Surviving Sandy

var gaJsHost = ((“https:” == document.location.protocol) ? “https://ssl.” : “http://www.”);document.write(unescape(“%3Cscript src='” + gaJsHost + “’ type=’text/javascript’%3E%3C/script%3E”));try {var pageTracker = _gat._getTracker(“UA-8775946-1”);pageTracker._trackPageview();} catch(err) {}Thank you to the many guests who have emailed us, concerned at how A Butler’s Manor fared in the “Frankenstorm” called Sandy. I want to let everyone know we are safe and the Manor is intact. We were very blessed to have been struck only a glancing blow by the storm, losing only one large tree in the area behind the pool. Our power went down for a few hours before the hurricane made landfall near Atlantic City, NJ, but was back up before nightfall.

As often happens following a horrific storm, Tuesday, October 30 dawned clear and sunny here in Southampton, with only a light breeze. Chris and I started at 8 AM to take down the fallen tree, a 30′ Leyland Cypress that had, alas, fallen atop our favorite tree, the specimen Japanese Maple that graces the back of the pool. This little warrior took a hit about six years back when we had a Nor’easter blow through in late April, taking down five trees. That same Leyland Cypress, and the slightly smaller Arborvitae in front of it, dominoed down on top the Japanese Maple, amazingly breaking only the top of its crown. We were able to save and cable both the Leyland and the Arborvitae…until Sandy. It took Chris about four hours with a chainsaw to free the little tree. It will be one funny shaped Japanese Maple for a few years, but we hold out hope that it will recover and continue to add its beauty to the landscape for years to come.

We’ve been driving around the village of Southampton to assess damage. As expected, our south facing Atlantic beaches took a major hit, scouring the dunes from most of the beaches. The pictures and video here that show rocks and revetments were photographed on Tuesday evening. In our twenty years in the Hamptons, we’ve never before seen the hardscape, as they were completely covered by dunes. Meadow Lane, which services the ocean front mansions, was flooded and impassable on our reconnoiter, but it was nothing like the photos we saw online of Dune Road in Hampton Bays. (Dune Road and Meadow Road were once the same road; the 1938 hurricane that created the Shinnecock Canal split the barrier beach into two parts, separated by access from the ocean into Shinnecock Bay.) The easternmost end of Dune Road, where Oaklands and Sundays on the Bay are located, have lost ALL of the dune that separated the Atlantic beach from the road, the parking lots, and the marina on the bay. The road disappeared entirely under sand, and the entire spit is flat as…well, as a beach.

But Southampton village is fine, has power, and is open for business. Restaurants are serving meals to those either without power or just consumed with cabin fever (the Southampton Publick House was PACKED last night!) Road crews have cleared broken tree branches to the road verges and the town and village trucks are busy collecting debris, while LIPA is in evidence restoring power to those who still are out.

I apologize for sounding banal, with our tiny little losses, when so many, many others have suffered far worse fates and will be putting their lives together for weeks, maybe months. Our hearts, prayers and positive thoughts go out to our friends and guests west of us on Long Island, and especially coastal New Jersey who have suffered catastrophic losses.

On a positive note: We just had our first EVER trick or treaters knock at the door of A Butler’s Manor! (When the street parallel to you is called Elm Street, and many of the houses on it decorate accordingly, no one usually ventures beyond to our humble front door.) Bless kids — no hurricane damage is going to keep them from Halloween candy!

May we learn from their resilience!

Gearing up for Frankenstorm

The weather predictors are in their element; according to them, we’ve got a massive confluence of weather events coming together to create a monster storm that is supposed to impact just about everybody east of the Mississippi (and a fair amount of folks west of there, too). Hurricane Sandy is currently tracking up the Mid-Atlantic and is supposed to make landfall on the Jersey Shore sometime Monday night. Long Island, on the northeast side of the counterclockwise winds, could be walloped with sustained winds of 50 MPH or more for several days.
However the Frankenstorm playes out, what is assured is that the storms, which coincide with a full moon on Monday, will wreak havoc on our beaches, with storm surges expected to be at eight feet or more. This picture was taken early Sunday morning at high tide at Southampton’s Gin Lane beach. There is only about fifty feet of sand from the pool of water mid-frame to the parking lot. It’s my guess that the waterfront “cottages” will see some flooding — the town has ordered manditory evacuation of homes and businesses on Dune Road (especially in Hampton Bays). Two of our favorite lobster houses, Oaklands (which closes for the season today) and Sundays on the Bay, will be battening down the hatches for the next few days!
Thankfully, we have no guests scheduled at A Butler’s Manor for the duration of the storm. Instead, Chris and I are preparing to hunker down and watch it blow the rest of the leaves out of the trees. No storm shutters this time, and I do have some concerns about the giant Sycamore Maple tree that anchors our back yard, but otherwise, we’ve assessed our food/water/battery/back up systems and are as ready as we can be. But the funny things you think of (well, I think of, and admittedly I’ve got a weird mind): Since I expect Frankenstorm will decimate the remainder of the autumn garden, at least for awhile, I made sure to collect scads of brightly colored maple leaves this morning on my walk to refrigerate so that I have some material for plate decorations. And I picked all the flowers I could find in Chris’s garden to make a Sandy bouquet, before the rain washes their petals away. 
We’re going to light the fire, have the coffee and wine at hand, get out our books and have a “hurrication,” and hope that Sandy blows herself into oblivion elsewhere!

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Stay safe, everyone!

Quote of the Day: “It’s not a bad lesson to learn in the bleaker months: how you view a storm is a question of perspective; provided you find the right rock to watch it from, it could be the most incredible thing you’ll ever witness.”  ― Dan Stevens


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Last week, we shut down A Butler’s Manor for a few days for our first days off since March 15, to enjoy a “playcation” here on the East End with my cousins from the West Coast. Their visit gave us a chance to check in with many of the activities we often recommend to guests but haven’t been able to experience for a while. Among the highlights: We visited Fairview Farm’s Corn Ma[i]ze, open through November 4, where you select a “passport” of trivia clues based on different topics that help you negotiate the maze. Each of us had a different topic, so each intersection was a group vote. I’m not sure if we did it the most expedient or elegant way, but we did manage to come out at an exit after about an hour, so we deemed that a success.

We also had a chance to spend some time over on the North Fork, exploring a couple of the many wineries that have opened in the last few years. In the twenty years that Chris and I have been on the East End, the amount of wineries on the North Fork has nearly tripled, and we feel an obligation to our guests to try and keep on top of who’s who and who is bottling what. (Well, that’s our excuse and we’re sticking to it.)

Winemaking has become such a booming industry worldwide that I’m sure a lot of thought goes into what to name your winery in order to help it stand out from the crowd on the wine store shelves. (How could you resist the South African wine called Goats Do Roam?) I’ve been intrigued by the name of the newer wineries on the North Fork called One Woman Wines so we had to visit the tiny, rustic tasting room. One Woman primarily makes whites, and we particularly enjoyed their Gewurtztraminer, which had a lot of fruit and spice to it. We also stopped in at Shinn Estates, which has been on our list since they opened. They are known especially for their merlot, but we found all their reds distinctive, and also enjoyed their Brut sparkling wine.

Of course, we introduced Deb and Jim to Hamptons cuisine via several of our area restaurants, including Cowfish, Le Chef, World Pie, and Plaza Cafe. Hey, since it was our playcation, I was taking the opportunity to eat out! YUM!

It definitely felt like a getaway…and we never left home!

Quote of the Day: To people outside, they think, Gee, that’s great. You get to go here and there. The other side of that is our expression, This is location, not vacation. — Tom Berenger

La-La Land

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And then I moved to the Hamptons.

Chris and I joke with guests of A Butler’s Manor that when it comes to real estate, LA has nothing on the Hamptons: THIS is “la-la land,” the land of unreal estate. I call the full color, perfect-bound magazines of listings that the real estate companies slather all over town “the funny pages,” because it’s not your market unless you happen to be in that 0.01 percentile we all keep hearing about.

Now granted, the real estate market here in the Hamptons also took a bit of a hit during the Great Recession of 2008-2009…it actually looked like we wouldn’t again see deals like the 2005 sale of Burnt Point in Wainscott ($45 million, cash) or the 2007 sale to financier Ron Baron of the 40-acre De Menil Carpenter estate on Further Lane in East Hampton ($103 million, a national record) ever again.

The local housing market for the rest of us may be resetting itself into more realistic territory, though I admit that much of the country would still experience sticker shock to know that there isn’t a cabin to be had east of the Shinnecock Canal for under $400,000. But as this article points out, unreal estate is still out there in case this is the week you win the lottery.

What boggles the mind is that in many cases, the new owner who shells out close to $30 million for his manse by the sea will probably throw another few mil into it to make it “livable.” Or even knock it down and rebuild it completely. That’s what Calvin Klein is doing with the property he bought on Meadow Lane in 2003 (though in his case, I believe whatever he builds on his oceanfront property will be an improvement on the house he tore down, which could be described as a castle built by a committee).

It just goes to show, there’s enough money in the world…just really poor distribution.

But it is sure fun to see!

Quote of the day: It is neither wealth nor splendor; but tranquility and occupation which give you happiness. —Thomas Jefferson


var gaJsHost = ((“https:” == document.location.protocol) ? “https://ssl.” : “http://www.”);document.write(unescape(“%3Cscript src='” + gaJsHost + “’ type=’text/javascript’%3E%3C/script%3E”));try {var pageTracker = _gat._getTracker(“UA-8775946-1”);pageTracker._trackPageview();} catch(err) {}First day of Autumn — hooray!! Not that the weather necessarily tells the story. Four of our guests are at the beach today, and temperatures are expected to be in the upper 70’s. Though that it slated to change tomorrow, with slightly cooler temps scheduled for the rest of the week.

A little chill in the early morning air? Dark skies at 5:30 AM? Pink clouds as the sun comes up? I love it. I love fall, and all the trappings…and I love the sense of calm that pervades the Hamptons as Fall settles in. Gone is the frenetic summer crowd, desperate to pack every second of fun into their weekend, worried about whether the party is starting somewhere without them. It is so much easier to relax when you appreciate that the hours when you can wear shorts are more limited. I’ve decorated the mantle for fall; I’ll add pumpkins in October. I just can’t let Halloween encroach on fall just yet…

And there is still so much to do. Up next weekend, Sept 28 & 29, is SEPTEMBERFEST, a celebration of arts and music and history and food in Southampton Village, beginning with a kickoff party on Friday night featuring the band New Life Crisis. Beginning at 10 AM on Saturday, there will be street musicians at various spots on Main Street, Job’s Lane, and Agawam Park, Taste of the Hamptons and a chowder contest in the park, a farmer’s market on the grounds of the Parrish Art Museum, arts and crafts activities, historical demonstrations, hayrides, rides in Wells Fargo’s iconic stagecoach, concerts, art shows, and much more. The village will be HOPPING! Come visit and enjoy it!

Actually, the Parrish Art Museum has vacated the property on Job’s Lane, and will celebrate its grand opening in its brand new quarters in Water Mill the weekend of November 11.  Owned by the village, the grand old building that housed the art museum for over 110 years will continue to be a cultural hub for Southampton. And speaking of new tenants, the old Rogers Memorial Library was sold late this summer. It’s rumored that, following restorations to the historic Queen Anne structure, it will reopen possibly as retail space. And, drum roll….Pottery Barn has signed a lease on the grand corner building on Main Street and Hampton Road that housed Saks Fifth Avenue for 60 years. It will be great to have the beautiful building that anchors the village occupied once more!

We’ve had some fun shops come to town this year, and with a little more room to breathe this week, I wandered downtown to check them out. There’s a decided British note in the air in Southampton with shops such as Jack Wills and Grahame Fowler joining Ralph Lauren downtown. (Me, being an Anglophile, very much likes this, of course.) It looks like Ralph’s current line is very equestrian, always a great look, but for the real deal, look for your barn coat at Horse Haven on Hampton Road. And of course, there’s lots of end-of-season sale action happening.

September is definitely the best time to be in the Hamptons!

Breakfast à trois, and other thoughts

Only three!

It’s the week before Labor Day, historically one of our busiest weeks of the year, and yet this morning I have only three for breakfast. Four of our guests were out early this morning to participate in the Hampton Classic Horse Show, and another two were heading to Montauk to go whale watching. It seems so funny to have made more “care packages” than full breakfasts, especially during high season. As we are serving Grand Marnier French Toast, which is prepped the night before and then baked off in the morning, I feel like I am rattling around this morning with almost nothing to do other than prepare a fresh fruit starter and fry some bacon! I am positively discombobulated!

What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time we were cleaning up after Hurricane Irene, counting ourselves lucky to been dealt only a glancing blow. Today, we’re experiencing a perfect beach day, with one eye on the TV to track Isaac’s progress over New Orleans and the Gulf Coast… communities that, after Katrina, know better than anywhere never to underestimate a hurricane. My heart goes out to them as they wait for the storm.

Lots of fun these past weeks, as old friends and new stayed at A Butler’s Manor. It’s just not summer without some of our great repeat guests! And they keep my creativity flowing, as it relates to breakfasts. I’ve mentioned before that I keep notes of what I serve each day, as I try not to repeat a breakfast entree (unless specifically requested!). In the past week, we have had three of our most frequent repeat guests visiting us…had their visits overlapped, planning breakfast REALLY would have been challenging!  (Okay, I admit: For Walter, whose business out here has made him our most frequent guest –over 30 visits, totalling just about 60 nights– I’ve given up trying not to duplicate a recipe. He’s had everything in my cookbook, and then some. Bless him, he’s up for anything I might try, too!)

As summer winds to a close this year, I’ve noticed less people avoiding gluten, but more who profess not to be egg lovers. Usually when folks tell me this and I follow up on it, I discover that they just don’t like “obvious” eggs, such as fried eggs, but that eggs baked into a strata, for example, are fine. Recently, we had two of of ten guests who were “not egg fans,” and thus I made a new (to me), easy non-egg savory breakfast; my version of baked ham and cheese croissants using Pillsbury crescent rolls. Simple, easy, and so tasty! Chris was fighting me for the extras!

Art Appreciation

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It’s a lot of fun to see visitors enjoy their exploration of the area, and Anne-Maree is so exuberant that I want to share her impressions (and all the photos!) by attaching her blog here. If you’ve not yet been to the Hamptons, between our blog and What to Do page and Anne-Maree’s, this will give you a good feeling for our little town. If you’ve been here before, it will bring back happy memories!

Anne-Maree’s blog: The House That A-M Built

It’s been a big month for art events. The second weekend of July was the massive ArtHamptons fair, and last weekend was art Southampton , both held in separate locations inside a huge, air conditioned luxury “tent” (well, it qualified as a tent because it wasn’t there last week and won’t be there tomorrow, but this structure had glass fire doors, a bar and a snack bar). I dropped by to see what was on offer at the second show, which was modern art from dealers from all over the world, and was impressed by the scope of the show. What was particularly nice was that, unlike most art or antiques events held out in the Hamptons, both events offered extended gallery hours, the latter until 10 PM most of the four nights it was open. This is a novel concept, as most events force visitors to choose: Beach? Shopping? Special Event? during daylight hours. It’s nice to be able to fit it all in!

On a smaller, more local scale, Art in the Park was held the third weekend of July in Agawam Park over Saturday and Sunday. Art in the Park is sponsored by the Southampton Artists’ Association, who also hold a number of shows each year at the Southampton Cultural Center. No bar or air conditioning here; just a true village art festival featuring some extensive local talent. And there’s plenty of it.

Just in case you thought the Hamptons were just all about the beach!

Restaurant comments: LT Burger (Sag Harbor)

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Pardon me for being obtuse, but I just don’t get the trend in many fine dining establishments to put a hamburger on the menu. (Especially at $18.) If I’m going to a restaurant that boasts a decent wine list and doesn’t offer fries as an optional vegetable (at additional price!), I don’t expect the chef to put something as pedestrian as a burger on the menu. Especially when the point of having it there seems to be just in case you underestimated what $$$ meant in your Zagat’s guide. At a certain level of restaurant, and at a certain price point, a “hamburger”  better come with a pedigree. Example: Chris and I once dined at DB Bistro Moderne, Daniel Boulud’s more “casual” restaurant in Midtown Manhattan, where the signature dish is a hamburger made of sirloin filled with braised short ribs, stuffed with foie gras and black truffle, served on a parmesan bun…for $32. (Please note, the French fries–“pommes frites,” of course–were included.) It was a heart attack on a plate, but it WAS wonderful, but it’s an experience I don’t need to repeat.

When we crave a hamburger, we go to a place where hamburgers comprise at least 50% of the menu and you can get just about anything you can imagine on them. Such a place probably doesn’t have stellar service, it definitely doesn’t have Chateau Margaux on the wine list (if there IS a wine list) and I expect to see at least one and usually several televisions hanging in the joint. One of the best places for a really good gooey hamburger, in my opinion, is Fellingham’s in Southampton. There is nothing trendy or elegant about Fellingham’s, nor is that their intent. They are unabashedly a sports bar with a local following, but their burger is probably one of the best values in the Hamptons.

A couple of burger joints have opened in Sag Harbor over the past year or two, one on the Sag Harbor Turnpike, and one in a storefront right on Main Street. This latter one is called LT Burger and it mightily resembles the sort of soda fountain that used to be the norm for a burger and a milkshake, without quite the 1950’s kitsch of a Johnny Rocket’s chain. Oh yes, LT Burgers does the milkshakes too, yum yum yum, including a handful of options you must be over 21 to enjoy. The menu is short on options other than burgers (though they do have veggie, turkey and tuna burgers), with a few salads, half a dozen apps and several choices of fries (extra charge), including the best sweet potato fries I’ve had in years. Burgers ranged from the signature at $11 and went up to about $16 depending on accoutrements. I had one on special called a “farm burger” that came with onions and local Mecox Bay cheese and a fried egg, and Chris opted for the one with grilled onions and applewood smoked bacon.  We split a salad made with local heirloom tomatoes, grilled bacon and ricotta cheese that had a wonderful spicy dressing with maybe a hint of curry to it. The place is very casual, perfect for kids, and does take out which we’d probably enjoy if we lived in Sag Harbor. And we happened to score one of the tables in the window so we could watch the always-active foot traffic on Sag Harbor’s Main Street (which, by the way, is the only village in the Hamptons that “gets it” when it comes to being open for late night shopping, but that’s a topic for another day). It’s a pricier burger than you’d find in a soda fountain anywhere else except here in the Hamptons, but the atmosphere was right and it was tasty. We’ll be back.

Speaking of shopping, summer brings the usual batch of new stores to the Hamptons, including a few “pop-up” stores that expect to stay long enough to interest only our summer visitors. I hate this concept because it ignores our year-round population, but that too is a topic for another day. Still, occasionally we get a pop-up that is such a good fit that the store signs a year-round lease and becomes part of our village landscape. One such store that I hope will make the transistion is a fun little shop on the corner of Main Street and Job’s Lane in Southampton called C Wonder. This is a shop that sells all things summertime: bright clothes and summer shoes, bags you’d take to the beach or to a pool party, household supplies and hostess gifts for said party, even beach cruiser bicycles. The prices aren’t outrageous, and the management knows how to generate excitement: Every weekend since Memorial Day when they opened, they’ve held fun store events with lots of excitement for the whole family. Today, for example, among the activities is a village-wide scavenger hunt that offers the chance to win a $500 gift cvertificate to the store. As soon as I drop off our guests at Cooper’s Beach, I’m stopping by to play!

Sunshine, sweet potato fries, a scavenger hunt…ahhhh, summer. Maybe I’ll find a mayonnaise jar and collect some fireflies tonight…

Quote of the Day: A hamburger by any other name, costs twice as much. –Evan Esar

Simple and free!

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Sometimes the best things to do truly are the simplest. Last night, after all the guests at A Butler’s Manor had left for their respective evening plans, Chris and I packed a  bottle of wine and some cheese and crackers and went to the beach to watch the sun go down. True, on Southampton’s beaches you won’t see a sunset over the water, nor–since our air quality is so good–will you get the brilliant oranges and reds of a Southern California sunset (which is, alas, caused by smog). Instead, the colors are pure blues and pinks, in wispy clouds over a steely ocean.

And almost nobody else is there. After the need for sunscreen diminishes, the beach is the quietest place in the Hamptons.

And the best part is that it’s free, because after 5:00 PM, beach parking regulations don’t apply. And at Cooper’s Beach, the snack bar stays open until at least 6:00, so you can grab a burger or a wrap there.

Speaking of free, a visit to a farmers market is a great treat on a summer day. From late spring until fall, there are farmers markets somewhere in the Hamptons daily from Wednesdays through Sundays. has a pretty comprehensive article that outlines who, what, when and where here.

Of course, the farmstands out here are numerous and divine, and they’re (mostly!) open every day. Closest to us, right around the corner on land that was once owned by the same family (Jagger) that also owned the property we now call A Butler’s Manor is tiny Hank’s Farm Stand, selling primarily berries…strawberries are just finishing up, and raspberries are coming up. At a farmstand you can’t miss the connection between the fertile land and the farmer who cultivates it. A good comprehensive list of area farmstands can be found here. Often, visitors to the Hamptons tend to forget its farming and fishing origins and are often only vaguely aware that both livelihoods are still very much in existence. (BSP [Blatant Self Promotion!] alert: It is precisely in that setting that my novel Blood Exposure is set, available now on Kindle. “Oh really, what’s it about,” you say? Check it out here.)

In fact, having made myself hungry, I’m off to pick up some fresh veggies for tomorrow morning’s frittata.  And I’m planning another picnic on the beach…

Quote of the Day: They say the world has become too complex for simple answers. They are wrong. –Ronald Reagan

One man’s trash?

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Many people enjoy ogling the “summer cottages” (read: mansions) in the Hamptons, and one of the most popular way to fund-raise out here is to offer house tours that allow the rest of us to view the interior of some of these houses up close and personal. (Two such house tours coming up this summer are the Westhampton Garden Club House Tour on July 10 and St. Ann’s Episcopal Church House Tour on August 2.) 

Sometimes you might not be able to tour the estates, but you can own something that used to live on one. There are a couple of annual sales that highlight exactly this, namely Parrish Presents in late November that benefits the Parrish Art Museum, and the Decorators/ Designers/ Dealers Sale in June that benefits the Southampton Fresh Air Home. There are also a number of cool thrift or consignment shops here in the Hamptons, some of which we highlight on our suggested itinerary. Much of the merchandise, especially in the benefit shops such as LVIS (Ladies Village Improvement Society), ARF (Animal Rescue Fund) and the Southampton Hospital Thrift Shop is especially fine. The reason? When the wealthy summer population of Southampton and East Hampton clean out their closets or redecorate their homes, they don’t post a curb alert on Craig’s List. They tell their staff to donate the stuff or get rid of it.

Chris and I have found literally hundreds of our treasures at A Butler’s Manor through such resources.

One of the perks of Chris’s former profession as a butler are his connections with others who serve or otherwise service the estate district (i.e., contractors, landscape designers). More than once, he’s gotten a head’s up over stuff being discarded from someone’s mansion or the grounds surrounding them. (Just ask him about the various trees and shrubs that he’s rescued when various people decide to re-landscape!) Recently we scored a windfall when one of our friends, the estate manager for a large property here, was asked to broker the sale of some garden statuary since his principal was redesigning her landscape. Here are two of the three “girls” –full-sized bronze statues, signed and numbered –who now grace our garden! From the same estate, a set of four musical cherubs on plinths, a little more classical in style, will also find a new home at A Butler’s Manor, as soon as we can figure our where they will live.

Another recent find was due to the sharp eyes of my friend Joyce, who volunteers at LVIS in East Hampton. Joyce spotted a gorgeous roll of upholstery fabric that had been donated that is going to be perfect for our dining room chairs later this summer! I’ve found great vases at Elsa’s Ark Thrift Shop in Southampton, and cool clothes at Around Again, on Long Wharf in Sag Harbor. Colette Consignments, in Southampton and Sag Harbor, features designer clothes, shoes and accessories.  And when they say “gently used,” they mean it. I’ve seen dresses in the shop with the original price tags still attached. I guess their original owners decided to wear something else to the benefit.

Chris and I figure we’re doing our part to go green and keep excess stuff out of our landfills. It’s a very satisfying way to reduce-reuse-recycle!

Quote of the Day: We are not to throw away those things which can benefit our neighbor. Goods are called good because they can be used for good: they are instruments for good, in the hands of those who use them properly. — Clement of Alexandria