Saturday, March 10, 2018

Why collect?

I'm a collector. There, I've said it. None of my collections are valuable; but all are priceless.

I do understand that there is a fine line between collecting and hoarding. If I start to waver on that point, Maggie stands ready to remind me – and her dad – in no uncertain terms that she does not want to be the one to someday have to deal with all our stuff. We hear you, Maggie, but sometimes it is hard to resist a new treasure.

I started thinking about this concept of collecting last month as I was setting our table for my bookclub luncheon. I started wondering why I collect what I do, and what will happen to my collections down the road. Will they end up with a child or grandchild? In a quirky museum? In a yard sale? Or scattered to the four winds?

I digress. Back to my table the trio of glass vases filled with branches and bulbs, I added a large glass paperweight that had belonged to my grandmother. Then I searched in various cabinets for two oval paperweights that I inherited from my great aunt Melta, the small Venetian glass one that Ira Lee, Ed's dad, carried back from WWII as a gift to his bride, and the one that Ed bought me years ago. All of a sudden, I had amassed a collection. And now that they are gathered together, I can't seem to tuck them back into their cabinets or give them away. I'll catalog this collection as 1) collecting with memory by association. 

Then there's my Natural History collection that resides on our back porch. It is a mishmash of odd items that we have picked up on our wanderings around the farm: a bleached turtle shell, deer skull, fossils, a horseshoe, glass medicine bottle, fungus conks, a snake skin... I don't need to keep any of these items, but they seem to capture the attention of young visitors and squeamish older ones. This collection I claim as 2) farm history

Let's move on to my collection of pottery – which I do love, but which may be getting out of control. I recently gathered many of the pieces and arranged them on our mantle. They are too many. I mean, really, how many bowls, pitchers and vases does one need? (They did, however, come in handy for Maggie and Nate's wedding.) Let's put them in the category: 3) practical.

In that same category, I could put my wooden spoon collection. I use one or more of them everyday. Most of these spoons come from our travels; they make great souvenirs and are easy to pack. I think they deserve their own category: 4) souvenirs.

Let's move on to our collection of wooden horses. It started with one that we found 30 years ago in an antique/junk shop in Windermere, Canada. Once we had one, the others just seemed to follow and now we have nearly a dozen. I'm not sure why we collect them: perhaps because we live in horse country; perhaps because I was a horse maniac as a 10-year-old; perhaps I just like how they look, individually and collectively. Let's call this collection 5) just because.

And finally, our art collection, especially the paintings that hang high above our bookshelves. All of these are by self-taught artists, many are family portraits, and most feature red-heads. It's a weird collection, but one that sets the tone for the quirkiness of our home. 6) Home-making.

That's enough about my collections for one day. Even though Ed keeps asking about the whereabouts of his antique shaving mugs, I'm not ready to start digging through the boxes that are still unpacked in the basement. 

But I'm curious, what do you collect? And why? What do you think will become of your collections once you are no longer able to tend to them? Will they end up in a museum or a yard sale? Do tell.

Monday, March 5, 2018


We are just back from my first trip to the land beyond the proposed border wall. And, I have to tell you, it was an especially good trip. We left Cincinnati with gray skies and forecasts of nonstop rain and arrived in Mexico City to the bluest skies without a cloud for 10 straight days.

Back in 1974, Ed drove from Kentucky to Oaxaca with two friends in a VW van. He has wanted to go back ever since. I, on the other hand, was a bit unsure. My Spanish was limited to what I learned from Senorita Robinson on a small TV in my 4th grade classroom. Muy bien, gracias sounded to my young ears like "move in the garage." I thought Mexican food might all taste like Taco Bell and, if I listened to our President, I would be led to believe that Mexicans were bad hombres: drug dealers, terrorists and rapists. I'm happy to report that none of these are true.

First, the language is pretty easy to pick up, plus we kept Mary's high school pocket Spanish dictionary close at hand. Second, the food was some of the best I've ever had. And third, every person that we met was friendly, kind and helpful.

Although we were late in planning this trip, all the logistics worked out fine. We flew from Cincinnati – through Houston – to Mexico City, where we spent five days exploring beautiful neighborhoods and the bustling historic downtown. To acclimate ourselves to the city's layout, we took a walking tour on our first day.

Taking a pause on our Mexico City walking tour.
Detail from mural by Diago Rivera at the National Palace
The next day we took a four-hour food tour where we sampled seafood tostadas, pulque, mole, tlacoyos, flautas, and, of course, tacos. With our guide, we also toured the San Juan Market, tasting artisanal jams, Oaxacan products, typical fruits, mexican cheese and coffee. And let's not forget the bugs: we sampled three kinds of grasshoppers – marinated in lime, chili and garlic.

Our guide explained the differences between the peppers at the San Juan Market
One of our stops: stuffed tlacoyos

We spent a whole afternoon wandering through the beautiful National Museum of Anthropology, which gave us an overview of the pre-Hispanic Mexico. Other highlights included the contemporary exhibits at the Tamayo Museum, the Diego Rivera murals at the National Palace, and the excavated pyramid of the Templo Mayor.
One of the outdoor exhibits at the Archeological Museum
Now let's talk about food. It was spectacular. And, it tastes nothing like Taco Bell. From the handmade masa tostadas and tacos, to the fresh cerviche and oysters, to the churros and goat-cheese ice cream, every dish was delicious – including the guacamole topped with tiny, crunchy grasshoppers. And, best of all, the restaurants we chose were within an easy ten-minute walk from our hotel. To help me remember the restaurants, I've noted them below. 

On Sunday morning, we headed back to the airport for a short flight to Oaxaca, located in the skinny part of Mexico. What a town this is! – full of history, gastronomy, colorful buildings, magnificent churches, art galleries, and friendly people. And that's just the town...we spent two of our five days out in the countryside, exploring ancient Zapotec ruins, visiting craftspeople, marveling at the world largest tree (by circumference), hiking to the bottom of a petrified waterfall, and learning the ancient technique of distilling mezcal from agave plant to mexican firewater.

The biggest tree: El Arbol del Tule, a Montezuma Cypress tree
Monte Alban, pre-Columbian archeological site
In the workshop of Bulmaro Perez Mendoza, one of Teotilan's premier weavers. 
At the bottom of Hierve el Agua, a petrified waterfall. Tough hike!
Tasting Mezcal in a small village, near Mitla.
Our hotel was located at one end of the main street, so it was a short walk into town. Every day or evening would find us strolling the streets leading to the Zócolo, Oaxaca's main plaza filled with local life: balloons vendors, outdoor cafés, Mariachi bands, and tiny Oaxaca women and small children hawking all sorts of wares.

Zocalo scene

Selling drawings
View from the Culture Museum
During our stay, we wove our way in and out of art galleries, craft shops and the city market, spent a morning at the Culture Museum, and an afternoon among the cacti at the Ethnobotanical Garden. And, as in Mexico City, the food was phenomenal. See below.

Culture Museum

With cacti at the Ethnobotanical Garden

On our last night in Oaxaca, we dined at Casa Oaxaca. While waiting in the bar for our table, Ed recognized a woman at the next table and was convinced it was Elena from the pop culture game show, Billy on the Street, hosted by comedian Billy Eichner. Elena, an eccentric New Yorker, was randomly picked by Billy on a NYC street to play the game  and became such a hit that she was asked to return for a handful of shows (including one with Michelle Obama and Big Bird). As this woman was getting up to leave, Ed asked her if she knew Billy of Billy on the Street. She did, and was gracious about chatting with us and having her photo made with Ed. It was a fun way to end a fun trip.

Ed and Elena


Things I want to remember...

Casa Goliana, our small (8 rooms) hotel in the Roma neighborhood of Mexico City.

Restaurants in Mexico City
Fonda Fina: our first night in the city, we walked over to this small restaurant and sampled three appetizers and two desserts. Perfection in quantity, presentation and authentic taste.

Alekzander: known for its world cuisine, Ed will forever know it as the place that served goat-cheese ice cream with fresh figs.

La Docena Oyster Bar: recommended by our friend Julie Wunderlin, this hip place served the freshest oysters and delicious cerviche.

Casa Virginia: our last night in Mexico City found us on the second floor of an old house, for a gourmet dining experience that evoked the family Sundays of Colonia Roma.

El Moro: We were up and out early one morning and headed toward the Parque Mexico for hot chocolate and churros at El Moro Churreria. The setting was as fantastic as the breakfast treat.


And then on to Oaxaca...

El Callejon Boutique Hotel: a new-ish 12-room boutique hotel, located just off the main historic street, Calle Alcala. We found this hotel through and got a fabulous rate, but I think I'd stay there again, even at a higher price. Breakfast was served every morning in the garden.

Restaurants in Oaxaca
Criollo, a gem of a dining experience, a 7-course tasting menu served in a tranquil courtyard.

Las Pocas, a great introduction to Oaxacan mole. We ordered the dish that featured 8 different ones, served over chicken and rice.

La Biznaga, the perfect place for a late night dinner, set in a large colonial courtyard.

Los Danzantes: I wanted to try this restaurant ever since reading about it in this NYT travel article. We chose it for our final lunch and it did not disappoint. The food and the setting were delightful.

Cafe Oaxaca: We walked past this sappire-blue restaurant a number of times before finally going in to ask for a reservation. None were available (and it was our last night). The hostess suggested we check back that evening to see if she could work us in. She did. And I'm glad.


Every time I travel to a new place, my world view expands and I gain new perspectives. That was certainly true on this trip. I can't wait to go back. ¡Viva México!

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Faded beauty

If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant.
– Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672) 

I walked extra early one morning this week; the fog hung thick, making everything look misty shades of brown or gray. Depressing some might say; but I love to walk along our paths in every season and almost always find something inspiring or uplifting. 

This time of year I'm on the lookout for early signs of spring: daffodil leaves poking up, grape hyacinths sending up spikes of urn-shaped flowers, lenten roses nestled in the snow with their heads turned downward, witch-hazel showing off its shaggy, spidery winter blooms. But I'm finding nothing. Nada. It's been an unusually cold couple of months and I'm thinking spring will be slow to come to Farm Dover.

I'm trying to make the best of it, knowing that I have no control over Mother Nature. On my recent foggy walk, I picked a bouquet of flowers. Granted they were dead flowers – in various stages of decay – but nevertheless beautiful in their own degenerated way. I brought them inside and arranged them in old ginger beer bottles and assorted pottery jars.

Then, a few days later, I spied a deserted American Goldfinch nest in a flower stem. I added it to my dead-flower collection.

I have to tell you this gothic show of decay isn't really doing it for me. I'm itching to purchase a bouquet of orange tulips from Whole Foods. But I've promised myself that I will refrain from purchasing flowers from far-off lands when I have acres of native flowers and grasses to pick from, just outside my door. Still, it is tempting....

In an effort to bring new life into the house, I've cut some branches from a wild pear tree, pruned some twigs from our orchard trees and snipped some blossoms from the magnolia bush in the bee garden. I put them in vases filled with warm water,  hoping to force them into blooming.

Perhaps these coerced blooms will be enough to cheer me until the circle of life pushes forth new growth and I can pick fresh flowers to my heart's content.


From my archives: Some photos from previous years, when spring bore her gifts early.

December 31, 2015
January 26, 2016
January 30, 2013
February 5, 2016

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Empty days; Full days

For more than 100 days we did not travel any further than the 26-mile drive into Louisville. For those who know us, you know that this is highly unusual behavior. As much as Ed and I love our life here on Farm Dover, we also love traveling to new destinations or checking back in on the places we go to time and time again.

I can't explain it. We were just happy at home these nearly four months. We had been away much of the summer and early fall and contented ourselves with tending to the land, the house, the cottage.

And then there were days when rain would settle in or snow would blanket the paths and fields. Days of bitter cold. Ed would build a fire. I'd undertake a soup or stew. We'd read. We'd nap.

Here's how poet May Sarton describes these days and the need for them:

I always forget how important the empty days are, how important it may be sometimes not to expect to produce anything, even a few lines in a journal. A day when one has not pushed oneself to the limit seems a damaged, damaging day, a sinful day. Not so! The most valuable thing one can do for the psyche, occasionally, is to let it rest, wander, live in the changing light of the room."


This past weekend we abandoned our still, quiet life and headed to Brooklyn/NYC. We took in the metropolitan sights and sounds; stayed in a hip hotel tucked under the Brooklyn Bridge; ate Italian, Thai, and American food; drank craft beer, and experienced art with an edge. But best of all, our hosts were daughter Mary and her boyfriend Brian. They were exceedingly kind to us.

I was reminded how much I do love to travel. How exciting the world beyond our gravel drive can be. How traveling as much as we do makes us good travelers.

We are back at home now, and happy to be here. But now I've got the travel bug and am already dreaming of all the places we can go in 2018....



1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge, 60 Furman Street, Brooklyn. Boutique hotel located just next to Brooklyn Bridge. Beautiful views; thoughtful design.

Grand Central Station Oyster Bar, 89 E 42nd St. New York. A New York institution which I had never been to. We met for beers and oysters before heading to dinner.

Restaurante Grifone, 244 E. 46th St. Old-school (and a bit old-fashioned) Italian restaurant that we had taken each of the kids to on their 13th birthdays. Nice to see that not much had changed in the decade since we were last there.

Fort Defiance Cafe and Bar, 365 Van Brunt St., Red Hook. Restaurant near Mary and Brian's loft where we brunched on Saturday. Loved it.

Pioneer Works, 159 Pioneer St. Art gallery in Red Hook. Amazing exhibit by Anthony McCall: Solid Light Works. See it if you can.

Other Half Brewing Company, 195 Center Street, Brooklyn. Fun (and young) craft brewery.

Pok Pok, 117 Columbia St. Brooklyn. Best Thai restaurant ever (Michelin Star 2014 and 15). I'd go back in a heartbeat.

First Presbyterian Church, Brooklyn. The most welcoming, diverse church service I've ever attended. Fabulous choir and piano/saxophone/drums.

Minetta Tavern, 113 MacDougal St., West Village. Great old tavern with a classic vibe. Also Michelin starred.

Whitney Museum of American Art, 99 Gansevoort Street, Meatpacking District. Nice way to spend a morning looking at art in beautiful surroundings. We moved from floor to floor by the outside stairs, featuring fabulous views of the meatpacking district, High Line, and skyline.