Holidays in the Hills



Everything is ever-so-slightly different in Delaware County. We moved here a year and a half ago from Ulster County – Woodstock and Kingston – a bit closer to the Hudson River. Now we’re in the heart of the Catskill Mountains. Summers are a little cooler. The wind blows pretty much constantly through the maples in front of our old house all year long. Winter starts in November, maybe even sooner. And the farther you travel into the fifth-largest, and very sparsely populated county in the western Catskills, and the greater the sense of entering another world.

This will be our second winter and second holiday season in Franklin. Last year we learned that summer is all about socializing. Winter, however, is treated as a serious opportunity to hunker down and get creative work done. It’s a rhythm, kind of reminiscent of farm life, which is still hanging on by its fingernails here. People have to make a real effort to occasionally connect with the community. And they do. Business may go on as usual in nearby Oneonta or Delhi, but in the hill towns, things get very quiet when the thermostat stays below freezing.

This postcard existence presented me with some unforeseen realities. My visions of a big, bumptious crowd of family converging on our farmhouse have proven to be unrealistic, at least for now. Babies and puppies don’t travel easily, so we’ll be traveling to visit the people (and dogs) we love.

Franklin isn’t a wild town. This year finally saw the passage of a referendum to reverse the town’s 1899 ban on the sale of alcohol in restaurants. So it’s not surprising that we don’t have anything as wild and wooly as Woodstock’s annual celebration of Santa’s arrival. But Oneonta has a parade with Santa in November which I haven’t yet experienced. Santa then takes residence in a little cottage on Main Street for several weekends before Christmas. I can’t imagine what kind of trouble the elves get into while he’s sitting around in Oneonta.

There’s a parade with Santa in Cooperstown, too. If there is a more Christmas-y looking village than Cooperstown, I honestly don’t know where it is.

I hear the town of Skaneateles, which isn’t nearly as far from us as it once was, transforms into a Dickens village for the holidays. We may go see this year.

But we don’t usually go where the big crowds are. We moved to northern Delaware County specifically because I was longing for a smaller, quieter world. I look for the understated celebrations.

Last year we spent an unforgettable evening at the Farmers Museum.

If you have never been there, you have missed something. People in period garb mingle with visitors in an 1850’s village created by a collection of historical buildings from around the region, some from as far away as Greene County. There’s an inn, a mercantile, a blacksmith shop, a pharmacy, print shop, a schoolhouse, a carousel. There are houses ranging from grand to humble. And there are animals. For one night in winter, it is illuminated.

I’ve always wanted to go and it did not disappoint. The historical buildings were lit by hundreds of electric candles, and the paths were lined with candles, too. There was mulled cider in iron kettles over roaring bonfires, carols sung both outside and in the old church. And then, right as if on cue, big, fluffy, Hollywood-style snowflakes fell softly over the entire thing. It was magic. I think we have to do it again.

Sharon Springs, in not-too-far Schoharie County, has a holiday tradition that I’ve wanted to get to. Maybe this is the year. This is a participatory celebration, with folks showing up in Victorian garb. The village mayor, a born actor, used to read a poem called “The Christmas Chicken.” I hope he still does it. The local celebrities, the owners of the Beekman 1802 lifestyle brand, market the whole event like Victorian holidays have never been marketed before.

But we don’t really have to travel to get in the holiday spirit.

On December 7th, Franklin hosted its 18th annual Christmas Stroll and Holiday Market. It started at nine and ended at seven at night. The library had a story hour for children plus a book sale, the firehouse was full to bursting with various vendors, and the local shops opened their doors for the event. There was music, bazaars and food at the local churches and even the local auto body shop had a Kid’s Crafts Extravaganza.

This year, the self-guided tour of decorated homes was back, with one family displaying their extensive collection of Victorian decorations. There are some lovely old homes in Franklin.

My favorite part of the Franklin holiday celebrations, besides the library book sale, is the display of Christmas trees at the Railroad and Community Museum. The museum is a quietly remarkable thing all year long. Inside, there is a huge collection of memorabilia about our small town.

I’ve gone there to research the history of my house, and also to try to find out more about a wind storm in the 19th century that reputedly ended the town’s then-dominant industry, sheep farming. That must have been some wind storm. I picture sheep flying through the air and landing in a neighboring community, where they lived happily ever after.

The pride of the museum is an opulent, semi-restored Victorian honeymoon rail car. It’s a work in progress, as the patron who donated it died and the funds to complete it are still being raised. It may, in fact, be more charming because it’s not perfectly restored.


A couple of weeks before Thanksgiving, my neighbor, Sue, creates remarkable displays of themed trees. Sue waves me away when I rave about her decorations, but I’ve seriously never seen anything like them. Last year among the trees was one decorated with books. Real books. It was lovely.

Each tree has a theme. I think there are other town residents who design the trees as well. They were all much better than anything I can create. But Sue’s stood out. Every tree that struck me as particularly unique turned out to be one of hers.

There is something about this town that has resonated with me in a way that nowhere else I’ve lived has done. I think it’s about scale. I feel embedded already. Our mayor, Tom, will be holding a holiday open house at his home. We got an invitation. During the holiday festival, Sidney the shop dog will be greeting everyone outside the antique shop where he works, while Neal, the man he owns, will probably sit inside and try to stay warm. The Franklin Garden Club’s barrels are already full of pine boughs and red branches, and I know that Diana, the artist who started the garden club, has checked to make sure everything looks just so. The Rotary Club, a lovely bunch of folks who meet once a month, share dinner and sing “God Bless America,” will have set up the annual display of Christmas trees on Main Street. Shana and Willem, the young couple who bought the huge house next to the park, will be out in the thick of things, where their little girl always wants to be. They’ll probably be caroling in the park, which their daughter has claimed as her own because it’s next door to their house.

The Franklin Farmer’s Market crowd, the folks from the newspaper, the Chamber, the artist group that meets for lunch every Tuesday, I’ll probably see them all. The other new people, the ones who opened the upscale antique, décor and bespoke fashion stores, will thrown open their doors. If we’re lucky, the owner of our new cafe will have the coffee pot on.

I am different here. Better. More relaxed, more confident. More open-minded.

This is a town that’s traditionally Republican. Most newcomers aren’t. And yet somehow, despite the hysterics I occasionally (often?) join in on on social media, I find that most local Republicans/Trump supporters here are nice people. Not just kind of nice. Really nice.

It’s mind-bending. Don’t tell me I’m deluded. I’m not. I don’t pretend to be okay with their political views. We disagree, very strongly. But we are neighbors first.

It feels like growth. And hope.

Franklin and I seem to fit. There are big personalities but they don’t seem overwhelming. There are quieter, more intense personalities, and space is made for them. Most of the people here seem to welcome newcomers who want to join in. There is diversity of race, religion, sexual orientation. Franklin is like the spaghetti sauce I was taught to make years ago; a little extra something is always fine – toss it in the pot. It’ll taste even better.

We’ve lived here a short time and we know enough people that it seems like a very good idea to throw a holiday open house this year and invite all the people we like. It’s going to be a crowd.

If it sounds like something out of It’s A Wonderful Life, that is because it is. It’s Bedford Falls on a very small scale, without, it seems, Mr. Potter.

And what could be more in the spirit of the holidays than that?

(first published in the Kingston and Woodstock Times/HudsonValleyOne)

Diana Hall -Mother Nature’s Child

Diana Hall has lived in the Delaware County village of Franklin for thirty two years. That makes her a newcomer, by some standards. But she has built a community, and a life, that helps to bind this small town together; one she hopes will welcome the influx of newcomers who have arrived in the past couple of years.

Hall is the owner of a small shop called Botanical Treasures. She is the founder of the Franklin Garden Club. She is an artist. Tucked into an old garage behind her historic home is a magical, tranquil space full of wonders. Hall has a collection of unusual, interesting and beautiful objects created by herself and other artists, all designed to either be displayed in a garden, or to bring the beauty of nature indoors.


Trained in gold and silversmithing at SUNY New Paltz, the Westchester County native put art aside for years and worked in an office full time to, as she describes it, “survive.” When she and her husband discovered their current home in the village of Franklin it was, she says, “a ruin.” There had been a fire. But it had clearly once been lovely. When she found an old house with the symmetry and detail she loved, with a price tag of forty thousand dollars, a little charred lumber wasn’t going to put her off.

“We were very poor. And my husband is a contractor.” And she is a self-confessed old house fanatic.

The in-town property had some lilacs, mature maples, and a euonymous. It had been vacant. There were no gardens. Hall, working full time with people recovering from addiction to drugs and alcohol, discovered gardening was good therapy after a day at work.

“I wanted to be out in nature. I missed it. I love people, but my dream would be to work outside.”

There was no plan, no map for the new gardens.

“I bought plants and started sticking them places. For me, it’s all about movement in my artwork. I wanted movement in the garden borders. It just got bigger as I added more plants and kept obsessively reading about gardens.”

Today, Hall’s home boasts two stunning bordered gardens, each a mixture of formality and cottage English garden flamboyance. Overgrown asparagus create lovely, spindly height, while poppies, iris, hellebores, roses and other garden staples mingle with wildflowers and groundcover.

One garden is all straight lines and right angles, while the other swoops and turns, revealing surprises and color that cannot all be seen from one vantage point.

“My mother was an artist, and everything was about composition, even the way our dinner table was set. I’ve got that, too,” Hall admits. “I like things not too cluttered. Aesthetics are important But I find myself moving more toward a meadow-y feel, one that’s better for the earth.”

She smiles. “Nature is not about minimalism. If you plant something, it’s going to grow and spread.”

More than ten years ago, Hall and a few friends decided that they’d like to find other neighbors who were as interested in gardening as they were. The Franklin Garden Club became a community building exercise, growing and contracting as the town’s population changed, but taking on more responsibilities for making the village a place to be proud of. The club persuaded stone artist Robert Johnson, who lives in the village, and local mason Jack Simon to help create the outlines of a village park from the ruins of an old boarding house on Main Street. The garden club did the planting and maintains the park. The members also plant flowers in barrels along Main Street each year and hold an annual plant sale. This year there is a Blueberry Festival planned for August, an event Hall hopes will help connect the village with the wider town.

After twenty seven years working in an office job, Hall’s life took a sharp right turn.

“I had a heart attack,” she explains. “After that, I knew, clearly, that I wanted to pursue art. I wanted to get out of sitting in a a chair all day. So I quit my job.”

She had no Plan B at that point. She admits it was scary at the time. But she never looked back. “It was the best decision I ever made. You know how it is, you get on the treadmill….I have probably would have tried to stay there until retirement.”

Instead, she started studying sculpture at The Smithy in nearby Cooperstown.

“I loved working with clay there. It’s a very supportive atmosphere, not competitive. And I am still completely learning.”

She started throwing pots, then adding details. Then she began making flowers. She’s only been doing the human form, she says, for about a year. But in that year she has created beautiful, haunting elementals, magical creatures who incorporate nature into their form. Each has a personality, each feels incredibly alive.

“You can fall in love with a flower as you make it,” Hall said, “but as I make the people it feels like they have a soul. And clay feels a lot like working in the garden. It’s life. It’s nature.”


She’s getting commissions for her work and people are responding positively.

“It’s so important to feel like your work is connecting to other people. It must be very hard to do experimental art, only to hear that no one ‘gets’ it. The battle of being human. I always say confidence is an illusion. It can be shattered in a moment.”

That gentle touch, that kindness, permeates the Franklin Garden Club. They meet monthly, sharing a potluck dinner and garden ideas.

“The thing is community,” Hall says. “Enjoying a shared love of something. We want to make people feel welcome.”

Her goal for the club’s future is to create even more connections in the community.

“It’s such a beautiful town, an architectural era captured in time that hasn’t changed. That’s what makes it a gem. I’m hoping the businesses thrive on Main Street, building energy for even more preservation.”

Her goal for her art is equally sunny.

“I just want to keep doing what I’m doing. I’m so happy. I have no idea what I might do next. My brain could go anywhere.”

Botanical Treasures

11 Maple St Franklin NY 13775

607-434-3076 Instagram is her preferred site.

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A General Store Story

UPDATE: I am delighted to report that this wonderful old store is under contract and the new sellers intend to keep it as a market in some revised form.

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That’s the official ad. It’s a general store. It’s in Cherry Valley. It’s for sale. But of course that’s just the beginning of the story. Let me tell you about Rury’s Food Store.

When I was a kid, my family had a cabin on 100 acres outside of Cherry Valley. We spent every summer there. I adored it and I loved the town of Cherry Valley. It was sleepy and friendly and quiet, and I was way too young to know or understand that Alan Ginsberg and a horde of wild-eyed artists had a place above town where they had a much more adventurous life than I did. But there was always something a bit more interesting in the air than you’d expect from a seemingly-forgotten small upstate New York town.

I brought my own kids to that cabin and we all have happy memories of their times there. To them,  this was the town where they could walk down the middle of the main street and only have to keep an eye out for a tractor or a dog. It’s where the library was the size of their house back home, and where they could find hilarious old comic books for sale in the back of the market down the road. And it’s where they could walk into Rury’s and enjoy the satisfying slam of a giant screen door and be welcomed by the same guy who used to greet their mom – Jake Rury.

My kids are grown now. And I’ve moved back to this area, drawn by a sense that I had to, finally, live here. I started talking to Jake, who was ready to sell his market. I really really wanted to run a general store. He let me run all over the building, and I learned there was a former lawyer’s office on the other side, two apartments on the second floor, and an absolutely incredible top floor space that was once used by the Mason’s.


It didn’t work out; my partner will do almost anything for me, but moving his music studio into an aging building in the middle of a town he hadn’t quite warmed to yet (though it won him over eventually) was a step too far. We found a happy compromise in Franklin – a town about an hour away but equally artsy and charming and beautiful. Rury’s closed.

And then Jake died.

His sons own the building and they’ve got no interest in running the store. I got in touch and asked if I could help. They said yes.

And so I find myself representing a property that I still wish I could have bought myself. I can envision the market that could become the new Rury’s (and I will hope the name stays). I picture an owner who loves small communities, who wants to come in and become a part of what’s here, who appreciates its quirky history, its summer tourism and its winter quiet. I picture a coffee pot that’s on in the winter for the plow guys if the local diner isn’t open yet, a place with a table or two where the elderly folks know they’re welcome to sit down and visit and the local kids know they’ll be greeted by name. And I can picture so many things on that amazing third floor that I simply cannot list them all.

I know this town, and it needs a market. It needs an anchor. Right now, folks have to drive twenty minutes for groceries that aren’t stocked at the town’s convenience store.

The new owner may have other plans. But I’m rooting for a market.

Jake Rury’s dad worked in that market, then Jake bought it and raised his family in the apartment upstairs. The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (A&P, remember) was once a competitor, but it’s gone. It’s a health care center now. There was a newer supermarket. It’s gone; now an insurance agency. This is one of Jake’s boys. He’s looking for someone to take over a live/work opportunity that kept his dad and his mom comfortable for their whole lives.



This is what’s on offer. It seems to be a good, solid old building. It’s a town that sees tourists from nearby Cooperstown and Sharon Springs in the summer. There’s a lot of updating to do, particularly the electric, so it requires clear heads. But there’s business in town, and there’s potential for this to be something very rewarding — and not just financially.






Let me tell you about Delhi. It’s probably somewhere you’ve visited, if you’ve come to the Catskills. It’s worth the trip. And it’s the gateway to so much of what I’m telling you about in this blog – it’s just the first stop.

Anyway, today I went to the closing of a listing I had in Delhi – a truly sweet old Victorian that very much deserves some love. It’s been a good shelter for a series of the sellers’ kids as they attended neighboring SUNY Delhi, but now it’s time for a new chapter.

IMG_2051 copy

I was early, so I did a little exploring. And I found some treasures.

First, there’s one I already knew about…the Blue Bee. The latest stop on Susan’s Upstate Caffeine Tour, and one you must visit. It’s not just the coffee. It’s the place. It’s the food. It’s about the most perfect cafe I’ve ever been to. And they make crepes on the weekends.


Scones. They have really good scones. For me, there’s nothing more to be said. But I’ve been there a few times, had breakfast and lunch, and it’s never been anything short of amazing. So there’s that.

Five out of five, Blue Bee.

But it’s not just about food. Let’s talk about a good old fashioned general store, and not one that’s all about food. Let’s talk about Stewart’s Department Store.

Do you like clothes with a bit of a country chic vibe? Needs some adorable clothes for the kids? Toys? Men’s clothes? How about yarn? Fabric? Or some great country decor? This place has it all in a gorgeous vintage building.

And then there’s Stone and Sawyer. It’s a very special kind of shop. They make lamps. Really cool ones. The kind that make visitors stop and say, “Wow – where’d you get that great lamp?”

There’s more, but these were my highlights today. And then there’s the angel…


Upstate, right?

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Getting Ready For Spring

red green fruit in close up photography

Photo by Pixabay on

Yes, I know. There are a million things wrong with this photo for this post. First, apples ripen in the fall, not the spring. Second, we got about three inches of snow last night.  Beyond that? I didn’t take the picture.

But there is spring light, we’ll turn the clocks forward soon, the local maple guy has hung his buckets on trees all over town, and the Franklin Library has announced it is hosting a session on “How to prune trees” next week.

Can spring be far behind?

I didn’t know that fruit trees need to be pruned in the winter, not in warm weather. Armed with this information, I did my best with the wildly overgrown pear tree (I think it’s pear, anyway) in the field. It bore no fruit at all last year and I suspect it’s because all its energy went into sprouting branches at an incredible rate. The problem is it is quite tall. So I did what I could.

The apple trees are closer to the ground and I trimmed some of their overgrowth, too. Maybe, in time, it’ll be a real orchard.

Inside, the brighter light isn’t kind to dirty windows but there’s no point in attacking that issue until the weather improves. The dust and the clutter we accumulated over the winter is another matter. Marie Kondo would be proud.

How about real estate, you ask? Or not. But if you’re thinking of  selling, tackle whatever projects you can before the good weather lures you outside to work in the yard. And if you think you want to buy, now’s a great time to get yourself pre-qualified by the lender of your choice. That way, when you go hunting, you’ll know just what you can afford.

Wondering where the coffee review went? It’ll be back. It was too darned messy out to explore. But coffee beckons…

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Susan’s Upstate Caffeine Tour: Stop Two: Coffee and a Bookstore

assorted books on shelf

Photo by Element5 Digital on

We all like a good view. This is one of my favorites. Books. Lots and lots of books.

There aren’t many things I like as well. But the city of Oneonta has a place that has two of my all time favorite things with a connecting door between them.  That’s right. Coffee and books. Can it possibly be any better than that?


white ceramic mug filled with coffee beside coffee beans

Photo by Janko Ferlic on

This magical place is called the Latte Lounge. It’s on Main Street in Oneonta, right next to The Green Toad Bookstore. They’re brick storefronts with massive, high ceilings and a big old door that opens between the two. You don’t even have to step outside.

Beyond the obvious (books and coffee, people!), there are other charms to the Latte Lounge. First, the brick walls. There’s something really wonderful about an old brick industrial building. And though I’m not enamored of every color choice made by the Lounge, who am I to complain? Coffee and books!

In fact, if you look on the Local Authors shelf in The Green Toad, you’ll see a familiar name. (I admit to a bit of shameless self-promotion.)

Plus, there are some absolutely WONDERFUL design elements in this coffee shop. They’ve got massive old industrial thingies that I, honestly, cannot identify. They have a huge curved window placed inside, creating a private little tabletop within the larger space. And they’ve got some great old Formica tables and chairs in the back, items that harken back to the days when Mom wore pearls and Father Knew Best.

There’s food at the Latte Lounge. All kinds of food.

I haven’t had any of it. What can I tell you? I’m there for the coffee. And the books.

But the baked goods look pretty good and the menu items look like they’d satisfy anyone who wasn’t just about the coffee.

How does the Latte Lounge rate on my brand new coffee spot ratings system?

I give it a four. And a half. It looks great, coffee is delicious. But they serve in paper cups, not ceramic mugs. It’s sensible; it’s a college town, people often wander into the bookstore.

But ceramic mugs are a very important part of my coffee experience. So I’ve gotta ding ’em a little for that. But that’s my only gripe.

So — you’re not from around these parts. Maybe you’re from Brooklyn. Where, you ask, is Oneonta? Isn’t that somewhere in the Adirondacks?

No, intrepid adventurer. Oneonta is arguably the threshold of central New York, if you’re traveling west from Albany. If you only travel on the Thruway, you’ll never see it. It’s off I-88, the least crowded four-to-eight lane toll-free highway I’ve ever driven on.

I’ve been told I shouldn’t mention the wonders of Delaware and Otsego Counties too loudly. I know from experience that can lead to a rather overwhelming tidal wave of Air BnBers and ZipCars.

But I trust you. If you like it here, you’ll like it because you get it. The charm, in part, is how surprising it is to find something kind of hip and urban surrounded by breathtaking hills and farmland. And, like me, you’ll want to share it.

You won’t spoil it. You’ll cherish it.

And don’t forget to visit the bookstore. Put a lid on your coffee, please.

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Susan’s Upstate Caffeine Tour- Stop One


This is Hoppie’s. It’s in the little town of Oxford, overlooking the village square. It’s a cafe/diner/community gathering spot.

It’s great. Let me explain why:

First, let’s talk about colors.



Hoppie’s gets colors. They have got the most glorious selection of blue and red and etched glass I’ve seen in a long time. And they augment with some very cool blue light bulbs. So right off the bat, you know these people have a personality.

Next, let’s talk about pies.


I really like pie. A lot. I don’t eat a ton of it, because I’m always trying to be conscious of what I’m eating (and is that ever tiresome!) but I never fail to delight in a place that has an assortment of pies.  Look at that picture. Hoppie’s does pies.

And then let’s talk about the setting. Oxford, NY.


This is Chenango County, between Binghamton and Albany, northwest of Delhi, for you Hudson Valley types. It’s not booming. But this town square is something really special, the setting for the Oxford Academy, their town school, is glorious, and there are little parks and boulevards scattered all over town. It has charm.

Yes, reader, I am smitten. If I wasn’t already madly in love with my own town (Franklin) and my childhood crush (Cherry Valley) I’d be wondering why we didn’t live there.

Prices are incredibly good, too. Good news for buyers, even if it’s a bit sad for sellers. But we know where we are, here in central New York. Brooklyn, for the most part, hasn’t found us yet. They’re going to be wild about us when they do.

Now — on to the coffee and the food. Breakfast all day, people. Need I say more? My sweetie ordered a pancake and was warned that it was as big as a plate. “Bring it on,” said he, and proceeded to polish it off along with eggs and home fries.

The coffee comes in a mug that the waitress dubbed “too small”, so she visited frequently for free refills. And we sat at a table by the window and played peek a boo with a toddler who found us pretty intriguing.

Hoppie’s rates a five out of five on the Caffeine Tour rating system I just invented. Hey, it’s my tour, I get to set the system and do the scoring.

Ambience, friendly folks, great setting, great coffee and good food. The stained glass put them over the top. I admit it.