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"Burb Appeal"

A city girl discovers suburbia.



"It seems to me that those songs that have been any good, I have nothing much to do with the writing of them. The words have just crawled down my sleeve and come out on the page." -  Joan Baez



Tina Traster, Columnist

As Appeared in The New York Post

Reading the Map

January 13, 2013, 2012 -- GULP!

“He’s got a gun!” I shriek.

“What do you mean?” my husband calls from the living room.

“He’s on the list. Quick, come here.”

My husband, Ricky, shuffles into my office, to my desk, where I’m staring agog at a map of Rockland County filled with purple dots.

Each dot in this interactive online map represents a homeowner who has registered for a pistol permit. . . . . .  Read Column

Now and Hen

September 11, 2012 --  If you have a dog, cat or gerbil, I bet you know where the 24-hour vet is located. You probably know how long it takes to get there in an after-hours emergency.

If you have chickens — as I do — and you need help at say, 8 p.m. on a Tuesday — your goose is cooked, so to speak.

On a recent summer night, my husband Rick and I were “free-ranging our brood.” What that entails: We give them an hour before dusk to pick at bugs, slugs and grass. It’s a peaceful ritual, watching the sun slip behind the mountain while “the girls” coo with delight. . . . . . .  Read Column

Nurturing Nature

May 24, 2012 --  My daughter clattered down the steps when she heard my blood-piercing scream.

“What’s the matter, Mommy?”

“Luna’s got another one,” I said, shielding my eyes with my hands.

“It’s OK, Mommy,” Julia said. “It’s the circle of life.”

Then Julia rounded up her father and they went outside to bury the lifeless chipmunk, which the roving Persian cat had dropped on the lawn after I startled her. Shovel in hand, my husband and daughter took the dead creature to our “chipmunk cemetery” at the far end of our property next to an outcropping overlooking our forest and gave it a final resting place. . . . . .  Read Column

Home is where the history is

April 26, 2012 -- For seven years on and off, I’ve been doing a genealogy project — but instead of investigating my family’s roots, I’m entangled in another family’s ancestry and the history of my house. When exactly was my circa 1870s home built? Who built it? And who lived in it all those years until my family and five cats moved in?

I began by finding out more about the Garrabrants, an old Dutch family who settled in the Hudson Valley in the late 1700s. I knew that part of the family had ended up living on my road and farming on the mountain, which in the mid-1800s was called Garrabrant Mountain

Snyder Cemetery is five minutes from my house. It’s where I began digging for the Garrabrants, so to speak. . . . .  Read Column

Another One Bites the Dust

February 8, 2012 -- As I watched the yellow earth mover scooping out mounds of dirt, I crossed my fingers and hoped the folks who recently bought the house around the corner were making room for an in-ground pool.

Hope dimmed as the excavation got deeper and deeper, week after week.

“I guess they’re building a new house,” I said with a sigh to my husband, Ricky.

With sadness and resignation, I knew another old farmhouse in my neighborhood would succumb to the wrecking ball. . . .  Read Column

Surviving the Snow Daze

December 22, 2011 -- Looking like Mr. Sad Sack, my husband Ricky took off his black-and-red checked lumber-jacket, sunk into the couch and emitted a long, painful whistle, like a tea kettle.

“What’s the matter with you?” I asked.

“There’s always so much to do.”

“Yup,” I said.

“Do you ever wish we could just pack it all in and go live in a condo somewhere?” he asked.

I put down the newspaper, surveyed his strained face and said: “Are you serious?”

It’s been six years since we’ve taken on an old rural house and everything that comes with it, including vegetable gardens and a chicken coop. It’s a life of perpetual tending. There’s always much to do, but this is our slice of paradise. . . .  Read Column

The Time Of My Leaf

November 10, 2011 -- I have a picture I took 30 years ago of a white clapboard house partially obscured by brilliant, blazing leaves of autumn. The photo, which I framed and hung up in my Upper West Side apartment, represented something beatific, something out of reach. I could only imagine what it would be like to live in a house like that.

I became obsessed with leaf-peeping. Every fall, I’d trek from the city to the Hudson Valley or New England for several extended weekends to drench myself in nature’s color spectacular. I’d snap a thousand pictures, crunch along leaf-strewn trails and hole up in quaint B&Bs.

Unknowingly, it wasn’t leaf-peeping I was indulging in, as much as an exercise in life-peeping. . . .  Read Column

Shot Heard Round The World

September 21, 2011 -- I thought the constant whirring of helicopters at 7 a.m. on a Tuesday was a military fleet en route to West Point. But when the relentless droning drew me outside, I realized that a yellow helicopter was making crazy eights over our woods.

“What is going on?” I asked my husband, who was outside tinkering with our chicken coop.

“I don’t know,” he said, without even looking up.

“Doesn’t this concern you?”

He squinted skyward.

“Not really.”

I went inside and called the police. As soon as I mentioned my address, the officer said, “Yes, ma’am, there’s been a shooting on your road, and the suspect has fled into the woods. We’ll be sending out a bulletin to residents on the emergency call list.” . . .  Read Column

Living Where the Wild Things Are

August 4, 2011 -- Walking around Rockland Lake recently, I thought I’d taken a detour to the Galapagos.

Several mature and magnificent herons and egrets were escorting a huge flock of young birds across the southern end of the lake, a few short flaps at a time. It appeared to be a flying lesson. The young aviators took off and lifted themselves, just a foot or so, above the lake. Then, after being airborne for mere seconds, they’d skid across the lake’s surface, like shaky Cessnas trying to land in a storm.

Again and again it went. I, along with other walkers and runners and cyclists, stopped in my tracks to watch this bit of Animal Planet in a New York suburb.

It’s been like that all summer long. Abundantly abundant and then some. . . .  Read Column

Smell Test

June 23, 2011 -- When I was young, three friends and I backpacked through Europe one summer. I don’t know who started the dare but someone wondered aloud, “How long could we go without taking a shower?”

We were on trains and in youth hostels and being grungy — it was part of the abandon of being young and free, I guess. I broke down on day four after hiking in the Austrian Alps. I couldn’t stand my own stench. I bathed. We all did.

This memory floated back to me as I entered day three without a shower on the Wednesday after Memorial Day weekend. But this time I wasn’t participating in a youthful “Survivor”-style escapade.

I had no hot water. . . .  Read Column

Home Movie

May 19, 2011 -- I was just about to hit the spam button when I took a closer look at the e-mail subject line: “Location Scout for HBO.”

I opened the e-mail and saw that it was for real. Someone named Susan said HBO was looking for a farmhouse for a new pilot starring Tea Leoni and Hope Davis. Having read my Burb Appeal column, she said, she thought my 150-year-old farmhouse might be a good fit.

Remember the movie “Indecent Proposal” when Demi Moore sleeps with Robert Redford for $1 million? That’s how I felt. An HBO shoot for a week can net $20,000, plus relocation fees. I could pay down debt, plump up my daughter’s college fund, build a little writing studio on my property. Oh, the euphoria of such unexpected treasure! . . .  Read Column

Time to Spring Forward

April 13, 2011 -- There I am, still in my flannel bathrobe one late March morning, when I hear a thunderous hammering outside my window. My initial thought is someone is building a house, but quickly I realize it’s the annual arrival of the Pileated Woodpecker, the first true harbinger of spring.

I grab my long-lens camera and tiptoe onto my deck in the freezing cold. I snap a couple of shots of the elusive bird, which is nearly 20 inches tall and sports a red crest and long, tapered beak. He is the spitting image of his cartoon doppelganger, which makes him appear unreal . . .  Read Column

Unsolved Mysteries

March 10, 2011 -- Lately, I’ve been feeling like Jimmy Stewart in “Rear Window” — but in the suburbs.

Why haven’t I seen the school bus stop next door? Why is there only one car going in and out of the driveway? What’s happened to the wife and teenage daughters?

On a typical suburban street, such a mystery easily would be solved by popping by or picking up the phone. At the very least, I could call another neighbor and ask what’s going on at so-and-so’s house.  . . .  Read Column

Feeling the Freeze

February 24, 2011 -- Anyone who’s ever spent a winter week in Vermont or Canada’s Laurentian Mountains knows how easy it is to get swept up in the dreamy idyll of living in a “place like this” one day. There’s a perpetual blanket of snow. The glow of candles flickering in windows and fires blazing in brick hearths. A red cardinal made redder by a backdrop of stark whiteness.

I used to fantasize about living in a “place like this” every time I visited one. Now I know how it feels. Winter 2011 has given us nine storms and 63 inches of snow in the Hudson Valley so far. . . . .  Read Column

Miracle, Grow

January 20, 2011 -- In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, we noticed one of our six hens was shrinking. Due to the “pecking order,” which is a brutal Darwinian reality, Miracle, our barred rock hen, had nearly been pecked to death.

Readers of this column will recall that, two months earlier, we rescued a cat at death’s door. And because of the pecking order among our four cats, I needed to turn the laundry room into his lair. Now I needed to provide similar warmth and protection for a bullied bird. . . .  Read Column

Leaves & Bounds

December 1, 2010 -- Silly me for forgetting the second Sunday before Thanksgiving is a national holiday.

National Leaf Blowing Day comes around every year — two weeks after Halloween and two weeks before the re-enactment of the pilgrim feast. NLBD, we’ll call it. It’s not the kind of holiday that prompts mall stampedes, newspaper supplements or costumes. . . . .  Read Column

A Match For Patch

November 11, 2010 -- I looked twice before I realized it was a cat. Dumped and left for dead, at first he looked to me as if he might have been a raccoon. He was curled up in the leaves next to a walking trail, far from any house. His face was scarred and scabbed.

“This cat,” I thought, “has to be saved.”. . . .  Read Column

The Great Lake

September 30, 2010 -- My daughter, Julia, and husband, Ricky, love to recount the time mommy dragged them around the lake path on a 10-degree day. (Of course, it was really 20 degrees — but with every telling of the story, it has gotten colder and colder.)

Julia, then 4, stumbled around the lake in a puffy pink ski suit, looking like the Gerber baby with her Renoir-rosy cheeks. It took the promise of a rather large doughnut to get her to complete the one-hour walk. My husband — usually a hearty soul — was whimpering most of the way. . . .  Read Column

All Fall Down

September 2, 2010 -- "It’s kinda like the Wild West up here,” the town official said, shaking his head. “It’s remote. It’s an old road. People do what they want to — and they usually get away with it ’cause no one’s minding anyone’s business.”

Except me, that is. . . .  Read Column

Party Planning

August 5, 2010 -- ‘It sounds like you’re planning a bat mitzvah,” my friend Monica said when I described the surprise party I was throwing for my soon-to-be 8-year-old.

“Oh no,” I assured her, a bit defensively. “It’s just a garden-variety garden party.” . . .  Read Column

Bird Breakout

July 8, 2010 -- Everyone said owning chickens is great but you’ve got to watch out for predators. I took this to heart because we share our wooded mountaintop home with hawks, raccoons, foxes and feral cats.

I bought a custom-made coop from a guy who builds them in Michigan. The little green, wooden house has screened windows, a door with a hasp, and a hatch that lifts open to the nesting box where you collect eggs. The run, which is attached to the house, is made up of two wood-framed galvanized wire triangles that form an airtight enclosure. . . . Read Column

Chain Reaction

June 10, 2010 -- I now know there is a medicinal plant that can be used to treat next-door-neighbor blues. It’s called Fargesia, or clumping bamboo.

Some background: Readers of this column might remember that my neighbor and I are not on friendly terms. A couple of years ago, he piled a mountain of fill against my property line. I knew he didn’t have a permit for that much, so I blew the whistle. Town officials cracked down. He eventually groomed his jagged eyesore into a green mound.. . . Read Column

Hill Of A Job

May 13, 2010 -- Spring at my house is like a duel in an old western. My husband wields the Home Depot catalog, packed with tons of stuff for DIY backyard projects. My weapon of choice is the Crate & Barrel catalog, loaded with staged backyard idylls that make me want to reach for the lemonade pitcher.

Funny thing is, we don’t really have a back yard. We have land behind our house; in fact, it’s nearly three-quarters of an acre. But we don’t use it; it’s inaccessible. . . Read Column

Tool Time

April 15, 2010 -- My friend’s husband Paul came over to cut down trees in the woods behind our house. He arrived with a gas-powered chainsaw, an electric chainsaw, soundproofing earmuffs and protective eyeglasses. My husband, misty-eyed, watched him unload his Jeep. Then they shared a manly handshake.

“I want to get rid of that one, those two over there, and that big one over there is dead, so let’s take it down, too,” I said to Paul.

“C’mon, Rick,” Paul said, slapping him on the back. “Give me a hand.”  . . . Read Column

Dig Me Out

March 16, 2010 -- "Oh my God," I yelled, peering out the window. "Daddy’s had a heart attack. Wait here." I ran down the freshly paved path to the far end of my property, where my husband, Ricky, was laying face up, arms splayed, snow shovel at his side.

"What are you doing out here in pajamas?" he asked. "You’re going to get sick!" "What the hell are you doing lying on the ground?" I countered. "I thought you had a heart attack." . . . Read Column

Cooped Up

February 25, 2010 -- When I looked at the house I was to buy five years ago, I noticed a little green shed on the north end of the property with the inscription “Fresh Eggs Sold Here.” It wasn’t entirely a gratuitous flourish; the owner actually kept a flock of free-range hens. These birds, like roving cats, were known by everyone along the road.

When I met the owner at the house closing, we talked about raising chickens. I swore my family would uphold the henhouse tradition . . . Read Column

Ice Storm

January 28, 2010 -- Dec. 31. Snow is falling gently. It’s nearly midday, and I’m wearing a bathrobe over my pajamas while I set the table for our New Year’s Eve dinner party. My mind is caught up in the particulars of the upcoming meal and on the reflections of another year gone by.

A sickening boom breaks my reverie. Outside my living room window, giant slices of picket fence and boulders are airborne. It looks like a tornado. . . . Read Column

Drying Out

January 14, 2010 -- I turned the dial to the left, and it sputtered — a faint “ca-ca-ca” noise. Like when you turn the key in a car ignition and the battery is dead.

Terror tore through my domestic bones. I glanced at the wet-laundry-stuffed washing machine and let out a blood-curdling “Nooooooo!” My husband, who’s usually Mr. Fix-It, was at a loss. He thought it might be the motor, but we couldn’t repair it ourselves. There was nothing to do except phone Sears on Monday and hang laundry all over the house on a cold Saturday night in winter. . . . Read Column

Home Is Where The Mart Is

December 17, 2009 -- Listen up, Realtors — I’ve got a tip for you. Forget curb appeal or the new bathroom or the hot tub on the deck.

Think food instead.

Plug the greenhouse or garden. Suggest carving out a vegetable patch where there is lawn. Mention the town’s weekly farmers’ market. When showing a house, drop names of nearby shops and restaurants selling healthy, organic, vegetarian, vegan, local, sustainable, gluten-free, pesticide-free, antibiotic-free whole foods. . . . .Read Column

It's The Pits

November 19, 2009 -- I’m tired. Noise from a nearby quarry, which operates at night during certain times of the year, disrupts my sleep.

OK, I should have known that there was an open-pit mine less than a mile from my Rockland County house when I bought it four years ago. Silly me for not asking my Realtor, “Is there, perchance, a rock-crushing operation in the vicinity that will grind giant boulders through the night?” Why she didn’t voluntarily mention it to me, I cannot fathom. . . . .Read Column

Feeling The Burn

October 15, 2009 -- "Holy smokes!” I yelped. “There’s a fire next door!”

My husband got up from his rocking chair and joined me at the window.  “They’ve got a bonfire going,” he said, squinting at the scarlet plume through a barrier of trees. “It’s not a big deal.”

“Not a big deal?” I screeched. “Look at those California wildfires on the TV. Tell those people it’s not a big deal. This is a big deal. They’re foolish. They’re going to set the woods on fire!” “Not if you can help it,” he said, as I already had one foot out the door. . . .Read Column

The Write Place

September 24, 2009 -- Four years ago, we left our Upper West Side co-op for many reasons. My husband needed a driveway. My toddler deserved a bedroom with windows. I had to get out of the kitchen — that narrow room, where, cramped in a window nook, I spent my days writing.

As Virginia Woolf said, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” I don’t write fiction, but I can say that Woolf, that champion of women’s rights, was spot on. . .  Read Column

Measuring Down

August 27, 2009 -- Ten days after moving into my renovated farmhouse in late 2005, a pale woman with beauty-parlor-stiff hair knocked on my door. She held a clipboard. I thought she was a Jehovah's Witness, but it turns out this wasn't my day to receive the love of Jesus.

The unwelcome visitor was the town tax assessor. My building permit had triggered a reassessment. A new powder room, installation of air-conditioning upstairs and aesthetic improvements raised the assessment of the home's market value by 33 percent. This increased my taxes from $4,975 to $6,926 -- a nearly 40 percent jump. . . . Read Column

Rubble Trouble

August 6, 2009 -- On a summer's night, a boy calls to a girl. "Juleeaa . . . Where are you, Juleeaa?" She drops her jump-rope and scampers to the edge of the balcony. (Well, a deck actually.)

"Here I am. You know what? I went swimming today." Ah, budding neighborly love . . . How sweet it is. Or was. . . . Read Column

Away They Go

July 9, 2009 -- The brown raised Ranch down the road is for sale. A young couple bought the house three years ago. I met them once for a brief moment when they jogged past my house and stopped to admire my garden. I know they had a baby sometime later because balloons and a "Welcome" sign hailed the infant's homecoming.

I have no idea why they are selling the shingled house. A motorcycle at the end of their driveway is also for sale. . . . .  Read Column

Clutter Be Gone!

June 25, 2009 -- If I had to box up the contents of my house, it would take five hours, maybe six.

When I left the city for suburbia in 2005, it took a week to pack and/or toss travel books for countries that had changed names, inexplicable spice jars, suits with padded shoulders, tiny shampoo bottles.

During those sweaty July days clearing out a lifetime of junk, I swore that we would live ascetically when we moved into our renovated 1850s farmhouse. I knew this would be a challenge with a husband who thinks wrapping ribbon is a keeper and a toddler who accumulates stuff faster than you can say, "Thank you, Grandma.". . ..  Read Column

Kitchen Stadium

June 11, 2009 -- My childhood home always smelled of freshly baked goods thanks to my stout Polish grandmother, who pulled trays of mandel brot (almond bread), cream cheese cookies and challah out of the oven daily.

She was also a decent cook.  Read Column

Spring Fling

May 28, 2009 -- What relief I felt last November when we packed up the patio furniture, stored the garden tools and disconnected the watering hose. But that's all over now.  Read Column

Live With It

April 16, 2009 -- My parents lived in the same house for 34 years.

By age 42, I had lived in seven apartments/flats in Boston, London and on Manhattan's Upper East and Upper West sides. Even when I owned a co-op on West 97th Street, I viewed the dwelling as a stepping stone to the next great adventure in my life. Read Column

Drawing Battle Lines

March 5, 2009 -- I got stopped by police on suburban roads for registration inspections twice late last November. When I saw the phalanx of cop cars and flashing lights the first time, I grumbled. The second time, an eye-roll and a heavy-footed acceleration irked the cop, who waved me back and accused me of speeding.

"I was not speeding," I said, staring him down.
Read Column

Light My Fire

January 8, 2009 -- THREE years ago, a massive brick fireplace and nearly an acre of woods sold me on an 1850s farmhouse that was pretty much a teardown. The fireplace, which needed paint and some tiling, was the only functioning appliance in the house.

But during the winters, I realized that our romantic fire-lit hearth was sucking hot air out of our house. Who knew a traditional fireplace was an energy thief? Read Column

Screeching To A Halt

November 13, 2008 - Last month, Chase froze my friend’s credit line. Just like that, he lost access to the $70,000 he believed was still available to him on his $150,000 line.

This was a sobering moment in a country where borrowed money has flowed like cheap wine at a gallery opening for the past several years. Read Column

Back to the Land

September 18, 2008 -- When my husband and I moved in together eight years ago, he would pen romantic missives on Post-it notes and tack them to my computer screen. These days he scrawls: "Refrigerate dough @ 1 p.m."

We bake a fresh loaf of peasant bread every two days. He makes the dough in the morning, mixing organic flour, salt, water and yeast in a big bowl. I do my part midday by shoving around the refrigerator's contents to make room for the big bowl. We bake the dough in the early evening in a Dutch oven. All told, each beautifully brown-crusted mound costs us 60 cents - plus the gas the oven uses. From start to finish, it takes about 10 hours. The same loaf costs $3.49 at Whole Foods. Read Column

Vegging Out

August 7, 2008 -- THE 124 square feet of space I added to my home is a jumble of colors, a bouquet of fragrances. It started out orderly in the spring, but by late summer it has become as chaotic as my 6-year-old daughter's bedroom. It needs constant tending, rethinking, uprooting. Read Column

Driving Me Crazy

July 17, 2008 -- The sound of a car crunching down my gravel driveway wakes me up. It is 3 a.m. on a Wednesday night and I stumble to the window, tripping over my husband’s slippers. “That’s weird,” I say. “Ricky, are you up? A black van just pulled into the driveway. Another car, it looked gold, was with him but the driver waited at the foot of the driveway while the black van stopped for a few minutes. Then they drove away together.” Read Column

School Board

June 14, 2008 -- It was no surprise when my husband lost his bid for a seat on our local school board. Not one for pressing the flesh or kissing babies, he ran an incisive campaign aimed at getting voters to understand the correlation between soaring property taxes and rising teachers' salaries and benefits. Read Column

Cut It Out

May 15, 2008 -- I called in the tree-cutting service to take down the old, diseased pine tree that stood at the entrance of my driveway. At least half of its branches were lifeless, and the trunk was splitting apart. Read Column

Almost Purrfect

April 3, 2008 -- I bought a co-op on the Upper West Side a decade ago. My first week there, my neighbor invited me for tea. We had a lovely conversation. But it wasn't possible to love thy neighbor for long. Read Column

Getting Schooled

February 21, 2008 -- My good friend Lisa recently moved to Wisconsin. Her husband was offered an 11 percent increase in salary, but the idea of property-tax relief is what really enticed them to relocate from New York to a small town in the midst of cornfields. Read Column

Suburban Turf War

December 6, 2007 -- When I lived on the Upper West Side, I tried bitterly to get relief from a neighbor's teenagers who played basketball and partied in a shared courtyard until midnight. I appealed to the parent, the local police precinct, my co-op board and local officials. The teens' mother responded in words I can't put into this column. The police said, "Whaddya expect - this is Manhattan." Elected officials did nothing. Read Column

Garden Party

October 25, 2007 -- GIVE a city boy land, and he thinks he's a farmer. Where I saw a weed-choked patch of hostile earth, my husband envisioned a fertile field for growing organic fruits and vegetables. True, we had not long ago slogged through a grueling renovation of an 1850s farmhouse, but I just didn't have the "vision" thing. I told him, "Knock yourself out. I'll be inside by the fire." Read Column

Land Of Plenty

September 20, 2007 -- I HAD spent my entire life on New York's pedestrian-jammed streets lined with restaurants, cinemas, kooky boutiques, ethnic groceries and independent bookstores. I had no penchant for vanilla, no desire to commit cultural suicide. But I had a family, and it was time to move upstate. Read Column

Out Of Service

August 2, 2007 -- After a four-month renovation - which included reconfiguring walls; installing windows, doors, fixtures and floors; and replacing every bit of wiring and plumbing - my 1850s farmhouse was practically brand-new.

When I moved in, the contractor assured me that the plumber, his subcontractor, would return in the spring to jump-start the air-conditioning unit with refrigerant. Six months later, the plumber refused to return. Read Column

Points Of View

May 31, 2007 -- My house has 31 windows. Every morning I lift the blinds, and the rhythms of the world outside put my day in motion.

If the school bus has already whizzed by, I know we've slept too late. If there's no birdsong, it's time to fill the feeders. A ferocious wind atop our mountain road could mean loss of electricity - I must scamper downstairs and back up my computer. Read Column

Points Of Impact

April 12, 2007 -- MY daughter will be 5 next September and ready to start kindergarten. I was rather excited when her kindergarten packet landed in the mailbox recently. But when I opened the envelope, I had a meltdown.

The school district wants me to give it permission to administer potassium iodide to my daughter if there is a "radiological" emergency! Read Column

You Goat Girl

February 15, 2007 -- The woman who sold me her house loved chickens. She kept three dozen hens and gave neighbors fresh eggs. The birds lived in a wooden coop but roamed around during the day. My next-door neighbor Ned tells me one of Dee's chickens waddled into his dining room during a Thanksgiving gathering. Read Column

My Space

January 4, 2007 -- WINTER’S chill is teasing us with short days and biting winds. The tree folks recently delivered our wood for the fi replace. As my husband and daughter went outside to supervise the dumping of the logs, I watched the scene from my second-floor bedroom window. And I actually started to cry. These were tears of joy. The delivery was the first repeat ritual we’ve had since moving into our renovated 1850s house a year ago. Read Column

Monster Houses

November 9, 2006 -- Days after I moved into a renovated old house on a rural mountain road in Rockland County, I sat at my desk working at my computer. The silent autumn day was interrupted by a high-pitched wail followed by a thud that shook my house to its core. I ran outside and noticed a plume of dust across the road. The fire marshal explained they were blasting rock with dynamite to make way for a house to be built on a sheer pitch of mountainside.

Welcome to the neighborhood.  Read Column

What's On Deck

September 14, 2006 -- After a day of swimming and barbequing, my daughter fell asleep and my husband sat on the rocking chair, reading a woodworking magazine. I stepped outside onto the porch to draw in the moist evening air and the quiet. The last streak of sunlight hung on the horizon, and the woods were lighted with sparking fireflies.

I sunk into my Adirondack chair and drank in the magic of my family’s new life in an old house on a mountain ridge overlooking acres of forest in Rockland County, NY. It’s been wonderful, feeling blades of dewy grass between my bare toes, gazing at a star-speckled sky, hearing mourning doves coo.  Read Column

Nature Calls

July 27, 2006 -- It was a perfect day for a hike, my husband, 4-year-old daughter and I decided. So we stuffed the knapsack with water, fruit and binoculars, laced up our hiking boots and set out for the mountains. A 15-minute drive later, we were at Lake Tiorati at Harriman State Park in Rockland County.

The visitor’s booth didn’t have trail maps, but a volunteer drew us a circular route through the woods after I explained my daughter could handle a 90-minute hike on flat terrain. We set off uphill a quarter-mile and turned right onto what we thought was the Appalachian Trail. Read Column

Plowin Ahead

June 1, 2006 --Spring in the burbs makes me feel like a kid in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood. I spy butterflies, bunny rabbits, hedgehogs, beaver, deer and a fuzzy gaggle of goslings at the pond down the road. Daffodils dot hillocks, and perennials fill flower boxes. The smell of grass sweetens the air after a shower, and who needs an alarm when there are all these birds? I’m awakened in the mornings by a tufted titmouse that chirps “peter peter” over and over and over. Read Column

Call of the Wild

May 4, 2006 -- I never wanted to live in suburbia. I feared I’d morph from a black-garbed, indie-movie-going urbanite into an SUV chauffeuring soccer mom. Until my daughter turned two, I clung to the idea she should be raised in the city, even though her bedroom was a windowless foyer in our 700-square-foot Upper West Side one-bedroom apartment. Without a spare million to buy a two-bedroom, I figured we’d manage in the city and buy a country cottage somewhere upstate.

Nice dream, but it only works for a while. Read Column