Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Walking in a springtime wonderland

About the time I posted my last entry, snow started to fall, and fall, and fall. I awoke to find 6+ inches of snow, the deepest snowfall of the year – and remarkable that it fell on the second day of Spring. I pulled on my boots for a walk through our springtime wonderland. Mostly so I can remember the remarkable beauty of this sure-to-not-last-long snowfall, I offer these photos from my walk.

Note: These photos have an added filter in Photoshop to posterize them.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Turn of the seasons

Today marks the Vernal Equinox – an occasion of perfect celestial alignment – distinguished by a day of light and dark of equal length. The sun rose this morning at 7:43, precisely in the east – and will set 12 hours later, precisely in the west. A few minutes after noon today, the sun crossed the celestial equator, signaling the official turn of the seasons. Winter be banished; Spring be welcomed!

T. S. Eliot claims April as the cruelest month; I beg to differ. I nominate March. For it is this month that has me groggy from hibernation – desperately seeking sunshine and time outside. Instead, I'm greeted with only short snatches of sunshine, followed by long stretches of grey skies, freezing drizzle, cold winds and random snow showers.

Heavy wet snow is expected tonight in Shelby County. It could be worse: in Brooklyn, Mary is bracing for the fourth nor'easter in less than three weeks, and Jack in Berlin is looking to overnight lows in the teens.

I'm itching to be outside all day: planting my spring garden, inspecting our trees for breaks of dormancy, picking early daffodils and greeting the returning birds of Farm Dover. Instead, I find myself pulling on another sweater, wishing that Ed would build a fire, that a Netflix disc will arrive in the day's mail, or that I can crawl under the covers well before 10 p.m.

On my brief ventures out, I do find signs that spring is arriving, albeit slowly. I spot a mama woodcock sitting camouflaged atop her four spotted eggs, the red shoots of my peonies unfurl, daffodils hold off blooming by staying insulated in drifts of snow, and Grandmommy's sedum plants send up tiny succulent rosettes.


I'm not the only one wishing to hurry up spring's full arrival. My good neighbor, dear friend, and creative genius, Sandy, turned her talents as a weaver into a masterpiece as she waited for a warmup. This past week she wove a beautiful bird-seed basket from grasses, branches and vines that she collected from her next-door-to-us farm.

Once woven, she brought it over as a gift for us to fill with bird seed/suet and hang in the tulip tree in our bee garden. It's made from wisteria, honeysuckle vine, raffia, broom corn, red dogwood stems, and Japanese bittersweet, with bits of Shetland wool tucked into the cracks for birds to use for nests.

It's amazing – a work of fine art – almost too lovely to hang in the elements. But hang it we will, and know that the birds will enjoy it as much as we love admiring it. Thank you, Sandy. Happy Spring. Happy Equinox.

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!


March 2020 Update

We are just back from visiting Mexico City and San Cristóbal de las Casas, a colonial city located in the Central Highlands region of Chiapas. While we were traveling, the coronavirus hit the United States, causing great concern and anxiety for all. I chose not to do a full post on our trip, but rather to list here the highlights so that I can refer back to our travels with a bit more accuracy.

Mexico City
As always, the food was excellent. We added a few new places to our old-favorites.

El Parnita: located just around the corner from our hotel, this crowded, casual place offered up some of the best tacos and sopes I've ever had. Open only for lunch.

Huset: One of the prettiest garden settings imaginable with cocktails that are equally impressive. Open for lunch and dinner.

Merotoro: Our last night in Mexico city we headed to the trendy and beautiful Colonia Condesa neighborhood splurging on a beautiful dinner. The place, the atmosphere, the service and the food were all memorable.

Other highlights

For some reason, we had always avoided visiting the floating gardens of Mexico. It just sounded too touristy. But this trip we were up for it -- and I'm so glad. Our hotel arranged for a driver and tour guide to pick us up and drive us an hour south of the city where we boarded a brightly colored tranjineras (a motorless boat, guided by a man with a pole: think gondolas in Venice). For two hours we floated down the canals, while being serenaded by mariachi  and marimba musicians and offered all kinds of specialty food and drink. It was a delightful way to spend the day.

Ed with a beer mixed with lime, salt, tomato juice and Worcestershire sauce, rimmed in chilies.
And I just had to try Elote (aka Mexican Street Corn)

Delores Olmedo Museum
After our morning cruising the canals, we stopped at a beautiful hacienda housing the art collection of Mexican businessworman, Ms. Olmedo. The 17th-century stone house is surrounded by lush gardens inhabited by peacocks and hairless dogs. It sounds weird, but it was amazing. The art collection featured important works by Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.

San Cristóbal de las Casas

We spend four days leisurely wandering the brightly colored streets of San Cristóbal. Three restaurants were standouts for us.

Jardin El Secreto: Beautiful setting, excellent service and delicious food.

KukuPan: just a neighborhood bakery that we discovered on our second to last day. We went back twice for coffee and a hot croissant.

Xut: Charming restaurant. Excellent regional food.