It’s a marshmallow day in the winter…

Well, we survived The Blizzard of ’09.

Guests, especially those who visit in high summer and contemplate a quiet retreat here come winter, often ask how much snow we get. From a gardening standpoint, we’re Zone 7a, which means we our low temperature could be 0 degrees. Yet Southampton, with a coast on both sides (Atlantic on the south, Long Island Sound to the north), generally enjoys a relatively snow-free winter. Usually winter brings us a couple of storms that dump a 5″ powder-sugar pancake that melts within days. The more trecherous possibility is that, halfway through the snowmelt, the weather turns suddenly colder and freezes the remaining slush into ice, which can remain for weeks of clear, cold weather. But a white Christmas? It’s happened exactly once in the 17 years that Chris and I have been in the Hamptons.

So a snowstorm was forecast for last Saturday, pushing up the coast and tracking northeast. The news stations, always quick to try to make a weather event into Big News, started hyping it a few days in advance. Eastern Long Island could receive as much as a foot of snow, they warned, and with the winds forecast, it could become a blizzard with white out conditions.

Oh boy. We had four rooms of guests scheduled for arrival. One of the four cancelled; they were coming from Boston, and the possibility of being snowed in was a risk they couldn’t take. But everybody else arrived, and at that time they did we had a festive little dusting of snow (see the December picture to the left). But soon snow was falling steadily, and Santa’s planned visit to the Southampton Chamber of Commerce wasn’t getting a lot of traffic. As the snow continued to worsen, shops and even restaurants began to close. Still, the fire was cozy and crackling in our living room, and we made sure our guests had dinner reservations close by.

Sunday morning we woke up to two feet of snow, not counting the drifts — a record for the area. (Take a look at this picture here, then scroll down the page and contrast it with the shot of the same area, labeled July 2009.) At seven AM, while snow continued to fall, we began to clear what we could. I shoveled the front stairs while Chris fired up his snowblower (the first time in three years he’d been able to use it) and cut a path to the back gate and out into the car park. Our neighbor Perry Delalio, who owns the stone and asphalt company down the street, was kind enough to bring his bulldozer round to plow the driveway enough to be able to drive the cars out. But we had the guests’ three cars, not to mention our two, to dig out, which had to be done by hand. And news stations were reporting that Southampton was considered a snow emergency — even the plows were getting stuck. We might all be snowbound here.

I went back inside to prepare breakfast, and as I did, down the stairs came Jim and Norman, two of our guests, pulling on gloves and hats and carrying snow shovels. Bless their hearts, they were not only prepared to help, they had brought snow shovels WITH them! (Jim even had snow chains in his truck!) And for the next hour or so until breakfast, and for an hour or so afterwards Chris and the guys and even some of the gals all worked to free the cars. It was such a great example of the spirit of the holidays.

Our third set of guests were a lovely young couple originally from Arizona, for whom this was not only their first winter on the East Coast, but their first snowstorm. They were scheduled to fly back the following day to Phoenix for the holidays, where I’m sure our blizzard will be a great story!

The weather has remained at freezing point the past two days, so little snow has melted, though at least now the roads have all been plowed to a greater or lesser extent. The weather report threatens more precip for Christmas Day, though chances are it will be rain, making ice sculpture out of our snow piles. But I doubt it will wash much of the snow away, so we’ll have a white Christmas after all.

So as for us, we’re going to enjoy the view from the window with a cup of hot chocolate and Christmas music playing in the background.

Wishing everyone all the blessings of the season, the love of family near and far, and a happy, healthy, and safe New Year!!
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Getting ready for the holidays

Chris and I love Christmas. And we love a house that celebrates the season. I have to admit: I have never lived in a place where I didn’t know even before I moved in exactly where I’d set up the Christmas tree. We start decorating the day after Thanksgiving, and it usually takes several days to do. The division of labor is clear: He does the outside stuff, I do the inside stuff. We both do the Christmas tree. Look carefully at the picture to the right — there’s Chris up in a tree, stringing lights in the large evergreen next to the car park. (Boy, is THAT ever a job. Could we ever use a friend with a “cherry picker” to do that!)

As for me, cookies are baked, shopping is progressing, cards are in the works. I found a cool new site called Pandora.com that designs a music “station” around your personal preferences, and so I’ve created a station called Instrumental Holiday which plays in the background of my computer all day while I work.

So many people think that this time of year is “dead” in the Hamptons. They couldn’t be more wrong. True, the traffic looks nothing like a summer weekend — you can get to East Hampton in twenty minutes, instead of more than double that in August. But each village is decorated for the holidays, with lit Christmas trees flanking the sidewalks of the center of town. And lots to do.

Found some great stuff at last weekend’s Parrish Presents bazaar. This is one must-do event for anyone visiting over Thanksgiving weekend: an annual shopping event comprised of wonderful boutique items, a silent auction for incredible things like Chanel handbags and golf and spa weekends at La Costa, and — our favorite — a huge “tag sale” of gently used furniture and housewares, donated by the community (often by the very wealthy membership that supports the Parrish Art Museum). There is a benefit cocktail party on Friday night, then the event is open to the public on Saturday and Sunday for a modest $5 entrance fee. We scored tickets to the cocktail party, where we saw more of the Meadow Club membership (affluent residents of the Estate District) than we ever see all summer long.

The funniest thing is how this party plays out. In the queue of folks waiting for the doors to open at 5 PM, there is a vague odor of mothballs in the “country winter wear” (even if it’s Prada or Dolce Gabbana) likely unearthed for the first time this year. Few bother to check their coats. Everyone shoots straight past the (wonderful) exhibition in the museum itself, past the open bar and past catering staff proffering hors d’oeuvres, past the boutique and silent auction areas — straight for the tag sale, which occupies all of the old Rogers Memorial Library next door to the museum. The crowds pushing through the tag sale building resemble a queue on a Disney ride. Parrish staff are attaching red “SOLD” tags right and left for buyers who, in many cases, could afford to buy the whole building. Once the initial pass through the offerings is made, everyone seems to adjourn to pick up a drink and a nibble or two, make one more leisurely pass through the tag sale, before heading back into the museum where the boutique and bar are situated. It is a thoroughly enjoyable event. (And we came home with, among other things, a great slubbed silk chair and ottoman…yeah!)

Here in Southampton, a whole series of holiday-inspired events called Southampton: It’s A Wonderful Village are planned. This Saturday, for example, there are guided tours of the Historical Society’s Rogers Mansion, all decked out for the season…horse and buggy rides through the village…a parade of fire trucks, each decorated with lights, at dusk…a tree lighting of the enormous evergreen in Agawam Park (which they DO use a cherry picker to decorate!)…outdoor movies shown on the corner of Main and Job’s Lanes…lots of music, cookies, cider, and goodwill to men throughout. As soon as our guests are settled and concierged, I’ll be in the center of the village, enjoying the holiday spirit!

Season of Gratitude

Warning: This may be a little mushy.
A friend of mine, musician Chris Foster started a Facebook group called “Seasons of Gratitude.” He describes the focus of the group as follows:

“Christmas has started to overrun the Thanksgiving holiday and now is even threatening Halloween. I want to reclaim November as the Season of Gratitude to encourage all to be grateful for the great things in life. Let’s allow November to be a month we focus on giving thanks and gratitude for all that we’re given in life.”

Most of us reflect on what’s wonderful in our life on Thanksgiving Day, but I like the idea of stretching it into a whole season. And, with the weather sliding into full fall (as I write, we’re at the tail end of peak foliage season) and things quieting down, I feel like I actually have some time to reflect and appreciate all that I have.

I am so grateful to love what I do for a living. One of the quotes set out on our breakfast table, by H. Jackson Browne, the author of “Life’s Little Instruction Book,” says Find something you love to do and add five days to your work week. I am grateful that we can make a living “having company” — something that was a rare treat for me, growing up in California, half a continent away from most of our relatives.

I feel blessed by our wonderful guests, many of whom come back time and again and have become friends.

I am grateful to live in this beautiful area. I appreciate the beautiful beaches and the climate that makes it such a draw in summer…and I appreciate the quietude and peace of the offseason, when I can spend time creating, whether it be food in the kitchen or characters in a book.

Most importantly, I’m really, really blessed to have Chris in my life, and that we make such a good team, at home and at work.

Okay, enough mush.
It rained this past weekend, two days in a row. We had some Australian guests from the Sydney area staying with us who have never seen the change of seasons. Rain is not the optimal weather in which to explore the villages, but a great time to explore the wineries and do some wine tasting, which they did. I tried to make up for the drizzle outside by ensuring that when they came “home,” it was especially cozy and warm. A rainy day in late autumn is a perfect time to begin the holiday baking…lots of cookies with cinnamon and pumpkin and cranberries and other things that made wonderful holiday-like aromas. The fire was crackling all day, and tea was on, and when they returned from their explorations, I had them sample the results of my baking. (As if Chris hadn’t already volunteered.)

Another nice thing about the quieter season is being able to go out to dinner more. Those five-star, $$$$ restaurants that you can’t get a reservation at in season? Now you can not only get a table, you can get a prix fixe three-course menu.  We had a wonderful dinner last week at Della Femina, and at Stone Creek Inn the week before. Tonight, I’m taking a cooking class at Muse Restaurant on alternatives to the traditional Thanksgiving side dishes. Chef Matt is such fun and so talented, I look forward to a great time and some wonderful ideas!

The past few days have been incredibly beautiful — I took the picture above on my walk early this morning at Gin Lane Beach. The early morning sky and the light on the waves was incredible. Not a soul on the sand for probably a mile in either direction.

Life is good…and I’m especially grateful for that.

Quote of the Day:  Happiness is the result of making a bouquet of those flowers within reach. –Proverb

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Feeding the Green Machine

There was an article last week in the New York Times about how “going green” is going more mainstream…in small towns like Nantucket, some schools and corporate communities, the concept of “zero waste” is taking hold in a big way. I’m glad to see people are more and more moving towards reducing waste, reusing and recycling. Here in the Hamptons, I see more and more grocery store shoppers using reusable grocery bags. But I’m proud to say that other measures have been in place here for years.

When Chris and I first moved to the East End, East Hampton was just putting the finishing touches on its recycling center (formerly known as the dump), and we really got into the “source separating” necessary before you could get rid of your trash. Beyond the usual bins for plastic, aluminum cans, newspaper, and cardboard, there were separate bays for glass (one each for green, brown, and clear), batteries — whether tiny AAAA or automobile, mixed paper (for all that junk mail!), and the immensely popular household exchange section euphemistically called “Caldor East,” after one of Kmart’s defunct competitors. Additionally, the leaves you collected for curbside pick up each Fall was returned to the center where, using green and some food waste, they produced wonderful mulch which you could come back with your garbage can and pick up in the Spring for free. Going to the dump and splitting up our stuff into all these stations was amazingly gratifying. We’d leave feeling like we’d done something, saved a little teeny bit of the Earth from landfill overflow.

Recycling is in both Chris’s and my blood…whether it is repairing and refinishing furniture found in a thrift store or yard sale, or repurposing an item whose purpose is obsolete into something useful or decorative. Don’t even get me started on all the offcuts and discarded building materials Chris has fished out of the dumpsters on construction sites. And oh boy, do we compost. All those orange peels from the OJ, the hulls of strawberries and skins of pineapples, the thousands of eggshells, all the coffee grounds…Chris’s team of compost engineers, the earthworms, love all the green waste we deposit on the compost bin daily. And his garden thrives with the resulting nutrient-rich soil. The photo above shows some of that rich soil on the ground in front of the bin where it is made, and the vegetables that benefit from it.

In the hospitality industry, “going green” is a big catchphrase nowadays. When we established A Butler’s Manor in early 2002, we knew we wanted to create luxurious accommodations with every amenity our guests might need. But deciding how to present these amenities presented a challenge. Our research turned up the dismaying fact that, even when made of “recyclable” plastic, those cute little bottles found in high-end hotels are in fact NOT being recycled. Plastic recycling begins with shredding, but because the amenity bottles are too small to fit on the conveyor belts, they quite literally fall through the cracks and end up in landfills. .And individually wrapped bars of soap…arrrgh! No, we couldn’t do it. So how to do provide our guests with the quality we wanted, yet with the least amount of environmental waste? We chose to do the following:

— Mounted dispensers in the shower for our premium quality shampoo and conditioner
— Full-sized bottles of Bath and Body Works’ Aromatherapy line of shower/bath gels and hand soap
— Bath salts, shower caps, dental and shaving needs provided in boxes made of recycled card stock
— Glass tumblers, changed daily, rather than plastic-wrapped plastic cups
— Glass water carafes with tumblers for our filtered water, rather than plastic bottles of water
— One copy of the daily New York Times to share between five rooms, rather than individual copies (in eight years of operation, this has never caused a problem…in fact, guests meet each other swapping sections over coffee)

After much consideration, the one amenity we decided we had to provide in small bottles is mouthwath, replacing our (repurposed!) crystal liquor carafes of Scope in view of possible hygiene concerns. It remains a difficult choice.

We believe the days of individually-wrapped hotel amenities are numbered. Our world just can’t afford the waste. One bright light: Not long ago, Sean Doane of CBS Evening News did a story on how two former traveling salesmen founded a business called Clean The World to recycle those tiny bars of soap and send them to Haiti where, despite the known link between hygiene and the spread of disease, soap is a luxury few can afford. (We’ve all been reminded lately how important it is to wash your hands in order to halt the spread of the H1N1 and other flu viruses.) How cool is that?

Meanwhile, here in our tiny corner of the world in Southampton, we’ll try to do our part too.

Quote of the Day: Don’t blow it – good planets are hard to find. — quoted in Time Magazine

(For more information on Clean The World and how you can help, click here.)

Columbus Day Weekend

It was a very international breakfast table today. Joining us this weekend: a family from Paris, a couple from India, a couple from Canada, and a relatively local couple from Westchester County.  Breakfast conversation literally spanned the globe! (The Southwest Souffle added yet another international dimension. ;))

We’ve had a very international month, actually. This past week we enjoyed meeting our very first visitors from Thailand, followed by a lovely mother and daughter from Australia. Later this month. we’ll host a series of guests from England.

There is much to do this holiday weekend: there is a Harvest Festival in Southampton, with a sidewalk sale, hayrides, a soup contest between a number of the village restaurants, delis, and caterers. Those who love the movies will enjoy the Hampton International Film Festival, which this year has venues here in Southampton as well as East Hampton. A very popular option and show stopper (literally, a traffic jam) is Pumpkintown, a seasonal park of slides, cool things to climb on, corn maze and good old pumpkin picking, located right on the highway near Watermill.

Shops, highways, and farmstands were all very busy on this perfect Autumn day. Temps were in the mid 60’s, with clear skies and a slight breeze. Just the weather our dog Truffle most loved.

Truff’s been gone just about a year now, and we are still missing her. So I headed over to ARF (Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons, where we adopted her 14 years ago now) to get a puppy-love fix by walking some of the adoptable dogs through their lovely woodland trails, kicking through the fallen oak leaves of autumns gone by. We’re not ready to replace Truff yet, but when we do, there is no more laudable shelter than ARF…truly, a home away from home. The shelter holds an ARFan reunion each year, and when we’d bring Truffle back, she’d bound out of the car, run straight for the front door, wagging and grinning, eager to greet the volunteers…no unhappy associations for her!

Tonight we’re heading up to Bostwick’s for their closing night…the end of fifteen years on Harbor Marina in East Hampton. It will be a bittersweet night. We’ll enjoy owners Kevin Boles and Chris Eggert’s other two restaurants, Indian Wells Tavern and Cherrystones, but will miss that great sunset view over the water on summer eves…

Ah well…Onwards, Autumn!

Quote of the Day:  It was one of those perfect English autumnal days which occur more frequently in memory than in life. —P.D. James

RECIPE: Blueberry & Pecan Breakfast Bread Pudding

I commented recently on Facebook how a recipe I’d been working on had been a big hit for breakfast, and since have been asked to share the recipe.  When next I make it, I’ll take a photo and add it to this blog post. (Although I’m thinking about trying my next batch of it with the apples, as they’re in season!)

BLUEBERRY & PECAN BREAKFAST BREAD PUDDING — Serves 10-12

Spray a 16″ x 10-1/2″ (4.5 liter) baking dish with non-stick spray. Add:
1 loaf (approx. 24″ long) French baguette, cut into 3/4″ slices, then into roughly 3/4″ cubes

Whisk together:
8 eggs
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. each ground cinnamon and nutmeg

Pour over the bread and press the bread into the egg mixture.

Stir together the topping:
1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1-1/2 Tbsp. light corn syrup (I used instead a blueberry maple syrup)
1 cup coarsely-chopped pecans

Cover both with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove both casserole and topping from refrigerator and uncover. Bake the bread casserole 35-45 minutes, or until set, but not brown.  Remove from oven and sprinkle over the top:
1 cup fresh or frozen (no need to defrost) blueberries

Drop rounded spoonfuls of the topping roughly 1-1/2″ apart evenly over the casserole. Return to oven and bake an additional 15 minutes, until golden brown and bubbly. Cut and serve. Pass with (optional!) maple or blueberry-maple syrup.

Enjoy!!!!
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“The Oldest English Settlement in New York State”

The sign that greets visitors to the village of Southampton, located at the top of our road, states proudly that Southampton was established in 1640 and is the oldest English settlement in New York State. (Chris, of course, takes some proprietary satisfaction in this.) For me, I never pass that sign without a little jolt of amazement.

I make jokes to guests that back in California, if a structure is 50 years old, we knock it down (or an earthquake does the job for us) and build new. So when I first came out to the East End in 1992, I couldn’t get over the sheer volume of history made visible that existed here. One example: Built in 1648, Halsey House on South Main Street is the oldest house in Southampton, and in season, you can tour it. Careful preservation and conservation by the Southampton Historical Society has meant that when shingles, roof, or windows on the house have to be replaced, they are made and installed to period specifications. To a much lesser degree, A Butler’s Manor — built in the relatively recent year of 1860 — is designated a historic structure, which prevents us from altering the exterior of the house in any substantial way. (Fortunately we are free to update interior fixtures such as plumbing and electric!) When we had the house repainted a couple of years back, we had to clear it with the architectural review board.

Though the East End has lost some of its farmland…wealthy Wall Streeters have built some sprawling Mc Mansions where once potatoes grew… I am still pleased to note that others make every effort to preserve and rebuild some of our more historic structures. A case in point is the rebuilding of the old Presbyterian Manse on South Main Street. In Spring, they began demolition down to the studs inside, which apparently precipitates the difficult and costly process of lifting the house. Using massive steel beams and pillars made of stacked railroad ties, they raised the house up about six feet above grade in order to excavate a full basement beneath and pour all new foundations. Seeing a house that is probably 6,000 square feet lifted in one piece, and balanced there for a few weeks while brave souls work beneath it, is an amazing sight! The picture here shows the house, recently set back down and attached to its new foundation. Now they can reframe the interior walls, insulate and reshingle. And when the project is complete, the neighborhood will look…exactly as it always has. I love that. That continuity, that preserving a sense of place, is a special thing about the community that I have come to value.

Quote of the Day: Therefore, when we build, let us think that we build forever…For indeed, the greatest glory of a building is not in its stones, nor in its gold. Its glory is in its Age, and in that deep sense of voicefulness, of stern watching which we feel in walls that have long been washed by the passing waves of humanity. —John Ruskin

Slipping into September

Maybe it was because Labor Day was so late this year, but somehow, summer slipped away and whoa, here we are already in mid-September.

When I first came to the East Coast and the seasons were still so new to me, I noticed that it was literally as though Mother Nature flipped a switch on Labor Day and put that note of Fall in the air. Certain trees, such as the horse chestnuts, have begun to drop a few leaves and nuts (to the delight of the considerable squirrel population in these parts). While the water at the beach, and especially our pool, is still swimmable, and daytime temps are mostly still in the 70’s, the evenings cool down to the point of needing a sweater.
Actually, nothing much has slowed down at A Butler’s Manor even though Labor Day is behind us, but oddly, it FEELS slower. The pace of life is more relaxed come September. A certain frantic-ness that hangs over the Hamptons in August almost like a miasma dissipates like the humidity after Labor Day. After a summer spent trying to stay off the crowded roads, all the locals breathe a collective sigh of relief and rejoin the community. Chris even went off this afternoon to attend a meeting of the Horticultural Alliance of the Hamptons, where they were giving a talk on what besides the ubiquitous mum you can plant for fall…

Truthfully, September is my favorite month. The warm days and cooler evening temps give the garden a chance to post at least one last hurrah of color before autumn really sets in. It’s a big travel month for overseas guests who are often making their first trip to the Hamptons, and because we feel a little less frantic too, we can spend more time helping them maximize their visit. It’s also a favorite time for brides, as September is a big month for weddings out here. This weekend, we had guests here from two different wedding celebrations.

Even the wildlife sense the return to a quieter time. On my early morning walk today, a deer stepped out from behind a stand of tiger grass in front of a house about 1/4 mile south of us. She and I were no more than 10 feet apart, and she skipped nimbly into the center of North Main Street (mercifully quiet on a Sunday morning), but seemed disinclined to entirely cross the street until — of course! — her tiny fawn emerged to join her. (When you see one deer, you know there is ALWAYS at least one more.) But I admit, while I watched until they had regained the other side of the street in safety, I also told them to please not visit our garden…

With everyone in the house at a wedding last night, Chris and I had a chance to wander out to Bostwick’s in East Hampton for a drink. The overcast weather hadn’t affected business much — both the bar and restaurant were doing thier usual roaring trade. Bostwick’s has always been a favorite of ours for a relaxed dinner and drinks with a bonus of a sunset view; we’ve been fans of any restaurant that owners Kevin Boles and Chris Eggert have opened since the inception of their first, Santa Fe Junction, back in 1993. Alas, this will be Bostwick’s last season at Harbor Marina, as the owners of the marina have renovations in mind. We’ll miss those sunset views, but know that Kevin and Chris’s welcoming ambiance and the friendly service of their loyal waitstaff will be present at their other two restaurants, Indian Wells Tavern in Amagansett and Cherrystones in East Hampton. I just wish they had a restaurant in Southampton!!
Quote of the Day: If all the cars in the United States were placed end to end, it would probably be Labor Day weekend. —Doug Larson

Hampton Classic Horse Show

The last week of August is the annual Hampton Classic Horse Show, a stellar week-long equestrian event held in Bridgehampton. It is one of the great entertainment values out here — every day except the final Sunday (Grand Prix), attendance for a whole carload costs only $20. (By contrast, parking at Cooper’s Beach costs twice that. Which is why we offer shuttle service to the beach! –but I digress…) I haven’t been able to attend the Classic for probably ten years now, but this year I was determined to go at least once, to see my favorite equestrian.

Zach, his mom, and often his father and grandmother have been guests at A Butler’s Manor every Classic week since we opened in 2002, and I look forward to their visit every year. When we first met, Zach was a few days shy of 12 years old, a serious little guy with a shy smile and a big appreciation for my breakfasts. (I always plan a menu that includes Southwest Souffle, Banana French Toast and blueberry muffins during his visit.) He’ll turn 18 next week, and every year, I’ve wanted to go see him compete. Yesterday I finally got a chance to do so.

The Classic has grown in scope since the last time I attended. Yesterday, I counted 2 (3?) show rings besides the Grand Prix ring, plus a couple of training rings and practice areas. It is a joy just to watch the riders warming up their mounts. The show rings are gorgeous…reminiscent of a beautifully-landscaped backyard that just happens to have fences to jump. The boutique arcade has nearly as many shopping stalls as Bridgehampton has shops. And there is a good-sized food arcade, tents with exhibits, pony rides for the kids, and lots more –kind of like a small scale country fair with an emphasis on horses. What is really impressive are the horse stalls, which are under huge tents on either side of the grounds. Some of the stalls have little rooms adjacent to the horse enclosures where the owners, trainers, riders can hang out in between competitions. Some of these stalls look like outdoor living rooms and have real furniture, and even rugs on the ground…and some of the tack trunks are so gorgeous, I’d like one for our living room!

I didn’t know where or even when Zach would be competing — two or three competitions per show ring are listed starting at 8 AM, the length of the event determined by the size of the class. I found the High Junior Jumper Class in the Grand Prix ring, and amazingly, it was just about to start when I found a seat in the bleachers.

Watching a jumping event is awesome — the synchronicity of horse and rider as they approach and take the jumps is incredible to behold. The polish of these young riders belies their age. They sit astride their horses with such grace, and of course, in full dress, they are beyond elegant. And oh, the horses. Sleek and groomed, manes braided or beribboned, every piece of brass or silver polished to a high shine…The first few riders took down a fence or two during their round. I think the field of some 24 riders was nearly a third of the way through before a rider was “clear” — no fences, no faults. From that point, the tension really builds, as to place, the riders must complete the circuit in the shortest amount of time without toppling a fence.

Zach was announced approximately 2/3 through the field. By this time, I had alerted everyone sitting around me, so we were all collectively holding our breath as he urged his glossy chestnut horse over the fences. The triple jump was closest to me — three fences close together. Seven people I’d never before met were all counting aloud one…two…three! as he cleared each of the bars. Across the ring, over a double, then two last fences and…he was clear! And he was in fourth place on the leader board! (The blurry picture of him jumping the gate, above, was taken with hands as nervous –and proud!– as I know his mother Deborah was as well!)

The second to last contender had a fantastic circuit that catapulted her into the lead, so Zach finished fifth…but the first six places are ribboned, and get to participate in a victory canter around the ring. That’s him riding up to collect his ribbon. I feel like a proud parent!!

Only drawback for Zack: The better he does, the earlier his trainer wants him at the show! — so he misses out on our hot breakfast entree! (Consolation prize: a daily care package with muffins, fresh fruit, breakfast bars and bottles of water.) But the swimming pool sure feels great in the late afternoons after a hot day on the back of a horse…

Quote of the Day: A horse can lend its rider the speed and strength he or she lacks, but the rider who is wise remembers it is no more than a loan. —Pam Brown

Dance Like No One’s Watching

The fireflies seem to have found their mates and wandered away, and in the hot August nights we have instead the entertainment of cicadas in the trees. Soon their calls — rather like a stick drawn quickly down a thin wooden fence — will be joined, then supplanted by, the chirp of crickets in the darkness. Ah, the sounds of a summer night.

It’s high season, the weather is sultry and warm. People are out in droves, eager to squeeze the last drop of “summer” into their summer, preferably with a few good beach days and some memorable time away from home. Maybe it’s the effect of the economy this year, or this need many of us feel to pull every bit of life from our few stolen moments away, but sometimes in the almost frenetic air to experience it all, have it all (and now!), it reminds me of a line in an old Juice Newton song: “I’m dancing as fast as I can.”

So in what can be an exhausting time of year, it gratifies me to run into instances where people are keeping their cool, physically and mentally. The other day, I was up in Riverhead at BJ’s doing some shopping, and I chatted briefly with another woman who, like me, was on her own trying to manage the self-check out station. She was in front of me, and when I finally collected my groceries and loaded them back in my cart, I saw she’d stuck a post it note to my box of cereal that read Dance like no one’s watching.

I’ve seen this quote from Crystal Boyd before, but I was struck by how much I needed to be reminded of it just then: “Work like you don’t need money…Love like you’ve never been hurt…And dance like no one’s watching.” In other words, live for the joy of it and for yourself, without worrying about the opinions or censure of others.

Are you dancing as fast as you can? And if so, is that truly where you want to be? Come take some time for yourself here at A Butler’s Manor, and let the night music of the cicadas and the scent of the nicotiana take you away from the need to cram someone else’s idea of summer into your vacation.

Come dance like no one’s watching.