"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

March 31, 2017

Spring Planting

A photograph from my latest article at RethinkRural
on "
How to Plan and Plant the Southern Spring Garden."




I can't wait to get out in the garden this year. The boys have spring break during the first week of April and, in between rain drops, I plan to get the broccoli starts in, peas planted, some radishes and beets, and maybe some other "cole crops" if there is room in my four galvanized steel garden beds (which are repurposed water tanks for cattle).

I also need to start some annuals that you can't easily get around here: some heirloom tomatoes (mostly those can be found in nurseries here in Kentucky but not my favorite, "San Marzano"); lots of unusual zinnias; and a few other unusual heirlooms.

There is also an adjacent garden shed nearby which needs a massive clean out and complete reorganization. I'm hoping to corral at least one of the boys to help, even if I have to bribe or pay them–they are so busy these days with school and after school jobs at a nearby farm that we've hardly seen them! Every time we do, they seem to have grown another inch.

Despite our warm winter and early spring–which has faltered a few times with numerous short cold spells–the garden still waits for me. This is our tenth spring in Kentucky and I look forward to it every year: it is prolonged, often warm but not too hot, a time when we can open windows and turn off the HVAC altogether until the real heat comes in mid-late May.

There is a succession of emergent wildflowers along the roadsides and fields. There are wild storms which bring literal excitement to the air (and I have had a lifelong storm obsession). In May we are rewarded with several weeks of local strawberries and my rhubarb is in full-on pie mode (the old timers didn't call it "pie plant" for nothing). Mid-May is also the end of the boys' school year here (which starts again in mid-August) so then it really starts to feel like summer.

[And there is always spring cleaning... It was supposed to take place in March, but as our oldest son is graduating from high school in mid-May and plans to have all of his friends here afterwards, and other family, it's time to get serious, folks!]

How will your garden grow?

You come back when you're ready!

Catherine

March 20, 2017

First Day of Spring!

It occurred to me recently, as the sun filtered into our living room about a half hour after rising and where it lingers for a while at window level, that the light here is the same in late March as it is in late September. Only it is a much warmer, more promising light. In the first weeks of fall the sun will also stretch its fingers across the living room and, about twelve hours later, it blinds us in our sitting room on the west side of our small cottage.

My amateur astronomer father would have been slightly distressed to know that it took me 54 years to understand that "Equinox" means "equal night" in Latin. [I even took one year of Latin in college...]. So of course it is!

While the daylight, and night time, is not exactly equal at this time of year (for some reason I can't explain here but it's something like 12 minutes off) it is, for all intents and purposes, the same 12 hour stretch for darkness and light–even with Daylight Savings starting in early March. Of course, the Solstices are the opposite: the greatest stretch of light on June 21st and the longest stretch of night on December 21st. These are symbolically special times in our astronomical calendar. A scattering of rock circles throughout Britain, such as Stonehenge and Avebury, were believed to have been constructed around them. [For a beautiful account of Stonehenge and its pagan and mystical associations, read Chapter 28 of Thomas Hardy's 1892 novel, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, here.]

On our farm in Kentucky where spring is truly spring (and not covered by a blanket of snow), the Spring Equinox awakens so much: there are new animals, red buds bursting, bulbs emerging, grass greening, wild flowers starting, and rhubarb and strawberries in May! The fields are usually dry enough to walk around without worrying about tamping down the hay (or ticks and chiggers to bite us).

Our Kentucky spring spans from March-May, for the most part and by Memorial Day, it starts to get hot and humid. It is a wonderful, hopeful time in our year. There are gardens to dream about and to start planting and a few months where we can actually have the heat and the air-conditioning off for much of the time. I wash all of our quilts, and small area rugs, and hang them on the line. Ideally I spring clean in March and early April, generally leading up to Easter, so I'd best hold true to that conviction.



I was so excited about gardening that the other day I stopped at a few trusted garden centers to see if they had any pansies in–the ones I visited were closed or only had flats of annuals starting. In another month, or less, there will be an abundant selection of plants through Mother's Day–and regular produce and flower auctions at Casey County Produce Auction!

What are your favorite spring rituals or things you look forward to?

You come back when you're ready!

Catherine

March 19, 2017

Two Women Sitting Around Talking (...and Listening)


The main reason I left Facebook recently is because so many people I have known (in person or as a "Friend") were at each other's throats, no matter their politics or persuasions. [As soon as Lent is over I will be back, but not much more than a few minutes a day and only for a quick check or a garden, farm, book, article, food-related post–and a vow never to post anything political there for the rest of my days!] Several acquaintances as far back from high school–and even a few here locally in the past few years–had also unfriended me because of our differences of opinion. That, as well as the negativity and constant political sharing, was my tipping point. I've always prided myself on having a wide swath of friends–on Facebook and in real life–who have different backgrounds, perspectives, religious views, and politics.

I am objective enough to see that there are impermeable bubbles on all sides and that so many of us have the need to be right, including myself. But perhaps what we really want is just to be heard? And that requires real time conversation, validation, or at least the lost art of listening.

Everyone has their thoughts on something and everyone has a right to them but then there is the whole fact vs. fiction thing and that, to me, is even more disturbing than disparate views on issues that affect us all. I don't want to make things political on my blog, either, but I will say this: we need to do more listening and less talking. And to do so with empathy and understanding and an objective mind. It starts within each of us. That is how I was raised: to enjoy a lively debate in the right forum or with others who are willing, but to not shove my beliefs on everyone else. But if you ask for my opinion or thoughts on anything, I am delighted to tell you.

This quiet, warm Sunday afternoon a strange man stopped at our door. I said "come on in!" because one of our boys said, "Oh Dad, that's the man you met at work." As soon as the man walked in and started speaking, I thought I was back in New Hampshire. His accent was spot on old-school Yankee: broad "ar"s as in "BAHN" (just the way my husband says it) and the kind of speech and cadence you don't hear much any more in New England unless you are on a back road or with an old farm family (both also increasingly rare).

Turns out he and his wife moved here last year for many of the same reasons we did: shorter/warmer winters, better cost of living, a different way of life, and a rural experience that is increasingly (and less affordably) difficult to find back in New Hampshire, or in much of New England for that matter.

So my husband and his friend went off to the shop and his wife and I spent time talking in the house over a cup of coffee. She was as politically interested and aware as I have been, and as engaged as I was on TV and other media until about a month or so ago. To be honest, I've enjoyed a welcome break from it all.

I was prepared to make small talk about New England and various places we'd lived or things we'd done or animals that we love (she trains horses). But she brought it all up first and, as she was a guest in our home, I was determined to be polite. Rather than spewing my own thoughts I listened to hers and only pushed back sometimes, and respectfully, just to make sure she knew I didn't agree with everything being said. Initially she seemed surprised but then she said, "You know, the only way to learn is from each other and the only way to do that is by listening." No truer words.

We had a real conversation without huffing or shaming or getting upset. Since living in Kentucky I have seen and heard other viewpoints and approaches to a wide variety of things. Because of that I knew the drums were beating loudly and consistently in the direction that they went in November 2016–at least from much of rural America. [But the pundits and pollsters were not interested in this reality, and neither were some of the politicians.]

All I will say now, before forever holding my peace on the subject, is that the conversation was very enlightening in both directions. She even said so. We are very different women from very different upbringings and perspectives and, like many people I've met or heard about, she voted for the first time in her life because she felt inspired to do so. Like others, she's been holding out for a hero.

We talked but we also listened to each other. We spoke of the great divide in the country right now but recognized that there was also some common ground between us–that we all as humans basically want the same things: a roof over our heads, the ability to work and earn a living, affordable healthcare, a safe(r) world.

In the old days people used to go around "visiting" on a Sunday afternoon. It was generally an open door "we're at home" policy. We have found that tradition exists here, too, especially among our Old Order Mennonite friends.


Real Time vs. Facebook Time is so much better, even if you don't agree or know each other well. Do we like having our opinions and ideas shared by people and friends who agree with us? Of course. But as long as we can talk with each other civilly about our differences, while also saying when something is wrong, I think we'll be alright. The rest is just noise, distraction, and diversion–even in much of the media. We just need to occasionally look up from our Smartphones and our computers, and our televisions, and have a real conversation.

You come back when you're ready!

Catherine

March 9, 2017

Oscar Hamilton and the Really Old Tree


For two years (another reason I didn't blog at all!) I was a freelance contributor to our local newspaper, Commonwealth Journal. I wrote feature articles, mainly for their insert magazines, and also contributed my photography.

One of my favorite subjects, and articles, was a man who lived in Sawyer, Kentucky, in a very rural part of McCreary County not far from Cumberland Falls (and near the delightful hamlet of Honey Bee!). Oscar Hamilton was 92 when I interviewed him in January 2015 and spryer than either myself or my husband. He showed us around his farm, and brought us to the largest white pine tree in Kentucky. We visited for a while and before we left he gave us a quart of some lovely, dark unpasteurized wild honey that he put up. We promised to come back and visit in the spring when he wanted to give us some of his blackberry starts. We never did.

The other day I thought I'd look up Oscar again and make plans to go see him. Almost immediately I found his obituary. He died last October 10th at the age of "94 years, 10 months, and 24 days." It saddened me to learn this, not that he didn't have a good, long life, but for selfish reasons: we never got to see him again.

I know his life was full and he spent all of it on his farm in Sawyer, at the edge of the Cumberland River (made into Lake Cumberland when he was a younger man). But to think of the world without Oscar in it–well, it just makes me sad. We both knew many "old timers" like him back in New Hampshire–old bachelor farmers, or widowers, who were self-reliant and survived many of life's tribulations and passages, but always on their own steam and with their own resources. They are, indeed, a dying breed of men.

One of the first things Oscar shared with me (I didn't ask) was that he was a life-long registered Democrat. It used to be that most people in rural Appalachia were Democrats, before the Reagan era, in particular, and before other issues hijacked the Republican party (I'm not getting political here, I promise: one reason I'm on a social media diet right now). So I would have liked to have asked Oscar what his thoughts were on the very contentious 2016 presidential year.

We were glad to at least have met Oscar on that cold January day. And at 54 I'm realizing that there might not always be a "next time."

I also got to thinking about Oscar today as this would have been my father-in-law Tom Pond's 90th birthday: **March 9, 2017. Another great man but from a very different world as Oscar. A person is alive only as long as they live in people's memories: two of my children remember their grandfather and our youngest was only a year when "Badda" died in June 2011. Too soon–but there is never a right time to lose someone you love.

I'm going to try and upload the pages of the article here in this post: just click on the images, below, to enlarge and read.

You come back when you're ready!

Catherine

**March 9 is also our Old Order Mennonite friend Melvin Hurst's birthday (he is 66 today-another self-reliant soul-and his wife, Anna, is my best friend here). It is also Elisha Wilson's birthday. Another Kentucky native, Elisha is very much like Oscar but only a few decades younger–he installed the miles of fencing here on the farm and is true blue. We couldn't be here without any of them.






Rethink:Rural

In the years since I stopped blogging––has it been 2 now?––I have been a freelance contributor to a great website called Rethink:Rural. Recently I was also featured in their "Farming Women and Women Homesteaders" series as part of Women's History Month this March. The opening article, written by my editor Tiffany Wilson, provides some interesting background information. You can also link on my article index here, which is updated whenever I have a new article published on the site.

Rethink:Rural is a website dedicated to the country life and for those seeking to have it! Here's more from their site:

OUR PURPOSE & WHO WE ARE:
When people live in the country, you can’t drive down their long, private driveways to peek into their windows and see what their lives are like. But at Rethink:Rural, you can. 
We’re here to help those who are searching for a simpler, rural lifestyle to get a firsthand view of what that life could be like. We tell the stories of rural people and share how they found their paradise, what they wish someone had told them before they started, and how they made their land fit their dreams. 
We also talk to experts about how you can attain the country life, featuring advice for every step of the land-buying and land ownership process.   
In an age where 80% of the population of the United States resides in an area defined as urban, we challenge you to “rethink rural.”  
Rethink:Rural is operated by Raydient Inc. (d/b/a Raydient Places + Properties). Its purpose is to educate future landbuyers about the land-buying and land ownership process and to lead them to the right property to fit their dreams on RaydientPlaces.com. Raydient is the professional real estate services and development subsidiary of Rayonier, showcasing land for sale throughout the greater Southern United States to people that want their own unique property for outdoor recreation, rural living and/or investment.           
Rayonier has owned and cared for thousands of acres of forestlands across the United States for 90 years. A recognized land, ecological and conservation manager, Rayonier is a leading timber REIT with assets located in some of the most productive softwood timber growing regions in the United States and New Zealand. Rayonier owns, leases or manages approximately 2.7 million acres of timberlands located in the U.S. South, U.S. Pacific Northwest and New Zealand.
I know my editor would be grateful if you checked it out and visited often. Also, if you have any story ideas, don't hesitate to shoot me a line or two about a person, place, rural-related book to review, or interesting topic–even your own farm or country pursuit.

You can always email me at info@catherinepond.com or post below.

My thanks and gratitude for your readership here–it's nice to be back.

And you come back when you're ready!

Catherine

March 6, 2017

Unsocial Media

The title of this post is rather an oxymoron, I realize. But how "social" is media, really? Since I read it (and clipped it, and fortunately it's on line, too–so then why did I clip it, you ask? You'll have to talk to my inner hoarder...), this article by Andrew Sullivan has haunted me. "I Used to Be a Human Being," appeared as the cover story of September 16, 2016's New York Magazine. It is about what Sullivan calls "distraction sickness" and being bombarded by a constant stream of media, requests, emails, posts and commentary about every subject, as well as useless information. [Do I really need to know that Beyonce is having twins?]

Sullivan has a Smart Phone like most of the rest of the world. I do not. I have a cheap TracPhone that I load with more minutes every six months or so and I use it when on the road or in emergencies, or to text my kids when they're not here. I enjoy that part of it. I can't imagine having a more advanced phone near me 24/7 or the constant temptation to tune out–I was doing enough of that on my home computer, on Facebook, for the past eight years (since August 2008, in fact).


As you know we live on a farm. Stuff happens and phones are necessary. But I've never been able to justify a fancier phone and neither do I want one. If I had a job off-farm or traveled more than I do, perhaps I could justify having one (and yes, Instagram would be a blast but as it is I'm hardly on Pinterest–I enjoy it but it's not tactile enough for me: again, it's the recipe/article clipper hoarder in me). We got our oldest son, nineteen, an iPhone for Christmas on a basic plan. Three years ago my boys and husband each got an iPad (and my husband and other son, almost 17, each have a TracPhone, also). Since that time, with the iPads and the iPhone, everyone is in their devices on much of their down time. There is no letting the genie back into that bottle! So I am glad that we waited so long to computer-ize them (it was also my husband's first computer experience).

It's not that we're luddites (although you could argue that), it's that we're cautious. For a while I've seen how individually isolating this kind of thing is-even the home computer can be a kind of incubus for me. It is seductive, alluring, there all the time and where I can Google virtually anything in an instant and get way too many answers. I can send something to an editor in an instant, I can find many recipes for the same thing, I can spend hours just looking at different websites or searching and collecting things on eBay (that's another thing altogether). For someone with ADD, it is ironic that a computer can provide focus in its hypnotic capabilities. Sometimes I will be on the computer, whether writing, emailing, tweaking and organizing photographs, or, on Facebook, and I'm not even aware how much time has passed.

If I spent the same amount of time doing something productive (well, writing for pleasure, or money, is a form of production) that I spent on Facebook in a given day–without checking the time–I could probably move mountains (or at least laundry piles).

So for me, a Smart Phone has never been an option–not only am I "all thumbs," but I am used to keyboarding the old fashioned-way as I learned on a typewriter after twelve weeks of night classes that I took in high school (because I couldn't fit it in during the day). This summer, before he goes off to college, I will make my son do an on-line typing course, too. Invaluable. I type as fast as I think and, well, that can be a dangerous thing–especially on social media.

I'd reached the same saturation point that Sullivan spoke about, about two weeks ago. In the post-election and inauguration I was saturated by negativity and opinions from all sides and still continuing to give my own. It was a no-win and it was draining. I realize that some people need to vent and need to organize or whatever else they need to do. But for me it was keeping me away from more important things-like my own work, or ideas, or just doing different things with my day.

Obama was our first social media president in that most people over 40 joined Facebook during his presidency (he, too, used social media effectively and positively to help win his elections). During this time, the kids moved on to other social outlets and Facebook became hijacked by adults. For the first time in our lives everyone had a public voice, a forum, and a place to vent and share information about their opinions in an immediate way. I believe this also gave strength to false or alternative facts. We stopped fact-checking or thinking for ourselves and everyone, no matter what their political inclinations, seems locked in their own impermeable bubbles. And it can be exhausting if you let yourself go beyond family photos and sharing recipes or silly Youtube videos.

I've been off of Facebook for almost a week. I honestly don't miss it. I do miss some of my Friends there but they know where to find me (and I do enjoy keeping in touch with old friends who wouldn't otherwise write or even be in touch). I have to say that Facebook is an invaluable resource and I will likely return again, but more sporadically and then for just a quick check-in or post about something on the farm or when I've had an article out.

What have I done to fill that void? Well, I've started blogging again, and walking again. I have a better flow of thoughts and ideas–it's like a valve has been turned back on. There is less "mind clutter" bombarding me throughout the day and it's already cluttered enough.

I've also been writing with a new kind of energy because I'm not putting that same energy into trying to be right on Facebook or to prove a point. The fact is, no one is listening. No one cares. In person, they might but not when you are pontificating or ranting. People shut down, sometimes even if they agree with you. And if you are singing to the choir, wouldn't you rather save that energy for singing with them?

I have many bad habits but this one required my immediate attention. So far, it's working.

Now, about those "Real Housewives"...

You come back when you're ready! 

Catherine

March 5, 2017

Watching Caesar Go




The sun was out after some late winter severe weather in the past few days. I caught a glimmer of movement in the window that always occurs when a vehicle passes through the farmyard and is refracted by the shining light. Thinking that either my husband or boys were home early, I got up to look out. Nothing. Then I heard a low rumble on the other side of our small farm home and saw a truck pulling a cattle trailer. Inside of it, all alone, was Caesar with his big, black, Angus presence. Of all of the other bulls besides Edgar, who is our only bull for now, he would allow us to pat him on the head through the fence.

"I wish I hadn’t seen that,” I said aloud to the empty house (I am alone now here for long stretches—from 7:30am until 3:30 or 5:30pm—as my sons now drive themselves together to school). So I talk to myself a lot—or to two of our six cats who are allowed in the house.

I knew that Caesar would be picked up today and taken to auction but as I hadn’t seen him one more time since a few days ago I had already separated from the idea of him leaving. Every time an animal leaves the farm a part of us, and a part of our farm, goes with them. Their fate is undetermined as they go to auction—they could either live on another farm or go to the slaughterhouse. As a meat eater one has to accept that reality.
  
But to see that same magnificent animal, behind the relative prison bars of a cattle trailer, riding behind the truck up the hill away from our farm to an unknown future or demise—well, it was devastating.

I was reminded of another goodbye–of when my husband and daughter drove up the hill, pulling a small trailer, on their way out to Colorado where she would live. It was just after my 50th birthday and she had been living with us here in Kentucky for much of that year, in between two stages of her life. For the first time in five years I had everyone under one roof again. For a mother there is no greater comfort than that.
"What people don't tell you is that you lose your children. As beautiful and wonderful as you are now, the little girl whose hair I used to detangle and had bad dreams and used to crawl into my bed? She's gone." 
–Madeline, "Big Little Lies" (HBO)
All was quiet in the darkness of that early November morning-there were not even any birds. So it was fitting that it was like empty nest all over again watching my daughter drive off, at 5am, to an uncertain future where there are no guarantees, only possibilities. I watched until I could no longer see the small, piercing eyes of red tail lights on the back of the trailer–where my daughter's life was placed for safe transit. I listened until I could no longer hear the sound of the car engine on the ridge. I prayed for a safe journey for both of them–round trip for my husband and one-way for my daughter.

And then I went back into the house, and I cried.

You come back when you're ready!

Catherine

March 4, 2017

Rebooting My Blog–& Middleaged Booty

I used to enjoy blogging, sometimes several times a week. Then, in 2012, we lost our satellite Internet from a lightning strike on our farm and the only time I could blog was on my (very slow-eg. ancient) laptop about once a week or so at our wonderful local city library in Somerset, Kentucky (both of my Mac computers are from 2004 with only one upgrade!). It took two full years for our local phone carrier to install our rural Wifi capabilities and I'd just let our satellite account go because when they came to repair it they said the equipment was outdated and I said, "Well, why didn't someone tell me that years ago?" I'm not a luddite on principal, and not as bad as my husband is, but upgrades are not something I am good at. Or reboots for that matter.

So, that, in short is how I got out of the habit of blogging.

I had also been working on another book, on the 1950s American kitchen, commissioned by a British publisher who decided to not proceed with their American list after I'd finished it in April 2014. [I am happy to say that the manuscript has now been shopped to another publisher, after languishing in a desk drawer for over two years. My bad.]

I was also preoccupied by too much social media (eg. Facebook, especially) which I've recently given up for Lent. I not only had extreme political fatigue from the past two years but I find social media can all too easily become a black hole of time-killing. When I wasn't blogging while we didn't have Internet for a few years, I also became more of a Facebook grazer. At the library, or wherever I could find free Wifi in someone's parking lot (eg. Lowe's or McDonald's), or even our local coffee house, I would check my wall for about ten minutes, maybe post, visit a few other walls and be done with it. Now I am on a complete FAST except for if I want to promote anything in my writing world (which I did yesterday).

A dear friend reminded me that I needed to blog again––and more often. I find this a wonderful way to connect and less psychologically immersive than on Facebook (as I don't have a SmartPhone I'm not on Instagram, as much as I might enjoy that with my interests in photography). Already, in writing this, do I remember how much I did enjoy blogging and the relative ease of writing here. It's often a warm-up to my other writing, too.

And finally, not only have I been busy with my two boys, and the farm world that I live in (more on the domestic end of things), but I was seized with an unprecedented depression. Part peri-menopausal, part situational, part locational (farms can be isolating), part biological––for whatever reason, there it was. Chasing me for many years and then backing me into a corner that I could not effectively get out of. Not without help, at least. This is something I am open about and want to write more about.

Depression in women and menopause have always been somewhat taboo in our mother's generation and even in our own. There are many things other women won't tell you about midlife and this is one of them: sometimes your mood swings and reactions are worse than when you were a teenager. I found out through experience. Then there is the other side of it all, the side that several writers have said that is like "getting your true self back again," after the hormonal broth of the past several decades of a woman's fertile years.

My friends, I'm here to tell you that I'm back. I'm writing more (for publication and for blogs--including Rethink:Rural), I've got a few book proposals in development, and I feel like my 25-year old self again in terms of attitude, outlook, and personality. Everything seems possible again, even if I am 54 and my mirror might say otherwise.

It's been almost a decade since The Pantry-Its History and Modern Uses was published. It's more than time to pick up the pen and start again. [You can browse and read some of my previous published articles here.] After all, I'm about to become an empty-nester for the second time with our oldest son who is graduating from high school, and his brother half out the door himself with his many activities, driver's license, and plans for the future. Both of them want to farm in some capacity––maybe here, maybe near here––and I doubt they'll ever be too far from our orbit. But either way, Mama has her own groove back and needs something to do in the years ahead.

You come back when you're ready!

Catherine