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