Sunday, October 28, 2007

In the Pantry ~ Literally!


Today I had a much-needed kitchen purge. Several cupboards and closets were reorganized: most stuff was packed for Kentucky after I consolidated what I had and divided the spoils (mmm, 8 bread pans, I guess I can pack half up). Other things, like odd bits of plastic storage stuff, were tossed. It always feels good to pare down and it was good to realize I had enough to stock another kitchen, more or less, without having to buy more. I also removed things from the fridge and kept things to the side of it so the white span at the front looks clean and barren, but less cluttered.

Meanwhile, the bottom cupboard of the Welsh dresser, which was full of muffin tins, and too much unused plastic junk, was completely emptied. Eli and Henry helped and then vacuumed and wiped it out for me. Then they hid inside and surprised me. It is empty for the moment as I contemplate what to put in it!

This old cupboard base used to be in another part of the kitchen. My husband wanted to take it to the dump but I insisted we keep it. Years ago, he had picked it up at a farm auction as a stop-gap counter and storage for a kitchen that didn't have any built-ins. So at first he couldn't see the charm of the primitive well-worn patina.

For a wedding present to each other eleven years ago we had an upper portion made for it by a local cabinet maker, Donald Dunlap. For several years it has housed our extensive Country Fare pottery collection (from Zanesville Pottery in Ohio: c. 1940s-1960s) but it has also had several incarnations over the years. Eventually, when we build our farmhouse, I will have to make sure there is a wall in the new kitchen devoted to it as it is six feet wide and about ten feet high. I can't imagine a kitchen without it.

Monday, October 22, 2007

October Glowing (in the Gloaming)


My friend Linda called tonight and we spoke about the amazing October weather we've been having: all glowing and shimmering. There is something golden about low October light but both of us have a harder time when the summer days wane into an earlier dark. She said "there is an old feeling about the day and time." Yes! Old ~ That's the word I've been searching for all of these years to describe the early fall twilight that settles into darkness. But there is also an introspection, a melancholy. It is the time of day where if I were not making dinner or dealing with homework that I would otherwise want to slip into a quiet chapel for reflective evening matins. The recent warmth helps to soften the other aspect of fall: the growing cold.

When I returned from Kentucky a week ago I came from sunset at nearly 8pm and the hot warmth of a New Hampshire August. Our farm is a few miles from the Central time zone, but still in Eastern time, so the days are longer in the evening all year (I imagine in midsummer it doesn't get dark until 10pm). That added hour of light at the end of the day (instead of in the morning when we get it in New Hampshire) is a tremendous thing for me. In the span of the two days drive home I went from August to October again in terms of late afternoon light. It was a shock to my system. Crossing the New Hampshire border in Northfield, Massachusetts at twilight (a enjoyable ritual all of those summers driving to the farm from Ohio) I could feel the closing in of the trees and the dark. It took me a week to transition again.

My grandmother from New Hampshire (and who would have been 97 today, ironically!) sent us an album of Scottish songs when I was a child. I used to play it and dance in the living room in our Akron house thinking of my grandmother back on the farm. One song, "Roamin' in the Gloamin'" by Harry Lauder was a particular favorite. I've since learned that "gloamin'" is the twilight. This can be the most beautiful time of day most of the year but in the autumn it is the saddest part of the day for me.

Linda and Eric invited us to their annual Halloween party this year. The theme was black, red and white. Our costumes, while fitting the theme, were no where as great as some of the other party-goers who were clearly Tenney Halloween veterans. I hadn't played party games in years and after a delicious dinner we had a scavenger hunt all over the town where they live.

The festive decorations and party games reminded me of Halloween birthday parties I had with my friend Beth in Akron days. One year our mothers painted a spook house mural all over the cinder block foundation of the Tompkins basement. It is likely still there under the sheet rock. Beth and I were born a week apart at the end of October.

But hands down, Linda is the Halloween Queen! I wish that my camera (something is wrong with the lens) was working because her decorations were something out of a magazine. In fact, I'll likely be blogging with my unused stock photos for a while. (Or maybe I'll get a Canon Rebel for my birthday?)

Recent Pantry Press


I need to update my website also (desperately) but here is the latest:

• "Reads-On the Subject of Homes: Ten New Books Celebrate the Places Where We Live," by Barbara Ballinger, The Chicago Tribune, October 21, 2007
• "Pantries are Little Museums of Family Life," by Claire Whitcomb, The Orlando Sentinel, October 20, 2007 [As this article is with the Universal Press Syndicate, it has also appeared, so far, in The Chicago Tribune as "Behind Closed Doors: Pantries Let You Hide the Chaos," October 14, 2007 and in The Denver Post as "The Return of the Pantry," October 3, 2007]
• "The Victorian Pantry," p. 48, Country Victorian [Winter 2008: Harris Publications] You can find this magazine on newsstands every where (sorry, no website link).

Historic Home for Sale

Whitcomb House, Main Street, Hancock, New Hampshire

It has been a busy few weeks as you can well imagine and I'm still catching up. Our New Hampshire house is on the market. [For more on our house, please see or contact our realtor, Greg Hanselman at 603-924-8373 at his Peterborough, New Hampshire office (I've known Greg since Barrett House museum days but by way of all things Ohio, he is originally from the Akron area, like I am.)] You can also e-mail me at if you would like more information.

"A New Hampshire Brick-Ender," by Wallace Nutting

Over the next few months I will be providing a link to more information about our unique historic home--either in a separate website or blog (and lots of articles that the house has been in, as well as its unique history and interior/landscape today). Also, I need to process the whole letting go that selling a home, or a legacy house, entails. We have been caretakers of this house and its family legacy for sometime, my husband especially, and have loved being here with our three children. But it is time for us to leave it: several years ago I couldn't say that or feel it (and we did have the house on the market then for a bit). Now I am ready.

So if I'm not blogging as much it is because we are either coming, or going. But it is in the midst of enjoyable and productive chaos as we prepare for our new lives and let go of our old ones. A perfect time to be turning 45 in a few weeks: a positive midlife shake down! I say, bring it on.

Gibson House


In late September, before leaving for Kentucky, I gave a talk on "The Victorian Pantry" at the Gibson House Museum in Boston, Massachusetts. Preserved as a Victorian house museum since 1957, Gibson House was built in 1860 on the newly-created flats of Boston's Back Bay and remains today as a time capsule spanning many decades, especially the Victorian era. Like the most successful of historic house museums, Gibson House was left intact with family furniture, objets d'art, letters, books, photographs: the things that make a home.

For several years in the mid-1980s while I was living in Boston and attending graduate school at Boston University, I had the chance to live and work in Gibson House as a resident guide. I had the fifth floor servant's quarters to myself, more closet and drawer space than I'd ever had before, or since (where linens and extra clothes were stored), an opportunity to get to know a unique home while living in downtown Boston with few expenses. The experience of living and working there was life-changing for me in many ways: personally, in my career, and was even the subject of my first published article in Victoria Magazine in 1990.


In the early 1990s I was hired by the Gibson Society to complete a study report on the interior of the house and its architectural and social history. It later became the template for nomination as a Boston Landmark and National Landmark status. Their website is a well-produced backdrop for the house and its place and importance in Victorian domestic history (and of course there are several pantries, which were good to see again!).

I had not been back to the house in about fifteen years. The place seemed smaller but that old shut-up house smell was there, what my daughter Addie, now 19, always called "that Gibson House smell": warm and woody with echoes of a simmering past. I was glad that my husband, two boys, and several great friends were able to be there. It was an odd sort of homecoming.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Written in the Hills

Just to touch base: I've been in the midst of a move to our new "home place" and despite that I have been alone for the past week--well, without my family here--to set up and clean and get things rolling, I haven't had a chance to blog (even with wireless internet at the hotel at night). The furniture is arriving today and I promise more soon but perhaps not until we return to New Hampshire mid-month. We'll be back and forth for a while.