Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Found: A Sense of Place

Strange to think that tonight's midnight ball-drop marks not only the beginning of the twenty-twenties but also the beginning of our tenth year here on Farm Dover, for it was nearly a decade ago that we traded in our suburban lives and careers for a bucolic life in the country. It was a good trade.

Farm Dover, reclaimed from 38 acres of cropped land, has become a true home for us, a place much like many in Wendell Berry's novels where it is hard to mark the difference between his characters' lives and their places. We have worked hard to make our place; and, in return, this place has surely made us.

For every invasive plant we have cut down and every five-gallon bucket of water we have hauled, we have become physically stronger. For every tree seedling we have planted and nurtured, our hope for the future has taken shape. For every leaf, berry and root that we forage, our admiration for nature's gifts soars. Every day – in large and small ways – we shape this place; and in return, this place shapes us.

Another American writer, Wallace Stegner, contends that no spot can be called a place until the things that have happened there are remembered in history, ballads, yarns, legends, or monuments. (He obviously made this argument before the advent of blogs, specifically this one that has documented our life here in this place in more than 700 entries.)

Before we bought this patch of land, we looked for months for a place to settle. Looking back, I don't think it mattered so much where we settled, as much as it mattered that we chose a place around which to focus our lives. I don't believe that Farm Dover is anymore inherently beautiful or meaningful than any other place, except that we have taken it into our hearts: loving every square inch of it, respecting it, and showing gratitude for the ways in which its bounty is received.

Ed and I have attempted to make a mindful life here, gradually unpacking the mysteries of the place. We've learned to flow with the rhythm of the seasons, to welcome the way the light creeps into our bedroom so early in mid-summer and so late on these dark winter mornings, to accept the natural death and rebirth that comes with the passing months, to watch for the stars to pierce the night sky and to be enchanted by the fog as it settles into the low spots in the early mornings.

We've learned that paths are made by walking and that birds sing most sweetly in the early morning, or just before sundown. Butterflies love the warm late afternoon sun, when their wings are dry and flower nectars flow.

We've learned that beekeeping is a tricky business and we've yet to figure it out. We now know that tree seedlings need constant care to thrive and native plants have an instinct for surviving wet springs and hot summer droughts. We know that Ed loves nothing more than tending to his tiny trees or reading in his favorite chair – and that I'm happiest wandering the paths of Farm Dover, foraging for dinner offerings or harvesting vegetables from the garden for our mid-day meal.

And so, as this new decade dawns, I leave you with this second verse of William Stafford's poem East of Broken Top that so captures our life here in this place:

We could go there and live, have a place,
a shoulder of earth, watch days
find their way onward in their serious march
where nothing happens but each one is gone.
Some people build cities and live there;
they hurry and shout. We lie on the earth;
to keep from falling into the stars we reach
as wide as we can and hold onto the grass.

Here's hoping that all good things come to you and yours in 2020. May your journey this shiny new year take you closer to finding your sense of place in this big wide world.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Post-Turkey Post

Thanksgiving may well be my favorite holiday. No gifts, no special decorations, a day (or two) spent puttering in the kitchen, gathering around the table with my beloveds, being filled with gratitude for the abundance in our lives. All good stuff(ing). Plus there are the leftovers....

I will admit that the traditional menu doesn't really send me. It just seems a bit too – I don't know – traditional? But I can't imagine changing it up much; I think there would be a riot at the table. So every year, I make the usual: turkey, dressing (two kinds), mashed turnips/potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, homemade gravy, some kind of green salad, and pies. The more pies, the better.

And every year, I offer something new -- just to keep me on my game and keep my family in a state of wonder.

This year found three new things on/at our table.

First, I made a batch of cranberry shrub, based on David Lebovitz's recipe, and turned it into a festive cocktail with the addition of a jigger of vodka, a few shakes of orange bitters, a splash of orange liquor, topped with some ice and seltzer water. The shrub – even without alcohol – was lovely when mixed with some bubble water.  The cider vinegar taste comes through strongly; I found it refreshing, and sipped on it all afternoon while putting the finishing touches on our meal.

The second new thing: A couple of hours before we sat down to our feast, I served up small cups of creamy chestnut soup with cheese crackers.  The chestnuts were foraged from our Chinese Chestnut trees, four of which line the drive up near the house. I roasted them in my oven, but just as easily could have roasted them – as the song says – over an open fire. If you don't happen to have any chestnut trees handy, you can buy a bag of fresh chestnuts at Whole Foods in the produce section or, you can skip the whole roasting and peeling experience and buy a jar of steamed chestnuts.

Once roasted and peeled, the soup easily comes together. It features shiitake mushrooms (in addition to the chestnuts), lending it a sweet and earthy flavor. So good, I'm planning a repeat appearance at  Christmastime.

And the final new thing at our table this year was: Hazel! Technically, she was here last year, but she was only two weeks old. We spent the entire meal passing her around, barely noticing the turkey and all the fixings.

One year ago...
This year, she fully participated, especially enjoying the pumpkin pie and apple/cherry slab pie with extra whipped cream.

So very thankful.


Just so I have a record of the recipes that I used this year, here's the menu and some links.

Parmesan and Thyme Crackers
Cranberry Shrub Cocktail

Mains and Sides
Dry-brined Turkey with Roasted Onions
Chipotle Smashed Sweet Potatoes
Lee Davis' Mashed Turnips and Potatoes
Herb and Apple Bread Pudding
Oyster Dressing
Sauteed French Green Beans
Brussels Sprouts, Apple and Pomegranate Salad

Pumpkin Pie (featuring Farm Dover Pumpkin Butter)
Apple and Cherry Slab Pie

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Every happiness

Last weekend Ed and I attended a celebration of marriage at Crescent Hill Baptist Church. I tend to get teary-eyed at weddings and this one was no exception. 

The couple has been together for seven years, mostly via a transatlantic relationship. Finally, they were able to officially make declarations of their love, exchange vows and rings and be pronounced husband and husband. I cried.

Ed and I were honored to attend this service and to watch them joyfully recess to My Old Kentucky Home, with trumpet and organ fanfare. Afterward we celebrated with supper and a cabaret at the Pendennis Club in downtown Louisville.

Often I am embarrassed by my state for its conservative attitudes on a number of political or moral issues. But last Saturday, I witnessed progress. 

Paraphrasing the officiant:
We are gathered here today to witness and celebrate the union of a gay Christian man to his long-time Muslim partner at a Baptist Church in Kentucky. 

Progress indeed!

Wishing Steve and Sam every happiness as they begin their married life together.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Somewhere New

Every October Ed and I take a car trip — the kind of trip we like most, where we just wander from place to place, stopping wherever we like along the way. Usually we head east to the mountains of North Carolina, once making it all the way to the Outer Banks. We camp, or stay in cabins. Take hikes and leaf peak. Celebrate our anniversary.

This fall, we headed north — way north — all the way to Michigan’s Upper Peninsular, that bridge of land that stretches between Lake Superior and Lake Michigan, above the tip of Michigan’s mitten. It was a new part of the country for me and a place that I would gladly return.

Our trip started with an afternoon and overnight in Milwaukee, a city known for its beer and baseball. (We drank the beer; saved a Brewers’ game for another time.) We spent the afternoon exploring the city’s Historic Third Ward, a creative hub for art galleries, trendy restaurants, boutique shoppes and its indoor Public Market, where produce, cheese and fish vendors hawk their wares, and where we perched on bar stools for a mid-afternoon snack of a brat and beer.

Next stop: Fish Creek, WI, rightfully designated by Forbes as one of the prettiest towns in America. Located in Wisconsin’s Door County — famous for its cherries — it’s one of a series of small towns on the skinny peninsula that separates Green Bay from Lake Michigan. In a word, it was charming. We stayed for two nights at The Wren Cottage of The Thorp House Inn. I suspect the town is overrun in its high season, but we arrived late enough in the year to easily score a table for brunch at The White Gull Inn and dinner at the Whistling Swan.

Leaving Fish Creek, we backtracked down the peninsula and then turned north, crossing over into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for a two-night stay in the coziest little cabin located next to Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.

We woke to sunshine, packed a picnic, and headed into the park destined for the Lake of the Clouds. Never have I seen trees more beautiful — sporting neon shades of yellow, orange and red — glowing like embers.

After a chilly hike, we drove to Presque Isle, on the far western side of the 60,000-acre park and hiked down to the waterfall that gushes out into Lake Superior. We found a spot on the lakefront that was sunny and protected from the wind where we lunched on an apple and cheddar cheese, a handful of cashews and a square of chocolate.

Our picnic spot reminded me of when Ed would read aloud to our kids Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha that begins:

By the shore of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,
Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.

Sure enough, Gitche Gumee is the Ojibwe name for Lake Superior. So we literally lunched on the shores of Gitche Gumee, of the shining Big-Sea-Water. I don’t know why, but this made me oddly happy.

Once back at our tiny cabin, we binge-watched the last four episodes of “Unbelievable,” which we are unable to stream from home. This also made me oddly happy, but, at the same time, distraught by the storyline. If you haven’t watched it, you should.

Day 6 we drove to the tip of Michigan’s peninsula, spending the night in an old-fashioned motel in Eagle Harbor, and dining at the only restaurant in town, attached to the motel, a knotty-pine paneled supper club serving freshly-caught whitefish.

And then onto Munising, where we cruised 36 miles of Lake Superior, glimpsing one amazing landscape after another of Pictured Rocks National Shoreline. Chilled to the bone, we returned to Roam Inn to find an anniversary bottle of Champagne chilling for us, compliments of the hotel. Later, we headed downstairs for dinner and to continue celebrating 34 years of marriage.

Our final scheduled stop was The Grand Hotel in Mackinac Island MI — and it certainly was grand, boasting a sweeping 660-foot porch, 397 rooms and a dining room that requires coat and tie for men. The island is delightful, with no automobiles, but lots of horse drawn carriages, bicycles and fudge shops.

Time to head home. But first, one more stop in New Albany to see how much Hazel had grown while we were away...

Some details and links of our trip...

Milwaukee, WI
Public Market in the Historic Third Ward
Mader’s German Restaurant
Anodyne Coffee Roasting Company 

Fish Creek, WI
Accommodations: Thorp House Inn 
Wild Tomato Wood-Fired Pizza and Grille (dinner)
Blue Horse Beach Cafe (coffee)
White Gull Inn (brunch)
Whistling Swan (dinner)

Carp Lake, MI
Accommodations: Cozy Rustic Cabin, vrbo
Syl’s Cafe in Ontonogon (breakfast and lunch)
The Lake of the Clouds, Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park
Presque Isle Waterfalls, Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

Eagle Harbor, MI
Eagle Harbor Inn and Restaurant

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Accommodations: Roam Inn and Tracey's Cafe, Munising, MI

Mackinac Island, MI
Accommodations: The Grand Hotel
Arch Rock
Fort Mackinac

Fishers, IN
Sun King Tap Room and Small-Batch Brewery

New Albany, IN

and a couple of more photos...

East Channel Lighthouse, Munising Bay

Pictured Rocks National Shoreline

Arch Rock, Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island from Fort Mackinac

Wednesday, October 2, 2019


It's been nearly six weeks since we felt more than a sprinkle of rain. Farm Dover is stressed (and so are Ed and I). Every day Ed fills up the 35-gallon water tank strapped on the back of the Polairis and heads out to water the tiny (and not-so-tiny) trees that we have planted. When the tank is drained, he heads back to the garage and refills it. He is on auto-repeat.

My herb garden and porch barrels get watered on a daily basis and the bird bath gets filled because it is not just the flora of Farm Dover that suffer; the birds, bees, butterflies and other fauna need water too. I've stretched the hose out its full length to water our orchard trees, the hydrangeas along the cottage, and my strawberry and tomato plants –– all of which seem to sigh with relief when watered.

The 60-gallon rain barrel down by the cottage stands empty; its water already siphoned off bucket by bucket to keep the newly planted ferns alive in my girl cave.

The golden rod of the fields and the tall native grasses have turned a soft sepia. The dark wildflower seed heads silhouetted against the cloudless skies sway above the grasses. The milkweed seed explodes from its pods.  My footsteps along the wooded paths make loud crunching noises from the fallen walnut leaves. The hickory trees have turned paper brown while the maples trees are making a valiant effort to put forth a bit of fall color -- at least four weeks earlier than normal.

The creek that runs along the north side of our property is completely dry. I've been walking along its bed, selecting rocks to build up three crossings. I expect to find some form of life under the rocks I pry up, but instead, find nothing but cracked and dried mud. I don't know where the crawdads and tadpoles have gone. And whether they will ever return.

Last year I harvested zinnias well into November. Now, the blooms are drying up; turning to seed.

Remarkably – maybe not surprisedly – the native flowers and grasses in our bee garden and meadows seem to be hanging in there; the drought brings out the best of their resilient nature. The asters especially refuse to give up blooming and succumb to thirst.

I can feel the dryness in the air and the weatherman confirms my dismay. September was the driest month in local recorded history with only 0.04 inches of rain. Already more days have been above 90 degrees than ever recorded in a single year.

This little patch of land that we tend is suffering, but so are patches of land the world over. Extreme weather – excessively high temperatures, heavy downpours, hurricanes, floods and droughts – all caused in part by human behaviors are threatening life here on earth. Young Greta, I hear you. We must figure this out, together.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

89 Years Young

My dad (aka Honey) turns 89 today and still loves to hit golf balls, so that's how we celebrated. My sister Kathy picked him up from his new home at The Legacy and then met sisters Sherry, Julie and me at Midland Trail Golf Course, founded in 1964 by my dad's father: John R. Carpenter, Sr.

We met on the practice tee for some friendly competition: a long-ball event and a closest-to-the-hole. Sister Sherry is the only one of Dad's daughters who still plays regularly, but we all grew up playing – coached and caddied by my Dad, who was a left-handed scratch golfer with a claim-to-fame of winning the 1947 Junior Falls City Tournament.


Two grandchildren, three great grandchildren and Dad's brother joined us for lunch in the clubhouse. Stories were told, candles were blown, homemade cake was consumed, and laughter abounded. Not a bad way to spend your 89th birthday!

Honey with Daughter Sherry, Granddaughter Amy, Great Grandchildren Addison and Charlie
Granddaughter Laura and Great Granddaughter Caroline
Honey and his brother, Jim
The youngest guest: Caroline
Patrick Barry, director of golf, stopped by to congratulate Honey.

We love you, Honey, and wish you many more happy days....

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Garden Glory

With every season, the bee garden adjacent to our front field transforms itself, moving a quarter of the way through its annual cycle. In the winter, it is mostly bare, with only stem skeletons topped with dried seed pods left standing as feed for the winter birds.  Spring comes slowly, signaled first by the arrival of the umbrella-like mayapples and fragrant magnolia blossoms. Then thimbleweed springs up with its almost iridescent white flowers rising from a whorl of dark green leaves, and the St. John's wort begins to put out massive yellow flower clusters. With the approach of summer, comes the coneflowers, beebalms and trumpet vine. 

But it isn't until September that this native garden comes into its full glory, with royal ironweed and millennial-pink Joe-Pye weed reaching ever skyward, interwoven with 8-foot cut-leaf prairie dock's leafless stems boasting yellow blossoms that follow the sun as it makes its way across the bluest skies. The goldenrods and asters provide a striking mix of yellows and purples while the mountain mint, boneset and wild quinine provide the perfect landing spots for all sorts of bees and butterflies. The native grasses -- prairie dropseed, switchgrass and bluestem -- shimmer in the sun's light, while black-eyed susans sway cheerfully along the western border. 

The honey bees buzz in and out of their custom-built home, delighted to have an all-you-can-eat nectar buffet just outside their hive entrance, while hummingbirds hover and dart, hover and dart. Cardinals, mockingbirds and song sparrows sing sweetly from the tulip tree, while goldfinch snack on the spent coneflower seeds. 

All in all, it is a lovely time to wander the stone path that Ed and Jack helped me lay with stones lifted from Lutz Creek at the far eastern edge of Farm Dover. 

Come along on a walk with me....

In the garden...

St. John's-wort, Hypericum prolificum
Devil's Walking Stick, Aralia spinosa*
Little Bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium* 
Prairie Dropseed, Sporobolus heterolepis*
Big Bluestem, Andropogon gerardii*
Switchgrass, Panicum virgatum*
Cut-leaf Prairie Dock, Silphium pinnatifidum*
Ironweed, Veronia gigantea*
Joe-Pye Weed, Eupatorium fistulosum* 
Stiff Goldenrod, Solidago rigida*
New England Aster, Aster novae-angliae*
Eastern Bluestar, Amsonia tabernaemontana
Foxglove Beardtongue, Penstemon digitalis
Maryland Goldenaster, Chrysopsis mariana*
Slender Mountain Mint, Pycnanthemum tenuifolium* 
Gray Goldenrod, Solidago nemoralis*
Thimbleweed, Anemone virginica
Rough Goldenrod, Solidago rugosa* 
Culver's Root, Veronicastrum virginicum 
Wild Quinine, Parthenium integrifolium* 
Smooth Blue Aster, Aster laevis 
False Blue Indigo, Baptisia australis
Rattlesnake Master, Eryngium yuccifolium*
Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea*
Orange Coneflower, Rudbeckia fulgida
Bee Balm, Monarda fistulosa
Boneset, Eupatorium perfoliatum*
Lanceleaf coreopsis, Coreopsis lanceolata
Common Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca
Swamp Milkweed, Aclepias Incarnata
Trumpet Vine, Campsis radicans*
Star Magnolia, Magnolia stellata  

*now blooming