"It may be that when we no longer know which way to go that we have come to our real journey...
And we pray, not for new earth or heaven, but to be quiet in heart, and in eye clear. What we need is here." ~ Wendell Berry

April 2, 2014

Living in the 50s

"Our house, in the middle of our street." 2024 Ayers Avenue, c. 2009.
The house was built in the post-war housing boom of 1949 and we lived in it
from 1961-1974. The Japanese maple, planted in 1961, now looms over the yard.
A wonderful "Little Golden Book" from the 1950s.
Lately I've been living in the 1950s. As I was born in 1962, this isn't much of a stretch: we had the 1949 post-war house that my parents purchased in Akron, Ohio in 1961, complete with pink-applianced kitchen, "atomic" flecked linoleum (black with white, pink and gray flecks––I thought it was the entire universe on our kitchen floor!), and pink-outfitted bathrooms. We had all manner of barbecue gadgets and funny aprons that my father used alongside the charcoal grill outdoors. We were your typical 1960s suburban family living beneath a post-1950s gossamer web. I spent my childhood years blissfully removed from any details of the Vietnam war, riots, protesting, the Civil Rights movement.

A Marcelline Stoyke tray from the 1950s.
My parents had one. They have an
interesting design history: read here.
The only hippies I ever saw hung around Sand Run Park in large gatherings and I only learned of anything to do with any sort of national unrest a year after the Kent State students were killed in May 1970. I was in second grade when the incident happened and read about them in Reader's Digest a year later. Kent State was where we would later go ice skating with my cousins. So you could say I had a rather protected post-50s childhood. When my parents abruptly separated and then divorced in 1973-74 it all rather ended as childhood is want to do at a certain point in one's life. You move on, or at least try to do so.

The only politics in my book will be a mention of the Nixon-Kruschev "Kitchen" debate
at the American National Exposition in Moscow in 1959.
We didn't have the 24-hour news cycle that we have today on more than one television channel or the constant presence of the Internet. We didn't watch television when having dinner. We didn't have "smart" phones in our pockets or at our dinner tables, either. As children, we really didn't see or hear any news. Extended family gatherings included lively dinner table discussions of politics and humorous kidding. Politics was decidedly right leaning and I knew, even then, that the direction of my belief system would make a gentle, more moderate departure from that which I had been exposed.

There could be no 1950s kitchen without Betty Crocker.
I was more interested in kitchens and pantries and food, paintings, old houses, music, singing and reading books. When I wasn't building townscapes out of American Bricks or Lincoln Logs, I was doodling house plans. I wanted to feel, experience and define the diverse architectural spaces and the suburban landscapes where I lived. It's still true today.

I've been finishing a book for Shire Books in England on The 1950s American Kitchen. It will be available in Fall 2014. I'm holed up in a Hampton Inn as I write this to complete my image gathering and fact-checking. This process has been a bit daunting with still no DSL at home (although a Facebook friend said that they are getting theirs on the ridge as we speak––I remain hopeful). I even brought in my trusty, fast iMac from home (as my laptop is so slow on the Internet). Like our two cars, both were purchased almost ten years ago so trying to get as much mileage here as I can! However, technology has long ago passed me by––even Internet marketing is changing each year. Blogging is even being replaced by some with Vlogging but I'll stay with the "print media" delivery system of the Internet, just as I stay true to books and magazines and have no interest in purchasing an e-book. Call me old-fashioned.

Pink was a prevalent color in 1950s kitchen decor.
I realize one thing about not having regular access to the Internet in the past eighteen months is that I haven't been writing as regularly on my blogs. Blogging keeps the pencil chiseled and sharp. It's like a warm-up for my other writing. I might develop another off-shoot blog for The 1950s American Kitchen, depending on DSL access in the near future. **Either way, I'll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, on the farm, we just got ten pregnant "hair sheep" (no shearing!) to raise our own lamb meat (this is our youngest son Eli's plan––he will be fourteen in a few more weeks). We eat a fair bit of lamb throughout the year but don't like to purchase it too often given how expensive it is (and I realize I haven't reconciled the cute lamb thing yet––one part of farm life is that you deal with constant loss and death and you just have to deal with it if you wish to remain a well-tempered carnivore). We have about fifty new calves and many more on the way. I'm down to one chicken (long story). And, we're finally going to break ground this spring for that once and future farmhouse we've been planning.

The hay fields are greening up. The rhubarb is poking its reddish shoots through the soil. The forsythia is just about to burst after a very prolonged, cold, dreary, drizzly, and frozen Kentucky winter. Did I mention the water has been fixed at the cottage (it burst in the severe below-zero cold of Epiphany, January 6th)? We'll be moving back there (from the doublewide across the way) by Easter...once I get the book and images to my publisher on April 15th. A nice day for deadlines, don't you think?

**YES! There is now a blog to coincide with The 1950s American Kitchen: check it out here. I will continue to post on this blog, too, especially when DSL arrives on our ridge..."in the spring"...

You come back when you're ready! 


December 27, 2013

Blog Posts and Selfies and Technology–Oh MY!

This is about as "selfie" as it gets around here!
Dearest Reader (are you still out there in cyber space?),

I hope you had a lovely Christmas! I got a new replacement camera lens so I can take more photos again. I also got some lovely books and smelly things. I won't inventory everything here, but rest assured that I will be well-read and smelling fine. Give me a candle, some great soap, tea and wonderful books and I'm good to go.

As you may know from coming here off and on in the past eighteen months, I've not been blogging much. It is difficult to do on my ancient laptop––especially the uploading photos part––and I now find that trying to change my cover image, template colors etc. on Blogspot has been impossible. I found that this can be remedied but the instructions are so complicated that it leaves me overwhelmed and breathless. That, coupled with technical difficulties in camera world, and still no DSL on our ridge (oh my, you have no idea the pitfalls, excuses and everything that's been involved––and we even sold Windstream an easement and the boxes have been in, a mile or so down the road, for over a year now), I just haven't felt like blogging, let alone had much opportunity.

But I have been writing for publication and have a new book coming out––more about that later––while working on others. Writing is not easy––and anyone who thinks you can just whip something off is, well, delusional. Finding a publisher is even more cumbersome at times––and a goal of 2014 is to find an agent, as well, so they can do all of the stuff that I'd rather not. It is possible to sell a book to a publisher without one––and I've done it twice now––but I don't recommend it.

My daughter is on Instagram, which seems to be the new Facebook, and well, I've been so "off" the computer for the past eighteen months that I just can't keep up with it all. Where I used to spend, ahem, hours on the Internet a day, I now spend about four hours a week, total. And that's probably being generous. WiFi at home will change all of that but I think I've learned now that I can limit myself, and will, by just not thinking about it all the time––like any other addiction, I suppose. We don't even have television or phone at the cottage yet––and we moved there back in July! [Well, full confessions: both are still in the doublewide just down the road but even then I spend less than an hour on the phone each week and only a few hours watching television: NPR has become a constant friend. I LOVE RADIO!]

What else have I been doing? Reading a lot––staying more organized, writing more letters and cards (generally trying to keep the post office open and using up many old stamps!). Ferrying our boys to basketball practices and games. Nesting into our farm and trying to put down roots (being in the cottage helps immensely––I need to live in something old, something borrowed, not new and manufactured).

I've stopped trying to find a job in Kentucky in either writing or historic preservation: after over fifteen attempts and not one interview, despite one's qualifications, it gets a bit crazy-making. So this is freeing me up to focus more on my own writing––which I've been doing. It doesn't always pay the bills but it at least seems productive. Farm income can be just as fickle but I do my best to cut corners in the budget, grow and can our own food, shop sales when necessary. That said, I'm considering, when we get WiFi, opening up an Esty or blog shop of vintage things, and books, that I wish to share with those who might love them as much as I have [in other words: downsizing––isn't this what all baby boomers are doing once they hit 50? I won't in totality, but there are some things I might be able to part with...].

I do have to laugh about the new phenomenon of the "selfie"––some blogs have seemed like that for some time but now young people and attention-seeking older people, too, are posting photos of themselves doing all sorts of things. We've gone from our food and decor to showing off our selves in all of their guises and postures. I love to take photographs but I don't want to use myself as the subject––I'd rather that my words, and the people and places and things that I love, be the subject. Here is a recent commentary on NPR about the phenom.

You come back when you're ready!


October 28, 2013

Ode to Dad

My Dad, James H. Seiberling, and me on my
Grandpa Sei's croquet court in Akron, Ohio, c. 1976-78.
My father has been gone eleven years. Yesterday I was listening to some classical music on NPR that I know he would have enjoyed. For a long time I couldn't listen to any classical or nineteenth century music, or anything on the organ, without weeping. For my father, music was his lifeblood, his passion, his heartbeat. I am fortunate that he passed that along to me in a diffused but enthusiastic measure.

As I was listening to some child prodigies playing Brahms and other works while at the table in our quiet kitchen on a Sunday evening I was also rummaging through some old recipe clippings. I found them in the shed in one of many unopened, and as yet unplaced, boxes that have formed the detritus––and delights––of my middle-aged life. There, from Dad's college typewriter (he never did try to use a computer), was a recipe he had brought to us in an early autumn of our marriage, on one of many visits he made to New Hampshire to see us each year. I thought of Dad, of course, while reading it, and smiled at a frugal notation he made (see below) and thought, given the season, that I should make it again. Then I realized that October 27, Sunday, was the actual anniversary (and same day of the week) of his passing eleven years ago. This is usually a date that I would have anticipated weeks ago but I suppose it is a sign that the immediacy of grief has slowly left me, replaced only by the presence of my father in my soul and memory as I navigate through the rest of my time here.

Dad died just two days before my 40th birthday and at the very minute, at 2am, that the clocks turned back in the hospital for Daylight Savings time. My two brothers and I were with him for his last days which was a blessing and a comfort and we had all been in and out in the few months prior. Dad's doctor said at the time, "I called and you all came. Not everyone does that, you know." There were many profound and unexplainable things that happened during his last day, and at his memorial service a week later, and I've written about them privately. I always found the Daylight Savings timing to be a strange kismet as he welcomed the darker days of winter when he could be indoors and hibernate as he was want to do with his music and his television. It's not that he was antisocial––being out and about was just always on his terms, like so many things.

As well as music and playing the organ, Dad loved all things autumnal, like I do. He liked Halloween and unpasteurized apple cider (from an old mill in Loyal Oaks near Norton), pumpkin pie and apple crisp and he especially liked homemade apple butter stirred into large-curd cottage cheese. He sometimes joined us for Thanksgiving and appreciated my stuffing (there were several dishes that he liked me to make when he visited but he always preferred his friend Alice's potato salad to mine!). He liked the cooler days and the thrill of the baseball playoffs and World Series, no matter who was playing. Of course, he was a born and bred Cleveland Indians fan and even though I could care less for the sport, I enjoyed going to home games and feeling the breeze from Lake Erie and being a part of the roar of the crowd and sharing this great American tradition with my father and brothers and cousins. [We would also meet my cousins each summer in Boston at Fenway Park––usually for an Indians-Red Sox game.]

The year he brought me this recipe, for Jacobs Field Apple Crisp (once served at the home of the Cleveland Indians and now called Progressive Stadium), he also sat in our darkened kitchen and played spooky music on our daughter Addie's electric organ while trick-or-treaters came to our porch. Hancock was the perfect small village for door-to-door goblins and we must have had several hundred children each year from the village and surrounding towns. Dad delighted in seeing the costumes and our decorations and enjoyed many meals around the same table that now graces our small Kentucky kitchen. There he was comfortable telling us stories of his childhood and so many memories that he'd never shared with me before. Perhaps it is something about a kitchen table and a good meal that evokes such spirited remembrance.

So yesterday I was able to listen to beautifully played music, all of which my father would have known by composer, title, and movement. I savored a favorite recipe in his typewritten hand and I was grateful. I know he is still with me, every day, and I know we will be together again. And I know that he is in the great celestial realm, somewhere, playing the organ and singing in a choir. When I hear music that he once shared with me, it is a kind of connection to the divine. And that is why I have always sung, too. After all, singing is like praying twice.

Of course, I plan on making this recipe again very soon. Here it is written exactly as he typed it (if I had my scanner set up I would just scan it!):

Jacobs Field Apple Crisp

  • 15 apples (4.5 pounds) such as Macs or Golden Delicious
  • 1 cup brown sugar packed down
  • 1.5 tsps ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/2 cup cider or apple juice
  • 1 Tbsp. cornstarch dissolved in 2 Tbsp. water
NOTE: Allspice and cloves may be omitted if not already in your spice rack as they are quite expensive today! [Dad was a bank branch manager and always frugal and I appreciated his concern about my spice cupboard and finances.]

Crumble Topping:
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup brown sugar packed down
  • 4 cups granola cereal [CSP note: I've also used plain rolled oats.]
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp. allspice
  • 1/8 tsp. cloves
  • 3 sticks butter, melted
For the filling: Peel, core and slice apples. Combine apples, sugar, spices and cider in large pan or wide kettle. Simmer uncovered over medium heat until apples are tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Be careful not to burn. Stir in cornstarch mixture. Simmer several minutes, stirring occasionally until thickened. Remove from heat.

For the topping: Combine flour, sugar, granola and spices in a bowl. Add melted butter and stir until dry ingredients are thoroughly coated. 

Place filling in a baking dish and heap the crumble topping over the filling. Bake at 325 degrees for 15 minutes or until golden and bubbly. [CSP note: I've not made this in a while so baking time might be longer.] Let cool and serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

Recipe can be halved for smaller amount.

He added: "This is awesomely delicious. I know you'll enjoy!"

Happy Halloween to you all ~

You come back when you're ready!


September 7, 2013

Country Auctions & Other Musings

My son Eli at the Highway 127 Yard Sale in 2009. We love to "troll" together.
Today I went to a country auction in King's Mountain, Kentucky and didn't spend a dime. But it was worth going just to see everything, to observe the (rather small) crowd, and to head off ridge by myself to do errands, have lunch and borrow some free WiFi. The highlight for me was hearing our Old Order Mennonite friend Paul doing the auction and holding up a pseudo-bronze wall plaque. "It's of some people having supper!" There were a few chuckles from the crowd as it was a bad copy of Leonardo DaVinci's "Last Supper"––you have to really appreciate the lack of worldliness in their culture, especially in the crazy, instant world we live in today. It made me smile.

There were other things, too, but nothing I absolutely needed. One intriguing lot was a grouping of old photographs of people in the mid-late 19th century. I asked the former owner's daughter if she knew who they were. "No, they were relatives of my step-grandmother." The photos were marked with a Louisville, Kentucky studio and the groupings were typical of the period. It always makes me sad when I see old photographs of people in antique shops or at auction. They are the last vestiges of a life and when someone casts them away it usually means they are no longer remembered or known by any living person.

On Labor Day we were invited to a picnic on the ridge—a time of year that people often have family reunions down here. There is a saying in the South that I have found quite true: "God, Guns & Ground." To that I would add "Clan" as family is as important as church here and usually families stay together or at least nearby in Kentucky (and it's a given that almost everyone is related to someone in a small region or on a ridge so you always have to be mindful of that!). Two daughters and their families, and their younger brother—just married—and his new wife, all live on adjacent parcels of the original “homeplace” where their parents still farm. So there they are, altogether: family and neighbors through thick and thin, and they even garden together. It made me sad because that is what we always wanted for our (former) family farm in New England. It was great to be included in their gathering but there was this persistent longing for what will never be in my own family of origin—two (nuclear) parents and their children, and spouses and grandchildren, all gathered around. I hope, at least, to create that kind of matriarchy for my own family while honoring my ancestors with them. It is the least I can do—but also the most I can do—for my own clan. I never want to preside over a fractured matriarchy and neither will I ever allow my children to be separate from each other: I will get them home to sort things out if there is any discord between them. Period. And if I should ever be widowed, there is no way in hell that I will ever let another man come between me and my time with my children and grandchildren. PERIOD!

I do miss blogging but it is so difficult and slow on my ancient (c. 2004-imagine!) MacPowerBook G4. DSL still eludes us on the ridge and the boxes, installed in October 2012, are covered in weeds. I'm ready to get a "HotBox" through Verizon or some such and looking into options. I haven't had my trusty camera with me for some time as I have a bad lens that needs repair or replacement (and I've also enjoyed taking a break from taking photographs of everything of interest). In the meantime I'm hashing out a contract with a publisher for another book deal. I'll keep you posted and it relates, in some way, to pantries and kitchens and all things retro.

Fall is coming. I love the change of light, the cooler nights and mornings, the beautiful pageant of yellow, purple and mauve along the roadside––and here in rural Kentucky the smell of leaves burning around the ridge! After April and May, I do believe that September and October are my favorite months on the farm. The boys and my husband are gathering in the large round bales from our third cutting of hay as I write this.

I'm also canning up a storm (Stanley plums a few weeks ago, Kentucky white peaches for the freezer, and beets for the freezer are up next) and hoping to get in my fall garden––broccoli and Brussels sprout starts, and beet/lettuce seeds––over the weekend (but it's been so hot during the day that I fear bolting).

I hope to be doing a bit of off-ridge traveling in the next few months before the winter ahead. The almanac is talking about a colder winter for Kentucky. I wouldn't mind: nice, cozy, good for writing and reading, and full freezers and pantries to raid.

You come back when you're ready!


June 14, 2013

"Just Sit at Your Desk and Write"

A Lady Writing, Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
This is what my husband always says before––and after––I've applied for each of the thirteen jobs for which I've been well qualified––with no interview (not one).

"Just sit at your desk and write." 

Even though there is laundry. Even though there are meals to prepare. Even though there are happy boys haying and swimming and tracking in endless piles of farm dirt. Even though the house is always generally a mess. Even though we are moving, at last, into our farm cottage in the busy middle of our farm, from a more commodious, but stifling, doublewide across the road.

So yes, there is still the "stuff" and there is the refiguring of the boxes and the storage issues as we await our once and future farmhouse.

There is still no DSL (which is why I do not blog as much as I would like to do).

But there is a desk. There are many pens. There is much paper. There are computers. There are summer breezes sailing over the knob even on the hottest days and into our farm cottage. There are cattle lowing and birds chattering. There is bountiful broccoli and other emergent plants. There are full pantries and freezers.

And there are words––always the words.

"Just write," he says, partly from exasperation––perhaps because he knows me better than I do myself. Or maybe he is just weary of being a cow-man with a perimenopausal, somewhat haphazard, farmwife.

"We are a team. Just write."

And so I shall.

You come back when you're ready!