Sunday, December 30, 2007

Have Chest Freezer, Will Travel!

We made for a funny wagon train. One Toyota Camry with two women, lots of stuff, 2 stollen which I guarded with my life as well as many lovely Christmas gifts just packed from under the tree, fresh holiday gift fruit. One Honda Pilot loaded with two boys, husband, our dog, and quite a bit of stuff, towing a small trailer with two bunnies, more stuff, and a fully packed chest freezer with food. The early pioneers would have laughed but probably have admired the ingenuity. For a week our chest freezer was in the trailer, plugged into an outdoor outlet awaiting our move. In between snow storms my husband put a tarp on the trailer to keep the ice and snow off (and there has been much in New Hampshire this December).

Setting off at noon, while hoping to delay by a day because of our son who has a bad cold, we realized that we had a good weather window between storms and should take it while we could. As we pulled into Pine Grove, Pennsylvania at 7:30 that night, it was just beginning to rain. That same rain was headed into the northeast where it became a nasty, icy mix on Saturday morning.

On Saturday, in Flintstone, Maryland, of all places, just off scenic route 68 which travels through the Maryland panhandle and into the mountains, we had to stop for gas (the Pilot needed refueling every 150 miles because of the weight it was towing--the Toyota clocked in at about 450 miles per tank). On the left as we turned toward the little hamlet of Flintstone, I caught a glimpse of the Alpine Pantry. Needing more coffee, we stopped. In addition to its intriguing name and decorative gable entry, I was further lured in by the smell of warm cinnamon. Inside we found an Mennonite bulk foods market, a bustling bakery, and just-baked cinnamon raisin bread. It was a memorable pit stop and reminded us of Nolt's Bulk Foods in our region of Kentucky (with an added bakery). We bought a loaf of warm raisin bread, which filled the car with its fragrance, and had we some more room in either vehicle, we would have bought some groceries, too.

The rest of the trip through Maryland, West Virginia and Kentucky was glorious: no rain, ice or even a remnant of snow in the mountains or on the roads. We watched a large golden ball of sun set across the central Kentucky knobs at almost 6pm as we came within an hour of our new home. [There are many advantages to living on the western edge of the Eastern time zone for those of us who suffer from winter light deprivation. Big skies, more open land, more light, warmer winters. I could get used to this.]

Today we are unwinding and decompressing. I walked our dog around her new property and we enjoyed the gushing spring from the hill which pours into a pool and down into a creek. There is even watercress growing in it now--this summer the drought left it practically dry. The cars and trailer are unpacked (but now lots to unpack in the house), except for the freezer which is still full in the trailer and plugged into our porch outlet, just as before but now 1,100 miles away from its New England cellar. As we have no cellar here, our neighbor is going to help us move it to its outside porch location tomorrow where it will become a perfect Appalachian alpine pantry!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Last Snow

Today, after a lovely lunch with two dear New Hampshire friends, a morning send-off with my daughter and mother (who kindly took her granddaughter home to her college town nest, a reminder of when my mother did the same for me), and a bit of a weep, I came home in softly falling winter snow. It has been a snowy December.

It is probably the last snow our boys will see for a while, given that the Kentucky climes are in the 50s all week and snow is rare in the part of the state where we will be living. Certainly not of the great scope of an old-fashioned New England winter that we seem to be experiencing.

Temple and I spoke of our "Turbo Christmas" and the busy month of seeing family, friends, transitioning from school, and the loss of two friends (oh yes, and packing, more packing, always packing, it seems!). Now I think we're ready to leave with our wagon train in the morning. A clear day is promised. Westward HO!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Boxing Day

Our own butler and housekeeper ~ Festive, yet freaky

Well, we have transformed the meaning of Boxing Day in our household. The day after Christmas is traditionally when the owners of the English manors would box up leftover food from their Christmas feast and deliver it to their household staff, who had worked so hard for them on Christmas Day. It is also associated with alms boxes placed in churches for the needy. [Anyway, it seems to be a Victorian holdover and a holiday that continues--in Great Britain and Canada, Boxing Day is a bank holiday.]

Typically, the day after Christmas in our home is all about recovery and relaxation. But today, in our house, Boxing Day was all about putting away Christmas decorations in record speed. This made my husband very happy (and to his credit he has, over the past twelve years, come to accept that I am a Christmas decoration fanatic). Usually I insist on leaving everything up at least until January 6, the Feast of Epiphany or the Twelfth Day of Christmas. This year, with our move in two days, we needed to pack all of it up and move the voluminous Christmas decorations back to their cupboards.

I have been collecting Christmas decorations for many years. Most of our items are heirlooms from different branches of our families or gifts from family and friends. Several years ago we bought a Byer's Caroler collection from some friends whose mother had collected Christmas items. The butler and housekeeper I actually bought myself a few years ago, well before I had even begun The Pantry book or research. There is something festive, yet freaky, about Byer's dolls.

Of course, none of this move will really hit me until we do actually sell our New England home and pack all of it up. I prefer the slow Band-Aid removal method. It can still be painful, but far less abrupt.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

We are currently moving house, so to speak, to begin primary residence in Kentucky. It is an exciting time but a lovely Christmas was had by all amidst the clamor and the loading of the wagon train. [We will begin our westward trek before the New Year (2 cars, 1 trailer, five people, 1 dog, 2 bunnies, a pot of rosemary, Dot's Christmas cactus, Christmas presents from family and friends--and Santa, of course--and more assorted stuff!)]. It is likely our last Christmas in our New England home so it has been especially poignant for each of us (I will try to post some images in the next day or so of this magical time).

I might not be able to blog for a bit of time but wanted to wish everyone a happy, healthy holiday season and a blessed New Year ~ I am continually motivated and cheered by the readers of my blog (and The Pantry) and wish I could thank each of you personally. You are all among my many blessings.

Best wishes,


Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Memories

The other day we visited my mother and had a lovely afternoon together. What was the most fun was seeing her Christmas tree in her recent addition of a solarium and how happy she is in her new home (almost two years--maybe three? At 45 my memory is starting to wane a bit). She can watch a variety of birds from three sides of the room which overlooks a large field with a seasonal view to the northeast, high on a hill about a mile from the old farm where we lived. A few days after Thanksgiving we also got together for a walk to pick arm fulls of red winter berries that grow in the swampy areas of New England.

We reminisced about past Christmases when we were together as a family. She loves Christmas and always decorates in her charming way. Her two trees are covered in vintage ornaments from our childhood (many made by Mrs. Twila Baker who also crafted one for each of my brothers and me when we were growing up in Ohio) and additions from recent years. Her Santa collection is still going strong.

Much of my mother's holiday decor is reminiscent of specific Christmas memories from childhood. I recognized several of the découpaged boards that she and Mrs. Baker used to make together. They would distress old boards and then use varnish or ModPodge (certainly a product of the 60s and still available) to seal an image on them. One is of a jolly Santa in the kitchen or pantry that I have always loved, but had forgotten as I hadn't seen him in a while.

Among the presents we got my Mom was a favorite book of mine by Cynthia Rylant, Christmas in the Country. The book reminds me of my mother, my grandparents, and the farm where she (and we) grew up. It begins:

When I was a little girl, I lived with my grandparents in the country. Our house was small and white. It had an old coal stove to keep us warm and a tiny little kitchen for supper and a nice back porch for the dogs...

My grandfather always got our Christmas tree from the woods behind the house. Off he'd go with his ax while my grandmother and I pulled boxes of old ornaments from her closet, which smelled like wool and mothballs.

Rylant was raised by her grandparents in the mountains of West Virginia and her first book, When I was Young in the Mountains, is about that childhood while many of her books are also influenced by her rural upbringing. I have always enjoyed her books and my boys have learned to read on the Henry and Mudge series. [In 1993 she won the Newbery Medal for Missing May] She writes exactly the style of books I would want to write for children and perhaps that is why I appreciate them: for their rural places, strong family values and a simpler time.

As we are leaving for Kentucky a few days after Christmas (but will be back up here in the summer), it was a bittersweet gathering. This is the first time I've really left home, having spent childhood summers and the past thirty-three years anchored to this part of New Hampshire. I have always been somewhat in my mother's orbit and, apart from a year spent in England, have never lived more than two hours away from her. I know my mother will always remain in our orbit and our hearts, wherever that may be.

As we load our own wagon train, I have thought of how hard it must have been for the early settlers of this land to leave their families and friends behind them and head west, knowing it was likely the last time they would see them again. But today with the internet, phone and any variety of travel, it is still possible to remain in touch in ways we would never have imagined in the nineteenth century. And I am glad to know that I have satellite internet on our ridge in Kentucky. There is a reassurance about these connections in cyberspace to friends, family, and the greater world.

This Christmas we remember and rekindle with family and dear friends--both new and old--and count our many blessings. Have a blessed season with your own family and friends, dear blog readers, and thank you for being here.

Monday, December 17, 2007


I'd never heard of the Questers before Nancy Clark invited me to speak at their local chapter gathering in southwestern New Hampshire. Nancy and I first met over books when she attended a talk I gave last year on the interior world of Emily Dickinson. I took an immediate liking to her and was already a fan of her first book, a New England-based novel about an eccentric old family and their home, The Hills at Home. Its sequel is A Way from Home, and her third book in the trilogy, July and August, is coming out in June. She writes adeptly about a family, their relationships--and with their old house--and the ties that bind them all together. Her attention to detail and subtlety in setting and conversation--both modern and historic--is worthy of Jane Austen, or more recently the twentieth century novelist, Barbara Pym.

So it is only fitting that Nancy would be a Quester as this is a group that gathers to look at old places or to study them, to talk about antiques, and to share good food and conversation. After my talk tonight on pantries and The Pantry book, which turned into a good conversation around the fire, Nancy cut her delightful Devil's Food cake with its light and scrumptious marshmallow icing (homemade, no Fluff here).

With a touch of pride, but in her quiet way, she told us that she had won a blue ribbon for the cake at the Topsfield Fair in Massachusetts years ago. The cake had just the right crumb--not too moist, not too dry. Light enough that you could have easily had more, but yet didn't dare for fear of making a complete pig of yourself in polite company.

Our hosts put out a tea spread, including food other members had brought, and the most sublime liver paté! I even had a nip of sherry. Their Georgian farmhouse is surrounded by preserved forest and reminded me so much of the farmhouse where I grew up. Dodi shared her own pantry memory with the group, in fact it was a dream, the earliest she remembers from childhood. She was five and was being chased by some strange-eyed men in a green convertible. The car came in the house and she scrambled up to the top of the Hoosier cupboard in the kitchen, amidst the cookbooks, and the car followed. And then she woke up. Perhaps the Hoosier represented a safe place or refuge.

Everyone seemed to have a pantry memory to share. The group was enthusiastic and we've invited them to visit our house next summer and see our pantries in person. In the meantime, I can't wait for Nancy's next book and plan on a refresher of The Hills at Home. As I blogged a few months ago [see Books on Hearth and Home in the Cupcake Chronicles], this winter I will be focusing my reading on home and place: novels, essays, domestic guides, even poetry. And I plan to cook a lot, too, and to try new recipes. I think these activities will help to root me a bit more in Kentucky or perhaps to take my mind off the many transitions in our lives.

In the meantime, Nancy's cake will receive a special Cupcake Seal of Approval in the Cupcake Chronicles. If you haven't checked out my "secret" alter ego blog, Cupcake Chronicles, that I write with two friends in our book group, please do. There is room for discussion, fun, recipes and cake! So far our reading has been largely food-related but we are not limited to that. [And things have been particularly lively of late with the addition of a new member named Queenie and some rather gnomish activities.]

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Dear Friend Has Gone

This morning our dear friend and neighbor, Dorothy "Dot" Grim, passed from this Earth. Not only was Dot like a mother to my husband but she was like a grandmother to our children and became a friend of mine. She was at our wedding in 1996, with her husband Walt, and we did many things together over the years. As I write this blog, I can see the entire front of her cottage-style house from my office window, as I always do.

Whenever I didn't blog for a time, Dot would be the first to call or e-mail me. "Catherine, when are you going to blog again?" she'd say in her feisty voice. [See also my blog entry Our Friend Dot] Dot didn't miss a trick, always seeing the happenings on Main Street from her kitchen window and in recent years keeping in touch more by internet. Even though we often saw her, my husband more than me, we generally communicated by e-mail. I will, and have, missed that. Dot did not want a memorial service of any kind so over the past few weeks I have been saying goodbye slowly. Oddly, in this morning's mail, an unexpected Christmas card arrived. It was from Dot.

Last week when we saw her, when she could still speak faintly, she asked us both, "are you happy in Kentucky?" We said yes and that we would be going back soon. That seemed to reassure her. My husband and I have understood for a long time that our lives on Main Street, if not in this town, just won't be the same without Dot here.

Before we were married, my husband never put up Christmas candles in the windows and it left a dark hole in our historic village at the holidays. Dot and Walt encouraged, no, badgered, Temple to do so. He finally did. She was the first to call. "You joker, it's about time you got those candles up!" Every year since we have known when it is time to put up our lights because we have followed Dot's lead. This season, as she has been in the hospital, her house has been dark at night. On Sunday I badgered my husband to put ours up, even though we are leaving shortly after Christmas for Kentucky. And so he did, for Dot. And now as I write this, a December snow falls around her house like soft, frozen tears.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Santa Trifecta


For about a month we have planned to bring the boys up to the Santa Train along with our friends Eric and Linda and their grandsons. We were able to keep it a secret until this morning, which, as the destination neared was impossible to keep in its entirety. But two of the four boys were surprised and those were good odds.

It was likely our last year on the Santa Train, as we will no longer be in New Hampshire at this time of year and because Santa will start to lose his luster as the boys get older (so a bittersweet day for us). This is a tradition that began with our daughter Addie in 1994 and we have continued every year or so since. Little did we know when we headed to Bellows Falls that the day would bring not one but three encounters with Santa along the way today--what we have now termed a "Santa Trifecta".


I find good things--and bad--often happen in threes. Even Linda wore a pin today that said "HO 3" (or as I kept saying, "HO to the third power"--this could be taken either of two ways).

Later on, at home in the evening, my husband was trying to get rid of some dry ice from a delivery of some bison meat which arrived yesterday from Cousins Ben and Nancy in Colorado. So the boys (all three) had great fun with that in some Santa mugs. [But don't try this at home--Dad carefully supervised this experiment.]

On the train, which is operated by the Green Mountain Railroad out of Bellows Falls, Vermont we sat in one of the older classic cars which used to be housed at Steamtown (which has since moved to Pennsylvania). The conductor punches children's initials in the tickets, just like on The Polar Express.
At some point in the ride, Santa and Mrs. Claus get on board and visit each car and child, while handing out age appropriate gifts. The train stops in Chester Depot for a brief layover and turnaround (I always dash to the market across the way for some fresh Baba-a-Louis bread) and then returns back through scenic Vermont countryside. It is always fun to see an abandoned house which hasn't seemed to change in the thirty years since I first saw it on the side of the tracks.

Here comes Santa Claus! Bah Humbug!

Last one on the train gets a patient husband, waiting with lunch and Baba-a-Louis bread, and an annoyed conductor!

After a two-plus hour train ride, the kids really needed to run around. We decided, quite spur of the moment, to take them to Santa's Land, just a brief drive down the road to Putney, Vermont. Santa's Land is celebrating its 50th year. It is one of those roadside architectural gems from the motor age. Santa was there, once again, in his little cottage, and the same kindly soul who had been there in the summer of 2006 when we first visited with the boys.

The boys also enjoyed another (mini) train ride at Santa's Land.

Surprisingly, no gnomes could be found in the gift shop but three were snowbound along the train route.


We left Santa's Land well before closing and were home by dark. Then we attended a tree lighting in Dublin of a recently planted blue spruce, which included a special dedication by Jamie Trowbridge of Yankee Publishing. The tree was lit and Santa made yet another appearance, the third time for us today. It was a jolly end to a happy day and we hope Santa, and his elves, will get a good rest. To all a good night!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Amazing Grace

Patricia A. Higgins • March 30, 1937 - November 22, 2007
[photo by Kin Schilling]

I haven't blogged in a few weeks because, besides arriving back from Kentucky in time to begin Thanksgiving preparations--and to celebrate Henry's 10th birthday--there has been pause for loss, reflection and renewal.

Today we attended the memorial service of Pat Higgins, a longtime Hancock resident, who was always doing for others, the community and her church. Despite lifelong health and financial struggles she always had a smile and warm greeting for everyone she met. The old historic church was full to the rafters, even in the balcony, and it was testament to Pat's life on Earth. I was moved by the crowd and also three unique and lovely eulogies, each capturing her essence in different ways.

What resonated most for me was although Pat was a true Christian in spirit and actions, she also struggled with forgiveness in the face of betrayal, the way each of us does in life. She was described as authentic, real, genuine, a natural healer who "gave her medicine" to whomever she met. There did not seem to be an angry or phony bone in her body and witnessing the diversity of the crowd gathered to honor her, it was evident that she touched many. She never married or had children but she took other children under her wing, as she did for our three. Pat personified the meaning of "it takes a village" and to children was like a modern-day Mother Goose or Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.

A parable of the widow's gift, from Luke:21, was also paraphrased:

And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury. And He saw a poor widow putting in two small copper coins. And He said, "Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them; for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on."

This was the most humbling revelation to me, that Pat gave of herself and her riches and that it was more abundant than gold itself.

James H. Seiberling, my dad, and his sister Mary S. Chapman

As I sat in the service my mind wandered to Ohio where my family was gathered, on the very day, to honor my Aunt Mary who passed the day after Thanksgiving. I was unable to be in Akron but in the spare Hancock Congregational church I was reminded of the Colonial Revival chancel at Westminster Presbyterian Church, where we honored my father five years ago in praise and with the powerful organ music of Louis Vierne, and I was able to let my spirit dwell there, too, and to remember my aunt, my father, my grandparents, all who in life, gave of themselves generously and in different ways.

I could hear the lushly textured and complex organ piece, the "Final" from Symphony No. 1 for Organ in D Minor, Opus 14 by Vierne, in my mind. [NOTE: While no digital recording can replicate the full power and nuances of the live organ, I was able to find one that will give an idea--it is such an obscure piece that it is the only audio reference I could find on the internet (thank you Darren L. Slider from Make certain to play it at full volume!]

It originally came at me like a wall of pure and thunderous joy and celebration when it was played for my Dad (himself an organist), who had requested it for his own memorial service. It was so obscure that we had difficulty finding an organist who could play it. While I heard the Vierne "Final" again in my mind, I could also see the golden words etched into the altar which sits under a large bronze cross at Westminster: In Remembrance of Me.

Just a program note, which I wish I had thought to add five years ago in Dad's memorial service program, the Vierne Final was aptly described by Eric Meece on his historical website about Louis Vierne:

The Final of the First Symphony appeals to us first and foremost as a powerful masterpiece of compact writing, in which few if any notes are wasted. But many listeners are probably unaware of this movement's deeper dimension as the picture of our dramatic human journey together across the pages of history, from the great Revolution to our still-unrealized destiny of freedom in one world. This uplifting music gives us the strength and hope to successfully meet our personal and collective adventures, spiritual as well as secular, as no other music does. In the innocent and hopeful times of 1899, however, neither Vierne nor anyone else yet suspected what terrors and trials both he and all of us would have to endure before we arrived at the promised land.

I find it ironic, also, that Vierne wrote this piece at the dawn of the twentieth century in the year my Grandpa was born, my father and Aunt Mary's father. He was a man of great pragmatic vision and accomplishment, and a firm believer in the principles of democracy and freedom for the individual.

Several weeks ago, on route to Kentucky with our boys, we decided to pass through Akron, quite spur of the moment as the weather did not look good in West Virginia. We were there for no more than 15 hours. The next morning Eli said, "Let's visit Grandpa before we leave" and so we did, spending time at his grave in the early frosty morning, peeling back some of the sod which had edged its way over the stone. It was only later on, when we arrived in Kentucky, that I realized it had been the 5th anniversary of Dad's memorial service (November 2--for some reason all that day I had thought it had been November 4). So I think our "side trip" to Akron was meant to be.

After Pat's service, my husband and I went to visit our neighbor Dot, a dear friend, surrogate Grandmother, and faithful blog reader (from day 1). Sadly, she is failing and in the hospital. I see her house every day from my office window, as I do now, but it is dark and empty. She has never had health problems until recently, at the age of 87, and has never been hospitalized.

As Dot was asleep when we stopped by, we did not want to awaken her. We heard from her family that after the local minister visited her, she said in true Dot style (so we don't know if it was sarcastic or serious), "Turn left for Jesus." I could imagine how she said it and maybe she was actually on her way in her mind, looking for direction. [I naturally Googled the expression and could only find one reference to this phrase, used in detailing a photo on for an obscure sign in Cambridge, England, perhaps for the way to Jesus College. As far as I know, Dot has always been an agnostic, so the reference is pure and original "Dot".]

In the evening we had another Thanksgiving dinner, as my husband had been in Kentucky over the holiday and we invited two couples who are dear to us. For several months I have had two letters with Jaffrey, New Hampshire origins that I found on eBay, one of which related directly to Benjamin Haywood who once lived at the farmstead where the Peter Sawyer family has lived for generations. We gave them to Peter and Ann and as he read from one of the letters, written in 1853, I was struck by its relevance to the day:

East Jaffrey, February 6, 1853

Dear Friend & Sister,

The funeral was at the Meetinghouse yesterday afternoon. And thus we see our friends and neighbors passing away one after another and we are yet spared but we know not how soon we may be called. On that I may profit by these solemn admonitions and while life is spared make a suitable preparation for eternity.

[He then details a squabble that has created discord within his family but concludes with this optimistic hope:]

But the Lord is good who permits these things to be so and will no doubt cause all things to work together for good to those that love him. Oh that I should love him more and serve him better.

H. Gowing


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Next-to-Nothing Double Wide


For a few minutes after I began to post images onto this blog, the sun was raking on the upper pasture to the north that I can see, quite intentionally, from my desk. It is a balmy late autumn day and the glimpse of a blue sky, no matter how brief, is always welcome. A gentle, steady rain stopped, and is soon to resume, after nearly a day of it--the first real soaking in several months in this drought-ridden Kentucky land. Margaret, our neighbor to the north, was saying the winter rye, just planted, would die if it didn't have rain soon. Yellow and parched, the new shoots were beginning to resemble the wizened corn stalks that wait for the harvesting of their drooping ears for seed corn.

Our front entry porch boasts a new gnome welcome mat from my friend, Edie...

and a gnome birdhouse made by the Michigan Amish from Rosemary

Framed sheet music from Judy graces our front entry

For the past two weeks we have been at our new home in Kentucky, setting up our house and enrolling the boys in school for January (and I used the Kentucky Book Fair on November 10 as an excuse to extend our time here). I was here for two weeks in the first part of October and for the first week I was here alone cleaning before my husband came down with a Penske truck full of furniture. Meanwhile, he was up in New Hampshire readying our museum-like 1813 Federal home for sale. The dichotomy of place and circumstance was not lost on me. I began to think about the places where I have lived in my life and how and why it is now, at middle age, that we are downsizing our house, readjusting our lives to a more rural environment where we can farm, and making a major move for our family--to a place where until a year ago we knew virtually no one.

In late August, as I may have already mentioned in another blog entry, we had the opportunity to purchase another parcel of land on an adjacent ridge, within a mile of our other farmland. The initial attraction for us was a large 45-acre field, currently in soybeans and an additional 30 acres of partially reclaimed pasture land and, a double wide (or as the natives call anything not on a cellar: a trailer). We approached the owner about just buying the land itself but when we looked at the fairly new double wide (my husband prefers the term "modular home") on the property, with its spacious 30x70 sprawl of five bedrooms, 3 baths, just enough living (and closet!) space, a barn and two sheds, a storm shelter, and even a laundry/mud room, we realized we had found our transition home. A place to be while we settle in, start our boys in school, start our cattle operation and substinence farm, and figure out where we eventually want to put our new "old" farmhouse.


I never thought I'd live in a house remotely like this but I have to admit that I am somewhat enthralled: one floor, easy to keep and tend, a clean slate. It is the first time in our eleven-year marriage that I've had a place of our own to nest in from scratch. Our home in New Hampshire is a beautiful showplace, filled with the stuff of several generations (mostly from my husband's family), but our own touches, too, and some things I'd inherited. It has been a home, yes, but not quite in the same way. I moved into my husband's family home--along with some of his family--and naturally, despite his tremendous accommodation, there is a certain level of discomfort in that for any woman.

There is also an inherent care taking to a legacy house and that can be as much of a burden and responsibility as it is an honor. We realize, as we furnished our Kentucky home with primitive pieces of furniture, a mixture of old things in storage in the barn, and an “odd sortment” of collections that we'd accumulated but not suitable for a grand Federal home, that we can be happy with fewer things and even fewer museum quality collections. Sure, we'll keep some things to pass along to our children and for our future farmhouse but we are ready to let go, too, and that is a liberating thing.

The Hearth of the Home

Hearth TO the Home ~ Sideboard with Wallace Nutting Photograph of our "New England Villager"

Living in a mansion, especially when you are your own servant, is a persistent concern. I could write and work in the house in my small office overlooking Main Street but in my mind was a constant tick of things I needed to do. The laundry in the cellar, the closets to sort, the gathering dust bunnies under the beds: a whole house full of accumulation and memory and stuff. Some rooms we rarely used. We did have cleaning help at times, and I was grateful, but I also felt this kind of remorse: couldn't I keep the house tidy? Why am I allowing someone else to clean our mess? And did I want others pawing around our things? The answer is not really (not in the way that it needed), I don't know, and no!

Wendell Berry wrote in a piece for Orion Magazine entitled "Thoughts in the Presence of Fear" [written in the wake of 9-11-01 ~ for the complete article see Orion Society website]:

"The first thing we must begin to teach our children (and learn ourselves) is that we cannot spend and consume endlessly. We have got to learn to save and conserve. We do need a 'new economy', but one that is founded on thrift and care, on saving and conserving, not on excess and waste."


Curtains still need to be hung, as do some paintings and prints


My husband is a liberated, and lovable, old crank. Despite his confirmed status as a card-carrying luddite (he does not go near the computer), he can vacuum with the best of them and does laundry and folds it better than I can (he even learned how to fold a fitted bed sheet, something I’ve never mastered despite Martha Stewart’s effortless demonstration). We'd pitch in and do things together, but the house was still overwhelming for my idea-driven, ADD-addled brain. I tend to want to do things right or not do them at all (and thus the latter tendency usually prevails) and have too many things I'd rather be doing than to worry about a big house.

A proper laundry and mudroom at last...


complete with inspirational vintage decor!



Here in the double wide with its freshly painted cream walls, its surprisingly pleasing plum wall-to-wall carpeting, my own eclectic decor, and a view up to the pasture from my office window (where soon cattle will graze), there is a place for everything and everything in its place. As in our larger home in New Hampshire, each of us still has our own space and quiet corner, there is room for visitors (and hopefully our daughter on occasion, now in college "back home"), and all the needed essentials of a living environment: ample kitchen, dining area, living room and den. I even have a mudroom/laundry room at last--something that was lacking in our big old New England manse.


Alice Van Leer Carrick wrote in The Next-to-Nothing House, a book about her small, tidily furnished New Hampshire Cape, in 1922:

I believe that making a home should be a matter of both leisure and affection; lacking either quality people get ‘a roof over their head—an address,’ but nothing else. And I think also that you have to love your house as you do your children, because it exacts a price, because it is a bother, a blessed bother; you must be willing to offer oblation and sacrifice.

At last, a kitchen window on the world (well, the back porch!)



I have my husband’s grandmother’s copy of The Next-to-Nothing House, purchased in 1923 and carefully marked in light pencil notes throughout. She bought the book just before her marriage, according to her maiden name on the front page, and it is clear the book inspired her, as it did many women during the Colonial Revival period of the early 20th century. She may have been just as overwhelmed by the New Hampshire house, purchased after her husband retired and where we now live, nearly fifty years later. The home and its setting had been her husband’s dream but he died before ever having lived there.

Tomorrow (well, maybe Thursday) we will begin the two-day journey back to New Hampshire and will enjoy probably the last holiday season in our historic village home. It will be a bittersweet time but it will also be a time to look forward--to a year ahead of much good and positive change in our lives. I am ready.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Highlights from the Kentucky Book Fair

Something for everyone at the Kentucky Book Fair

Yesterday was my first book fair experience. I attended the 26th Kentucky Book Fair at the Frankfort Convention Center. The local coverage has been tremendous and last week The Pantry was one of two book covers featured in an article on the fair in The Lexington Herald. Well-organized and planned (thanks to Connie Crowe and other organizers and volunteers), the fair drew over 170 authors, most with Kentucky connections.

The theme of the fair this year was the cookbook genre and they included The Pantry in that category as it is food-related. I sat among several cookbook authors but especially enjoyed being right next to Bruce and Shelley Richardson who have published many tea cookbooks (several of which I own) and who used to operate The Elmwood Inn in Perryville, Kentucky where they had a popular tea room (and which is still the site of their tea empire). Now they write and consult widely and develop their own tea blends, publishing some lovely books on tea and places to have tea throughout the world. Bruce introduced me to many Kentuckians in the book and publishing world and I also learned of the fabulous independent booksellers in Lexington and in several other locations, Joseph-Beth, who helped sponsor the book fair.

Of course a bit of shopping was in order (ok, I got a bit carried away) and I browsed other author tables from time to time and enjoyed meeting them. A highlight for me was meeting Wendell Berry, a native Kentucky farmer, writer and poet. He has a quiet, self-deprecating presence and reserve about him and he patiently signed a small pile of books for me. I have always admired his writings about the land, his faith, and perspectives. In many ways he is a modern day Lois Bromfield, one of those people I would like to meet today if I could.

In his day, Bromfield was a great influence on my grandparents' decision to leave the New Jersey suburbs in 1946 and go "Back to the Land". Malabar Farm is today preserved in Lucas County, Ohio, near Mansfield, and operated by the Ohio State Parks Commission. I also met Jon Carloftis, a New York-based garden designer who also has a shop in Kentucky with his mother, at his home place. His recent book First A Garden is a lovely compilation of photographs of his Kentucky home and various gardens he has designed.

Another highlight of the day for me was meeting Catherine Staat who said she has been a "quiet" blog reader for a while (and it is always great to connect with another Catherine!). She and her husband, Blaine, have settled in Kentucky in the past few years, leaving the rat race behind them. As it turns out, they aren't far from where we have landed (both geographically and somewhat in mindset). Catherine keeps her own blog [Mrs. Catherine's] and publishes a magazine called Making It Home. She also home schools two of her children and writes a column, with her husband, for The Casey County News. In a local article about them last year what resonated most for me was that before settling in this part of the world, they realized they were able to afford everything materially that they could want and instead desired to simplify their lives. Thus a move to a quieter, more rural place. "We were kind of saying it was time to stop the world and get off," Blaine was quoted in the article.

Catherine is part of a very large movement of home-based Christian women who are seeking to return the home to the spiritual and physical center of their lives and families. Many of these women also blog--and read mine--and I find their perspectives both of interest and refreshing in today's world. Historically, I would liken it to the Cult of Domesticity in the nineteenth century that advocated the importance of the woman and wife as the spiritual keeper and tender of the hearth and home. I imagine if Harriet Beecher Stowe and her sister Catharine Beecher, authors of The American Woman's Home, were alive today they would be prolific bloggers and have even more of a widespread following.

Another woman, Meryl Randall Ward, an interior designer, stopped by and we started chatting about Kentucky. Native Kentuckians often ask, part curious, part incredulous, "What brought you to Kentucky?" and I just open my arms as if to say, "Look around you!" (As with the places where we live, we often take for granted what we experience every day but while Kentuckians seem to have an innate understanding of their natural world there is also a sense of "why would anyone else like it here?") As it turns out, Meryl grew up on Hickory Nut Ridge where we live and is cousins with many of our neighbors. This was one of many delightful coincidences throughout the day and only seemed to verify our decision to be here.

I enjoyed talking with people about their pantries, why they have them or want them. Many browsers said, "oh I could never have a pantry that looks like that!" but that isn't the point of The Pantry. It is as much a history and fusion of the domestic impulse that drives the home and hearth, a nostalgic journey, as it is a collection of beautiful and inspiring images (if I do say so myself). Everywhere I go people comment on the fine book design and photography and I have the folks at Gibbs Smith to thank for that as well as the fine photography of my friends Susan Daley and Steve Gross. It has been a great journey in The Pantry and I'm glad somewhere amongst that process that we have found Kentucky.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

In the Pantry ~ Literally!


Today I had a much-needed kitchen purge. Several cupboards and closets were reorganized: most stuff was packed for Kentucky after I consolidated what I had and divided the spoils (mmm, 8 bread pans, I guess I can pack half up). Other things, like odd bits of plastic storage stuff, were tossed. It always feels good to pare down and it was good to realize I had enough to stock another kitchen, more or less, without having to buy more. I also removed things from the fridge and kept things to the side of it so the white span at the front looks clean and barren, but less cluttered.

Meanwhile, the bottom cupboard of the Welsh dresser, which was full of muffin tins, and too much unused plastic junk, was completely emptied. Eli and Henry helped and then vacuumed and wiped it out for me. Then they hid inside and surprised me. It is empty for the moment as I contemplate what to put in it!

This old cupboard base used to be in another part of the kitchen. My husband wanted to take it to the dump but I insisted we keep it. Years ago, he had picked it up at a farm auction as a stop-gap counter and storage for a kitchen that didn't have any built-ins. So at first he couldn't see the charm of the primitive well-worn patina.

For a wedding present to each other eleven years ago we had an upper portion made for it by a local cabinet maker, Donald Dunlap. For several years it has housed our extensive Country Fare pottery collection (from Zanesville Pottery in Ohio: c. 1940s-1960s) but it has also had several incarnations over the years. Eventually, when we build our farmhouse, I will have to make sure there is a wall in the new kitchen devoted to it as it is six feet wide and about ten feet high. I can't imagine a kitchen without it.

Monday, October 22, 2007

October Glowing (in the Gloaming)


My friend Linda called tonight and we spoke about the amazing October weather we've been having: all glowing and shimmering. There is something golden about low October light but both of us have a harder time when the summer days wane into an earlier dark. She said "there is an old feeling about the day and time." Yes! Old ~ That's the word I've been searching for all of these years to describe the early fall twilight that settles into darkness. But there is also an introspection, a melancholy. It is the time of day where if I were not making dinner or dealing with homework that I would otherwise want to slip into a quiet chapel for reflective evening matins. The recent warmth helps to soften the other aspect of fall: the growing cold.

When I returned from Kentucky a week ago I came from sunset at nearly 8pm and the hot warmth of a New Hampshire August. Our farm is a few miles from the Central time zone, but still in Eastern time, so the days are longer in the evening all year (I imagine in midsummer it doesn't get dark until 10pm). That added hour of light at the end of the day (instead of in the morning when we get it in New Hampshire) is a tremendous thing for me. In the span of the two days drive home I went from August to October again in terms of late afternoon light. It was a shock to my system. Crossing the New Hampshire border in Northfield, Massachusetts at twilight (a enjoyable ritual all of those summers driving to the farm from Ohio) I could feel the closing in of the trees and the dark. It took me a week to transition again.

My grandmother from New Hampshire (and who would have been 97 today, ironically!) sent us an album of Scottish songs when I was a child. I used to play it and dance in the living room in our Akron house thinking of my grandmother back on the farm. One song, "Roamin' in the Gloamin'" by Harry Lauder was a particular favorite. I've since learned that "gloamin'" is the twilight. This can be the most beautiful time of day most of the year but in the autumn it is the saddest part of the day for me.

Linda and Eric invited us to their annual Halloween party this year. The theme was black, red and white. Our costumes, while fitting the theme, were no where as great as some of the other party-goers who were clearly Tenney Halloween veterans. I hadn't played party games in years and after a delicious dinner we had a scavenger hunt all over the town where they live.

The festive decorations and party games reminded me of Halloween birthday parties I had with my friend Beth in Akron days. One year our mothers painted a spook house mural all over the cinder block foundation of the Tompkins basement. It is likely still there under the sheet rock. Beth and I were born a week apart at the end of October.

But hands down, Linda is the Halloween Queen! I wish that my camera (something is wrong with the lens) was working because her decorations were something out of a magazine. In fact, I'll likely be blogging with my unused stock photos for a while. (Or maybe I'll get a Canon Rebel for my birthday?)