Thursday, December 15, 2011

Backstage at the Thanksgiving Show

Husband and Guest doing a frogstand

      I’m not quite sure how it started.  How the first germ of an idea came to be or how it developed into the extravaganza it is today.  Perhaps it was the Adirondack family fitness challenge, which could do the most sit-ups, push-ups and pull –ups that provided the spring board.  Maybe it was the constant climbing/ dance lifts my niece Cara did onto my now husband then boyfriend’s back that clearly needed a performance opportunity that spurred us on.  Or maybe the fact that Grandpa Dave, mom and I would sometimes casually sing together provided an inspiration.
        Whatever it was led us down the path of the annual post dinner Thanksgiving show. No sitting around after dinner regretting our gluttonous intake with our belts loosened; we were ready for action. It started small with my niece Cara singing the repetitive song Mr. Pumpkin, followed by one of my brother’s twin sons Jeremy executing his hand stands.  Next, Grandpa Dave would take out his harmonica and play something down home like the “Swanee River.”  To bring back the vaudevillian flavor of our program, my brother and I would then perform the family frog stands on the rug.  Those who could like my husband’s nephew Tommy, the twins Jeremy and Greg as well as my husband Johnny joined us.  Cara and Johnny would perform a few ballet lifts and we would finish off the show with an uplifting rendition of “Amazing Grace.”  Grandpa Dave, my mom and I would sing the first verse and then everyone would join us on the remaining verses.
      I think you see where we are going with the show; nothing too typical, nothing professional, the unusual was favored.   We used our lesser talents and brought forth are parlour tricks, if you will.   My husband and I are professional dancers and performers but have never used that as an act; we prefer to do frog stands or acts of flexibility.  An Argentine Tango just wouldn’t fit in.  In addition, I produced the show yearly and Johnny was our unflappable MC.  I seem to have the talent of creating something out of nothing, putting a spin on it and justifying it.  He, on the other hand, had the talent of communicating this to the audience with conviction, comedy and drama.
       What kind of family puts on these yearly events?  Well, “the show” never occurred until I met my husband and his family and we started having our annual Thanksgiving celebration up at our camp in the Adirondacks.  We all slept there for two to three nights so perhaps our personalities coupled with cabin fever provided the right atmosphere for our theatrics.  My husband’s family is artists of varying talents, and my brother’s family is divided between sports for the three guys and dance for my niece and her mom Bonnie.  On top of this each family possesses some circus like abilities; my husband’s family is extremely flexible through the hips and my brother’s family has unusual balance.  As the producer, I have exploited both characteristics to provide comedy and oddness for our annual shows.
       Over time new family members arrived and with the new additions, the show altered. As the creator and producer, I was thankful for the additions, as putting a new and interesting spin on Mr. Pumpkin and a frog stand every year had become challenging.  Tommy’s girlfriend Melissa (now wife) joined us in 2000, and my family expanded to include two boys Joey and Lucas in 2002.  Thanksgiving 2002 included the mystery of the stolen prince that involved my 10 week child and somehow tied the whole thing together.  Tommy was always fun by himself but now with the addition of Melissa they would add an act that entailed art.  No slouch in the athletic category, Tommy also participated in the flexibility category while last year Melissa somehow sustained her yoga headstand next to my flailing headstand that lasted all of 2 seconds before falling three times.  Persistence is one of my strengths and downfalls, as I continued to say “I got it, just one more try.”
       Sadly, the theater was black in 2008 when Thanksgiving was in New York City without my brother’s family and we were uninspired with half the cast missing.  However, in 2009 we were back together in Vermont and the New Yorkers made the six hour trip up to Stowe, Vermont for the Holiday.  I’m going to say that this was one of our better shows.  Grandpa Dave had written his own introduction for his musical performance and had a costume, Tommy and Melissa had planned some camera flashing in the dark outlining the body act, the flexibility acts with the Martinez hips and my head to toe touching flexible back were impressive and the dog obedience act outdid itself.  We were back.
Son executing the frogstand
       Of course no show is complete without an audience and we were lucky to every year have Uncle Freddie, Johnny’s mom Carmen and Cream Puff (Uncle Freddie’s dog) as our consistent fan club.  My brother was also in the audience but annually made his walk to the stage with dignity to perform his requisite frog stand and his wife Bonnie (also in the audience) was frequently involved in a dog act.  My mom, sitting in the audience, rose every year to sing the finale “Amazing Grace” with solid harmony. The rest of us were running around backstage in the dining room and kitchen readying ourselves for our barely rehearsed acts.
       Thanksgiving 2010 was filled with joy to be together but tinged with sadness as the Adirondack house was for sale and we were quite sure it would be our last Thanksgiving there. Nonetheless, the show must go on and we received new inspiration that year in the form of the neighbors.  We had just found out that new friends (the Maxwells) in Saratoga had a home down the road from us in Speculator and they were joining us for dinner.  They took their food and theater seriously, bringing all sorts of goodies to eat and arriving for the show with a violin and a reading from Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales.”  I’m not sure anyone quite knew how to take the first thirty seconds of Otis’s reading of “The Canterbury Tales” in Middle English wearing a unique hat, but within minutes, we realized that it fit the 19th century salon theater style we craved and embraced it.  Hence, we had ushered in a new era of “the dramatic reading.”
       The Maxwells were not the only new performers that year.  Logan Blaise Martinez (heir to Tommy and Melissa) had entered the world and was debuting at the age of eight and one/half months.  Actually, he was in two acts; the first being a series of unusual baby sounds assisted by Tommy and he opened up the lift act.  I am practically proud of this further development of Johnny and Cara’s lift act which had grown a little predictable and needed a new spin.  I called this act – the unaware, the bizarre and the classical.  Tommy and Logan did some interesting poses in which Logan unaware of his participation was highly cooperative.  Lucas and I on the other hand worked our butts off.  Lucas and I frequently do lifts at home and it was time to bring it to the public combining my strength and sense of drama with Lucas’s flexibility and passion for the bizarre.  We concluded the lift segment with some classical ballet lifts with Johnny and Cara who has now grown to 5 foot 7 inches.  As always, the frog stand is done as both a nod to the tradition of our show and a nod to vaudeville.  Amazingly, it never gets old.
       To bring you up to date with our most recent show, I’m going to say that it was one of our most casual shows.  With our beloved Adirondack home now sold, we hosted Thanksgiving this year in Saratoga. Additionally, it was my birthday, so my energy was high but I started to slow down after dinner and had not given the show as much forethought.  Unfortunately, we were missing my brother’s family but I did have many people from which to cast the show from.  Providence prevailed and the arrival of some new guests and presence of the Maxwell’s violin and dramatic reading script pushed me into action.  Within fifteen minutes, I had auditioned a hoola hoop participant, secured some audience participation on the frog stand and put together a show order.  I notified the sound man (Joey), the MC (Johnny), cleared the living room floor of the Greco/Roman pre-show act going on by the four young boys and organized the audience.
       Somehow the show always comes together and this year was no different featuring a wonderful harmonica act, a hoola hoop act, a poem, a violin and piano duet, a Thanksgiving reading, a gymnastic feat of cart wheeling into the chair, a piano solo, a reading of the menu from the Thanksgiving dinner at the NYC Delmonico Hotel in 1888 and of course our closing song “Amazing Grace.”  New audience members appeared simply stunned after some of the acts before clapping. We aim to please.
        Perhaps not our best show, but entertaining nonetheless and after the music, the solemn readings and the comedic physical acts, we bring it all together with the singing of the song ‘Amazing Grace.”  As we face each other and sing our thanks with moist eyes, I am touched by our ability to do our show in any location.  In past years our strains of Amazing Grace drifted across the quiet Adirondack lake and the solemn November landscape. Now our voices carry out into the Saratoga Thanksgiving evening and a passerby can look in and see a group facing each other with meaning and grace.  No television, cell phone or computer required.  Just us and our many “talents.” It is a time worth revisiting.  It is a time worth preserving.

Diane Lachtrupp Martinez

Author performing the frogstand


Thursday, November 3, 2011


       I thought I had hit an all time low when I was wearing one Halloween sock and one Christmas sock last week, but no, I was capable of going lower.  Saturday evening, I had a performance at a benefit; I was to dance a Tango solo with my husband, Johnny, and a group Latin piece with two other dancers in our company Tango Fusion.  In my preparations of gathering together my costumes, my three pairs of dance shoes, my jewelry, hair products, gloves, thong and fishnets, I added red toe nail polish to a small bag of make-up.  After doing our run-through at 7pm, I had one hour and fifteen minutes before show time, seemingly enough time to do make-up, paint toe-nails and don my costume. Please note, that my Latin costume required open toed shoes and decent polish was a must as my August pedicure had seen better days.
       So – I go to polish my nails, only to discover, that the little bag that held the polish, had been left behind along with two bracelets and some make-up.  No one had polish so one of the dancers suggested red magic marker.  Excellent idea and since we were dressing in a pre-school room with art supplies my luck was returning.  Simultaneously another dancer’s gaze and mine went to the top of a shelf and we saw  a container with art paint.  Its contents revealed a number of containers of red paint featuring an array of colors.  I chose a straight forward red that we’ll call “lipstick red” selected for its’ hopeful potential to wash off.
       So there I was, with my foot propped up, tissues separating my toes, using a small  art paintbrush to color my nails with watercolors.  In and of itself, not so bad, but after being down to one pair of daytime earrings and one pair of evening earrings for the last couple of weeks and after being able to only pull together one Halloween sock and one Christmas sock to wear with slacks, I felt I was at a very low point in regards to accessory organization.  In my defense, I am high functioning: mother, wife, family gal, friend, dance teacher, dancer, choreographer, writer, volunteer, cook, gardener, tennis player, book lover, assistant soccer coach and party thrower extraordinaire – so something has got to give.
       I had recovered fairly well from a huge sock fight that we had in the spring; most of my socks made it back to their original pair.  (In the heat of the battle, many pairs come undone) But our last skirmish in late September left me undone.  My younger son was in charge of repairing the socks and although capable of organization, this was not one of those times.  Couple the sock fight with the fact that we had yet to really put everything back in place from our summertime rental  and you have the recipe for missing clothing, accessories, paperwork, etc.  Upon entering your home at the end of the rental season, you are filled with high hopes of maintaining the order that you thrust upon your home for the rental; you vow to put the contents of packed away boxes in their place.  Then school and fall activities start and your goals are pushed aside; boxes remain unpacked and the socks that you didn’t take with you are difficult to locate.

 As I wait for my toe nail polish to dry, I reflect on what socks and earrings have in common.  Ah – they are in twos.  This leads me to wonder what else comes in twos on my body and what will be the next jeopardized accessory.  Let’s see, I have two eyes, but fortunately the contact lens case connects the two lenses so that helps.  I have two breasts and as luck would have it the bra cups are attached, so no mismatching there.  Oh-oh –shoes, yes shoes I believe are next.  They are not attached when not on my body.  Well - I am forewarned.  Wish me luck.

Diane Lachtrupp Martinez

Saturday, October 15, 2011


Prepping for the next onslaught of runners
“Do you have the water poured?”

“Did that earlier.”
“Is the music playing yet?”
“Working on it.”
“What time are they coming?”
“I thought I had three more minutes.”
“Nope. The lead runners are out there now.  Is our eldest up yet?”
“Not counting on it.  I’ll try.”
“See you out front.”
       Two minutes later, I burst out our front door to see scores of runners passing our front porch on White St.  I see a friend running past and yell out, “Uwe.”  He turns to me with a smile, a wave and a “Hi.”  It is one of our favorite times of the fall, the Melanie O’Donnell 5K and half marathon run.  The race goes right by our home and this was the fifth year that we had provided a water station.
       Five years ago, we awoke on a Sunday to find the race in progress and decided to set up an impromptu water stand.  My husband set up the speakers on the front porch serenading the runners with the Rocky Theme Song as they passed.  It brought a smile to many as they passed and to others gave them the boost they needed to keep going.
       We set up a folding table with hard plastic cups that we would fill with water from our storage of spring water.  Johnny would pour and the boys and I would stand on the street and do the hand off to the runners.  As the race continued, we experienced a variety of hand-offs.  Some runners smoothly take the water from our outstretched hands without a glitch and others manage to douse both us and themselves. When we ran out of cups, I would run inside, wash them and start all over again. We stayed until the last runner walked by, our voices sore from yelling encouragement and our clothes wet from sloppy hand-offs.
       The next day, our doorbell rang and a member of the Melanie O’Donnell 5K committee dropped by with gifts for us.  Apparently, many runners had mentioned our stop as being inspiring and memorable and they wanted to thank us with four excellent tote bags.  We had been unofficially voted – “Best Water Station.”  We didn’t do it for the recognition but our family was thrilled by the thanks and totes.
       Over the next two years, our water station grew.  Now we had more cups, placed the garbage can more strategically and started to perfect our hand-offs.  In addition, some of the neighbors came to expect our station and would drop by to help out.
       There are several different hand-offs: 1) the water bearer stands with the cup in their outstretched arm and the still moving running takes the cup as they pass, 2) the runner actually stops to take the water from us and then starts up again and 3) we (the water bearers) run alongside the runner for the hand –off without a second of running time being wasted.  It is the most challenging hand-off and the most satisfying for me.  However, be warned that the front runners are usually not interested in water and you should waste little of your energy and theirs inquiring.
       By the fourth year, we were invited to be an official stop- we had arrived.   The committee provided the table, the cups, the garbage bags, the water, the Gatorade and the exciting addition of bananas.  We provide the road space, the manpower and our signature tunes – Rocky’s Theme still being a favorite.  At some point, a half marathon had also been added, so we were busier for a longer period of time.
       This past year, (September 18, 2011) for some reason became confusing. We didn’t have our eye on the date of the race and the committee forgot to call us.  Late Saturday night, before the Sunday race, we agreed to have the water station.  During the early dawn hours, my husband and I heard the supplies being delivered to the front of our home and then went back to sleep.
       Since the race wasn’t completely on my radar, I overslept and experienced the panic of throwing on clothes, checking in with my husband (who was on it and already had sliced bananas) and running outside only to find out I had missed the first 30 runners or so.  However, all was not lost as the committee had in addition to all the supplies, also sent us a water station staff.  Perfect.
       While the staff (Dave and Jake) was holding down the fort, I ran inside to wake my sons.  When I woke my younger son by telling him that the runners were coming –NOW- he summed it up by saying, “It’s the best thing we do in September, next to my Birthday.”  He jumped out of bed, dressed and ran outside to join the fun.  My older’s son response was less enthusiastic, as he grunted, rolled his eyes and rolled over.
       Now that our household was mostly up, I ran outside again to work the station.  Jake and younger son were pouring two gulp size portions into cups and I joined Dave in handing out our beverages.  I suggested to him that we each take a side of the street and announce our wares.  Over the next 30 minutes, we yelled out “Water here” and “Gatorade there” indicating each other’s product.  I recognized many of the runners and many of them recognized us from years past.  Apparently, when I was inside, a runner asked Dave, “Where’s that woman who is usually here?”   People counted on our water station for our enthusiasm and music.
       At some point there was a lull before the half marathoners came and we foolishly thought that the bulk of the runners had gone by us.  Not so!! A biker came by us to let us know that the leaders were 5 minutes out.  No big deal.  We got this. Normally, the 5K is the larger of the two categories.  Not this year.  The half marathon had hundreds of runners and we were about to be swarmed.
       The first half marathoner runner went flying by us politely refusing a beverage or banana – all business.  It was the same with the next 25 runners – beverages are not a priority.  We looked west on White St. towards Nelson and saw a horde of runners heading for us.  We were down to 20 pre-poured water glasses and about 15 pre-poured Gatorades.  To add to our crisis, the large vat of water with the spigot was almost out and we were left with pouring water from bottles which is significantly slower.  My 9 year old ran in the house in to fill the pitcher and I left my hand out position to just pour with Jake. 
       Fortunately, back-up had arrived as well in the form of my teenage son and a neighbor who had just finished the 5K with his young son.  My younger son, Jake and I poured intensely and my older son, the neighbor and Dave hawked the drinks.  There were times, when we were pouring a drink and handing it straight away to be handed out.  Soon, we were 50 waters ahead and 50 Gatorades ahead and I went back to handing out. (My favorite position)
       Interesting enough, we discovered that the runners in the earlier part of the half-marathon wanted water and people halfway back and more preferred Gatorade.  We were constantly adjusting to meet the needs of the athletes.
        Soon, another issue reared its’ ugly head – the trash.  The trash barrel was overflowing and mis-thrown cups were all over the road.  My teenage son stepped in to help out and some smaller neighborhood children helped pick them up.  Many runners were concerned with making the garbage can with their toss.
        By 9:30am, business had become intermittent.  But – I still like to be out there for each runner offering water, music and words of encouragement.  I stepped away for 15 minutes to run my kids to religious instruction.  They were unhappy as they enjoy participating to the end.  When I came back, Jake and Dave said that we were down to a runner a minute.  Soon the last runners came by followed by the monitoring bike to announce that it was over.  I cleaned up, sad that it was over.
        The next day in the paper we read to the statistics to say that there had been 500 5K runners and 800 half marathoners. That explained a lot.  What a great way to interact with so many people so quickly and so meaningfully.  The runners are all appreciative with a smile, a wave or a thanks and I am always touched by the neighbors who drop in and start helping unasked.  No words are needed.

Author's older son executing the water hand-off.

Monday, September 19, 2011


A view in the southern Czech Republic town of Znojmo

 By - Diane Lachtrupp Martinez
Special to the Times Union  

     Explaining that you have gluten and dairy allergies to a waiter is challenging enough but asking for gluten-and dairy-free meals in Czech takes it to another level.  Preparing for a recent trip to Czech Republic with my mom, who speaks a little Czech, and by brother, who speaks none, I knew I’d need a better knowledge of the language than my one Czech song, if I was to avoid the socially averse physical reactions of food allergies and, possibly, a trip to the ER.  I thought preparation, good manners and charm were needed to ensure that I could get food that I could eat.

Gluten-free meal on Delta Airlines.

      First the airlines.  We asked our travel agent to request a gluten-and dairy-free meal.  That being done I decided to start working on my Czech pleasantries so that I could garner waiter cooperation.   Food is important to me and I wasn’t interested in an endless parade of grilled chicken on a mixed green salad.  I wanted the real deal -local Czech food.  I consulted my Czech dictionary and found out that please is “prosím” and that thank you is “dĕkuji  vám.”   Further research revealed the phrase “I am allergic to…” “Jsem allergicka na…” and I looked up the word for wheat “pšenici” and milk “mléko” to finish my phrase. 
      Before going, I searched for useful web sites and I found these useful for information: (for restaurant suggestions), (for purchasing gluten –free products) and for articles about traveling gluten-free in different countries including the Czech Republic.  Most of the web sites were geared to Prague and had little regarding some of the smaller cities that we would be traveling to.

      As a final preparation, I took along some gluten-free bread and crackers and some rice cheese.  While getting settled in your new digs, you may not have time to search for the closest health food store or market.  I always travel with my bread and cheese, so I can enjoy a sandwich anywhere and toast with my eggs.  My go-to snacks are hummus, nuts and dried fruit.  While other travelers may be able to grab a quick yogurt, health bar or cheese as a small meal, I am limited.
      Once on our way, we found Delta had honored my request as a gluten-and dairy-free passenger and delivered to me a respectable dinner of flavorful chicken, rice, vegetables, salad and a fruit salad.  Before landing in the morning, they provided me with a rice cake, fruit and meat and cheese.  Truth be told, my food looked better and fresher than my fellow passengers who were dining on the regular fare.
      But, I had yet to be put to the true test.  After checking into our hotel by the Charles Bridge, we ventured out for lunch.  We happened upon a Czech/Austrian restaurant in an open square.  I tried out my phrase  ” Jsem allergicka na pšenici ” on the waiter and he tilted his head to the side in confusion.  I repeated it several times and eventually he understood, broke into his excellent English and corrected my phrase to include the word for gluten “lepek” as opposed to wheat.  Our waiter,  Hanza, was generous and tweaked and rehearsed my phrase.  My pronunciation of the word for dairy had been so laughable Hanza suggested I stick with the word for milk to express myself.  After a tasty meal of boiled beef, grilled fish, potatoes and vegetables, I left the restaurant with a satisfied tummy, a new confidence and an invaluable piece of paper that now read “Jsem allergicka na lepek” and “Jsem allergicka na mléko.”
      The following day we stopped for lunch at a small restaurant in Staré Mĕsto (Old Town) where they were offering beverage, soup and bread for 75 Korunas about $4.50.  After a couple of tries with my new allergy statement, the waitress understood and said in Czech that the lentil soup contained no lepek or mléko.  Without prompting, she added a rice cake to the side of my bowl.  Although it was one of our simplest meals, I was touched by her thoughtfulness.  We communicated through my one sentence in Czech, her 10 words of English and my mom’s understanding of a few words.
      Our final morning in Prague, and after two days of eggs and toast, I decided to try and communicate a favorite meal of mine to the staff at our hotel.  The buffet breakfast was lovely with fruit, eggs (no milk) sausages, smoked meats, cheeses, yogurts, croissants and an assortment of breads.  It was heavy on dairy and gluten, so I was limited.  I brought my bread and rice cheese down to the dining room and tried to ask that it be grilled panini style.  After a couple of minutes of incomprehension,  the dining room staff sent me to the kitchen to talk to Tatiana, the cook, who spoke absolutely no English.  After five minutes of pointing to pans, butter and my bread and rice cheese, we were making a grilled cheese sandwich together.  Thrilled with my communication and my new breakfast, I headed back to the dining room, my mother and brother wondering what had happened to me.  
      About halfway through our trip my brother,  frustrated with witnessing my thrice daily long communications with the wait-staff, suggested I simply write it down.  Of course that’s a great idea for those who are shy to try the language, but I wasn’t.   I was there to take in the culture, eat the local food and try to speak their language.  I was meeting with great success with my sentence and, as a result of my allergies, was enjoying great experiences with the local Czechs.  He suggested his idea more than once and I ignored it more than once.
      While staying in the small town of Mikulov, near the Austrian border, we decided to go for lunch in the nearby chateau town of Lednice.  Soon after arriving, we received directions to a local restaurant; and local it was.  Our waiter spoke not a word of English, the menu was completely in Czech and my trusty allergy phrase seemed to mean little to him.  After a five minute futile discussion of the menu, the man at the table next to us could not take it a moment longer and broke into our conversation and offered his help.   We welcomed it and soon were eating a delicious gluten-and dairy-free meal of roast pork, potatoes and vegetables.  We sent a round of beer to the helpful man and his table companions and enjoyed our conversation with them which……. would not have occurred if I did not have food allergies.
      As to shopping for food, the large markets in Prague contained gluten-free products and dairy alternatives.  In the small city of Znjomo, I found a health food store that had a number of gluten-and dairy free-products, a helpful proprietress who spoke only Czech and a friendly customer who stepped in.  Gluten-and dairy-free issues are definitely on their radar.
Gluten-free bread from the health food store in Znojmo
Note the wheat symbol crossed out in the upper right corner.

     So- go forth and travel with your food allergies to the Czech Republic.  Remember  to contact the airline and hotel in advance and practice your Czech pleasantries.  If a molecule of gluten is an issue for you, stick to the restaurants listed on the web sites.  If your allergy is not as severe, then dine in mainstream restaurants, practice your phrase with enthusiasm and a smile and expect cooperative waiters and shopkeepers.  If  you must resort to English as your means of communication, ask politely if they speak English. Don’t assume.  Finally, take satisfaction in the fact that there are many wonderful Czech meals to be had without gluten and dairy.

Friday, September 2, 2011


      Along with hundreds of other Saratogians, we rent our home every summer for the racetrack season.  Our rental habit started as soon as we purchased our home July 16th 2004 and rented it the next day for the full track season.  Our family of four did not move to Saratoga from New York City until February of 2005, so we had a taste of the rental bug immediately.  We did full seasons in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009 and then after a challenging 2009 summer, we decided just to rent our home for two to three weeks as opposed to the entire season for several reasons: 1) We became homesick.  Emotionally it was draining to be out of our home so long. Although, we usually travelled at least part of the rental period to some great places like Prince Edward Island, Costa Rica and Europe,  when we were in town staying at my mom’s we would always find ourselves driving by the house with longing, covetous looks.  2)  The preparation to ready a home for a six and a half week resident is overwhelming for a family with two active boys.  While a week long renter is happy with one dresser and partially emptied closet per bedroom and one kitchen cupboard for dry goods, the full season renter requires emptying all dressers, all closets and more kitchen cupboards.  3) Preparing ourselves to depart for six and a half weeks is staggering.  During that time, we have never done just one activity and remained stationary – No – we have to be prepared for a possible camping trip, a sailing trip a Central American trip or a trip to NYC to visit family.  Then of course, there is our everyday life of teaching dance and performing, so if we forget the correct Tango music or if I bring the wrong black fishnets, I’m out of luck.  We do have a casual understanding with all our renters, that if we get booked for a last minute show, we can re-enter for a few minutes and retrieve our Latin costumes or whatever.
      Renting for two weeks and a weekend went swimmingly in 2010 and my husband and I felt we had made the right decision. So it was with this false sense of confidence and ease, we approached the 2011 rental season.  By June, two one week contracts were confirmed and our first renters were due Sunday July 31st.  In July, our confidence dimmed as to our ability to have a calm preparation as my husband took on a full-time job teaching dance, Monday through Friday from 1pm to 9:45pm.  To add to this, our entire family was involved with a local production of Doctor Dolittle and had rehearsals from 9am to 1pm Tuesday through Friday.  My husband was the director, I was the choreographer and both boys (eight and fifteen) were in the production.   We were scheduled for camping two weekends in July, tech rehearsal was scheduled the weekend of July 24th and the last show was July 31st, the day that our renters were scheduled to arrive.  There was little time to prepare.
      The day after July 4th, and the first day of rehearsal we began our daily march of duties to our July 31st deadline.  After coming home from rehearsal and having lunch, I gave the boys goals to achieve in their room: sorting and recycling school papers, organizing toys, etc.  They grumbled but stuck to it and made small improvements.  Meanwhile, I would clean a drawer, prepare clothes for giveaway and sort through my own papers.  We were determined to have an organized exit, not just the one where everything is thrown in bags and tossed into a room on the third floor.  We were above that.  We were wrong.
      Although we had many summer activities, there was always the ominous cloud of preparing our home for the renters over our heads.  To ease the tension, I would orchestrate breaks from our chores in the form of card games, (Uno) ice pops or a movie.  My husband’s teaching job was nearby and he would come home between 5pm and 6pm for a break and/or dinner.  One sweltering hot day he came home to the sight of us poised with water pistols in the backyard, demanding that he change and join us.  A riotous half hour of running around, shooting each other and reloading from the rain barrel followed.  It was a great break from our fate.  It was our last great break.
      A few days later, Tuesday July 19th, (twelve days before the renters were due) our realtor calls us at 8:30am (en route to rehearsal) and asks if we would like to have weekend renters arrive this Friday.  “You mean in three days,” I gasp over the phone.   “Yes,” he replies.   My heart is already pumping, we discuss a price and I tell him I will let him know shortly.  We need to see if we can do it.  Before I turn to my husband, I already know our answer.  My husband and I look at each other knowingly and have a pointless conversation as we pretend to discuss the feasibility of readying ourselves by Friday.  He has to work from 9am to 9:45pm for the next four days; I have to work from 9am to 1pm for four days and am teaching several nights.  “Let’s do it,” we say in unison.  An audible groan washes over us from the back seat as the kids are clearly not on the same page as us.  My husband and I love a challenge, the financial rewards and why not?
      I receive the word that all is a go from my realtor during rehearsal and spend the next two hours choreographing the dance number “My Friend the Doctor.” In between steps I start a cleaning, sorting and organizing schedule in my head that will start the moment we arrive home.  By some miracle, I had already scheduled our monthly cleaning person to come on Thursday anyway so that is a huge help.  I contact her and she agrees to do most of the cleaning on Thursday and finishing touches on Friday.
       I start another list in my head of things that will not be happening this week: pedicure off the list, film forum on Thursday evening out the window and tennis on Friday goes by the wayside.   My husband’s previous fun dinner time breaks at home are a thing of the past.  No more backyard water pistol fights for us; my husband now comes homes on breaks to clean the grill and organize the laundry room.  Upon arriving home from work at 10pm, he installs air conditioners, cleans the office area and starts work on his closet which needs to be emptied.  No sacrifice is too great.
      Meanwhile, I am constantly cracking the whip with the kids persuading, coercing and demanding that they clean their rooms.  The command of cleaning your room is way too general and every hour I set up a new task for my eight year such as sort this pile of papers into school papers to keep and tests and homework that go to recycling.  He manages to recycle quite well although he is hourly distracted by a ball or something else that is throw able.  My fifteen year old son's room is a constant source of concern and stress as there is no clear path to an end.  I ease my angst every now and then, by taking him off his room duty and asking him to empty the fridge or take possessions to the basement.  At least something measureable is getting done.
      By Thursday, I am feeling hopeful but can see that yet a third list must be made; what things are not going to get done.  Cleanliness is non-negotiable; the house must sparkle but if a drawer or two is not sorted for weekend renters, so be it.  We prioritize what is necessary and decide that the lawn will not be mowed, only one freezer shelf will be available and although the bathroom contains three areas that are cleaned off for the renters toiletries, the medicine cabinet is not one of them.  Something had to give as we were beyond panic, near hysteria and approaching madness.
      I work hard with the Doctor Dolittle cast members Tuesday through Thursday and am able to stay home Friday from rehearsal to finish the house Friday morning.  My cleaning woman arrives at 8:30am (before the heat becomes unbearable) and we go to work finishing the house.  After days of pressuring my teenage son to finish his room, I walk into it to 8:45 to complete it for my cleaning people and find it in better shape than anticipated. It takes me another half hour to make it presentable for the cleaners.  The cleaning crew and I spend the next couple of hours cleaning, folding towels and making beds to perfection.  I provide the renters with 12 pillows and pillow cases and 12 towels including hand towels.  Organizing the linens alone takes a chunk of time.  The final couple of hours are always a time of unpleasant surprises as a look under a bed or an opening of a closet or cupboard reveals one more thing yet to be done.  Between 10am and 1:30 pm I clean the front porch, organize the back yard, finish linen laundry, finish packing my own clothes, empty the bathrooms, type up greetings and instructions for the renters, finish emptying the fridge, fill the cooler with stuff for my mom’s fridge, organize my paperwork, finish playroom, polish the grill, hide the candles, water the vegetable garden, backyard containers and front porch plants.
      It is a very hot day and my husband arrives home at 1:30pm with the kids to find me delirious and wandering around the house.  At 2:30 he kicks me out with the kids and says he will finish up, and for me to take our belongings over to my mom’s home where we are staying for the weekend. I am to take the kids to Stewarts for lunch as I have been rendered useless and unable to sustain the focus required to” bring it on home” with the finishing touches.  Renters are due at 3pm and both my mental and  physical state will make a bad impression.
      I welcome the banishment and head on over to Stewarts with my eight year old to pick up lunch.  While in Stewarts, my son first breaks a hot dog roll and then his meat sauce laden hot dog falls over and spills its contents.  Not a major problem for most people but I am losing it.  I say his name loudly and with irritation as other customers turn their heads to see what the problem is.  I turn to them and say” I just moved out of my house for the track season.  I’m on the edge.”  Nonplussed they turn away as my son shrugs his shoulders and we sit down to eat.
      Despite my mental state, I had promised the kids a reward immediately following our successful exit.  After a quick lunch we are headed over to the mall to see “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 2.”  On the way, we pick up one of my younger son’s playmates and I warn him as he enters the car – that I am “a woman on the edge.”  His mom who has just finished readying her carriage house for her full season tenant nods in agreement.  She too knows the pressure of the exit.
        The two hour long movie seems to have had a soothing effect on me and I’m ready to embrace the first day of track season.  We run over to my mom’s to change and head on over to a dinner at Fornos.  It is right near the dance studio where my husband teaches and he may be able to join us.  My teenager calls ahead for a reservation and we are seated immediately and smoothly.  And there we are wining and dining with everyone that makes up the” Saratoga Track Scene” – the homeowners, the renters, the horse people, the track lovers and other Saratogians who all contribute to this crazy, chaotic season. 

Epilogue –Although the last couple of days have been beyond the pale, I am actually glad that we got the first exit over in a couple of days.  Even if we had been given more time, I know in my heart that the last twenty-four hours would be sweaty, harried and unattractive.
After the initial push for the weekend rental, we moved back in and still had to exit from our home again on Sunday July 31st for two one week rentals.  This time the lawn gets mowed, the medicine cabinet gets cleared and I am coherent upon the exit.   On Saturday July 30th, my sister in law and niece call to say that they are coming to visit Skidmore College and would we like to have lunch. We take stock of our unimpressive state of readiness and decide to go anyway.  True to form, my final hour before our exit from the house the next day is stressful.  As I make my final survey of the house, I grab a tote and stuff it with remaining items.  I rush out of the house and arrive at the final show of Doctor Dolittle one minute before the curtain goes up.
      We move back in on Sunday August 14th happy to be home.  The question looms over our head? Do we unpack?  How settled in should we get?  We are out of town for Labor Day weekend and have offered the house as available to the realtors.  While we don’t wait by the phone, we know that the next call could be our call to action.  We’ll be ready.
P.S.  As of printing, there was no call to action for Labor Day weekend and the Martinez household began to return their home back to the time before the grand exit.

Diane Lachtrupp Martinez

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


I have not written a current blog as we are just recovering from Saratoga Renter's Hell. We got out of our home three times; once for an unexpected weekend, once for the expected renters July 31st and then after a quick three hour turn around we came in and out on August 7th.  We just got back in the house on Sunday August 14th.  We remain unpacked as we wonder, "will we have to move out for Labor Day weekend."

That remains to be seen.  Meanwhile I am working on a blog entry on our trials and tribulations of moving out this year.  Should be out in a couple of days.


Diane Lachtrupp Martinez

Sunday, July 24, 2011


    It's that time of year again when Saratogians rent their homes to incoming ballet, track and summer fans.  The following article was my first published writing piece ever and describes our preparations and the exciting final 36 hours leading up to our exit the summer of 2009.  We just moved out of our home again and a new article is in the works.  Enjoy and if you are a homeowner who habitually rents out their home or first timers, please share your experiences.

    It is a yearly Saratoga phenomenon; when teems of local residents vacate their homes to rent to the summer crowds.  Hundreds of seemingly emotionally and financially stable Saratogians sign contracts, clean and de-clutter their homes and ultimately move out and find new digs while someone takes over their home.  While the financial rewards are considerable, home owners in many cases earn every penny as the preparations are intense and the homelessness inconvenient.
    Our family enters our sixth season of renting this summer and five out of six have been for the full season.  Preparations for the 2009 season start December of 2008, when our realtor contacts us to update our website information and confirm its accuracy.  One year we had a rental by January, but this year there are no bites until March.  First, we contact our 2007, 2008 gentlemen renters and they politely decline.  So we move ahead with new unknown summer renters.
    The time between March and April passes uneventfully as we sign leases, receive deposits and speak occasionally with the realtor.  Conversations with my friends who rent are frequently peppered with “Do you have someone yet?  Is it the same people as last year?  How long are you renting for?”  The rare bold question is “How much are they paying?”  No one is panicked in the spring.
    And then late June comes, the final payments are in, it occurs to one that you only have five weeks remaining in your home and you need to start sorting and cleaning.  We start by categorizing and recycling our children’s school papers as well as our own. Trips are made to the Salvation Army with clothing and we have our annual stoop sale.   The experience of annually ridding our home of unnecessary items is cathartic and welcome.
    My husband and I in early July start eyeing our teenage son’s room, anticipating and dreading the emotional and physical energy it will require to put his room in shape.  Up until fall of 2008, our two sons had shared a room and somehow the younger ones presence had kept the older one’s true self at bay.  But now, my older son has had full reign in the room, unplugged, unedited, undone.  Throughout the past nine months, we had issued daily warnings, comments and suggestions with unsatisfactory success.  We start him packing boxes the first week of July and we feel hopeful. 
    On Monday July 20th, we have a family meeting to plan the next ten days to our exit on Tuesday July 28th at 3pm.  I get out the chalkboard and we name our project “Operation Escape,” which goes at the top of the chalkboard.  Underneath our inspirational heading I list every day and what we need to accomplish each day.  In addition to packing ourselves up to live at my mom’s and de-cluttering our home, we include our to do list: return library books, banking, teaching, recycling and changing our mail.  Finally, we boldly list two ambitious projects we hope to accomplish prior to our exit - wash the exterior of the house and finish the taxes.  I am the eternal optimist.
    On the evening of July 20th my husband’s family arrives from New York to help my husband with his sailboat and they go sailing on Tuesday.  Our “Operation Escape” chart is ignored and we reconfigure on Wednesday.  They depart Wednesday afternoon and we go back to fulltime work on the house. 
    Thursday morning, I walk with my neighbor who is also a habitual renter.    Although she does not have a chalkboard family list, she has her own personal to do list and cleaning the shower is one of three things on her list today.  Her efforts to ready the house will be thwarted by a houseful of company over the weekend and into Tuesday.    We check in over the next couple of days to commiserate and give the update.
    By Friday, we see progress.  We proudly get out our chart and are able to erase off the do list: playroom, my youngest son’s room, living room, and third floor. My teenage son’s room, although it has seen improvement, remains a source of stress and we are concerned that it could be our undoing.   Friday afternoon I cajole my sons and one of their friends to wash the house siding by our back garden entrance.  There is a fair amount of horsing around but they clean it well and we reward ourselves with root beer floats in the backyard.  It is a great Saratoga summer afternoon.  Life is good.
    Apparently, we feel that we deserve a break and we go sailing for two full days on Saturday and Sunday July 25th and 26th.  We manage to not think about what waits for us at home and what extreme effort lies ahead on Monday and Tuesday.  Arriving home Sunday at 6pm, we unpack, accomplish a few more chores and hit the hay early to ready ourselves for the final 30 hours of “Operation Escape.”
    Monday July 27th, finds my six year old, husband and I washing the siding on the front of the house by 9am.  My teenage son (the time management expert) refuses to help or work on his room as he says;” I have plenty of time.”  At one point my husband has his head in his hands and declares my eldest son’s room akin to kryptonite; he is weakened every time he enters the room.  I manage to get both my husband and son back on task.   A good friend hosts my younger son for the rest of the day for a play date.  We are grateful. 
    The rest of Monday passes in a blur as we continue to pack our clothes, clean out draws, closets, take down posters, box up toys, sort paper and earn a living teaching dance in between.  My mom comes by for my youngest to gather him for dinner and an overnight.  I take a short nap on my Saratoga porch, enjoying the breeze and mourning how much I will miss it.  All my clothes are packed by 4:20 and I am feeling good about my day until I receive a phone call from the realtor that the renters would like a full size bed in one of the bedrooms not the two twins.  What??   I had imagined the sheets and blankets I would use and how I would dress the beds.  All for naught.  My husband is teaching at the studio and I decide to deal with this when he comes home.
    I break the news to my son and husband around 6pm.  After considering our options, we decide to bring a futon mattress from the third floor down and put it on top of the antique twin beds pushed together.  It looks ridiculous as the mattress is not as wide as the two beds.  We had considered putting the two beds together but the mattresses are different heights.  Suddenly, I remember another twin mattress on the third floor in the Jacuzzi room and yes after my son measures the height, it will work.  I disappear downstairs as the guys heave mattresses up and down stairs.  In the end it works and it is decided that I will go and purchase king size sheets at Target the next day in my “spare time.”
    By evening we are in good shape, packed to travel, possessions are secured on the third floor and in the basement.  The kitchen remains the final frontier for Tuesday.  The cleaning people are scheduled to arrive at 9:30.  Our final night of sleep is short and with great enthusiasm and no energy we look forward to the “Final Day.” 

    D-Day, Tuesday July 28th has arrived and we are working by seven with a piece of fruit to sustain us until breakfast at 10:45.  We manage to get my eldest son out of bed and working by 8:30 and his eyes are swollen from lack of sleep.  This is the first year that he is really involved in the exit process.  He resents the work, the change and what he sees as the intrusion.  My husband and I are holding up well. 
    I have set a goal for us to be off the second floor (bedrooms) completely so that the cleaning staff can clean easily, thoroughly and quickly.  The cleaning staff arrives at 10:00, starts on the third floor bath and we are off the second floor by 10:45 and take our breakfast break.  Every time we eat in the last two days, it has been an exercise in cleaning out the fridge.  This time is no different.  My son is not thrilled with his breakfast.
    Everything we are taking with us is piled in the dining room, adjacent to the kitchen and near the back door exit.  We are literally making our way out the door.  One of the renters shows up at noon, saying that she was told she could move in then.  I politely remind her that the lease says 3pm and that we need all the time allotted.  I escort her back to the front door, close the door and go back to work.
    And now for the kitchen and the fridge.  For how much room the fridge takes up in our home, it remains the most intense work area.  We sort food to be tossed, food to go into the cooler to be transported to my mom’s fridge, food to be moved to the downstairs fridge and then we repeat the process with the freezer.  I make decisions as to the foods’ destiny and my son and husband execute.  Then my son and husband take out every shelf and drawer and clean it in soapy water, rinse, dry and replace it.  My six year old calls from my mom’s missing us and asking if I could bring over his wallet, his money for the bank and his Buzz Light Year piggy bank.  I have remembered the first two and promise to do my best on the third.  We miss him too and will be reunited by 3:30.
    At some point, I head over to Target and purchase the king size sheets.  I make the trip in a succinct 35 minutes and they work great.  The cleaning people are efficient, pleasant and flexible and the five of us work around and with each other for the last two hours to make our 3pm goal.  We all are doing what it takes to get the job done.  In the morning, my son had the occasional breakdown that I got him through but now with 90 minutes left, there is no sign of that.  After every job is completed, he says, “What’s next?”  If only.
    At 2:53 the renter shows up again and I invite her to sit on the porch.  We are wiping the last counter, vacuuming the kitchen floor and straightening the last pillow. 
The house looks pristine; no signs of clutter, plenty of sparkle and ready for inspection.
My husband, son and I take everything out to the van and come back in to welcome the renters.  By this time, the other two renters are gathering on the front porch and I welcome them in at 3:03pm.  
    I thank and pay the wonderful cleaning people and then take up my job as tour guide.  The women seemed pleased as I show them around, explain appliances and go over security.  My husband takes over the technology part of the tour and exchanges phone numbers.  I give the garden tour as I will be watering while in town at my mom’s and they will be in charge while we travel.
    We climb into the car and head over to my mom’s, a mere mile away, and look forward to showers and lunch.  I know for a fact that I smell and look like I smell.  The renters looked surprised when I said we were professional dancers.  We arrive at my mom’s, gather our younger son in our arms and have sandwiches and showers. My husband heads out the door an hour later to teach at 5pm.  I am in awe of his stamina and calm.  I opt to go out to dinner with my mom and the kids.
    A week has gone by since our dramatic exit and now we experience the aftermath of our move.  Currently the checkbook, my younger son’s socks, my bathing suit bottoms and some cash are still at large.  We manage to miss my son’s eye appointment twice, have yet to complete the taxes and make my mother cry within three days of our arrival.  However, like a new mom who vows never to go through childbirth again, we have forgotten the pain and are readying ourselves for next year’s rental.


Diane L. Lachtrupp