"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

April 29, 2011

The Royal Wedding

You, too, can own a set of these royal gnomes.
I have always been a complete and total Anglophile (among other things my ancestry goes back to several English kings and I love **McVitie's Chocolate biscuits). Today brought back so many memories of watching the wedding of "Chuck and Di" on July 29, 1981––nearly thirty years ago now! I was home for the summer between my freshman and sophomore years at college. My mother and I set the alarm early, made some coffee, noshed on some Danish, and tucked into the large couch in the farm living room (that we still have, reupholstered) with our large St. Bernard and Newfoundland, Molly and Nana. Back then you couldn't TeVo the wedding or even tape it onto VCR or watch it streaming on the Internet. It was live, but limited, coverage and it was just fine. After the wedding I headed to my summer job for 8am at the Kernel Bakery in nearby Peterborough.

Diana was iconic for my generation. Only a year older than I, her life seemed a fairy tale at the time. Everything about her was intriguing, even though, as in our own lives, we would later learn that the fairy tale was myth. But she still captivated my generation of women in a way that few have.

Catherine Middleton (for many years "Kate" and dubbed "Waity Katie" for her long time with Prince William) is now Her Royal Highness Princess William Arthur Philip Louis, Duchess of Cambridge, Countess of Strathearn, Baroness Carrickfergus. [HRH The Princess of Wales seems a lot more succinct to me.] Her story, while still a bit Disney-esque, is more relatable. She is a modern woman: college educated, with hardworking parents, no title or royal heritage. The couple has been living together for many years now and has managed to live below the radar or the press or any scandal. She also had one long introduction to royal life, something that Diana, despite her background, did not.

But I have to say, as happy as anyone is for a newly-married couple, there hasn't been the wow factor for me. I find myself reflecting instead on that Diana is not there, or what would she have thought? What might she have worn as mother of the groom? One thing is certain: she would have been proud of her son William as she clearly did a magnificent job in raising him (as has Charles, despite his private gaffs). They are all human, after all.

Yet the pomp is much fun and a pleasant diversion and the music magnificent! [I was less interested in the fashion, although what a gown, and more into the many anthems by the Romantic Victorian composer Sir Charles Hubert Parry: "I Was Glad" has such memories for me, both as I have sung it in two choruses and of my father who was a big Parry fan.] We enjoyed the BBC coverage because we wanted more history and less "chat." And watching with my three children this morning––22, 13 and 11––and my husband was the real highlight [as was making cinnamon scones for them]. Sitting in our doublewide on a Kentucky ridge I also reflected how my life has changed in the past thirty years, how I have changed. Viewing London from afar I also realize that, while I was glad to have lived there as a student, I am quite happy to be where I am now.

On another note, my daughter and I are planning the menu now for our May Day tea party that I'm hosting for some Kentucky friends in a few days. I'll post some of the recipes––and photos––next week.

You come back when you're ready!


**And how cool that the Groom's Cake is made of McVitie's biscuits? When I was at University College London my friend Bethan, from Wales, gave me a recipe of her mom's that involved crushing up chocolate biscuits into a pan. It was divine. I have lost it but maybe with the wonders of the Internet I can find it again. It would seem the cake is an extended version of this idea.

April 28, 2011

Easy Easter

Melvin's hat and a favorite book that a friend gave me many years ago––"Heart's Delight Farm"

Ida's mint––used in our iced tea––made an easy centerpiece.
This Easter was one of our most memorable––even the kids, all three of them, said so. Perhaps it was because it was the first holiday we shared together at Chickabiddy Cottage (where, with a few tweaks, we're trying to figure out if we can move permanently––but at least for the summer months). Or because it was the first holiday we shared with our daughter since Christmas 2007. Or because it was just effortless (even Betty and Duncan provided our dessert!). No fussing. No Easter decorations (despite my best intentions: next year?). No hauling out old china or silver (most still packed). Not even a bouquet of spring flowers!

Joberta and Anna share a "hoot."
Perhaps it was because we just sat around the big old English farmhouse kitchen table for hours with some of our Kentucky friends. No, we didn't go to church but we praised, prayed and felt blessed all the same after what I would best describe as a contemplative Lenten season.

Joberta brought the Cupcake wine!
Our daughter is staying at Chickabiddy while she is here and every meal we have had there together has been wonderful. We sit around and talk before and afterwards: often on the porch. Or read or play. We have no TV, phone or internet at the cottage. I intend to keep it that way. Across the street and up the road a bit from our doublewide, it is the needed domestic center of our farm life. As Addie says, "You can look out any window and catch a view." And the breezes find us and gather off the knob. There are much-needed vistas and new and changing horizons. It truly does provide a needed escape from life's distractions while allowing us to communicate with each other––or for me to see what's going on at the farm while working away inside. [Soon my office will be there, too.] I can even holler out the door when a meal is ready or visit when someone stops by. For the first time in a long time, I feel at home. Settled. Dare I say, even permanently so?

The kids pitched together and decorated the Easter cakes––
a lamb and a rabbit from old tins that my mother used to use.

Thank you Betty and Duncan for making dessert so easy this year!

I can not sing enough praises for Betty Crocker® "home style" Fluffy White icing: it is like Seven-Minute icing, which can be difficult to make (or make quickly), and all you have to do is add boiling water! [It's also fat free.] Our cake was a Duncan Hines® lemon cake: moist and tasty––and easy.

The Remains of the Cake and the delightful Cadbury Creme Egg, one of England's greatest exports!
We are so enjoying our family time altogether again. Even though our daughter
is thriving in her own life "back east," her presence is something I miss throughout the year.
The festal lamb––our son requested it again for his 11th birthday just two days after Easter!
The only difference in the menu was that we had mashed potatoes instead of oven-roasted.
Oh, and he got a "from scratch" chocolate cake with homemade mocha icing. (Sorry, Betty.) 

You come back when you're ready!


April 22, 2011

Have a Blessed Easter ~

Each season has its own charm, each bestows its own blessing, and we welcome each in turn. The planet we inhabit may be only one of countless planets, but it turns in its accustomed orbit and we accept this unquestioningly. There is security in knowing that spring follows winter and summer comes after spring. As I go back into my house, I wish all my friends, everywhere, the joy and sweetness of spring.

~ Gladys Taber, author of the many "Stillmeadow" books

Easter Blessings from our farmyard to yours ~

April 20, 2011

Little Blessings Everywhere

The glorious white trillium––as majestic as an Easter lily.

The beguiling and delicate wood violet.
Springtime in Appalachia brings true meaning to the season: it is prolonged, glorious, breathtaking. When Daniel Boone described Kentucky as "a second paradise," he was likely referring to its cool green hollers, hillsides laced with redbud and dogwood, and the emergent flora in the wooded landscape. And two centuries later, in his expansive chords and melodic tributes to mountain folk music, Aaron Copland wrote "Appalachian Spring" as a virtuoso ballet suite to both the subtleties and the richness of the season here. I can only hope that Copland spent a few weeks in Kentucky––rising early in the morning, hearing the bird song and watching the landscape transform around him like a veil lifted. Appalachia extends up from the south-central United States to New England like an old tumbling wall: spring travels along it from south to north, ever so varied as it goes.

O Appalachian Spring! I gained the ledge;
Steep, inaccessible smile that eastward bends
And northward reaches in that violet wedge
Of Adirondacks!
 ~ Hart Crane, "The Bridge"

Trillium and trout lily in the forest.
The appearance of the delectable morel on the dappled forest floor in late March has now given way to trillium––white and pink and, if you are fortunate to find them, yellow and red––bloodroot, larkspur, wild phlox, purple violets and the more delicate wood violet, trout lilies, miniature iris and unfurling ferns, among others. There are even patches of wild strawberries blooming along the roadsides or in scrubby, open places.

A bank of trillium in a secluded valley near our home.

My favorite is the pink trillium––I saw all but yellow today.
Everyone seems to have their "secret" wildflower spot in the region and I've certainly found mine: some on our own land and others that I like to look for each year when driving past. Of course, I only take photographs, never a flower. Those who do try to transplant––and I do confess to wanting to move some miniature iris, but only because there are so many in this one spot on our land––often do not succeed. Wildflowers seem to be God's gift to us all, but only in their place: their self-chosen and rightful spot. Their only purpose seems to bring delight to the world. What a marvelous job description! Perhaps this makes them even more glorious––precious discoveries in the forest that would seem to contribute to the annual pageant of color, light and glory that is the Spring! And yet a reminder that everything has its place in the world or its important contribution.

A cache of larkspur along a roadside in nearby Casey County.

Later in the summer, usually in August when the children return to school, I enjoy seeing the Joe Pye weed, purple ironweed and various rudbeckias along the roadside. Even the goldenrod flower is a lovely, late summer contrast to the mauve tones of the other flowers. These are all tall and seem more like sunworshippers. The wildflowers of spring cling more towards to the ground, not really wanting to boast of their beauty or purpose other than to surprise and delight us before the longer, heated summer days.

Morgan Cemetery and an old redbud in front of our knob field.

Wild phlox is everywhere now.
Springtime in Kentucky is a reminder of why we are here in this land, why every spring––this being our fourth full spring season––is a reminder that as dark and bleak as the earth can be for a few months each year, there will always be light and color and bird song again. Spring seems to remind us of why we are here at all: because everything has its season under Heaven and everything lives again.

A trout lily pokes through the forest floor.
Above all, we should always try to find––and allow ourselves to be surprised by––the little blessings along the way. I am blessed and I am equally fortunate to see and appreciate what is around me. I am always thankful for the spark.

You come back when you're ready!


April 10, 2011


Henry with Willard, left, and Roscoe, right. These are Black-Mouthed Cur puppies from the same litter,
almost seven weeks old. They are a delight and will be great farm dogs!

Roscoe in a rare, still moment.

April 9, 2011

Mud Happens

I may have said this before but magazine shoots are not reality. Well, perhaps in some homes, or maybe even for a few days, hours or minutes. How do I know this? Because I've styled shots for photographs for magazine articles for which I have also written and sometimes photographed. I've also been in homes where I had to rearrange a pantry or assist with styling a museum shot for photographers until it was just right for the shot. [It's actually more fun than playing house.]

No "props" were harmed in the unstyling of this photograph!

I collect a lot of stuff that also doubles as "props" for photos (at least that is how I've justified occasional eBay and antique mall forays!) and I've used them in my own homes and at other locations. Interior design magazines, like their fashion counterparts, can be so beguiling and delightful to read but they give us a stage of images on which to convey our dreams or from which to find ideas, even frustrations or inadequacies. Mostly, like the emaciated models we see in many magazines or the crazy couture that they wear, it is pure and utter Fantasyland.

Our mudroom after being emptied of 1,000 pairs of boots, shoes and what not.

Case in point: my mud room at the doublewide. I have used many props in this room, and backdrops, for a recent laundry article I wrote for Old-House Interiors. It is with new meaning that "mud room" has been realized here in Kentucky!

Mudroom contents on the porch.
I am (clearly) not the world's greatest housekeeper. This mud room has suffered from benign neglect for the past several months. At some point, when you know the mud will just come in the door again, it becomes a frustrating exercise to keep up. There are days that I wish I were more of a manic housewife but I'm not. On my death bed will I look back and mourn that I have not been as tidy as I might be? Probably not. Sure, there are many great, and probably quite valid, arguments for being tidy and organized and all of that stuff. But I can give you just as many reasons not to: a) it's boring (well, not sorting a cupboard––I love that!); b) I could be reading or writing or cooking instead; c) it can seem a futile exercise. But my number one excuse? If I can't do something right, I won't do it at all or I procrastinate until we have company. Even then, I have to do it properly. Perfectionism creeps out in the weirdest ways sometimes.

A pile of old tablecloths and aprons on route to the cottage––I swear I didn't style this shot!

If you are ever wondering while reading this blog, or other blogs on the internet––especially some homemaker or interior design blogs––if life is always as perfect as it might seem in photos or the details and minutiae of a person's life, well, I'm here to tell you that it's not. I could show you "after" photos of the mud room once it is clean and shiny, but I'll save those for the magazines.

Mud happens and I'm here to tell you that S@#T happens too, especially on a farm. Just remember, if you can, to please wipe your feet at the door.

You come back when you're ready!


April 7, 2011

Stouffer's Frozen Food

Stouffer's––"Every dinner should feel this good."™
[And yes, the box is huge: 9x13, give or take an inch.]
I had a power-shopping day today with several Mennonite friends. [It was also my friend Anna's birthday and this is what she wanted to do, natch!] Well, let me just say that these women put the SHOP in shopping! They don't go out a lot as they are allowed no cars (they are Old Order Mennonites so only horses and buggies). They rely on their pantries and cellars for provisions––and they can most everything––they shop for staples in the traditional way of buying supplies from bulk foods places (like Sunny Valley Store in Casey County), or Walmart™ or wherever there is a good deal. And they know how to pinch a penny and get full value from it. I've learned so much from them in these past few years.

I am usually just happy to go along for the ride, as the driver, and pick up my own list of things (however, saving most room for their prodigious amounts!). Today I was delighted to find cases of Progresso® Creamy Mushroom Soup for $1.25 a can at Big Lots™so I bought 2 cases for the pantry. It's great in casseroles and there is no MSG and also ingredients you can read (and big chunks of mushrooms). It was at Walmart™for a short while last year and then wasn't any more so you get these things where you can find them [and do you find that once you really like a product that they discontinue it on you?].

Epiphany in Frozen Foods––The Lean Cuisines and Banquet frozen dinners, and even Marie Callender, just parted out of the way, lighting the path to culinary truth from the Gods! 

I also went on a hunt for six sympathy cards (at middle age I find that people I know are dying, or parents of friends and even friends of friends: it is a sad, but inevitable, phenomena). These cards are unbelievably maudlin and sappy and just come off as mawkish. And yet, it is hard to find words for such occasions. So, I try to find the right words in my own heart and hand. [There's an untapped market for the greeting card industry: just the right sympathy card.]

So, two things off the list. I made very few impulse purchases today and that was useful for the budget. I haven't been shopping in ages and now with four hogs ready for the freezer, a bull about to go to the butcher, various canned and frozen items still to use up, our own eggs (2 dozen a day now) and a pantry that is still full to bursting, we only really need fresh food, milk, and the occasional deal.

Presentation is Everything––I was dazzled that the lasagna came out of the pan easily and looked exactly like it did on the front of the box: creamy sauce, perfectly cooked vegetables (previously frozen and likely blanched) and an addictive buttery Ritz-crumb style crust on top.

Well, enough blather about my day in town. What is so exciting is that, in our long day, I realized that I needed to make dinner upon return home (not having thawed anything out or planned ahead, either). I love vegetable lasagna and am still seeking the perfect recipe. There in the freezer section at Walmart™was a giant "Party Size" tray of Stouffer's® vegetable lasagna! I was beside myself. I hadn't had Stouffer's in ages and quickly looked around for my old childhood favorites like scalloped apples, corn soufflĂ© and spinach soufflĂ© (no such luck). I still recall with fondness the occasional sentimental convenience foods from my childhood: after all, I was born in the era of these foods.

As I write this, the lasagna is in the oven. It takes 1 hour and 55 minutes if it's frozen. That means we will eat dinner at around 9pm. That's OK because the boys and Temple are moving some pregnant cattle, feeding three calves (another mother is not interested) and all of this after bringing two puppies home (more on them later). It is never a dull moment around here and that's what I love about our lives on our Kentucky farm. Once spring starts, we're on a tear until winter again.

On the way home my friends and I all spoke of life, and death––as someone in their community has just been diagnosed with stage four bone cancer––and how we might cope with such news ourselves. I appreciate how fatalistic my Mennonite friends are because they truly believe that we are all in God's hands. That is a liberating belief as much as it is a comfort. I still rationalize everything or try to figure it all out in my mind, to get to the bottom of things or just try to suss it all out. At the same time, I appreciate the mystery and the joy of each day, especially in springtime.

Yes, kids, there are no surprises in this household! If Mama don't make it, you sure will know it!

And then we all marveled at the pageant of pink in the redbuds which now dot the green landscape along highways and byways. We spoke about our emerging heirloom tomato plants and what each of us would be feeding our families upon return from our day out. One thing is certain: life goes along each day and there is always dinner at the end of it. And my family can delight in the fact that this is the very first time––and possibly the last time––in nearly 15 years of marriage, that I've prepared for them a frozen, pre-made Stouffer's dinner: but hey, it's cheaper than a pizza or a bucket of chicken.

You come back when you're ready!


UPDATE––No lasagnas were harmed in the making of this blog-ad, no endorsement was taken from Stouffer's®, and neither was permission granted. They are, however, welcome to pay me, any time. Except there could be a problem with that because Eli and Henry both said, "Mom, we like yours better...you know, the stuff you make with the meat sauce." There was also a sodium overload as I'm still guzzling lots of water tonight before bedtime.

April 6, 2011


A pair of mourning dove eggs which we discovered this morning on our front porch!

Who doesn't love bird nests? I even have a few that I've kept and collected through the years, placed around here and there in the house. They are marvels of natural architecture and the cleverness of unspoken intuition. Every bird has a different type of building design, inherent to their breed. In the two summers before we moved from New Hampshire, a pair of nesting robins built their home on the upper ledge of one of our porch columns: they raised successive broods and we never disturbed their nest and neither did they seem bothered by our comings and goings.

We've put up three new bluebird houses at the farm, spaced along the fence towards the East Field. So far, they seem to be finding them! Bluebirds, unlike purple martins, that the Amish and Mennonites like to encourage around their farms for bug-catching, are solitary couples and do not want to be housed in elaborate condos. Apparently the smaller hole in the door will detract the starlings from coming in and squatting. They are also easy to make and to install: we found it easier this spring to just pick up a few at our local feed store, Goldenrod Feeds. Eli has taken to carpentry so I'm going to have him make me a mess for my birthday. We certainly have plenty of fence posts around for placing them.

The older bluebird house, nearer the cottage, is in use again. Inside there are five small beautiful blue eggs. I have seen the nesting pair flitting about the farm and heard their lovely cry. A few weeks ago, several were around to scout the joint. Now that I got my photo op, when they weren't looking, I won't bother them again. We often park a car near this box but that doesn't seem to phase them and neither does the farm activity. The nest is only about thirty feet from the back door and is about four feet off the ground, a recommended height.

This gnome was already in residence in the tree-like planter outside of our door, complete with dead ivy from last summer. The natural twiggy and somewhat loose construction of the mourning dove nest is reliant on a sturdier base (isn't Google wonderful?), like this planter full of soil. I was going to move the tall, many-tiered structure––made of twined grape vines––over to the cottage this spring but am reluctant to do so at all, even after this pair of mourning doves hatch. Apparently, if not threatened (and they easily are), mourning doves will return several times throughout the season, like other birds do, to have their nests. For some reason, their nests are often less hidden than those of other birds so this might mean we can't enjoy the porch that much: that's alright, really, as we'll spend most of our long summer days over at the farm cottage.

You come back when you're ready!


A footnote about 'Mourning Doves' ~ When I was a child in Akron, Ohio, our power lines ran behind the houses along our street (clever, really). I loved the sad song of the birds that would hang out on the lines and sing in the morning while I was playing outside: "ooo OOO ooo ooo ooo." Thing is, I thought they were "Morning Doves," and it was many years later that I realized they were named for their plaintive singing in a minor key.


Eli with Charlotte, left, and newborn Wilbur (or "Rowdy" as Henry wants to call him).
Note the size difference: Charlotte is three weeks old; Wilbur is 12 hours old.
I asked that we keep Charlotte all of her life––I've bonded as we have to bottle feed her several times a day [and it helps my case that she is a female Angus cow]. She had scours so needed to be separated from her mother. Her mother rejected her when she was returned so she is now on the bottle.
Wilber/Rowdy was born during a stormy night on Monday. Sadly, his mother did not make it after a difficult birth––hopefully Wilbur has a chance. He is the first offspring of our Hereford bull, Woodrow. We've realized the hard way that Hereford bulls and Angus heifers produce very large calves that are not easy for the mother to deliver. So Woodrow, and his brother Taurus, will be going to other pastures.

You come back when you're ready!


April 4, 2011

Chasing Rainbows

This post doesn't have a photo, and that's the point. Let me explain.

On Friday we had some rain come in later in the day. We had driven over to the South Fork Creek area for errands and to hunt for some supper out: The Bread of Life was too crowded and the Mexican place just east of Russell Springs on Hwy 80 was "just right."

As we were driving south on Hwy 127, the sun came out against a dark bank of clouds to the east. You know what that means. Our youngest son saw it first: "Look, a rainbow!"

When we hit the valley down by 501 and 127, we saw it in full. A large, thick end of rainbow coming right down to the east, virtually in a Mennonite farm yard.

"Pull over!" I said. This idea was met with much general consternation from the back seat and some eye-rolling from my husband in the front. By now, everyone is used to my wanting to take photos wherever we go––I do need a bumper sticker that says, "WARNING! This car breaks for f-stops!"––but everyone was hungry.

I quickly jumped out of the car, saw the photo opportunity which, I have to say, was virtual perfection, eyed the stream of ten or so cars that had also been heading south behind us, and turned on my camera. Snap. Snap! SNAP! Nothing. Battery dead and needed recharging.

I'd like to think that this dead battery saved me from being splattered across the pavement. I don't think I am being too dramatic when I say that I was a foot away from running across the highway to get a better photo unobscured by power lines. The realization that the camera was out of juice, and that there were many cars heading past us, happened at the same moment.

So I watched the rainbow for a few moments and hopped back into the car, savoring some bittersweet irony while my son said, "Mom, why do you always have to take pictures?" I could only answer that I will never stop seeing beauty in the world––and to quote Paul Simon, whose new album, So Beautiful or So What, drops next week, twenty-five years after his timeless Graceland, "these are the days of miracle and wonder."

I quietly realized, as we pressed onward towards an elusive meal at 6:45pm, that there are these moments in our lives when we are supposed to pause, reflect and enjoy the majesty––and the mystery––without the aid of electronic devices. It was an humbling experience.

You come back when you're ready!


For those of you who need visuals with your blog posts (and I am one of those people!), here is a Casey County rainbow photo, from May 2006, on my former blog, In the Pantry: click here.