Notes from a Jersey Girl

by Lisa G Westheimer


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Harriet, My Hero

Harriet Hobbs lives down the street on a farm at the edge of the marsh on a curve in the road on the way to Alec and Ann Marshall’s house.  She calls her place “Ryder Beach Farm.”  I call it paradise.  I can’t say she lives alone on the farm, but she is the only human there full time.  There are the 3 dogs- Frederica, Georgianna and Nelson who give you a heart attack as you come up the shell drive, 4 cats, 3 horses- Shot, Kadence and Gregor, and 13 chickens, all named.  The setting is idyllic- flowers abound, shingled cottage farm house, large white barn, horse paddocks, flag pole, bee hives, the works.

When most people see her spread they see an idyllic form of heaven.  I see a well oiled machine of self sustaining ecosystem, the beauty of nature, the love and companionship of animals, good times and a ton of hard work, constant manual labor, and a bottomless money pit.  But Harriet perseveres.  Renaissance woman, Harriet is a real estate attorney and runs the farm herself.  The horses keep her sane, mow the lawn and produce manure for the gardens.  The goats eat the poison ivy, food scraps and are a constant source of entertainment.  The chickens eat the ticks, food scraps, aerate the soil and produce eggs to sell and fertilizer for the gardens.  The bees pollinate the flowers, the gold fish eat the algae in the horse water tubs (though not as well as Harriet would like.)  The cats eat the mice and the dogs patrol for interlopers.  The human makes money to pay for it all and does all the heavy lifting and has thumbs, very useful for opening cans and feed bags.  She is the CEO, the groom, mucker, farm hand, landlord, maid, bottle washer.  She can be found cantering in the surf at low tide in the morning and walking with 3 dogs and 2 goats on the beach at sunset.  In between she’s moving chickens, checking in or cleaning up after guests and performing real estate closings and feeding everyone.  In winter she digs out and drives to New Hampshire every weekend where she is a ski instructor.  My hero.

It’s always a treat to go for a ride with Harriet.  She has 3 horses, magnificent beasts.  I usually ride Gregor, a huge warm blood.  She has them so well trained that when they see the bridle the put their heads down and open their mouths (Buddy I wish you could read!)  Sometimes Harriet will ride Shot, who is 32 and looks and acts like he’s 12.  He free ranges on the farm like a puppy, sometimes becoming quite the garden pest.

Shot munching on carefully tended garden

Shot munching on carefully tended garden

Riding Gregor at low tide on Ryder Beach

Riding Gregor at low tide on Ryder Beach

We tack up and head out, romp in the sand, return, turn out the horses then move the chickens.  Harriet has a system.  The chickens live in the walk-in cellar of her barn in a room surrounded by the rubble foundation wall, nice and constant temperature and very snug in the winter.  She has 2 contraptions for them to spend the days outside scratching and pecking at the ground eating bugs and enjoying the sunshine and cool breezes.  One is a triangular shaped thing made of wood and wire with handles on one end and wheels on the other for easy translocation, a door to get them in and out, a tarp for shade and a sign reading “eggs for sale.”

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The other is a plastic dome on wheels with handles covered in zip tied chicken wire with a tarp for shade and a door.

The chicken dome

The chicken dome

So how does one transfer a bunch of clucking chickens from a cellar room to an outdoor dome you ask?  Why by golf cart of course!  Harriet has a dog crate on top of a wagon that she attaches to her electric golf cart with a dog leash.  She stuffs the chickens in one by one (some of them know their names and sit for her when she calls to them!) hitches up the cart then they make their merry way to the dome. Yesterday she let me drive the cart and even forgave me when I stepped on the pedal going forward instead of reverse and almost slammed into the barn.

Loading the chicken train

Loading the chicken train

Have chickens will travel!

Have chickens will travel!

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Me driving the chicken train

Harriet and one of her chickens. It lays blue eggs!

Harriet and one of her chickens. It lays blue eggs!

It’s always a fun day at Harriet’s house on Ryder Beach Farm!

It may seem like all fun and games, but like I said, Harriet is the only full time human on premises.  Though I’ve only heard stories and never met him, Harriet had a wonderful husband, Travis Cresswell who sounded like quite the adventurer whether it be sailing to Antarctica, riding horses all over the world with Harriet, to skiing, sailing and diving, in essence everything she loves doing.  Tragically, Travis died in 2007, leaving Harriet to have adventures, run the farm, ski, travel and ride without him.  As you read this post it is clear Harriet isn’t sitting around waiting for life to happen to her, but she sure would love to have an equally adventurous Renaissance man in her life.  Faint of heart, un-athletic, sedentary, agoraphobic men who expect home cooked meals need not apply, but please feel free to send Harriet a nice man, USPS priority mail would work nicely, or contacting me through this blog.  I’m serious here, no fooling!


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Cape Cod, September 2015

View of Ryder Beach from 7W's

View of Ryder Beach from 7W’s

This September idyll was different than the usual in that the weather was warm, dry and sunny the entire time AND we went the week before Labor Day so there was more social action and human interaction than previous September vacations.  In addition, we had the cat and no human visitors.  There were the usual patterings of little feet skittering in the ceilings and walls to keep us entertained and the dog tortured.

Chipmunk chattering in the wall. Life is just not fair!

Chipmunk chattering in the wall. Life is just not fair!

What’s great about being here in September is, barring any recent injuries, we are both in tip top physical shape, so we are up for any kind of activity and any wife survival test is usually passed with flying colors.  Lots and lots of biking to be had, in particular a thrilling ride on single track through the woods near the ocean.  We had done this ride in September,, “a short reconnaissance ride” that turned out to be an 18 mile wife survival test.  But I passed and we found this really cool segment near Long Nook Beach worthy of further exploration.

Single track parallel to Long Nook Beach.

Single track parallel to Long Nook Beach.

Weeeeee! There's a reason why it's called Paradise Hollow!

Weeeeee! There’s a reason why it’s called Paradise Hollow!

In the early mornings, the routine is, Bill rides to get the paper; Lisa takes the dog jogging for an hour, and once for an eight mile walk on the sand paths in the “hollows” near the house.  Later in the day there is either horseback riding for Lisa and a long bike ride for Bill or some sort of biking adventure for Bill and Lisa while the dog recovers at home and the cat rests up thinking of ways to keep us awake all night.

A tired dog is a good dog. Petey after a long jog.

A tired dog is a good dog. Petey after a long jog.

Don't let that innocent face fool you!

Don’t let that innocent face fool you!

Lots to see and do this time, much of it with our friend Harriet.  There is an entire post devoted just to her.  This time we were very happy to be here to attend her annual Labor Day weekend cocktail party on the farm.  Beautiful setting, wonderful people, good food and drink, lively conversation.  You just can’t beat it.

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I brought her some Cape Cod Lightening that I made out of beach plums picked at 7W’s last year.  It’s a hooch made from fresh beach plums, vodka, sugar and cinnamon sticks from a recipe passed to me from Maysie.  It was a huge hit at the party, not a drop left at the end of the evening.  Many of the ladies in attendance who sampled it said that none of their recipes include the cinnamon, but we all knew Maysie was quite the renegade.

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Nary a drop left at the end of the cocktail party. I didn’t have a label or tape, but first aid tape and a sharpie worked fine!

Bill took some lovely shots of views from the deck.  Plenty of seals paid visits just before sunset each day, and many people were out enjoying the water with friends.

Seal on the move!

Seal on the move!

A boy, a dog, a paddle board.

A boy, a dog, a paddle board.

Perfect weather for kayaking!

Perfect weather for kayaking!

Soon we’ll be packing up the house, packing up ourselves, and packing up the pets to head home for the season, car jam packed with canine nose on feline box,

Beagle nose peeking out behind the seat, chin resting on top of cat box. Cat not pleased.

Beagle nose peeking out behind the seat, chin resting on top of cat box. Cat not pleased.

and a stop at Uncle Willie’s BBQ, exit 42 I-95 in New Haven for a burnt ends on a kaiser roll.

A stop to worship at the shrine of burnt ends on a kaiser roll: Uncle Willie's BBQ!!!

A stop to worship at the shrine of burnt ends on a kaiser roll: Uncle Willie’s BBQ!!!

See you soon 7W’s!


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Cape Cod, June 2015

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We usually go to Cape Cod twice a season, once around Memorial Day and once around Labor Day.  We are crowd averse, not fans of hot weather and not known to sit on beaches so these dates on the cusp of either end of the summer suit us fine.  We also detest traffic, so we usually travel to and from on a weekday, after rush hour.  We’re also pretty boring and predictable once there, so in addition to being in Truro while the gainfully employed masses with children are otherwise engaged, we are usually alone while here, except for a few intrepid, unencumbered friends.

Our time is devoted mainly to riding bikes both on and off road, jogging, horseback riding, (sometimes all in the same day,) occasionally trying to drown each other in a 2 seater kayak, eating and sleeping, with a few local cocktail parties thrown in for color and texture.  Oh and lets not forget the endless list of minor repairs requiring attention in the 7W shack held together by duct tape and baling wire.  This year we went the first 2 weeks of June and from the last day of August until September 11, that auspicious day, known as Bill’s birthday.

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Was COLD! No matter, the house now has a propane fueled fireplace insert that makes the place, along with the closing of strategic windows and doors and creative layering of warm weather clothing, tolerable.  If it gets really cold while at the house I also bake a cake.  This year, since the horses were still at Sheila’s farm, and Petey and Riley are both are old enough to be somewhat mellow and more inclined to be homebodies, we took both dog and cat with us so we could close up the house in West Orange completely and save money on pet sitting.

The last time we took Riley the cat with us was when Moochie the cat was still alive.  Traveling with Mooch was easy- just show him his litter box, food and water dish and he was good to go.  He didn’t like the car ride but once there could be depended on to hang out tranquilly, and once daily he did a lap around the outside of the house to check things out before settling in the sun on the deck for the rest of the day.  Moochie was one cool cucumber.

Moochie supervising packing

Moochie supervising packing

Riley, on the other hand, is a handful.  He cries the entire 6 hour drive.  He cries when the surf is up.  He cries when unattended.  He also has been known to cry plaintively and relentlessly all night long while standing on the threshold of our bedroom.  He also is terrified of anyone other than Bill and I, and would spend the entire time we were in residence hiding between the 4 inch gap between the first floor ceiling and the second story floor, until my brother-in-law Kevin, who should be sainted for this small miracle, put up a screen in the opening to the left of the top of the stairs.

Well, we figured he’s 14 now and old enough to have settled down somewhat or at least gone deaf and too tired to get into trouble, so we took him.  He cried almost the whole way but not the entire trip.  And found a nice safe hiding spot in between the mattress and box spring of the day bed in the second floor great room.  He spends the nights on the bed on our feet (to make sure we don’t leave without him in the middle of the night) and the days alternating between the floor of the bedroom closet, under the bed, or in the little lair in the day bed.

Is the coast clear???

Is the coast clear???

To keep the beagle in  his place Riley’s food is in dishes placed on top of the bedroom dresser, and his litter box is on the floor right there in the corner on top of layers of garbage bags and old towels JUST IN CASE HE MISSES.  I put his scratching post there until I caught him peeing (wtf?!!!) on it.  (Thank God for the garbage bag!)  Cats, I swear.  They are out to kill us humans one way or another, if not by tripping us on the way to the bathroom or down the stairs in the middle of the night or giving us heart attacks by their bathroom behavior in a house you share with many other people.

Anyway, in June it was COLD!  You can tell how cold it is by how snug the furry animals are.

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Summers on Cape Cod: Introduction

7W sunset

7W sunset

When Bill was 10 years old (I was either about to be born or a brand new infant) Bill’s parents bought a house on a dune overlooking Cape Cod bay in Truro, Massachusetts. It cost the un-Godly sum of $19,000, an amount that kept Bill’s father awake at night for several years. So extravagant! It was built in 1900 as a vacation house for a family who took the train that ran on tracks not too far away and schlepped all their trunks and such to their summer idyll by cart. It has a deck facing west with a terrific view of Provincetown and is a front row seat for amazing sunsets. There is a long stretch of tranquil beach at the bottom of a very long steep flight of stairs (longer if you are carrying a kayak) and far enough from the public beach to have the whole place to oneself. Being the bay the water is warm and usually tranquil with wonderful low tides that allow walking and wading far out off the beach.

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Truro, MA
Provincetown, MA

During World War II the house was used for a K-9 division of the Coast Guard, who patrolled the dunes day and night on foot looking for enemy submarines. (Legend has it that a German sub did make it into the bay once, but didn’t get very far.) I have read books about the type of patrols made during that time, imagine, alone on foot on the top of a dune with no lantern, maybe a dog, in an area where at the time there were no lights of cities and towns off in the distance, just you, your dog, the surf and wild animals skittering around in the grass and bushes. Creepy.

It was just revealed to me at a Ryder Beach cocktail party (so you know it’s true) that the house was “acquired” for use by the Coast Guard due to it being confiscated by the authorities during Prohibition for rum running.  Apparently boats full of liquor would come and go from the house to distribute contraband hooch and the operation got busted and the house taken for more patriotic use.

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7W's sits right on the edge of the dune, don't sneeze! It has been moved back 3 times since it was built in 1900.

7W’s sits right on the edge of the dune, don’t sneeze! It has been moved back 3 times since it was built in 1900.

The house is a shack, plain and simple. It came fully furnished from the time it was first built and when it was the Coast Guard station. (The liquor, unsurprisingly vanished but the house, true to its former use is always well stocked.) There is no heat. There is no dishwasher. Wiring and plumbing are pretty tenuous. The dining room is yellow and the furniture in it orange. It is furnished with junque. Naturally it has wifi, a fax machine, printer, washer and dryer, we aren’t philistines you know. It is a place frozen in time on a dune at the end of a sparsely populated street where most residents knew each other since they were little. Bill’s parents have both passed and now the house is shared by their 5 children and their 5 spouses, “the 5 nieces” (Tom and John’s daughters) and their husbands and their children (8 in total so far.) A great feature of this house is we all get to share and overlap with if we please or not.

It is a wonderful place. It is a bubble frozen in time. It is the unofficial Charles and May Westheimer memorial museum, filled with many of their things. Each of us has our own very special and individual connection to the house. In our own way we are all very passionate about it. What’s great about it to me is that we all share it and its contents: there are tons of flip flops, hats, beach toys, chairs, old bikes, kayaks, flags, a cornucopia of outdated cook books, kitchen appliances, gadgets and tools. It feels as if all the Westheimers are there in residence, including Charles and May, they’re just off doing fun Cape Cod things, be back soon. It also is so rustic and so unpretentious that if something breaks who cares and repairs can be done along the lines of what you would find on Gilligan’s Island.

There are a couple sacrosanct rules: never dare change the color of a room or throw out one of the living room chairs even though sitting down makes one’s butt hit the floor and a crane is needed to exit. And never ever even think inside your head that there should be a dishwasher in the kitchen. That would probably lead to a haunting. May believed that having crowds of people in the kitchen cleaning up at the end of a meal was a great social experiment as important as sharing the bathrooms and not looking out the window when someone is using the outside shower. And please, put the flags back in the correct order in their sleeves on the porch.

Bill and I are allergic to crowds and flexible with our schedule so we go to the Cape at the beginning of June and just after Labor Day, in other words, off season. There are great joys in that strategy. We can get there without getting tangled in seasonal traffic, get into our favorite restaurants, not get too sun burned and sometimes (although I think they figured this out recently) the prices of goods are cheaper off season, and take the dog to the beach anytime. There is a downside: opening the house usually reveals many surprises, like a family of raccoons in residence in the crawl space under the bath tub, nuts and berries literally squirrelled away under bedroom pillows and once, when opening a drawer, I had the misfortune of disturbing a momma mouse and her 5 babies asleep in the kleenex box. Momma leapt out of the box to be caught on the fly in the jaws of Petey our beagle who did not understand why I should run around screaming and waving my arms the way I did after such a fine catch. He also carried the thing around in his mouth with the tail sticking out until Bill came on the scene. Both I and now mouse-less dog were told to go for a long walk while he took care of the orphans. OMG.

Since many fond memories are created at 7W’s and the rest of the Cape sit back and enjoy tales both tall and small of our times in residence there.