Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Sunny Mexico

About this time of year, I get the itch to go away for a week or so. I long for sunshine and blue skies; for exotic food and drink; rich colors and textures; for music and a language that I am moved by — but barely understand; and finally for unplanned days and romantic nights that come from exploring a faraway place. 

We found just such an offering on our most recent trip to the mountains of central Mexico, exploring the colonial towns of Querétaro City, San Miguel de Allende, and Guanajuato. We fell in love with each of these places: their colorful palettes, majestic churches, shady plazas, and lively historic centers. Each day we awoke to a cloudless sky beaconing us to wander the cobblestone lanes, discovering the treasures of each town. 

While they are located within an hour or so of each other, they each offered a personality as different as each of my sisters’ is to me.

Querétaro City

Our first stop was the UNESCO World Heritage town of Querétaro, to which we arrived 12 hours later than scheduled (thanks to mechanical delays by American Airlines), which meant that we arrived just in time to lay our heads down at our lovely hotel.

Breakfast at our hotel: La Casa Del Atrio

We spent the next morning walking the streets, stopping for a coffee, a delightful lunch at Meson de Chucho el Roto, followed by a tour of the Calendar Museum. That evening to celebrate Valentine’s Day, we took an Uber to the outskirts of town to the very hip beer garden: Cerveceria Hércules

Al fresco lunch
Cerveceria Hercules


San Miguel de Allende

Voted the 2021 World's Best City (by Travel & Leisure magazine), San Miguel does not disappoint, as it is indeed very beautiful. With cobblestone streets that rise from the city center, it boasts the most rooftop restaurants of any town its size. We stayed near the top of one of the main streets, about a six-block hike up hill, in a beautiful hacienda with only six guestrooms.

Sitting Room of our hotel: Hacienda Las Amantes

San Miguel is a magnet for expats looking to retire surrounded by beauty. Nearly 20 percent of its population has immigrated there, mostly from the U.S. and Canada.  I only worry that they will get too tottery to manage the steep cobblestone streets and uneven sidewalks. In the meantime, they seem to be living a wonderful life. 

In addition to the traditional souvenir shops, the town offers a beautiful art and design center, just outside of the historic district. In the evenings, everyone seems to congregate in the main plaza as mariachi bands ply for paid-song requests. The cathedral glows with the setting sun and everyone seems happy. I know we were. 

On our last day in San Miguel, we took an Uber out to the middle of no-where to a prehispanic settlement called Cañada de la Virgen. Our driver dropped us off and promised to return in 2.5 hours. (We couldn’t call him as there was no internet.) On our own, we figured out that tours were offered every hour, and one must have a guide provided by the site. Turns out the next couple of tours were already filled with 80+ high schoolers; fortunately they were able to work us onto one of the shuttle busses that took us to within a 1/2 mile or so of the ruins. From there, we walked. The only other non-highschoolers were a couple from Loma Linda, CA, Joann and Pablo, who graciously took pity on our lack of Spanish language skills and translated for us. We had a delightful day exploring the site.

Cañada de la Virgen


Our last stop was Guanajuato, a former mining town where the the houses — in every imaginable Crayola color — tumble down the hills that surround it. Despite the town’s beauty, it’s not a perfectly restored town. It retains a certain grittiness, presenting itself as a city where people actually live, work, study, and play.

Our hotel: San Bernabé Tres

The tourists seem to come from all over Mexico. We ran into very few Americans, except for Joann and Pablo, whom we had met at the Cañada de la Virgen ruins (see above). We spotted them across the street and they joined us for a before-dinner drink under a beautiful laurel tree. 

Memorable highlights include: Riding the town’s funicular straight up the mountain to the base of the Monumento Al Pipila for a panoramic view of the town. 

Al Pipila statue

The other highlight was stumbling upon an evening music parade through the narrow streets and alleyways, performed by eight talented (and very funny) singers and musicians from the local University. They joked, sang and led the crowd. We followed, stopping at predetermined spots for a drink or bouquet. Highly entertaining.


Callejoneando con la Tuna 


And before we knew it, it was time to head home. Our heads hit our pillows at midnight; the next morning, a red-winged blackbird greeted us — a sure sign that spring is coming to Farm Dover. 


A final note: 

It was nearly three years ago that we last traveled to Mexico, arriving back home just as the world shut down for Covid. We are so grateful that we can again freely travel...

Monday, February 6, 2023

Norbert: How Do We Love thee? Let Us Count the Ways...

Grandson Norbert turns two this week and what a fine boy he is. With those blue eyes, one dimple and an infectious laugh, Ed and I can't help but love him to pieces. And it's not just us. It's his mom and dad, big sister, other grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers and friends. He loves well and is well loved, that's for sure. 

In celebration of his birthday, I wanted to create a board book that helps him learn to count, based on all the things he loves at Farm Dover. Ed offered to help with the writing, Jack and Kasia signed up to illustrate it and Mary volunteered to design the pages. So from Shelby County to Berlin to Brooklyn, we each offered our gifts to make Norbert one very special gift. 

It was a hit. 

Here are a couple of sample page from his book. 

One swing in a maple tree
Push me higher, higher Bee

Two funny greyhounds visiting from Red Hook
They like to come, run and look

Three woodpeckers feasting on the feeder
Way easier than pecking through the cedar

Four raccoons sneaking in the garden
without even asking for your pardon

Five killdeer eggs nesting on the drive
Won't be long 'til the little birds fly

Six tiny mice tucked in the straw
taking a nap, that's all

Seven coyote pups howling at the moonlight
They like to stay up all through the night

Eight wiggling worms breaking up the soil
They enjoy this kind of toil

Nine colorful vegetables and fruits
All the makings for yummy soups

Ten asparagus spears popped up overnight
Oh, what a delicious sight!

Eleven peas in a pod ready to eat
They're so fresh and taste so sweet

Twelve brown bunnies hopping down the trails
All you see are bobbing cotton tails

Thirteen honey bees pollinating flowers
All they need now are some showers

Fourteen juicy strawberries ready and ripe
We love to eat them day and night.


Counting at Farm Dover continues a series of books that we have made for Hazel and Norbert.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Leaning into the Light

And so we come to the end of January. This first month of the year seemed long, with days upon days of grayness, anchored at both ends by leaden darkness. 

Granted, the month afforded time for rest and reflection -- for stillness — especially after the holidays full of to-ing and fro-ing. There was time for reading by the fire and for cooking vats of soups and stews. There was time for brewing endless pots of tea and for streaming shows that everyone else had talked about for months. 

But now the calendar page nears turning and I find myself leaning into the light with an open heart. I find hope in the lengthening days. I linger a little longer by the kitchen window watching the sky turn pink as the sun inches its way over the tree line.

I sense time passing, bringing with it an assurance of the ever-so-slow return of life to the woods and meadows. The pussywillows just outside our study window show off their furry catkins; the star magnolia's gray villous buds appear at the ends of their spiny branches; and the hellebores send forth blooms that I can see only when I kneel on the soggy earth to peer up at their drooping heads. Soon the first snowdrops and early daffodils will grace the orchard ground and the tiny buds of  grandmommy's sedums will poke up. 

I know that spring must be coming as my days of hunting/gathering have officially commenced for the year. Yesterday, I successfully foraged for clumps of bittercress to turn into a vibrant pesto for our shrimp dinner. 

Before long, tender wild mâche lettuce will blanket large swaths beside our trails and ramps will return to the creek's edge. Early dandelions, chickweed and wild violets will offer up their goodness. 

And before I know it, spring will have returned, as sure as the sun rises.

Saturday, December 31, 2022

The Best Surprise

'Twas the Monday night before Christmas when all thro' the house Ed and I had just settled our brains for a night in front of the TV when the doorbell rang. Thinking it must be the last delivery of a very long day for some poor FedEx delivery guy, Ed opened the door.

When what to his wondering eyes should appear...but our son Jack, all the way from Berlin. Surprised is to put it mildly. We were overwhelmed with joy to see him standing there. Between the pandemic and holiday visits to girlfriend Kasia's hometown, it had been four years since he had been home for Christmas. And what a great visit it has been...


Thank you, Jack. It was the best gift ever. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

The Art of Slow Travel

The past two weeks found us traipsing around Spain’s Extremadura region. If you haven't heard of it, don't feel bad; I hadn't either, until Ed suggested we go there. It runs west from Madrid to Spain's border with Portugal. It is perhaps Spain's least-visited region and English is rarely spoken. It is for that very reason that we liked it. It felt like we were traveling back in time to experience the Roman Empire, the Moorish conquest, and Spain's Golden Age.

Extremadura is a remote area, filled with dramatic mountains, miles upon miles of olive and oak trees, grazing black pigs, road-crossing sheep, and Roman, Visigoth and Arab ruins set amongst medieval towns. 
It is the perfect place to practice “Slow Travel.” Like the Slow Food movement, it requires one to slip into the pace of the local culture…. You know: Purros (fat churros) and hot chocolate for breakfast, long walks in the old towns, perhaps a stop at a museum or a UNESCO site, breaks for people-watching and a café con leche in the town square, late lunches followed by siestas, before heading out for an evening stroll and tapas – hours past our usual dinner hour (and sometimes past my usual bedtime!).

We are learning the art of Slow Travel from the best: We were with our son, Jack, and his girlfriend, Kasia, for the first part of the trip and then just Jack for the middle part. They are expert Slow Travelers, knowing how to focus on things that locals do everyday and experiences that leave a lasting imprint upon your heart.  

Jack and Kasia share the mindset that the quality of travel experience is more important than the quantity of experiences. I watch them being completely present in the moment, not racing to the next must-see tourist attraction or constantly posting on Instagram. They choose to stroll the winding path through the town’s park rather than the shortcut through busy streets. They seek out a bar serving only local sherries, whose interior has not changed since the days of the Spanish Civil War when Hemingway hung out there. They find flamenco dancers performing in an intimate old arched room for us to enjoy, along with a glass of sangria, and they lead us to a small, quiet museum with beautiful paintings by a single artist. They understand that Slow Travel emphasizes connection to local people, cultures, food and music. 


Ed and I were on our own for the last five days of the trip and, in an effort to adopt Jack and Kasia’s outlook, we found we could be comfortable leaving whole days and nights with nothing planned (including where to stay) and seeing where it leads us.…

So here is what we found:
• We basically ate and drank our way through the region. If you love to eat, Extramadura is the place to be. The local food is excellent (unless you are a vegetarian!).  While the whole of Spain is known for its ham, this region produces some of the best: Jamón Ibérico de Bellota, ham from the acorn-eating black Ibérico pig, melt-in-your mouth slices of dark-red cured meat. When unsure of what to order, we simply asked our waiter for a recommendation — and we were always delighted with the selection.

• We lost ourselves in the Spain of the past. We explored Roman ruins that rival even a trip to Italy. In Mérida alone, we wandered the UNESCO World Heritage sites of the Roman Amphitheater and Theatre, the Temple of Diana, and the National Museum of Roman Art. In Guadaloupe, we were guided through the 14th century Royal Monastery of Saint Mary of Guadalupe, marveling at the cloister's art and vestments. I was especially starstruck with the room full of illuminated manuscripts: Huge books hand-lettered with detailed borders and illustrations. 

• We sat a spell. We found that the place to head upon arrival in any town is the Plaza Mayor. We'd sit with a café con leche or beer and watch the world go by. 

• We were blessed. We peeked into the attached church of Our Lady of Guadaloupe Monastery on a Sunday morning and ended up staying for the entire mass, (in Spanish!). Turns out, it is the very same church where Columbus gave thanks upon his return from the New World. 

• We talked to locals (well, actually, Ed talked; I listened, uncomprehendingly). Despite less than perfect Spanish, he engaged in conversations with shop clerks, waiters, hotel receptionists, young pilgrims. His attempts at conversation were well-received (sometimes comically) and helped us feel connected to the local people.

• We learned that one doesn’t have to see it all. We tell ourselves that there is "always a next time." Seven years ago we fell in love with the Portuguese mountain town of Marvão, but could only stay for an afternoon. We vowed to come back -- and we did on this trip, spending the night within its medieval walls and enjoying a lovely lunch and late-night dinner. 

So, if we didn’t see every museum, climb every castle tower, stand in awe at every cathedral, it was okay. We will come back another time. But for this time, we tried to savor every moment, oh so slowly.



Devour Spain: Food tour of Madrid
Cardamomo Flamenco: live flamenco show
Sorolla Museum: showing paintings by Joaquin Sorolla, set in his former family home
La Venencia: 1930's-era bar serving only sherries
El Corte Inglés: lovely roof-top bar to watch the sunset


Chuchi Pasteles: Pastry shop known for its yemas, made of only egg yolks, granulated sugar and water with a confectioners' sugar coating.  


El Mesón de Gonzalo (Restaurant)


Oquendo: excellent tapas
El Figón de Eustaquio: a traditional Spanish restaurant.

Mérida (day trip)

Roman ruins (World Heritage Site) Roman Theatre, Amphitheatre, and The Temple of Diana
Sybarit Gastroshop: alfresco dining (for our 37th wedding anniversary)


Dom Dinis (Hotel)



And for memory sake, here are few more pictures to help us remember our time Slow Traveling together.