September 30, 2009

Sunflower State

With apologies, I've been away from blogging for a bit because I was traveling, making my first trip to the Sunflower State:  Kansas!  Had a wonderful time visiting my good pal (and horsewoman), Susan, who moved west two years ago.  Susan has a lovely small farm where she keeps her horses.  The late September weather was absolute perfection - sunny and mild with a gentle breeze - I couldn't have asked for a better climate for my first visit. 

Okay, I confess, while I was taking in the magnificent heartland scenery, trying to get a sense of this rural landscape - rolling and expansive in comparison with others more familiar along the Eastern seaboard - I occasionally glanced warily at the western horizon.  This is acknowledged tornado country (hello, Dorothy and Toto) and it's a reputation that is difficult to shake mentally, especially if you've never been there.  Those forces of nature are not to be trivialized - they're scary and dangerous.  Gazing at the sprawling landscapes, it was easy to see how the openness of that vast terrain is an inviting playground for a madly spinning twister.

But enough about that.  There were no tornados (although, apparently, there was a raging thunderstorm overnight one evening that neither Susan nor I noticed) and the weather was grand. 

We toured around the region and went to look at a horse for sale nearby that Susan had heard about and thought might be suitable for a mutual friend back here in New York who is in the market for a new steed.  (The gelding we saw turned out to be quite special, so much so that both Susan and I could envision owning him!  No decisions yet, but we were glad we made the trip to see him.)

On our return, we made a few stops, including a visit through the "hunt country" of northeastern Kansas.  Here's a shot I snapped of a handsome foxhunter - probably Thoroughbred or TB-cross - near Louisburg.  For Tablescape Thursday tomorrow, I'll use him as my inspiration and do something with a foxhunting theme.  Stop by for a stirrup cup of hunting port!

We also visited by the Louisburg Cider Mill, a charming complex southwest of Kansas City that was just gearing up for a harvest festival over the weekend, including a corn maze (ubiquitous these days), and craft vendors, etc.  We were a day early, so avoided the crowds and still had fun shopping in the gift shop.  There also is a restaurant/cafe adjacent to the shop and the mill has a mail order business as well.  I decided to purchase a small packet of private label garlic powder (I had run out at home) in a plastic zip packet.  Only later did I realize how much the odor of the contents permeated the packet!  It was a short visit, so I had a suitcase that was small enough to be a carry-on bag and I had visions of garlic odors wafting throughout the planes on my return trip!  I double-bagged the packet in two ziplock bags and hoped for the best.  No one noticed (at least I don't think anyone noticed), so it wasn't as much of an issue as I feared.

We grabbed a cup of fresh-pressed cider for the road (tasty!).  The visit gave me some food for thought (literally and figuratively) about a Kansas lifestyle as I contemplate my options for relocation.  Not sure that I will move, as I do love my area of the country, but it's no secret that taxes in New York are the highest in the country and I've never been a huge fan of snow, so I've been contemplating other parts of the country as alternatives.

In all, it was a great trip and a wonderful visit with my friend.  I'm looking forward to returning soon to experience more of the Sunflower State's attractions.

September 17, 2009

Tablescape Thursday: Homage to Oaks and Acorns

I know I promised I'd post photos of my newly planted chrysanthemums...well, better (a little bit) late than never.  Here's a bit of floral autumnal splendor, even if the leaves aren't yet keeping pace with the overzealous mums.
Then, of course, there are the acorns.   A veritable deluge of acorns!  I don't recall in the many years that I've lived in this home, both growing up here and returning to live here five years ago, that there were ever so many acorns.  The one, tall, handsome, red oak tree that towers over the house seems to have triple the usual amount.  The squirrels and chipmunks are in acorn heaven.  I am not.  Scattered on the driveway, just in front of the garage, they are like ball bearings underfoot.  And my car, which sits parked under the shade of the grand, old, acorn-spewing oak, is pelted routinely, as if the target in some sort of mysterious game for urban rodents. Five points for the hood, ten for the windshield, and jackpot if one hits the emblem just above the grill?  We are not amused.

So, in an effort to make peace with the oak, the acorns, and the cheeky resident rodents, I gathered up a few of the bombarded acorns and made them the focal point of my first (ever!) Tablescape Thursday.  With all due respect to Between Naps on the Porch (where I believe this delightful weekly trend either began or at least is well and truly celebrated), I give you my homage to oaks and acorns.

September 14, 2009

A Drive in the Country

A friend and I took a classic "drive in the country" over the weekend.  We had planned the outing for a few days, and, after considering the directional options, we settled on the village of Sharon Springs, a charming small village in Schoharie County, about 20 miles from Cooperstown (which everyone knows as the home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame) in the east-central region upstate New York. 

There is tremendous history in this region, which is in the heart of the Mohawk River valley and identified as the Central-Leatherstocking tourism region by state's tourism industry.  Schoharie County is farm country - rolling land, characterized by fields and woods and the babbling Schoharie Creek that feeds into the Mohawk to the north.  The area was long known as the "Breadbasket of the American Revolution," as it has some of the richest, most fertile soil in the world.   The name "Leatherstocking" also should give a significant clue to the area's past - it's the region that author James Fenimore Cooper immortalized in his renowned "Leatherstocking Tales," including the story of "The Last of the Mohicans." 

The village of Sharon Springs has a somewhat more recent claim to fame, since it was in the 19th century that the community boasted the most popular natural spas in the East, if not the entire country.  Thousands of visitors flocked to the region to enjoy the mineral spas and stayed for extended periods at one of the dozens of grand hotels built in the village. 

The American Hotel, Sharon Springs
(historic postcard)

Over the years, the area lost a lot of its appeal as competition from the mineral springs in Saratoga, about 80 miles to the northeast, siphoned off its prominent Social Register patrons like the Vanderbilts, who soon migrated to the southern Adirondacks for the additional attractions of that area, including the historic race course.  By the mid-20th century, the New York Thruway (the first of the country's superhighways), about 20 miles north, diverted traffic and left Sharon Springs, along US Route 20, to wither.

Today, the village is experiencing a very gradual rebirth.  It still struggles to attract visitors, but Cooperstown is the major lure in the area, and the summer season is prime time.  There are energetic entrepreneurs who have invested significant amounts of time and money to restore some of the village's architectural treasures.   The American Hotel (pictured above and below) is one of the few of the remaining grand hotels - a historic gem that was in great disrepair, but was rescued by a pair of gentlemen from New York City several years ago and serves as an anchor in the village's evolving rebirth.

 My friend and I strolled to the Black Cat Cafe & Bakery for lunch, just across from the American Hotel.  We had a delightful time, chatted with the cafe's ebullient owner, and learned a bit more about the recent renaissance the village is striving to achieve.

Alas, we were a week too early for the village's Harvest Festival, but it promises to be a big event.  Some folks in television production with ties to the village are taping some content for the Discovery Channel, so perhaps Sharon Springs soon will become the newest destination hotspot in the region.  It has so many of the ingredients that make for a delightful visitor experience, but it doesn't suffer (yet) from that polished-to-death, trendy-beyond-words ambience that sometimes renders a cookie-cutter sameness in character to so many other "quaint" villages.  Sharon Springs oozes its share of quaintness and charm, but it's not totally pristine and, as an afficionado of the qualities of historic villages that make good travel destinations, that is, in my view, a very good thing.  It's a real place, with real challenges to offset its assets, but with great potential, and it has great heart.

The latest buzzword of the moment seems to be "authentic" and Sharon Springs is certainly that, not at all contrived, just striving.  I'm hoping it'll get more good media attention, and more visitors, but not so much that the essential qualities of the place become obscured.  With the kind of energy, enthusiasm, and creative thinking these entrepreneurs are demonstrating, along with some thoughtful local planning, there is no doubt the village will get there.  The travel industry is always looking for new products in the form of "new destinations" - even ones like Sharon Springs that have been there for decades, waiting to be renewed and rediscovered.  I'd certainly choose to visit a wonderful, real place like that over any newly created charming village any day.  I'll be rooting for Sharon Springs and definitely will go back to visit from time to time to see how things are progressing.

September 11, 2009

Mums are the Word

Here's an early autumn view of a country backroad in the area where I lived for 15 years.  I still spend time there - it feels more like "home" to me than anywhere I've lived and most of my friends are there, or near there.  It's a very special, beautiful part of earth.
I remember years ago that one would see "back-to-school" and fall fashions in the stores by August.  It made me crazy.  I think it was mostly because it was 80-90 degrees outside, yet we were being asked to contemplate wools and tweeds and plaids.  I love them, but not in the height of summer!
I don't know whether it was the passing of a few decades or simply the fact that I don't spend anywhere near as much time in retail clothing stores these days as I did when I was a teenager (hello, Internet and online shopping!), but the merchandising schedule of mainstream retailers doesn't bother me anywhere near as much now.  Instead, I notice the harbingers of autumn in the grocery stores, where I do find myself frequently and where the seasonal displays of hardy chrysanthemums are the first retail signal to start preparing for chillier nights and cooler days.
I bought some gorgeous garnet mums a few weeks ago  in anticipation of the new season, and I picked up some bittersweet orange mums earlier today.  Tomorrow, I'll replace the fading leggy pink and purple petunias shown in my title photo above, and I'll consolidate from three separate planters and put what remains of the best of the remaining petunias together in a single pot as the last hurrah of summer.  I'll put the mums in their place of prominence and group them for as bold a color display as I can manage.  I'll take a photo when I've got them in place, so you can see how gorgeous their rich and rusty colors are.
I'm never happy to see summer go, but I have to admit this particular transitional time between the seasons is one of my most favorite times of the year.  It's still balmy, but the heat and humidity are gone and the hints of crisp fall weather are in the air. 

I love autumn best and here in the Northeast, it doesn't get any more beautiful.  I think I'm ready.  Oh, and did I mention that mums are the flower for my birthday month?

September 6, 2009

Ready, Set...We Have Lift-Off!

Hi, everyone! ( anyone actually out there?)

I started to set up this new blog space on the Fourth of July to celebrate Independence Day, but it took me two months and two days to get back to it and fling it out there into the ether...and hope it finds some interested readers.

Who am I and what am I doing here? Well, I'm a grown-up female person, a former art major who eventually became a writer/editor, photographer, stylist, and marketer, who always enjoys being creative, so I'm exploring new outlets for my creativity. As for this blog venture, initially, I wanted to create a place to share thoughts, ideas, and especially images of things that appeal to me. I don't have any particular agenda and it's not necessarily intended to be a play-by-play of my life (heaven forbid!), but I hope it will be an outlet for expression related to things I enjoy: home, design, decoration, arts, crafts, creativity, cooking, antiques, flea markets, garage and tag sales, etc. - you get the idea. 

Lately, like a lot of folks in blog-world, I've been a long-time reader of home/design magazines and found myself seeking online alternatives to magazines like Country Home (sigh) and Cottage Living that I so enjoyed, but which have folded in the past year or so as a result of this challenging economic climate and our rapidly changing reading/viewing habits. I've come across a number of blogs that appealed to me, authored by some very creative people, so I thought I'd give it a try and see what evolves.

I grew up in an urban area of upstate New York, and live (once again) in a mid-century modern home (which will be the subject of another discussion to be posted later), but big parts of my heart and soul are entrenched in the countryside nearby, where I lived for 15 years, played for at least 25, and continue to enjoy whenever I can.  Fortunately, my access to the pleasures of a rural landscape is no more than 30 minutes away in almost any direction (one of the truly great benefits of being in my urban area), so I can get a regular rural "fix" quite easily. Thank heaven for that!

Welcome to my new space and please feel free to comment since I'm hoping the communications here won't be only one-way - I'm all about the exchange and sharing here.

I'm still learning all the bells and whistles of blog creation, so please be patient with me as I ramp up my learning curve.  Thanks for stopping by...hope to see you again soon!