Falling to Ruin, or Not

The cottage on my property that Bradley and Beth built is a beauty. I am certain that the way its design elements come together visually strikes people as they look through their options on the Airbnb and VROB websites, and that they choose it because of how beautiful it is.


A guest last week who is an architect by trade wrote in his review:

“The house is exceptional in its design. It is nestled among soaring trees with their lush green canopy of leaves, which are awesome to behold from within this all-glass pavilion. The layout is smart for the traveler who needs a few days of accommodation. The kitchen is compact but well equipped. The living space gives a group the chance to spread out. The bedroom is loft-like and from its vantage point, you feel as though you are in a tree house. If you’ve never been to Charlottesville, your first time ought to be spent in the heart of the city. However the second time and forever after, this is the place to be!”

(And he went on!)

The design is not only unique, but pretty much every aspect of the construction is custom-made. The windows, for example, all the trapezoidal and rectangular ones, are made with cherry wood. So is the side door that leads to the deck, also handmade by Bradley. I remember when its pieces were laid out on the basement floor. When it was first installed, it looked like this:

Tzcherry door Brad made.JPG

I repeat, this is not a store-bought or catalog-ordered door. Bradley cut, routed and connected every piece. Seven years later, it still blows my mind when I look at the detail and the craftsmanship.

But built things do not last forever in their original condition. When Bradley was here in May, he said, “Mom, if you want those windows to last, you need to refinish them.” I want them to last. A marine grade polyurethane will not protect the wood forever, but it’s the best protection on the market for a few years, when I will do this job again. These are the second-floor windows as I was refinishing them this week (before the rain came!).

upper floor windows.jpg

When you take care of things, they stand a much better chance of being around, being useful, being still beautiful in years to come. Maybe in a hundred years, this cottage will still be standing tall and gorgeous. I hope so!

Such is not always the case. This past year I had the honor of publishing Hank Browne’s book, Vanishing History, Ruins in Virginia.* Hank, another architect by trade, has a passion for discovering and calling attention to ruined structures like bridges, railroad stations, mills and kilns. The ruins he featured are exceptional in their own way; all are well more than a hundred years old and showcase the workmanship of those who came before us as well as the creative and skillful use of materials. Nonetheless all are abandoned, neglected and in a sad state of disrepair.

The remains of the Wheelbarger-Rumsey Kiln once produced enormous quantities of limestone for use in mortar.


Look at the shapes and colors of the stones that make up the front face of this structure. They were dug out of the earth, hauled to the site and carefully put in place. Together they look like a beautiful puzzle, with each stone placed in its perfect spot, but the work of choosing and fitting them together required a careful eye and lots of hard work.

Same for these stones of the Patowmack Canal. Why some stones are giant blocks and others are thin slabs is a mystery to me, but I do know that the rounded walls were to help the boats navigate into the opening without hitting sharp corners and damaging their hulls. The recesses in the wall on both sides indicate where the doors of the lock were once attached so that the water level could be adjusted up or down.


The dilapidating train station at Pleasant Valley was built in 1874; its pleasing lines must have been a welcome sight for those who had come to the end of a long journey. But the hugs, smiles, first words, last words and tears that happened here are long since past. The damage to the right-hand side of the roof is not a good sign. When rain and other unwelcome elements finds their way into the interior, it’s the beginning of the end.

Pleasant Valley.JPG

You can surely think of some structures near you that are likewise falling apart. Not all of them can claim exceptional design or expert workmanship, but all were built with purpose and hard work. The people who hauled the lumber and hammered the nails were very likely tired at the end of the day!

It’s hard to look at photos like these and not think (at least a little) about the inevitability of time passing. We see here plainly – and in our own areas undoubtedly – what happens when people stop paying attention, when buildings are untended, neglected or abandoned, and nature is left to its own devices.

This makes me think about other things that need occasional attention or careful tending: not just buildings, but the people around us, the ones we walk alongside day by day. They have their own beauty despite their age, their own mysterious aspects, their vulnerable places too, where unwelcome elements can do incremental damage. Every time you see them or talk on the phone with them or send them a text, you have the chance to do good: to serve them in some way, to speak encouraging words or to tell them how much you appreciate them, to bring cheer.

You don’t have to, but you can. If you do, I’d say the chances of that relationship getting strong or staying strong – not crumbling or dilapidating or falling to ruin – are way better.



My Racoon Skin

(For my followers, this is today’s post. The one you received half an hour ago had a problem — half of one of the paragraphs was missing.)

Recently while scrounging around in the basement for felt, stuffing and anything that might be useful for making fake fruit, I came across the racoon skin from our homeschooling days. The ringed tail came off long ago, but for years I used it on the flat surface of my hutch and put pretty things on it, like a glass bowl or a decorative candle. Unadorned, it looks like this. You have to imagine the tail.

racoon skin.jpg

I realize that not many people would have and/or use a racoon skin. I just like it.  I found it as soft and luxurious as it was thirty years ago, though it was not originally intended to be part of the décor. Originally it was part of a lesson about Daniel Boone, pioneer days and self-sufficiency.

We didn’t kill the racoon. The kids were young then, early elementary, and we don’t kill things anyway. But we were reading about and talking about what people had to do back in the day when you were immersed in the natural world around you and relied on it to provide for a good portion of your needs, back when you cut down the trees to make a path through the woods, when you built a house with those logs, when you killed the predators that were killing your livestock, when you milked your own cow and churned your own butter. If Daniel Boone needed a hat, he couldn’t just go buy one because he was out there in the wilderness somewhere and there were no stores with hats.

I was never one for only reading and talking about a thing – I want to do it. (I know this is a surprise to some of you, but really it’s true!) Coincidentally, we left home one day to go who knows where and what did we see along the side of the road? Roadkill, that’s what. A road-killed racoon. And what does any self-respecting homeschool mom who is trying to make a point about Daniel Boone’s self-sufficiency do with that? She stops, checks to see if it’s: a. freshly killed – no smelly or decomposing carcasses for me, thank you, b. undamaged, other than being dead of course, and c. (seemingly at least) unclaimed – I would not want to take someone else’s roadkill.

I grant that for some people the idea of skinning a racoon is off-putting to say the least. We are all a product of our experience to a point though, and my experience included three years of being the anatomy lab assistant at Douglass College (Rutgers U.). In anatomy lab you study anatomy, hands-on. I mean hands on the real thing, not looking at pictures or plastic models of the muscles, tendons and bones. Sure, you can talk about how the transversus  abdominus of a cat inserts into the linea alba, and you can read about how the masseter is covered by a tough, shining fascia lying ventral to the zygomatic arch, but there is nothing like taking a sharp blade in your hand and carefully dissecting the animal.

There is no room for squeamishness in this process. I became familiar with it, comfortable. So the road kill racoon didn’t faze me. We brought it home and pretended to be Daniel Boone. I’m not saying it was a pleasant experience, but the real world is messy sometimes. It is complex and hard and utterly fascinating. I think I can safely say that the inside of a racoon is unlike anything you have ever seen.

In the end we didn’t make a hat though. Once the fur is off the rest of the racoon (and the inner part discarded somehow, I forget how), the job is not done. You don’t go from dead animal to useful, clean skin that easily. The fur is soft (and would surely be warm) but other side of it (the hide) is wet, one might even say gooky. The next step is tanning, which involves trimming and scraping the hide, placing it in the shade on a flat, cool surface such as a large rock and covering it with salt.

Where Daniel Boone got salt out in the wilderness is beyond me, and we take our self-sufficiency lessons only so far. A friend of mine, who was far more self-sufficient than I, had at about the same time gotten mad at the racoons that were getting into her garden and had taken a shotgun and killed them. She was having those skins professionally tanned. I jumped on that option. A few weeks later I went to her house to pick up our beautiful racoon skin.

I think we didn’t make a hat because by the time it was ready, we had moved onto other exciting lessons – though it is hard to top skinning a roadkill racoon. Besides, and more importantly, the fur was just too beautiful to cut into. On whatever surface I put it, it served as a reminder that we had once, in a very small way, walked in Daniel Boone’s shoes. We had done a messy thing and ended up with a beautiful thing. We had done a thing ourselves that most people would have had someone else do.

I got to thinking about all this because of Oscar Wilde. In the book I just read, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, there is a story about a little girl whose cat died. She was inconsolable until a stranger came along and told her that cats have nine lives and that her cat was enjoying his next life in France. The stranger then left, but what followed were letters to the little girl from France describing the new life of this cat, how happy he was, etc. The letters turned out to have been written by Oscar Wilde himself who had visited the island briefly and then gone on to France.

Whether all this truly happened or not, I don’t know, but it made me look him up. In doing so, I discovered his involvement in the 19th century aestheticism movement, about which I had known absolutely nothing specifically. I did, however, have the vague idea that surely someone before me must have also determined that things don’t have to have a purpose other than being beautiful. “Art for art’s sake” was their bottom line, and maybe my racoon skin fits that category.

The process of skinning the racoon hopefully taught my children a thing or two about anatomy, about the realities of pioneer life, about using what nature gives you to keep yourself warm. It was time well spent in their early education. But the skin itself, once it came back from the tanner, didn’t have a purpose for me other than being nice to look at and nice to touch. That was enough. Sometimes I would just stroke the fur. I enjoyed it for many years and will probably never throw it away.

I think we all have some things like that – things that we just plain like. They are not necessary things, not useful in a functionally useful way. But we get a good feeling inside when we are near them, and that makes them very useful indeed. They make our hearts happy and help to balance out the ugly, messy, uncomfortable parts of life.

Yesterday’s fake felt fruit is not necessary either, though it will be useful for Ellie in her picnic play.

fake felt fruit.jpg

Making funky ladders for chickens is not necessary either.

cool ladder.jpg

Nor is a peony bush in the bed with the lettuce and carrots.

carrots in May.jpg

Or letting Coco lay on the sheets I’ve just pulled off a bed. I could just put them right away in a basket and take them away. But I don’t. I put them on the floor because this very predictable animal will come along and plop down and look at me like What? Something wrong?

Coco on sheets.jpg

All of these things, and many more of course, make me smile. A long time ago someone told me there’s enough craziness and heartache in this world. You should do what you can to tip the scales to the other side, even in small ways, even if it’s only to make your own heart smile. You should make or do something beautiful, something fun, something that brings cheer as much as you can. Chances are good that you are not the only one who ends up smiling and feeling better.

Corn for Fun and Corn for Pudding

These days, getting thread to go through the eye of the needle involves remembering where I put my glasses, which sounds easier than it is, especially when a deadline looms. My granddaughter Ellie, this darling girl, has a birthday very soon, and I needed to get her present in the mail.

Ellie (2).jpeg

She has been playing picnic lately, and if you were three and playing picnic, you would want some food. So Oma (that’s me) is making some food to add to her picnic, and I hope she likes it. Even under a deadline though, I got maybe a little carried away.

I started with a book, a sweet classic that some of you might remember: Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present*. In it, a little girl is trying to come up with a present for her mother. Mr. Rabbit, an unlikely helper, guides her through with fun suggestions, based on color, of what the little girl can and cannot give her mother. For example:

“What else does she like?” said Mr. Rabbit.

“Well, she likes yellow,” said the little girl.

“Yellow,” said Mr. Rabbit. “You can’t give her yellow.”

“Something yellow, maybe,” said the little girl.

“Oh, something yellow,” said Mr. Rabbit.

“What is yellow?” said the little girl.

“Well,” said Mr. Rabbit. “There are yellow taxicabs.”

“I’m sure she doesn’t want a taxicab,” said the little girl.

“The sun is yellow,” said Mr. Rabbit.

“But I can’t give her the sun,” said the little girl, “though I would if I could.”

“A canary bird is yellow,” said Mr. Rabbit.

“She likes birds in trees,” the little girl said.

“That’s right, you told me,” said Mr. Rabbit. “Well, butter is yellow. Does she like butter?”

“We have butter,” said the little girl.

“Bananas are yellow,” said Mr. Rabbit.

“Oh, good. That’s good,” said the little girl. “She likes bananas. I need something else though.”

And voila, they find bananas on a picnic blanket.

Mr. Rabbit (2).jpg

Now you see why there had to be bananas for Ellie’s birthday present. Felt bananas can be part of any fun picnic. Mr. Rabbit and the little girl also put red apples, green pears and blue grapes in her mother’s birthday basket, so there had to be those too. But let me tell you what happens when you get on the internet and look for a pattern for fake food. You see a lot of cute stuff! And the next thing you know, you are also making carrots and corn.

fake food with corn.jpg

I did buy the grapes, but the rest happened yesterday. The apples came out smaller than I wanted, and the bananas not as bendy/curved as they should be, but Ellie will figure it out. There are not that many steps to making felt food and it went pretty fast.

in process with fake food.jpg

Except for the corn. The corn is way more time-consuming that anything else but it is super cool so I had to do it. I know some of you are going to wonder how those kernels came to be.

One kernel, one stitch, at a time — that’s how. **

stitching corn.jpg

Ellie won’t have any idea that the corn took more time than the pears, but you might be able to imagine how much more time! It didn’t matter to me. The corn was too cool not to make. And one more ear is in the works and will be in the package before I mail it today.

Coincidentally, there was corn on my fridge that I had cut off the cobs the last time we had corn on the cob. We had had it on the grill, and you can see that some of the kernels got a little dark. I love it that way.


Corn Pudding is what you do with leftover corn! Simple and quick, totally yummy. I was in rather a hurry with making the fake food and all, so this was perfect. Start with the recipe.

corn pudding recipe (2).jpg

Naturally I am all about eggs right now. This is what I gathered yesterday from my hens, nine total.

eggs in basket 8.27.18.jpg

Some of them are still small, starter eggs, one came from a silkie and some are normal. Look at the difference in sizes. The big one here I collected a few days ago, thinking surely there must be a double yolk inside. The littlest one is from a silkie.

eggs big and small.jpg

I used all these but the silkie egg for my corn pudding, three instead of the four that the recipe calls for because I was right about the double yolk.


I keep my butter in a cabinet, not in the fridge, so at this time of year it’s plenty soft. Whisking the butter into the eggs will not work as well if your butter is hard. If yours is not soft from having been in the cabinet, soften it in the microwave.

eggs and butter.jpg

Use a whisk to beat this up. I mean beat. You have to break up the butter, and you can’t do that by stirring. You have to beat. I suppose you could use an electric beater. I prefer to do it by hand because 1. I feel more connected to the process if there is only a hand tool between me and the food. And 2. I think it’s better to use your body if you can (burn the calories, maintain some semblance of arm strength, etc). I don’t think we do ourselves any favors by letting machines do for us what we can do for ourselves – to a reasonable point, of course – but that is another conversation.

At first when you start beating in the butter, you will see some egg white un-mixed-in and some butter still in small pieces. It will look like this.

beating eggs and butter.jpg

Now use your wrist and beat it with a little umph until it looks like this.

beat up eggs and butter.jpg

Now add the flour, salt and baking powder.

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And beat again.

(Perhaps you see the evidence that I had other things to do yesterday and was not paying too much attention – I never saw or felt that there was butter on the handle of my whisk!)

After you have beat in the flour etc., you will have a smooth, almost velvety batter. It’s quite lovely.

mixing flour in.jpg

Now add the milk.

adding milk 2.jpg

(I still didn’t see the butter on the handle!)

Mix that milk in. Notice I did not say beat it in. Mix the milk in carefully or you will have splashed milk all over your counter. After it is nicely mixed in, add the corn. The recipe calls for 2 cans or the frozen equivalent, neither of which I was using (fresh being far superior), so I judged that 2 cans would be about 3 cups. It worked out fine. Go with three cups.

corn in batter.jpg

Then pour this into a buttered dish, using a rubber spatula to get every bit out of the bowl. Before it went in the oven, mine looked like this.

batter in pan.jpg

After 40 minutes or so (so sorry! I did not time it exactly because I was distracted by stitching fake corn kernels onto a fake cob while waiting), it looked like this.


That part around the edge where the batter met the butter and they made the darker, crispy part is oh so good! I took a corner piece. Along with the wonderful salad Samuel made, it was a fine meal.

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He, of course, took a larger portion, Oh, to be able to eat like that!

Samuel portion.jpg

If you want to, you could add other things to this pudding: chopped spinach, onions, pepperoni, ham, tomatoes (well drained) – your call. Play around, have fun. But maybe start with the original. And enjoy!


* Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present by Charlotte Zolotow with pictures by Maurice Sendak

** http://whilewearingheels.blogspot.com/2011/11/i-heart-fake-food-felt-corn-tutorial.html

Your Favorite Chair and a Flood of Light

Did you ever notice that you often sit in the same chair when you head to your living room? There are, say, three, maybe four chairs in there, and nine times out of ten you sit in the same one. Maybe ten times out of ten. How about when you go to visit a friend, neighbor or family member? Same thing, right? If given the choice (that is, if it’s an occasion to sit down and someone else didn’t get there before you), you find yourself in the same chair. I do.

For some reason, the right end of my couch is softer than the left. You sink in more, which is not necessarily a good thing unless you are settling in for a good long movie. I am not sure whether it came this way or whether this happened during the first year I had it, when we lived in Maine and spent hours, sometimes entire weekends during the cold and snowy winter, watching consecutive episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (I put this on the list of things I will never know). Anyway, the other thing for me is that being right-handed, if I sit on the right side of my couch I have the arm to contend with. I almost always sit on the left.

This is my friend Lisa enjoying a moment with Coco on my couch. Coco does not seem to have a preference as to which end to snuggle down in, as long as it has a pillow. I aim to please, and she has her choice. Or a lap, which is sometimes better.

Lisa on couch2.jpg

I never really thought about this chair business until I read a book that my friend Stephen in Canada recommended. “If you are going to build anything, read A Pattern Language first.” The title confused me, but Stephen is a smart person so I ordered the book sight unseen. It’s written by Christopher Alexander, who, according to author Witold Rybczynski, is “an architectural theorist who has inspired smart-growth advocates, counterculture DIY-ers, and computer programmers.” http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/architecture/2009/12/do_you_see_a_pattern.html

Am I perhaps a counterculture DIY-er? Can’t say I ever defined myself like that, but the book makes a lot of sense to me. It includes – briefly and clearly – hundreds of ideas for designing spaces that are comfortable for people. It talks about light and privacy and community, about the height of the ceiling, the pitch of the roof, the gradience of intimate spaces, and which side of the street you would most likely prefer to live on because of its orientation to the sun. It’s a cross-cultural, cross-economic, brilliant classic. You pick and choose your way through it nonlinearly, ignore the parts that don’t and won’t apply, and marvel at Alexander’s ability to state the obvious about the house and neighborhood you live in and some reasons you like it or don’t but never put your finger on before.

Almost the last chapter is “Different Chairs.”

“People are different sizes. They sit in different ways. And yet there is a tendency in modern times to make all chairs alike….

Obviously, the ‘average chair’ is good for some but not for everyone. Short and tall people are likely to be uncomfortable. And although situations are roughly uniform – in a restaurant everyone is eating and in an office everyone is working at a table – even so, there are important distinctions: people sitting for different lengths of time; people sitting back and musing; people sitting aggressively forward in a hot discussion; people sitting formally, waiting for a few minutes. If all the chairs are the same, these differences are repressed.

What is less obvious and perhaps most important of all, is this: we project our moods and personalities into the chairs we sit in. In one mood, a big fat chair is just right; in another mood, a rocking chair; for another, a stiff upright; and yet again, a stool or sofa. And of course, it isn’t only that we like to switch according to our mood; one of them is our favorite chair, the one that makes us the most secure and comfortable; and that again is different for each person. A setting that is full of chairs, all slightly different, immediately creates an atmosphere that supports rich experience; a setting that contains chairs that are all alike puts a subtle straight jacket on experience.


Never furnish any place with chairs that are identically the same. Choose a variety of different chairs, some big, some small, some softer than others, some new, with arms, without arms, some wicker, some wood, some cloth.”

Working with what I have – old red couch and chair, two armed chairs gifted to me, one love seat from when Mom downsized – I have tried to make a space that gives options for people, and I do notice visitors gravitating to one chair or another. I prefer large dogs on the floor; this one, called Coconut, generally respects this rule. At least when I’m around.

different chairs.jpg

The chapters in Alexander’s book are that succinct and that practical. Naturally, there are many chapters about light: Wings of Light, Tapestry of Light and Dark, Indoor Sunlight, Light on Two Sides of Every Room, Window Place, Filtered Light, Windows Which Open Wide and Pools of Light. Yesterday we did some work to make Samuel’s room brighter and more comfortable. One thing at a time in an old house, and this weekend was his turn.

This is what it looked like before, the darkest room in the house. The single window might be original to the house, built in 1973. We’ve been slowly replacing them all. Moisture gets between the panes over time, clouding up the view, and this one, as you can see, requires a stick to hold it open!


First the skytube: to bring light from above and to balance the light in the room. There is only one exterior wall, so we can’t have “light on two sides.” But light from above is a darn good substitute for one of the sides.


Then we made a hole in the wall in to put in new windows. A big enough hole for two windows. They are not in yet; that comes later today. Those plus the sky tube will make a big difference!

hole in wall.jpg

Light is, of course, not the only thing that makes our spaces comfortable. But wherever we spend a lot of time, we want to feel as good as we can feel. The environment of our created spaces plays into that more than we realize sometimes. It’s only one factor of course, but many, many things come together to make our lives wonderfully interesting, comfortable, safe, personalized and unboring. Comfort is one of them.

I don’t know who’s happiest about the new light in Samuel’s room, but I know it’s worth every bit of effort and frustration. See that wire hanging between the studs that had to be moved? By tomorrow that’s long forgotten. Light will flood this room and the peacefulness of the view will both sooth and inspire.

For seven years that room has been too dark. I am so grateful for the change!


The First Step is One of Many

It seems like there are all kinds of first steps taking place in my world. Some first steps are literal. My oldest granddaughter and my youngest son both had their orientation for school this week – Rise for kindergarten and Samuel for an intensive online course. Both of them took the first step into a new world that will stretch their minds, their skills and their futures.

Are these the ponytails of a kindergartener or what?

3 ponytails.jpg

Some first steps are a long time coming. Yesterday I put eight concrete cinder blocks in place in front of my house. This is when I was partway there, with four in place and four to go.

cinderblocks3 (2).jpg

See those large planter boxes off to the side? They need to move to make way for the “big dig” coming up soon – excavation work at the front foundation to fix an issue I’ve known about for seven years. By the time all eight blocks were in place, the sun had made shadows across the boxes so you can’t see them as well in the photo below. But they are still there. Soon they will be on the blocks. Here are all eight blocks in place, just waiting.

cinderblocks1 (2).jpg

Seven years! Ever since I moved into this house, I knew there was something funny about the outside wall as you go down the circular stairs toward the basement. It’s definitely bowed inward. No, I have not been watching too much of Stranger Things, the Netflix series Samuel has me hooked on. Okay, I take that back, I’ve been watching it every night all week. But I do not think a monster will be pushing through it any time soon! The earth though, surely, has been pushing against that outside wall for some time now, about 45 years actually. It’s time to fix it.

Some first steps are unexpected. I wonder if the silkies that laid these first eggs knew what was going to be happening when they sat down that day last week.

first silkie eggs.jpg

First steps can be exciting. They take you back. Oh, this thing is really happening! Look at that! Even if you are a chicken, first steps mean that a thing that has previously been just a vague unknown is finally a reality.

First steps can be scary. The situations at school that Rise will face will mostly be fun and good, but some will take her into new territory socially, academically, emotionally. She’s ready for it, but we all know how other kids can be. She’ll have her moments. She’ll grow. She’ll get stronger. She’ll face the next day slightly less unsure. Then, hopefully, the next first step will be slightly less scary.

Most first steps are not as freestanding as we think. They might feel like a first step, but there are usually steps toward the first step. There are connecting steps, prior steps, prep work that came before. The first step toward actual walking is actual, confident standing up, the first step toward which was actual, confident sitting up. My grandson Nelson hardly needs a prop anymore and will very soon be off and running.

Nelson standing.jpeg

My granddaughter Piper is two. She is not a kindergartener yet, but this week she played as if she was going to school with Rise.

Piper getting ready for school (2).jpg

First steps often start with an idea or a hope. We build up to them. A few weeks ago on the way to Vermont I bought a book at the airport. It might have been the first time I ever bought a book at an airport. But I wanted something light and interesting, and found The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It got my attention on several points. Isn’t there a guernsey cow? What could that have to do with a literary society? And what could potato peels have to do with a pie?

I finished the book yesterday when I had had enough of digging holes, fetching cinder blocks and hauling them into place, leveling, squaring, backfilling, etc. and needed to sit on the couch for a bit. (Funny how your body tells you That’s enough! You are done for today!) It turns out that the Guernsey is indeed a breed of dairy cattle from the island of Guernsey in the Channel Islands off the coast of Normandy (the other major island of which is Jersey, thus Jersey cows are a real thing too – who knew!?). On Guernsey, which was occupied by the Germans during the second world war, was (fictitiously) a literary society. The shortage of food led to making pie crusts with potato peels.

The author notes at the end explain that the book was many years in the making, many years vague, unformed, unsubstantive. The book was in fact a collaboration between a woman and her niece, health issues necessitating the help the younger woman gave toward the finished product. For all of us, every project, every meal, every trip, every class contains many steps, many of which are steps toward the next thing, which can sometimes feel like the first thing.

I remember in my house in Vermont there was a shabby bathroom next to the family room. It was functional when we moved in, but partly unfinished (visible studs even), nowhere close to as nice as I wished it was. For one reason or other, it took five years to get around to redoing that bathroom. I cringed at the bathroom, wished its remodeling came sooner, but it didn’t. And because it didn’t, I had five years to think about it and play with ideas, rejecting some, holding onto others. There’s no doubt in my mind that that bathroom was better in the end because I had five years to think about it.

Reading the notes at the end of the book about Guernsey felt like a step for me toward writing one of the books that have been in my head for many years. I was inspired by the author having made an impulsive decision to visit Guernsey, bought a book at an airport (!) and then (unbeknownst even to her) developed the spark of an idea for her own book over the course of the next few decades. Impulse can be good, books can be good, and letting ideas brew for a time is definitely good.

Hank Browne, who wrote the Ruins in Virginia book I referred to yesterday, was an architect for 50+ years, working often on projects that involved some sort of historic preservation. It was an idea of his for a long time to draw attention to the crumbling ruins he saw here and there. At some point he decided It’s time to make this real. He has already sold hundreds of copies and is working on a book about ruins in Maryland. Hank is 86. My hat is off to him in a very big way!

What’s brewing for you? What new project do you have in mind? What recipe do you want to try for the first time? What trip do you want to take to a place you’ve never seen before except in photos? You know you’ve already taken some of the steps toward making that thing a reality. You’ve thought about it. Maybe you’ve even rejected it. But then you think about it again.

Rise and Samuel and even Piper took important steps this week in their journey of lifelong learning. Nelson is one step closer to walking on his own. The silkies are laying eggs! I took a concrete (using literal concrete) step yesterday toward my big dig project.

Sparks. Brewing. Steps forward. Movement forward. Doing the next thing. Thinking about what that will lead to. Time goes by. More sparks. More brewing. More time. Real steps. “First” steps. Next steps.

I wonder what steps today will bring.


Crackers Revisited

Late in the afternoon yesterday I went to visit my friend Hank Browne. First thing (after hello) I said was, “I have a little something for you. These are my homemade cheese crackers,” and I handed him a little baggie full. Never having had these crackers before, he said, “Now why would you make these when you could just buy a box?” I said, “You try them and then talk to me.”

This is the photo of Hank that we used on the end flap of the jacket of his book.* I love the fact that he is actually holding a bagel in this photo but we cropped it out.

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Sometime after I left him with my crackers, I texted him and said, “I need to know what you think of my crackers.” He said simply, “You are my cracker maker.” I think he liked them.

Last week my mom called me to ask for “the cracker recipe.” She did not have to tell me which cracker recipe because only one matters in my world at the moment. There’s a reason you stick with a recipe. It works and it’s wonderful! Imagine sharing /savoring/devouring some of your favorite cheese alongside homemade crackers – these homemade crackers.crazy 2 baked on rack.jpg

These crackers have texture, flavor and the possibility of crazy shapes if you are so inclined. They can take cheddar (Cabot if you please), parmesan, Monterey Jack or just about any hard or semi-hard cheese. I think asiago would be great. Jarlsberg even.

About two years ago I wrote about these same crackers, but at the time I thought it was enough to present the recipe and show what they looked like finished. See how much I’ve learned in two years? Lots of pictures are good! Here we go. Still, we will start with the recipe. It’s from the King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary cookbook. Back in the day I thought it was very cool that I got one of their first-run, limited-edition 3-ring binders.

All you need on this page is the list of ingredients, but feel free (later) to compare their instructions with mine. I don’t even look at the instructions any more. Oh, wait. Perhaps I had better check!


That’s right. They wanted you to roll out the dough on a floured surface and then transfer the crackers one by one to the baking pan. I did that for a long time. Terribly time-consuming, and as you might have guessed, I have other things to do. So a few years ago I came up with a waxed paper method I will show you, and just yesterday (lucky you!) I realized an even better way to get the rolled-out dough to the pan. I can’t believe I didn’t think of this before!

First, grate your cheese. Use the finest hole of the grater you have. This is mine that I got in IKEA years ago. I like it because 1. It has its own bowl that the cheese falls into and 2. it has a second top with bigger holes that I use at other times for other things. My sister Lynn has the same one and she loves hers too. But my mom never liked hers and gave it away. To each her own.


Of course if you are using parmesan or romano cheese and it came already grated, you are good to go on that point. I chose cheddar this time because Cabot was on sale this past week and I bought four of the Seriously Sharp bricks, maybe five.

Also, I tripled the recipe because I know how these disappear. If I am going to go through this process and make something that doesn’t go bad in three days (not that they will last three days even tripled!), I might as well make enough to last a while and be able to give some away. You want to share this kind of love.

Put your cheese in a large bowl and mix in the cornmeal. I happened to have yellow cornmeal but you can get white also. The one I had in the house yesterday is also a somewhat coarser texture than I have had in the past, but it doesn’t matter unless you care about them being a finer texture in the end. They are good either way.

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Naturally your cheese is a little moist, so mixing the cornmeal into it first helps keep the cheese from clumping. We don’t want clumps.

Next add the flour. This additionally de-clumps.

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Add the rest of the dry ingredients (i.e. everything else except the eggs, oil and water). Mix in. I did not add the Dijon as suggested in the recipe, but I’m sure it’s good.

The recipe says to mix the eggs, oil and water together separately and then add it to the dry ingredients. You can do this if you want but it works just as well for me to break the eggs right in the bowl and then pour the oil and water in and stir it all up. Two things: 1. If you are worried about shells getting in your crackers (you don’t want shells), break the eggs in a separate small bowl and pour them in, and if you are going to do that, you might as well beat them up right then with the oil and water before adding to the big bowl. I did not worry about shells because my hens are making good strong shells. Your call. 2. I always use extra virgin olive oil (EVOO, as the pros call it).

mixing in eggs, oil, water.jpg

This mixture looks so yellow because of the yellow cornmeal as well as the very yellow yolks my hens are making. Yours might not look this yellow.

Here is what they dough looks like with all ingredients mixed together. You don’t want it gooky, but it should hold together. If your dough doesn’t hold together nicely or seems too dry, you can add a little water to it. But don’t make it gooky.

mixed in bowl.jpg

Now the fun part.

I did the rolling out part three ways. You can choose which way seems best to you.

  1. Between two sheets of waxed paper
  2. On one sheet of waxed paper with flour on top of the dough
  3. Between a sheet of parchment paper and a piece of waxed paper

All of these methods allow you to transfer a full pan’s worth of crackers to the pan all at once. The two-sheets method is what I discovered a few years ago. It has the advantage of being less messy than the old floured-surface method but the bottom sheet can wrinkle a bit. I’ll show you.

Take about as much dough as comfortably fits in your hands mold it to a flat ball or oval and put it on the paper.

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Put the second sheet on top and smoosh it a bit.

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Now use your rolling pin to roll it out. See, no messy floured surface. If you are careful you can re-use the paper for the next ball of dough.

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Keep rolling until your dough is about 1/8-inch thick. Remove the top sheet and flip the whole thing onto your silicone-mat-lined baking sheet. If you don’t have a silicone mat, grease the pan.

The first time I did this, I cut the cracker shapes first, then flipped it. You should not cut on a silicone mat. In the end I found a better way, but this way first.

I removed the top sheet and cut the shapes I wanted. The tool I have is called a Raedle, which is basically a wheel with a zig-zag edge connected to a handle. The one that says Grand.. on it was my grandma’s. It has been used a lot over the years, thus the chipped off name. The other pictured here I found in an antiques shop near me called A&W and had to decide which of my children to give it to. I settled on Samuel because he made these crackers for me some years ago when I was writing my book. Batch after batch sustained me through that project and I’ll never forget his kind service to me. This one is a beauty. If you find one at an antique shop, buy it. If you don’t have one, a pizza cutter works fine.


The dough sticks to the paper which makes the flip possible, but do you see how the paper can get a bit wrinkly? This happened as I continued to roll out the dough to the thinness I wanted. It does not affect the crackers, but maybe that bothers you.

removing paper.jpg

The bottom sheet may wrinkle less if, on top, you use flour instead of another sheet, but either way the wrinkling is not a big deal. Using waxed paper also means you have to be able to flip the paper on to the pan as I will show you. If you are shy of flipping, use the parchment. You can bake right on it. I’ll show you that later.

For now, this is the flipped waxed paper on the pan.

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Little by little I carefully peeled what is now the top paper away.

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There are always a few stragglers that don’t want to stay with their fellows. See that one at the top? Every crowd has a few renegades. Just put them where you want.


Brush water on the dough before you salt the crackers. I couldn’t find my little brush so I dipped my hands in a little bowl of water and used my fingers to wet the dough – just enough to make the salt stick. Use coarse salt.


And into a 400-degree oven they go. The original recipe says 375, but 400 works for me. You bake these until they are as dark as you like them. I love them a little darker but was in rather a hurry yesterday so these are not as dark as I would normally make them. Still good though!

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Transfer them to a rack to cool. Try one or two. Stop if you can. Oh yum.

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Now back to the other rolling-out methods. First, one sheet of waxed paper only. Put flour on top, rub your fingers over it to smooth out the flour a bit and then roll the dough out.

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You might need to keep adding a bit of flour until you get to full size and desired thinness.

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This method still requires you to flip the paper onto the pan. I found that cutting the cracker shapes before flipping made it trickier, and I know you should not cut on the silicone mat for fear of damaging it but I decided to take the chance. I flipped the uncut dough, removed the paper, then used the Raedle gently. It’s easier and I managed to not damage my mat, but then I remembered parchment paper. That’s the ticket!

Cut a piece of parchment paper that will fit your pan, roll out the dough either with waxed paper on top or with flour on top. This shows waxed paper on top.


Then simply slide this paper onto your pan. No risky flipping. No pre-cutting of shapes. No worry about mat damage.

This is the parchment slid onto my pan, which you can’t see because I cut the paper too big.

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So I trimmed the paper.

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Brilliant. Cut shapes, brush with water, sprinkle salt, and into the oven it goes just like that. Regarding shapes, have at it – standard squares or rectangles, maybe diamonds as you see above, or a little more free form as below. It was fun to make the arc cuts, but in the end the crackers were pretty square anyway. You can use cookie cutters if you want too. Either cut them on your counter and move them (tedious but the most efficient use of the dough) or cut them on the parchment and just leave the in-between parts to eat on the side later.

You don’t have to separate the crackers after cutting but before baking. The baked crackers break apart easily.

I know it’s just as easy to buy a box. But the other night I took the last few of the last batch of these, the ones my mother made last week and gave me, to the airport when I picked up my son Samuel. He polished them off well before we got home, at which time he asked, “Do you have any more crackers?” I knew there were no more of the homemade ones and started showing him his choices, the boxes in the cabinet. He stopped me short. None other would do.

You try them and see if he’s not right.

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*Hank’s book is Vanishing History, Ruins in Virginia, published last year by my little publishing company, Paper Shoe Press. You can find it on amazon!

low res Ruins cover image Browne.jpg




Que Sera Sera

Last week after I finished reading to Evelyn – she just turned 101 and we are almost through a biography about Queen Victoria – I walked the hallway to get to the exit and passed what is a common area for the residents of this retirement community. I heard someone playing the piano and looked to my left. This is what I saw.

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The lady playing the piano was quite good. The tune was lively. The song was Que Sera Sera. If you are unfamiliar with it, check out Doris Day’s 1964 rendition. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=azxoVRTwlNg

The message of the song is summed up in the translation of the title: Whatever will be, will be. When you listen to the whole thing, you don’t get the idea of determination or active movement toward a particular goal. Quite the contrary. As to whether the future is bright or not – whether you will be rich and good looking and successful – it is seemingly out of your hands, which one might say is rather a passive approach. But is it?

Specifically in the lyrics a little girl asks her mother “What will I be? Will I be rich? Will I be pretty?” And her mother replies “Que Sera Sera. Whatever will be, will be. The future’s not ours to see.” Later in life she asked her sweetheart: “What lies ahead? Will we have rainbows day after day?” He replies as the mother did. Later her own sons ask her: “What will I be? Will I be handsome? Will I be rich?” She then replies as her mother did.

“Que Sera Sera. Whatever will be, will be. The future’s not ours to see.” To this I say Amen, therefore, precisely because we don’t know what lies ahead…

…let us do what we can to make today and tomorrow better than it might otherwise be. I suspect this lady playing the piano would very much prefer to sit up straight. Yet she is not sitting there grumbling. She is playing a lively song for the entertainment of herself and others. I suspect Evelyn would rather not be blind. Nonetheless she can learn through books on tape and others reading to her. This week we learned together about the widowed Queen Victoria’s protector and friend (whatever else he may have been), John Brown. Fascinating stuff. Did you know that all documentation relating to this relationship was summarily burned? Hmmm…

Start with yourself. Start with the people who are in your circle today or every day. The other day I described two children who were here as Airbnb guests (for the blink of an eye it seemed) doing me a kind service without knowing it. How apropos to have just found this quote hanging on the wall in a public bathroom:

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Amen, therefore, precisely because we don’t know what lies ahead…let us give thanks for what we do have. Do I have a high-paying job? No, but I have everything I need, and I am exceedingly grateful for good food to eat, a home to live in and the abiding love and care of incredible friends and family. Am I as physically strong as I used to be or as mechanically inclined as I wish I was? No, but I manage, and where I need help, there is help, and I am exceedingly grateful that when there have been serious issues like pipes freezing or bursting, I have not been here by myself. Can I be with my children and grandchildren and dearest friends as often as I want? No, but I cherish the moments with them and greatly look forward to next time.

Needs are different than wants. Do we have everything we need? Most of the time, yes. Do we have everything we want? If we did, what would there be to look forward to? What would there be to look back on and be grateful we had for a time? How would we get outside ourselves and be glad that someone else could enjoy that experience or that thing?

Amen, therefore, precisely because we don’t know what lies ahead… let us carefully and lovingly walk alongside others who are having a hard time. It’s true that some things are out of our control. In the past three weeks, tragedy has hit three families in my circle. Two young deaths and one very serious illness. The grief of these families is beyond words. Yet as each of them works through their pain and comes to grip with what they did not in their wildest nightmares anticipate, they are surrounded by, embraced by, uplifted and upheld by many who love them. The loving, caring people who come alongside during a tragic time are like the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down, as Mary Poppins so beautifully sang. They are the reminder – even if it cannot be fully appreciated at the time because of shock or stress – that they are not alone through their grief. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U8VHc49ZdP4

Amen, therefore, precisely because we don’t know what lies ahead…let us recognize the beauty of whatever world is around us. That beauty might be in the artistry of your favorite barista who makes you smile as he hands you a cappuccino.

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That beauty might be in the face of a child encountering a fuzzy chicken.

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It might be a precious moment with a dear friend you don’t see often.

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It might be a fabulous vista you get to see in real life rather than in a picture (with a dear friend you don’t see often).

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It might be a joyful moment of reunion between man and dog.

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Do I know what lies ahead? Sort of. The future’s not mine to see, but I am confident that no matter how many years or months or days I have left, it will continue to include amazing people who enrich my world as well as an amazing world in which to spend whatever time I can with these amazing people. It will include great measures of love, joy, forgiveness, hope, service to others and making a difference in whatever ways we all can. Could I ask for more? No.


The Chickens Will Be Dry Tonight!

For nearly four years I’ve been hosting Airbnb guests at my cottage. Every once in a while some of them surprise me. Let me tell you what happened this week.

A lovely family came – mother, father, 12-year-old girl and 8-year-old boy. Unsurprisingly, the kids loved the chickens. The new coop set-up is proving to be perfect for getting in among the bantam hens. There’s enough room in the enclosure for both people and birds, the fencing on the sides and up above makes it feel airy and safe at the same time, and the chickens are silly enough and docile enough to invite attention. Most people haven’t spent much time with chickens. Give a girl and a boy permission to handle them (carefully) and they practically live in there with them. Here you see James and Juliana with a black copper maran and a silkie.

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Naturally I spend a little time with my cottage guests when they first get here. We talk about chickens as they getting comfortable with what to do, how to hold them, what their habits are. Right now the hens are still young, still laying small, starter eggs. No one seems to know (I didn’t) that the first eggs that young hens lay are smaller than the ones they will lay for the next few years, and that the very first one or two are softer shelled. On this one you can see the darker colored part on the right where the shell is so soft it seems to have no calcium in it at all, and the slightly cracked part to its left where I barely touched it and the shell dented in. Juliana came to my door the first morning having gathered this very soft one,

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this beautiful speckled one,

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and six other small brown eggs that were neither speckled nor soft shelled. I’ve never had enough chickens for guests to collect so many eggs at once, nor ever had a child bring them to me in a basket. Her presentation made me smile, but what these children did the night before is what earns them a special place in my heart.

You may recall me saying at other times that the bantam hens are not to be commended for brilliance. When it rains, they stand there getting wet, soaking wet, when both a perfectly good coop and a perfectly good dry area underneath the coop await them. The last time it rained, most of them got so far as the platform just outside the wide-open, adequately sized, egg-shaped opening that would lead them to the dry interior. But still they stood in the rain getting wet. While this is baffling, it does make for amusing conversation.

James was fascinated not only with the chickens themselves but also with the vertically sliding door on a pulley system that (in theory) closes the hens in for the night once they have gone through that opening, which I will continue to think is not that hard and they will figure out is the thing to do. I am delighted in general to watch people, especially children, explore something new, to hear the excitement in their voices and to know that this experience is stretching them a bit and is possibly something they will not forget.

“When I was a kid,” James might say to his own son one day, “we went to a place where this lady [let’s hope he doesn’t say crazy lady!] had chickens. I had never held a chicken before, but they are really cool! They’re softer than I thought they’d be and some of them had fluffy heads and blue ears — think of it, blue ears! The first night we were there, my sister and I were sitting around the fire pit with my mom and dad roasting marshmallows. Julie and I wanted to put the chickens in their house for the night, so we went and did that and just as we were coming back to the fire, it started to rain. I remembered what the lady said about these chickens being too dumb to get out of the rain by themselves and I knew they would be dry that night anyway.”

What James and his sister didn’t know was that I was inside my house when I heard the rain starting. It was dark, maybe 930pm, and my windows were open, so I heard the heavy drops through the giant trees. I was comfortable on the couch, and tired after a long day, but those stupid chickens, I thought, they are out there getting wet! I’ve ignored this same situation other times, not wanting to get wet myself and justifying the obstinacy of the birds with various possible explanations including: they like the rain, they forget they have options to get out of it, they are not the first birds under the sun to get wet, etc.

But this time I wanted the chickens to have a dry night, so I got up and grabbed the flashlight and headed out to (get wet and) put the birds in. I knew the family had intended to make a campfire and wondered if they might still be out there, maybe even just getting their stuff in out of the rain. Sure enough, I heard voices and saw them vaguely through the raindrops. “Hi!” I called in their direction, remembering how much the kids liked the chickens earlier. “Wanna help me put the chickens in?”

“We already did that!” Juliana and James called back.

Already did that? On their own, thoughtfully, kindly, unexpectedly did that? Oh!

I was astounded. Not only did I not have to get wet, not have to fuss with wet and possibly uncooperative birds, not have to worry about them getting wetter. I could go back inside with my heart warmed up.

“Bless you!” I called back. “Thank you! Good night!”

You never really know how your actions will affect another person. Juliana and James probably didn’t think they were doing anything extraordinary. They were just putting the chickens away because it was fun and they could. I mean how often do you get to put fluffy chickens in their house at night, close their door using a cool sliding mechanism and then walk back to a campfire? They didn’t know it was going to rain.

I hope Juliana and James never forget their fun with my chickens. I know I’ll never forget the kind service they did me without knowing it.

Mom’s Tomato Soup

It’s that time of year. Gardens, farm stands and farmers’ markets are loaded with gorgeous red tomatoes. There is absolutely nothing under the sun to compare with the taste of a sun-ripened garden tomato. How beautiful is this?


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My favorite way to eat them fresh is cut up in a bowl with olive oil, cider vinegar, fresh basil (cut up) and salt and pepper. My dad’s favorite was to make a sandwich of toasted white bread, sliced tomatoes, mayo and salt and pepper – a BLT minus the B and the L. But when tomatoes are in abundance, when you can’t possibly eat that much salad or that many sandwiches, the best solution is fresh tomato soup. To be specific, the tomato soup my mom always made, and still does. It’s easy and freezes well, so you can have the taste of summer when the snow flies.

I am under strict instruction from [you know who you are!] to be EXACT in this recipe, so I will do my best to not say “a little of this” or “until it looks right.” 😊

I’ve been gathering the tomatoes from my garden, eating some and saving some. For the soup, I cut up the saved ones as shown above, stems, green-part-under-the-stem and any bad parts cut off, and had enough to fill my 3-quart bowl to overflowing. Meaning I could not possibly put one more piece in or it would have fallen out. Note that skin and seeds are not removed at this point.

For this amount of tomatoes I started with 6 tablespoons of butter. Put it in a large cooking pot – my Dutch oven was perfect. Melt the butter on a medium heat.

melting butter


Add the same amount of flour (6TB) and whisk it in.

flour to butter

Let this get bubbly over the heat.

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Turn the temp down to low and cook it for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it looks light brown, like this. You have now browned the butter.

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On top of the browned butter, dump your 3+ quarts of cut-up tomatoes.


You should not need any other liquid. The tomatoes have their own juice. Leave the heat on low and cover. I love my silicone lids! This one is particularly nice because the edges let a little steam out.


Peek at it now and then. Oops, that wasn’t EXACT. Peek after 10-15 minutes. It should start to cook down, first like this:


A good stir would be good at this point. Then let it cook some more (10-15 minutes more? doing my best to be EXACT here, really I am!!) until it looks like this:


When it looks like this, give it another good stir and turn off the heat. I let it cool for a while, say half an hour or even an hour, while I do something else. You can think of something else to do.

The next step is separating soup from skin and seeds. A strainer works well. This is my set-up.

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The holes in my strainer are not overly small meaning two things: One, the soup will go through easily, which is good, and two, some seeds will get through, which may or may not be ok with you. It’s ok with me, but I am one of those people who likes raspberry jam with the seeds still in it, so decide for yourself. Some seeds, or use a strainer with smaller holes and do a little more work.

The work is in the pushing through. First, use a ladle to put enough of the tomato mixture in the strainer to almost fill it, like this:


You see that some went through already. Your job is to get the rest of the soup to go through but leave the seeds (most of them) and the skins in the strainer. With a large spoon, stir it up and some more soup will go through.


Then with the back of the spoon, push against the side of the strainer.


More and more soup goes through, and more and more seeds and skins don’t, until it looks like this:


Use your spoon to scrape off – into the soup – any bits that are stuck to the bottom of the strainer. Set the strainer aside. Now depending on how big your bowl is, you have two choices. Either remove the seeds and skins to a separate bowl (and later feed it to the chickens) and start over with putting the rest of what’s in the pot through the strainer OR season what’s in the bowl with salt and pepper, transfer it your freezer containers and then put the rest through the strainer.


This is the first half of my soup. I added the salt and pepper (to taste – I can’t be more EXACT about that), stirred it up, then transferred it to old quart-size yogurt containers which work beautifully for freezing this or any soup. I then pushed the second half through, and seasoned it just the same (or about the same because, you know, seasoning to taste is not an EXACT science 😊).

See if you can put it away without preparing a bowl for yourself. I’ve topped mine with Backerbsen, a German specialty I discovered years ago. This past April, my friend Anett brought me some when she came from Karlsruhe to visit. (If you want to try them, you can get them on amazon — maybe not the brand below, but Leimer is a good brand too.) The translation is “baked peas” but they are just perfect little croutons for tomato soup. Oh yum!

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Passing This Way

When you are in someone else’s car, you listen to whatever music they have going. It’s great to let someone else do the choosing sometimes. Not being musically inclined except for liking to listen to it and sometimes sing along, I am continually astounded at the incredible talent and creativity of musicians. It’s amazing to me how they manage to stir up feelings and longings and memories and hopes from deep within you. And they do it in a way that is soooo pleasant!

Among the many songs I heard in the past few weeks, two struck me and have played over and over again in my head (parts of them anyway). From the Notting Hill soundtrack is Elvis Costello’s “She” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ttj0Kd6BWQU). It’s one of those songs that builds on itself as it goes along, with the strength of his voice adding increasingly more weight to the words*. This song reminds me that this kind of love – this deep, abiding, heartfelt love – is real, even if it is rare, even if most people don’t ever find the words to express what’s in their hearts.

A few days ago I heard Seals & Croft sing “We May Never Pass This Way Again” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vd6zYQPCgsc) and that one hit me hard. Here’s why.

I asked Eppie to stand in front of the elephant ear so that I could record how big it is in relation to how big she is. These plants just keep getting bigger and bigger. But as she stood in front of it, the leaves of the plant looked like angel wings to me, with the sun shining behind and through them and her sweet face radiating all that is good and fresh and wholesome. The photo captures a moment, as all our photos do, yet we know as we look at the photo that the moment is past. Less than a week later, the moment is past.

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When I heard the song, I thought: It’s not We May Never Pass This Way Again, it’s We Will Never Pass This Way Again. I hope that face looking up at me will look up at me again many times in the future (and I will cherish it just the same), but never again will it be Eppie’s just-turned-four face. She’s a little angel in this picture. She’ll be a bigger angel next time.

My son Bradley said to me recently that the harshest reality of adult life is how fast time goes. His own daughter Piper is now two and another (P2, he calls her!) is coming soon. How is this possible?! Here is Piper between Eppie and Rise during my visit to Vermont a couple weeks ago.

Eppie Piper Rise 1.jpg


Precious moments, these are. Precious little ones. Every now and then, or as often as you wish, it’s good to think about what you consider precious. Maybe the voice or touch of someone you love, or the way they say your name. Maybe the view you see when the sun rises in the morning. Maybe a person you have contact with every day who is remarkable without knowing it. Maybe your good health (or the aspects of your health that are still good!). Maybe the music that uplifts you. Maybe the bounty of your garden – these are the cantaloupes I harvested today from mine. Maybe the funny face of a little dog who has found a special place in your heart!

coco cantaloupes.jpg


My neighbor Jennifer asked Eppie the other day if she missed her parents. Eppie said, “When I am with Oma, I miss my mom and dad. When I am with my mom and dad, I miss Oma. I wish I could be with them both.” For my ears, those were the most perfect words she could have said in reply.

It’s a rather reflective day for me, perhaps you can tell. My darling granddaughters and I had two and a half weeks together, starting at their home in Vermont and ending at my home in Virginia – marvelous, precious weeks. But it’s the middle of August and they will be going to kindergarten and preschool very soon. As I think about how we will never pass this way again, I am less sad because of the certainty that we will pass another way someday (someday soon I hope!), and it will be equally wonderful to walk through those days together.


*She (lyrics)

She may be the face I can’t forget
The trace of pleasure or regret
May be my treasure or the price I have to pay
She may be the song that summer sings
May be the chill that autumn brings
May be a hundred different things
Within the measure of a day

She may be the beauty or the beast
May be the famine or the feast
May turn each day into a Heaven or a Hell
She may be the mirror of my dreams
A smile reflected in a stream
She may not be what she may seem
Inside her shell

She, who always seems so happy in a crowd
Whose eyes can be so private and so proud
No one’s allowed to see them when they cry
She may be the love that cannot hope to last
May come to me from shadows in the past
That I remember ’till the day I die

She maybe the reason I survive
The why and wherefore I’m alive
The one I’ll care for through the rough in many years*

Me, I’ll take her laughter her tears
And make them all my souvenirs
And where she goes I’ve got to be
The meaning of my life is
She, she
Oh, she


*Somehow I always thought this was “the rough and ready years” (“rough in many years” doesn’t make any sense to me!).