off to the appliance store (I really wanted to buy local).  In the first store the old geezer sales guy was so condescending to me I refused to spend a dime with them.  Really, I came in with exactly what I wanted to buy, had done the research, knew the appropriate price & questions to ask.  It wasn't a tough sale…10 min max.

Moving along…I then went to Yale Appliance.  Holy cow, they were awesome!  I had heard they were…and they went beyond expectation.  I went in with the info on the LG model I had picked and was immediately greeted by a receptionist who introduced me to a sales guy to help.  20 min later I had seen what they had, discussed the pros & cons of the LG model and ended up leaving a bit poorer but the proud (and VERY pleased) owner of a Kitchen Aide double oven/5 burner beauty.

Showroom floor at Yale Appliance & Lighting
296 Freeport St  Dorchester, MA

The following week (last week) they delivered and that couldn’t have gone any better.  I was soooo worried the delivery guys would have problems with my very old and narrow doorways.  Nope, they arrived (on time!) and were in and out in 10 min.

she looks kind of sad on that liftgate...almost like she knows she's heading to the
great appliance nursing home in the sky

Mostly because of my crazy schedule, this whole process took waaayyy longer than it should have (months)….but my patience finally paid off and my new stove was installed on Tuesday.

Fresh off the truck...not yet installed

Now just need to decide what to do with the hood...replace with a micro-hood or embrace
the vintage and keep it (it works fine)...the microwave has to go!

Now I’m just a little reluctant to use it…it’s so pretty and I just don’t want to get it dirty ha.

Look paint on the side

Monday, April 29, 2013

Nirvana on a Sunday Morning at Todd Farm

What is a better way to spend an early Sunday morning than meandering aimlessly through a flea market, coffee in hand enjoying the relaxed pace of other marketers walking dogs, chatting & admiring the wares?  Yeah, I can’t think of many better ways either.

Todd Farm Flea Market
Route 1A, Rowley MA
Loved these "rustic" rusty shopping baskets

So last Sunday, I headed to the Todd Farm Antique Flea Market in Rowley MA and was not disappointed.  You may remember my pals & I tried to go to Todd Farm last spring but we were rained out…so we went with a “plan B” on that particular day (you can read about that day here).

I'm not sure if this is authentic but it sure looks like an Enid Collins handbag...Fun!
oooohhhh la la look at the many lovelies

Todd Farm is open every Sunday (barring rain apparently :) from April to November from 5:30 am to 3 pm and from all accounts the best advice folks have is “get there early”.  Well, If you've been following me for a bit you may know by now I have my own philosophy about this “early bird” tactic….if it’s not there when I get there I didn’t need it to begin with…spoken by someone with a house full of goodies of course.

So I arrived just after 9am (my definition of being out & about early on a Sunday).  I’m sure there were a ton of wonderful things I missed out on but I certainly didn’t feel like there was a lack of fabulous goodies to draw me in.

Definitely tempting!

I always have my standards that I am on the hunt for (dishes, jewelry, artwork...) and my latest must have is a silver ice bucket.

Kelly from The Essence of Home shared this pic of her kitchen last year...I was instantly in love
photo source

About a year ago I had spotted this bit of fabulousness on The Essence of Home and have been obsessed with finding an ice bucket and totally ripping Kelly’s idea off.  In all of my travels over the last year I have seen quite a few ice buckets but not the perfect one and certainly not one that was at the perfect price.

Imagine my excitement when I spotted this little beauty…not an ice bucket but it certainly fits the bill for fabulousness.  But with no price on it I hedged…I was so sure it was priced out of what I wanted to spend…I mean it was perfect right?

Yup - she came home with me!

So I circled the block a couple of times, sorted through what I was so sure she was going to ask ($75)…I mean, I’ve seen these in the shops.  And I made up my mind what the max price I would pay was ($20)….not a chance right?

My timing must have been right…I asked the price and I had to ask her to repeat when she said $15…couldn’t be right….but it was.  I quickly got my cash out before she had a chance to change her mind and off I went with the perfect utensil holder and a huge grin.

My cluttered countertop before...for someone who hates counter clutter (me) I sure did have quite
a collection going here.

I was so excited that it ended up being my only purchase of the day but I did spend another couple of hours walking the grounds of Todd Farm and thoroughly enjoying the morning.

My new counter set up...oh so much just to purge some of those extra spatula's

Monday, April 22, 2013

Boston Strong, The Art Forger & The Gardner Museum

I grew up in a “non-spanking” house.  Not that my parents were necessarily anti-spanking (to my knowledge) but I think it was more that my brother & I were basically good kids and it grounding/taking away privileges just seemed easier to them then exerting the physical/emotional energy to spank.  So needless to say, I had my fair share of days/evenings without the privilege of watching television or talking with my pals on the telephone.

This along with my Mom’s frequently taking us to the local library definitely fostered a healthy appreciation for reading.  I used to love wandering the stacks to find just the perfect book(s) to help pass the many, many mundane hours spent in “time out” (well before there was such a thing as time out of course).

I still am one of those avid readers that reads 3 or 4 books at a time…not all the same genre at the same time though…that would be a little too jumbled for me.

So it only makes sense that one of my absolute favorite monthly social commitments is my book club.  I have the BEST book club!  This is my second attempt at a book club…the first one seemed to turn into a “mommy & me” sharing event.  For someone without children…not so much…

So a couple of years ago I was introduced to a group of lovely ladies by a mutual friend.  The twist of this newly formed book club was that they wanted to read (really read) & do field trips that were book related.  We've done some fun things…movies, mystery dinner cruise, etc. Fast forward a couple of years and a few member changes and we’re still at it.  We definitely read more than we field trip but this last weekend we made up for it by planning a visit to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.

Isabella Stewart Gardner by John Singer Sargent
photo source 

Last month we read the Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro a fictionalized work taking off from the all too real life 1990 art heist at the Gardner Museum.   The consensus on the book was that we all really enjoyed the book.  A lot.

With all the tragedy happening in Boston last week it was tempting just to stay out of the city and meet up at a more local establishment but we all decided that it was more important to go in and not let the terrorists win and enjoy our day of art as originally planned.

Madame Gautreau Drinking a Toast by John Singer Sargent
photo source  

A New York Blizzard by Childe Hassam
 photo source  

It was a good decision!  I had never been to the Gardner Museum but I had heard an awful lot about it and we had read quite a bit about Mrs Gardner and her relationship with John Singer Sargent in Strapless by Deborah Davis last year.  Isabella Stewart Gardner built this home with well-planned galleries to display her personal art collection and created a museum to share her art with the world.  It’s an absolutely uniquely AMAZING museum.

The Blue Room - that's bald man portrait is Henry James
photo source  

The Dutch Room - the empty frames just waiting for the stolen paintings to be returned to their rightful home.
photo source  

photo source  

photo source  

photo source  

There is nothing staid and stiff about the Gardner.  The house was constructed with a masterfully landscaped courtyard in the center of the house and as you wander through the property you can’t help but just want to grab a cup of coffee & a book and sit in the courtyard and stay a while.

photo source  

photo source

Meandering through the museum the amount of art on the walls, tapestries, sculptures & architectural elements is just overwhelming.  I don’t think you can even remotely see it all in a day although the square footage of the building is definitely manageable.

photo source  

El Jaelo by John Singer Sargent
photo source  

If you’re in Boston I can’t recommend highly enough spending a block of time at the Gardner.  It’s not your traditional art museum, in any way but its eccentricities not only reflect its founder but are in my opinion part of what makes it so uniquely fabulous.