Monday, December 31, 2018

A case of an expanding heart

It's nearly dark out; the wind is howling and the rain is banging against the metal roof of our study. Ed and I are home alone on this last night of year. (Just where we want to be.) I spent part of the day wandering around the house, packing up our very few Christmas decorations and reflecting on the season.

It was a happy one at Farm Dover. Our three grown children were all home for Christmas, with significant others, dog, and baby in tow. Jack traveled here from Berlin (we missed Kasia this year); Mary, Brian and Saltie made the trip by car from Brooklyn; and Maggie and Nate packed presents, diapers, DockaTot, multiple changes of outfits, and Baby Hazel to come here after celebrating with Nate's family in Northern Kentucky. I recognize that this is no easy task. Ed and I are grateful.

There is nothing I like more than being surrounded by my beloveds. It's funny how one's heart can expand to fully love another individual or creature that comes into your life. Like the Grinch, my heart seems to have grown three sizes. And like in the Grinch, there was plenty of noise, feasts and singing to be found in our home.

The week before Christmas, nieces Belle and Sara came to help me crank out the last big batch of spicy cheese straws. And their sisters Molly and Katie came back with Sara and her boyfriend, Ashton, for Christmas cheeseburgers (Mary's favorite), homemade peppermint ice cream, and some serious puzzle working. These girls bring joy wherever they go.

Among our most treasured holiday traditions is digging into the heavy bag of perfectly made cookies by friend Patrice. Mary and I managed to sample some for breakfast the very day we got them. 


Joyce (age 90), our friend from Simpsonville Christian Church, baked Ed a coconut cream pie, which he graciously shared with us after a welcome-home dinner for Mary, Brian and Saltie on the 23rd. 

And of course, it wouldn't be Christmas without bread pudding and Ree's mincemeat cookies...

But Hazel and Saltie stole the show. We couldn't get enough of them. 

They even had matching hats, as both wanted to be one of Santa's reindeer.

Not only did our little family grow this year, but the Carpenter side added two babies in addition to Hazel: Charlie (May 23) and Gabriella (August 18), and one more is expected in February. On Christmas Day, we gathered at my sister Julie's house. My Dad, his four girls and their husbands, his 11 grandchildren, and his 5 great grandchildren were all together in celebration and gratitude. 

But the season is nearly over. Mary, Brian and Saltie are safely back in Brooklyn. The 2018 tree is planted in the side field. The cookies are all gone. But the memories, I'd like to hang on to forever...

Merry Christmas to you and yours. May 2019 bring health, happiness and an expanded heart.

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...


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


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)


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.