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.