Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving week

It's late fall and the season is winding down, which gives Chris and me the opportunity to do some maintenance and home improvements. The first two weeks in November saw the complete renovation of the bathroom in Oak Knoll, as well as installation of central air conditioning in each of the guest rooms -- yeah! We finished the former just in time to welcome guests in Oak Knoll this past weekend. Whew!

Around the village, most of the leaves have blown off the trees. Here in the garden, only the hornbeams are still hanging onto their fading summer foliage. Walking through the Southampton Village this morning, we saw the village crews putting up the annual display of Christmas trees that line Main Street and Job's Lane. Additionally, this year, a number of the deciduous trees have been strung with tiny twinkling white lights, magical at night. With or without snow, Southampton will be a winter wonderland this season. And there are so many events planned for it, beginning next weekend!

Thursday, of course, is Thanksgiving, and this year Chris and I will be enjoying traditional turkey fare at Seasons of Southampton, the pretty catering facility literally steps away from A Butler's Manor. (We'll join friends for a late Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday.) In the meantime, the official kick-off of the holiday shopping season begins the day after Turkey Day with Black Friday. But as residents of a small resort town with no big box stores or malls and owners of a small business ourselves, we are especially excited about Small Business Saturday, a promotion to encourage shopping at local, small businesses. American Express is doing the promotion of this nationwide event, offering a $25 credit to the first 100,000 shoppers who shop a participating (i.e., American Express card-accepting) small business. I doubt I'll get out to the shops in time to qualify for the credit, but I'll be there. Our wonderful small shops are too precious to lose to the chains and the malls and the Internet, and need our support.

So as guests enjoy the fireplace instead of the pool, as hot tea rather than iced beckons after a walk on the beach, we settle in and enjoy the calmer quiet of late autumn season in Southampton. Still beautiful and, to many, even more appealing than during the hectic summer days.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Quote of the Day: I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder. ~G.K. Chesterton

Monday, November 1, 2010

Ragamuffins on Parade

Yesterday was Halloween, and in the village of Southampton, the Chamber of Commerce sponsors an annual "Ragamuffin Parade" of little (and not so little!) children in costume, followed by a Pumpkin Trail of local merchants who hand out candy to the trick-or-treaters. In recent years, the event has been joined by a doggie costume parade sponsored by Little Lucy's on Job's Lane, a boutique that features the wardrobe of clothing, costumes, and jewelry your favorite pooch never knew she wanted. Not being parents, Chris and I haven't attended the event before, but our neighbors Lynn and Gary's 14-month-old twin girls were planning on participating, along with their two king Charles Cavallier spaniels, so we had to see them in action! Little Pearse and the Blenheim (reddish) dog were bumblebees, while Gigi and their King Charles (black and tan) dog were ladybugs. Are they cute, or what?
And...wow! Main Street was swarming with families, more crowded than on the busiest August weekend. There was barely room on the sidewalk to stand and watch the children collect their treats from participating merchants. After a while, Chris and I repaired to Silver's and selected a seat in the window where we could watch the action from the warmth of the restaurant while enjoying an elegant lunch ...something we never have an opportunity to do in August.
The weather is currently picture-perfect Autumn, with clear, bright, chilly days and a breeze to help blow the leaves from the trees. Out in our garden, Chris spends his free time digging up the bulbs that require overwintering (e.g., acidanthus, dahlia), while I am cutting the very last of the dahlias and roses for our rooms, augmenting the arrangements with the brush heads of ornamental grasses. The leaves on the Japanese maple at the back of the pool have turned their autumnal burnished orange, but the gigantic sycamore maple still has most of its leaves, all mostly green...it's always a late-season holdout.
There's still lots to do in the towns...birdwatching walks, weekend entertainment at many of the vineyards on both the South and North Forks, plus Long Island Restaurant Week, which starts this Sunday (three courses, $24.95!!). This Friday, the Parrish Museum's Business Council will host its annual Friday night jazz event, which we hope to attend, pending arrival time of our check-ins.
Autumn is my favorite season of the year. The fire is crackling in the fireplace, and the pumpkins adorn the front porch. Come enjoy it with us at A Butler's Manor!
Quote of the Day: For man, autumn is a time of harvest, of gathering together. For nature, it is a time of sowing, of scattering abroad. ---Edwin Way Teale

Friday, October 29, 2010

Autumn Leaves

Things are quieting down here, as the leaves turn color and fall from the trees (which is great for plate decorations). My morning walk bgins in near darkness; the sky is blue with candy-pink clouds by the time I've passed the village, and I see the sun rise from the ocean by the time I've made it to the beach. Our foliage (that which turns color other than brown) seems to be just past peak, which is about on target, timing-wise...a little surprising, since the rest of the growing season this year has been 2-3 weeks ahead of schedule. Proof, perhaps, that the Earth is ready to slow down and get ready for a winter's nap.

One of the perks of the job I frequently mention is that we meet so many people from so walks of life...and occasionally, we are able to return the favor of doing business together. We are happy to count Bill Kolb Jr, and his lovely wife Maryann among our favorite repeat guests. Bill's Subaru dealership in Orangeburg, NY, is one of the busiest in the country. When we decided to trade in my beloved 1998 Outback on a newer model, no question but that Bill was the man. So this week when things slowed down and we had a day off, it was a perfect opportunity to drive up to the Hudson Valley and pick up our new (well, previously owned) car. We are now the proud owners of a 2009 Subaru Outback XT. Major bonus: The Palisades Parkway was in full fall color!!

We're calling October "International Month:" In the last couple of weeks, we've had visitors from Germany, England (two different couples), Sweden, Brazil, South Korea, and this week we are enjoying guests from Scotland! It's made for some really interesting breakfast table conversation. We were particularly touched by Elimar and Jorge, our visitors from Rio, who were celebrating a milestone anniversary with a worldwide tour (previous stop: China!) and in the whole wide world, they stayed with us at A Butler's Manor. Yay for the Internet!
Quote of the Day: Oh how we love pumpkin season. You DID know this gourd-ish squash has its own season, right? Winter, Spring, Summer, Pumpkin...we anxiously anticipate it every year. ---Trader Joe's "Fearless Flyer," October 2010.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Run like the wind

I was walking early yesterday morning down Toylsome Lane in the estate district when suddenly, a small deer bounded out into the street from the driveway of one of the properties ahead. She made a wide question-mark-shaped turn in the street as she assessed my level of threat before dashing towards me. Just then I spied what she was running from: a large dog rounded the hedge and set off in pursuit. Now, deer are fast, but I've never seen this kind of speed. No flick of the tail and graceful canter here. This gal literally had her little white tail tucked between her legs, and she was running as though she was up against Smarty Jones in the Kentucky Derby.

The dog gave it up after 50 yards, and, satisfied, trotted back down his driveway.

A couple houses farther on, I turned the corner just in time to see the dog trotting out into the street ahead, looking as though he were on patrol. He'd apparently cut through his backyard and those of a couple of other occupants. Then I heard a whistle, and he turned around and disappeared down a side street. I passed the dog and his owner a couple of minutes later, where she was petting and probably trying to distract him from continuing his search.

A few seconds later, I came to the ancient Southampton cemetary (first burial, 1648). There, shielded by the surrounding hedges, stood the deer. I laughed. For all the world, it seemed like dog and deer were playing a game of hide and seek. I snapped the photo here just as she turned tail to trot away, game over.

Speaking of running like the wind, the Hamptons Marathon is happening this morning as I write. The weather couldn't be better for the runners -- the persistent humidity and rain we've put up with for three days dissipated overnight, leaving clear skies and temps in the low 60's. As we have among our guests three competitors and three spectators, breakfast was a pretty small affair. I'll look forward to refilling their weary bodies tomorrow with a nutritious protein and veggie entree (and special after-26-miles-I-deserve-it muffins).
The rain on Tuesday made finals at the US Mid-Amateur Golf Championship, held earlier this week at the Atlantic Golf Club, pretty soggy. Our frequent guests Ron and Alice are members of the club, and come out to play there every so often. They weren't participating in the championship, but came out with friends from Seattle to enjoy it. We teased the Seattleites, accusing them of packing rainclouds in their baggage. But golfers seem to be an especially hardy sort, willing to drive those little white balls in nearly every type of weather except maybe snow (does any other sport offer an umbrella as an accessory?). Needless to say, hot tea went over well that afternoon, despite the 74-degree temperature.

Also happening this weekend and next is the Arts Harvest Southampton, a collaborative affair encompassing the visual, performing, and culinary arts. Southampton Village closes down part of Main Street each weekend to accommodate a bandstand for the live music performed all afternoon, the shops have sidewalk sales to peruse, folks are enjoying the action from outside tables in front of the restaurants. Tonight there is a live art auction of works by local artists, and a farm-to-table dinner, held on a long series of picnic tables in Agawam Park overlooking the pond.

Who says things slow down in the Hamptons after summer season ends?

Quote of the Day: When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, "I used everything you gave me." --Erma Bombeck

Monday, September 13, 2010

Post-Labor Day, 2010

And there you have it, the Summer of 2010, which came in with a shout: the best weather over Memorial Day (sunny and hot!) and exited with a whimper called Hurricane Earl on Labor Day. Except that Earl was a no-show, tiptoeing by 200 miles offshore on Friday night with only a little rain and wind in his backpack. It was, however, enough to spook many visitors to the area who would've otherwise made the holiday the last hurrah of the season. Pity, too, as the sun was back in full force on Saturday, and it was a spectacular day for the Grand Prix event on Sunday at the Hampton Classic.

Still, it was a nice weekend and guests enjoyed themselves, and the day after Labor Day it was immediately Autumn in the Hamptons...clear, sunny days in the low 70's, with temps dropping in the evenings. The minute that sun drops behind the dune, you need your hoodie!

Chris and I had a chance to enjoy a picnic on the beach the other evening after all the guests had checked in, savouring an East Coast sunset (above) with our wine and smoked salmon. (How much better does Life get!?!) But the signs of the encroaching Fall are already upon us...I saw my first horse chestnut on Labor Day weekend, a chevron of Canadian geese honking their noisy way toward the south on Tuesday, and we're all donning jackets to enjoy live entertainment on the deck at Tiderunners or at the North Fork vineyards, as we had a chance to experience again this past Sunday.

Caroline Doctorow (yes, THAT Doctorow, daughter of E.L., author of such classics as Ragtime) is a talented folk/blues musican who lives out here on the East End. On Sunday, she was the featured performer at Peconic Bay Vineyards, one of the North Fork wineries who we enjoy and recommend to guests interested in spending a lovely weekend afternoon listening to live entertainment on the peaceful grounds of a working vineyard. We like Peconic Bay's La Barrique Chardonnay, which reminds me of California's Napa Valley chards, and Chris of France's Chassagne Montrachet. We met friends for a early dinner at the Frisky Oyster in Greenport, which we thoroughly enjoyed. It's a rare chance that we can get away as far as the North Fork until the off-season, and a great chance to be able to initiate or renew our acquaintance with locations old and new, so that we can better share them with our guests.

It is a marvelous time to come visit. The frayed tempers and traffic common in July and August have gone, the air is clear and the light beautiful, and all is far more calm and peaceful. Enjoy it with us!

Quote of the Day: Happiness is a wine of the rarest vintage, and seems insipid to a vulgar taste. --Francois, Duc de la Rochefoucauld

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A summer of friends

What's better than a busy summer? A busy summer filled with repeat guests...and many more we hope will become repeat guests. Looking over the calendar over the past six or so weeks, I see that we have had a steady stream of visitors who have called A Butler's Manor their home in the Hamptons at least once before. While we are continually energized by welcoming new guests (and meeting new friends!), there is a special kind of warmth created by those who choose to join us more than once.

This week, we have visiting again from Louisville, KY the sculptor Dave Caudill, who is picking up some pieces recently featured in the garden at the Chrysalis Gallery here in Southampton. We met Dave and his wife JoAnn several years ago when he was showing at a gallery on western Long Island and decided to venture east to the Hamptons. We loved Dave's graceful stainless steel artwork so much after his first visit several years ago that we now feature two pieces in our garden. Here's Dave (on the right with JoAnn), his brother Ed and sister in law Kitty in front of Garden Song.

Rain threatened during breakfast the other morning, so we set for breakfast inside. It turned out especially nice because everyone enjoyed chatting together, and lingered quite a while after the meal had been cleared. As I looked round the table, I realized that of the group, two separate couples were repeat guests -- one from last year, another from last month! -- and another couple had been referred to us by their daughter who had stayed with us earlier this summer. Sweet!

No rain today, though...the weather has been perfect for our beachgoing guests. The long, hot season has definitely taken a toll on the plant life in the area, though. I notice on my walks that the plane trees at the end of South Main Street here in Southampton are already begining to drop their leaves. More remarkable is that the beach rose (rosa rugosa) that grows along the dunes, and which usually produces its cherry-tomato-like rose hips about now, instead began producing hips beginning the end of June!!

Alas, one repeat guest I'll miss this year is our junior equestrian Zach, of whom I wrote last year. Zach is starting college this year, and freshman orientation is scheduled for precisely the same week of the Hampton Classic Horse Show. Life does move on! We wish him all the best in his collegiate life, but hope we see him next year!

To old friends and new, the best of August to you!

Quote of the Day: August creates as she slumbers, replete and satisfied.-- Joseph Wood Krutch

Monday, August 9, 2010


A common question from telephoners seeking accommodations in the Hamptons is "Where can I find an oceanfront resort?" For those who aren't familiar with the area (or whose idea of the Hamptons is influenced by the TV show Royal Pains), it seems logical that somewhere considered so glamorous should have restaurants, hotels and condos lining the ocean, Miami-style. I spend a lot of time giving such callers a history lesson of how the South Fork was developed, beyond its farming origins (which date back to the mid 1600s). The area now known as the Hamptons grew as a retreat for the Manhattan's wealthy, and as such, we now have "summer cottages" (read: mansions) lining the beach...not condos, and not hotels.

Of course, the presence of the wealthy means there is a large service class that serves them. (Chris, of course, has literal experience in this realm, as it was his butler profession that brought us to the Hamptons in the first place.) I tell guests that they can spend many a pleasant hour walking or cycling down the streets in the estate district, and the only people they are likely to see are the landscapers that maintain Hedgeville. But in the presence of so much, it sometimes comes as a shock to know that there are those who have very little out here, too. And I was reminded of this forcibly the other day.

A few times during my morning walks (from A Butler's Manor through the estate district down to the beach), I have seen an older man on a small Motocross-type bicycle who pulls a wheeled plastic trash can behind him. Yesterday, after dropping guests at Cooper's Beach, I finally saw why: He stops at all the trash cans that stand at the resident-permit beach entrances and sorts through the trash, pulling out recyclable bottles and cans. Seeing him wordlessly sifting through the detritus of someone else's languid day at the beach, with the profile of a large shingled estate in the background, really brought it home that, visible or not, more than the wealthy call the Hamptons home.

Quote of the Day: Happiness is not having what you want. It is wanting what you have. --- Rabbi Hyman Schachtel

P.S. If you watch Royal Pains, that big castle in the opening credits? It's Oheka Castle...in Huntington, Long Island (about one hour west of us). NOT in the Hamptons. Don't believe everything you see on TV!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Traveling in style

Which is the sweeter ride, the Wells Fargo Wagon, or a Bentley? A study in contrasts on North Main Street, prior to Southampton's annual Fourth of July parade...


Sometimes seeds blow into the garden or we've composted something that eventually gets worked into the soil, and then out of the blue, we get what Chris likes to call a volunteer. I find it fun (Chris, not so much) to see what shows up. Yes, yes, you can argue that anything you didn't purposely plant is a WEED! -- and of course, most of them are. But for example, stuck into the corner of a bed where we're growing thyme, we have a volunteer tomato plant that is currently about 15" high. Is it a Big Boy? Cherry? Some other type? If it makes it to full size, we may know.  Over behind the "real" tomato bed is one single sunflower...presumably the gift of one of the birds. Chris pulled out the pumpkin plant that threatened to take over half of the vegetable garden, sigh...guess I'll be cutting my pumpkins this fall at Hank's Pumpkin Town with the rest of the crowds. A tiny cedar tree appeared a couple of years ago in the middle of a bed of Lady's Mantle...Chris transplanted it back behind the pool, where it is now nearly two feet high.

Speaking of volunteers...The weather was perfect for the beach this past weekend, but the riptides were worrisome, and I was glad that all of our guests who enjoyed the ocean did so at Cooper's Beach where there are lifeguards on duty until 5 PM. On Sunday, two of our guests, Mark and Jennifer, were enjoying the late afternoon hours with a long walk along the beach. A Korean church group had set up in an area quite a ways down the beach, beyond reach of the lifeguard station (even if it had still been manned; it was now nearly six PM). As they approached, a frantic woman ran up to them, screaming for help: One of their members had gone swimming and was in deep trouble. Mark dived into the dangerous surf, swam out, and pulled the man safely back to shore. That's not only a volunteer, that's a hero!

Quote of the Day: We make a living by what we do, but we make a life by what we give. --Winston Churchill

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Heat wave

We've had a heat wave this week, so hot and sticky (well, for the Hamptons) that it's hard to get motivated to go outside of air conditioned comfort unless it's to the pool or the beach -- both popular choices of our guests this past week. Chris and I spotted each other for a couple of hours off apiece this week, and both times I went to the beach. On Tuesday afternoon, the ocean was as calm as the bay, with tiny little waves making their way up the shore as the tide came in, and I sat down where an errant wave would occasionally wash over my feet...wonderfully refreshing. Today, with widely scattered showers and thunderstorms predicted, the scene at the beach was far different: the waves were scarily beautiful, high and full and angry. I was a little relieved that the threat of rain had kept most people away from a swim, because the surf included a wicked riptide. Eastward, I could see by the clouds that East Hampton and Montauk were getting some serious rain but, while overcast, it was only spitting in Southampton -- not even enough to worry about raindrops ruining my book.

Coming off the beach around 4:15, I watched a deer step through the car park and disappear into the grounds of one of the estates that line the oceanfront. I doubt that would have happened on a sunnier, and therefore, busier beach day...but then again, the deer here seem to be getting increasingly used to civilization, so who knows.

It was the oddest thing: We set up for breakfast on the patio this morning with one eye watching the clouds, ready to relocate the meal to the dining room if need be. At 9:30 AM, pretty much everyone was seated and the sun was high in the hazy sky...and raindrops started to fall. The guests, seated under the shade umbrellas that cover the tables, saw no reason to move inside. Puzzled, I commented that all we seemed to be missing was a rainbow.

David said, "We don't see it because obviously this place IS the end of the rainbow!"

Clouds and mugginess will pass, but here at the end of the rainbow, I'm smiling.

Quote for the Day:  Live with intention. Walk to the edge. Listen hard. Practice wellness. Play with abandon. Laugh. Choose with no regret. Continue to learn. Appreciate your friends. Do what you love. Live as if this is all there is. --Maryanne Radmacher-Hershey

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The taste of summer

Most of our guests visit A Butler's Manor for R&R, but there are some who are on business, and we strive to be as close to "home" (without the distractions often found there!) as possible. Patrick, a recent guest, was doing a "deep breathe" between two business conferences. He still had calls to make and reports to send, but with our WiFi operational over the whole property, here's where he made his "office."  If you've got to work, this is not too shabby, eh?

It's been a week of exceptionally congenial guests who have evidently enjoyed both their stay and each other. Each day guests have lingered over the breakfast table (okay, so the breakfast table IS in Chris's garden), chatted with each other at the pool, sat down together in the living room after coming home from dinner...just a really simpatico crowd. It gives me such a warm feeling to see that happen.

Weather on tap for the upcoming Fourth of July weekend is supposed to be perfect -- 80 degrees and clear. I'm sure the Butlermobile (a.k.a. the Buick Roadmaster) will be making lots of trips to and from Cooper's Beach this weekend! Also perfect weather to enjoy a lobster overlooking the marina in Hampton Bays at Sunwaters Grill or Tide Runners (greedy me, I've done both this week). The latter has entertainment on the dock overlooking the Shinnecock Canal, and judging by the crowd on the night we went (Sunday), some of those bands have quite a following. A warm night, a breeze off the water, sweet lobster in melted butter, a tropical drink and some live music...doesn't get much better than that!

Speaking of live music, tonight (Wednesday) begins the summer Concerts in the Park series here in Southampton Village. I've said before how this is one of my all-time favorite things to do in summer. Agawam Park (at the base of Job's Lane) fills up with families out to enjoy a true small-town good time. Pack a picnic, grab a beach chair and a bottle of wine and enjoy the music and the ambiance, while the little kids dance in front of the bandstand or run off to the playground. The Southampton Cultural Center, which funds this wonderful summer activity, sends the bucket brigade around at halftime to collect a small voluntary donation to pay the bands that entertain us. Most of us locals have been attending these concerts for years, and are happy to drop a few bucks in the bucket. So (WARNING, rant ahead!) it just frosts me to see, as I did tonight, a group comprised of say, a couple of women, perhaps their husbands, four or five children, and one or two nannies (!) enjoying the evening, but who shrug and shake their heads when the bucket brigade reaches them as if to say oops, sorry, didn't bring any money. Worse, I've seen people ignore these volunteers altogether, turning away from them as though they didn't exist. Come on, folks! Southampton is, overall, a very well-to-do community. There is no excuse for not helping to preserve the little joys that contribute to making it such a great place to live and visit.

Okay, stepping off the soapbox now.

We look forward to a great weekend, and helping our guests enjoy all that the Hamptons have to offer, that they will come away loving it the way we do.

Quote of the Day: A perfect summer day is when the sun is shining, the breeze is blowing, the birds are singing, and the lawn mower is broken. -- James Dent

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Who is a celebrity?

Occasionally, guests will ask, "Have you had any celebrities stay here?"

Our answer: "All our guests are celebrities as far as we're concerned." And we mean it. (By the way, most celebrities who don't already have a house out here have friends who do. Or their handlers want to book them last minute on busy summer weekends and expect us to kick someone else out of our largest room in order to do it. Not happening in my lifetime.)

We have had national newscasters, polo players, a well-known college basketball coach, and once, a German prince stay with us, but truly, the primary reason most of us innkeepers choose to open a bed and breakfast is because we enjoy meeting people from all over the world and all walks of life. Chris and I don't generally ask people what they do for a living (in case they prefer not to say), but often the subject comes up of its own accord in the morning over breakfast, and often, lively conversation ensues. Once in a while, someone stays at A Butler's Manor who makes his or her living in a way that is as uncommon as Chris's having been a butler for twenty years. Needless to say, this makes for especially interesting breakfast table conversation.

Such was the case the other day with Kent stayed with us. Kent is a professional jockey, the winner of three Kentucky Derbys, two Preakness and one Belmont Stakes. As someone who toured Churchill Downs a few years ago and would love to see the Derby in person someday (of course, wearing a huge hat!), I was intrigued, and so were our other guests. When Kent checked out, he gave us a Player's Card, like a baseball card. Fun!

Once we had a guy who was an Olympic medalist in swimming. He was a quiet sort of guy and probably wouldn't have volunteered the information, but someone recognized his Olympic ring (a gold ring with the signature five-ring design) and asked about it. Soon everyone at the table was involved in the conversation, and we all learned a lot about the Olympics as seen from the inside.

Isn't this a great way to make a living?

Quote of the Day: We have all been placed on this earth to discover our own path, and we will never be happy if we live someone else's idea of life. --James Van Praagh  

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A cute problem

Visitors from large cities, especially those from New York City, often refer to the Hamptons as "the country" (though how any place that includes local outposts of Ralph Lauren and Saks Fifth Avenue can be considered "country," I'm not sure) and many of them are enchanted to encounter our wildlife, whether it be the sight and song of the birds in the morning, or a glimpse of deer grazing (we hope!)alongside of the road. But late last night we discovered some unexpected guests...a mama Mallard duck and eleven (!!) little ducklings making themselves at home in our pool.

We can't figure out where this little brood came from. The babies seemed too small to be able to fly yet. And there was no Papa Mallard to be seen.  Our nearest natural pond is Lake Agawam on the west edge of the village...a distance of just about a mile. There are wetlands and ponds in Water Mill that may possibly be closer, but cute as it is to see a mama duck trailing a platoon of offspring, I can't envision them crossing Montauk Highway safely. (Hey, it's difficult enough in summer to make a left hand turn.)

So last night, worried about how the little ducklings would get out of the pool (the coping was surely too deep for them to jump out), we hung about with a flashlight to see if they'd find the steps in the shallow end. Chris turned off the automatic timer on the pool so that the motor didn't come on and suck the little babies into the skimmer. Even so, I went to bed hoping we weren't going to find drowned ducklings in the morning (which marks me as every bit as unused to wildlife as our city guests!).

On the contrary: By breakfast time this morning, the whole lot had quite settled in and decided this was a nice new home, and had even discovered that the silent skimmers made great hiedey-holes. Uh, sorry. Cute as they may be, I somehow don't see our guests interested in sharing a swim with new feathered friends.

A call to our local Wildlife Center elicited advice, but no offer to help relocate our traveling family. It looked like we were going to have to somehow round up Mama and put her in a box, then round up all the duckling and put them in a box, and transport them all to one of the nearby ponds. (The man-made pond in front of our bed & breakfast colleague Donna Andreassi's "Pondview," came to mind.) In the meantime, we chased them all into the center of the pool, put those bright foam floating "noodles" in front of the skimmer entrances, and turned on the pool, hoping that if the water were less "pond-like" and still, perhaps Mama would be encouraged to take her children elsewhere.

It seems to have worked. With a huffy, "well, if that's the way you're going to be about it" twitch to her rear end, Mama lined all her little ducks up in height order and led them through the side gate, out into the field beyond. Whew!

At A Butler's Manor, we like to say that you don't need a house in the Hamptons, you've got us. But maybe we do need to draw the line somewhere...

Monday, June 7, 2010

Unexpected blessing

It was to be a quiet morning here...just two couples in residence, and one of them, poor things, had to catch an early flight back to Seattle, so left (with a breakfast care package) at o' dark-thirty. The other couple were honeymooners recuperating from their wedding this past Saturday (and a follow-up BBQ on Sunday). Weather is perfect, so the table is all set in the garden. Orange juice is squeezed and on ice. Plates are decorated with lemon balm and Evening Primrose. On the menu: fresh (local!) strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and melon, individual cinnamon coffee cakes, and sausage with raspberry French Toast, which has been prepped and dipped but will be cooked off when I see the whites of their eyes.

Nine-thirty AM comes...and goes. Ten o'clock. Ten-thirty. At 10:50 they appear, distressed and apologetic. They'd planned on having breakfast...had looked forward to it...but overslept. (Totally understandable for bridal couples following their wedding -- the emotional letdown is huge!) Now they had to run, in order to say goodbye to overseas friends who had traveled so far to see them wed. No time to even put them together a care package.

So off they go in a cloud of dust, and I'm disappointed because a) they missed their meal, and b) I hate to see food wasted. The birds do well by our leftover baked goods, but cooked food attracts only the kind of varmints we don't wish to take up residence at A Butler's Manor.

So...Chris and I had breakfast. What, you say? you don't eat your breakfasts? The truth: I sample my menus. One bite, maybe two. I'm still working off the fifteen pounds I put on in the early years of running A Butler's Manor when I was developing the majority of the recipes I use today! But today, I said, we get to do more than grab a taste of what's for breakfast...we're going to experience breakfast the way our guests do. Who cares if it's not on the diet?

And so I cooked off the French toast and sausages and Chris poured the orange juice and we sat out on the patio in the rose garden and enjoyed a wonderful meal, if I do say so myself. :) And then we had an extra cup of coffee, just because it was so peaceful, before we went upstairs to start the rooms.

Sometimes it takes little disruptions in the routine in order to allow us to appreciate Life more!

Quote of the Day: Think big thoughts but relish small pleasures. --H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Our Beach is Number One!

Okay, so we always thought our beaches were special...the sand is clean, pale blond, and fine textured, and beach grass dots the dunes that separate the summer estates from the ocean sands. But just before the Memorial Day weekend, the internationally known coastal scientist Dr. Stephen Leatherman, a.k.a. "Dr. Beach," published his list of the Ten Top Beaches in America...and ranked Southampton Village's Cooper's Beach FIRST in the nation! In the list of the Top Ten, East Hampton's Main Beach was ranked #5. In the 20 years that Dr. Beach has been evaluating and publishing this list, this is the first time a "northern" beach has been awarded the #1 spot. (Hawaii's phenomenal tropical beaches have taken the honors twelve of the twenty years). Not a bad showing for what appears on a US map to be a tiny fingernail sliver of land called Long Island!

And this past weekend was the perfect time to test Dr. Beach's recommendation, as the weather on Sunday could not have been more optimal.
When shuttling our guests to and from Cooper's Beach, Chris and I noted that the overflow parking lot was more reminiscent of 4th of July than of Memorial Day. I have a feeling that's going to be par for the course all summer!

Quote for the Day: “The cure for anything is salt water - sweat, tears, or the sea.”  --Isak Dinesen

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Kicking off summer 2010

It just doesn't get any better than this:  a warm summer afternoon on the stunning Tuscan-inspired patio overlooking the vineyards at Wolffer Estate Winery, enjoying a glass of wine, some artisanal cheeses and bread while listening to international jazz by saxophonist Charles Certain and guitarist Alfredo Merat. The winery's popular Twilight Thursdays (at the winery) and Sunset Fridays (at the farmstand on Rte. 27, just east of the winery) are back. Summer can officially begin!

While the calendar says summer is still almost a month away, Memorial Day is traditionally the summer kick-off here in the Hamptons. In the garden here at A Butler's Manor, the warm, wet Spring has pushed everything forward about three weeks ahead of schedule. Most Memorial Day weekends, I'm cutting lilacs for the guest rooms...this year, it will be the pink Queen Elizabeth roses, which began opening this morning. And it looks like we'll have perfect 70-degree weather for the holiday weekend. As I write, the outside temp is 80 degrees, the first real hot day of the year, and the pool is looking mighty tempting! I hope everyone is packing the sunscreen for the weekend, as the beach is going to be the place to be!

In our ongoing efforts to update our restaurant dining guide for our guests (hey, that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it), Chris and I visited a new restaurant overlooking the canal in Hampton Bays this week. Rumba is Caribbean island-inspired cuisine with a distinct nod to owner/chef David Hersh's Miami upbringing and New Orleans background. It's a small, casual place reminiscent of an island beach bar, with bamboo paddle fans and a deck overlooking the Shinnecock Canal. We had delectable Dominican ribs, and yummy marinated rib eye with roasted sweet potatoes and...I couldn't help it...I had to splurge on the homemade key lime pie with a mountain of real whipped cream. And speaking of entertainment, on Thursdays Rumba features "Project Vibe," live Reggae music from 8 -11 PM. A breeze off the water, the setting sun, a convivial crowd...what could go better with your daiquiri, mon?

Looking forward to warm summer breezes..and French wines with cheeses...and maybe some Jimmy Buffett music to go with the sand between my toes...

Quote of the Day: Summer afternoon - Summer afternoon... the two most beautiful words in the English language. -- Henry James

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Up in the wild blue yonder

People come to the Hamptons for many reasons, the most common of which include our beautiful clean beaches and sweet little villages. Others come to golf, sail, hike, explore history, or just relax and enjoy it all. But this last weekend we had guests at A Butler's Manor who were on the East End to do something I had heretofore been unaware one could do out here: Skydive.

Liam and Laura were our thrillseekers, and this is Laura here in the picture, showing some mock attitude but actually loving every second of her (approximately) 60-second freefall before the parachute kicked in. The company that offers the experience is Skydive Long Island in Calverton (about 25 miles northwest of us). I knew nothing about skydiving (and my fear of heights is such I'm not likely to try it anytime soon), so was fascinated to learn that a first time jump is always a tandem jump (seen here) with an experienced professional; Laura's jump instructor has clocked over 14,000 jumps!! Also, notice the hands in the bottom of the picture. That's the photographer (you were wondering about this already, right?) who jumps with you...he has a video camera, plus some sort of TeleTubby-looking camera on his head that takes a strobe series of still photos, like this one. The cameraman can't launch his parachute until AFTER you do (otherwise it would get in the way of his photography of you). Now that's thrill-seeking!

Needless to say, Liam and Laura's description of their jump was THE topic over breakfast the next morning!! Still, they said that the next time they come stay, they're going to skip the sky and just enjoy the blue of the pool!

(PS: Doesn't the East End look cool from way up there!)

Quote of the Day: May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. --Edward Abbey

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Full spring ahead

Happy Cinco de Mayo! If I were back in Callifornia right now, believe me, I'd be at El Ranchito having a frozen margarita, grande, please, double the lime, hold the salt. And a plate of nachos.

However, life in Southampton here at A Butler's Manor is mighty good right now. Weather report: A sunny, clear, glorious 70 degrees F, with just enough breeze that the windchimes bong occasionally-- a bass note to accompany the treble of birdsong. The cherry tree is covered in pink petals (as is the lawn below it). We opened the pool a couple of weeks ago, and it is warming up nicely in the sun, a sparkling blue pond. As far as the garden goes, we appear to be about three weeks ahead of schedule. Trees are already filling in, and the azaleas are in full color. I can remember cutting lilac blossoms for the rooms for Memorial Day weekend, yet the lilacs are already in full bloom now, and we've been able to serve breakfast out on the patio the last couple of days.

It's amazing how many people's moods reflect a good dose of sunshine and nice weather. The sound of our guests' laughter as they enjoyed breakfast in the garden this morning was a better pick-me-up than the best cup of coffee. And then after breakfast, up in Riverhead at BJ's, I'd unloaded all my groceries onto the conveyor belt at checkout only to find that I'd neglected to retrieve my club membership card from Chris. Now, BJ's customer service folks are always helpful, and I knew that if I went to the customer service desk with my ID they'd give me a temporary pass so that I could check out. But when the woman in front of me saw me starting to load my stuff back into my cart, she said, "Don't put it all back and waste that time. We'll just use my card." Just a small thing, really, but it really gave me a warm, sunshiny feeling of connectedness with the Universe. Doesn't Spring just do that to you?

It's been three weeks today since my foot surgery. I'm out of the boot and wearing a sneaker for the most part, but am, alas, not yet able to walk to the beach and back in the early morning.  However, I'm trying short walks and took a gentle yoga class yesterday, and everything is feeling pretty good, considering. But the BEST thing? Today at noon, when I was cutting flowers from the garden for guest rooms, I kicked the sneakers off and went barefoot in the cool, damp grass. OOOOOOH!!! I don't think I've enjoyed being barefoot so much since I was a kid!

Quote of the day: Now I see the secret of the making of the best persons. It is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth. --Walt Whitman

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Missing in action?

It is very strange to own a bed and breakfast and not meet your guests.

Last Wednesday, I had some minor foot surgery that I'd been putting off awhile. Doctor's orders were that I remain in bed or in a chair where I could keep my foot elevated for at least 5 days. Me, off my feet!?! Difficult even to imagine. But it's not like I don't have capable help. I do the cooking here at A Butler's Manor, but those who've read A Butler's Life know that Chris used to prepare and serve multi-course gourmet dinners. So aided by our able housekeeper Kristen, Chris (easily) handled the breakfasts and enjoyed our weekend guests. Back in our quarters, I could hear bursts of laughter from the dining room. And felt a little left out...though I did get a lot of restorative downtime. And I certainly couldn't complain about the the sound of birdsong, nor of the view of the budding trees and spring blooms outside my window that I had the time to sit and enjoy.

Bonus of living with a classically-trained butler (not to mention a wonderful husband!): I got the full silver service treatment...meals in bed, cups of tea, a laptop and a phone and a pile of books to keep me occupied (and immobile). Yeah!

I'm back to work now, though still in my "boot" -- not quite to speed yet, but healing nicely, thank you, and looking forward to flip flop season!

(Special note to the lovely guests I missed meeting this time: I look forward to your next visit!)

Quote of the Day: Swallow your pride occasionally, it's non-fattening! ~Author Unknown

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A touch of whimsy

Weather report here at A Butler's Manor: Sixty glorious, sunny degrees, with a touch of breeze to waft the scent of daffodils in bloom. The ocean at Gin Lane Beach this morning: Calm blue, with no surf to speak of...as docile as a bay beach.

Even prettier was the bare mist rising off little Lake Agawam, which begins at the back of Agawam Park on the southwest end of Job's Lane in Southampton and ends just steps from Gin Lane Beach, across from St. Andrew's on the Dunes church. The flora that surrounds the small pond hasn't yet filled in, affording passersby with a lovely view of the houses on First Neck Lane reflected in the mirror-like water.

Overlooking this view on the Gin Lane side of Lake Agawam is a large house currently undergoing an extensive renovation (in the estate district, there doesn't seem to be such a thing as a minor renovation). And in this house's back yard, just visible through the bare trees and as-yet leafless hedges, is this old treehouse. Not one of those modern ones that double as a jungle gym, or a freestanding platform "clubhouse," but an old-fashioned structure made of wood built into the architecture of the large tree.

Oh, how I wanted a treehouse when I was young! Even just a platform with a rope ladder, where I could climb up and read my books and feel like I was spying on the world below. But my childhood home was a tract house, brand new when my parents bought it, and not until I was an adult living away from home did any of the trees on our street get big enough to support a treehouse. Now, of course, we have a giant sycamore maple anchoring the garden here at A Butler's Manor, big enough to build a condo in -- if only I were ten years old again!!

The Gin Lane treehouse is (or was) quite a posh treehouse; it has windows and rustic operative shutters and all the faces except this one are shingled like the main house. Perhaps when it was built, the owners saw no need to shingle the back side of the treehouse, as it couldn't be seen anyway...not, that is, until winter, when its summer occupants are far away. I'm guessing the (probably new) owners of the remodeled house will eventually get round to having the treehouse pulled out when they turn their attention to the landscaping. But until they do, I'm happy to have found it and recorded its existence for posterity.

Another house in the estate district, reputably occupied by the writer Tom Wolfe, also has a treehouse in the front yard. It's quite a bit smaller and has a lovely round porthole window in it. This one you can see if you know to look for it, but once the tree fills with leaves, it's nearly invisible to the unsuspecting. Still, knowing the treehouses are here delights me. In the midst of opulence, a touch of whimsy.

Quote of the Day:  That which we surround ourselves with becomes the museum of our soul and the archives of our experiences.  -- Thomas Jefferson

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A happy coincidence

Spring weather report: A little cooler than usual this weekend with a cool breeze though the sun is out, and we had guests enjoying the area on bicycles yesterday. Beach report (at 7 AM this morning): Water a granite grey-green, with small, choppy waves. Great day for a brisk walk on the beach with someone you love.

All the harbingers of Spring are present: fat red robins out on the grass, the first daffodils in the garden, buds on the forsythia just showing a hint of their brilliant yellow flowers to come. Yesterday Chris reveled in his first sunny Saturday spent in the garden, turning over the vegetable beds and starting seeds for lettuce, peppers, and both edible and ornamental sweet peas among other horticultural delights.

Many of you know that I write books in my spare time; that in addition to A Butler's Life  and our cookbook, I've written two novels of psychological suspense and, most recently, one of women's fiction. Alas, if there's something harder for me to do than to find time to write, it's to market the books to a potential agent (who in turn hopefully sells the novel to a publisher). Nonfiction, such as the memoir A Butler's Life is sold by proposal and, on request, an outline and sample chapters, meaning you needn't necessarily have the book completed before you query. Fiction, on the other hand, is sold only when the book is completed, editied and polished to within an inch of its life.  But you don't send that polished manuscript in unless you're invited to do so. Before that, you send a query and if the book interests the agent you're targeting, he or she may ask to see more of it.

I've been committed to trying to find a home (besides mine) for this new book, and last week I queried a particular agent. Her name was familiar, but with the research I've done on agents, after awhile names DO look familiar, and besides, I knew from my records that I had previously (unsuccessfully) pitched a book to her. A day or so later I received an email saying that she would be happy to look at a few chapters, especially as she remembered me and had such a nice experience while staying at A Butler's Manor last fall. Eeeeek, no wonder her name had sounded so familiar! Since Chris and I rarely learn what most of our guests do for a living, I'd never connected the dots. Still, whether or not it pans out, I'm still grateful that a happy association with our inn afforded this opportunity!

Wish me luck!

Quote of the day:  The greatest good you can do for another is not just share your riches, but to reveal to him his own.  --Benjamin Disraeli

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Spring ahead

Oh, were the rainstorms brutal this past weekend! As I write this, there are still towns upIsland that still do not have power, and all over Long Island, the tree crews have more work than they can handle, cleaning up the downed trees and fallen limbs. The wind howled at almost hurricane strength and the rain pelted against the windows, but luckily, on the East End, we were spared the flooding and major damage...and at A Butler's Manor, with guests in residence (and daylight savings time springing forward!) we didn't even lose power. Whew!

Today the sun came out, and around the (nicely watered!) garden, we see the first peepings of Spring in the little lavender buds of crocus and daffodil foliage peering from beneath the leaf mulch. I walked down to the beach this week to see the ocean, and it is angry...lots of whitecaps, and lots of waves. A long winter has stripped some of the sand from the beach, unveiling some of the old wooden revetments that were built long ago to contain the sand drift. I saw a gaggle of geese poking around Agawam Pond near Gin Lane beach --not Canadian geese, but the huge Greylag geese, which are the size of a really husky swan, and every bit as aggressive This gang, though, is so used to being fed bread scraps all summer long that they probably believed I was going to pay for the photo above with some food.

Speaking of food, Hamptons Restaurant Week begins this Sunday -- three-course prix fixe meals for $24.95, what a deal! Participating restaurants include all of our favorite recommendations, such as Plaza Cafe and red bar brasserie and Tuscan House in Southampton, Muse in Water Mill, Bobby Vans in Bridgehampton, Oasis in Sag Harbor, and Stone Creek Inn in East Quogue. For us, however, it will be a chance to sample restaurants we haven't tried or those that are too far for us to go to during high season (anywhere in Montauk, for example). I've warned Chris that the only meal I'm firing up the stove for next week will be breakfast!

Quote for the day: If only I may grow: firmer, simpler, -- quieter, warmer. --Dag Hammarskjold 

Monday, March 15, 2010

Piano rolls

We're back from our annual sojourn to Southern California and are already welcoming guests for our ninth season. And right off the bat, I'm reminded about why we so love this business -- the extraordinary people we meet at A Butler's Manor.

Back in June 2005, a journalist named Aimee Fitzgerald Martin wrote a series of light pieces titled My Favorite Things for Long Island's Newsday in which she profiled me and my piano. The piano, a Chase & Baker player) is one antique that has been in my family since it was built in 1912. Originally manufactured in Buffalo, NY, my mother learned to play as a child, and had it shipped it from her native Chicagoland to southern California in 1960. I grew up pumping the pedals to power the piano rolls which create the music, and following my father's death in 1999, shipped the piano back East, where it now anchors the front parlor of A Butler's Manor. I have close to 100 original piano rolls, many with words, and occasionally, we have impromptu piano bar nights here at the B&B. Fun!

A gentleman named Bill Grimaldi saw that Newsday article. He'd never had a player piano himself, but years before he had come across four piano rolls which had once been part of a decorator setting, probably at someplace like TGIFridays. Bill lives midway up Long Island, and he said he'd been meaning to drive out to the Hamptons and look us up so that he could give them to me. And so on this sunny March morning, he arrived at our door, boxes in hand. Four titles, perfect for my collection which centers on old jazz, including Pennies From Heaven and All By Myself.  I invited him in, spooled one of the rolls and played it, and we were both thrilled. To me, it is so extraordinary to have someone drop in out of the blue to give you a gift, but still I know what he meant when he said it had made HIS day, because there is a certain satisfaction in seeing something go to exactly the right home.

A toast to Bill, whose simple act of kindness reminded me once again how wonderful human beings can be to one another.

Quote of the Day: You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.  --Mahatma Gandhi