Christmas in Southampton!

Wanted to share a lovely video that captures the holiday spirit present in Southampton this time of year!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) {}

Hamptons International Film Festival Returns

We’ve been enjoying a wonderful, temperate Autumn season here at A Butler’s Manor. Though we closed the pool for the season this week, the garden is still showing lots of colors, including dahlias, roses, and fall anenome. It’s been warm enough the past few days that we’ve been able to serve breakfast on the patio, usually unheard of in October.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) {}

Last weekend was Septemberfest in Southampton Village, well attended and much enjoyed. Especially enjoyable was the music! I spent part of Saturday afternoon passing out schedule information in front of the Chamber of Commerce, and got to enjoy Nick Kerzner’s classic rock and original solo material. Friday’s kickoff party featured our old “Rhythm & Twang” favorites The Lone Sharks, and two other favorites were part of the line up on Saturday and Sunday: Mashup band New Life Crisis and smooth jazz Certain Moves. The chowder contest had run out of samples by 1:30 PM, with a closely contested victory declared for a Manhattan-style chowder from Paul’s Italian Restaurant (#6 for those of you who had mugs!). The Southampton Center opened with its first exhibition of Charles Addam’s work featuring his classic Addam’s Family cartoons, and the Maniac Pumpkin Carvers had created a display of all things Addams Family (look closely and you’ll see that Uncle Fester, on the left, has a glowing light bulb in his mouth) — brilliant!
Coming up beginning Thursday, October 10 and running through Monday, October 14, is the Hamptons International Film Festival. Now in its 21st year, The HIFF was founded to promote the vision of independent filmmakers from around the world. It’s always a star-studded occasion, drawing local film actors and directors such as Stephen Spielberg, Alec Baldwin, Mercedes Ruehl, Martin Scorcese and Renee Zellwegger, as well as those from Hollywood and abroad. While most of the venues are in East Hampton, there are two screens in Southampton’s theatre, as well as Sag Harbor’s one. Coolest thing: One of the featured films, Louder Than Words, is inspired by a true story that one of our repeat guests was a part of. They will be staying with us again, and are eager to see how the movie turns out (and see the actor who plays him)!
A big draw on the East End in autumn is agri-tourism; our pumpkin farms, corn mazes, wineries and farmstands are all in high gear. Particularly busy over on the South Fork is Hank’s Pumpkintown, located on Montauk Highway in Water Mill, right across the street from Duckwalk Vineyards.  Hank’s keeps getting bigger and better each year, with pumpkins, slides and all manner of climb-aboard things for the kids, as well as food, apples, and much more. If you’re visiting us and aren’t planning on sampling either, let us know so we can route you around the traffic!
I’m recovering from foot surgery, so will miss out on the corn maze this year, and miss seeing our guests in the next week or so until I’m cleared for takeoff. Chris is running the Manor with the help of Kristen and Deb while I’m off my feet, so you know you’re in good hands!
Quote of the day:  It’s funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you watch them on screen. –Anthony Burgess

The Walker Cup Match Comes to Southampton

There is a common misconception that on Labor Day, the cars roll westward and the villages in the Hamptons shut up shop like closing time at Disneyland. For years, a local joker even posted a huge cardboard sign visible from the westbound lane on Labor Day Monday: “Last one out of Montauk, please turn off the lights.”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) {}

It couldn’t be further from the truth.
Not only does the advent of the post-Labor Day season auger in some great events, but the weather generally remains gloriously temperate, the water at the beach is as warm as it ever gets, and the general air of frenetic merrymaking, as though time was running out, disappears. Road rage isn’t a daily worry. And you stand a better chance of getting a reservation at Nick and Toni’s.
National Golf Links of America, Southampton, NY

And there are some great events to look forward to in September. For starters, National Golf Links will host the 2013 Walker Cup Match, which will be held here in Southampton next weekend (Friday – Sunday, September 6-8, 2013).
Team USA at National Golf Links, Southampton, NY
The Walker Cup is a golf trophy match between teams made up of the leading amateur golfers of the United States and Great Britain/Ireland. It’s held on odd-numbered years and alternates between courses on either side of “the pond,” as my British husband would say. (The professional golfers’ version of this is the Ryder Cup, played in even-numbered years. Originally between Great Britain and the USA, since 1979 the Ryder Cup has been contested between the USA and Europe.) 
The last time the Walker Cup was held at National was in 1922, only two years after the tournament was initiated. This year, the American team is looking to bring the trophy back to our side of the pond, having lost in 2011 to the GB&I team whilst playing at the Royal Aberdeen Golf Club. (Sorry, I’ve now got a British accent stuck in my mind.) 
Fascinating fact: The match is named for George Herbert Walker, grandfather of former president George Herbert Walker Bush (and thereby great-grandfather to former president George W. Bush), who was president of the United States Golf Association in 1920 when the contest began.
The National is a gorgeous golf course located just northwest of Southampton Village and overlooking the Peconic Bay. Its landmark windmill is iconic of the Hamptons, and simply walking the course is a lovely day’s excursion. It’s particularly appropriate that the Walker Cup will be played here, as the course — built in 1908 under the direction of founder Charles B. Macdonald — was designed to incorporate playing challenges similar to those found in the better links courses in the British Isles such as St. Andrews, Prestwick, and Sandwich.
By our bookings here at A Butler’s Manor, it appears that we are nearly evenly split between supporters of Team USA and Team GB/I. Given the competitiveness that golf can bring forth, we may be setting separate tables at breakfast…
Tickets for the Walker Cup are available for the whole three-day event, single days, or just the practice round on Friday by clicking here
Quote of the Day: Golf is a game in which you yell ‘fore,’ shoot six, and write down five. –Paul Harvey

Where do they all come from?

I can’t believe it’s the third week of August already.

It’s been a busy summer, in spite of the funny weather (a day of rain, followed by three or four days of great summer weather, followed by a day of rain, etc.). And probably because, similar to how great you feel once free of pain or illness, the return of sunshine after a day of showers feels even MORE like summer, our guests haven’t been too dejected by the weather.
A repeat guest who’d stayed with us last weekend emailed to say what a nice time they’d had. “We love your breakfasts,” she wrote, “and we so enjoy talking to the interesting people you always seem to have staying with you.”
We are blessed to have a wide variety of guests from all sorts of places. I’m the reports maven, so Susan’s comment sent me off to the computer to see where our guests are coming from this year. 
Of course, the majority of guests come from within a 150-mile radius in the TriState area (NY, NJ, CT), with 25% of all guests coming from Manhattan. New York and New Jersey residents make up over 50% of our guests. Interestingly, by state, the next highest percentage of guests who are US residents are from California, followed by Pennsylvania. All in all, our little bed and breakfast has hosted guests from exactly half of the fifty states this year; since we’ve been keeping records of this kind, we’ve had visitors from 45 out of 50 states in the Union, and from 35 countries.
International guests make up almost 17% of all our visitors, led by the United Kingdom (6%), Australia (4%), Germany and Canada (2% each). One gray area is that quite a number of international visitors come to us via New York City: they are living there for a period of time due to work. In this way we’ve hosted guests from Luxembourg, France, China, Brazil, Japan, Denmark, and more.
Needless to say, breakfast is rarely boring around here…and I love that guests enjoy it!

New Restaurants: news and reviews

New season always equals a new crop of restaurants here in the Hamptons. Some may stay with us for years, others which will fade away after Labor Day, following the sun and money to Florida.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) {}

In recent weeks, Chris and I have checked out a couple of new entrants here in Southampton, both of which are literally walking distance from us, and next door to each other. It’s my hope both of these will become Southampton institutions. In one case, the restaurant is already an institution in New York City.
The Southampton Social Club is a gorgeous building with a large patio and sprawling lawn out back that is primarily known for the nightlife (beginning at around 10 PM) that remains their core business. Managing partner Ian Stone and chef Scott Kampf have upped the ante in order to introduce the rest of us non-clubbers to a lovely space with a lovely meal (and developing some positive PR by way of a decent restaurant might go a long way towards easing local mistrust and antagonism for the late night summer crowds). 
I’d seen ads locally promoting the restaurant, but figured the cuisine was geared towards late night munchies. But in late April, having read several good reviews of the place on TripAdvisor and Yelp, we tried it out. 
The large, classically decorated dining room is lovely and serene, and the menu offerings looked delectable…and were. The crab cake, which had been noted in severeal of the reviews I’d read, was wonderful…so much crab it was amazing it held together. I ordered it again when we dined at Southampton Social Club for the second time last week, this time bringing four friends. The six of us passed around each appetizer and entree for group consensus, and we loved it all. Mussels, the Caesar salad, the zucchini chips with aioli…yum.  We tried the full gamut of entrees..mahi mahi, steak, chicken, and the vegetable Napoleon, and found all absolutely delicious. Service was attentive and perhaps because we dined relatively early in the evening, the noise level was moderate. A great night, all around. We plan to be back, often, and recommend to guests.
The second and more famous addition to Southampton’s culinary lineup is Delmonico’s Southampton, which opened in the corner location on Elm Street and Railroad Plaza that for years held the restaurant Savanna’s. Chris and I were able to attend their grand opening, which those of us who have been in the trade know can be a little rocky when a restaurant is still working the bugs out of their kitchen and table service. 
Impressively, this was hardly the case at Delmonico’s, which is an institution on Beaver Street downtown in NYC and has been since 1837, billing itself the oldest restaurant in America. (I’d thought Antoine’s, in New Orleans, held that title, but that vernerable fixture of the French Quarter opened three years later in 1840.) 
Delmonico’s is a known primarily as a steakhouse, but among its fabled firsts include the invention of Eggs Benedict, Chicken a la King (originally Chicken a la Keene, after a patron), and Lobster Newberg. So I had to try the appetizer called Crab Cake Benedict. This was a single crab cake, topped with a poached quail’s egg (sweet!) and finished with a special hollandaise. Presentation was marvelous and the taste sublime.  All four of us opted for Delmonico’s Signature Steak. We’ve had steak at Smith & Wollenski, Ruth Chris’s, the Palm, Bobby Van’s, and other known steakhouses. This was the best steak I’ve ever had. 
Noise level was exuberant, but I was very pleased to note that the decor now includes carpet, a feature sadly lacking when it was Savanna’s, which will help keep the noise level somewhat in check. (It’s still a challenge due to the floor to ceiling windows on the street side.)
Congrats and welcome to Delmonico’s managing directors Nicholas and Dennis…we hope for a long tenure and years of satisfied patrons, from A Butler’s Manor and beyond! 
Bon appetit!
Quote of the Day:  The only time to eat diet food is while waiting for the steak to cook. –Julia Child

Five percent — Eton Court twins

One of the joys of creating A Butler’s Manor was the decorating of it; unlike a boutique hotel, in a bed and breakfast like ours nothing is purchased en masse but instead is individually selected. And especially since we were “theming” the rooms to suggest the real life estates that Chris once ran as a butler, each aspect of each room needed to have its own story.

We describe the room we’ve named “Eton Court” as a king bedded room which can, which prior notice, be configured as two twins. All our website pictures show the room set up as a king bed because literally 95% of the time that is how guests request it. But because today is part of the other five percent of the year, I thought I’d share a picture of what the room looks like set up with two twin beds, since it is cute that way.

When the room is set up as two twins, it’s often to accommodate a girlfriend’s trip, a mom/daughter weekend, or a pair of siblings whose days of sharing a bed are long past. Tonight, it happens to be reserved for two colleagues visiting the area on business.

The twin beds in question are antiques, with wooden rails and large iron “hooks” that slot the pieces together. We purchased them in early 2002 at a Bridgehampton antique store owned by a courtly gentleman named Lynne St. John called the Bulls Head Inn. We met Lynne St. John in the early 1990’s, and Lynne and Chris had once discussed our purchasing the Bull’s Head Inn and restoring it as an inn, but the project was too big for our budget. Fifteen years later, it is now the site of the new restaurant, inn and spa called Topping Rose House.

Very few guests who book Eton Court as a king even realize that it doesn’t, in fact, have a king-sized mattress. Instead, there is a foam converter piece down the center of the two twin Sealy Posturepedic mattresses as well as a 3″ king-sized memory foam topper over the top, all encased by the mattress pad. All this ensures there is no way you’re going to fall into the center of the bed, or indeed, even know it is there. We often get raves about how comfortable the bed in Eton Court is.

Come check it out!

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Jim’s Magnolia

When Chris and I first viewed the house that would become A Butler’s Manor, it was in September 2001. At that time, the back yard was mainly grass, though the rose garden under the large Sycamore Maple tree was there…we both have a very vivid memory of the owner deadheading the roses while the Realtor showed us around.

When we eventually went into contract, it took four months to close.This meant that when we finally took possession the end of January, it was the dead of winter and we really had little idea what was growing in the yard, other than those roses. But we were hard at work in the house, furnishing and decorating and creating marketing materials and recipes for our bed and breakfast, so we didn’t much pay attention until Spring. And then…surprise! On the left side of the garden, near the gate, a large Saucer Magnolia came into bloom…the variety that sets an entire tree of pale pink blossoms before it sets a single leaf. And that’s when I knew for certain that it was meant to be that we bought this place.

In the house that I grew up in, my father, Jim Burton, planted a magnolia in our front yard. It was a Grandiflora, commonly known as a Southern Magnolia, the evergreen kind with the waxy green over brown leaves and the large white flowers that grow well in warmer climates. Ours was supposedly a dwarf tree version, and Dad’s only disappointment was that it managed to stay the same size for the whole 35+ years he lived in that house. Of all the plantings in our yard, we all knew that magnolia was Dad’s favorite.
So when he passed away in early Spring 1999, Chris and I decided to plant a magnolia in our yard in his memory. We wanted to plant a saucer magnolia not only because it was a variety that grew well in the Hamptons climate, but because it flowered right around the time of year he’d died, and we liked the reminder that he’d never really left us. The problem is that such magnolias not only bloom but are best planted in early Spring, and thus are only available then. So we missed out on the planting season two years in a row, and then we were searching for a bed and breakfast and it didn’t seem like a good idea to plant a memory tree at a house we would soon sell.
Fast forward to A Butler’s Manor, April, 2002, and here, in the same relative position vis-a-vis the house that we would have planted Jim’s Magnolia, was…Jim’s Magnolia. The first tree to welcome the Spring, and by extension, I thought fancifully, welcome us and our guests as our season began.
Then in July, when we were running like mad at the height of our first summer season, a curious thing happened. Jim’s Magnolia rebloomed, just a little. Maybe a dozen flowers. And interestingly, you could only really see them from where we sat in our office. Now, magnolias of this type don’t rebloom normally. So we decided that it was just Dad checking in when we were at our most stressed, sending us a little bloom of encouragement.
This happened every summer for the next eight years.
And then something happened to the tree. Perhaps it was Hurricane Irene. But the following Spring, only about half the tree set blooms, and later leaves. We deep-fed it, removed the climbing tree hydrangea that had been using it as partial support, got the tree gurus out to check it, waited another year. No good. We had to take it out last fall. It left a literal hole in the landscape and a big figurative hole in our hearts.
So last week we planted another magnolia for Jim. It’s little, but it will grow. It’s blooming still, as I write. 
I don’t expect it to send a “hang in there” message with a rebloom in the summer, but you never know…
Quote of the Day: It’s said that when we die, the four elements – earth, air, fire and water – dissolve one by one, each into the other, and finally just dissolve into space. But while we’re living, we share the energy that makes everything, from a blade of grass to an elephant, grow and live and then inevitably wear out and die. This energy, this life force, creates the whole world. –Pema Chodron

Tree hugging

Superstorm Sandy, which devastated so much of the Jersey Shore and the South Shore of Long Island the end of last October, by comparison dealt the East End only a glancing blow. The biggest damage incurred was to our beaches (which, with the advent of the spring ocean currents that return sand taken away in winter, have begun to rebuild themselves) and to the trees. Like an airbrush tanning session, the wind-driven salt-laden air coated the leaves. As it was late Fall, the deciduous trees shed their leaves as usual. But the evergreen trees retained their spray tan…and because we had almost no rain in the months that followed,  many pine and fir trees in fact have turned rather bronze. Unlike on humans, on a tree, bronze does not look healthy.

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The tree gurus tell us that most of the evergreens will sprout new growth and eventually push off their unwanted “tan.” But it may take more than one season to do so. I am heartened, though, as Spring is upon us, to see some green pushing through the boughs of some of the white pines around town, which were as a species particularly hard hit. So maybe it will be all right after all. Coming as I do from the reclaimed desert that is Southern California, trees are precious to me, and it hurts to lose them!
Here at A Butler’s Manor, Sandy wasn’t the worst of the problem…it was the series of nor’easters that followed over the course of the winter. The last one, in early March, brought down five large trees around the perimeter of the pool and the back of the property. Replacing those, as well as the ornamental trees that did suffer hurricane-related damage, has been one of our focuses this Spring. 
Last week, we had five good-sized crytomaria planted, as well as two small Japanese Maples to “buddy up” to our bloodied, but unbowed showpiece tree that suffered the only major blow Sandy dealt us. A large Leyland pine came down in the windstorm, on the head of the Japanese maple, severing many limbs. (The picture above was taken the day after Sandy — you can barely see the limbs of the maple under the fallen Leyland.) But our plucky survivor (seen on the right), while rather odd-shaped, has just started to sprout leaves, and its two buddies on either side will help fill in the hole in the landscape (and add beautiful red color!).
Still to come are a couple of large cherry laurels and a golden cypress, which will help fill out and add texture around the left side of the pool (now open, as seen in the picture). Another ornamental tree we just replaced will be a separate post, as it has its own story.
Chris has been working hard in his garden, trying to transfer to the carefully-weeded beds a nice layer of the black mulch that is currently taking up real estate in the back of the car park. Dozens of varieties of daffodils are currently in bloom, most of them cream-colored double daffs with frilly petals and touches of peach, salmon, or  pale yellow. They are gorgeous in the guest rooms.
Quote of the Day:  Storms make trees take deeper roots. –Dolly Parton

Some observations on going Gluten Free

We make jokes about how the birds at A Butler’s Manor eat very well. Not only does Chris keep seed around for them, but they (and the blasted squirrels) get the remnants of our morning’s baked goods.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) {}

Yesterday, we had a guest who had celiac disease — highly allergic to wheat — requiring a gluten free diet. It was a french toast day, but I’ve found a very good gluten-free cinnamon bun from which I make a yummy french toast, and that’s what I was serving her. I also had on hand a gluten-free blueberry muffin, not one I’d made from scratch, but that I’d bought at Whole Foods. She was too full to eat the muffin, so it joined the scraps of regular blueberry muffins to feed the birds.
They didn’t touch it.  

I wonder what this tells us? Is it like the experiment where you can leave out a tablespoon of  margarine for a month and no ant will touch it?

We live in a world in which food allergies seem to be proliferating, and keeping abreast of them all is challenging. Fortunately or unfortunately, each spawns more products in the supermarket to meet these needs. But do they? I have been experimenting with gluten-free breads available at places like Whole Foods and Wild By Nature for about six years, and I’ve yet to find one that anyone really likes. I also remember the “fat free” craze back in the 80’s when people went overboard thinking they could eat all the fat free cookies and goodies they found in the store because hey, if it was fat free, they’d lose weight, right? Nope. The compensation for lack of fat was MORE SUGAR. And people gained weight and became less healthy.

Last fall, I too elected to forego wheat. I am not celiac, nor even, I don’t think, particularly gluten intolerant. What I am is wheat ADDICTED. I love, love, love bread…cookies…cakes…all my baked goods…and I needed to break that addiction. So I quit, cold turkey. It’s much like quitting any addiction, like smoking. It’s tough at first. And then you don’t miss it so much. I can now pass a Panera Bread without salivating. The harder part is when you’re craving something that you used to have on top of the item, like butter or frosting or honey or jam. (I once spread peanut butter on a McDonald’s hash brown patty. It was…interesting.)

I personally try to limit my forays into the gluten free substitute products, primarily because the replacement flours (tapioca, rice, potato starch) tend to have a very high glycemic rate. But since I have a dog in the fight, so to speak, I am even more conscious of taste when it comes to recreating typically wheat-based goodies. I’ve found a good gluten-free flour and gluten free oats that allowed me to make the much-loved chocolate chip oatmeal cookies we serve here ar A Butler’s Manor. They are crunchier than their wheat flour-based counterparts, but they are yummy. They pass the taste test.

What didn’t pass the taste test was a recipe I tested this morning for brown sugar oatmeal pancakes. More work to be done there! I’ve had success with a couple of types of muffins (it helps when there are lots of tasty ingredients in them, like bananas and walnuts or carrots and raisins). I practice when I can get a little time free. I’m far from brilliant at cooking gluten-free, but I’m working on it.

For those of you who are living a gluten-free life: Found a product you really like? Let me know, and I’ll see if I can find it here in the Hamptons!

And finally, for a good laugh on the trials of adapting a gluten free diet to the rest of the world, check out this video someone sent me from YouTube…

Quote of the Day:  A fruit is a vegetable with looks and money. Plus, if you let fruit rot, it turns into wine, something Brussels sprouts never do. –P.J. O’Rourke 

Bed buzz!

Mom didn’t allow us to jump on the bed.  But once when my sister Lisa and I were small, shortly after we’d graduated to twin beds, we risked trying it anyway. We were supposed to be taking a nap. The beds were new and they had so much bounce. We started off quietly enough on our respective beds, but our exuberance grew as we flew higher and higher, closer and closer to the ceiling. And then I jumped over onto Lisa’s bed and, just like a trampoline, my weight wrong-footed her and bounced her into the rough-coat plaster wall. She left some skin and some hair on the wall, and  her shrieks brought in the calvary in the form of our mother.  The damage caused by the scrape into the wall was nothing compared to the trouble we got in for breaking the rules. I haven’t jumped on a bed since. (I can’t vouch for my renegade sister.)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) {}

Today, though, I was sorely tempted. Yesterday, we had delivered wonderful new beds for all the rooms at A Butler’s Manor — sumptuous Sealy Posturepedic Titanium 800 coil mattresses that are as thick and yummy as a fine custard. (Okay, sorry about the metaphor; I’m writing this near dinner time.) Lovely plush mattresses, made up with our heavenly Comphy sheets…oooh, I could just crawl into one of them now. 
But before we made them, I went into Oak Knoll (with its nice high ceiling) with the intention of kicking off 45+ years of ingrained “thou shalt nots” and trying the bed for bounceability but…nope. Can’t do it. Can still hear Mom’s voice in my ear. I probably require years of therapy.
Trampolines are made for jumping; beds like these are made for wonderful rest and rejuvenation. These ones are sublime. To paraphrase George at the Men’s Wearhouse, “You’re gonna like the way you sleep. I guarantee it.”  
Come check them out!

Quote of the Day:  Sleep is the best meditation. –Dalai Lama