Wednesday, March 30, 2016


In my life before Farm Dover, I occasionally did hot yoga. You know, the kind where you and a couple of dozen other people pay an insane amount of money to sweat like crazy in a 105-degree room while bending and stretching and contorting. I was terrible at it. My body is just not put together exactly right. I could never even get my arms stretched overhead as far back as my ears. I never did a back bend, handstand, or even a very strong tree pose. But I stuck it out because in some perverse way, I did enjoy it -- and it did make my achy muscles and joints feel better.

Fast forward five years. I've not touched my toes or worked my way into a downward dog pose since we moved out here. In many ways I'm stronger than ever. I can walk for miles, haul nearly full five-gallon buckets to thirsty trees, weed-whip all afternoon. But by the end of the day, I'm stiff and sore. My balance is not good. My lower back often hurts. My joints ache at night.

But over the last couple of weeks I've rediscovered yoga. And the best part is I don't have to leave Farm Dover. I also don't have to pay for individual classes. And the teacher doesn't scold me for my poor form. Thanks to sisters Sherry and Julie, I'm on to 30 Days of Yoga with Adriene. Yep, every morning, I head upstairs to the little kids' bedroom. Turn on my ipad. And begin my 20-30 minute practice. (I actually downloaded the series so I don't need to use up my valuable and restricted internet service -- but for those of you with unlimited internet, you can just click on YouTube to follow along.)

Adriene is this young, very sweet, slightly goofy instructor. She makes yoga fun and always gives variations for different levels of ability. I look forward to it each morning and am grateful for the way it makes me feel afterwards.

A quick search reveals dozens of yoga videos on YouTube. I encourage you to check them out and find one that you like. And if you are not convinced, then read this article that covers 38 health benefits of yoga including:
  • improves your flexibility and balance
  • builds muscle strength
  • perfects your posture
  • prevents cartilage and joint breakdown
  • and makes you happier.
Let me know how that cat/cow thing works out for you and whether you agree that yoga is a great way to start your morning. Namaste.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Time of Enchantment

Today marks the vernal equinox, when night meets day as equals, marking the beginning of spring. Around Farm Dover, winds are softening. The grass is greening. Ramps and radishes are sprouting. Peonies are unfurling. Maple trees and magnolias are budding. Orchard pears are in full bloom. And watch out! The honey bees are crazy to get out of their winter hives and find sweet nectar and pollen.

Nature awakens. It is a time of enchantment....

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Waging a Campaign of My Own

Topping the list of things I am thankful for these days is the fact that I'm a life-long Democrat (much to the chagrin of most of my family and many of my dearest friends). The ugly rhetoric, the name calling, the bullying, the incredibly poor manners on display by the Republican Presidential candidates make me ill. I can't believe that these guys are running for the highest office of our nation. It's embarrassing. No, make that appalling. I also find it more than a bit scary.

Come November, I'll vote with great enthusiasm for either of the Democratic candidates: Hillary or Bernie – I like them both. A lot. In the meantime, I'm turning off the TV and turning my attention to waging a campaign of my own. It's a campaign to bring nature home to Farm Dover by sustaining wildlife with native plants.

I'm starting with a grassroots effort to increase the number and kinds of caterpillars that call Farm Dover home. I'm debating about how best to increase insect diversity and create a balanced community.

I recently read Doug Tallamy's book: Bringing Nature Home and then Ed and I had the good fortune of hearing him speak a couple of weeks ago, courtesy of the Glenview Garden Club.

We learned that most insects are specialists and eat from only one or two plants. And those plants must be native to the area. For example, the caterpillar of the monarch butterfly eats only members of the milkweed family. No milkweeds – no monarchs. In the last 20 years, the monarch population has dropped by 90%, corresponding to a loss of milkweed due to roadside management practices, intensive agriculture and the the extensive use of herbicides. Imagine a whole generation of kids growing up without Monarch butterflies to chase. Breaks my heart.

The birds that Ed and I love so much rely on caterpillars and other soft insects – not seeds or berries – to feed their babies. No caterpillars – no bluebirds, bobwhites, meadowlarks, sparrows or any of the other 59 species we have identified on our farm walks. I'm even rethinking my dislike of tent caterpillars. I've come to understand that while they might gobble up a few leaves on a wild cherry, they also make a tasty lunch for a nest full of bluebird fledglings.

So, our campaign to increase the beneficial bugs involves planting native woody and herbaceous plants that support the species we are trying to encourage. For example, oak trees support 543 species of butterflies/moths. You read that right: 543. Black cherry trees are in second place with 456, followed by native willows at 455. We have tons of oaks in our forests, but last week, we planted another 90 white oak seedlings. A few years back, we planted some wild cherry trees that are now taller than Ed. Around our pond, dozens of willow trees have sprouted.

Bush (Japanese) Honeysuckle, on the other hand, is a non-native species that is highly invasive and supports zero, yes that's right, zero butterflies/moth species.

We are working with Margaret Shea, owner of Dropseed Native Plant Nursery to extend our front meadow by featuring a multitude of wildflowers, including: St. John's Wort, Boneset, Coneflower, Mountain Mint, Rattlesnake Master, Bee Balm, Eastern Bluestar, Culver's root, Ashy Sunflower, Showy Goldenrod, False Blue Indigo, Gray Goldenrod, Joe Pye Weed, Compass Plant, Devil's Walking Stick, Foxglove Beardtongue, Maryland Golden-aster, Wild Quinine, and Trumpet Honeysuckle.

Each of these native plants were selected to encourage specific wildlife. The goldenrods, for example, support 115 species of butterflies and moths; the asters support 112.

Last month, the girls and I visited the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium in New Orleans.
I promise not to kill and stick a pin through any butterflies that make their home here. 

I can hardly wait for summer around here. You might find me someday up in an oak tree, trying to find 500+ species of caterpillars. Or chasing down a butterfly with my camera.

Sure beats worrying about who will be elected our next President...

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Slow down, you move too fast

As Paul Simon reminds us: You got to make the morning last.

I left off my latest travel story with Ed and me dropping our girls at the New Orleans airport, after a fun weekend in the Big Easy. From there, we drove north to Natchez, MS, our beginning point for taking the Natchez Trace Parkway home.

We opted to take the two-lane parkway, with a speed limit of 50, that follows the historic trace from Natchez north to Nashville. Commercial traffic is prohibited. There are no billboards, no McDonald's or Starbucks. Just 444 miles of scenic highway that closely follows the original foot passage used by Native Americans, "Kaintucks," and settlers – and even before that, the bison and other game that moved between grazing the pastures of central and western Mississippi and the salt and other mineral surface deposits of the Cumberland Plateau.

The route generally traverses the tops of low hills and ridges of the watershed divide. We figured it would take us an extra three hours of so of driving time. We didn't figure in the time we spent stopping and exploring along the way.

We spent the night in Natchez and toured the historic town on the Mississippi River the next morning, before finding the entrance ramp to the Natchez Trace Parkway. The trees were not yet leafed out and a soft rain fell for most of the day. That didn't stop us from enjoying the drive. For the first two hours, we did not pass a single car coming from the north. And we saw only a handful of cars the entire day. We had a map that noted places of interest and so every few miles we'd find ourselves pulling off to explore.

Sunken Trace, part of the original trace.
Cypress Swamp
Bynum (ceremonial) Mounds, built between 2050 and 1800 years ago.
We made a stop in Tupelo, MS and headed to the Tupelo Hardware Store
where Elvis' mom bought him his first guitar.
No guitar for me – a whisk broom and twine instead. 
As dark came on we realized that we needed to get off the parkway and find some dinner and a place to sleep. Not much to chose from. We ended up getting off just south of Nashville and headed east to Columbia. Part of the Trace was closed for repair, so we didn't get to do the final few miles. We did however drive almost 400 miles of it.

It was perfect. We were happy to slow down and not move too fast. After all, we were looking for fun and feeling groovy. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Listening to the cosmos

I know I promised that I'd write about our trip home along the Natchez Trace Parkway – and I will, soon – but I wanted instead to write today about a project that I started early last month – one that has been percolating along on my kitchen countertop. And now I can't wait any longer to experiment with it and share it with you.

I made spiced preserved lemons. And I'm hooked.

I had run across mentions of preserved lemons in a number of recipes, but never paid that much attention to them. Then Ed and I started planning a trip to Morocco and I got interested in all-things-Moroccan, including preserved lemons, which often appear in Moroccan dishes. Then, I read this beautiful blog about them. Then Sister Kathy casually mentioned that she wanted to make some, but had not gotten around to it. Then it was her birthday and I was trying to come up with a creative gift. And the cosmos just seemed to be telling me that it was time to bring some preserved lemons into my life. So, I made a couple of jars for myself and packed a birthday basket of Myer lemons, coarse sea salt and Weck glass jars to give to Kathy. 

Then came the hard part. I had to leave them alone for one month. (Well, actually, I had to shake them up every few days to distribute the salt.) When one month was almost up, I couldn't wait any longer. I opened one of the jars, took out one lemon, rinsed the salt off, cut away the pulp, and used the preserved rind in this recipe for Moroccan Chicken with Lemon and Olives. The very next day, I used some on a batch of smashed potatoes. And the day after that, I made some risotto with preserved lemon. See what I mean: I'm hooked. 

My plan is to use them whenever a savory dish needs a bit of pop. I'm imagining them on fish, mixed with cooked grains, as an aioli ingredient, as a relish, with braised lamb, in a cocktail, the list goes on and on....

There are lots of recipes out there for preserving lemons. I used this one on the Local Milk blog, but left out the juniper berries, only because I did not have them in my spice drawer. I think Kathy made some plain ones, without any of the spices. 

They are easy to make and take only a few minutes. Now would be a good time to make some for yourself (and perhaps a second jar to give as a gift) as Meyer lemons are in season. I think you could make them with regular organic lemons, but I love the way they work with the soft-skinned Meyers. 

Go ahead. Make some. You will be glad you did. Then tell me how you use them.