Intercultural Bewilderment: My Turkish Bath Adventure (via wrap me in phyllo dough)

I lived in Mexico City for three years, and fortunately — or unfortunately, depending on your view — I never experienced any what I call “Awkward Spa Encounters. While hilarious to hear about secondhand, feeling bewildered while naked is not something I’d personally want to endure. Which is perhaps why I enjoyed every single spa I visited in Mexico, where everyone stayed relatively covered and embarrassing encounters were minimized. Ah, Catholics, they make Turkish people look like heathens!

Intercultural Bewilderment: My Turkish Bath Adventure As the child of Hippie parents and a graduate of college near Portland, Oregon, one thing is certain: I'm no prude. I don't pay much attention to movie ratings. I'm not offended by nudity in the slightest. I didn't even blink twice whenever I saw that strange ad with the huge naked boobs on every streetlight while I was in Prague earlier this year. And flashing the entire audience of a midnight showing of a production I was in in college with the … Read More

via wrap me in phyllo dough

Our Very Own Waterfall, as Pretty as a Postcard

The waterfall as it was more than 100 years ago, give or take a few years.

POST BY: JOY’S BETTER HALF, BRENDAN

One of the neatest things about our place upstate is a big waterfall, which sits directly below our house over a steep cliff. The rushing water creates a soothing white noise,  even though we can’t see a lot of it from above because of the hemlocks that surround the cabin.

We don’t know the exact height of the falls, but I’d guess it’s at least 20 feet. The water, which is always clear unless there’s been heavy rain the day before, plunges into a swimming hole that’s surrounded on three sides by steep slate and granite cliffs. The volume varies by season, with the heaviest flow in the spring after the snow melts. We’ve never seen fish in the stream, but we know it’s stocked with trout every year, and at least historically it has been a river used by anglers , as evidenced by this postcard we found on eBay:

Though we own the falls outright, or at least half of them (our property line extends halfway into the stream), it seems they’ve been somewhat open to the public at times, for better or for worse. While some people would say natural sites like these should be open to the public forever, we’ve learned the hard way (via trespassers) that this also can mean exposing the waterfall to litterbugs and the adjacent hill to erosion. Which is better? It’s hard to say.  We’ve felt some guilt shooing trespassers away — after all, they just want to see something pretty — then grapple with the anger we feel after finding discarded beer boxes.

(The waterfalls, by the way, do have a proper name, but to protect their and our privacy, we’ve blocked out the name on these postcards. )

We’ve found references to the falls online dating as far back as the 1850s, when International Monthly Magazine wrote a very strange, almost unreadable piece about folks in the area visiting the site.  There’s also a book with old-timey photos from the region that contains an image showing well-dressed ladies and gentleman from about 1900 gathered in front of the falls for a picnic. The caption on the photo says the falls are considered “the most picturesque in Sullivan County,” though we’re not exactly sure what the competition is and who came up with the rankings.

In the past eight months or so, searches on eBay brought us four early 20th-century postcards that depict the waterfall, and the one of the trout fisherman in the same brook, presumably downstream. We love them, of course — they’re now framed and hanging in our cabin — but these postcards point to a time when people had lower standards for what was worthy of being depicted on a postcard. We’re the lucky beneficiaries, I guess.

Our favorites are those from the Artino company, mostly because they’re in color. A postcard expert told us they were probably produced from paintings made by a local artist, but couldn’t say who it was that sat in front of our falls with an easel oh-so-long ago. Both cards were made before 1907, which you can tell because they have an undivided back, stemming from an era in which the U.S. Postal Service only allowed people to write on the front of postcards, over the image. The two black-and-white postcards are photos. It must have been quite the challenge to hike to the falls with the large camera equipment of that era, and it’s kind of mind blowing that these postcards survived all these years, too.

In this postcard below, you can get a sense of the size of the waterfalls by locating the man sitting down, to the right of the falls.

The  modern-day waterfall looks much the same, by the way. Here it is near the end of summer, when the river is lower:

And a more recent shot, when the snowmelt raises water levels:

Two of our postcards appear to have actually been mailed, as evidenced by the little messages that add a human dimension to the flat images. One wonders what inspired the senders to choose photographs of our waterfalls for the missives. Uncle David’s message that he has  “regained my health” is mildly intriguing. One can only imagine the boredom Louise of Staten Island must have felt when she got the postcard from Connie Ferraro about the “fine time” she’s having.

The View: Morning, Noon and Night

I spend a lot of time looking out our living room window, admiring the view. There are lots of things I love about our little cabin, but this really never gets old. The view also changes so dramatically from season to season (I don’t have good photos of last autumn, but just you wait, readers).

Pre-dawn

In the early morning there's usually fog in the mountains; it burns off as things heat up.

High noon in the summertime. The view gets a little obscured by the wild roses in June.

Friends Adam and Chrissy looking totes adorbs in the afternoon light on a thunder-filled day.

Adam took this great photo just moments later.

The recent full moon filled the house with light. We were scared when it first popped up over the mountain as a sliver of light. Just a simple glorious act of nature. Whew. And looksies! You can see stars.

If were a better photographer, I’d show you the midnight stars, sparkling.

Camera in My Right Hand, Purty Thing in My Left

After I looked at my most recent set of photos, I realized I have a compulsion to hold something pretty in my hand, and then snap a photo. Although I’m a (ridiculously proud) lefty, my camera is made for righties, like all equipment ever made in the whole history of mankind, so I have to awkwardly balance the camera with my non-dominant hand, and, for example, easily hold a red eft salamander in my more skilled left.

OK, technically this is Brendan's hand.

Stupidity of Miss USA Candidates Shocks No One

This video snippet is all you need to watch to understand why American students far fall so behind their foreign peers in almost all measurable ways.

And, if you’re wondering what I would say if I was asked the same question while competing in a beauty pageant — because hey, it might happen one day — I’d say (after receiving a fake tan, teeth whitening, rib removal, hair extensions and hopefully not any neuron extractions, which seems to plague this lot): “No, evolution should not be taught, because God forbid we have things like modern medicine, which omg relies on, like, evolutionary biology for innovations. People should just be ignorant of science, and anything involving those little DNA thingies — I want to die an early painful death, with Jeebus at my side! Amen, y’all.”

On a more serious note, I’m happy to report the winner was not only smart enough to say she understands evolution (it’s not a “belief” thing, it’s the ability to understand how life perpetuates despite our stupidity), she also allegedly supports legalization of marijuana and calls herself a “big science geek.”

She’s my kinda girl!

I Am Woman, Hear Me Split Wood

A few weeks ago, Brendan casually mentioned he was buying an ax.

A few days after that, a book appeared on the kitchen table. It’s actual, I-swear-to-God title: “THE AX BOOK: The Lore and Science of the Woodcutter, a Guide to Axmanship, Wood and the Hand Tools of a Woodsman.”

Buying an ax is one thing. Bringing home a book that practically drips with testosterone is another. What was happening to Brendan? I wasn’t sure what to make of it.

But apparently Brendan isn’t the only male who longs to swing a splitting ax. This past weekend, when our friend Gene was at the cabin and heard about the opportunity to “split logs,” it was the most excited we’d seen him in days.  The three ladies among us made catty remarks about city boys going all Paul Bunyan on us.

But then, we watched.

Gene and his mighty battle ax made mincemeat of our firewood, which, granted, is already kind of pre-cut and dry. But we noticed the shit-eating grin, and felt twinges of jealousy. It almost looked like it would generate the sort of feeling one gets when smashing plates against the floor or crashing cymbals together or popping a really big wad of bubble gum or smacking the stupid out of Sarah Palin….you get the idea. As we watched Gene whack the crap out of the wood, it looked — and sounded — wholly cathartic.

And entirely something we, females, could do, too. I had assumed it required more brute strength than we ladies could muster, but I’m a feminist, damnit, time to break my own long-held stereotypes. And where did I get this idea, anyway? My great-grandmother Lizzie was so strong and independent she could have kicked all of our asses at wood chopping. When she was in her 60s!

Time to channel some Lizzie. I looked at my pal Brenda. “You’re gonna try, right?”

“Shit yeah,” she replied. And we were off. First task, select the victim.

Then, she found the right distance and stance by doing a few practice chops, where she didn’t swing hard.

Then BAM! CHOP THE LIVING CRAP OUT OF THAT WOOD. YEAH FIGHT YEAH ARRRRRGHH. I AM WOMAN!

This face says it all. Girlfriend split that log on the second try!

Next up, my turn….

Well, first I needed a lesson, of course. Thank god for men and their axes! And no, I’m not giggling.

Then, when I finally got my turn, I showed the wood who’s boss. (It only took me 8 or so whacks.)

Elated and floating on a high of awesomeness, what did we do?

We celebrated our new-found skill with beer, swigging it as lady-like as possible.

(Brenda has her hood up to ward off the mosquitoes who were attracted to our powerful aura.)

The Ref Eft Salamander: It’s All Newt to Me (Har Har Har….)

This past weekend, while traipsing around the forest, we uncovered the Cutest Thing at the Cabin So Far:

And just who is this adorably citrusy looking creature? Let’s zoom in:

Well, on first observation, all I could think was: I have no idea what species this is, but whoa, he’s teeny-tiny, or as we say in Tejas, straight-up tee-nigh-nee. Below, notice the leaf to his left and the gigantic looking acorn above his head — both dwarfing him as he tries to escape my giggles and Nikon lens, which must seem like a looming, hungry amphibious black hole to him.

So, what the eff is it? I first guessed it was possibly a red eft when I remembered that the closest town to us, Wurtsboro, has an art gallery called the Red Eft, and the logo is a cute little orange lizard. So I did the googling, and bingo! Species identification complete.

Specifically, the red eft is the teenager phase of the red-spotted Eastern newt, a type of salamander. They start out as chipper tadpoles, but then sprout legs and head for drier land, where they develop a nice orange hue. As the days pass, they grow exhausted and cynical and head back permanently for the warm water, much like I do on my weekends and vacations.

As with most cute things, they are often kept caged, as pets.

My Second ‘Wildflower’ Bouquet of the Season

Unlike my first bouquet, this one contains the fabulous foxglove, which kind of has magical powers — not only does the presence of foxglove in a cut flower bouquet somehow motivate the other flowers in your bouquet to stay perky longer than normal, it is used to make the drug digitalis.

Note: None of my flowers so far are really wild; they were probably planted long ago by the NYC ballerina who first built and lived in the cabin we now own. But the flowers require absolutely no care on our part, making them “wild” to us. The garden’s continued beauty is a testament to the ballerina’s green thumb — and good taste.

So what does said foxglove look like in nature? She’s a purty one.

I didn’t get a photo of the white peonies shown in the arrangement, but the fabulous Dora grabbed my camera and took this lovely shot of a pink one.