Woodstock Chalet Weekend!

Relaxed chalet style: Built by Wendy jacket, cable knit sweater made by my mom, Mavi jeas, Swedish Hasbeens boots, vintage Coach purse (and unfortunately long hair!)

Imagine a place, not far from every day life, where you can let down your guard and truly be yourself. Imagine a place where you can dwell in a liminal space where you can give into your whims and be cocooned in warmth, friendship and peace. This place exists, on the map as well as in the imagination, in a tradition my friends and I have come to call “Chalet Weekend.”

View from my bedroom window

The place is a rental chalet that sleeps twelve in the storied town of Woodstock, New York. Woodstock has been a place of escape and a home to artists and counter cultural visionaries for over 100 years. The chalet on Happy Cat Lane is quirky in layout, with lots of impractical architectural details and exposed wood. Most importantly there is a fireplace and two huge, seductively soft couches, an open kitchen and comfortable beds. It’s on a quiet dirt road not far from the artist’s colony Byrdcliffe, which itself offers another kind of retreat from the world.

Wood fire, Bloody Mary, happiness

Hah hah.

Morgane makes cookies from locally made cookie dough, an easy dessert!

These pancakes I am making are somehow really funny (and I get to show off my Petit Bateau shirt, bien sur)

Two birthday girls means two birthday cakes (made by moi)! Tres leches with caramel whipped cream and coconut and lemon cake infused with Rosemary with Rosehip and Lavender frosting.

I used to hate on upstate New York, but now I’ve completely fallen under the spell of its gauzy light and rural charm. After the hectic grind of city life it feels a little bit like cheating to escape to the quiet woods for a few days. For me there is nothing better to combat the winter blues than a fire, cooking huge meals, celebrating birthdays and getting so absorbed in my friends and the present moment everything else just falls away.

Where do you go to escape the daily grind?

Hudson River, by Saugerties

Saugerties Lighthouse

Kayaks at the Saugerties Lighthouse

For the practicalities: you can find plenty of amazing homes for rent upstate (or anywhere) on Home Away, Air BNB, or VRBO (which is connected to Home Away). The cheapest car rentals in New York City tend to be from All Car Rent-a- Car and there is also the affordable and convenient Adirondack Trailways bus. My three stops in Woodstock always are: Sunflower Natural Foods Market, Bread Alone bakery (amazing organic bagels, pastries, bread, sandwiches and coffee), and Woodstock Meats, a butcher shop with artisanal meats and cheeses and chalet essentials like firewood.

Chalet weekend crew! (sans K.)

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The Utopia Project Part II: Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild

Why do artists need to get away to create? Does creativity really flow better in a rural idyll where one could shut out the outside world if one so chose?  Does modern life really hamper creativity and the ability to produce as an artist? Over 100 years ago Byrdcliffe was founded in Woodstock, New York to test out these ideas as a utopian Arts and Crafts community. The Arts and Crafts movement believed that industrialization and urbanization was compromising peoples ability to live and create and put a great value on the handmade and the skill of the craftsman.

The Byrdcliffe campus certainly seems the embodiment of the Utopia Project. It is transporting: a series of arts and crafts cabins from the turn of the century connected by dirt roads and trails. A stream runs through it and light filters through the birch trees. After I finished working I spent the afternoon hiking up the nearby Overlook mountain to explore the ruins of an old hotel and to look with awe over the Hudson Valley stretching out below me. I used to think that the golden, soft quality of light in Hudson River School paintings was a whole lot of Romantic bullshit.  However, the more time I spend in the Hudson Valley, the more I see that painters like Asher B. Durand and Thomas Cole were actually capturing the quality of light that they observed.

The view from Overlook mountain

Ruins of the Overlook hotel

I cooked dinner in the communal kitchen the residence where I had given a room for the night and spent the evening eating and talking about art, politics and building a creative life with some of the resident artists. I felt privileged to be able to be able to step into the world of actually living as a resident artist for a night. Byrdcliffe is like an artists summer camp where there are few rules besides respecting the quiet and focus of others. As a child I never liked summer camp, but I found myself reluctant to leave Byrdcliffe. I think that’s because it combines the fun, peace and isolation of camp with the focus and autonomy of adulthood.

One of the residency bedrooms

Lunch at the Byrdcliffe Cafe

Just invoking the name “Woodstock” brings up a whole trope of myths in American culture. To an outsider like me I wondered how the region around Woodstock, which is sleepy and rural and mountainous, was host to such an important cultural event back in the 1960’s. Places like Byrdcliffe help provide an answer. Byrdcliffe was founded in 1902 as an experiment in utopian, artistic, arts and crafts living, supported by a wealthy Englishman. It has grown into a nonprofit arts services organization that now provides acts as a touchstone for artists throughout the Woodstock region offering exhibitions, performances, and many professional development opportunities. In addition to those who participate in the residency program, artists can also rent cabins and studios for the summer.

Screen porch artist studio

Artist studios behind the birch trees

As I become more deeply a New Yorker I savor more wholly the opportunities to get out of the city and to immerse myself in rural experiences. Byrdcliffe provides a place for retreat from the pressing concerns of modern, urban life, which is what the Arts and Crafts Movement focused on. There one can concentrate on creativity and artistic exploration in the midst of small town life and natural beauty. In what I think is becoming a resounding theme of my visits to Northeast artist residencies: I can’t wait to go back.

Mt. Guardian trail

Winter Weekend Getaway

Growing up in Maine I looked forward to winter. I couldn’t wait for the pond to freeze to skating, the first snow that was enough to go skiing, and days inside baking and drinking hot chocolate. While my enthusiasm for winter has faded a little, mostly because it just seems to drag on a few months too long, I’m not a winter hater. However, every year I feel like I have to come up with new strategies to make the winter enjoyable, and go a little faster. When M. suggested a group getaway with some research and advice from friends we found the perfect solution: a weekend rental chalet in Woodstock, New York complete with a hot tub. Sold.

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Walking up the snowy Overlook trail

After a month exchanging a flurry of emails a group of 14 of us had planned a menu and a spate of activities. The best part of going out of town in the winter is that you don’t have to do anything. And we didn’t. The Woodstock chalet was an invitation to step out of our daily routine immerse ourselves in the secret world of the weekend. A curated selection of bad movies opened the weekend, followed by board  and classic NES games, cooking, hot tub soaking, and a walk up a mountain that some took all the way and others just enough to soak in the snow, quiet, and wind in the trees.

Chalet

Chalet Interior

It’s been a little hard to come back, because the weekend seems to be its own world with its own rhythms. But I think a tradition has been started and I’m already looking forward to next winter! There’s more pictures on Flickr.

Stew, Bloody Mary, Banana Grams!

Chalet Life: Homemade stew, bloody mary, Banana Grams

Winter Footwear

Trial run of Vivienne Westwood Anglomania for Melissa spakly galoshes