Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Four Seasons with Susan Hill and Gladys Taber

When I completed my monthly reading of Gladys Taber's Stillmeadow Daybook and Rachel Peden's Rural Free in May 2012, I ended the post with this:
This year winter begins at 6:12 am EST on December 21, the earliest arrival of winter since 1886. On that day I plan to begin reading two chapters called Winter from two books: Country Chronicle by Gladys Taber in Connecticut, USA and The Magic Apple Tree by Susan Hill in Oxfordshire, England; New England and old England. Each book is divided into four seasonal chapters. These two women, though not the same age, are writing within a few years of one another. Country Chronicle was published in 1974 and The Magic Apple Tree in 1982. Susan Hill was born on February 5, 1942 so she was 40 when The Magic Apple Tree was published. Gladys Taber was born on April 12, 1899 so she was 75 when Country Chronicle was published. 
For a variety of reasons I never got around to it, but I plan to begin reading both books on the first day of winter this year, December 21. And somewhere near the end of each season I will do a posting. I read Country Chronicle fifteen years ago, but haven't read The Magic Apple Tree. Oddly enough, the two women's ages are opposite to their ages when they wrote The Book of Stillmeadow and Jacob's Room is Full of Books.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Jacob's Room is Full of Books - October

As I near the end of this most wonderful book, I find myself hoping so much that Susan Hill will write another and another and another like this and Howards End is on the Landing. They are as food and drink to me. My mind and heart are expanded with every chapter. I am in the presence of a real scholar, though she says of herself, "I am not scholarly material."

I feel like October is a pensive month, especially the second half. The days get shorter, daytime itself gets darker, and often the rain or snow prevents outside activities. This makes me happy, as I've noted probably too many times before in the almost twelve years of Letters from a Hill Farm. I am an introvert (not shy), I like sitting and reading, I like time to be quiet and think. So October and November suit me perfectly. The October chapter is 31 pages of many deep thoughts, and I was in reading heaven.

Susan Hill writes about Rievaulx Abbey.

If you arrive late and out of season, when the sun is going down, you really can get some sense of what life was like in this bowl of the Yorkshire Dales, where sheep bleat through the soft air and the light gleams through the majestic ruins, archways, slit windows, whole 'rooms' and magnificent spaces.
I am glad there is so much left of Rievaulx. When you stand alone there, even though the sky and not a roof is over your head, you can hear the whispers of monastic chant and the faint ghostly swish of the heavy robes, see the shadowy procession of hooded figures on their way to and from the chapel. And there is nothing remotely spooky about it. 
The author goes on to talk about Aelred of Rievaulx.
I came to love Aelred because I came to know him. So much of that time is very distant and different, yet there is enough left of Aelred's writings, we know so much of his life and personality, that he can come closer to us than many who have lived later. ... Aelred was a great and good man.
And how did she come to learn about him? Well,
A decade ago I did what I had longed to do since 1963, when I received my first degree, and started to read for another, an MA this time in theology. Having been brought up in a Catholic convent, and spent many years as an adult Anglican,  ... I felt - and indeed, still feel - that I knew too little about the basis of and background to it all and about various aspects of Christian history. But I wasn't about to return as a full-time student to what is now called the campus, I studied by distance learning. If you have already taken a first degree, and especially if you are older and doing this voluntarily, and so anxious to learn and put the hours in, this is an ideal way. The internet has made it all possible. My essays were e-mailed in and marked and returned by the same route, but nice, fat, printed books of the modules came by post.
I loved the course from Day 1. I immersed myself in it as in a warm bath.
So, you see what I mean about her being a scholar!

Suddenly, she stops and writes this beautiful sentence.
A long skein of pink-footed geese has just gone over towards the marshes.
She offers a wonderful granddaughter story.
Lila was only two and visiting once when the owl man appeared to do his ringing. He brought a white cotton drawstring bag, and came right to the house, by the back door, so that we could all watch. My grand-daughter stared in amazement, her eyes really like saucers, as he drew out the young owl from the bag, inspected it, let it open its wings to their full extent - which even on a baby owl is pretty wide - and then ringed it without any fuss, folded its wings gently together and slipped it back in the cotton bag. Two and a half years later and she still remembers.
Susan goes on to write about her granddaughter and books.
It is a joy that she is now having read to her some of the stories we read to her mother, and often from the very same copies. The most recent favorite is Tales of Polly and the Hungry Wolf by Catherine Storr, which was loved by us all thirty-five years ago. Lila's father does a very impressive wolf's voice. And so the same stories are re-born over and again. The Elephant and the Bad Baby, Stanley & Rhoda, Each Peach Pear Plum, Burglar Bill, Mog the Forgetful Cat, The Tiger Who Came to Tea and so on, to My Naughty Little Sister, that everlasting favourite, and now, to my delight, The Magic Faraway Tree.
As you might guess, I loved this so much! We have passed along quite a few of Margaret and Michael's books to them so they can read them to their little ones. We've read a bit to Hazel over the years, though not too much because often with children, much of the reading happens at bedtime. We're looking forward to Hazel, Campbell, and Indy staying overnight when they get older. In fact, right now we are working on the HCI room! Tom has finished the painting. We'll go about it gradually, buying beds, etc.

I think I've mentioned that when we brought the kids to England, Ireland, and Wales in 1992, we bought tapes over there to listen to in the car. The very most favorite was The Magic Faraway Tree. My kids still do perfect imitations of the narrator saying, "Saucepan". We also own two of the stories Susan Hill mentioned - Mog the Forgetful Cat and The Tiger Who Came to Tea.

They are in this collection

which was given to me by my long-time blogging friend, Val, last year. Of all the books we have, this is the one Hazel asks for the most.

This month's The Oldie magazine has an article on Judith Kerr.

She is 95, and still takes walks and has written a new book! In this country I think she is best known for When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. It was in Tom's classroom library when he taught 7th and 8th grades.

There is much, much more in the October chapter about authors and prizes and writing and even eels (yuck, me says).

Sunday, November 11, 2018

November 10

Ted Kooser's poem for yesterday.

november 10

    High winds all night

Most of the snow passed north of us,
but this morning we're given the fancy white lace
on the edge of that blanket,
every weed on the roadside coated with ice.

Behind the counter at the post office,
somebody's small carton stamped with block letters:

I drive very slowly all the way home.

Another little gem! In snow country, "blanketed with snow" is quite a common term, but the idea of "the fancy white lace on the edge of that blanket" is completely fresh and new to me. That's what poets do. They see the world in a different way. He uses the familiar "blanket" but gives the reader a new way of thinking about the "edge". And, as is often the case with poetry, readers see different things in it. Tom interpreted the icy weeds as the "fancy white lace" and after he said it, I thought of course, but I had read it in a broader way - that the blanket of snow missed his area; it was on the "edge" of the blanket.

And what's with that carton at the post office??! I bet he wondered about it on his slow drive home. I think I wouldn't have been able to stop myself from asking what in the world it meant!

I went for a walk from 3:40 to 4 pm. We had a snow squall earlier in the day but by then the sun had come out and it was just beautiful.

The weeds were indeed "coated with ice". I tried to capture this beauty but it doesn't work well taking a picture into the sun. The little green dot must be some kind of sun reflection, but still you can get the idea. They sparkle like the proverbial diamonds.

Amazing, amazing clouds

I love the late afternoon light on the house

Abbey Road  oak leaves (in homage to my blogging friend, Penny who so often finds whimsy in the natural world)

This is one of my favorite spots. I really should put a chair or bench there.

Soon after my walk we drove down to Michael and Estée's house to take care of Campbell Walker and Indy Thomas while the parents had a "date night". We had a wonderful time, as you might imagine. And we had the joy of putting them to bed. Is there anything so precious as a sleeping child? It fills me with feelings that are so deep I can't begin to put them into words. Probably Ted Kooser could though!

Usually it is a straightforward ride between our houses - about 45 minutes on mostly highway. But not last night. Tom wanted to get some coffee. We pulled off in one place, but everything was closed so we drove on to another town, and went to a MacDonald's. There was a stretch limo in the parking lot and quite a line of cars in the drive-through lane, and we thought uh, oh, they've been slammed at  10:30 at night. We waited half an hour! When we finally got to the window, the man gave us our order free (I, of course, couldn't pass up French fries and milk) because of the wait. He told us his employee just walked off the job. Can you imagine doing such a thing?

So we continued on our way. It was snowing further north. At one point we found ourselves behind two side-by-side snowplows. We went 25 mph, and had the safest drive in town! Driving slowly just like Ted Kooser.

Friday, November 9, 2018

November 9

I began a new reading project today inspired by this post on the Sew and Sow Life blog.

I ordered a used copy that is in excellent shape. The idea of the book is, in Ted Kooser's words:
"In the autumn of 1998, during my recovery from surgery and radiation for cancer, I began taking a two-mile walk each morning. ... During the previous summer, depressed by my illness, preoccupied by the routines of my treatment, and feeling miserably sorry for myself, I'd all but given up on reading and writing. Then, as autumn began to fade and winter came on, my health began to improve. One morning in November, following my walk, I surprised myself by trying my hand at a poem. Soon I was writing every day.

Several years before, my friend Jim Harrison and I had carried on a correspondence in haiku. As a variation on this, I began pasting my morning poems on postcards and sending them to Jim, whose generosity, patience and good humor are here acknowledged. What follows is a selection of one hundred of those postcards."

Isn't that just lovely?

Every day I am going to read the poem that corresponds to the present date. I don't expect to post a poem each day, and maybe not even each week, but occasionally I will post one with notes and perhaps pictures of my own walk on that same date, twenty years later, and in New Hampshire, not Nebraska.

november 9

    Rainy and cold.

The sky hangs thin and wet on its clothesline.

A deer of gray vapor steps through the foreground,
under the dripping, lichen-rusted trees.

Halfway across the next field,
the distance (or can that be the future?)
is sealed up in tin like an old barn.

I so love that first line. Such a unique concept. And I think the distance/future is just brilliant. A lovely poem, I feel.

I haven't been very faithful to my idea of walking often up and down my road. I did a few times, and even took photos, but then didn't have the chance to post about them. I do hope to get back in the groove of writing much more often. It is good for me to stop and examine my life. Even if no one ever reads the postings, I feel better when I really take the time to pay attention. So, today with this new reading scheme, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to take a walk as Mr. Kooser did, though mine is not two miles. It is half an hour. I dare not walk up the hill into the woods this time of year, but come winter I hope to do so.

Today I was so thankful to see geese. I took this little video. Click to make it larger and turn your volume up, and there they are!! A little magic in the skies, methinks. And you may hear the cheery little chickadee.

The beech and oak are the only trees that still have their leaves.

When we moved here in 1981, we brought an oak tree we had recently planted at our other home. It is quite a mighty oak now.

We've noticed many little oaks have sprung up between this oak and Margaret, Matthew, and Hazel's house. Just for fun today, I decided to count the saplings. There are 19!! Our original oak was the only one on our 200+ acres, and in a few decades, they will line the road. Amazing, amazing.

Nebby and the sheep were curious as I walked back and forth.

I walked from 1:30-2, and it was just so pleasant. Cool, not cold. No precipitation, and all those lovely brownish colors everywhere.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Hallowe'en 2018

Yesterday was the fifth anniversary of the day our Margaret went into the hospital with pre-eclampsia, a dangerous, scary condition that can happen in pregnancy. I've written about it here. There isn't a moment of a day that I am not thankful.

Our Hallowe'en this year was a perfect celebration of the miracle of Margaret and Hazel. It wasn't planned, which in a way made it all the more special. All the families were together except for Matthew and his mother.

For two years we've spent Hallowe'en with Michael and Estée and the boys. In the town next to where they live the tradition is a walk down the main street and trick or treating at the stores. Adults and children alike are in costume. The street isn't open to car traffic for a couple hours. It is a wonderful event.

In 2016 the family dressed as characters in Jurassic Park.

And last year Campbell and Indy were Ninja Turtles.

Hazel's Hallowe'ens have been spent trick or treating in our town, going first to her other grandmother's house.

Yesterday we happened to stop by to see Margaret and Hazel on our way to the boys' Hallowe'en. Even after a whole day at school, she decided she wanted to come with us. So she packed up her costume, and she and her mother hopped in the car and we were off.

We all had so much fun. The kids were older so could walk more of the street. We visited a haunted house that wasn't too scary for the little ones. We saw some really creative costumes - Wolfman and his son, a baby dressed as a mouse in a trap, a child hotdog and her mother wearing a ketchup sign, Sherlock Holmes. All ages and sizes of people. One little girl was Vampirina, as Hazel was, and they were both delighted. Campbell was a vampire and Indy a ghost.

I had the happiest Hallowe'en of my life (so far)! And I'm pretty sure everyone else did too!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Stillmeadow - October

Now I've come to the last month in The Book of Stillmeadow. This has been a wonderful year of reading Gladys Taber, and I plan to do something of the same sort beginning next month. There will be more about my reading scheme in an upcoming post.

In my neck of the woods, October changes dramatically from the beginning to the end.

October 4 (used as blog header)

October 5

October 15

October 24

Gladys begins her October with "nut gathering." She mentions both butternuts and hickory nuts. Do people still do this? I don't know of any nuts that grow up here, and I've never known anyone who picked them (or picked them off the ground). Gladys makes it sound like such fun. She climbs a pasture hill and says,
It is still and peaceful up here, and the air has a dreaming quality. When we have wandered as far as we need, for the gunny sacks do get heavy very soon, we move to the biggest ledge of all, where there is a nice flat place to spread a picnic supper.
If there's one thing I know about Gladys Taber is that she adores picnics.
The menu is an old one, for this nut gathering has all the aura of tradition with us. New-laid eggs, fried crisp at the edges and just firm in the golden centers. Slices of dark bread to lift them on. We have big ripe tomatoes laid on grape leaves, to eat in the hand with salt and pepper.
And this is all, for we can't carry much when the nut sacks are full. Usually we find windfall sweet apples near where we eat, and make dessert of them.
This sounds utterly perfect to me.

Of fall chores she writes that "the real countrywoman wishes she were triplets in autumn. There is no limit to the amount of work".

That is so true around here. We are never finished before the snow comes and the ground freezes.

A great part of the October entry is taken up with the summer kitchen. Do you know what that is? I had never heard the term until we moved to this old farmhouse. Certainly the house in town where I grew up, and then lived as an adult for nine years, never had such a thing. There was a kitchen. Period.

When we came here, this is what we found:

I suppose if we'd had the money we might have transformed this space into something, but it would have taken a lot of work. There was an unsafe attic above, and it wasn't heated. The sink would have been a good place to wash off vegetables from the garden, but it was very shallow and the drainage wasn't good. It was essentially useless space, so in 1992 we had it pulled down. Now that opening in the second picture goes right out to the side yard.

But back to Gladys. She and Jill did wonders with their summer kitchen. 
Many old houses have this large room behind the real kitchen, and many have woodsheds attached to the main kitchen. Almost anyone who has any kind of a back room, I think, would do well to remodel it into a real summer kitchen, for the advantages are countless.
Here, for instance, you may have the old black range, so comfortable, and so good for canning or baking. On cold fall days before the furnace is on, a quick fire in the range warms the downstairs nicely. Here, on boiling days, you may simmer the roast and keep the main kitchen cool for salad-making.
We have always used ours, but only after the main kitchen was made perfect did we decide the summer kitchen must be made equally efficient and labor-saving.
The room is large and runs up to the roof. We put windows all around and windows near the ceiling to let in more sun. The walls are covered with insulation board finished with clear waterproof varnish. They are a warm honey tone and will stand any amount of wear.
It was easy to put in a sink and hook up the washing machine by putting them on the same wall as the inner-kitchen fixtures.
She goes on for several pages until this reader was about as envious as could be!

In each chapter, Gladys spends some of the time writing about her cats and dogs. I don't know why I haven't quoted more of these passages in the past year. They raised cocker spaniels. They had two cats. Gladys was a big animal lover.

Reading of bringing in the harvest and freezing it after years of time-consuming canning, I have the sense that Gladys' household was almost completely self-sufficient when it came to fruits and vegetables. So many of us long for that, but after many, many years of trying, I can say it is very hard work and takes a lot of time. But I hope it still appeals to young people. There is something wonderful about eating what you have grown yourself.

Gladys ends the October chapter in her familiar wise way.
There is a lovely stillness in a fall afternoon. Up in the pasture one can really "busy the heart with quietude." The stillness has the sadness of passing summer, and yet it has a breathless quality of life still to come before winter sets in. All the color that flames in the woods and runs along the horizon is so beautiful that it comforts and warms the sorrowful spirit. While the world continues to be troubled and the atom bomb is apparently the god of all things that are, I stubbornly refuse to despair. There is still love in the world, and kindness, and faith. So let us not abandon hope.
As if that wasn't a wonderful enough ending, she goes on in an exceptional postscript. It is quite long and I won't quote all of it, but I want to give you the feeling that she gave me as I read it. She truly was a philosopher, as I believe I've mentioned before. She is again up on a hill. The passage reminds me a little of Emily in Our Town when she is dead and looks at all her living loved ones.
Sometimes I go away by myself, up the hill, far enough from Stillmeadow so that I only see the slope of the roof almost lambent with sunset. ... From the upper abandoned orchard the yard is partly visible, dotted comfortably with cockers and cats, and if the weather is right, Jill's bent shoulders appear at the end of the tomato vines. If there are guests, and there usually are, the sound of their voices comes dreamily from the open space where the lawn furniture is.
If Cicely is home there is music, too. ... Don is never visible to the naked eye, for he finds the best way to get through all the murder mysteries is to keep out of sight. Too many errands might turn up.
Dorothy and her new husband, Val, will be working on their car; just married, the excitement of being together pitches their voices high and sweet. ... 
There it all is below me, this little world within a world, and I sit down on a warm grey ledge upholstered with feathery lichens and think about it in relation to the rest of the world.
The terrible suffering that man is undergoing all over the earth is like a tidal wave to overwhelm civilization. If we think of this, what can we find in the whole round turning earth to make life good?
The intolerance sickens the soul. Race against race, caste against caste - by what dreadful arrogance could I believe myself better than another woman because my skin is pale? 
But here in the country, we may establish one small territory dedicated to love instead of hate, and possibly that is why we were born. And just possibly when all men have homes, hate will diminish all over the world. 
For we are always pursuing happiness and security. We pursue them, not knowing what they are. Now and then, rarely, we find them, if only briefly. But for me, and for many women like me, and for many men, a small home in a green valley is security and the opportunity to make a happy life.
Looking down on Stillmeadow I see the years that have gone, and the mark of them is a good and kindly mark, for the trees have grown, and the lilacs are spreading graciously. When nature devastates the whole yard full of old and lovely apple trees, she begins new life the next season with young maples, and that year the mallows are as big as full moons. 
The seasons change but new life is always coming, and in the country one never looks backward. As soon as the crops are harvested, we begin to plan next year's garden. When the rose has faded, there is pruning to do for another lovelier rose. Moments of sadness when the delicate amethyst and ivory lace of the lilacs die may shake the heart, but on the morrow we go out to the border and see the rosy red peony, like an English country maid in a lyric, spreading a full skirt.
Gladys remembers the many things that have happened over the years, both the happy and sad. She says, "I remember my mother, who never walked across the lawn her, and is always here." She can talk about the general and the very most personal and we readers feel what she feels. We understand this woman, much like ourselves all these years later. If you haven't read her, I hope you will. And if you have, you know just what I mean. It has been a lovely year with Gladys, and I hope to continue my visits with her each year with a different book. She fills me with joy and hope and real comfort. I couldn't ask for more.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Today's poem by Ted Kooser


Today you would be ninety-seven
if you had lived, and we would all be
miserable, you and your children,
driving from clinic to clinic,
an ancient fearful hypochondriac
and his fretful son and daughter,
asking directions, trying to read
the complicated, fading map of cures.
But with your dignity intact
you have been gone for twenty years,
and I am glad for all of us, although
I miss you everyday - the heartbeat
under your necktie, the hand cupped
on the back of my neck, Old Spice
in the air, your voice delighted with stories.
On this day each year you loved to relate
that the moment of your birth
your mother glanced out the window
and saw lilacs in bloom. Well, today
lilacs are blooming in side yards
all over Iowa, still welcoming you.

Ted Kooser from Delights & Shadows 2004 

Friday, October 19, 2018

Quote du jour/Adam Frost

There's one thing I'm going to do next year. I'm going to celebrate all the things that go right and not worry about the things that go wrong.

Adam Frost on Gardeners' World (I watch on Britbox.)

He was talking about the garden, but honestly they are such good words about life in general.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Stillmeadow - September

I realized that I have gone through most of The Book of Stillmeadow without noting Gladys' poems at the beginning of each month. Here is September's.

Song for September
Not that I ever had her for my own,
Quick in the house I heard her running feet,
Watched the door swing, garnered a sentence blown
Back to my stillness, "Friends I have to meet."
Nor that I knew her, never her secret thought
Came home to me, nor how she dreamed. I knew
Each growing year the size of clothes I bought,
And that her favorite sweater set was blue.

Now sober reason counsels me again,
This was not yours that goes beyond your sight.
Knowing this well, I must perceive with pain,
The bough is empty when the bird takes flight.

Bravely my mind assures me nothing's lost,
But oh my heart admits the killing frost.

Whew! That is deep and so poignant. I think that each monthly poem was generally more wistful, or upset than the prose entry. That's the thing about poetry, isn't it? It can often come right from the heart onto the page. There can be a depth that prose doesn't often touch.

Though my kids are now in their 30s, I still remember those periods of melancholy as they grew up. I had a friend who said of Margaret that she thought she would end up in Los Angeles. What pain that little sentence gave me. You just don't know where they will go. I am thankful every single day that my kids are so close, and that they love the home and the state where they grew up. Lucky, lucky.

This is one of the remarkable things about reading Gladys Taber, all these years after she wrote. She was born in 1899. Her daughter Connie was born in 1927. They are both dead now, but the feeling expressed in this little poem still strikes a chord in a parent's heart, as do all Gladys' essays. This has to be a sign of genius - that your words continue to resonate throughout the years.

So many of us seem to love the month of September.
September wind blows away the fatigue of summer heat, and the listlessness of August weather.
Fatigue and listlessness. Those are great words to describe this past summer. And September was a welcome relief, until we had a reprise of that weather for a few days. The difference was that I knew it wouldn't go on for ages, and the nights were cooler.

Even in my childhood I remember those few hot days that came back in September. I'd be walking home in my wool kilt (anyone remember them? and kilt pins?), simply boiling but I just had to wear my new school clothes no matter the weather!

It is certainly a month of changeable weather. Gladys says,
The September rains are something I just live through. The rain falls straight and dark and heavy and the leaves on every tree and bush are beaten down by the weight. The early-turned leaves are lost now. The rain seems sad, meaning the end of summer days. 
But she goes on,
I don't see how this month can be so exciting and at the same time so sad. It is like the second-act curtain in the play of summer. And every day you feel like begging the play to go on a little longer, before the floodlights go out, and summer is gone.
But there is excitement too. The dramatic first flame of maple, the burning gold of the goldenrod, the coming of the first wild blue asters and the richness of ripening pumpkins. Even the air seems to have color in it; one breathes the color, and the heart beats with it.
I am always frightfully sentimental now. Whether the second-act feeling is responsible, or the color goes to my head, I don't know. But I really go all out with sentiment. 
One of her "sentiments" is so lovely.
I wish we could put up this late summer sunlight in jars. If we could only pack it, clamp the bail down on the glass, set the pressure cooker for, say, ten pounds, and process jars and jars of bright, fresh, mellow sun. I can see how it would look with the jars ranged in the fruit cellar beside the chicken and piccalilli and tomato catsup. And on a dark January day we would bring up a quart or so of sunshine and open it and smell again the warm dreamy air of a late-summer day.
Isn't that just wonderful? It reminds me of my favorite Greg Brown song.

I actually put the lyrics on the blog eleven years ago when I'd been blogging just a couple months.

The Book of Stillmeadow was published in 1948, but the essays have copyrights dating from 1937. Gladys was writing about getting wood together for the winter, when suddenly she says,
We acquired some wood this month at a fearful cost. A small private hurricane descended on us, and in ten minutes took down all the old apple trees in the backyard. Wind and rain made a roaring darkness around the house. A window crashed in and water poured clear across the room, and presently the electric cables to the house were reft away and the place plunged into darkness. ... When day came I looked out on the back yard and felt sure my heart was broken. All the lovely old apple trees, so sweet with bloom in the spring, were sprawled on the grass. Only two were left at the edge of the lawn.
It was an eerie feeling to read this, as I had just seen in the September installment of the Friends of Gladys Taber (which you may read about here) that this past May a tornado went through Southbury, Connecticut. Luckily, the house was spared but a lot of old trees came down, including pines that Gladys had planted in 1938 to replace those 13 apple trees!

After telling Tom about these two things, he began reading Thirty-Eight The Hurricane That Transformed New England by Stephen Long. He thought it was a terrific book. I plan to read it myself sooner than later.

Gladys ends her September essay beautifully with a paraphrase of Keats' words.
Where are the songs of spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too
It has been a little odd for me writing this in the middle of October, but September flew by. Soon, I hope to write about October, the last month in this book.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018


I saw this on Facebook, and I just knew some of my readers would so love it.

The History of 'APRONS'
I don't think our kids know what an apron is. The principle use of Grandma's apron was to protect the dress underneath because she only had a few. It was also because it was easier to wash aprons than dresses and aprons used less material. But along with that, it served as a potholder for removing hot pans from the oven.
It was wonderful for drying children's tears, and on occasion was even used for cleaning out dirty ears.
From the chicken coop, the apron was used for carrying eggs, fussy chicks, and sometimes half-hatched eggs to be finished in the warming oven.
When company came, those aprons were ideal hiding places for shy kids.
And when the weather was cold, Grandma wrapped it around her arms.
Those big old aprons wiped many a perspiring brow, bent over the hot wood stove.
Chips and kindling wood were brought into the kitchen in that apron.
From the garden, it carried all sorts of vegetables. After the peas had been shelled, it carried out the hulls.
In the fall, the apron was used to bring in apples that had fallen from the trees.
When unexpected company drove up the road, it was surprising how much furniture that old apron could dust in a matter of seconds.
When dinner was ready, Grandma walked out onto the porch, waved her apron, and the men folk knew it was time to come in from the fields to dinner.
It will be a long time before someone invents something that will replace that 'old-time apron' that served so many purposes.
Grandma used to set her hot baked apple pies on the window sill to cool. Her granddaughters set theirs on the window sill to thaw.
They would go crazy now trying to figure out how many germs were on that apron.
I don't think I ever caught anything from an apron - but love
---Hawk Seeker of Truth---

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Today's Nature Cam Picture/Coyote and wild turkeys

I decided to make a label just for the nature cam photos so they would have their own place here on the blog. The camera is still on the outside corner of the fence by the road.

The time is off on the pictures. We have to check into the setting.

I'm thinking this may be "our" lone coyote that was in the first nature cam picture I put up here. He must have a trail because there he is in the same place in both September and October. There is a whole life going on while I'm asleep!

I am exceedingly fond of turkeys, which I am sure I've written here before. They are a huge success story in my state. The last sighting had been in 1854!! There is a great article here if you are interested.

And here are a couple pictures of not-so-wild creatures!

Saturday, September 29, 2018

No-Bake Key Lime Cheesecake Pie

I posted a recipe for Key Lime Pie a while back. It was actually seven years ago, which I can hardly believe! Anyhow, it it here, if you haven't seen it. I have made this pie quite a few times, but there was always something about it that didn't quite make me happy. Well, recently I read
Using the more common Persian limes in this dessert (instead of Key limes) would be no crime. :) However using bottled juice for this recipe absolutely would be. For best results, use freshly squeezed lime juice. Do not use bottled, even bottled "Key lime" juice, which will impart a sourness to your pie. Freshly squeezed juice is what you want. 
This came from Alice Alfonsi who is one half of the writing team (with her husband) that writes the excellent Coffeehouse Mysteries. I thought, yes, that's it! The pie was indeed sour! There was an aftertaste which I didn't like.

Her recipe is here, but I'll write it out, as well.

Key Lime Pie

1 (14-ounce) can of sweetened condensed milk
3/4 cup freshly squeezed (and strained) lime juice - my limes were just ordinary limes
2 (8 ounce packages) of softened cream cheese

1 graham cracker pie crust 

I mixed up the first three ingredients in the electric mixer until very creamy and smooth. I poured the mix into the pie crust, and put it in the refrigerator overnight.

This is out-of-this-world delicious. I'll never make the other kind again! 

This is the pie crust I used.

The suggestion was to place the foiled crust in a regular pie plate "for stability" and I did. 

I didn't top it with whipped cream. It was perfect without!

I'll share this at Weekend Cooking

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Today's picture/man-dad outfit

Michael sent this to us yesterday morning. This is what Campbell wanted to wear to school - his "man-dad" outfit. The glasses aren't real. The tie is Michael's. I can hardly bear how cute he is.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Jacob's Room is Full of Books - September

Susan Hill's September entry was only 11 pages, the shortest yet, but somehow it didn't seem short. Perhaps because there were fewer "subjects" with more information on each? September finds her in a rental cottage in France. Doesn't that sound nice? I would like to say, "September finds me in a cottage in the French countryside." The weather however was very hot for some of it, and she, like me, wilts in the heat and humidity. 34º C. which is about 93º F. Yuck. Thank goodness my September has been cooler. We've even had a couple frosts, though they haven't been the "killer" frosts when even covering the tomatoes doesn't help. So we continue to eat tomatoes right off the vine.

Of course what Susan Hill does on such a vacation is to read. She's brought books from home, but also is interested in the books that other renters have left-behind. I love that idea of leaving books you are done with, and picking up some that others have left. It's like those little free libraries that have sprouted up in the US (and other places?).

If you were hoping for a list of authors, as I was, she doesn't disappoint.
They fascinate me, those holiday reads, and I have studied a good many in my time. Indeed, I have compiled a list of the authors whose books - always in paperback - are most often found in rented properties, both at home and in France. I start going through them as soon as I have unpacked and I rarely score fewer than five.
The list does change every few years.
This year the bookcases have contained, in no particular order: Joanna Trollope, Dan Brown, Jenny Colgan, Stephen King, Daphne du Maurier, Victoria Hislop, Ian McEwan, Val McDermid, P.D. James, Ruth Rendell, Jojo Moyes. And Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. Captain Corelli's Mandolin has not been found for a while. 
 Several authors dropped off the bottom a couple years ago - Catherine Cookson, Dean Koontz, Gerald Durrell, Peter Mayle. John le Carré comes and goes.
This year there are a few surprises. Olivia Manning's Balkan Trilogy is here. So are books by Julian Barnes, Martin Amis, Elizabeth Bowen, Patricia Highsmith, Jeanette Winterson - and Jane Austen, Dickens, Charlotte Brontë, Hemingway and Raymond Carver. An upmarket bookcase then.
Would you be tickled to find such authors in your rental house?

Susan Hill goes on to discuss Olivia Manning in quite some detail, which pleased me because last year I bought both The Balkan Trilogy and The Levant Trilogy. Of course, I haven't read them yet, but they wait patiently on my shelf.

I am struck in this month's passage, as I am every month, at what a reader Susan Hill is. Writing of the two trilogies, she says
This summer's re-reading must be my fourth, and each time the books yield something new, perhaps because as I grow older I understand more.
FOUR re-readings!!

You know how in late spring the buzz is always about what the upcoming "summer reads" will be? I've never quite understood because my reading doesn't change with the seasons. And I don't go to the beach. If I did, I'd be swimming or walking, not reading.
... beach reads. I was slightly mortified when a friend on holiday in Turkey reported seeing three people reading one of my crime novels on a beach - I have never taken them too seriously, but for a split second I thought, 'I didn't realise they were as bad as that.' 
What a delight this woman is to me. She is scholarly, interesting, informative, witty, and funny. Reading this book is a bit like taking a course from her, and I am loving it.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Another milestone - this one about milk

You might wonder at the title of this blog post, how in the world can milk be a milestone in a life? Well here is the answer, at least in the life I have lived for nearly fifty years.

As you probably know by now if you are a long-time reader of Letters from a Hill Farm, Tom and I are older hippies. We became aware of "real" food in the late 1960s, and have never let it go. We became vegetarians in 1971 due pretty much to a photograph of some words someone said about why he (Donovan or Paul McCartney, methinks) became a vegetarian. He saw a cattle truck, and looked into the eyes of a cow on the way to its death. I can't recall if there was a photo of the cow or not, but I know just where it hung in our first apartment in Boston.

At this point in our lives, we don't know a single person who is a vegetarian or a vegan. Meat is huge now. Somehow it isn't unhealthy to eat the carcinogenic nitrates or nitrites in bacon anymore. People put bacon in everything, and it is rather a food favorite in the world.

Along with giving up meat, we also began to eat whole grains instead of white bread and rice. We learned about foods that are now common in the US but then were as rare as hens' teeth, such as hummus and tabouli. And we learned about raw milk, the milk our parents would have grown up on. When I was a kid, there was still un-homogenized milk and I remember having to shake the milk carton at school. On the occasion when I drink from a carton now, I have to remind my muscle memory that I don't have to do that anymore.

There was a health food store, and a big Erewhon store (the first) just down the street from our second apartment in Boston, and we did all our food shopping there. When my mother died and we moved back home in 1973, it wasn't easy finding the food we were used to. There was a mail order catalogue called Walnut Acres where we bought a lot of items. We made occasional day trips to Boston to pick up other things. And we grew and froze as much as we could. But raw milk we could get right here! There was a farm in town that sold to the big dairy cooperatives, but locals could go right to the farm and get their own raw milk. We brought our own bottles, and filled them usually twice a week. We have done this for all these years, but now the original owners have died, and though their son took over for many years, now it is his time to "give up the cows". He is 63, and said it would be nice to go to a family get-together or an autumn fair without having to get back to milk the cows. He is definitely conflicted though, and the last time Tom talked with him, the last time we got milk, he said he didn't know how he would react when the last ones were taken away. His son is taking over the farm and raising meat (see what I mean - meat is way popular while milk isn't so much) for local markets.

The last of our local farm milk, and yogurt made from that milk, in the fridge.

This change, this milestone hit us harder than we imagined, and not only emotionally. Our milk from the farm cost us $2/gallon! We would keep track of how much we owed and after a while would bring him out some cash, which he preferred because he would put a check in his pocket and forget about it.

When I first went shopping for milk when our last farm milk was gone, I was pretty shocked to see the difference in cost! And I was happily surprised at the variety of milk that is available now. I don't mean the variety of percentages of fat, but in the opportunity to buy raw milk, organic raw milk, organic homogenized and pasteurized milk. As I've written before, we can get just about anything we want right in our Co-op store - a real miracle when we think back on what was available when we first came home.

So now there was a decision to make. Which did we want? I've tried a couple so far.

We haven't made a definite decision but we are leaning toward the Organic Valley. It is organic, but not raw. It says it is from a New England farm, and has the name of the farmer on it. The company must have farms all over the country now. I've been buying their butter and cream cheese for years. This milk is cheaper than the previous picture, but it isn't raw. There is a local farm that offers raw, organic milk in gallon containers, but when I've shopped the date has been too close and I knew we wouldn't drink it all in that short time. I will try that one when I catch it having a later sell-by date. It is more expensive than OV but less expensive than the Kimball Brook.

Before we started making our own yogurt (blog post about it here), I used to buy either Brown Cow or Stonyfield. Now I see that Brown Cow is distributed by Stonyfield. They are both great, and are the same price, but the Brown Cow has more cream at the top.

So there it is. We are lucky, lucky that we are, as they say, spoilt for choice in available products. But there is a sadness in the reason we must make those choices.

Addendum: the money we now spend on milk and yogurt is countered somewhat by  not making a 30 mile round trip twice a week for milk. I also don't have to use the longer wash time in the dishwasher for milk bottles to get them very, very clean. I only use it now when I've got the bread baking bowl in there.