Friday, December 2, 2005

The Right Couch-Part 2

In early September I wrote about our purchasing several cushy plump love seats with matching ottoman and club chair. That lead to an entirely new room--or combination of two parlors--which is now almost complete.

We did take the wall down (it can always be returned for preservation purists) and now have a lovely expanse of space approximately 17' x 35' with two fireplaces and a southwest view. The wall removal was only the start--my husband decided to get UV glass to replace all of the old window glass (for energy and sun reasons--we are saving the glass!). We have too many items that can fade or be otherwise damaged by the sun and as we don't like heavy drapes, that was not an option (I am having Federal style swags made for window treatments--simple and not too much fabric--the question right now is what color?). The walls were repapered in a yellow damask and the wood trim painted a mushroom brown. We found a perfect rug and my husband traded a tractor and some other items for it--the rug was "bombed" for moths and cleaned. Its red, faded rose areas, and blue tones pull the room together and lighten the wall trim and couch colors.

Meanwhile, there was an old club couch at the farm--a real behemoth of a thing that always sat under a portrait of Isaac Meeker along the longest, windowless wall in the living room. It came with my grandparents from New Jersey and was in my grandfather's Newark home before that. It has huge ball feet and is long enough for a grown man to nap comfortably upon it (my own grandfather used to at the end of a day in the garden). I have many memories of that couch: my grandfather watching Perry Mason and asking me to make chocolate chip cookies, our Irish setter Rusty dying in my mother's arms the first year we moved from Ohio (he was almost 13), watching TV with family or girlfriends or assorted dogs and cats all piled in together (it comfortably seats six grown people sitting upright). No one wanted the couch or had the room. We even considered leaving it for the next owners as we have an abundance of couches. But it kept cloying at me--I couldn't leave it behind, even if we had to store it in the barn here.

[When Paulette, who helps clean our house sometimes with her sister Carmen, heard that I was salvaging the couch and having it come here she blurted out: "I used to neck on that couch!" (during one of my aunt's legendary parties)]

So, amazingly, it has become "the right couch" for our new space. It will occupy, once reupholstered (a small investment) in a lovely chocolatey fabric with blue and yellow and rose highlights in an acanthus leave pattern (very William Morris-like), the southern wall beneath the two front windows. My husband had the brilliant idea to move the blue couch that was there to the southeast parlor and bring the Queen Victoria table (there is a story to this table, too, but it once belonged to the monarch) and center it in the room in front of the fireplace. And, we still have a wall space for the Yorkshire cupboard--a piece given to my husband's family from Cousin Bob Barton and Rachel Warren when they lived in Ireland--where the blue couch was going to go.

On one end of the room we have a cozy cluster of couches and our television, complete with new coffee table that my husband hates but already it has become a place for homework, game-playing, and dinner (besides, it is so low you hardly notice it when looking in the room) and on the other we have a more formal and open but equally comfortable area. There are several "conversation" areas now and we await the large couch to complete the ensemble.

The room is a blend of Federal taste and furniture and late Victorian design coupled with modern comfort. It also marries quite well some ancestral elements from our collective family backgrounds. Somehow, it all seems to work and amazingly, Temple and I agreed on everything (well, except that coffee table!). I'll post some photographs soon when the window treatments are completed and remaining furniture is in. In the meantime, we'll be putting our Christmas tree in the corner of the front area of the room where it has always been--at least for the past ten Christmases.

After a period of time of "unsettlement" in our family, as I like to call it now, we are really nesting here and it feels good, for all of us. I can finally hang my hat and say, "Ah, we're home..." Having a room like this just off the kitchen that we can enjoy as a family or share for entertaining--finally a large accessible room for dinner party overflow--makes us never want to leave. And that's "a good thing".

Friday, November 25, 2005

A Day of Thanksgiving


This year we were blessed with a full house of family and friends at Thanksgiving. Several weeks ago we invited our friends Edie, Jeff and their son Ko as well as Judy, Charlie and their daughter Lindsay. Plans soon changed for Edie, who after "taking a year off" was suddenly faced with a pile of relatives from another side of her family. Meanwhile, Judy's other daughter, son-in-law and grandson had returned to Africa so they were feeling a bit lonely in their house (see JUDY'S HOUSE entry to this blog in May 2005). I also invited Margaret, a retired English librarian friend of a deceased writer friend of mine, with whom I became reacquainted in the All Saints' Church knitting group. (Margaret used to be the librarian in Jaffrey and my mother bought my first piano from her years ago--a lovely Art Deco style black Steinway.)

As luck would have it, Edie called the night before Thanksgiving and asked if they could all come after all--including her parents. We were delighted! [One good thing about inclement weather at the holidays is that invited guests who have to drive often decide to 'stay put' as was the case with Edie's relatives this year--a "good thing" for us!] As Temple and I had just set the table we were reluctant to take it apart and add another leaf, so we decided to have a second table in the kitchen where the children could sit with Aunt Cynthia. (That was a moderate success-later on Henry said, "I want to have another Thanksgiving tomorrow and sit in the dining room!" but I'm thinking he was just overtired.) I made the easy call of a buffet meal served from the same china serving dishes that would have graced the table--I just didn't want to have two sets of serving dishes to wash! So everything went out on the granite island (I knew there was a reason we added an extra island workspace in our house--we have used it so many times for serving meals), including the 25 pound free range fresh turkey from which Judy and Jeff artfully sliced after we covered it with fresh herbs from Edie's solarium.


My own family is scattered this year--both brothers got together in Texas, which was wonderful, where they celebrated with my sister-in-law's family. My mother is recovering from an illness and had dinner at her new house for her husband's children. I was glad to be home and share the day with an extended group of friends. We were honored in their presence here and were glad they could christen our new adjoining parlor! (We blasted open two parlors into one on the west side of our house and couldn't be more pleased with the results.)


Our menu was traditional: roast turkey (I slow roast it) with stuffing loaded with hot sausages, green apples and cranberry; mashed potatoes (thanks to Edie & Jeff--a huge vat!); butternut squash; baby peas; creamed onions (thank you, Judy!); gravy. We also had four kinds of cranberry sauce: 2 varieties of "canberry" as we call it; Judy's cranberry orange relish; and "Henry's Jam".

Henry asked me mid-morning if he could make jam for the turkey: "It's really easy, Mumma. You just take fruit and a cup of sugar and water and it's done in ten minutes...we made it at school." I was half listening to him at the time and said, "We'll that's nice Hen, we'll make 'Turkey Jam' some other time..." And then I realized: he was talking about the easy, foolproof, incredibly delicious recipe for cranberry sauce on the side of the fresh cranberry bags. So, we had a quick lull in the morning and within ten minutes Henry had the 'jam' simmering on the stove already beginning to thicken. Here it is:


- 1 bag fresh cranberries
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- freshly-grated orange rind

Mix sugar and water and stir over heat. Bring to a boil. Add berries and bring to another low boil. Add orange rind and turn down to a simmer for ten minutes until berries pop and mixture thickens. Take off stove. Sauce will continue to thicken as it cools. Serve cold. Makes about 3 cups and way better, and more colorful, than "canberry" (which, can't be replaced on the holiday table, either--it's just nice to have some homemade alternatives!).

The trick of putting on a foolproof Thanksgiving dinner is to be organized. I finalized the menu on the weekend (which doesn't change much!), did our grocery shopping on Monday (and on route to Shaw's we stopped at Tenney Farms in Antrim and ordered a centerpiece, 4 gallons of their delectable unpasteurized cider AND checked on our pie order with the Black Dog Bakery who sells pies there: pumpkin, apple and cherry), and set our table the night before and organized serving dishes and implements. I am not a good pie crust maker so I left that to the experts. Temple, my husband, knows me too well and suggested we pick up some Parker House rolls at the Kernel Bakery when we dropped by for coffee on Wednesday. That was a good call--my intention was to make homemade rolls as I usually do but I just didn't seem to have time this year. Perhaps it is because I opted to make four loaves of cranberry nut bread and Mrs. Hrone's Pumpkin Bread, a childhood favorite (2 loaves were reserved for the freezer). Another good tip: have house cleaned and organized by Monday--one less thing to do on Wednesday or Thursday! (And, I have to thank Carmen, Paulette and Sue for that--they keep us clean AND sane after they work their magic here every other week--this year I happened to nab them for the Monday of Thanksgiving week.)

With the tables done the night before and the turkey in the oven by 10am (a bit late, I admit), there was time for other things like four loaves of quick bread and Henry's Jam...also, I generally plan dinner for "around 3pm" (depending on the turkey timing) and this makes things less stressful. Having friends bring things like wine, desserts, and side dishes, is also nice.

But here was the best part of the day: it was the spirit, laughter and good fellowship that we shared. It was the happy voices coming from the dining room, the children playing outside in the first snow of the season, the fun and frolic around dish-doing in the kitchen later on. Before the meal we stood around the table and held hands--I started to say something to welcome everyone but I couldn't speak. I could only shed some tears for the joy that was in my heart. Fortunately, Judy had asked earlier if she could do the blessing. I was happy to have her say it. Bringing us altogether in a circle, many of us strangers to each other, many of us friends and relations, it made me realize how many blessings there are in our lives and in our home and in each other.

Of all of the holidays, Thanksgiving is my favorite. And this is a house that was made for Thanksgiving.


Monday, November 14, 2005

Three Small Hands


Matt, the new owner of the farm, called us this morning. He was having problems with hot water (not unusual) but he'd also found three plaster handprints on the shelf above the refrigerator. I knew the ones he was speaking about: my brothers had their right hands imprinted in plaster and then painted in 1971, their kindergarten year at Old Trail School (they are fraternal twins) and my right hand had also been cast several years before in the same kindergarten, same school in 1967. I hadn't seen these in many years! I expect that when Mom and Gerry had the kitchen redone in 1987 that they may have been put up somewhere for safe keeping and then forgotten--they were not hung but flat on the shelf. It may also be that my mother found them this summer and placed them there for safekeeping.

I will bring them to her tomorrow--three small hands, one of each of her children. Three small hands that grew into three adults with families and lives of their own. Who knew in 1967 and 1971 what we would become? What life would be like in our 40s (my brothers will be 40 in 2006)? What life would be like without our parents' hands to hold or their bodies to lean on in the world?

My brothers and I have lived a life together yet each of our experiences have been unique. It is incredible how two people can create such difference--whether in three, six or nine. My siblings and I, despite our differences and perspectives on life, will always have a glue that binds us: places, memories, and now families of our own to share. Two of us now have "three small hands" of our own to care for and love, three small hands that will one day leave us, too, and make their way in the world. I wish for each of them a childhood as semi-precious as ours seemed to be.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Closing Day


On November 10, 2005 the Gray Goose Farm left the Grummon family and its descendants after being in our family since my grandparents purchased it in March 1946. A new owner has bought the house, barn and two acres. Sixty-five acres of the original farm (which once was about 100 acres), give or take a few feet, continue to surround the farm and its barn and will remain in the family.

Two years ago we all gathered at the farm for Thanksgiving: my brother and his family, my other brother and his dog, my husband and children, and W's children and their families. I had thought it would be the first of many more gatherings to come because it felt so good "to be back" altogether enjoying the place. Even if our family had changed, we were accepting and welcoming (it had morphed once before in the 1980s when my mother married someone with children, much younger, as we were, too--but that change ultimately was good for the farm and our family, for a while, at least). I was sadly mistaken. It was, in fact, the first get-together we had at the farm since my mother remarried in 2001. It was sadly also the last. In retrospect, it was the end of an era, perhaps even anticlimactic to something great. [These photos, taken in black & white--an odd choice for me at the time--were taken on Thanksgiving Day, 2003, Gray Goose Farm, Jaffrey, NH]


I will always "see" the farm in my memories as it was in those days of my childhood and even into my early adult years when my mother and stepfather Gerry really continued the vision of my grandparents, giving it their own personality and hard work. They had great plans and I admired their ability to work together while keeping family at the core. But in the last decade the farm had become almost a stultifying "house of memory", a saddened place, perhaps even a bit forlorn. I'm not quite sure why this sentiment but I think it has a lot to do with the reality that my brothers and I had moved on to our own lives in the past ten years, with new families and pursuits, but also because my mother had moved on with hers, too. It all changed with a new 'blended' family, but a blended family of adult children and the farm teeter-tottering at its center. Looking back, there was no way to have an easy arrangement or future plan for the farm with the many changes it was experiencing. Our plans were dreams that became anxious nightmares at times--forces seemed to be working against us, like walking upstream in a strong current. Perhaps we just didn't have the fortitude that it takes.


The farm would have continued on for a while but not without a needed infusion of heart, soul and cash. Just yesterday we found out from the new owners, a young hard-working couple who have been searching for just such a place for the past two years, that they have home owner's insurance coverage from the same group in Jaffrey that threatened to drop us if we did not have the place entirely rewired, the porch replaced, and everything reroofed. I can't even believe this! It is as if the fates have conspired against us in every direction. I don't even want to "call" the insurance company on it now because I don't want to impede the process for this new couple. Ironically, they also have the same "black-listed" breed of dog that we have!

Seeing the farm over the course of the past several months, empty as it has been, has been helpful for me. I have come to realize that people make a house and things only decorate it. The house has lacked the atmosphere within that my mother and grandparents before her had infused at the place. It has been like walking in a vacuum--traces of the place are there, but they are just the bones--not the heart, not the soul, not the flesh. Those things went with my mother to her new home which, I am glad to say, is infused with the same coziness and familiarity--it's just been transported to a different place, just up the road. My mother and I also met at the farm a few weeks ago to "say goodbye". She is the most attached to the place and I wish I could have done more for her--given her life estate, built a small house on the property next to the house, built an apartment--but what we could have done was not enough in the end. Perhaps the deck was stacked from the beginning--now the farm that we have all loved has become a place of mourning. It holds the tatters of a family in ruin over a place, some misunderstandings, some feelings unspoken. It has become a vessel of discontent and confusion and looking back at its past thirty years it is amazing it has stayed in the family for this amount of time.

Several items of interest have surfaced: one is that my grandfather seriously considered selling to a member of the Sawyer family in the early 1970s. Then my Uncle Dan came back to the area and my grandparents parceled off 17 acres for him on which he built his house (we have come to learn that he also had an unwritten agreement with my grandparents as to taking over the farmhouse one day--perhaps that gift of land and a promise were both reasons, as well as our presence, why I remember my aunt screaming at my uncle, her brother, on many occasions out in the garden--when she was done with him, she went after her own mother). We moved here fulltime in 1974, post divorce from Akron, Ohio, and my mother had the early intention of buying a small house in Jaffrey (I remember even looking at several with her, including a log home). But those plans all derailed when my grandfather died in August 1974 and my grandmother soon declined into Alzheimer's (which, at the time, we thought was depression and senility). So, Mom never left and the farm more or less stayed as it was, contents intact. Even after my grandmother died in 1985, very few things left the house. In those years of our later childhood, I remember distinct discord from some of my mother's siblings as to her presence at the farm and assistance with her mother's life. My uncle, tragically, ended his own life in May 1976.

Yesterday, I went through the remaining books left at the farm to make sure there were none left that belonged to family members (with several generations of family scribbled on the front pieces). I had gone through all of the books at the farm and rearranged them by subject, "in a bout of tidy nesting", just before my daughter was born in June 1988 (I wrote about this experience in my second published article for VICTORIA Magazine in an article called "Home Fires"). I spent the same amount of time just lingering over the books, remembering many, seeing my grandmother's notes and scribbles or her mother's, too, realizing that this library, like the house, represents a great family of many interests and pursuits. So I gathered up the books that would seem lonely left on the shelves of a new family--and we left others that the new family will enjoy. The new couple is already calling the old "Toy Room" (why it was called that by our family, I'm not sure, although we kept a toy trunk in there all of my childhood), the Library, so it is fitting that they have some books to line their shelves.

My husband looked out my old bedroom window as we were gathering up the last few boxes of books and said, "There are two deer in the upper pasture." I went to look. Sure enough, they were gazing back at the house, with seeming interest but also a certain nonchalance that deer seem to have. "It's Grandmother and Grandfather," I said. "I think somehow they approve." My mother has always seen symbols on significant days with the animals of the forest. When her second sibling died in 1997, she reported seeing a buck and a doe in the field, and two others coming out of the forest to join them. After a few minutes they all walked into the pine woods together: Grandmother, Grandfather, Dan and his sister Joanne. They will still have those pinewoods to walk through and the farm to gaze down at from time to time.

This story isn't over. In many ways it has just begun. The farm has been a subject and a passion on my mind for some time. When I finish with pantries, I need to return to the farm story, if only to honor those who came before with every good intention. It will be a love song, a poem, a document of a place. Fifty-nine years can't have passed for nothing. We have all been tied in ways good and bad to a special place of great meaning. Now those ties are unfurling and we can each experience a kind of freedom, perhaps a certain levity. As we scan the limitless expanse of horizon ahead--with all of its hidden dangers and opportunities--we must also leave our childhood home. Eventually the wagon furrows we have made in the road behind us will smooth into the unclaimed prairie that awaits. It will be a hard and difficult journey, but one we must all make at some point in our lives.


Saturday, November 5, 2005

At the Wedding


My best friend Di got married this weekend to her "missing half". She spent a long time looking for him but they just landed together somehow, as people often do, in the workplace where their romance smoldered and then kindled for several years before an inevitable proposal (Valentine's Day, of course). It is uncanny how suitable they are for each other and how happy they will be: a life of travel, urban and suburban amenities, a love of dogs, and above all, tremendous senses of humor. Neither has ever been married before and they come together without all of the baggage that one can bring along in middle life--and Di doesn't even have to cook! (And gosh, yes, we are now firmly in our middle years, even though I still feel like a twenty-five year old!)

I have known Di since I moved to New Hampshire in 1974. Our friendship really didn't take off until high school but when it did we became friends for life--even if that friendship somehow morphs and changes along the way, a childhood friendship can always be revisited in whatever guise. Twenty years ago this past August, on August 4 in fact, Di, myself and a guy named Tod (a friend of a friend who would become a very close friend to both of us) moved into a renovated fifth floor walk-up apartment at 43 Joy Street, Boston, MA 02114. On the downward slope towards Cambridge Street, and thus the less fashionable side of the hill, we were excited with our own place, its proximity to everything, and our first post-college apartment. (Even though I graduated in 1984, I spent a year traveling and working at the Kernel Bakery in Peterborough--see ROBERT, THE KERNEL BAKER blog posting.)

Our rent for a small three-bedroom apartment with shared living room, galley kitchen and eating area was $1,100 and divided by three we each paid $366.66 per month. Di had the front bedroom overlooking the street, Tod had the largest middle room with no windows but his own bathroom, and I had a small (no more than 7 x 9) back bedroom with two windows and southeastern exposure. It was quiet and cozy with just enough room for my futon on the floor, a small bookcase, and I think a chair. It was smaller than my college dorm room but it was my first adult home.

I only stayed at Joy Street for a year before becoming resident guide at the Gibson House on Beacon Street, a short walk away in the Back Bay, but I would come and go from that apartment--as other tenants would, too--over the next several years, even after moving to New Hampshire. Di was always the glue that bound a changing group of roommates. Later she moved to Myrtle Street, shared an apartment with another high school friend, and soon after that broke out on her own. She rented a one room studio in a converted Back Bay apartment for over 13 years--I came and went from this apartment, too, on occasion and met a changing group of neighbors in the building, many of whom were at the wedding last night. (My husband and I sat at the table with most of Di's old apartment neighbors, and another friend from high school with whom I was glad to reconnect. I asked Encarnita, Gail and Nancy, all personalities in their own right, if it wasn't the same any more without Di in the building--they all said a forlorn looking "No, it isn't..." Wherever she is, Di always seems to be the glue, the connection.)

Di joined a venture capital firm and rose in the ranks and truly became the single urban girl. Our lives became juxtaposed and perhaps we grew envious of each other as she continued to travel, to come and go as she pleased, and with a salary that enabled her to buy Maude Frizon shoes and to regularly frequent the cosmetic counters at Nieman Marcus. Meanwhile, I married my childhood sweetheart from New Hampshire, retired from full time museum work, settled down to a comfortable life, had two more children. We saw each other at her parents' house in our hometown in New Hampshire and occasionally I came to Boston. My daughter is her goddaughter and the link has continued for another generation. I look back at these twenty years, nearly half our lifetime ago, and am amazed at how far we have come and at the women we are today. Di's single girl-in-the city life ended in August 2005, twenty years after she moved to Boston, when she moved out to the suburbs to begin her pre-married life.

The wedding was incredible--every detail thought about and some avoided altogether (there was quiet music, elegant flowers and appetizers, a short and simple service--but no photographer and no dancing and no tacky wedding traditions, either). The ceremony was short and sweet and took place in a Back Bay mansion--we cleared out of the ballroom and the room was set up for dinner. An evening wedding, dinner began at the civilized hour of 9pm after a civilized cocktail hour and fun additions such as a roaming magician and vials filled with M&Ms that told us at what table to sit. (M&Ms had been a prevailing theme leading up to the wedding and throughout.)

Our daughter was the youngest person invited and technically the only "child" at 17. She was also invited to sit at the head table, next to a dignitary who presided over the ceremony and who was able to come at the last minute after a few scheduling glitches were changed. He and his wife couldn't have been more pleasant and it is likely we will see them again on the national stage in a few years. (His connection to Di and Tom was work-related and his words about them couldn't have been more appropriate or perceptive.) Di's brother had been given "notary status" for the event but in the end it wasn't needed. Her sister was a lovely maid of honor and her wheat tones complimented Di's blue suit. Their Dad said to Temple, "Wouldn't Liz just love all this?" I know Di's mother would have approved whole-heartedly and without reservations.

I have never been to such an elegant urban wedding--so different from many country weddings (which have their own special qualities, too--my husband and I, like so many other family members, had our reception in the barn at the Gray Goose Farm--I wouldn't have had it any other way). Out-of-town guests and the bridal party/family all stayed at the Four Seasons. That was a lovely experience and treat, too. The bride and groom gave each of us a box of goodies that they had assembled: a tote bag with an M&M theme, spa robes, a CD of their favorite music, M&M cookies, bottled water (those mini bars are expensive!) and of course, M&Ms.

The whole experience was like a fairy tale come true and I've gotten jaded and sarcastic enough over the years to never think I would say such a thing. We have all been to our share of "throw away" weddings, the ones you know where so much expense is being wasted on something that likely won't last. But Di and Tom will have a happy life together--they are proof that you can find each other in later years, sometimes you just have to wait for the right person to come along and knock your socks off. And they both did just that. They are, indeed, each other's better half.

This afternoon after a lovely post-wedding brunch we came home to a balmy November day, as it had been in Boston. There was a decided "post ball" let down, the feeling of a passing on, and change in the air. It is much the same feeling I had when I brought our son Henry home from the hospital in mid-November eight years ago: something in the house had changed and there was a bittersweet quality to that change, almost a palpable homesickness, even though I was home. We are also approaching the closing on the farm this week which, while getting easier to acknowledge, sits around me like a shroud--I asked Di's sister and father at brunch about their old house, the one where I had spent so much time in high school and where they lived as a family for over twenty years--did they miss it? No. Their "new" home, purchased in the early 1990s, is only a mile away from their old one, right in a historic village setting, less lonely than the other one, smaller, just as historic, and oddly enough, it immediately seemed like their home when they moved in. This is, no doubt, because Diane's parents were there, as were their familiar things. (I am learning, or at least attempting to learn, that the concept of home is more about the people than the buildings.) This Thursday, on the day of our scheduled closing (which I do not have to attend for various reasons), my daugther and I are going to fete Di with a post-wedding lunch and get-together down near her house as their honeymoon had to be postponed due to work complications (but good complications).

In the post-wedding haze of "back to my own life", I found myself feeling envy for my old friend and her new life. We will no doubt continue to monitor each other from our suburban and rural realms, each feeling our own bits of envy from time to time and at others, total bliss and contentment. In her new life with Tom, I couldn't have wished a better scenario for my dear friend. There is no one more deserving of a "happy ending".

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

In the Pantry


A year ago I spent several weeks putting together my book proposal for IN THE PANTRY. Now the research is done, the principal photography is done--thanks to a great week spent in early October (before the rains came and stayed!) with Susan Daley and Steve Gross (we are all thrilled with how the various pantries came out)--and I now have the "bones" for the book.

I have been writing in fits and starts but now with winter settling in, despite the holidays, I will resume that process in earnest. I would like to share much about the writing and the process of this book coming together but I can't give away TOO much (nor can I show photographs from the book--the above pantry close-up is one of the out-takes I took during the photo shoots).

We are entering the cozier, most house-bound time of the year. I welcome the change after a long, hot and prolonged summer. I am looking forward to hunkering down, writing in the mornings and part of each afternoon, and being a "house mouse" the rest of the time. I may even pick up some knitting again--it has been a while--and I will definitely be raiding our own food pantries. My husband and I like to store things up for winter. I did not have time to can or freeze this past summer but I am great at hitting sales at the local markets. Right now our cellar pantry room looks like its own grocery store...if we get the Blizzard of the Century or that avian flu decides to morph and spread, we won't have to shop for months. Even Mitt Romney, Governor of Massachusetts, said that we should be prepared for an outbreak and quarantines and to stock our food shelves (apparently the Mormons also believe in keeping a year's food supply on hand--I'll have to research that).

In the meantime, keep on reading my blog and I promise to keep writing.

All Soul's Day


Halloween came and went this year on a balmy late fall day--perfect for the hoards of trick-or-treaters who bombard our village. We love the celebration and buy about $100 worth of candy to keep up with the throngs. Our village is the perfect setting for Halloween--houses close together, a safe rural neighborhood, a sufficiently old New England and sometimes creepy atmosphere, and younger neighbors who deck their lawns and porches with all sorts of festive decor. Our daughter now spends time handing out candy on the porch; I was amazed when our two boys wanted to come back after only going door-to-door at half the houses in the village. They wanted to help hand out the candy but also were somewhat worried about their Dad who bravely walked around with us, traversing piles of leaves and unseen potholes with his cane (he is still recovering from his operations).

My birthday weekend was lovely--a visit with friends from England who left on Friday after too short a visit (Rolf and I met at Lincoln College, Oxford in 1979--he hasn't aged a bit! His Bulgarian wife Tsenka fit right in...); lunch with my mother on Friday; a day of facials, pedicures and hair-stuff for Addie and myself on Saturday (in preparation for my friend Diane's wedding on November 4 but also for my birthday--there is nothing more relaxing than a facial although I have to say having a sacral-cranial osteopath caress your skull comes a very close second--thank you Tsenka!); dinner with Temple and the kids at DelRossi's in Dublin on Saturday night; an extra hour of sleep on Saturday night thanks to "Daylight Savings" (Fall Back...Spring ahead); and brunch with Edie and family on Sunday. Just non-stop fun and food.

Sunday morning October 30th, however, was especially memorable. For many reasons I have not been to church in several years. I have missed the ritual, the people, the architecture that is All Saints'. We are now fortunate to have a new vicar and his wife (he is English, she is American--both are ordained Episcopal priests) after a several year search. They have infused the church with their youthful enthusiasm and spirit--and two children, one of whom is Henry's age. Henry is now part of the youth choir (or Treble Choir) and the entire music program is wonderful at All Saints'. Their first performance was on Sunday during the 9am service, traditionally a "family service" and I'd never attended one. Held in the hall across from the church, it is filled with families and children of all ages, the eucharist was assisted by a little boy who couldn't have been more than 3, and there is more informality. However, there was music and spirit and fellowship and it left me with a good feeling. That night there was going to be an All Soul's service where the names of departed loved ones are read aloud during a quiet, meditative service. It was the first time this service has been held at our church. I think it must have been lovely.

My father died three years ago at this time (October 27th). Halloween was his favorite time of year. I think of him every day but especially now, as the days are darkening into the winter days that he loved (he was a hibernator). I have been seeing 11:11 on the clocks again for several weeks. There is a special, private significance to this number in relation to my father's passing. Now I realize I am seeing it again because the closing for the Gray Goose Farm (more about this later) is to be held on November 11. We are subdividing off two acres and the farm house and barns.


As with my father and other friends and loved ones who have passed on, I will mourn the passing of the farm for many years to come. Even though we are keeping the land, the house is an organic living thing that is being left behind in a several year wake of complications and heartaches and misunderstandings. Houses deserve to be mourned, too, for in them we live our lives and the every day moments--some large but most ordinary--that make us human. But I have learned with great clarity that Thomas Wolfe was right--I set out to prove him wrong but failed miserably: "You can't go home again." You may return in the physical sense, your family may even still live in the home where you grew up, you may even buy or "take over" the place with every intention of living there, but you can never go home in the sense of your past, of your childhood. It isn't there anymore. It is a ghost, an album of memories, drifting around the house, hovering over the present. Sometimes it is just time to move on as "the burden of them is intolerable," to paraphrase from the Common Book of Prayer.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Renovation Wisdom We Have Learned

This is what we've learned from renovating our home in numerous attempts both large and small:

~ If your husband suggests redoing the kitchen floor before he goes into the hospital for a "routine" procedure, say NO
~ No matter how small the project, it will soon eclipse itself in duration, price and hassle
~ Remember, when redecorating one room, you'll have to tear up at least two more (to store the stuff from the room that has to be gutted)
~ Budget at least the cost of your renovation for meals eaten out (most of us won't cook with sawdust in our kitchens)
~ If you are doing anything more than one room in your house, budget for a hotel or stay with compassionate friends, better yet leave the country
~ If you are renovating any part of an old house, it is always easier to tear it down and start over (but don't do it!)
~ An architect for big projects is worth their fee, especially if they will work with the contractor so you don't have to
~ Forty year architectural shingles last less than seven
~ Lead paint lasts a lifetime
~ A woman is always, ALWAYS allowed to change her mind, even if the first coat of paint has been applied (but it helps to do a sample area, first)
~ Prepasted, vinyl coated wallpaper is crap
~ When considering a hand-blocked scenic wallpaper mural that will cost more than a year in one of our finest colleges, make sure your children are past the stage of wiping their hands on the walls and woodwork
~ Bring good danish and coffee to your workers on a regular basis
~ A good plumber is hard to find (treat them well!)
~ A good electrician is hard to find (treat them well!)
~ A good painter is hard to find (treat them well!)
~ A good carpenter is hard to find (treat them well!)
~ If your marriage survives a major or minor house renovation, it can survive just about anything
~ If you can't afford to redecorate or renovate in a given year, just rearrange the furniture!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Palate Cleansing

Ok, I've vented and that is enough of that. Time to cleanse the palate and swish out the self-induced venom.

~ I need to catch up on so many things in this blog: my pantry book for one! Lots of updates on that front (that deserve their own entry).

~ The official end of an extended summer after 10 days of rain and unprecedented flooding in New Hampshire.

~ The 20th anniversary of my move to Boston in August 1985 with my best friend Di, who stayed on there and is soon to be married.

~ Our crazy house renovations in the midst of my husband being back in the hospital! (He will be fine but the recuperation this time will be long...)

Every day brings another exciting change.

Right now our three children are sleeping, the wind is blowing steadily outside, and fall seems to have settled around us after a very balmy late summer--still no killing frost! But a clearing wind and that has made all of the difference.

Tomorrow will be a full moon--I can see the glow cast now on the Main Street of our village and the white houses in a spectral light.

Tomorrow, with the floor refinished and dried in the kitchen--with everything removed from counters and cupboards--I will start again with a less cluttered approach and better use of counter space! I have too many collections of kitchen-related items and have decided to warehouse and rotate them. It is the only way--that or I start selling on eBay. Some day...

But I'm looking forward to a good week of fall cleaning, to getting my husband home to a long winter of recovery (what better time to appreciate DirectTV and a warm fireplace in a newly opened living space?). We just had the wall knocked down between the two west parlors and the space is incredible. The wall had been removed before and is easily returned. We were all tired of being crammed into four 15x15 boxes in the main house, one used more than others off the kitchen.

My friends, Steve Gross and Sue Daley, who shot the photography for my pantry book want me to write copy for their next book project. I couldn't be more pleased or excited. We have known each other for 16 years and have worked together on many articles in the past (we met on the shoot for my first published article in VICTORIA Magazine). It will be an honor and privilege for me to write for them, just as I was honored that they'd want to help me with my pantry book. There are no finer interior photographers working in the United States today. Period.

Several weeks ago I wrote an article for the next NEW ENGLAND HOME (November issue) on tight deadline, with some time I had to spare a week before our intense 3-day photo shoot of pantries...but more about the pantries another day. I've pitched some more article ideas to OLD-HOUSE INTERIORS with future placement. I need to send some more of my children's stories out to editors for feedback. This can be "winter work" to fill in the gaps around my pantry book writing.

But right now I should try to turn the lights off before midnight for once in my adult life...

Family Summit

Last weekend, Columbus Day weekend, my 17 year old daughter and I made the trek down to Summit, New Jersey and back in the pouring rain. We went, quite spontaneously as it turned out, because it worked out for us to go, but for months I had been jostling the idea back and forth. I figured, I don't see my immediate family branch up here so why drive 300 miles each way on the rainiest weekend in months, pay for a nice hotel room, only to be subjected to possible upset? Well, to prove a point for one (I am a part of the extended family and there are many first cousins once removed and second cousins whom I enjoy). The second and perhaps primary reason was because my daughter is at that age where her roots begin to mean something. And finally, I wanted to see the houses that my grandmother always spoke about in Summit: Avebury, Lindum and Little Lindum. She painted a blissful picture (Summit is still a bucolic suburb) and always colored her childhood with the broad brush strokes of reverence and rememberance. At the center of her brood of nine siblings were her beloved mother and father, true Victorian scions of a modern 20th century family. Our cousin Bob put together quite a reunion program which included a walking or driving tour around Summit family haunts. It is always good to know where we come from (at one point, my daughter turned to me and said, "I didn't know we were a family of so many WASPs..."). She wasn't being derogatory in any sense of the word--there was almost an awe and reverence to her observation.

We walked in mid-day on Saturday, a bit drenched, and the first person I saw was an aunt who recently accused me of "taking the best things" from the farm. As no one had acknowledged my flabbergasted rebuttal of six weeks prior, I didn't expect or plan to get into anything at the reunion. I did not go to cause trouble. So, we just avoided each other all weekend, acting like the elephant wasn't in the room. Meanwhile, I discovered that one of my uncles actually screens my other aunt's (mother's sister) e-mails so she never even read any of the crap that I was hurling back in my own self defense! Ah, and then there was the "Dance of My Mother's Third Husband" as I came to call it--they'd appear around the corner at the elevator, he'd look at me and slip down the staircase (we were four floors up). "Just slip out the back Jack, make a new plan Stan, don't need to be coy, Roy...just set yourself free." I saw him at the bar later that night, first in line, and he looked away. The crowning moment was when I was heading up Sunday morning to pack, the door opened to he and my mother standing in front of the elevator waiting to come down. No avoidance this time. I said, "Hello, W.", with all the sincerity and arch tone, I suppose, that Seinfeld reserved for Newman. No response. My mother fluttered about and I just walked down the hall, tired of the humiliation (he'd actually been ignoring me and my children intermittently for four years). The night before he actually said in front of my daughter, "Well, I think you know whose table I'M avoiding!" That prompted a terse e-mail response upon my return.

Ah well and as you might know, WASPs don't like to confront uncomfortable situations. I have in the past year taken a different tact: I confront them, much to my own further isolation within the family. It is uncomfortable this woman who will not enable bad behavior in others and who no longer minces around the truth or won't sweep things under the carpet as the rest of the women in her family. I'm all for taking the damned rug out of the house, hanging it on the clothesline and beating the merry h#$% out of it with a carpet beater! As I grew up often criticized for everything I did or didn't do by some of the women in the family--or things I did well were rarely acknowledged--I've finally decided to speak for myself. [Ok, this is really a leap into "Reality Television" land--too much BONADUCE, I fear--but I think my weight issues have to do with see? I can still be this person and do these things AND be "fluffy" as my friend Judy so sweetly terms it...I don't have to be an emaciated skeleton to accomplish my goals or be accepted. Besides, imagine if I'd been left alone when I was only 20 pounds overweight back in high school? Women can be their own worst enemies.]

The highlight of my weekend? One word but three people: BOB. My mother's older brother who sat with me at dinner and who has been incredibly supportive of me and my husband--and observant--during some difficult months (at one point during dinner he leaned across the table and said to me, "It was an incredibly brave thing to come down here, you know"); my mother's first cousin who organized the reunion and whose entire branch of the family, along with his wife and twin brother, is a pleasant breath of functional fresh air (they know how to laugh at themselves and with each other); and finally, another Bob who married into the family and who always gives me a big hug and says hello. A true gentleman. There were other highlights, too: seeing my French cousins again after many years, meeting others, and learning that the reunion organizational baton had been passed to my generation of cousins--the great-grandchildren of J.A.T. and H.A.T.

None of my generation of cousins ever knew our great-grandparents and some of us didn't even know our grandparents, but their legacy lives on in their descendants. It is a great family that we come from and no group is perfect, no person is perfect, but after the shakedown of the past year in my own family of origin--largely over the farm but there are other issues, too--I realize it is important to look beyond and to find "family" in good friends and relatives who get it, and those with whom you want to spend time. I know each branch has their own issues--another even has their own squabbles about another family farm--but taken as a whole, we're a great and diverse bunch, as nice as you're likely to find anywhere else. I'm looking forward to the next family "Summit" in Florida in 2010. And I will bring all of my family to that one as our boys will be a bit older and likely to have more fun with a bunch of relatives. At this reunion I was so pleased with my daughter who mingled with ease and poise and has the diplomatic skills of the finest Foreign Service officer. Her grace and beauty will take her far. (I was also grateful that she is one heck of a driver, logging at least 3 hours each way and most in rain or difficult traffic.)

A cousin from another branch made an astute observation about myself and several other women in my generation--"You are mold breakers," she said. "You are setting out to make your own matriarchies and careers of interest while forging your own way independently from your family. It is a hard thing to do, but you're doing it." I was proud to be in the good company to which she was referring. And that is really what it is all about in the end: making our own way separately from the places and people we come from. Legacy is a strong word--whether in a family expectation or a family business or a house--and sometimes we just have to start making our own. Yet it is nice, too, to have a cushion of common DNA to fall back on from time to time. The reunion weekend gave me enough to sustain me for at least another five years--in the meantime, I'll fall back on the more immediate DNA of my own household and the refreshing diversity of an extended group of friends.

It's time to put things behind me and start along with visions for my own clan, my own book, as it were.

Saturday, October 1, 2005

Three Hundred Channels and Nothing On

My friend Edie was right. Don't do it--don't get Direct TV! So far I am unimpressed. We have been living with an antenna for five years and had cable for only a few before that. Cable was limited and expensive and we found our daughter was becoming glued to MTV at the impressionable age of ten. Our antenna got all of the basic Boston channels but with haphazard clarity. We like certain programs and we like old movies--we've hardly been going to the video store at all. In fact, I can't remember when I was last in there. Besides, we watch very little television at all in the summer.

For some reason, Direct TV began to seem appealing. Lots of program offerings, local channels still included, a fairly reasonable monthly premium--if you don't get all of the movie channels--and some friends couldn't stop talking about TeVO. (I admit, while I haven't yet "TeVoed" anything, I have paused a critical scene in an old BONANZA episode for twenty minutes while my son went outside to see something.)

I'll report back more on this new technology. I know my boys are watching way too many cartoons. I'm still watching the shows I would have watched any way, mostly on network TV...although I have to confess to liking BREAKING BONADUCE on VH-1, a new reality show about Danny Bonaduce, former child star, and his unraveling life and marriage. Pathetic really--truly Gladiator TV at its finest hour. Next we will be watching people on death row.

The Summer that Wouldn't Fade

Boys at Spring

Tonight we ate barbecued chicken out on our Martha Stewart patio set (from K-Mart--perhaps our most used furniture in the house of late). It was balmy, a bit breezy and all around lush greenery just beginning to fade, and ample pots of coleus still blooming. It is October 1 and we have yet to have a frost, let alone a killing frost.

In August after the balmiest, hottest, even most humid summer that I can recall in the northeast (it has been a while), I predicted a warm fall. September was beautiful. Of course the dry dust and mold is kicking up in grand form--we have had little rain--but the clear, cloudless days are beginning to spoil us with their predictability. And who says we are not having Global Warming? It will be interesting to see what winter brings but I can take another month or so of this.

Even the fall foliage is delayed--it has the appearance of late August when the swamp maples are just beginning to turn. I expect our peak weekend will be much later this year when "peak" is usually around Columbus Day. But cider is here! Lovely, sweet, rich nectar of the apple gods--and unpasteurized! The only place we can find the "real stuff" is at Tenney Farm in Antrim, New Hampshire. You haven't tasted apple cider until you've had unpasteurized. In fact, I consider it to be fall tonic and it helps ward off colds and all sorts of things.

I'll take this weather all year round but I find myself beginning to crave the crackle of a warm fire and the colder nights. One thing I miss about autumn is the smell of burning leaves. Everyone used to burn leaves--in suburb, city , and country--but no longer. That is a smell the candle companies should fabricate. There has been so much sun of late, particularly shining in my office window, that I haven't had to turn on my light box. Yet I do notice an increasing irritability--perhaps it is time.

I haven't written much lately because, perhaps, so much has been happening. The children are all back at school, we are settling in to a busier routine, and I am starting to have pantries photographed for my book (and arranging for all the styling that goes into them behind the scenes). I have loads of pantry props and it will be fun. Next week my friends Sue and Steve come up for the week to begin shooting. We have a variety of pantries, many from old "legacy" houses that have never been seen by the public. Those houses that hold the stuff of generations and never seem to change. These are a part of New England, especially, and there are more around than one realizes. It is a special treat to have befriended many of their owners and to be allowed access--almost like a secret club.

So I promise to write a bit more regularly and will probably be commenting more on the book process as the months ahead unfold. It is a good time of year to be thinking about pantries--we have been stocking our cellar shelves like regular squirrels. Instead of canning or freezing this year--my garden was a complete disaster--we are buying a great deal in bulk or on sale for shelves and freezers. Despite the beautiful and continued summer, there is always a winter in New England.

Friday, September 9, 2005

The Right Couch

We live in a large house with many rooms and many couches but the most comfortable are in our least used room, a Tudor bunker we designed in our basement on our first and only renovation to our 1813 Federal home. I knew the room would be seldom used because of its far distance to the kitchen. The idea was to have a place for my husband to go to but no one wants to be away from Mamma for long, I guess, so I have gotten rather used to everyone swarming around the kitchen--and if not hovering in the kitchen, they are watching television, reading or playing games in the adjacent living area.

But despite this cozy picture of domesticity, we've had this pressing problem of family room space. Despite the amount of actual living spaces in our house, few are cozy enough--or child-proof enough--to be called a family room. I do love the presence of the past and the many layers in my husband's family home--including the ones we have added--but we do live in a home, not a museum. One can only have so many parlors--and we love ours for Christmas and larger get-togethers--but there must always be one central family gathering spot that you shouldn't have to fuss over. Today's trend towards the "Great Room" in architectural design actually makes sense. The Great Room is now the "keeping room" of the 21st century--adjacent to the kitchen or an extended part of it, the Great Room is at once parlor, family room, rumpus room and 'Great Hall' (as many span two stories).

Our "great room' is the same size as seven other rooms in the original part of our Federal home (the ell, added later, houses the kitchen and several other spaces chopped out of former woodshed): c. 15'x15'. The design challenge of this room is that it has a fireplace, centered on its western wall, flanked on either side by an exterior door and a window; a window, a bookcase, and a door (to the kitchen) on the north wall; a door to the pantry, a door to a dish closet, and a door to the hall on the east wall; and, finally, a long wall space and one door leading into the front parlor. For those who are counting that is six doors, 2 windows, a bookcase niche and a fireplace, all on approximately 60' of total wall space. Its twin room on the east side of the house (our house was built as a Federal duplex for two brothers and their families) works well as a dining room. Most furniture in a dining room is naturally drawn to the center of the room. Both of these rooms were the original kitchens before the ell was added--they would work as 18th century kitchens centering around the fireplace. But with so many doors it is difficult to put anything along a wall.

Thus, any couch(es) must hover, island-like, in the center of the room, and after almost 10 years of marriage we find it works best if the couch faces the fireplace (not that we light it that much). Meanwhile, as this is our primary television viewing area and we have five people in our household, it is essential that everyone be able to see the television, even if necks must be craned and bodies contorted. [NOTE to readers: Early New England houses were not designed for "family entertainment centers", let alone wide-screen televisions. Our as-large-as-we'll-ever-go television is angled into a corner to the right of the fireplace on an old dropleaf table. Surprisingly, it works.]

Several years ago in some sort of agophoric stupor, I think, we bought a large plump chintz-covered couch at a large new furniture chain store. We generally don't buy new furniture but find it handy for things like couches and chairs your children might spend hours of their young lives on (and that includes kitchen furniture which also requires that the occasional marker or paint spill be able to smoothly blend into the decor). This particular couch was not only down-filled and thus way too cushy, it is about four feet deep. For short people like myself, that means to approximate comfort by lining one's tush up with the back of the couch also means having both feet stick out straight ahead of you with no hope of reaching the floor. Meanwhile, your bum starts to sink into the back of the couch between the down pillow "supporting" your back and the couch cushion which slowly creeps ever so quietly towards the floor. At the end of an hour of "Six Feet Under" you are practically ready for embalming yourself. You can lie on this couch but children fuss and complain about no room and it IS possible to drown in the sea of eighteen throw pillows that come with the thing. So in hindsight I realize I was attracted by the fabric and the idea of a plumpy English throwy couch like so many in magazines. (And I won't even confirm or deny that the backdrop of this couch is creame-colored. Furthermore, the other reason we bought it was that it had a very comfortable Queen bed tucked inside it. That feature has been used once but only at the peril of our guest who was almost launched into the fireplace when they tried to put the bed back the next morning...)

Last December, my husband and daughter went off chair shopping without me. They came home not only with one taupey-blechy super soft and pillowy Lazy-Boy type contraption but two! Now I admit, this chair is comfortable, perhaps too comfortable, but not only does it render instant hyper sleep at any point in the day but it has the aesthetic nature of a frowsy old dress and takes up a good quarter of the room. I immediately had mine cancelled but I admit to having sat in my husband's on many occasions since. So for the most part we've had an increasingly dingy uncomfortable couch (that my kids use as a giant napkin, by the way, when not leaping full bore into its piles of throw pillows) and Snoring-Husband-in-Ugly-Chair cramped by the book case and just barely clearing the door to the kitchen. If you recline, forget room to walk in.

So today we found a dream scenario. First of all we chose our two loveseats (which will approximate an L-shaped sectional in front of the fireplace--or if the television factor were not present could face each other in front of the fireplace) and chair and ottoman (my husband's idea--we will sell the couch, perhaps, but definitely the LazyBoy). We chose them by comfort first followed by a close second of "Will Cath's feet actually reach the floor?" and finally by appearance. The fabric selection was also based on durability and the "how will it look if we spill wine or grape juice on it?" factor. The fabric is a leafey Victorian-esque foliated pattern with greens, burgundys, taupes, and a bit of blue. It was surprisingly easy for the two of us to agree on furniture and fabric and fortunately we found a combination of comfort, old-cushy clubiness, support and attractability. Imagine, a couch with an X-factor? My husband even consented to the new coffee table idea I had for games, food, a laptop computer, and God forbid, feet! His one criteria is that I not position the loveseats in an L-shape approximating a sectional--well, sssh, we won't tell him that the corner piece area will now have a floor lamp.

We even spoke of opening up the two parlors into one, as we have discussed before, but not this year. Oil prices are too high and I'm envisioning a lot of comfey cocooning this winter--no draughts, thank you--just off the kitchen, where I can hear the news while cooking, where my kids are reading or playing games in absolute harmony, and my husband is happy in his chair with his book or an old movie that I'm supposed to be arranging via satellite (more about that decision another day).

So we will turn the main house down to 55 degrees--ideally--fire up the fireplace or don more throws and blankets and sweaters and live in our "Great Room" with the right couches and run up to our bedrooms at night and crawl in very fast to our beds, soon to be warmed by the piles of blankets. I'll keep you posted as to how it all works out. In the meantime, on to the classifieds: " FOR SALE: One large sleep-sofa couch (slept on once), great bones, needs good cleaning, must like Chintz or maybe a slipcover and a tolerant man; one "like new" LazyBoy, only six months old, needs nice home, preferably with well-intentioned worn out man and one tolerant woman."

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

The Gulf Coast

I have never been to New Orleans but have read about its architecture, have tasted its cuisine, and have savored the Southern Gothic atmosphere of the Bajou in so many novels over the years. My photographer friends, Sue and Steve (who will be shooting some for my IN THE PANTRY book) were down in Creole country last spring to shoot a variety of old homes and Spanish moss-covered places for their upcoming book on Creole architecture (I will blog more details on the book as they become available). Now they realize they have likely documented that which we may never see again.

But architecture aside, it has been difficult to think about writing about place, any place, since the effects of Hurricane Katrina have made themselves known in the storm's aftermath. Since late August thousands of people are homeless, and probably as many more are dead, and it was only a few days ago that aid and water and food started to reach them. We could not watch the news without thinking about the horrors of loss and illness and fearing for one's life on the streets or in the supposed protection of the SuperDome. The few that were able to escape ahead of the storm were going to stay with relatives or friends or to their second residence. [Who can forget Bush's off-the-cuff remark when he first landed to survey the damage: "Trent Lott lost his house! And we're going to rebuild it and I'm going to visit him there." Now I was surely heartened to know that Trent Lott's second, or third, or perhaps even fourth place of residence was going to be rebuilt. What about the poor New Orleans families whose only homes were washed away or submerged under feet of filth and stagnant water?]

And now Barbara Bush's comment today about "things working out well" for the refugees in Houston. "And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this--this (she chuckles slightly) is working very well for them." The old Welfare state at work again, eh Babs? I used to have a lot of respect for this woman.

Anne Rice wrote a heartfelt piece (she lives there and writes about New Orleans) in the NEW YORK TIMES last Sunday. It was nice to hear from an author, a real place-identified writer whose atmospheric descriptions ooze of the old South and Creole traditions. It was also a rallying cry--a wake-up call. After highlighting the rich black history that the city has, she said the following:

"Something else was going on in New Orleans. The living was good there. The clock ticked more slowly; people laughed more easily; people kissed; people loved; there was joy...

Which is why so many New Orleanians, black and white, never went north. They didn't want to leave a place where they felt at home in neighborhoods that dated back centuries; they didn't want to leave families whose rounds of weddings, births and funerals had become the fabric of their lives. They didn't want to leave a city where tolerance had always been able to outweigh prejudice, where patience had always been able to outweigh rage. They didn't want to leave a place that was theirs...

...Now nature has done what the Civil War couldn't do. Nature has done what the labor riots of the 1920's couldn't do. Nature had done what "modern life" with its relentless pursuit of efficiency couldn't do. It has done what racism couldn't do, and what segregation couldn't do either. Nature has laid the city waste - with a scope that brings to mind the end of Pompeii...

I share this history for a reason - and to answer questions that have arisen these last few days. Almost as soon as the cameras began panning over the rooftops, and the helicopters began chopping free those trapped in their attics, a chorus of voices rose. "Why didn't they leave?" people asked both on and off camera. "Why did they stay there when they knew a storm was coming?" One reporter even asked me, "Why do people live in such a place?"...

...Well, here's an answer. Thousands didn't leave New Orleans because they couldn't leave. They didn't have the money. They didn't have the vehicles. They didn't have any place to go. They are the poor, black and white, who dwell in any city in great numbers; and they did what they felt they could do - they huddled together in the strongest houses they could find. There was no way to up and leave and check into the nearest Ramada Inn...

What's more, thousands more who could have left stayed behind to help others. They went out in the helicopters and pulled the survivors off rooftops; they went through the flooded streets in their boats trying to gather those they could find. Meanwhile, city officials tried desperately to alleviate the worsening conditions in the Superdome, while makeshift shelters and hotels and hospitals struggled...

And where was everyone else during all this? Oh, help is coming, New Orleans was told. We are a rich country. Congress is acting. Someone will come to stop the looting and care for the refugees...

...But to my country I want to say this: During this crisis you failed us. You looked down on us; you dismissed our victims; you dismissed us. You want our Jazz Fest, you want our Mardi Gras, you want our cooking and our music. Then when you saw us in real trouble, when you saw a tiny minority preying on the weak among us, you called us "Sin City," and turned your backs...

Well, we are a lot more than all that. And though we may seem the most exotic, the most atmospheric and, at times, the most downtrodden part of this land, we are still part of it. We are Americans. We are you."

It takes a writer from the inside to speak so eloquently about a place that belongs to so many.

The United States is not a Third World country. While waging a war in Iraq, surely we could look after our own in a more expeditious manner? This is a national outrage--with international attention--that only underscores our weaknesses and the pressing need to address our country's own domestic issues of poverty or of pressing need in a natural catastrophe. It was heartening to see Oprah, who usually focuses on the poor in Africa, to visit our own refugee camps. I have always had isolationist tendencies--now, more than ever, we need to heal ourselves and help our own.

A neighbor told me this week that New Orleans got its name "The Big Easy" because of one's ease and ability to buy drugs there. It wasn't until I learned from Anne Rice's essay that it was because it was always considered 'easy' for a black performer to get a gig in that city. Above most, New Orleans is city steeped in black culture and tradition. As a nation we should do our best to not only restore the buildings to their former glory--from the French-inspired houses to the distinctly Southern "shot gun" style house--but we should do our best to give back their city, not as it was found but as it was lost.

Thursday, September 1, 2005

Dad's Iced Tea

My father taught me how to appreciate a fine iced tea--and the importance of having one's own mint bed! My husband and I are so spoiled by Dad's method that we rarely get iced tea in restaurants unless we know it's been fresh-brewed. Sure, we bought the occasional Lipton instant stuff as a child (and all of its derivatives) but you haven't had iced tea until you've had it fresh-brewed, steeped in mint, and chilled to a fine and frosty liquid. It is deceptively simple to make. If you don't have your own mint bed (highly advisable), find a friend that does or splurge in the produce section where you can often find bundles of fresh herbs. [I prefer the bigger, woolier leafed 'Apple Mint' variety.]

Dad always made his tea in an old 1940s Robinson Ransbottom pitcher, dark green with a hobnail design. I still have that pitcher but I can't use it because it has some hairline cracks and to pour boiling water in it would likely destroy it. So it sits on my shelf with many other Robinson Ransbottom relics, a pottery company that closed its doors in Roseville, Ohio earlier this year after 100 years of manufacture. He got the pitcher from his grandmother next door in Akron, Mary Manton, who married a Robinson and thus was fortunate to stock her kitchen with a variety of yellowware, pitchers, crocks and other items from the company. Through my father, I have a few pieces from her collection--considered utilitarian kitchen stuff in its day--and have added extensively to it in the past ten years.

Here is the recipe for these last days of summer and I "blog" it in honor of what would have been my Dad's 69th birthday on Sunday, September 4. My husband loves it (and even my children--we have to watch that as they have their own natural caffineation!) and I make some every day or so right up until apple cider season at Tenney Farms in Antrim (which, if you haven't tried it, is autumn ambrosia of the Gods--and non-pasteurized, the best!). Remember, this is all tea--not the syrupy "Sweet Tea" served regularly in the South:


- 4 quart-sized Lipton tea bags (we bought a lot on our last trip South) or 16 individual-sized bags (Tetley is also good)
- 4 individual tea bags of your choice (this is my variation on Dad's theme--I often use 100% rosehip tea or Celestial Seasons "Cold Brew" Lemon-flavored tea)
- 4 foot-long sprigs of apple mint (check for bugs! no need to wash, unless you spray your garden)
- 1 half-gallon pottery pitcher
- 2 quarts boiled water (a full kettle)

Place bags at bottom of pitcher (remove all strings and paper tags). Add mint sprigs and boiling water. Steep for 30 minutes.

Remove tea bags (and mint, if desired, or you can leave that in) carefully with tongs but be careful not to squeeze tea bags (this can impart a bitter flavor). Pour into a sturdy plastic 1-gallon 'bottle' (I use old apple juice bottles that have the thicker plastic). Brew will reach half-way up the side: top off with clear, cool tap water.

Chill until iced cold or serve immediately on ice, with a mint sprig. Enjoy!

VARIATIONS: You can always use decaffineated tea bags, if desired. For those who like sweet tea, you can add sugar or honey to taste while brew is still warm (before adding cool water)--we don't. You can also add lemon slices while brewing (we add later). My friend Edie told me this year about a wonderful herbal powder called STEVIA (available in health food stores or at Trader Joe's). I don't know much about it except that a small amount goes a long way and that it tastes sweet! I sometimes use a pinch in a glass of tea.

Friday, August 19, 2005

The Wedding Photo

Parlor at the Theron Boyd House by Catherine Seiberling Pond

There is still a lot of chaff and bits of things left at the farm--some piles of old books, some chairs and lawn furniture we have yet to bring home, some odds and ends in the barn.

One thing we found on a recent visit was a framed photograph of my parents' wedding in July 1961 at All Saints' Church in nearby Peterborough, New Hampshire. It was dusty and had been tossed aside and lying on the floor of the upstairs barn loft. Perhaps it was a harmless mistake but it was the only remnant like this up there, a cast off, it seemed, the gesture of throwing away a past, a marriage.

My father and I were always very close. I don't exactly know the details of my parents' separation and divorce--only its impact on me as a child, a teenager, and as an adult. I have heard and surmised various things. But I always remained loyal to both parents while feeling a particular empathy, if not outright kinship, with my father. He was the one who was left behind--my mother had to ask his permission to move with us to New Hampshire (he was an Akron resident his entire life). There is a line in the movie ELIZABETH when Elizabeth the 1st says, "I am my father's daughter." I know exactly what she meant by that: I inherited my father's warped sense of humor, his penchant for melancholy, his love of music, and his body type.

To find this forlorn photograph, a tossed away remnant, like a relic from the Titanic that had survived all of these years or something a tornado had blown into the barn, was as perplexing a thing as much as it was upsetting. I have the original slide from which the print was made so replicating it isn't a problem--it is the finding of it that bothered me. Of all of the items at the farm we went through together, that other people pawed over and moved in the course of several weeks, it is as if that was left behind in the dust on purpose.

So we picked it up, dusted it off as best we could and brought it home with us. What else could we do? I couldn't very well leave my parents on the floor even though they had been divorced almost thirty years before my father died in 2002, even though the wedding itself took place more than 40 years ago. It is still a memory--not a memory of mine but a family memory, and worthy, despite the subsequent fallout of a marriage, of much better treatment than to be left in the empty, lonely space of an old barn.

To see a photograph of my parents sharing their vows, long before the conflicts and discord created by events of the past four years and almost three years after losing my father, just shook me to the core. Finding it in that state was symbolic of so many things and I should probably get this blog off my chest and be done with it--I realize I may be overeacting to such blatant symbolism. I have only hit a temporary low point in processing the "whole farm thing" but the photo has been speaking to me, as if to defend its presence: "I am here!" "I happened!" "I matter!" We all need to make such declarations from time to time--whether for ourselves, a philosophy or a discarded photo of a long ago event. These "bits and threads of our very lives" that Katherine Mansfield wrote about are always around us--some tangible, some less so. "This farm has many ghosts," my mother said. And so it does.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Sounds of Summer

West Terrace-Summer 2005

Tonight Henry ran to the screen door that I had just opened after an early evening thunderstorm. The door overlooks our west terrace in the photo above and captures wonderful night air, even in the hottest weather. Henry breathed in the clearer air, tipped his head to one side as if to hear everything, grinned widely and said, "I love the sounds of summer!...Crickets!...and it just rained!" That said so much in one sentence as well as the smile on his face. Oh to be young and exuberant about the little things in life, the things we take for granted as old fuddy grownups.

I had just been admiring my boys on the couch, thinking if I could just freeze this time in their lives when they are so happy and haven't really a care or a worry. When they still get along--with us and each other--and when the world is really as simple as one's own sensory perceptions and time is in the moment and the "eternal now".

Boys Swimming

Soon the days will be even shorter, the cricket chorus will be louder, summer days will wane and we will be in that odd-uneven time, the bittersweet time of the year at summer's end. But for now, for a few more weeks in the life of a 7 year old boy and his 5 year old brother, every day is a summer day--with an unplanned destination, a wide horizon, and the promise of things to come.

Monday, August 8, 2005

Mall City - Part Two

I have the image and concept of the shopping mall in my mind this week, having just spent six days within one mile of a major northeast mall in Burlington, Massachusetts--one with particularly high end stores and restaurants, I might add.

Shopping malls are one of those things I love to hate. I only visit them a few times a year and usually with my teenage daughter in tow whose taste proclivities demand the shopping range that a mall allows. I tend to get clothes on sale at GapKids or Children's Place for our two boys or the occasional kitchen item--ok, a complete consumer rampage as at Crate & Barrel last week--and used to drop in at any given Clinique counter for the annual requisite tube of "Honey Ginger" lipstick until they discontinued the shade about five years ago. My "big store" preference tends to be Target but I'm digressing from the point.

I like the convenience of a Target, an Old Navy or a larger mall complex but "not in our town, dear". I am glad that we live within an hour's reach of these larger consumer areas. I am glad to visit but glad to come home to our town with no stoplight. Perhaps it is hypocritical but I figure if a town is stupid enough to allow rampant sprawl in all directions, I may as well partake once in a while. Is it comforting to go to virtually any part of the country and find the same store, the same franchised restaurant? Yes and no. The malling of America has led to such a bland, homogenous response to life. As long as we are comfortable in our Abercrombie & Fitch (my daughter doesn't believe they used to be a high end fishing store) and have our Starbucks latte in hand, we don't need to fear anything. It is all one ballywick, really: suburbia, mall sprawl, eek. Where is our American regional character going?

I think one reason I am comfortable in malls on that rare occasion is because I grew up in one. Summit Mall in the rural fringes of Akron, Ohio (then the township of Fairlawn and now the City of Fairlawn) was one of the first indoor malls in northeastern Ohio. It was built in the early 1960s, perhaps the year I was born. Inside, at the gathering of its three axis points, was an amazing display of fountains with colored lights. The sound and the smell was a soothing thing for a toddler in a stroller and as we got older we were allowed to toss pennies into the pools. My mother brought us to the mall on rainy days--we were the original "mall walkers" before such a thing was advertised. I would eventually walk alongside my brothers tandem stroller while my mother herded us along, taking in the sites. We didn't always shop but when we did we went to Buster Brown or Sears for shoes and clothes, respectively (I used to have nightmares about the Buster Brown kid and his dog--both rather demonic looking pasted on the inside sole of my shoe), O'Neill's for "nice outfits", Halles or Polsky's for linens and various housewares.

The last thing I remember doing at Summit Mall was when my Aunt Mary took me to O'Neill's in the summer of 1980, at my grandpa's behest, to outfit me in a suit "to greet the president of Wheaton College on my first day of freshman year". It was a sweet, if not somewhat archaic, gesture that I will never forget. We chose a lovely Evan Picone gray flannel suit--the skirt had a kick pleat--a white blouse and black velvet pumps with a bow (very Talbots) and a matching black velvet clutch and even though it was 1980, the suit could have passed for something Nancy Drew may have worn in the 1930s. [Of course, the first day of school was 95 degrees and at least that in humidity--so no wool suits. I never did wear that suit until my first "real" job at the National Trust for Historic Preservation's northeast office in Boston. I still have the entire outfit, even though I long ago outgrew it.] All of these major stores left the Akron-Cleveland area when they went bankrupt in the 1970s and 80s. At one time, they had large city block-sized stores in downtown Akron, where we used to see their Christmas windows each holiday season.

Polsky's, I think it was, had the most marvelous in-store bakery. My mother would buy the occasional chocolate eclairs and at holidays--even something as benign as St. Patrick's day--she would buy cut-out cakes and cookies appropriately dipped in fondant and lavished with colored sprinkles or icing. These big stores also had large escalators and vast houseware departments where I liked to play "house" (of course) in the configured suites of furniture.

This mall was only a few miles from our house and by the early 1970s there were several more in the Akron area. They indeed, despite their glamour and excitement for a young child, sucked the life out of the remaining downtown Akron businesses as the Pretenders bemoan in their hit "My City was Gone"**:


I think Chrissie Hynde must be a "punk preservationist" of sorts. Most of the farms are all gone now, even more than when she lamented Akron's changes in the early 1980s, and are rapidly being sucked up by metro sprawl--especially in the northeastern part of Ohio. If our farms are all gone, even where there is no sprawl, where are we going to get our vegetables and fruits...and milk? Chile? California truck farms? Certainly not at the mall.

**MY CITY WAS GONE by Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders




Sunday, August 7, 2005

The Return of the "Big House"


Rear view of "STONEHEDGE FARM" by Sam Gray, summer 2005, for NEW ENGLAND HOME Magazine (to be launched September 2005)

Forget formulaic, pieced together pre-fabricated and chemically composited McMansion. We're talking c. 25,000 square feet of architect-designed house, complete with interior design and landscape, too, and a bevy of real and natural materials like stone, granite and wood. High end stuff, perhaps at least $200 a square foot in 2002 dollars (and that was before the cost of building materials tripled in the Northeast). I recently wrote about one such house in the western suburbs of Boston for a new magazine about to be released: NEW ENGLAND HOME (check out their website in "Literary" links, at right). It promises to be a magazine exclusively about well-designed high-end New England homes, perhaps an ARCHITECTURAL DIGEST for the nouveau Puritan. I haven't seen the first issue yet but my article is the cover story and I have to like that.

I actually liked this house, even though I didn't have a chance to visit it, save for photographs and extensive interviews with the family. It is what I would call post-modern Shingle Style with more an emphasis on traditional template than on modern stretches. There is a deliberate nod by the architects, Catalano Architects, Inc. to Henry Hobson Richardson, the firm of McKim, Mead & White, and even English country house designer Edwin Lutyens (pronounced Lutch-ens) whose late nineteenth century look was already post-modern in its way. [If you've seen the 1979 movie adaptation of A FRENCH LIEUTENANT's WOMAN, with Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep, the large English lakeside house used for the last scenes of the movie is a Lutyens design. Think big spaces, playful articulation of form and massing, and the ideal background for the pre-Raphaelite set.] As their website founder Thomas P. Catalano has been praised by Paul Goldberger in THE NEW YORK TIMES as "an architect whose shingled and clapboard houses are handsome and expansive, and endeavor to fit into their surroundings." Neo Shingle-Style? Neo-Colonial Revival? Can one have a revival of a revival? If so, that is what this house exemplifies and Catalano, who was once an apprentice to Robert Stern, is a proponent of the "Big House" movement.

The family that built it wanted to make it a liveable home for their extensive family of grown children and grandchildren. Talking with them reminded me of what my greatgrandparents thought about when they had in mind a country mansion in then ex urban Akron, Ohio in the early 1910s. Their vision turned into 65,000 square feet of Tudor Revival comfort and elegance--but despite its grandeur, the house was always warm and inviting. And my greatgrandparents entertained their extensive family and group of friends--and occasional special luminaries--like there was no tomorrow. I suppose before the great Wars and income taxes if you were on the right financial side of the fence, there probably was no tomorrow. [Some original summer houses from this era and before--in the late 1800s--exist near us around Dublin Lake in Dublin, New Hampshire. Sadly, those remaining houses that have not been torn down or burned, are sold to newly-monied newcomers because the original families can no longer afford the obsene property taxes that occur when you live lakeside with a mountain view in New Hampshire. "Live free or die" is our state motto--it should change to "Live free if you can afford to live here at all"]

All this talk of family seats makes me mourn the passing of the farm and what could have been. We wanted to create that same semblance of continued family gathering place. But it was not to be. My grandparents and even my mother managed to do so for a time--but not in recent years. I guess in the end and for a variety of reasons we could not carry the baton. Now I will try to create that within our home that we've shared since our marriage, the one that my husband's family has owned since 1960, the large double Federal house that will be 200 years old in 2013. It is rare in this day and age to have children near and family all around. I envy those, like the MacDowells with their large suburban farm estate and handful of grown children and even more grandchildren, that can actually pull it off--whether in 25,000 or 1,500 square feet. [Our friend Judy and her husband manage beautifully in less then that, complete with two grown daughters, a son-in-law, and a grandhild. Of course the Amish just add on a "Grandpa House" to their property for the older generation to "retire" into.]

The closest of families, no matter what their house size, are the ones who can say what they mean to each other and still get together for the holidays--or regular Sunday dinner--unscathed. None of this WASP pretense and pretending the elephant isn't in the room...because it usually is, whether dwarfed by the architecture or crammed into a corner, the elephant is there and he needs to be acknowledged. When a member of one such New England family I know announced at a Thanksgiving dinner that he was gay--perhaps not the best time to announce such a thing, unless in a WASP household--his father paused for a moment and said, "Would you please pass the peas?"

Saturday, August 6, 2005

"Missing Time" in Mall City

We just got back from six days and six nights in....Burlington, Massachusetts! Land of office complexes and industrial parks and a really great mall, actually. Vacation? No, not exactly, but yes in some strange ways. My husband had to have a procedure at the Lahey Clinic and I, his doting wife, checked into the Marriott up the road. When not at his bedside, I was at the Burlington Mall (well, only for a few hours out of the whole week and the first several with my husband--we hit Crate & Barrel and I'll detail that in another blog!) or wrapped up at the hotel with laptop, pay-per-view, and the occasional room service order (it does get tiring eating out alone). Our children were nestled at home with a veritable Mary Poppins, our friend Judy [see "Judy's House (and Pantry)" entry in my blog archives: May 5, 2005], so I never worried for a moment about them. I soon became a part of this strange world where I didn't have to be a wife, a mother, to cook meals or even manage any more than my own little hotel room. Not only was the world strange but the time, too--"missing time" we always call it when someone is in the hospital (I have only experienced that three times before, when each of my children was born).

On Wednesday the Marriott informed me there was no room in the inn. Oh dear, what to do! I'd gotten rather used to my eighth floor eyrie (while I don't like heights, I do like to be on a higher hotel floor) with its perfectly attuned airconditioner and bottles of Evian water and king-sized bed complete with Euro-style puff. So, I slogged over to the Homestead Suites and decided to stay there for the last three or four nights--the place was like a glorified Super 8, but with a small kitchen en suite. I found the nearest Trader Joe's and did my best at meal preparation (the one time I was glad to have and use a microwave). I decided to boycott the Marriott, despite their offer for me to return on Thursday--how dare they kick me out knowing that I'd been there for three nights and needed several more (but had neglected, initially, to make that extensive a reservation)! Both places had "Lahey" discounts which were substantial and appreciated.

I had no right to complain at all--here I was without husband and children for six days and nights while my poor husband was on five days of mandatory bed rest, post surgery. The time went far more quickly for me than I imagined it would. Between hospital trips twice a day (or in one long stretch of hours), I didn't seem to have much time. So I emailed friends and family with progress reports to fill in the gaps...and watched weird things on Cable TV (we don't have Cable at home so it is always a treat). I also had a lot of "alone" time, something I used to take for granted. Time with myself and with my thoughts, I never get lonely. I can miss my children and husband's company, sure, but I am also comfortable with my own time and space.

In that sense the stay was beneficial. I could not have gone down and back every day (90 minutes each way), fought traffic, and then balanced kids at home while worrying about leaving Temple behind at the hospital. This way I could focus on visiting him and getting rested for the home stretch to come. And fortunately we are still in August and have relatively unstructured days as it is.

T. is doing beautifully but we laughed that both times we've had Judy come for a week it has always been for dire reasons. NEXT time, we vow, we'll book that cruise or take a second honeymoon on "Judy time". But we are so blessed to have someone whom we can trust with all three of our children and know they are having a good time: so much so that Eli said tonight when I was tucking him in, "sometimes I didn't want you to come home!" I know exactly what he meant.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Empty House Revisited


This afternoon I met my mother at the farmhouse to go over what had been moved, what was left, what is still to go. With amazing efficiency, thanks to other members of her family, most everything was moved during one sultry weekend. We discussed the future of the place and the reality of what it requires--I said I didn't think we could keep it. I told her we wanted to keep as much of the land as possible surrounding the house but that we would sell the house and about 10 acres. She described some murmur in the family about keeping it in the family--certainly our original intention, but is this, too, a pipe dream?--so I thought I would follow up and send out an e-mail and/or letter to all aunts, uncle and cousins. At the very least, I owe them an explanation for why we are selling it and an opportunity to buy if anyone desires.

Seeing it again made it easier and visiting my mother's new house, a mile up the road, and seeing how she had settled everything into her new life also made things easier. She has blended her own things--some in storage for 30+ years--with some family pieces that she has brought from the farm. I was glad to see that she had chosen many objects that meant something to her. In the corner of her garage the four or five North American Van Line boxes from the June 1974 move are still unopened. Each one is now truly a time capsule of another life.

She showed me all through her house, very cozy and just the right size for two, and we both enthused about the amount of storage, the "just right size-ness" of everything--like the Three Bears cottage--and how a home is really made of the people in it. She said, "I'm realizing that, too." But the transition will not be easy--I think she is still somewhat wistful for what she has left behind. But she can walk on the property with the dogs always, even if the farmhouse sells. This is a huge change for her but in the long run, it will be easier--no huge maintenance bills to face, no acres of lawn to mow, no longer a slave to her gardens but with a few around to putter in.

As I pulled out of the driveway, I looked back in the rear view mirror and waved. My mother had a longing look about her, as if I were driving off to Oklahoma in a covered wagon, never to return. I promised to bring the boys the next time we meet--when we will likely have a book dealer come to go over the remaining lots. That will be in mid-August, soon towards the odd-uneven time of late summer. It has been a good summer and at the same time it has been very odd and uneven. The last year or so has been this way and I'm looking forward to a settling in time for all of us. I didn't cry today or the other day as I thought I might--I realized I have probably spent much of the past year crying about the farm. That sadness has been replaced by a steady clearheadedness--a compartmentalized sense of nostalgia and the reality that we gave it our best shot to bring everything at the farm--and everyone--together. I realize it is no longer my job nor should it ever have been.

So I'm starting to tuck the place away in acid-free memory. I realize that I have been doing that slowly, in manageable increments, since I formally moved out of the farm with my three year old daughter in late 1991. During the past four years I have mixed distance with wanting to buy the place and live there again one day. I realize, ultimately, that Thomas Wolfe was right--you can't go home again. It is never the same. I have seen these empty rooms, these corridors and walls of memory, but still I see them filled with objects and furnishings and people--even the many dogs we've had over the years at the farm. Forever attached to the farm will be "the bits and threads" of many lives, to paraphrase Katherine Mansfield--they whisper in the fields and from the open spaces in the barn and in the pinewoods. They cling behind doorways of the farmhouse. They will forever wave there from another time, silently, invisibly, but always there--the traces of four generations of one American family.