"Cows are my passion. What I have ever sighed for has been to retreat to a farm and live entirely surrounded by cows–and china."

Charles Dickens

May 27, 2014

Strawberry Girl

Did you ever read Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski? She wrote and illustrated many books of middle grade historical fiction about children and their lives in various parts of the country. This book was about a girl in Florida and her family––"Crackers," a term for early settlers and now more associated with a derogatory name for poor white people––who moved there to farm strawberries. The book won the Newbery Medal in 1946. I loved reading Lenski's many books, and still have them, and delighted in her unsentimental depictions of other lifestyles––her illustrations were always fine and engaging, too. Whenever I read this book, just as when I'd read Robert McCloskey's Blueberries for Sal, I wanted to eat those sweet berries right then. 

May is strawberry season in Kentucky and this year there were some beauties. After a late spring, the first berries were huge and Wilson's Cedar Point Farm on nearby Tick Ridge announced on Facebook that it only took seven minutes to pick a gallon basket full! Despite their size, they were sweet and juicy. Before the weekend we bought ten gallons and put all but one into the freezer (for enjoying fresh). I got 20 quart bags full (and about 2 gallons of hulls: I don't actually hull them, I just carefully remove the tops with my trusty serrated paring knife, as close to the leaves as I can get: usually I give them to my chickens but we are chicken-less right now). And I'd say we easily ate about half a gallon in the car on the way home.

A huge bowl full of fresh local strawberries: note that this bowl is about three feet wide! 
Ready for the freezer with two quarts to slather with whipped cream and Angel food cake.

I love to sit on our porch at the farm cottage and "put up" produce or prepare to can, especially in the cooler weather that we were enjoying before the weekend: just like I remember a New England summer, hot in the sun but not too humid and with a light breeze. I can work there and see what's going on, who is coming and going, and the west porch stays fairly cool until the sun comes around in the afternoon. My husband and I like to joke that in Hancock, NH we also had an east porch and a west porch but on a much grander scale.

At this point we wouldn't trade this farm, and it's more ramshackle porches, for the world. It's a centering feeling to be here and what is remarkable is how well-sited the house was when it was built over one hundred years ago. The breezes come down over the knob and wrap around it, and through the open doors and windows on all sides. It is always much cooler than the doublewide that is in a bowl where no air stirs: instead it goes right over (which is, admittedly, a good thing in tornado weather). [Sometimes we do have to air-condition during the day but usually at night I just throw the windows open and fans on in all but the most humid weather.]

My trusty French serrated paring knife.
OK, so it's also color-coordinated!

I'm currently macerating some berries for jam––a two-day recipe––and I will post on that in the next few days. Son Henry especially enjoys strawberry jam and I like to make enough extra to tuck away for Christmas gifts, too. It is always spring in a jar.

By chance we discovered another nursery over in western Casey County the other day: I've been scrounging around for plants since returning from Colorado. If you don't get them before Mother's Day in Kentucky, or even by late April, they can be few and far between (unless you like a lot of wave petunias and marigolds). [Next year I am determined to grow my own favorite heirloom annuals from seed!] Anyway, the Amish-Mennonite family who operate their farm-based nursery will have blueberries in a few weeks––entirely organic––and I ordered about 20 pounds of those (affordable and pre-picked by them). Fortunately, they will be easier to freeze. On the way home I will stop and see my friend Diana at her produce farm (where her specialty is heirloom tomatoes) and perhaps share a nice gin & tonic on her porch.

You come back when you're ready!


May 26, 2014

The Open Road and Home Again

The beautiful prairie of eastern Kansas where the only vertical punctuations
on the horizon of clouds and land are churches, grain silos and windmills.

I was recently in Colorado for a few weeks to see our daughter and then we drove back across the wide prairie so she could spend some time here at the farm between ski and summer seasons (and before starting a great new job). It's been such a good stretch of time together. While Addie ended the season with her job I was productive during the day in her cozy condo: I sent a children's book to a publisher (on spec), got an article assignment for Early Homes (from Active Interest Media which also publishes Old-House Journal and other magazines) and reviewed my manuscript for The 1950s American Kitchen for Shire Books in England which was submitted to my editor in April. [I also have a new book-related blog, The 1950s American Kitchen]

Yet despite my occasional love of the open road, there is something so comforting about being home on the farm with my husband and all three of our children and our many animals and pets. As a mother it is immensely reassuring to have your chicks all safely back in the nest for a bit. I feel centered and as if we are an impermeable unit tucked into the hills and haven of our farm. When the world seems like a challenging place, as it often is, the rhythms of our days here seem to be a small contribution to a larger wholeness or sanity. There are struggles, yes, but I have reached at midlife, at long last, a kind of Zen-like contentment with where we are and in what we are doing.

I'd never spent so much time in the high mountains before: 9,600' altitude took
some adjustment but I was fine after four days. Didn't sleep much, however.
This is the Continental Divide at over 13,000 feet just south of Breckenridge.
It snowed on Mother's Day: over a foot from Zephyr in the Colorado Rockies!
Addie and I made carrot soup and Mexican food and caught up on Bravo television shows.

Silly Mother's Day "selfies."
A view of our farm looking east from the top of the Pennywinkle Field
(named years ago by the former owner for the snail-like shells found in the nearby creek).

Eli getting ready to ted the hay fields. He designed the work shirt that he is wearing.

The Pennywinkle Field with Eli tedding.
Henry finishes the mowing of the first hay on the farm (more down the road to do yet!).
Temple with a new baby lamb and Alice, our rescue deer (she was one of triplet fauns
that her mother abandoned last summer in a hay field after leaving with the other two).
[NOTE: this is before Temple was shorn for the summer!]
"Sheep and lambs may safely graze..." [for now]. Eli bought ten pregnant hair sheep (no wool to shear) and most have had their lambs. Trying not to get too attached as the babies will be in our freezer this winter. [We love lamb meat.]
Henry with the brand-new baler: we decided to do our own baling rather than hire it out.
Edgar surveys his domain (and his new harem of yearling heifers).
My husband Temple and Edgar, our beloved bull, who he found and rescued from the mud on their shared December birthday in 2011. The view is looking southeast towards the farm and above one of our many natural springs.
Loading hay to be wrapped.
Henry counts bales.
The great county wrapper guy cometh! The view of our farm is from part-way up our knob field and looking southeast.

The boys and my husband are done with first haying––and before the next stretch of rain––and that's always a good feeling. I'm catching up on the gardening in this coolish May weather after being away for several weeks during prime garden time (and our very late spring pushed everything back a bit). School has been out for the summer for over a week. Sports are done.

Storms can rage or equipment can break down, someone you love can be hurt or in need, you might not get a job "off farm," when needed, but always there are things for which to be so grateful. There are the green rolling hills, the proximity of good neighbors and friends (but not too close by: we can't see another house from our farm but we know there are neighbors just over the hill and down the lane), the breezes coming over the knob, the chortle of bird song all day, and the long stretch of summer ahead. It is like heaven on Earth and we are so blessed to be here. No matter what is happening in our lives, I seem to always be a "glass half full" kind of person. There is always another way to look at any circumstance or even sorrow. And while I was in Colorado when I thought of home, I thought of Kentucky. It has taken six years to say that but it is true. Now each day feels like a gift, every moment a song.

We are almost all back in the cottage––with recently repaired plumbing after our January 6th pipe burst (where we fortunately had the doublewide to return for a few months)––and DSL is now fully operational! No longer do I have to trek to the nearest town to blog or email (not that I did a lot of blogging in the past eighteen months but I have missed it). I've learned how to manage without ready access to the Internet here and need to continue to pretend that it isn't here for much of the day when I really should be doing other things around the house and farm. But it is handy for being in quick touch with friends, family, and my editors.

We are home. As I wrote under my blog heading, above, Wendell Berry said it best:
"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."
If you are still out there, dear reader, in blog land, you come back when you're ready!


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!