Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Birthday Week

Hugging Wooden Cows: far less crazy than walking around with undiagnosed dizziness.....or not?
Photo: Nicole Goncalves

t was getting difficult, you see, balancing myself.
I'm not talking about the figurative balance of work, play, general responsibilities, or the carried-away mischief that has generally overtaken my life. No. This was actual, literal, balance.

Yep.  I'd been wresting with a strange sort of vertigo for a couple of months, along with the volatile health care industry, and getting nowhere. I easily had been spending a couple of hours barking into a phone in between the wild-goose-chase of insurance companies and a slog of endless doctors to call, since I was just a number in a vast and overwhelmed New York City system that I had recently returned to.

Mind you, the vertigo was not severe, but the uncertainty of a diagnosis simply exacerbated the tenuous situation; for once, the Wanderer's Magic wasn't working.

But! There would soon be a reprieve, because my Birthday Weekend was coming up, which was a good a time as any to make an executive decision to fully celebrate the traditional Birthday Week.

You don't know what The Birthday Week is? That, my friends, would be quite unfortunate. In fact, I think everyone should know and actively participate in The Birthday Week, by all means possible. See, I think a birthday isn't just a one day event. No, Siree. And particularly as one gets older, I think a whole WEEK (or at least a few days, by golly) should suffice in folly and fripperies and general smile-inducing merriment of all sorts. If this sounds quaint or old fashioned, then consider me the naive fool who has jumped wholeheartedly into the abyss.

To be fair, The Birthday Week is not some old family tradition I'd been inherently thrust into. This thing was actually thought up about four or five years ago, and if you've had the wherewithal to have read about these strange journeys here, you'll probably have stumbled upon my most illustrious Birthday Week in Pennsylvania,. That shindig happened last year--a high time with handmade food with folk artists, a good old-fashioned fiddler's camp, and horses galore. The shenanigans then spilled over into last year, in Vermont, where I ate ice cream in the forest and had a bevvy of mountain men make me birthday dinner.   This year, I promised, would be of the same caliber.

I wouldn't be disappointed. My partner-in-crime this go-'round stepped up in the form of talented young furniture builder, designer, and refurbisher-- the founder of The New England Girl--Nicole Goncalves. I'd met Nicole online, through our mutual love of old things and sustainability. And let me tell you, this gal was impressive. Not yet in her mid-twenties, she already had a business of building things in a male dominated industry. She was no shrinking violet when it came to completely creating something out of scrap lumber, wielding heavy equipment, or restoring furniture. She had a love for old-world living, and was vivacious and highly skilled, so much so that her talents had recently gotten her onto the T.V. show "Flea Market Flip"--how's that for accomplishment?

At that age, I don't think I even knew what the heck I wanted to do, but here was this young lady with complete ethics and (having seen her in action), the professional confidence to tell people twice her age why they should be dealing with her when it came to building or refurbishing ANYTHING. She was also possibly the most self-scrutinizing person I'd known, adhering to an austere and high work ethic. To boot, she was kind, generous, and funny, but she could also be spontaneous and petulant--loving more than one project or interest, and jumping in wildly. Oddly, much of her outlook on life reminded her of my younger self--both mischievous and enterprising, but also highly detailed, with an old-wisdom sense of being. We also seemed to love the same things to the point it was strange. On more than one occasion, I found myself turning to her and saying "I swear I'm looking at myself in a parallel universe about 15 or 20 years ago!"

When she mentioned sh wanted to meet me for some time, I hopped at the chance because: 1. there was traveling involved, of course and  2. it allowed me to get the heck out of Dodge, and away from a stifling city and this strange sense of illness and ill-at-ease dealings with insurance companies and  3. did I mention there was TRAVEL involved?

I hopped the train, literally, the next day--this Birthday Week would be in Connecticut....and after two hours of luscious green-scapes, old white washed Victorian-aged barns and stone farmhouses, quaint and lustrous ponds surrounded by fruit trees, and the calling of denizens of crows, bellowing of cows, and even a passing of the Appalachian Trail, my heart was full and I felt like the same old happy traveler I normally was.

I hopped off in Wassaic, NY, and was greeted by my lovely young friend, and we gushed like gabbing school girls. Without hesitation, she chaperoned me through Massachusetts, and then Connecticut, boasting along the way that I could say I'd been through THREE states in a matter of hours. That was, indeed, some feat. With no complaint, she generously served as an impromptu tour guide, and we hit all sorts of hillside towns, antique stores, art havens, and little farmer's wayside stores. It was the same rural paradise I'd been to in dozens of states, and yet I couldn't lap it up fast enough.

Small town charm....yes, please!

Mountain town living....

 You can't help but find curiosities everywhere...apparently, bacon IS the universal ingredient!

After several hours of this, home beckoned, and hers boasted shaker style wood floors and beams, and farmhouse charm, to boot. The dining room had a 12 foot long raw wood table, which Nicole created herself, and the place was decked out in vintage and antique pieces that spoke to ghosts of an old Adirondack time alongside a Victorian era. It was genteel mountain-man and 60's plucky cowboy, with a dash or Amish woodwork ingenuity, all rolled in one, and it was brilliant an beautiful.

The back held possibly the most amazing deck or, rather, the view from the deck was amazing; the back of the house was built over a jutting, gradual slope and all around, there were 30 foot evergreens and lush forest. Somewhere in a lower valley, there was a fire pit. Off to the side, and ancient wood chicken coop grew moss on it's roof. I was in love.

How to get to a place like this? It was a topic of conversation for many days. The unfortunate part was that Connecticut, though beautiful and historical, was the sort of place that courted the high-denizened folk, not the working-class stiffs, of which I was solidly a part of. I simply wasn't sure if my humble soapy-farm-bee-teaching roots could sustain in such a glossy place.

Still, there was so much to see and do, a fine birthday week of friends, and quiet little artist havens, tiny towns, large fields and even a trip down memory lane by having quality ice cream, just like when I was in Europe!


photo: Nicole Goncalves

I also chanced on seeing Nicole's shoppe, a fine beauty of a thing that housed her clever creations--she was certainly a mistress of her craft.There were wooden things of ever ilk, accompanied by vintage and antique dishes, cookware and nostalgia, tucked in between. One got a sense of the old mixed with chic and ingenious touches; I'd certainly recommend her hip and lovely creations for old-world lovers and heirloom enthusiasts.

Nicole's hand constructed sign shows off her talent and versatility...

Beautiful antique vases sit amongst old painted pine cabinets...

Vintage refurbished Hoosier cabinet shows off vintage whimsies....

By the end of my stay, there were tentative plans made, and a whole new business idea hatched....

But those would be put on hold once I got back to New York City, because everything I was grappling with, there, was about to come hurtling headlong into me......

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