Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Passing the reading bug down to a new generation

I'm not much of a joiner. But nearly 40 years ago, I joined with a small group of friends to form a book club.

To one of our first meetings, we invited two members' mothers to share their secrets for keeping their book club going strong for 20+ years. Mary's and Susan's moms talked about how their group choose books to review; how they appointed one member to host a monthly meeting and another to review the book; how they prepared the review, etc. What they didn't tell us is that this new group of friends would soon bond in profound ways; that the group would support each of us as we married, raised children, established careers, retired, and became grandmothers. (It also connected us to each other as we sorrowed over lost parents, husbands, and children.) Through the years, the members became my most cherished friends – the ones I grew to count on.

At last month's meeting we celebrated the birth of Hazel Frances, my brand new granddaughter. Each friend brought me a favorite baby book. The idea is that every grandmother needs her own library to read to her young grandbabies. It is our club's way of passing the reading bug down to a new generation.


Over the next three months, we will welcome three more new grandbabies into our book club family. Who knows, maybe they will form a book club that will last for 80 years! I hope so.

And just because I can't resist...





Wednesday, November 14, 2018

You Can't Make Up this Kind of Joy

Let me introduce you to our precious granddaughter: Hazel Frances Pinney, born on Friday, November 9 at 2:39 a.m., weighing 7 pounds 11.5 ounces. Mom (Maggie) and Dad (Nate) are all doing well; Ed (Deed) and I (Bee) are on Cloud 9. It's unbelievable how such a little bundle can bring such immense joy. My heart is spilling over with love for her.


Note: Underneath that little pink bow hat is the softest apricot fuzz... 

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Crazy Happy: Digging Dahlias and Saving Zinnia Seeds

Five years ago, I vowed not to buy flowers from a florist or grocery.  I've pretty much stuck to that promise. In addition to walking out into our fields and harvesting wildflowers to my heart's content, it seems I have stumbled into growing a cutting garden of dahlias and zinnias. It takes remarkably little effort and returns an immense amount of pleasure. It makes me crazy happy.

This is the first year that I have grown dahlias, encouraged by my niece Laura who sent me three tubers back in the spring that she shared from her collection. I also ordered three tubers from Floret, a family-run farm located in Washington's Skagit Valley. This handful of tubers grew into massively producing plants, yielding more than 100 beautiful blooms each. 


Every morning from mid-July until mid-October, I could walk out to the raised bed in front of the guest cottage and harvest a dozen dahlias – each one more beautiful than the next. I'd "arrange" them in a canning jar and give them away as thinking-of-you presents. (They were very well received!)


Because they cannot survive our freezing winters, Ed and I dug up the dahlia tubers this weekend. I wasn't sure what I would find when Ed stuck his pitchfork in. In the place of the single tuber that I planted back in May, we pulled up tangles of tubers, at least 50 in total. I've washed the dirt off of the clumps and are leaving them to dry out for a day or two before preparing them for winter storage in our dark and cold basement. If you are interested, Erin of Floret has a terrific video about how to dig, separate and store dahlias. You can find a link here.


Now let's talk zinnias. They were out of control this summer and I loved it. I had saved seeds from last year's flowers and planted them rather thickly in front of my garden gate. Because they were growing so densely, I gently uprooted several dozen stems when they were about a foot tall and transplanted them into the cottage garden. They flourished.


I suspect that my original seeds were not open-pollinated varieties; that they were hybrids. So my individual flowers did not necessarily grow true to the originals. But what they lacked in perfection, they make up for in profusion – attracting a plentitude of pollinators. (Try saying that three times!)


When we got back from our recent trip, I harvested a hundred or so zinnia flower heads. They are now drying on a tray in the laundry room. 


Once totally dry, I'll gently pull the seeds from the heads and save them for next spring. 


Let me know if you want some dahlia tubers or some zinnia seeds. Then you too can be crazy happy!





Friday, October 26, 2018

Journey along the back roads of Appalachia

Imagine a map of the southeastern United States. Focus your mind's eye to where Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina nearly intersect. It's a most beautiful area, set in the Blue Ridge Mountains, an old region of windy roads, small towns, high ridges, deep hollers, rocky streams, friendly people and very little cell service. That's where Ed and I recently spent 10 days driving, hiking, fishing, camping and cabining.


Our trip started in mid-October, just when we thought the leaves would surely be changing color. Ed and I loaded up the Subaru with tent and sleeping bags, hiking poles and binoculars, soft pillows from home and clip-on reading lights, Triple Good Treats* and Peanut M&M's – and headed east toward Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, the first great gateway to the west through the Appalachian Mountains. From there we made our way further eastward, spending the night in Bristol, where half the town is in Virginia and the other half is in Tennessee. 


The next morning we drove north to Tazewell, VA, detouring to drive around the high, green valley of Burke's Garden aka God's Thumbprint


Our final destination that night was Hungry Mother State Park, VA, where we had rented a rustic cabin for two nights. No phone. No TV. No internet. No restaurant. It was perfect. (I did insist that we hike to the visitors' center once a day to check our messages to make sure that Maggie had not gone into early labor.)


We camped one night at Grayson Highlands State Park, VA and then spent two nights in a cabin at Roan Mountain State Park, TN


Our last destination was a three-night stay outside of Bakersville, NC, where we stayed in a cabin high up a mountain with a brook running just outside our bedroom window and the best-tasting spring water direct from the tap.


Along the way, we hiked through spruce forests and along mountain streams, explored all-but-forgotten towns, picnic-ed, fly fished for rainbow trout, and checked out the Wooly Worm Festival in Elk Banner, NC. 


Oh, and we read; we read a lot and I was reminded of how much I love getting lost in a book for long stretches of time. 

Not everyone would think this trip was as terrific as we did. We weren't on any tight time frame and so we took our time getting from place to place, stopping whenever we saw something that could be interesting. We wanted to camp at least once, just to remind ourselves of how much we love pitching our tiny tent and cooking dinner over a camp fire. 

And most importantly, we celebrated 33 years of marriage, confirming how glad we are to be traveling this road together. 

_______________________

Triple Good Treats

These were a favorite treat around our house, especially for those weekends when Ed would go to Indian Guides or Indian Princesses with Maggie, Jack and Mary when they were little. I hadn't made them for years. Ed requested them for our anniversary trip...

ingredients

2 cups raisins
1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1-1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2-1/2 cups Quaker Oats (old fashioned, uncooked)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cups chopped walnuts
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

preparation

Heat oven to  375 degrees. Grease 9"x13" baking pan. In medium saucepan, combine the first 4 ingredients. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, just until mixture begins to bubble. Remove from heat; cool slightly; set aside.

Beat butter, sugar and vanilla until fluffy. Add remaining ingredients; blend until evenly mixed and crumbly. Reserve 2 cups. Press remaining mixture onto bottom of prepared pan. Spread raisin mixture to within 1/2 inch of edge. Sprinkle with remaining oat mixture; pat lightly.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely. Cut into 1"x2" bars.

Makes 18 bars. 











Monday, September 24, 2018

Weekend Getaway

Two weekends ago Ed and I took a quick trip to the 20th Annual Pawpaw festival in Albany, Ohio. It was our first pawpaw festival, but I'm hoping it's not our last. It was great fun.


We left on Friday morning in time to spend the afternoon floating on a small lake in southeastern Ohio casting for bass. It's called belly boat fishing and requires nothing more than kicking your feet (with fins) to guide an inflatable "boat" to wherever you think the fish might be biting. I call it belly-laugh fishing as I found myself grinning the entire afternoon.


We spent Saturday morning wandering around the PawPaw festival, a gathering devoted to all things pawpaw: ice cream, beer, lectures, vendors, competitions, music, trivia, cooking demonstrations, and storytelling. It was Ed and me, and hundreds of other pawpaw aficionados.


We have a dozen or so pawpaw trees scattered around Farm Dover, but are always interested in learning more about this amazing native fruit that tastes like a custardy cross between a banana and mango. Only one of our trees has actually produced fruit, but we remain hopeful that most of the others are getting near fruit-bearing age (4 to 8 years). This year I found pawpaw fruit for sale at Rainbow Blossom and bought enough to make two batches of pawpaw ice cream.

If you haven't tasted a pawpaw, you are missing out on a delicious life experience. Keep your eyes peeled for pawpaw trees growing in the wild, plant some of your own (I've got seeds I can share), or head to the Ohio Pawpaw Festival next year, September 13-15.

Pawpaw ice cream
(from The Splendid Table)
________________________

ingredients

2 cups pawpaw pulp (or more, if you have it)
1 cup sugar
2 cups cream
2 cups milk

preparation

Combine the pawpaw pulp and sugar. Stir in the cream and milk. Pour mixture into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's directions.

  • 2 cups pawpaw pulp (or more, if you have it)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 cups cream
  • 2 cups milk
Combine the pawpaw and sugar. Stir in the cream and milk. Pour mixture into an ice cream maker and freeze according the manufacturer’s directions.





Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Greetings from the Garden(s)

Oh what a summer we have had – full of good things (except for a few million hungry Japanese beetles).


It is now September and the yard grass is still growing at an alarming pace, but the fields are turning brighter by the day as the wild goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) bursts into splendid clusters, growing among the higher-than-my-head turkey-footed Big Bluestem native grasses.


I've heard from more than one friend that they believe they are allergic to Goldenrod, our state flower, but I have news for them: you can't be. Goldenrod is pollinated by insects and only wind-pollinated plants can cause allergic reactions. However, lots of Ragweed (Ambrosia artemislifolia) is blooming now; the pollen explodes as we brush past the towering plants now leaning into our paths. A single ragweed plant can produce about a billion grains of pollen per season. That's a lot of Ahcoos!  

The big garden is a bit wild these days with pumpkin vines growing every which way, including up and over the fence. The prolific yellow squash has finally calmed down to a reasonable number of daily crooknecks. I pulled out the cucumber plants today, not because they were not producing, but because they were still producing and I couldn't bear to figure out what to do with the 20+ cukes that hung on the vine every time I entered the garden.


I crawled around the pumpkin vines this morning seeking lost potato plants and found a few handfuls of red potatoes that had avoided harvest before the jack-o'-lantern vines covered them up. I also pulled up two big turnips that I planted mid-summer, leaving a dozen more to fatten up.

In not-so-good news, my tomato plants were pathetic this year, looking all straggly and producing the saddest tomatoes ever. My neighbor, Jon, tells me I need to add lime to the soil. I'll either do that for next season or give up and get my tomatoes from him – as his are amazing.

Onion and shallot harvest
Delicata winter squash

Besides the pumpkins and some newly planted radishes and lettuces, the garden is about to transition into a quieter phase. Only the sweet potatoes remain to be harvested and I won't do that for another month or so.

sweet potato vines

Let's talk about zinnias. Mine are crazy. I had harvested seed from last-year's flowers and scattered them thickly in front of my garden gate and in one of the raised beds by the cottage. Every day I cut handfuls of the cheery flowers and every day more appear. I think of the abundant blooms as controlled chaos. I dare you not to smile when you see all the butterflies and bees flitting from bloom to bloom.


The second raised bed has been replanted in strawberry plants, which did not produce berries this summer as I plucked the white flowers as they appeared, allowing the plants to grow bigger and to hopefully produce lots of berries next May. I'll need to spread straw between the plants next month, tucking them in for the long winter.

My bee garden continues to fill in and is fulfilling its purpose of attracting lots of bees and butterflies. Maggie sent her beehive, crafted by her father-in-law, back to me and it has found a new home amongst the native plants. Margaret Shea of Dropseed Native Plant Nursery came by last month to consider how I could move some of the plants this fall to create space for a stone path into the bee garden. She also had ideas for expanding our yellow garden at the back of the yard and adding to our woodland gardens.



My herb garden, just off the back porch, provides me with daily entertainment. I harvest herbs and use them fresh or dry them – turning them into teas, seasonings for olive oil, and winter-use herbs.

My very own tea blend: mint, chamomile, lemon balm, and rose

The pineapple sage has just started to send out red blossoms that the hummingbirds are loving.



In other (non-gardening) news...

Ed and I are going to be grandparents and we are just beside ourselves. Maggie and Nate are expecting a baby girl in early November. I am already dreaming of all the things I want her to experience here at Farm Dover. I'm sure she will be a great helper in the gardens.



Jack is home from Berlin for a visit. Much to our delight, his lovely girlfriend, Kasia, came with him. She leaves tomorrow from Chicago to fly back to Berlin to start fall classes; Jack will be here for another two weeks –  I have a chore list for him a mile long.

Jack and Kasia making perogie
Mary and Brian are the proud owners of a retired greyhound dog, who hasn't quite figure out how to go up and down stairs (and they live in a 4th-floor walk-up loft in Brooklyn). Saltie is learning about stairs, but in the meantime, I think Brian is carrying her up and down four flights.


Ed and I have a couple of short trips planned for this fall. We want to be close by when Baby Pinney makes her appearance.


All in all, life is very good. And I am grateful.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Catch a falling star

Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket; Never let it fade away,
Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket; Save it for a rainy day.

                                                                         – lyrics by Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss


The decade of my 40's is but a blur. I'm not sure where the time went, but it went fast – seemingly as fast as a streaking star. There are, of course, lots of moments that I can recall and treasure. One of those moments happened nearly 20 years ago, on a night much like tonight... 

I wrote about it here on this blog six years ago, but wanted to share it with you again, in the hope that it might inspire you to look up tonight (or tomorrow) and see one of the greatest shows above earth. 

_____________

August 2000

"Attention! Important!" the outside of the folded sheet scotch-taped to the kitchen entrance door proclaimed.

Inside: "Mamma, meteor shower tonight. Wake me up. Your loving daughter, Mary"

Oh that Mary. It's so late and I'm so tired. And a nine-year-old needs her sleep more than she needs to get up in the middle of the night to see (or not see) a few shooting stars.

"Attention! Important!" the note on the second step of the stairway proclaimed.

Inside: "I'm serious. Wake me up. Meteor shower tonight."

She'll thank me in the morning for letting her sleep. Too many trees around the house and too close to the city lights to see any stars falling from the sky.

"Attention! Important!" the note in my bathroom sink read.

Inside: "Mamma, wake me up. I mean it. Big meteor shower tonight."

That Mary. Such a headstrong child. 

"Attention! Important!" the note on my pillow read. This one decorated with stars and a moon.

Inside: Mamma, meteor shower tonight. Wake me up. P.S. I love you."

Just let me slide into bed and fall off to sleep. I'm so exhausted... 

2:00 a.m.: wide awake. I tiptoe down the hall and into Mary's room. I wake her. Holding hands, we make our way down the dark steps, grab a blanket and slip out the door. We lay down on a chaise longue; her little long-limbed body on top of mine; my arms holding her tight.

We look up to the dark sky. And there it was. The most magnificent meteor shower ever. Ecstatic memories in the making: ones that neither Mary nor I will ever forget. Memories that we can dig up and reclaim through all the years of our lives.

_________

The Perseid meteor shower will peak late Sunday night and early Monday morning, but you can also catch a good number of meteors in the middle of the night on Saturday. There is a new moon tonight, so the skies will be particularly dark, perfect for viewing the heavens.  

Before I go to bed tonight, I'm planning to take a blanket and pillow out into our back yard in the hopes that I'll awake in the night and feel my way out into the dark where I can lay down and look up at the skies and remember that night so long ago. I only wish Mary was here to catch a falling star with me.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Home is where you park it

If you read this blog you know that Ed and I travel. A lot. We haven’t always. When the kids were young and our careers were vibrant, we rarely had the time or resources (or energy) to take off on adventures.

But the kids are long grown; our work careers are a thing of the past; and so we travel.



We are just back from an adventure to Portland, Oregon, and the Pacific coast. I must have been absent the day in 4th grade when we studied the great state of Oregon as I had no idea what a wonderful part of the world it is.



Other than a hotel stay in Portland on the front and back ends, we experienced the trip from a camper van. You heard me right. We travelled the coast from Astoria to the redwoods of northern California in a VW Eurovan. We rented it through Road Trip Oregon and it came fully equipped with all we needed (except groceries) for a 9-day trip. The van was small enough to make the driving/parking easy, but large enough to serve as a comfortable home away from home.




Our van featured a pop-up top, giving enough headspace even for Ed to stand and move around. Once the queen-sized mattress was unfurled each night, the “moving around” space was limited to just enough space to step into the van and crawl into the remarkably comfortable bed.

I’m not suggesting that everyone would appreciate traveling in this style, but it worked for us. We are campers from way back and this was basically like camping, but without the nightly hassle of setting up a tent. (And if it rains — which it didn’t — you stay dry.) Ed made coffee every morning in a French press with water heated on a 2-burner propane stove and I cooked a simple dinner every night over a fire in the campsite pit. We either picnicked for lunch or stopped in small towns along the way for fish and chips. Every day or two, we would pull into a new tent campsite, reserved ahead of time, at a state or national park.


We were in no hurry the entire trip, which meant we stopped often to explore a lighthouse or cheese factory, take in a scenic view, inspect a tide pool at low tide, hike a forest trail, or pick wild marionberries.

I’ll leave you with some photos — that don’t do justice to the beauty of the place or the scale of the mountains and redwoods. You may just have to go see for yourself. Perhaps in a camper van?


————
Highlights

Portland: all-around great town, with outstanding restaurants. Dinners at Apizza Scholl, Jacqueline, and Serratto. Lunches at Maurice and Jake’s Grill. We stayed at Hotel Lucia. The best part was catching up with Ed's nephew Stephen Todd and Sarah. The next best part was browsing the thousands of books at Powell's City of Books (and buying a stack of them). 



Campsites
Cape Lookout State Park, Tillamook, OR
Cape Pepetua, Suislaw National Forest, OR
Harris Beach State Park, Brookings, OR
Elk Prairie Campground, Redwood National Forest, CA
Nottingham Campground, Mt. Hood National Forest, OR