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Mrs. Paproth's Barn

Moving to the country...A waking dream in Vermont

Updated: 2018-03-06T02:00:02.309-08:00


Little Miss Elsie


Our daughter is getting a puppy! This is big news around here. I have long joked that my oldest son’s primary relationship is with his Italian Spinone, Olive, and that she may be the only grandchild I get out of him for a while. Fine by me actually. We love to babysit which we do from time to time when a long day out on the boat or filming is going to keep him away. She comes over  to play with her “cousins” ( I know I am  messing up all the anthropomorphized relationships) Violet, Oscar and Pippi. Violet our Berner girl is her favorite pal. They wrestle more gentle with one another and almost constantly the whole time she is here.

And now comes Hannah with a deposit on a lovely blue Great Dane. Elsie is just three weeks old at the moment. Hannah and her partner Dan drove out to Long Island yesterday to meet the breeder and the pups. For hours we got pics and videos and today it is all she is talking about. These two live in a typically small Manhattan apartment. Recently their rent went up and so they started looking for a new place. As long as they had to move anyway they figured why not find a place that took dogs. And so they did. It is just a few blocks away from their current place. They love the neighborhood and this beautiful place has been well appointed. It housed tuberculosis patients at the turn of the last century and so every apartment has a balcony. Theirs has two. And best of all … they take dogs!
It costs a little more than their old rent increase and it is a sixth floor walk up, (Six. Up.)  but no matter it has balconies and it takes dogs. The puppy will be their entertainment so really it will probably be like finding a savings!……Hannah reports this in only the breathless romantic way one who is in her early twenties can. “Balconies. Dogs. Oh mommy”
Six flights.  My heart is pounding just thinking of it.

Dan had never had a puppy before and so he maybe wasn’t completely sure at first. Hannah has never lived so long without a dog and she was long past ready. So they casually looked at breeds and when he found one that caught his fancy (150 pounds!) no matter. She went right to work finding the best breeder and the right litter. Turns out Great Danes are fairly sedentary and make great apartment dogs. Who knew? Now they are both excited and she is fast applying for jobs that might allow for a mix that includes some remote work so she can raise their puppy. They will both take some vacation when the little girl arrives and if the job hasn’t come yet doggie day care will be fitted into their lives.

There is something deeply gratifying when your kids date (and I imagine marry) people you like and respect. It also happens when they take your family values into their own families and grown-up lives. Animal love enhances our humanity. It is one of the truest things about our family and one of our dearest most closely held values. Now it goes down the line into another generation. What a blessing. 

Elsie, you are going to be well loved little one. And now there are a whole bunch of people who just can't wait to meet you.

High Summer


It has been some hot. Vermont doesn’t usually get much real heat. We call ourselves the naturally air conditioned state. No one has central air although the grocery stores are all selling window units right now out in their parking lots. And people have been putting them in their bedrooms and then eating supper on their beds. Monday I had to run to the store and I saw a whole aisle full of people loitering with the freezer doors open and their faces up close examining the packages.

We have two great gigantic attic fans that keep our house plenty cool on the five to ten nights every year when the temperatures climb a bit and the mornings are not crisp enough to blow it all away. There are always a few but this summer has been exceptional. We added some box fans to the mix. Eli has always loved a fan and we got him something called a Wind Tunnel 360 this year which he has blowing directly on his face all night long. It ruffles his hair and makes him happy.

John and I got one for our bedroom too for the first time ever. It makes kind of a humming noise just like the ones in my Grandmother’s house used to do when I was little.  She also had a trick of sprinkling a few drops of water on the bedsheets just before you climbed in. They were cool and barely damp and between them and the steady hum of the fan I would drift right off to sleep.

The gentle buzz of these fans makes me think of Gram and brings back memories of the popsicles she made too out of strawberry juice and peaches. Now I am thinking about dragging out the juicer and making watermelon juice followed closely by some watermelon popsicles. We associate warmth with comfort up here in the North Country. But it turns out that even warmth can be too much of a good thing.

A storm came in midweek and left behind clear cool skies. This morning it was sixty-six degrees out on the porch. Surely it will climb to the eighties but when it starts and ends in the sixties you are back to traditional mountain summer which is why all those city people drive up here on Fridays and why so many want to empty out their 401 Ks and stay awhile.

Summertime is for snipping basil in the garden and making bacon basil and tomato sandwiches slathered with just a little rich homemade lemon mayonnaise. The swiss chard has come in so it might also be time for a little quiche or pasta with all that tasty color thrown in. It is perfect for popsicles and watching fireflies. When January comes I don’t want to look back on this time and remember wishing it away cause it was too hot.  So when the heat comes back I will rely on popsicles and the wind tunnel. Meanwhile, back in the garden, there is some swiss chard out there calling my name

Island Time


Two of the happiest words in our language have to be school’s out. (Okay so maybe the contraction makes those technically three but you get the drift) When placed together in a sentence they invariably bring smiles. This year I am relishing them more than ever.Our youngest is sixteen and just finished his sophomore year in high school. How many more summers will we all get together? It wasn’t that long ago that I wondered how many more we would get with the big kids and that answer came fast too. Not many.  Luckily for me they still come back.Tomorrow we will head to the place we love best in summer a little house on a pristine pond on Martha’s Vineyard. The house is nothing much hidden in the woods like the rest of the hand-full of houses on the pond.  But the pond-the pond  is one of my favorite places on earth. The water is clear and it feels creamy on your skin. Creamy. I swear.  Surrounded by a piney wood, it smells divine too. There are loons of course who make the early morning coffee out on the porch one of the best parts of my life all year long.  And along the shoreline, here and there in the very tallest pine trees, are the giant sized nests of the ospreys. They always have babies and throughout the day you can watch them flying back and forth dipping into the pond catching little fish and feeding their babies. It is a pleasure I never tire or having. Eli’s Vineyard experience has changed the most over the years. We started coming when he was little and we would spend hours at Lighthouse Beach catching crabs off long sticks baited with squid or raw chicken. One year he caught a shark. We spent thousands of hours on that little beach. The crabs were probably mighty glad to see him grow up.  Now he brings a rotation of teenage boys who will leave wet trunks hanging by the outside shower, over the deck and seemingly on the door knobs of every door. There will also be piles of wet sandy towels outside every entrance. The back screen door slams like screen doors everywhere and it bangs a few times every day when the boys head down to the canoe or swim out to the floating dock to dive and do all their teenage showoffy jumps.All of us will gather on the island around the 4th. Hannah and Dan and Benjamin and Olive will be with us--swimming in the pond, watching the parade and the fireworks, eating piles of lobster and feeling full and happy.  Those times are especially sweet and what I think back to when January rolls around. Sunday nights we will head up to Menemsha for bluegrass and lobster.  And Jaws…a least once. It wouldn’t be summer without Jaws.I love our island time. I love it when we are all together.  I am ever grateful that these  grown-up people we are related to still seem to like hanging out with us. Every morning we wander toward the coffee pot where some new project or idea will inevitably get launched and another year will be reviewed and plans will get made. It happens on sun drenched afternoons in sand and surf. It happens on long pond swims and over happy butter laden lobster. But it always happens.  Pretty soon one or the other of them will get married and eventually there will be new little kids added into our mix. I hope I get to be here for all of it for a long long time. Cause it’s summer. Let the screen doors slam[...]

Kitchen Counter


One of my favorite things is waking up on a Saturday morning to a pile of sneakers beside the radiator in the kitchen. I have usually gone to sleep way before these basketball playing, skateboarding, living room soccer ball kicking, ping ponging, video gaming, teenage eating machines. You can hear the rap music pouring out of Eli’s suite, or anyway you can feel the beat, and somehow I have gotten used to the thumping. It is almost comforting. He’s home. We have fed them a bunch of homemade pizzas or BBQ ribs and they have settled in for a night of chips and ice cream and cookies and games. In the morning there will be piles of towels and unmade beds. I will holler up at them to make those beds, pick up their clothes and come down for the pancakes and sausage or the bacon and egg casserole. But first I always look at that pile of shoes for a little while as I drink my coffee. Those shoes make me feel grateful and blessed. This week Will said I love coming here and seeing what’s on your kitchen counter Ellen. If there’s nothing there but the fruit bowl he said he opens the oven and checks there too. This week it was a strawberry cheese crostada cooling in the oven and he had a big bowlful. Who knew that just as I love the pile of sneakers they love my kitchen? I always loved looking to see what was on my Gram’s counter or in her oven too come to think of it. So maybe this kitchen/counter thing is a family legacy. We are not a family of boarding schools like so many folks are up here in the northeast. That is not our tradition. So most weekends these last fourteen years (since our oldest first became a teenager) we wake up with our kids and their friends. We have considered presidential races, drugs, teenage sex, and the deaths of beloved pets at our Saturday morning kitchen table. Boyfriends have been examined and girls have been puzzled over. Teachers have been praised and excoriated. Leaves have been raked and furniture gotten moved while we yelled and laughed and someone put a rubber band on the faucet so you got sprayed when you turned it on. This week we talked about the anniversary of the Bin Laden killing at breakfast. Someone thought it was an illegal assassination. Eli wondered why-- if we went into Afghanistan to destroy Al Qaeda and kill Osama Bin Laden only then we invaded Pakistan and killed him there-- we are we still in Afghanistan. It’s a good question. And I am glad they are talking about it around my table. Now I just have to decide what to have on this counter come Friday night.



This time of year you just want to be outside. Vermont is a paradise of greens. These fresh lacy greens are climbing up the sides of the mountains and the lilacs are budding. Add all those birds singing and tulips blooming and it is impossible to stay cooped up. Literally. The chickens are waking up earlier and earlier and going in later and later. They are laying eggs like crazy. It is a festival of rebirth around here. After a long day on a tedious project and looking at all that shiny sunshine and goodness from inside I wanted to be on the other side too. I decided on a hot tub late in the afternoon so I could enjoy the rest of the light from a warm relaxing spot. I could see down into the chicken yard. So before I went up I scattered some corn and left over pasta. There was a cacophony of happy clucking and celebrating and then I headed for the water. Our hot tub is on our second floor balcony. It is secluded on the front side of the house facing the meadow. Since nobody was around besides me and the dogs I decided to take my clothes off and slip in. I grabbed a mango tea and settled back for a nice long soak. I could see Mildred and Mabel and Franklin perfectly from my spot. I was hidden behind the crabapples that reach up to the balcony. They were covered with buds and I watched a robin dad dip in and out for some stray bits for his nest. Then I heard the woodpecker. He was creating a happy riot somewhere in the woods. I scanned all trees looking up and all around. And then I saw it. Not the woodpecker. A hawk! He was circling right over our yard where the chickens were. They were utterly exposed out there and so completely committed to their pasta that they didn’t notice him. Even Franklin the usually vigilant rooster had his mouth full of noodle. I started yelling and splashing like crazy, “Hey you hawk…get out” It was ineffectual at best and he circled a little lower as if to prove it. Shit. I could see little Sally down there. She is an eight-month-old curious little bantam and I have been worried about her anyway. I never get bantams but this one had been a mistake and now, too late, we were bonded. She was right next to Naomi who she thinks is her mom. Oh god ….this was going to be awful. Screaming I climbed out of the hot tub, ran into the house, down the steps, out the front door, where I picked up a big stick, and brandishing it-ran naked toward the chickens screaming like a banshee “Noooooo haaawwwwk nooooo” The chickens, scared out of their little chicken wits ran clucking madly in all directions. I’d left the door open so the dogs chased after me barking wildly without knowing why. They must have thought there were terrorists or minimally intruders come to get us all. I got stopped at the gate with the dicky latch and so I screamed louder while I jiggled the handle. The hawk dipped, as if to get a closer look. He slowed into one of those lovely hawky glides they do and then calmly, leisurely even, soared off for saner pastures. I watched him fly away as I stood there at the gate, stymied by the latch, with my big stick, barking dogs and hysterical chickens, naked mind you….naked. In case you are wondering the chickens are fine.

A Slow Corner


Drizzly. It makes it sound cuter than it is. We have had a run of drizzly days. There was one thunderstorm which called for a nap, but otherwise it has just been cloudy and dreary. Nothing dramatic. It is a paradise of green out there right now. The new greens are beginning to climb back up the mountains and the stuff down here in our high sweet valley looks like it was colored with those really bright crayolas. But it is too cold and wet to get out and roll around in it. This is not the time to spread the quilts out in the yard. We still need them inside around our feet. Nobody is even sitting on their porches yet and Vermont is one of the great porch sitting states. The bears are awake anyway. You can tell by all of the mangled birdfeeders all over the village. But so long as they are grubbing our bird seed there must not be much in the way of real food growing anywhere yet. The old boiler keeps coming on too and good thing since we lugged most of our winter clothes up to the attic and got out the swishy skirts and linens. Winter may be over but spring, or the spring we daydream about, isn't quite here either. We are turning a slow corner. The crabapples are covered in tight little buds and so are the lilacs. It won't be long now. Bundle up, take a walk and build a fire when you get back. Maybe carry the quilts out in the morning with a mug of coffee, sit on the swing and listen to the birds. They are building their nests and getting ready. Here's to spring, yours and mine. It will come just in time.

Drumroll Please


In the spring it feels like something new happens every day. This morning when I got outside with my coffee the fiddlehead ferns had popped up their little drowsy heads overnight. They grow amazingly fast like those little sea monkeys we used to get at the dimestore. Today it’s just their little heads but by the end of the weekend, if it stays warm and sunny, they will be ready for the pan.
I love spring. The first year we lived here I dug a bunch of ferns up in the woods on the knoll behind our smallholding. I planted them around two little rock walls in our yard. Now every year they come up and the ones we don’t eat turn into large drapey ferns making a lush backstory. They have been waiting since last autumn when they last faded away to black. They wait in the dark, under a blanket of snow, for their turn to come again. I saw them for the first time today but of course they have been there all along. Theirs is the sweet promise of spring come true again and again.
Rebirth and renewal are the themes of the season. It is all around us. This week the bright yellow finches have come back too. They sing next to a family of cardinals who having wintered with us and are now getting nudged at the feeder. They nested early during those weird summery days in March and their babies are already big enough to come to the feeder with them while Dad sits on a branch just above. He sits quite still watching and waiting. He reminds me of how we used to sit on the little bench outside the preschool room, moving a little further away each day until finally we left the bench behind. He too has moved a bit higher in the tree. I wonder how long before those growing babies will come to the feeder on their own.
The messages of spring are not subtle. April in the mountains is such a show off. What else can you think of that gets announced by a chorus of birds?

Chicken Fate


We have the cutest little Bantam chicken named Sally. I have no idea what breed she is. This is unusual here since historically we have had only Aracaunas and I always knew who everybody was and what they were. But last year I decided we needed a more colorful flock. Plus our oldest Mildred and Mabel will turn eight this spring and their egg laying days are few and far between.Franklin the rooster was a sexing error and though a sweet dutiful rooster eggs are not among his talents either.So last autumn we headed to a Vermont Bird Fanicer’s Club chicken swap and came home with a five new babies. We added little Sally who was so sweet and tame and since all of the chicks we chose were young and small her bantamness was also unknown to us. Sally hung out on her owner's arm and the nice lady with too many chickens seemed almost reluctant to let her go. Then I wandered by and she hopped onto me. Chicken Fate. So Sally came home snuggled in my jacket.We got a beautiful Brahma now named Naomi, a fanciful Plymouth Rock named Connie Brombauer and two Aracuanas I called Wanda Robeff and Edna Jones. (The original Edna had played the organ at the church where I grew up and Wanda led the choir with her high soprano voice and pointy toed shoes.) We also have Abigail, Adelaid, Nellie and Poppy out there. They are Americanas and hang out mainly with the older gals and Franklin. Twelve friendly chickens who resist my attempts at order and control no more than my kids always have but with much less angst. Chickens are fun companions. They beg at the kitchen window where they are rewarded with last night’s leftovers and spend their days in industrious eating, waddling, clucking, scratching, and laying.Sally hangs out with the flock but as they grew bigger and louder she stayed little and adorable. Naomi the big flashy brown and white Brahma started treating her like her chick. She clucked after her and scooped her under her wings at night. She sleeps curled next to Naomi on the perch still and they are seldom far from one another in the yard either. Sally is a creamy buff color with a few brown specks. She lays very small brown eggs. Maybe she is a Wynandotte. I may not know her breed but I know her. She is brave and curious. Tiny but determined she pushes and weaves through the flock in front of the kitchen window so she can have her share of potatoes or whatever is on offer that morning. I worry about her. She is curious, heading into an open basement door, looking for snacks under the grill and curious chickens often have short lives. Plus she is so little. A hawk might think she is the perfect size for supper, light easy to carry with a nice round belly from all those potatoes and pancakes. Now we have been known to take a chicken with a broken leg to the vet. We have also had little memorials for chickens who have spent years with us. But we have also dumped the chicken leavings of a fox into the trash with an emerging farmer’s view of the transient nature of the life of a farm. My chicken philosophy like my policies on giving money to city panhandlers or the homeless---variesIt’s spring. The fox mamas have kits to feed and the fox daddies are out hunting. Some chicken owners, preferring a more sure safety, leave their birds in confined coops. We have a fancy henhouse and a fenced in coop for the days when we have seen the fox or hawks hovering. But no chicken wants to live cooped up. Ours are always fluffy. With lots of room to roam they never peck at one another so their feathers are always full and beautiful. They are doing what chickens do covering a wide swath every day as they wander and look for the best bugs, visit with us at the kitchen window, take dust baths and siestas in the sun. They are obviously happy chickens laying well and living long natural lives when the wildlife doesn’t interrupt them. But a chicken’s life is[...]

Cold Comfort


A determined cold has come and settled itself around the mountains. Eleven was our high today. We had bright crisp sunshine and shiny blue cloudless skies. This is making for some staggeringly gorgeous night skies. The stars are so bright it looks like maybe they are kidding. It is sort of a relief since we have had practically no snow and mild weather for months. I didn’t move to Vermont to watch kids skateboard in January. Usually by now I am gritting my teeth and bearing down over some ice storm or another foot of snow. This year I miss it with a surprising intensity. We had winter back in St Louis where we lived our old lives. But those winters were mostly drab and brown and gray. We wanted winter that looked like winter surrounded by mountains and snow and full bird feeders. Winter turns out to be one of the reasons we love living here. We know all about thermal clothes, and layers and balm and gear. A reliably white Christmas in the woods feeds my soul. We actually like filling our trunks with blankets and flashlights and telling each other which route we would take on the mountain roads where cell service is spotty and a short drive at night on curvy snowy mountain roads can be an adventure.
Winter is satisfying. We didn’t move to a land of endless summer because summer is worth yearning for. In Vermont we expect enormous snowdrifts. We plan on being able to see our breath. We have big fat woodpiles and we expect to burn them and have cheery little fires and big blazing ones during the season of the Noreasters’. Winter is when we plan and think so the life that unfolds in the sun first sprouted in the long dark frozen months that came before. Cold weather is fortifying. It keeps us on our toes. It makes our brains snappy unlike the languid mint julep minds of our southern cousins. Winter: enjoying it, surviving it, even enduring it, is satisfying. It makes us smug.
So finally this deep slow cold has come and after longing for it for so long I feel a little worried. I spent most of November December and January longing for winter. But now is the time our thoughts begin to wander toward spring. I planted some crocuses in a copper bowl and they are blooming on top of my Gram’s old trunk. I didn’t get winter and now by golly I want spring.
But not yet. First this cold will turn us inward for a little while longer anyway. It is almost Valentine’s Day and John and I are thinking of how we want to love each other this year. We have decided we will take up some music. I am aiming for the stand-up bass and he is leaning toward a trumpet. We will take lessons and giggle and make a new kind of music this year. I have always believed that not knowing what passion is waiting around the next corner is one for the reasons to live. Maybe this will be another one. We just needed a little powerful cold to get us thinking.

October 24th


Twenty-four years ago the leaves were just turning orange and red all over the Midwest. The Cardinals were in the sixth game of the World Series and I was 25 years old and flirting with the cute guy at the middle of the bar. Luckily the Cardinals were losing or I don’t think he would have spent much time talking to me. That cute guy grew into a handsome man, married me and together we have made this rich life with these other people and animals we couldn’t imagine living without.We would fall in love in a little hill town called Elsah throughout that first autumn and into the snows of an early winter. I would introduce him to my most important person in a forest of Christmas trees where we would choose the biggest one. He would squirt whipped cream into the mouth of my two and a half year old and they would continue to bond over soccer and music for the rest of their lives. Later he would bring me bread he’d baked with his Slovakian Grandmother and I would know without any crumb of doubt that this was the man I was meant to have. This steady loving funny man was exactly what I was supposed to be doing with my life.We started together in a hip city neighborhood with Benjamin, his big wheel, two cats and a dog. More kids and animals would follow. We got married in a handfasting ceremony under our Christmas tree in a sweet homage to the forest where our family got its start. We would buy and start businesses and succeed beyond our ability to imagine back when we were two little blue-collar kids from Granite City. We would travel to England for soccer and Italy for love. Those were the fast driving years. We would get on planes to listen to the Blues. We would make some mistakes-both of us. He would go off on his bike wondering how his life got so loud and complicated. I would get on planes and sit in quiet restaurants and think about other lives. But along the way we got better and better at tending one another and as we loved each other better our family flourished. We found the language. We would learn to make long complicated happy meals. We would make some friends who would last and some who would not. We would always live in colorful houses filled with antiques where Ella and Van would be our soulful back-story. We picked up and moved across the country to a little mountain village in Vermont so we could be surrounded by beauty not just on vacation, but all the time. We discovered home schooling and started raising chickens. We nearly lost it all in a bad business decision and then got it pretty well back in a couple of luckier ones. St Louis to Edwardsville to the sweet round nurturing mountains of New England….We raised Benjamin and made Hannah and Eli. Now we have Pippi and Oscar and Violet in this beautiful old restored farmhouse where we all live. There’s Zoe curled up at night with Eli and a houseful of chickens watched over by Franklin who wakes us up every morning. It’s still plenty loud and colorful but this second half is quieter--easier too. We leave the craziness to the teenagers. We spread out our blanket and watch the leaves twirl around above us. We walk in these old woods with our dogs. We head for the island in the summer to smell the salt and listen to the loons. We hold hands more and dance in the kitchen to some new Swedish band John found on Spotify. Twenty-four years---a whole life. Happy Anniversary John. I love you more and more and more[...]



This has been the season of way more rain than anybody asked for. The hurricane was its own little surprise settling as it did on top of Vermont ….a landlocked small mountain range last time you checked and yes, still. We in Dorset were completely spared. We got rain and wind but it was not near as bad as your typical winter nor’easter. We only lost power around here for about a day. Hardly any tress fell either. It wasn’t until the next day when I realized I couldn’t get anywhere that the reality began to settle in. Roads were washed away and bridges had collapsed. If you had been watching the news and you’d never been to Vermont it must have seemed like we have bridges everywhere since all the news reports were about all the lost bridges. I did not think of this as much of a bridge state. After all we live an hour from the closest highway of which VT only boasts two. What bridges?
Well, along side every little scenic road, which is practically every single road in Vermont, wind little rivers and gorgeous babbling steams. They wind under roads and back several times in any given stretch of miles. And the little rise in the road, with that unimposing guardrail on the side, is what counts as a bridge up here. All those little guard rails and piles of rocks that cause the little rise in the roads…. well those are bridges. And practically all of them washed away.
That was just the beginning. Since then it has rained and rained and rained. We had one little happy stretch of sunny days when my Internet showed a little sun icon for four days in a row and I showed it to everyone I met. It was cause for celebration. That was when the trees finally turned. I actually thought they weren’t going to this year. They were fading and getting crumbly and all seemed lost. And then the sun came out and so did the glorious oranges and reds. But then the rain came right back. We have so much ledge up here that the ground just cannot get dry. Each rain brings the ground water right back up. Everywhere you walk is a soggy mess. Our dogs get clean and then within hours, minutes usually, they are wet and muddy once again. Our floors have a permanent sort of dust from all the drying and shaking going on around here.
We have it all---drizzle and pouring rain. The kind that makes you want to put Ella on the stereo and build a fire maybe make a pot of soup the first few times. Only pretty soon there is nothing romantic about it. You just want it to stop. Please. Now. Right now actually. Look send me a good thunderstorm with wind and lightning and thunder any day. I love the wildness of it. Good storms are like stage sets. There is a sense that something really big, way bigger than me is happening and I am just along for the ride. But this rain has put me in a mood I’ll admit. I feel like I am missing something. Courage. Maybe joy.
Something about gray shaded skies and the steady wet understory and the way the drops run down the windows and splash in the puddles and sure make a person’s eyelids heavy.

The Turning


I love autumn. There is something about the turning, the sweet and blessed turning. It is a time of memory and reflection. For a few minutes or a few days we are betwixt and between. The long lazier days of summer are in the family album. All those late nights with teenagers , sandy floors after hours at the beach, and board games for rainy days are put on the shelf til next year. The kids are back in school and the holidays are still a ways away. But now we get a present. A little pick me up til the next big thing. The leaves begin to color at the same time the sunshine softens and deepens. There is a golden cast to everything it touches. It pours through our windows like honey and we are all bathed in its light. The mountains around us look rich dressed in orange and red and purple. The air is crisp and we begin to wrap loose capes around our shoulders and to dig out the Frye boots and soft woolen socks. The kitchen too changes its colors. From tomatoes and basil to cinnamon and nutmeg. There are thick stews and chewy cheddar biscuits.Autumn is a reminder that things come and go. Summers roll into one another from years with little children playing in the hose to young teenagers kicking balls, skateboarding and painting their nails at slumber parties. Then those go by and we get young adults with boyfriends and girlfriends and jobs and dogs of their own. Everybody cooks together and there are plenty of hands to carry the picnic down to the beach. Each season has its own pleasures. Those days with babies were sweet and these with adults who make us laugh are just as nice in a whole new way. This autumn after a hurricane and masses of rain which dried up a bunch of the leaves in the low boggy spots has a quiet gentle sort of beauty all its own.. You must look up to see the color which is not a bad thing to have to remember. We had a particularly lovely summer with a house on a pond, lots of time in the swing, canoes and plenty of splashing. There were long gentle beachy days where our talk meandered and plans got made. It was quiet somehow too as we each missed Steve in our own way . Now our son is partridge hunting with his Spinone girl Olive. A new autumn pleasure like living in NYC is for Hannah and a new school and a new pack are for Eli. Life moves inexorably on. These leaves make me remember other autumns and times past. It is not so much sad as it is a thoughtful tour of time gone by as we walk again in these very old woods. New to our pack this year are Dan, Olive and Violet. Oscar is a veteran with one autumn tucked in already. He takes his job as tour leader of leaf piles quite seriously. Dan is leading his own tour of a NYC autumn with Hannah. She is getting to know about football, apartment life, and the subway and we are all along with her on the ride. My mornings now include a call with my coffee for the walk to the train with an update on the thirty or so things that happened just since yesterday. You can’t go back and since good stuff keeps coming why would you want to? Most of us are still here and so forward we will go together making new memories at the apple orchard, in the woods and next to the fire. I just got a great spicy cinnamon and a really dark cocoa powder. I am thinking braised short ribs in wine and chocolate with an apple crostada for dessert. The turning is here. And gladly, gladly…. so am I.[...]



This time last year Eli and I were already on the island. I had work to do there before everyone could go so John and Benjamin came later. But Eli and I were bustling around setting up house. There were big fat puffy linens to dress all the beds in summer white. There were cushions to carry to the wicker furnished porch and tablecloths to dress the table. I covered every open surface with votives and the candlelight on rainy mornings and starry nights made every day feel like a holiday. I got big vases and filled them with island flowers and threw scarves over lampshades to make things richer. But the time the rest of the gang arrived we were well settled and knew all of the shortcuts to the pond. Still when I got home I realized I had missed a bunch of stuff. Things happen to the mountains and here on our smallholding whether I am home or not it seems.We will be back on island again in a couple of weeks. But this year I am glad to be lapping up a little Vermont June. The lavender is blooming and with the windows open it is practically all you can smell. It seems early this year and fine by me. I fought the bees and grabbed bunches of it filling all the bedrooms this morning with the spicy summery scent. The peonies are also still blooming. I think I could cut them morning and night and still not run out. We moved to Vermont on a sweet sunny June day eight years ago. And so June brings back all of the firsts and reminds us why Vermont in a way no other month ever can. There are the late lilacs, just now coming around. There are hot sunshiny days and cool evenings when a sweater and leggings are almost enough. The lightning bugs zooming around the woods make me feel silly and happy. We always have a bonfire in June with those long telescopic forks we bought that first year. We tuck the toasted marshmallows in between those little cookies with the chocolate on one side and smores never tasted so good. We planted our lavender hedge that first year too. Vermont looks like Tuscany in the summer only without the Mediterranean heat. And we had all loved the lavender in Tuscany and wondered how it would do here. The hedge is high now and blows in the breeze making the whole place smell sweet and spicy for more than a month. It feels like a celebration of this life we have made in these old mountains. A party guest from the city asked me recently if I would tell her what cleaning supplies I used. She loved the fresh lavender smell everywhere. I pointed out the window. Can I just tell you how happy that made me? This morning after I filled the vases and before I got back to work I read for a little while to Oscar my Wheaten Terrier. Oscar loves to be read to and looks lovingly up at me while chewing his bone the whole time. He never gets up first. This started off as part of his calming training and quickly became part of mine. What do you do up there people ask. We walk in the woods, watch the turkeys and deer and raccoons who stop by to visit, feed the chickens from our kitchen window, learn about the stars and read to the dogs. And every few months depending on the season we spread a blanket in the upper meadow, stretch out, hold hands and smell the lavender or watch the leaves float down around us. We do run down to the city for work and restaurants and movies. But it is the reverse of our old way. The city bits are the intermissions and the natural bits are what we keep. We live here on purpose. We surely know that it may not always be this way. But for now it is just right----[...]

It's almost here....


It's not officially summer yet, but it sure feels that way with the heat, the thunder and rain, followed by shiny sparkly sunshine and the halter dresses in full bloom. Every time of year has its glory and summer is the season of sugary novels, comfortable disarray, beach nostalgia, and fun.

Out come the serving trays, blankets and the froofy fruity drinks; along with lotion smelling of coconut and colorful Eliza B flip-flops. We have already barbequed twice. The kids are all onto it. The new college grad is already on a beach with a boy. The gang of teenage boys too have slipped into summer mode and linger outside with iPods turned LOUD. Our oldest son is already fishing and the younger ones are walking around town with skateboards and big happy grins. There's a pile of balls and frisbees by the door, and if you get down on your knees at just the right angle, you can see perfectly smudged footprints from damp, dusty feet on the wood floor in the hallway.

There have been requests for homemade ice cream, lights for the basketball court, campfires, the new giant marshmallows as big as baseballs supposedly available at the store, new high def swim goggles and sunscreen. Someone needs a beach blanket for the quarry, and someone else is thinking about freshly squeezed watermelon popsicles.

After this coming weekend, there are only 8 days of school left including finals. I'm not wasting any time. Summer is near, and there are things to be done. I've added to my list a few good books, those giant marshmallows and some flavored ones I head about too. I am thinking s’mores with those cookies that have dark chocolate already on one side. I just ordered some prickly pear nectar online and am imagining salt -rimmed marguerites on the porch. Yesterday John cleaned out the chicken house and I got the juicer going and made up a batch of watermelon juice. This glass of red frothy goodness is the very definition of the taste of a summer morning. I realized recently that if I live to be 90 I have only 42 summers left. And if I only live to be 85 then I’ve just got 37 left. So I've really got to make every single one of these count.
Since it’s going to be another sultry afternoon I am thinking that after work we should head over to the river with the dogs maybe with a pitcher of those prickly pear margaritas. Who knows what might happen after that?

Happy Easter


Mud season has just about gone by. We are now deep into the season of cleaning up, patching and putting away. The church tag sale happens every year on the last weekend of April when supposedly the weather is apt to be finer and the town has begun once more to shine. Roof tiles that littered lawns are picked up and the rugged roofers are called. Shutters done in by the long winter and hanging askew have been seemingly winking at us from all over town are finally inexorably put back to rights. Repair, revise, replaster….We recently had a death in our family and there seems to be a special lesson for us in all the spring cleaning this year. April is the month when Dorset Vermont gets ready again, puts on her best aprons and smiles, and sweeps the doorstep one last time. Winter ends. You can only be cold for just so long and then it is time to turn the lights back on.

The church bells play every day at noon. Daylight savings time moves them up for a while to one o’clock until somebody, probably the rector’s secretary, sets them too once more to rights. They are a mournful sound in winter when the echoes seem to bounce off the barren trees and they ring loudly and plaintively among the snow covered mountains. But in spring when the buds and flowers come back they seem to soften and the songs they play even have a quicker happier tempo. I love those church bells. It was one of the reasons we bought this house. Hannah and I were standing out on the balcony the first time we saw the house when an old hymn seem to ring out across our meadow. That was it. It still is. The music goes on ringing year after year.

Now as the woods seem to come back to life and there are a batch of baby cardinals living in the bush beside our front porch the bells are just part of the happy cacophony of spring. The peepers are back too. These teensy little frogs fill the wetlands with a joyful chorus every day at dusk. In some places the sound is so loud you have to raise your voice to be heard above them. We walk through town, grab a cappuccino at the bookstore café and look in the windows of the art galleries to see what all the locals were up to this past winter. We have a fair ration of painters and photographers who hole up in winter and bring forth a bounty just about now. In a few weeks there will be an art show in an old pig barn just up the road. Workers are even now cleaning it up and out and readying it for the hordes of art lovers who will surely visit.

April is perhaps the hardest month up here. It was especially sad this time around. It teases us when we are down and nearly without hope. And then just like that the mountains open up and the green starts its gentle climb back up. Our hearts soar with every bud and every new leaf. Just now my John collected a little bowl of eggs from our nearly 7 year old chickens Mabel and Mildred while Franklin crowed nearby. The eggs tell their own sweet story of resurrection and rebirth. You never know what beauty is just around the next corner they seem to say. Those old ladies just do not give up. And neither will any of us.
Neither will we….

Steve 3


"Stephen Russell Stimson III, 58, avid naturalist, sportsman and collector, devoted father, and student of the arts and sciences, died of natural causes Friday, March 11, 2011, at his home. He was a lifelong resident of Edwardsville and graduated from SIU-Edwardsville in Urban & Industrial City Planning. He began his financial career at Newhard Cook & Company, retiring from Huntleigh Securities as a senior vice president in public finance. Later in life, Mr. “Steve” Stimson helped small businesses manage complicated tax issues for the State of Illinois. Steve Stimson skillfully straddled the line between devoted hobbyist and lay scientist. He loved to share his passions for botany, astronomy, optics, and history with all. In addition, he was an enthusiastic food and wine connoisseur.Part of an extended, blended family, Steve will be especially missed by his friend Kayde Carter; his sister, Mindy Stimson; his Uncle David and Aunt Ruth Stimson, his former wife and her husband, Ellen Stimson and John Rushing; their children Hannah and Eli Rushing; and, most of all, by his son, Benjamin Stephen Stimson. Services for Steve will be led by our family friend, Steve Mudge, and held on Saturday, March 19, at Weber Funeral home, 304 North Main Street in Edwardsville, Illinois. Friends may call from 10:00 am to 11:30 with the memorial service beginning at 11:30. A luncheon will be held immediately following at one of Steve’s favorite restaurants, Neruda, #4 Club Centre Ct , Edwardsville, IL 62025. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in his name to the Metro East Humane Society where he found his longtime companion, Lady."I love you Dad."Some things are too big for twitter. But people who write, who tell their stories on paper will eventually get around to telling them all. I have been quiet for a while because I have a story that is hard to tell. My oldest son’s father Stephen Russell Stimson 111 died suddenly and shockingly on March 11.I have long joked that Steve and I were married for about fifteen minutes one spring 26 years ago. But that joke does not begin to tell the truth of this relationship that for the last quarter century has been one of the most important in my life.Our marriage was short to be sure and filled with strife and pain. And if it had ended there I wouldn’t have much to say. I might been be glad to see the last of him. Back then I probably would have been.But like all good true stories this one evolved and meandered along for the next 25 years until it became something quite lovely. Steve was my close friend. His humor, usually in emails almost every week, and sometimes twenty in a day held me up through my own mother’s funeral, the Alamo, formerly known as the quaint country store, and dozens of scrapes and celebrations our boy got up to over the years. I remarried luckily and well. My marriage to John is one of the best things about me. And Steve, John and I were a parenting team. He came to every soccer game where John coached his son and cheered as loudly for the coach as he did for his son. He jumped and hollered at basketball games and called and said goodnight every day for about thirteen years until a teenager felt too old and told him he could stop. Back when we all lived in Edwardsville he had supper at our house 2 or 3 times every week. He was our babysitter on date night. Truth be told we were all a little bit like an Alan Alda movie.Steve knew me when I was just barely out of Granite City. I had not yet learned how to make money and couldn’t have imagined dinner with the vice president. Last year when I had that dinner and dozens of others like it that still leave me wi[...]

Tell Your Story


I am a storyteller. In theory I own a development agency and we raise money for worthy charities and non-profits. That’s the view from outside. But the real thing we do is to help these organizations tell their stories better and to a bigger audience.I may do it for money but I still think that pretty much everyone is a storyteller. Our stories are our voices and they give color and definition to our histories and they outline, plan and shape our futures. A good story can and has gotten me through practically everything. Stories are the sparkles of our imagination and the warp and weft of our subconscious.I sure hear a lot of bad ones though.We had another big storm up here this week. This one was kind of a surprise. We had been in the middle of the big melt. The temperatures had been soaring up into the fifties and ice was sliding off the roof. The giant snowbanks were getting smaller every day. We could see grass down in the meadow. And I thought I could smell spring. Now we knew we were supposed to get a little snow and maybe some freezing rain, but that was all that had been predicted. It’s only the beginning of March so this was not a big surprise. What actually happened was a classic nor’easter complete with very high winds, sleet, ice, and snow. The snow fell fast and hard and blew and swirled in the wind and enveloped all of us once again right smack dab back into winter. The ice rained down and at one point the road and driveway were too slippery to even stand still on.All these cold temperatures combined with the high cost of fuel have been especially hard for New England. It has been the wintriest winter I have ever known. And now oil is about four bucks a gallon which means lots of people go to school and work to warm up. It has been tough. Then this latest ice storm caused power outages everywhere. But it did more than that. It also coated all the trees everywhere. Every branch all up and down the mountains looks like icicles. I have never seen anything like it. Since the temps stayed cool at around 22* most of the afternoon none of it melted either. The woods feel like a crystal palace. It is one of the most beautiful things everybody says they have ever seen. You want to go out and walk in it except the ground is unreliably slippery even back in the woods. But still. This is not something you can miss. I mean Vermont is the Green Mountain State so named for all those gazillion green trees and they are all covered head to tippy toe in ice. You simply cannot miss them if you are looking anywhere outside. It is sort of like the Fourth of July and Christmas all rolled up into one. We had googobs of sunshine today too so the whole world actually glowed this afternoon. It is shiny and sparkly and wintry and almost holy. Even though your house is chilly because you are trying to save on oil, and even though your driveway is either like an ice rink or coated in a filthy layer of ugly sand, even though---even though. There is more than one story happening here. There is a wondrous grace to this last pause before the melting, muddy, slippery mess that will herald spring. We get to take one more slow breath and be reminded that all this beauty has a cost. Living up here has a cost and we all gladly pay it in exchange for the sweet gentle rhythms of this life in this beautiful place. Life is old here and the lessons of that long history are profound. Slow down. Take whatever gifts the world brings you. Give thanks. Build a fire and watch the show outside your window. Maybe make up a batch of cupcakes. Cheap thrills. And then tell that story with the happy ending. There almos[...]

Saint Oscar


Oscar is the most utterly open and loving creature I have ever met. He looks for the best in everyone he meets and always finds something. Recently Violet, a beautiful baby Bernese Mountain Dog, has come to spend her life with us. Oscar is completely and utterly smitten. He thought maybe we got this puppy just for him. She is small now but not for long and she already gives as good as she gets. Oscar pulls her around by her abundant tail and if she seems tired of the game he runs, gets her bone and puts in her mouth before he starts pulling again. If he wants a game he grabs half of one of the many dog toys that cover our floors and puts it in her mouth leaving enough for him to grab and then he pulls her by the toy. She loves him too without reserve. She follows him everywhere. If he sits at attention looking out toward the woods at some rabbit he thinks he has spied, she sits right alongside in the exact same pose. She naps too as close as she can get curled up next to him.I do not believe he has ever once growled or even looked worried over anything. Hannah has a bunny named Lulu and he watches her with a keen interest but does not give chase. He sits and stares, licks her when she lets him and all the while seems mainly just grateful for the chance to be near a bunny of his very own..Now we also have Pippi Hannah’s Moodle. Pippi is less impressed by all this fribvolity and though she is little too she has a teeth barred cujo stare that might look pretty fierce to a puppy. The other day Violet was trying to get Pippi to play only the Pips was feeling annoyed and superior and began with her theatrical growling maneuvers. Violet looked a little hurt and Oscar ran over and stood between them. This made Pippi even madder and the growling picked up and grew something close to actually menacing. Oscar walked up to the sofa where Pippi was now poised to pounce, growling and showing all of her teeth. Her tail was down and her ears were back. Violet was backing away and looking worried. Oscar reached up and gently laid his paw on Pippi’s shoulder. He looked at her with a calm and steady gaze. It was a gesture or total love and trust. And Pippi stopped. She looked at it and him for a second before settling back down. He’d gentled her with love.Another dog would have barked. Another dog would have gotten excited.Not Oscar.Oscar is the love dog.He has utter trust and acceptance of other dogs and people. He seems to be free of any of the instinctual fears that most animals have and show from time to time. He loves everyone in the family showing no favorites. He is thrilled to see each of us when we come back from the world or just down from upstairs. He loves the snow. He loves his bones. He is plainly happy with his life here with us and means to show it.My job it seems is just to try and be the person Oscar thinks I am. It is humbling being one of Oscar’s people. He calls us to be better than we probably any of us are.Oscar is the most clear and shining example of unconditional love I have ever seen.How did we get so lucky?[...]

And Around and Around We Go


It’s not spring. Not even close. Just a couple of days ago I was feeling pretty smug and proud of the way I have weathered this winter. We have had three blizzards and temperatures of minus twenty-six. This has been the most wintry winter I have ever known. But we have gotten several feet of snow, which brightens the landscape in a really beautiful way, and so there have been the twin gifts of light and sparkles and I have somehow managed not to mind the rest of it very much.Until the day before yesterday. Something happened and now I am done with winter. I want the snow to melt. I am sick of the seven foot plowed snowdrifts that we have to inch our cars beside to see around. I am tired of the silence which deep in December felt snug and now feels oppressive. I want the birds to come back. I am sick to death of salt in the floorboards and dry skin and I am dreading the floods that will surely come when all this snow finally melts. This mud season is shaping up to be a doozy.You see on the day before yesterday the sun came to Vermont and the temperature was fifty degrees. The ice started sliding off the roof. That was a story in and of itself. We had a giant slab fall and decimate our balcony. It looks like Beirut out there right now with broken railings hanging precariously from the house and slate tiles scattered all over the snow. That is going to be a helluva job this spring and I am not looking forward to the hammering or the bill.But oh the glorious feeling of that golden light on our faces. We were warm----outside. What happened was we remembered about spring and summer, light and warmth.It didn’t last of course. It was all a big tease. The temperature was back down to nine yesterday morning and I thought of having a good cry. I didn’t though. What’s the point? I mean look the good news is that spring is coming. It is inevitable now. Yes I know it will be six weeks or so before it really gets going, but the point is something is happening underneath our feet. Ice is beginning to give way down there and pretty soon we will have that loamy smell of dirt and heat crackling on our faces. So instead of crying I packed up the sweater hearts hanging from the mantle for Valentine’s Day. I pulled up the red tablecloths and switched out the candles from red to a quiet dusty purple. Today I think I’ll go to the nursery and get some flowers. Maybe a giant vase of pussy willows for the hall table. Tomorrow I am going to the city. It is supposed to be in the fifties down there by Friday. So maybe I will wear these new red patent pumps instead of boots. I think I will buy a new bird feeder for the first hardy souls that sneak back out too. Because they know--and I have remembered. Everything sleeps. We slow up and hunker down. We regroup. And then slowly inexorably we come back shiny, full of color and glee at having made it though the dark night. I came up here to the mountains for lessons I thought only the natural world could teach me. I had gotten what I could from city communities and offices. I wanted to make up my own job and manage my own life. I was weary of corporate problems even when the corporations were mine. I have always relished solving puzzles. I wanted the puzzles to be about living well in an organic and natural way. I was a city girl who wanted to learn from the country. So what I did I learn this winter? I learned that you can have terrible problems one spring and sweet resolution by the very next winter. The seasons mimic the ever changing kalidescopes of our own lives. They always repeat the patterns. Creat[...]

February 14th


I always feel a little bit sad for the people who spend a run of days in February saying how Valentine’s Day is a made up holiday. These are the same people who call Mother’s Day a Hallmark holiday. Look-- all the holidays are ‘made up”. I mean some exuberant personality thought up Thanksgiving and all the others.
And I am one of those people who is grateful and glad. I love all of them. How can a reason to celebrate love or moms or dads or the harvest be bad? Celebrating starts at good and just gets better.
I know the argument that Valentine’s Day is sad for people who are alone. I don’t completely get that either. I mean surely it is sad if you have just lost a love, but the whole point is to celebrate giving love. When the kids were little we made goofy valentines out of lace and bits of ribbon, wrapping paper and foil. Those were some of my favorite Valentine’s Days ever. We would make them for neighbors and everybody we knew. It was a carryover from when I was a little girl and I would make Valentines for the old people at church. It is always about giving love which anybody single or not can do. You can always feel sad or discouraged about something that is missing. But the reverse is also true. You can always be grateful for what you have.

It is easy for me to feel grateful. I have a lot. I have had the same Valentine now for twenty-three years. This year we ran over to NY and saw two movies in the same day, ate well at a cool wine bar with good local foods, and spent the night in a little boutique hotel with chocolate covered strawberries as a midnight treat. Over the course of 23 years we have had a couple bumpy February 14ths. But not for many many years now. We learned how to be married and happy a long time ago and once we got the lessons they stuck. I know this makes me one of the lucky ones. I have a man who makes me laugh every single day and who goes along with practically every wild scheme I dream up. He opens every door and warms up my car and cleans off my windshield. He has a woman who adores him, cooks his favorite foods, plans holiday trips she knows he will love and wakes up every day thinking of ways she can make him happy. It is a good deal.

And this Valentine’s Day we will take a lemon tree to a lady who needs some spring, make outrageous cupcakes for Eli and all his pals, and walk in the woods with these animals we love and who love us back. Ours is not a life without any problems. We make up messes just like everybody else. But also like everybody else we are surrounded by little spots of beauty and love and this is a day to remember and celebrate what there is. There is plenty of love to go around. Go spread some. Happy Valentine’s Day everyone



January seems to really mean it this time. We have had two blizzards already this year and when I woke up this morning the thermometer said -8. This is getting serious. We keep setting records. It is the kind of cold that seems to change the atmosphere a bit. The wind has been so sharp that it hurts to breathe.A blizzard is defined by snow combined with winds of at least thirty-five miles per hour. Accumulation is not supposed to be a factor, but still we have had about five feet of snow since the beginning of the year and these Nor’easters have brought big winds that make the chicken house out back just a blurry white outline so I am pretty sure we qualify.The difference between the winter storms up here, besides the obvious differences of size and quantity, and the ones we used to get back home is mainly in the reporting. In St Louis the warnings were everywhere. Storm Center: in big red letters across an ominous black screen warned “Don’t drive” “Dress warm” Announcers told us to leave our houses only if absolutely necessary. A trip to the grocery store in the hours leading up to the storm during the height of the reporting would be disappointing. Bread shelves would often be bare. If you wanted a gallon of milk you had to settle for lots of those little unsatisfying cartons. I was never disappointed though since a storm might mean a snow day and that meant baking so I was usually headed to the baking aisle for more chocolate chips, maybe some bags of sugar and flour and a couple extra pounds of butter.Up here though people barely take notice. The plow guys get ready. The farmers put their animals in the barn, but that’s really about it. The wood was all chopped and stacked months ago. The boiler gets topped up regularly this time of year. I was at our local dairy for milk just before the last storm hit. I mentioned to the farmer there that the snow had started and I’d read on my Internet newsfeed that it was going to be a big one. She answered that yeah it was January.I have come to love January. There is something about all this snow. We aren’t totally sick of it yet and the blue skies and cold sunshine make the landscape pop. It is gorgeous. The sun gets piercingly bright and the sky achingly blue. The tops of the mountains are clearly outlined without the puff and clutter of all those leaves we are so famous for. Right now the bones of the mountains are distinct with occasional stands of piney woods for deep green color and of course plenty of white. I have lived here long enough to appreciate it all, okay excepting maybe April, well and late February is no picnic either. By the end of next month we are sick to death of grainy floors, dirty boots, mismatched gloves and all the rest. March warms up and we all get dewy eyed and hopeful only to be shattered by April which never manages to answer the promise of those first warm days in March. There are no leaves for most of April and it rains unendingly. It is the kind of cold that tricks you into thinking it will be warmer than it is and so you choose the wrong clothes and go about chilled for days on end even though the temperatures may even be in the forties which in January would have had you wearing shorts. But in January you expect it to be cold and so when the sun shines and it hits 20 you feel warm and jolly. Actually anything above ten or fifteen feels plenty warm when your expectations got set at 1 or 2. After 15 you can take off your coat and be plenty warm in a vest, your ubiquitous scarf and some go[...]

Resolutions: Try to Drive Closer to the Speed Limit


There's an exquisite blue-white glaze on the pond. Even after the little thaw it is still rock solid. There was a tractor making a hockey rink out there yesterday. It is a sparkly patch of beauty in a whole winter quilt full of them.I love this time of year when the novelty of the snow has not worn thin and the glittering icy branches in the woods make everyone think of sleigh rides, fireside suppers and roasted marshmallows. Christmas in Vermont is a sweet time. It has all the warm smells and shiny woods and jingly bells that you may imagine was what they must have been thinking about when they invented the whole Christmas vibe. It is one of the good reasons to be alive I think. Christmas. And we get the first rate designer version up here.I have only had five or six really exciting or memorable Christmases in my life. Most of them sort of run together in a happy blur of lobster potpies, shimmering trees, and plates and plates of gooey chocolate things. Every once in while though you get one of those memorable ones. Sometimes it is a darker memory like a family flu which can leave some definitive messy memories, or the death of someone well loved and close. But more often it has been the birth of a new baby, or a much loved Christmas puppy, a wedding, or even a new love. Once it happened on Christmas Eve on the drive home from Grandma's house. We saw a small herd of deer in a swirling snowstorm and our kids were little enough to be sure we were racing home just ahead of Santa and his reindeer. One year it was a long walk in the snowy woods with all the animals and the people I love best and there was a run of moments that afternoon of serenity and grace. We were sitting on a log in an apple orchard filled with snow. The dogs running joyfully and exploring, and the little creek was running fast, making a wonderful watery symphony that was the only sound besides the snow crunching underneath the dog's paws. It is one of those times when there was nothing more that needed to be done or it was too late to do whatever still needed doing anyway and I got a quick jolt of real peace. I was flooded with calm. I remember it because that gentle calm feeling is not one I have very often. I moved to Vermont I think in part in search of it. John and I wanted to live closer to the natural world. And we do. It's rhythms define our lives up here in a way that makes us feel connected and grounded. But the calm, the "peace that passeth understanding", is still a rare treat. That Christmas walk is a memory that lasts.You can't really plan for the exciting bits or the memorable moments. They sneak up on you and your job is just to stop whatever else you may be doing and be present. Every year I make a whole passel of new year's resolutions. These are really just the backstory of my annual plans. I have been doing them for years. I always like to see which things hit the lists year after year. Those are either the things I really don't want to do, or the ones I cannot fathom how to do. Like the one that showed up for a few years about reducing all the swearing. The thing is, I like to swear. Those pledges are not part of my real life. But the others, the trips and plans for my things I want to do as my kid's mom or as John's wife, those things are part of the real narrative of our lives. Just before I make my new list I always write a review of the one from the year before. Sometimes I have skipped big chunks of the list because something else comes along and takes precedence ev[...]

Happy Thanksgiving


I love Thanksgiving. I love the idea of a holiday centered around being thankful. I love cooking old foods that we have cooked a hundred times before. I love making the tacky dessert my mom used to make and I love making the more sophisticated crostadas I make all year long. I love my stuffing. It's mine. I invented it because I always hated stuffing and this stuffing is the stuff of holiday dreams. Everybody loves it. There is never any left. I love that I invented it and that everyone always eats it all. The secret is real dark maple syrup soaking the sage and apples and pecans. It smells divine and tastes as good as it smells. It is practically a perfect food.I like the idea of turkey. I like how it looks on the platter all golden and pretty for the five minutes before it is carved. I don't like it very much at the table but I love it in turkey salad a couple of hours later. I love that turkey salad so much that this year we made an extra turkey today, the day before, so the boys could have sandwiches and I could start this holiday with a little turkey salad on white bread with iceberg lettuce. That sandwich is enough to be thankful for all by itself. Every year we have company. The friends around our table change around every once in a while. They are the same friends we always have only some years this one comes and some years it is some others But this year through a variety of circumstances our daughter is in Vail and it will be only us and our boys and one girlfriend.But just the same we will do what we always do. We will cook. The boys will throw and kick balls. We will walk in the woods with our dogs and we will watch our old happy standby-- Home for the Holidays. The sweet girlfriend is bringing her Grandmother's cranberry relish so we will have one of her traditions at the table. Breakfast will start with John's Grandmother's nutroll so his Slovak roots will be on display. And my mom's tacky dessert actually kicked it all off tonight. I made it early and when Eli asked if he and Timmy could have some I said sure. Why not? We have only ourselves to please. This made him unreasonably happy and prompted the extra turkey and these heavenly turkey salad sandwiches. Why not indeed? There is gratitude in abundance around here tonight.And when we sit at the table, ( the one with all that great stuffing), we will say our sweet little thankfuls out loud. Some years I cry. Some years my husband makes us laugh until I worry that we will choke. This is my very favorite moment every single time. I love hearing what mattered to these people I love and who love me back. Some years we are all thankful for the same things like the year we sold the store or the year we moved to Vermont. But more often there are little surprises, reminders of things that happened throughout the year. Hannah always has a lovely long run-on rant sort of Jack Kerouac style. Maybe she can call hers in tomorrow. Eli will be thankful for Timmy and some thing they did and for which they did not get into trouble. We will all be thankful for the short time we had dearest Gracie and the long life we shared with Stu. I may be thankful that the last of the leaves got cleaned up if they do and that concert the other night, another of the sublime moments I get to share with this man I married. There are friends who won't be at the table with us but without whom our lives would not be the same. Benjamin might be thankful for this whole new hunting thing. We will all be[...]

Happy Birthday Eli


When he was a baby he would hold his palm against my cheek. I’d never had a baby hold my face before. By the time he was two he would notice my nail polish when I came home from a manicure. “Pretty Mommy”, he would say touching my French nails. Like all of our kids he slept in the big bed with us. He would roll over in the night when he was three or four and lift his sleepy head, eyes still closed, kiss my arm, roll over, snuggle in and go gently back to sleep.Last week, November fourth, he turned fifteen. How does this happen? How do these sweet little babies grow up so fast when we the adults in the room are not getting any older?We spent his kindergarten and early school years in a coffee shop before school every morning. He’d have a chai latte alongside my coffee and together we would munch on a croissant and play endless games of chess next to a cheery little fireplace. His funny running commentary would make me laugh every single morning. In retrospect it was the most natural thing in the world to homeschool and by the third grade that’s just what we were doing. We’d trek down to the pond every couple of days to mark the changes there. We studied pirates and Daniel Boone, cowboys and Davy Crockett. We followed his interests and worried only about the learning as opposed to the content. We read Treasure Island together in the fourth grade. Turns out Long John Silver was meant for little boys. So was all the early American History rich as it was with swashbucklers and thieves, soldiers and heroes. We had a blast and I learned all that stuff I missed in my own elementary years. History was never brighter than when we were wandering around Salem imagining the Witch Trials or curled up on the couch in front of a fire reading about our buddy Davy. The explorers were fun too. Eli worried that now that we’d discovered all the important places that all of the really good jobs were gone. What could you be when you grew up if you couldn’t discover a new land or find gold or fight some Indians? The homeschooling days were some of the favorites of my life. They were the big surprise so far of these middle years. When he was twelve he went back to school. The days surrounded by kids were like a party. That was the same year he saved up his money and surprised the family with a group gift for Christmas. He bought us a ping pong table...tournament sized. The thing is huge. The only room it fits in is our bedroom. So now every winter we drag this enormous thing out and the whish and thwack of balls and paddles are the steady beat behind our winter weekends. This year, his high school freshman year, he has his dad for English so they are getting another go together, They both love it which was a relief for everybody John is Eli's favorite teacher. It is another gentle satisfying spot that will hold us all in good stead.These days I bake unending supplies of mocha cupcakes and homemade pizza, stromboli, and steak with balsamic thinly sliced into giant piles that he and his best friend Timmy seem to inhale like air. We cheer him on in soccer matches, and watch his feet fly and turn and trick his opponents. Even his feet seem to have a sense of humor. And afterward we take his gang of four to scary movies, and haunted houses. “Are you the kind of mom that minds when kids run up the down escalator”, asks a new friend. Nah. And they are off tearing through the mall, the ever present skateboards unde[...]

The Hunter


We have a hunter in the family. These are not words I ever expected to say. And then come these. I am thrilled we have a hunter in the family. Take that Ellen, you knee jerk, fancy meat eating, anti gun liberal.Now I have always understood the right to bear arms. I get the rights of hunters. After all I moved to a rural state where there is a huge dichotomy between the monied class and the working class. Here plenty of folks hunt for the meat they eat. They put up deer and it sustains their families over the long winters when work is scarce. I buy my meat from hippie organic farmers. We are essentially the same those hunters and I. Our methods may be different but our result is similar.But still I never really expected to have a gun owner in the family much less one who killed things with it.And then my oldest son discovered fly fishing. He spends hours every day standing in the rivers just behind his house taking a few quick casts. Lunch break and a quick side trip to the river. Like that. He didn't catch anything for twenty or so times and then one day he got it. Now he catches them all the time. It is apparently about learning how to watch the river. It is a time for being still and watchful. It is a time to experience the natural world close up. It is a time of beauty and skill and ever watchfulness. So it was a short hop when someone suggested grouse hunting. Now this kid loves animals. He cannot imagine killing a deer or a bear even though he too is a carnivore. But birds? Birds seem a lot like fish. And the idea of traipsing through the mountains, forging streams, going into deep brush and mastering a new skill appealed. We have a friend who is sort of a gentleman hunter. By that I mean that he has a weekend place up here and every year hires some guides and puts on all his fancy Orvis gear and becomes a woodsman for a day or two. He invited our son. So Benjamin too spent weeks haunting Orvis for all the right gear. He was warned that shooting grouse who dart and soar and dip and curve is not like shooting skeet which he tried for practice. "Now son you probably won't get a bird on your first time out, so try and take in the whole experience" There were warnings too. "Look it gets pretty exciting out there. The birds may fly up practically in your face, or right behind you. It really gets your adrenaline going. I have seen experienced skeet hunters fire wildly when the birds are scattering. They do not fly in a line like skeet. And you cannot shoot unless you know where everyone else and the dogs are. Always be ready to stand down. Because look, in ten years you might not remember whether or not you got a bird, but you will remember, every day for the rest of your life, if you accidentally shot one of the dogs or a person. So be vigilant. Pay constant and thoughtful attention"Attention. My wildly ADHD adult kid with a gun. Supposedly paying constant attention. I don't really get to have an opinion. He's twenty-five. But I'm a mom. I do get to worry. And so I did. And they were off deep into the woods, high up in the mountains where the snow was already about eight inches on the ground. They left practically at dawn. They'd hired two guides and took two dogs. And four rifles. They trekked into the woods and fanned out in a parallel line. It wasn't long before the dogs startled a tiny hidden flock and the call went out.Birds!He startled, scanned, and then shouldered t[...]