Thursday, July 12, 2007

Thursday Thirteen #2:Thirteen Things I Love about Columbia County

Thirteen Things I Love About Columbia County

1. The Purple Mountain Majesty. Nestled between the Catskills and the Berkshires there are many view of mountains almost everywhere you go in this beautiful valley. But there might be no better view than the westerly one right off our back deck. In the morning and the evening purple mountain majesty exists in all it's breathtaking glory!!

2. The Country Sounds. It's so quiet and rural here that you rarely hear anything but nature....birds singing, crickets chirping, chipmunks scampering, frogs peeping, woodpeckers pecking, hummingbirds and dragonflies whirring. It is amazing lying in bed just listening to God's glorious symphony.

3. The People. Everyone is SO nice. The people here are so unassuming, trusting, non-judgemental and would do anything for you. The first weekend we were up here David went off to buy us a broom. Agway was having a sale on pretty blue grills so he impulsively bought one not quite realizing that it wouldn't fit in his car. Another customer in line saw his plight and said "where are you taking it?" When David told him, he offered to load it in his pickup and follow David home with it. This is just one of the many examples.

4. The Neighbors. I lived 12 years in the same town house in Westchester County. I knew only my immediate neighbors by name, never was invited over, never had anyone at my place. Here in the country, neighbors come to greet you as soon as you move in and we became friendly with three sets of neighbors almost immediately. We have each other over for dinners, share stories, laugh a lot, and of course help each other out on just about everything. It's a great feeling to know we're all in it together.

5. The Food. Farm fresh food is growing all around. As we've mentioned in our blog previously, we live in the middle of organic, biodynamic farming country. Not far from the Culinary Institute of America, in Hyde Park we often get graduates coming to this area to set up new restaurants. Many take advantage of being here to use the freshest local farm ingredients and the results are delectable! It's hard to stay in and cook for yourselves when the local chefs use the same farm fresh ingredients, combine them in their amazing way, with prices so reasonable! Some of our most favorites include Swoon KitchenBar, The Red Barn, Local 111, The Blue Plate, Baba Louie's and Lipperas at the Chatham House.

6. The Art. In the middle of this paradise are some of the most amazing artists. There are showcases of local work up and down the streets of the main streets of most of our country towns (Hudson, Chatham, Claverack, Kinderhook....) and in almost every restaurant there is local art hanging on the walls that you can purchase. One of the highlights just down the street from us is the spectacular ArtOMI - with a modern outdoor art sculpture park viewable from the road enticing you to stop and explore.

7. The Architecture. In addition to many fabulous old farm houses and barns dotting the area sitting on land with to-die-for pastoral views, there are some real architectural gems here too such as Olana, the perian style home of Hudson River painter Frederick Church, the Lukyas Van Alen and several other historic homes that you can tour.

8. The Music. Some call this the NY side of Tanglewood. One of the reasons we moved here was to be close to that amazing summer classical music venue. But since moving here we've found so many other things right here in Columbia County to assauge our musical cravings like the Mac-Haydn Theater, the Ghent Playhouse, the Taconic Hills Performing Arts Center the Spencertown Academy, and PS21 - Performing Spaces for the 21st Century.

9. The History. As well as the historic homes I mentioned in #7, there are museums everywhere. We have yet to explore them all but they include the Shaker Museum, the Columbia Country Historical Society Museum , the Fire Museum of Hudson and much much more.

10. The Traffic. There is none! Even when we were just weekending here, the Taconic Parkway was almost always an easy ride. The occasional accident or construction slowed you down every now and then but even on major travel days like the Wednesday before Thanksgiving you rarely hit any traffic.

11. The Train. Ok, so the trains are often late, especially those coming from Canada, but hop on that Amtrak and you're in NY City in 2 hours. There are only 5 stops max, and some are express trains with even fewer. You get a glorious view of the Hudson River out the window, there are electrical plugs in every seat for charging those attention splattering appliances, and the parking is still free at the Hudson station!! I have found it a great way to gear up or wind down from my day.

12. The lack of Starbucks. Believe it or not, there is no Starbucks that I have come across yet anywhere in Columbia County. Thank Heaven! We are particular about our coffee - grind our own beans fresh every morning - but we much prefer the local organic at the Muddy Cup or free trade beans we get at Hawthorne Valley Farm to the overroasted acidic taste of the popular coffee chain's. Heresy, I know.

13. The Peaceful Feeling. There's a feeling of peace here that you can feel just driving up. You step onto our deck, catch a glimpse of the unobstructed mountain view and the stresses all melt away. Sitting on the deck with a cup of joe in a zero gravity lawn chair, all seems right with the world. Guests have told us this is why they keep coming back.

And that, my friends, are just thirteen of the things we love about Columbia County! There are so many many more. The four seasons, the beautiful hiking trails, the quaint little towns,.... I could go on and on. But enjoy these thirteen. And Happy Thursday!!!

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Man Versus Chipmunk

The man who did the last renovation of our house ten years ago told us when we bought the house that he had "disposed" of quite a few chipmunks while working on the house. Now, we live in the country, in the middle of the critters habitat, so I expect to see and encounter wildlife big and small all the time. That's one of the reasons we are here.

I also feed the birds. With that blessing comes curses. Birdseed attracts critters and stalkers of birds. I am content to let nature play out its drama. Of course, squirrels are the most famous invaders of the bird feeders, and the constant struggle of keeping them away from the bird feeders is the stuff of funny late night stories around the dinner table with our neighbors.

Last year at a craft fair, I bought a bird feeder that really does keep the squirrels out and lets the birds in. The birds like it. The squirrels have quit trying.

During the last year or so we have had fairly moderate weather and the chipmunk population has grown. I watched in horror this summer as the chipmunks finally figured out how to get up the pole, and into the bird feeder.

These are not the same chipmunks who sang, "please Christmas don't be late..." in the animated cartoon I used to watch when I was growing up.

I am shopping for a slinky to put around the pole. I am told that will keep anything from climbing up to the feeder. Somehow I really believe it will just be more entertainment for the chipmunks.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Thursday Thirteen #1

Thirteen Things keeping us up at night about Our Renovation

1. Rental house. The renovations will be so disruptive that we decided to take the bold move of moving out while they are happening. We had hoped this would lessen the stress of it all - allowing us to move in all our furniture and belongings instead of storing them somewhere - and give the contractors free reign to do more at the same time. But we signed the lease for our rental house prior to doing a final walk through and the house is SO not ready for us to move in. The owner died and her estate is being handled by her sister in the mid west. She's a farmer so she doesn't quite have the business acumen that your typical landlord might. She's trusting us to throw out or save anything left over from the previous tenant or her sister, clean up the basement (including water damaged mattresses and old cat litter boxes) and fix appliances, etc...sending her the bills of course.....but it's a huge job!! At the moment, it is NOT lessening stress. We are hiring a Basement Clean Up Crew and Movers to pack all the left over things in the house. Once that's done, maybe I can sleep again.

2. Hiring the right contractor. We've got a great architect on board as David has mentioned, Bill Wallace of Wallace Design. He's helping us review bids from contractors using his detailed plans and ultimately we will choose one. But there are so many horror stories about low ball bids and contractors not living up to their end of the bargain. What are we getting ourselves into?!

Punch List. Usually the punch list comes AFTER the work has begun. Ours started long ago due to the whole moving out to not-ready-for-prime-time rental house. Not being a list person though, I've only recently written it all down....the act of which was very helpful in helping me sleep at night. It could have it's very own dedicated Thursday 13. Hmmm, maybe it will be a regular Thursday feature.

4. Our Finances.
Last year when we decided to do this, we were sitting pretty. Two incomes, a good year for commissions, our pockets bulging from our very timely Westchester townhouse sale. Now? David retired two months ago, my client has had a bad year so revenues have not matched our forecast, they changed our sales plan to make it even harder to make any commissions and we've spent lots of the townhouse proceeds on things like the wedding, the honeymoon, the architect.

5. Decisions Decisions!
It's only the tip of the iceberg but we're already having to make some decisions so the contractors can give us realistic bids - where to locate the fireplace, how far out to push the walls, how high the ceiling in the great room should be, whether to put on a screened in porch or finish the basement guest suite now or later.....I've started reading books and magazines on renovating but at the moment it's quite overwhelming! We watched the neighbors build their house over the past year and a half and have an idea of what's yet to come.

6. Saving the gardens.
Many wonderful perennials planted by the previous owner come up here that will have to be relocated or ripped out - including a beautiful lilac bush reminiscent of my home growing up in Rochester, NY, the scent of which makes me cry every spring thinking of my mother. Also there's an amazing clematis that survived a near death from over zealous weeding, tons of purple and yellow iris, thriving spectacular spiders wort, bee balm, multiple rose bushes and climbing roses, rose of sharon, tulips, daffodils, a vibrant yellow daylily, several trees and much more. My uncle who has been a landscaper in his prior life took a walk around with me and told me what he thought was worth trying to save and what was not. But I'd like to try and save it all!!

7. Rental House gardens.
Apparently the former owner kept beautiful gardens but most of it is now overgrown and filled with weeds and poison ivy. Some of this is right next to the house, growing up through planks in the porch, etc. I am hoping to line up my uncle to do a major clean up of these gardens but right now the thought of it all makes me itch!

8. Pests.
Ok so I am bug phobic. Living out in the country, there are lots of them. We have our house regularly treated for ants, bees and rodents. The rental house on the other hand.....standing vacant for months and a bad tenant for the year before that means this place is in sad need of pest control. We went over there the other day in the evening (bad move because it was so close to bedtime) to stumble over a major wasp nest in the deceased owner's car that has been sitting in the driveway for three years. Who knows what's in the basement - i won't even go down there until that cleaning crew comes.

Water. In the country there is no such thing as city water. We are all on wells. While well water is wonderfully rich in minerals and the plants love it, it does a job on pipes and fixtures and sensitive skin if not treated with the right stuff. The water conditioner at the rental house is in sad shape...neglected for who knows how long. We just need to get the water guy out there but until then it sits on the punch list.

10. Cars and Dogs.
There are tenants with two dogs living above the barn at the rental house. The dogs are large but friendly ... so friendly that they jump up on your car if you don't get out fast enough for their taste. The last visit over there left nice big scratches in our BMW drivers door. With the garage full of the deceased owner's stuff, we won't be able to put the car in there as we had hoped. We will need to figure out some way to protect the cars.

11. Cleaning out. Our closets, attic and basement are full with clothes and shoes and stuff that we (especially I) haven't worn or used in years. This move will be a great time to purge the stuff I don't need....have a big yard sale, give away to charity, simplify my life! Yet this is a traumatic thought - what if I need it someday, what happens when I lose that weight and can fit into some of that stuff again, how could I get rid of things that my mom, friends or other relatives gave me even if I don't like it without hurting their feelings or losing a memory?? This has always been an issue for me. I read wonderful blogs for inspiration like Christine Kane's that address this very topic but at the moment it's one of the things that keeps me up at night.

12. Losing our view.
We wake up every morning to a killer western view of the Catskills - purple mountains majesty right our our bedroom window....not to mention the sunset!! The rental house, while sitting on 10 acres and only a few miles away, does not have anything like this view. We will miss it tremendously!!! The comforting thought is that when we get to move back there will be that great room we dreamed of on this gorgeous view.

13. Moving back.
In a year or so we have to that move all over again - pack up all our stuff, decide what to purge, what to keep, where to put it.......of course there will be many more closets and storage spaces by design in the new dream house so this will hopefully be less stressful that the move we're about to do but currently it still makes the things that keep me up at night list.

Links to other Thursday Thirteens!
1. Christine Kane at

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

House makeover - Before

Many of you may know that we are renovating our house in Ghent, NY. To make it easy to follow that action, I will make updates to our blog to show how bad the fever has gotten. Here are the before pictures.

This is the south side of the house that will be extended to make the master bedroom. We are planning lots of closet space for shoes.

This is the West side of the house that we are planning to extend and make into the living room. A guest bedroom will be added as a walk-out below the living room.

We have been working with Bill Wallace of Wallace Design for the architectural phase of the renovation. We have refined the plans in preparation for bids from contractors. Bill has been a tremendous help in refining our desires down to what is doable in our budget. Of course, the phrase that starts with, "we might as well ..." will impact the budget and the timetable.

We have rented a house close by and we will move all of our things to the rental house while the renovation is underway. It will make Kathy's life a lot easier while working from home, we will be out of the way of the contractors, and it will ensure that our furniture stays clean. I had forgotten how difficult moving is, and getting the rental house ready has its own challenges.

We are very excited about this work, and we would like to fast forward to have it all complete tomorrow. Stay tuned.