Saturday, May 23, 2015


Ever see a house like this?

Me neither. 

When I passed this charmer in Tyringham, Massachusetts, I might have thought that I'd come upon the set of The Hobbitt had I not known that that's in New Zealand.

This is Santarella, former home of the sculptor Sir Henry Hudson Kitson.  The artist lived and worked here until 1947.

Originally the carriage house of a colonial homestead, Kitson labored to blend the architecture with the surrounding hills.  As you can see, he was highly successful.  He constructed - well, sculpted - the amazing 80-ton rolling roof from hand-cut sheets of asphalt in multiple colors chosen to coordinate with the fall scenery.  I can't imagine the amount of work.  Or the cost of the upkeep.  Perhaps that's why this lovely place is for sale.


This masterpiece has changed hands several times since Kitson passed on.  One owner turned it into a museum that gave tours, but I was disappointed to learn that there is no longer any way to get into the home unless you rent one of the out-buildings.  If you do so, you get a complimentary tour.  Since I'm not likely to rent a five bedroom home for myself, it's highly unlikely I will ever see the interior.

If you buy it, remember, you heard about it here.  Invite me over for a tour; I'd love to see the inside.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Pride of the Berkshires....

Did you think I was kidding about the doughnuts yesterday?

Yummy stuff served up by the smiling face of this gal who proudly told me the doughnuts were made fresh daily at their main shop in Great Barrington.

But enough about breakfast, lunch, and dinner here in the Berkshires.  Let's get on with the adventures.

Yesterday we discovered how seasonal the Berkshires are.   Memorial Day is when things start hopping around here.  From the opinions of many local shopkeepers  (nearly all of which included the word "mobbed"), I'm glad I missed that, even if many of the things that might be on the average tourist's to-do list are closed.  I'm happier to get some of the local flavor of a place (including doughnuts) instead of the full-on tourist version.  So, let's start with Truc's Orient Express in Stockbridge.

It was just an interesting place we happened to pass on the road.  A restaurant with a shop in front, evidenced by Asian statuary and ornaments lining the stairs and deck.  As we pulled into the parking lot, we spied the sign that said "Closed".  Sigh. 

We were about to leave when a woman named Trai came out to invite us in.  She opened two rooms, a tent, a loft in the restaurant, welcoming us to check out her wares with pride, not a hint of pressure or avarice.  She spoke of her home land, her trips to Vietnam, the beauty of the country.  She spoke of her crafts, the silks, the jewelry, and her hand in making some of the items in her shop. 

This is Trai.  She has owned this restaurant/Asian gift shop for 36 years.  If she looks as if she is beaming with pride in this photo, she is, and she should be.  The shop is colorful, crowded with lovely things, and all personally arranged by this ambitious and friendly woman. 

Of course, since it was off season, she wasn't open for lunch, but if she takes as much pride in her food as she does in her store, I'm in for a treat when I return.

After this little detour, we visited Hoffman Pottery.  The clay faces in the garden hinted at the artist's sense of whimsy and color.

And the interior did not disappoint.  The room overflowed with colorful, multi-colored coiled pieces, sgraffito mugs, gleaming underglazes. 

Elaine Hoffman was getting ready for the season, full of pride as she dusted off her wares.  Just look at her beaming face.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Highs and lows...

So, sometimes when you hand the wheel over to someone else to captain, the ship runs aground.

My friend had a great day planned with two or three sites to visit.  Unfortunately, our GPS was down and we kept getting lost.  Even worse, when we finally arrived at our first destination it was closed.  We consulted Google Maps for the next attraction only to discover that we had arrived in The Land of No Phone Service.  We proceeded to get lost again. 

This happened three times before we gave up and decided to get something to eat.

I was excited about lunch.  I'd heard about this great little Mexican restaurant, Xicohtencatl.  It had been featured on FoodNetwork.  It was highly recommended by a friend who traveled to the Berkshires every summer.

It was closed for lunch.

We had spent over 45 minutes looking for it.

Those were the low spots of the day.

The high was sugar. 

Every time we got lost, we seemed to happen upon a bakery. And we'd buy doughnuts. Lots of doughnuts. 

So what if we couldn't find Herman Melville's house?  We found French crullers!  The Bidwell Museum isn't going to open until the day after we leave?  That's okay, I think I saw a bakery about a mile back. 

Mmmm...chocolate glaze, great soother of souls and solace of the lost.
Saint Anthony may be the patron of lost items, but Saint Doughnut must be the patron of lost travelers and poor planners.

What I Found to Love in the Berkshires....

After a night of sleep filled with the strangest dreams imaginable (inspired, no doubt, by whatever prescription medication my friend's well-meaning elderly mom coerced me to take), I awoke feeling excited about my first day in the Berkshires.

Even though I had not read a single brochure.  This was going to be devil-may-care, spirit of adventure wild times.

Actually, it was laziness.

I enjoy letting other people plan things for me sometimes.  I travel alone often enough that it's nice to kick back and let someone else wade through the online reviews.  Since this trip was by invitation from my friend, Mariellyn, she had an itinerary.  One which was immediately trashed by today's weather.  It threatened rain; not a good time to visit a garden.

So, it was off to visit Hancock Shaker Village.  (#11 of 143 Top Things to Do in the Berkshires on TripAdvisor.  Okay, so I did do some research.)   In spite of what we knew about the attraction, we both entered thinking we'd spend an hour there at most.  We left mom behind to read a book she was excited about because she didn't feel up to walking.

Three hours later we were immersed and feeling guilty about having left her alone for so long.

First of all, it was scenic, peaceful, and pretty.

Secondly, it was highly entertaining.  The volunteers in Shaker dress were informative and friendly; every one of them seemed to be invested in the village, enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge.  We especially enjoyed an impressive demonstration of the Shakers' use of water power given to us by a volunteer named Ted. Imagine staring down into a hole three stories deep and seeing/hearing THIS thundering powerhouse spewing tons of high pressured water; watching it moving wheels, turning gears.  Pretty awesome.

I was glad it wasn't crowded because the rope that blocked the gaping holes in the ground did not look adequate to the task of preventing me from plummeting to a watery grave if I'd been pushed.  Not too many lawyers in Massachusetts, I'm guessing.

Ted even let me try my hand at a water-powered lathe. (Again...I suspect a lack of lawyers.)  Sadly, there are no pics of my prowess.  Or the splintered wood.  And speaking of wood, there were demonstrations on the construction of Shaker furniture and the classic Shaker boxes.  I got more tips from this guy about wood cutting than I ever learned from sneaking onto my Uncle Charlie's workbench when I was eleven. (Thanks, Jack!  I'll be looking for you on This Old House in January!)

At the discovery center for the kids (big and little ones) you could watch a weaving demonstration.  This big kid got to dress up like a Shaker woman there and MILK A FAKE COW.

Seriously.  I ask you.  How many times in life does one get to milk a FAKE COW???

The village has to be even more lovely when the flowers are out in summer.  We passed lovage and yarrow in the garden.  And there were goats, chickens, turkeys, pigs, sheep, and more. Raised in the city?  Plenty of cows to moo at.  We could have stayed longer but we were sure mom was sitting home as hungry as we were.

After a very late lunch, we drove around.

With scenery like this, I can hardly wait to see what else the Berkshires have in store for me.

I might even read some brochures.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Life In the Fast (Food) Lane...

You'd think I'd have learned after my pre-Portland Chinese buffet fiasco.  But I worked in the yard all morning before my latest 178 mile excursion.  It was late.  I needed to get on the road.  Expediency ruled.  It was off to Burger King with a coupon for two Whopper Juniors.

I wolfed down one, then half of the other.  And the war was on.  It was like the Keebler Elves had decided to reenact the Battle of Five Armies inside my stomach.

Perhaps this next admission will call me into suspicion as un-American, but I eat hamburgers maybe twice a year.  At home.  My stomach reminded me of the aberration for three solid hours.  About half way through this torture, I pulled over to a rest stop and reclined the seat all the way to "morgue" to lie flat and rub my tummy.  It was useless, but I dozed off for about ten blissful, oblivious minutes. Then my friend, Susan, rudely awakened me with a call to see how my trip was going, only to call me "crazy" when I explained my situation.

The last moments of my trip were similar to the fate of a desert wanderer, except instead of scrabbling across the last few yards of sand  for water, I crawled down thirty feet of resort hallway, knocked on the door to my friend's room, and collapsed on the floor rasping: "Tums! Tums!"

I had arrived in exotic, exciting...Massachusetts?

The Berkshires.  I had no idea what to expect.  Everyone knows that my usual jaunts are much more far-flung.  Massachusetts?  It's like, my backyard.  But I am nothing if not open to the world and travel is travel.   I knew I'd find something to love. 

After the Tums kicked in.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

I Sold It All and Traveled the World!

When I read stories about people who have accomplished something like this post title, I always wonder how my own "throw the watch away and ride off on the motorcycle" story might play out.

It may be surprising for my reader to discover that I was born under the sign of Cancer, the homebody.  (Ironic, no?)  But the twist in the plot is this:  My birth date is the 4th of July.  Independence Day.  The two seem to have been fighting with each other for decades. 

I adore traveling but, when I'm away, I wonder if my son is keeping up with the lawn and throwing out the garbage.  I wonder how my uncle is doing after his recent hospital stay.  My elderly aunt receives a call almost daily to see if she is feeling well. 

These thoughts and events by no means spoil my fun, however, my own version of Eat, Pray, Love would have at least a little bit of "Fret" in the title.  Just enough that leaving it all behind has not yet seemed like a completely comfortable option.

Plus, there is that pesky Cancerian homebody side.  I do love my little home and garden.  But I only love it as a sort of space station to return to, floating back in from whatever destination or adventure I'm having.  My home is an anchor in a vast sea of elsewhere.

Now, here's the rub. 

Of late, that anchor feels a bit like an albatross. It's more "Home Sweet Yard Work" than "Home Sweet Home".  No one who has ever owned a home can fool themselves into thinking that it will not wind up looking like the "before" house on Fixer Upper without regular maintenance.  This is why my schedule the past two weeks went something like this:

Have an adventure
Return home
Do the laundry
Clean the kitchen
Clear the front and back yards
Clean out the window boxes and planters
Set up the patio furniture
Plant 95 annuals
Plan a trip to Malta

Yeah.  Something like that.  The actual list is much, much longer. 

And so, I've decided that my next trip is going to be to the library. 

I really need to read more of those I Sold It All books.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Getting My Geek On

I had planned on a Portland epilogue when I left on the red-eye Monday night.  But I was a victim of the dreaded middle seat.  To my left, a gentleman who smelled of mildew and onions.  To my right, a woman who slept fitfully, tossing her jacket around so that the sleeve kept hitting me in the face as I tried to rest.

I deplaned with hair that looked like it was styled with a blender.  What makeup I had worn at the start of my trip was gone, probably on the sleeve of my restless neighbor.

Traveling is so glamorous.

Needless to say, I walked around on Tuesday doing an unintentional imitation of The Walking Dead.  On Wednesday, I was packing again.  No time to do the beauty of Oregon justice, I was too busy getting ready to get my geek on.

Yes, Route 65 here, reporting from Wizard World Comicon 2015 in Philadelphia.  This is where the weird REALLY lives.

Dr. Who, Wonder Woman, Batman.  I'm not talking about graphic novels or television shows; I'm talking about some of the costumes.  It's so much fun to see the lengths some folks go to in recreating their favorite anime/video game/super hero character. Where else can you watch Link from Zelda walking down the same aisle as Darth Vader?  A younger crowd proliferates at these events, and I think it's a pity more older folks don't get in on the act.  Personally, my inner child gets a real kick out of hanging with a crowd that, at times, resembles the bar scene in Star Wars.

Not a costume.  Real statue.
There was a promo going on for Jurassic World which employed the use of Oculus Rift, the virtual reality glasses from Samsung.  Virtual reality glasses?  I am SO in! 

In line, that is.  Fortunately, the opening day crowd
 wasn't overwhelming.

And the wait was worth it. The technology adjusts your view with the movement of your head.  Shift your head right and left, look up and down, etc., the view changes as seamlessly as if you were standing there.  Combined with the 3D effect and stereo headphones, it is totally immersive.

Since, in this case, the content was tied to the movie, I experienced the awakening of a brontosaurus...who proceeded to sniff me! 


I just know that this experience will transform entertainment in the future.  But I'm going to wait until they program it so that something besides a brontosaurus is sniffing me. 

George Clooney would do.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Finally, Something a Little Weird

A voodoo doll doughnut with a pretzel stake through its heart?  Now we're getting a little closer to weird town.

Welcome to Voodoo Doughnut, a Portland icon for over 13 - Oooh!  How numinous! - years.

Voodoo Doughnut's success (it now has five locations in Oregon) attests to the fact that Portland supports quirky shops.  I arrived at the northeast location on Davis street with high hopes.

The maze of bright pink metal barricades in the front of the store (crowd control) clued me in on the shop's popularity even before my companion told me that it often has lines out the door.  I was fortunate to be there off season; there were only three parties in front of me.  This gave me time to listen to Metal music from the stereo system while checking out the weird decor.

 The chandeliers. 

 The chair shaped like a coffin.

The stained glass window of their Voodoo Doll doughnut, the bumper stickers claiming "The Magic is in the Hole", a few photos of voodoo icons, a velvet painting of Kenny Rodgers, and this delightfully weird offering:.

The shop, open 24 hours, really seemed to be trying to live up to "Keep Portland Weird".  Yeah, I was liking this place.  But, as they say, the proof is in the doughnuts.  With all this voodoo kitsch, was this going to be just another gimmick, good for a one-hit tourist visit but not pulling through in the long-term taste department?

Viewing the parade of crazy doughnuts on the revolving shelves in the lighted case, I was skeptical.  (Most of the following photos were taken through the glass so I apologize in advance for their quality.)   A doughnut in the shape of male genitals with "Wang" written across it in icing sounds gimmicky to me.  I doubted it could taste good.  The flavors were wild and varied - Maple Bacon, Triple Chocolate Penetration, Diablos Rex, and Dirty Snowball.  The decorations were even wilder - a doughnut in the shape of a blunt, and one with a pentagram on it.

You know you wanted to see the penis doughnut.
I decided to order a Voodoo Doll doughnut because it was their signature item, Triple Chocolate Penetration because I'm a chocoholic, and an apple fritter.  The fritter was my idea of a true flavor test since I've never had one that's fair-to-middlin'.  In my experience they're either fruity fried delights or grease laden stomach bombs.

Here's a shot of the inside of the pink voodoo cake box (even their boxes are unique) with my choices:

You'll note that the apple fritter was the size of Russia.  It was going to be heaven or an entire bottle of PeptBismol.

After repeatedly stabbing the Voodoo Doughnut with the pretzel in honor of a former boss, I bit off the arm violently to the metal music that was pouring from the stereo system.  It was cathartic.  And delicious.  The texture was light, the chocolate intense, and the doll had a bleeding heart of pure raspberry jam.  Not the gloppy, sicky-sweet kind I'm used to from my local eastern chain, this stuff tasted fresher and fruitier.  (They advertise the use of Kelly's Jellies.  Kudos to Kelly!)

My experience with the Triple Chocolate Penetration was less satisfying.  A cake doughnut glazed with chocolate, studded with puffy, chocolate flavored cereal, I found it too sweet and not nearly as chocolatey as the name would suggest.  I disliked the cereal puffs enough to pick them off.  Unfortunately, most of the glaze came with them.  The remaining doughnut was milk chocolate flavored, unappealing to this dark chocolate girl.  Two bites and I was off to the apple fritter.

Angels sang, doves were released to the skies above, the earth moved.  Okay, no, but the fritter was REALLY good.  Yummy fried dough taste on the outside, right amount of glaze, no grease penetration to the  interior, great texture.  My one criticism - a bit short on apples.  But - hey! - did you hear what I said?  Yummy fried dough taste.  Who needs apples?

Voodoo Doughnuts had worked its magic on me.  I walked out a very happy sugar zombie.