Tuesday, December 22, 2009

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!!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

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 the 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!