Tuesday, November 13, 2007
For a few minutes after I began to post images onto this blog, the sun was raking on the upper pasture to the north that I can see, quite intentionally, from my desk. It is a balmy late autumn day and the glimpse of a blue sky, no matter how brief, is always welcome. A gentle, steady rain stopped, and is soon to resume, after nearly a day of it--the first real soaking in several months in this drought-ridden Kentucky land. Margaret, our neighbor to the north, was saying the winter rye, just planted, would die if it didn't have rain soon. Yellow and parched, the new shoots were beginning to resemble the wizened corn stalks that wait for the harvesting of their drooping ears for seed corn.
Our front entry porch boasts a new gnome welcome mat from my friend, Edie...
and a gnome birdhouse made by the Michigan Amish from Rosemary
Framed sheet music from Judy graces our front entry
For the past two weeks we have been at our new home in Kentucky, setting up our house and enrolling the boys in school for January (and I used the Kentucky Book Fair on November 10 as an excuse to extend our time here). I was here for two weeks in the first part of October and for the first week I was here alone cleaning before my husband came down with a Penske truck full of furniture. Meanwhile, he was up in New Hampshire readying our museum-like 1813 Federal home for sale. The dichotomy of place and circumstance was not lost on me. I began to think about the places where I have lived in my life and how and why it is now, at middle age, that we are downsizing our house, readjusting our lives to a more rural environment where we can farm, and making a major move for our family--to a place where until a year ago we knew virtually no one.
In late August, as I may have already mentioned in another blog entry, we had the opportunity to purchase another parcel of land on an adjacent ridge, within a mile of our other farmland. The initial attraction for us was a large 45-acre field, currently in soybeans and an additional 30 acres of partially reclaimed pasture land and, a double wide (or as the natives call anything not on a cellar: a trailer). We approached the owner about just buying the land itself but when we looked at the fairly new double wide (my husband prefers the term "modular home") on the property, with its spacious 30x70 sprawl of five bedrooms, 3 baths, just enough living (and closet!) space, a barn and two sheds, a storm shelter, and even a laundry/mud room, we realized we had found our transition home. A place to be while we settle in, start our boys in school, start our cattle operation and substinence farm, and figure out where we eventually want to put our new "old" farmhouse.
I never thought I'd live in a house remotely like this but I have to admit that I am somewhat enthralled: one floor, easy to keep and tend, a clean slate. It is the first time in our eleven-year marriage that I've had a place of our own to nest in from scratch. Our home in New Hampshire is a beautiful showplace, filled with the stuff of several generations (mostly from my husband's family), but our own touches, too, and some things I'd inherited. It has been a home, yes, but not quite in the same way. I moved into my husband's family home--along with some of his family--and naturally, despite his tremendous accommodation, there is a certain level of discomfort in that for any woman.
There is also an inherent care taking to a legacy house and that can be as much of a burden and responsibility as it is an honor. We realize, as we furnished our Kentucky home with primitive pieces of furniture, a mixture of old things in storage in the barn, and an “odd sortment” of collections that we'd accumulated but not suitable for a grand Federal home, that we can be happy with fewer things and even fewer museum quality collections. Sure, we'll keep some things to pass along to our children and for our future farmhouse but we are ready to let go, too, and that is a liberating thing.
The Hearth of the Home
Hearth TO the Home ~ Sideboard with Wallace Nutting Photograph of our "New England Villager"
Living in a mansion, especially when you are your own servant, is a persistent concern. I could write and work in the house in my small office overlooking Main Street but in my mind was a constant tick of things I needed to do. The laundry in the cellar, the closets to sort, the gathering dust bunnies under the beds: a whole house full of accumulation and memory and stuff. Some rooms we rarely used. We did have cleaning help at times, and I was grateful, but I also felt this kind of remorse: couldn't I keep the house tidy? Why am I allowing someone else to clean our mess? And did I want others pawing around our things? The answer is not really (not in the way that it needed), I don't know, and no!
Wendell Berry wrote in a piece for Orion Magazine entitled "Thoughts in the Presence of Fear" [written in the wake of 9-11-01 ~ for the complete article see Orion Society website]:
"The first thing we must begin to teach our children (and learn ourselves) is that we cannot spend and consume endlessly. We have got to learn to save and conserve. We do need a 'new economy', but one that is founded on thrift and care, on saving and conserving, not on excess and waste."
Curtains still need to be hung, as do some paintings and prints
My husband is a liberated, and lovable, old crank. Despite his confirmed status as a card-carrying luddite (he does not go near the computer), he can vacuum with the best of them and does laundry and folds it better than I can (he even learned how to fold a fitted bed sheet, something I’ve never mastered despite Martha Stewart’s effortless demonstration). We'd pitch in and do things together, but the house was still overwhelming for my idea-driven, ADD-addled brain. I tend to want to do things right or not do them at all (and thus the latter tendency usually prevails) and have too many things I'd rather be doing than to worry about a big house.
A proper laundry and mudroom at last...
complete with inspirational vintage decor!
Here in the double wide with its freshly painted cream walls, its surprisingly pleasing plum wall-to-wall carpeting, my own eclectic decor, and a view up to the pasture from my office window (where soon cattle will graze), there is a place for everything and everything in its place. As in our larger home in New Hampshire, each of us still has our own space and quiet corner, there is room for visitors (and hopefully our daughter on occasion, now in college "back home"), and all the needed essentials of a living environment: ample kitchen, dining area, living room and den. I even have a mudroom/laundry room at last--something that was lacking in our big old New England manse.
Alice Van Leer Carrick wrote in The Next-to-Nothing House, a book about her small, tidily furnished New Hampshire Cape, in 1922:
“I believe that making a home should be a matter of both leisure and affection; lacking either quality people get ‘a roof over their head—an address,’ but nothing else. And I think also that you have to love your house as you do your children, because it exacts a price, because it is a bother, a blessed bother; you must be willing to offer oblation and sacrifice.”
At last, a kitchen window on the world (well, the back porch!)
I have my husband’s grandmother’s copy of The Next-to-Nothing House, purchased in 1923 and carefully marked in light pencil notes throughout. She bought the book just before her marriage, according to her maiden name on the front page, and it is clear the book inspired her, as it did many women during the Colonial Revival period of the early 20th century. She may have been just as overwhelmed by the New Hampshire house, purchased after her husband retired and where we now live, nearly fifty years later. The home and its setting had been her husband’s dream but he died before ever having lived there.
Tomorrow (well, maybe Thursday) we will begin the two-day journey back to New Hampshire and will enjoy probably the last holiday season in our historic village home. It will be a bittersweet time but it will also be a time to look forward--to a year ahead of much good and positive change in our lives. I am ready.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Something for everyone at the Kentucky Book Fair
Yesterday was my first book fair experience. I attended the 26th Kentucky Book Fair at the Frankfort Convention Center. The local coverage has been tremendous and last week The Pantry was one of two book covers featured in an article on the fair in The Lexington Herald. Well-organized and planned (thanks to Connie Crowe and other organizers and volunteers), the fair drew over 170 authors, most with Kentucky connections.
The theme of the fair this year was the cookbook genre and they included The Pantry in that category as it is food-related. I sat among several cookbook authors but especially enjoyed being right next to Bruce and Shelley Richardson who have published many tea cookbooks (several of which I own) and who used to operate The Elmwood Inn in Perryville, Kentucky where they had a popular tea room (and which is still the site of their tea empire). Now they write and consult widely and develop their own tea blends, publishing some lovely books on tea and places to have tea throughout the world. Bruce introduced me to many Kentuckians in the book and publishing world and I also learned of the fabulous independent booksellers in Lexington and in several other locations, Joseph-Beth, who helped sponsor the book fair.
Of course a bit of shopping was in order (ok, I got a bit carried away) and I browsed other author tables from time to time and enjoyed meeting them. A highlight for me was meeting Wendell Berry, a native Kentucky farmer, writer and poet. He has a quiet, self-deprecating presence and reserve about him and he patiently signed a small pile of books for me. I have always admired his writings about the land, his faith, and perspectives. In many ways he is a modern day Lois Bromfield, one of those people I would like to meet today if I could.
In his day, Bromfield was a great influence on my grandparents' decision to leave the New Jersey suburbs in 1946 and go "Back to the Land". Malabar Farm is today preserved in Lucas County, Ohio, near Mansfield, and operated by the Ohio State Parks Commission. I also met Jon Carloftis, a New York-based garden designer who also has a shop in Kentucky with his mother, at his home place. His recent book First A Garden is a lovely compilation of photographs of his Kentucky home and various gardens he has designed.
Another highlight of the day for me was meeting Catherine Staat who said she has been a "quiet" blog reader for a while (and it is always great to connect with another Catherine!). She and her husband, Blaine, have settled in Kentucky in the past few years, leaving the rat race behind them. As it turns out, they aren't far from where we have landed (both geographically and somewhat in mindset). Catherine keeps her own blog [Mrs. Catherine's] and publishes a magazine called Making It Home. She also home schools two of her children and writes a column, with her husband, for The Casey County News. In a local article about them last year what resonated most for me was that before settling in this part of the world, they realized they were able to afford everything materially that they could want and instead desired to simplify their lives. Thus a move to a quieter, more rural place. "We were kind of saying it was time to stop the world and get off," Blaine was quoted in the article.
Catherine is part of a very large movement of home-based Christian women who are seeking to return the home to the spiritual and physical center of their lives and families. Many of these women also blog--and read mine--and I find their perspectives both of interest and refreshing in today's world. Historically, I would liken it to the Cult of Domesticity in the nineteenth century that advocated the importance of the woman and wife as the spiritual keeper and tender of the hearth and home. I imagine if Harriet Beecher Stowe and her sister Catharine Beecher, authors of The American Woman's Home, were alive today they would be prolific bloggers and have even more of a widespread following.
Another woman, Meryl Randall Ward, an interior designer, stopped by and we started chatting about Kentucky. Native Kentuckians often ask, part curious, part incredulous, "What brought you to Kentucky?" and I just open my arms as if to say, "Look around you!" (As with the places where we live, we often take for granted what we experience every day but while Kentuckians seem to have an innate understanding of their natural world there is also a sense of "why would anyone else like it here?") As it turns out, Meryl grew up on Hickory Nut Ridge where we live and is cousins with many of our neighbors. This was one of many delightful coincidences throughout the day and only seemed to verify our decision to be here.
I enjoyed talking with people about their pantries, why they have them or want them. Many browsers said, "oh I could never have a pantry that looks like that!" but that isn't the point of The Pantry. It is as much a history and fusion of the domestic impulse that drives the home and hearth, a nostalgic journey, as it is a collection of beautiful and inspiring images (if I do say so myself). Everywhere I go people comment on the fine book design and photography and I have the folks at Gibbs Smith to thank for that as well as the fine photography of my friends Susan Daley and Steve Gross. It has been a great journey in The Pantry and I'm glad somewhere amongst that process that we have found Kentucky.