January 1, 2023

Not sure when or how I chanced upon Chantelle Elem, aka Fat Mum Slim, on Facebook; she was an early blogger and community builder. She also shared her struggles with body image and weight loss. Probably her most popular shared activity is her Photo a Day that has, according to her website, been going on since 2012. I like the idea of a theme to help create a photo. So far, I have ended up with two photos each day, an official and unofficial. Hello was the theme for January 1.

I am not a selfie fan so I started with my shadow and Major on our first walk of the year. We do the circuit of the farm, a little more than a half mile, with lots of smelling, digging, and bird watching. I am also usually listening to a book or a podcast. I let him mostly choose the path and at some point will post the maps of the walks as they can be quite funny, like those old Family Circus cartoons of the path the children took across the back yard when called to dinner.

Then, I went ahead and took the selfie. Here it is: me at 60-1/2 years old in all my unfiltered, no-makeup glory. I will echo Chantelle’s blog post linked above: I like me. Since these posts are mainly about pictures, I’ll direct you to my other blog, In Another Place, if you are interested in more details about the life of a happy crone. Long story short: I got a new hip and a new lease on life in 2019, using the new-found energy to start a yoga practice and, working with my coach and his nutritionist-wife, lost 80 pounds in 2022. It didn’t fix the wrinkles or gray hair but I feel better than I have felt for a very long time. Hello, world!

P.S. I just noticed there are 11 email subscribers. Thanks…and, I hope I didn’t shock you too much when a new post showed up yesterday.

Mid June Mosaic

Sometimes pictures are worth more than words…

1. Cardinal Flower, 2. Wildflower, 3. Mexican Fritillary, 4. Onions, 5. Two Days Old, 6. The Corn Is As High…, 7. Red Chard, 8. Chick, 9. Farm Sign, 10. Cauliflower, 11. Wildflowers and Barn, 12. Yellow Hollyhocks, 13. Pink Hollyhocks, 14. Blackberries, 15. Patty Pan, 16. Fennel, 17. Orange Chard, 18. Black Eyed Susan, 19. Yucca, 20. The Silo Area, 21. Trumpet Vine, 22. Yarrow, 23. Chard and Barn, 24. The Harvest, 25. Sweet Potatoes

My First Christmas Letter

I usually don’t write a typical Christmas letter, preferring instead to jot short individual notes in each card. With the advent of social media and email communications, many friends both near and far know what we are are up to whether through Facebook status updates, flickr photos or the blog. As for old family friends, aunts, uncles and cousins, my mother makes a good social network node. But I suppose there are folks who are busy living their own lives without time to have much interest in mine.  So if you haven’t been following along, here are the highlights.
We started the year in the same small 1920s bungalow in suburban Williamsburg that we had lived in together since we married nearly 20 years ago. We ended the year in a two-story, rambling 1850s farmhouse in rural Virginia. It came with 18 acres that we hope to cultivate in various ways from pick-your-own berries to farm stand produce to a few pigs and cows.

We started the year with one old dog–Tina Turner the beagle mix still graces our lives–and ended the year with three dogs. Tina welcomed Spot, a large lab/terrier mix, in early April, and just recently, Major, a stray beagle/lab mix puppy probably born somewhere on our property adopted us. I’m still longing for two cats to hang out in the library but we’ll get past raising the puppy first.

2011 saw some major change in our lives. While we miss our Williamsburg friends and neighbors, we are having a great time on the farm. Bob is harvesting gorgeous vegetables from cucumbers to greens to soon-to-be red cherry tomatoes from the sun room that runs along the southern side of the house. We’ve put in some gas logs so we will be cozy this winter since all the chimneys need lined before the fireplaces can be used. We would love to have you visit us here in Waverly. We have a lovely downstairs guest room with its own bath.

We both work from home so usually one of us is here. Feel free to just drop by. We can’t promise it will be dust free but we would love to see you despite that. You can also keep up with us at http://www.bottletreefarm.com.

Our best wishes to your for a peaceful holiday season and a new year full of joy and love.  And just for fun…enjoy some Christmas karaoke!


I’m not completely sure what happened to November.  Between prepping for the conference and hosting my family for Thanksgiving, it was a crazy month. The conference ended earlier this week and we have no travel plans until Christmas.  So, I can get caught up on cleaning, organizing and writing.

The house is mostly decorated for Christmas thanks to my mother.  My folks visited for a week early in November then came for a few days before Thanksgiving and while my dad refinished two tables, my mother cleaned and decorated.  This is a GREAT house to decorate, from the lighted tree in the front window to the garland on the staircase.  And after having NO mantles from which to hang stockings, we now have four downstairs and four upstairs.  I wonder how Santa decides which chimney to use?

Getting heat going was a major concern.  The furnace works but it is pretty inefficient so we had propane lines installed and inserts put into three of the fireplaces, including the library which is our main hang out room.  It is toasty warm and the heat rises to the upstairs bedroom where we sleep.

Today was a “dog” day.  I walked my two early this morning and Spot was overly excited by some smell down near the silo.  His hackles were up all along his spine. Then, we saw hunting beagles tearing around the front yard and field, their owners in hot pursuit.  We helped them catch one and they said that something had spooked them, gesturing towards the back of our property. Hmmm…we’re wondering about coyotes although Bob has also mentioned a bear.  Better keep my eyes open on those early, pre-coffee walks!

The other dogs that were part of the day are now tucked into the dog crate in the back of my truck, waiting for animal control to open on Monday.  It’s a mother beagle and her adorable puppy that somehow ended up under our lumber pile.  We’ve seen her before but she has always run away and we know she had at least two other puppies earlier this year.  Today, we managed to catch both of them only to discover that the dog catcher won’t come on the weekend unless it’s an emergency.  It is tempting to adopt them, but I’m letting my intellect rule my emotion.  Four dogs would be too many and I’m not prepared for a puppy.  The local farmer who helped us get them from barrel to crate thought she might make a good hunting dog so we have a small bet that he will come back to retrieve them tomorrow.  Meanwhile, they have food and water and the truck will certainly be warmer than outside.  I’ll check on them before I go to bed.  One of the perils of living in the country is that people let their dogs run and aren’t always great about getting them spayed and neutered. But I can’t adopt every stray that wanders through…my two are both rescues and maybe someone will find a soft spot for these two. I’m still holding out for two cats.


Instant Yeast & Other Wonders…A Second Try

In my 20s, when I dabbled in vegetarianism, Diet for a Small Planet was something of the holy book. In those days,  I baked most of the bread I ate with Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book guiding the way .  Then real life intervened with work and higher education and other interests, and I drifted in to the world of industrial eating: plenty of meat, white sugar, and processed flour.

Now, a whole series of books has led me back to those early days of real food, and I’m finding that the farm environment only makes it seem more sensible. Not to mention a not-so-much-older friend whose failed stress test led to a strict vegan diet and just a general desire to feel better and lose some weight.   I suppose it started with Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma coupled with Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  They were stark reminders of just how far away I personally had moved away from my own convictions when it came to what I put in my mouth.  And the baking impulse can be traced to browsing the King Arthur Flour’s whole grains baking book, fondly remembering the wonders of bread baking and the enticing smell and nutty taste of whole wheat bread.

The most recent book came from the Green Valley Book Fair in Harrisonburg, Virginia.  I wandered through the wooden tables and made it across the walkway to foods and crafts.  And there was Mark Bittman’s The Food Matters Cook Book.  I was taken immediately by his pragmatic tone…he still eats meat but is trying to be less meatatarian.  He has adopted a different relationship to meat and that has made the difference.  His wonderful recipes celebrate all the foods that often take a back seat to the protein and in the section on baking, I found his amazingly simple whole wheat bread recipe that called for something my friend of the King Arthur book had also mentioned: instant yeast.

What a concept.  How many bricks have I baked when the yeast failed to rise?  Even a short flirtation with a bread machine did not make things any more consistent unless I used a mix.  I found sour dough bread to be fool proof but after months of eating it, my husband begged for something else and that really was the end of my bread baking days.

But now I’m back, with two loaves of bread under my belt just this week.  I baked them with the instant yeast, and both of them–one made with white and one made with whole wheat–turned out perfectly.  I can’t wait to get into the kitchen and try something else: maybe some whole wheat hamburger buns.

I’m also experimenting with a healthy muffin recipe as a vehicle for all the strawberries, blueberries and raspberries in the freezer.  My friend on the strict diet ate three of the most recent attempt that included oats, whole wheat, apple sauce and agave nectar instead of the white stuff (flour, sugar) and vegetable oil.  They could have been a bit moister but other than that were quite good with nice flavor and texture.  I sent the rest of the batch home with them and made whole wheat scone with raisins for us to eat this weekend.

And so, the bakery at Bottle Tree Farm is born.

Instant Yeast & Other Wonders

Fall really arrived with a vengeance yesterday.  We were lucky to be able to spend Thursday introducing old friends to the farm.  We toured the house, took a long walk, then enjoyed a leisurely lunch and coffee and conversation on the front porch before they had to head down the road.  Lovely and then, yesterday, we woke to cold winds, cloudy skies.  It rained through the night and I bundled into the storm slicker and wellies for the early dog walk.  The barn yard is flooded, and it’s too muddy and wet to walk the edge of the field.  So Bob entertained Spot with a truck drive since he won’t be getting the usual long walks today and he does have a bit of energy.

We’re battling fleas.  We started the summer with flea collars and all seemed well until mid-August when suddenly the dogs were scratching and biting like crazy.   The discount priced flea poison we tried  had no effect. We’ve waited  the required 30 days with Bob doing a lot of combing and spraying and are ready to apply the name brand stuff that has been successful in the past.  I haven’t looked to see if they have the same ingredient but I’m hoping this is one of those times when we get what we pay for.  The name brand promises a 12 hour turn around.  Tina has had her dose and now Spot is drying after his bath and waiting for his application.

Spot hates getting a bath and I thought about that old pet monologue that had circulated some time ago where the dog just loves everything and the cat is plotting evil and mayhem. But I remembered that there was a line about the dog getting a bath.  Probably a take off but I can’t find it.  Did I just imagine it?

Here’s a funny thing about these blog posts:  I wrote the title with the plan to tell you all about my bread baking and our transition to a more plant-based diet.  But somehow the change of season caught my attention and my fingers just moved along almost without guidance and you’ve gotten caught up on the mundane aspects of our lives here at the farm.  I’ll save the bread story until tomorrow: not surprisingly, it includes a book and as the title suggests, instant yeast.

There are also a couple book reviews to write: Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom and Joseph Ellis’s His Excellency: George Washington. For now, I’m heading upstairs to do some organizing and moving while I try to decide what to read next.




scarecrowsMy favorite season.  Cool crisp days and long shadows that come earlier each evening.  They’ve started harvesting the corn in the field next door, the huge alien creature chewing through the stalks.  There’s pot roast for dinner, and I spent an hour this afternoon making the scarecrows in the picture.  Aren’t they a hoot!  I was in charge of the scarecrow making stand at the Cornwall Manor Fall Festival and learned how to make them with stuffed pantyhose and old clothes.  We made all boys; the girl with her braids, scarf and apron was my idea.  We didn’t have to buy anything except the bales of straw.  The chickens had fun playing in the leftover bale.

The fall festival is always an excuse for a book binge. They sold shopping bags of books for $6.  I felt virtuous limiting myself to two bags but I’m pretty good at packing a bag.  I bought mostly fiction. Did I really buy 30 books? I’ve been craving good stories lately.  A friend recommended the Maisie Dobbs mysteries by Jacqueline Winspear, and I really enjoyed the first one.  Now, I’m pretty far into Beach Music by Pat Conroy and enjoying it much more than the last one I read.

I tucked the books from the festival into the baskets of the window seat I found at a discount store.  I repurposed a futon chair seat to make a comfy spot to read this winter.  The late afternoon sun comes in and you have a beautiful view of the magnolia tree.  The upstairs is more inviting now since it continues to be warmer than the first floor.

I went exploring today, heading east on 460 to visit the Windsor Food Lion, some 30 miles away*.   A nice store and, low and behold, they had a discount book bin!  I took advantage of the 3 for $10 deal to pick up 3 well known writers: Nick Hornby (Slam), Saving Fish From Drowning (Amy Tan), and One Fifth Avenue (Candace Bushnell).  The Bushnell book is marked First Edition but a quick Google search shows that it isn’t worth much more than I paid for it.  I do feel a bit bad paying so little for books but at least I’m giving them a good home and a chance of being read.  Doesn’t that count for something?

I’m sorry to say that my dreams of owning a bookstore are fading.  We watched Paperback Dreams, a film about two independent bookstores and their struggles to make a living.   Plus, I don’t think I have the commitment to run a retail operation.  So, I’m going to check out setting up an online bookstore since I’ve definitely got inventory.  I suppose I could rent space at flea markets but it’s just not the same.

*This is the closest big name grocery store.  There’s another one about 30 miles west on 460.  There’s always the burg but it is crowded and getting there includes waiting on the ferry so it takes an hour each way. Getting access to a wide variety of food has been the biggest challenge for us.  We have some small stores with many people relying on Dollar General for their food. I was craving a chain grocery store.

Falling Leaves, Flying Geese, Settling In

As cool days and nights move in, we are able to get beyond the confines of the master suite with its window air conditioning unit. I set up the ironing board and my new sewing machine–more later–in the upstairs room and finished up a pillow that had been half done for several years. An honest to goodness sewing room! With its own bathroom.

I’ve had the WII in the den all summer but now it is much more pleasant to work out. I am having fun challenging myself but did finally break down and cheat a bit today, looking for advice or a walkthrough on a particular bicycle route that has me stumped.

We may move our bedroom upstairs and there’s a room that could just be for the treadmill I want to get. After years of 1300 square feet, I want to experience space…use rooms for one thing.

Obviously, getting heat is a priority but we have space heaters, an electric blanket and a pioneer spirit so we can get through the next month or two.

We submitted our application to be considered for state historic status and additional information was requested. They want more chronology of the house such as when additions and windows were added. We’re hoping the family may have some idea; I may have to tackle the two filing cabinets in the chicken coup. I know they hold file folders of family records so I might find some bills.

Meanwhile, I have been reading. I went from the Civil War to Look Homeward, Angel, by Thomas Wolfe. Thick, thick prose, some stream of consciousness, but held together with a compelling story of complex characters.

Just finished Olive Kitteredge and was so sorry to see it be done. The vignettes were poignant, loving portraits of human beings, who are held together by sometimes gossamer threads. I was stuck with the image of Olive in her vest made from drapes, a modern day Scarlett O’Hara somehow making it no matter what (“You have to have a schedule.”) Even when that schedule includes visiting her unresponsive husband at the nursing home every day. She was prickly and difficult, but aren’t we all? I found myself agreeing with her about her son and his therapist, whose need to find blame made it impossible for Christopher to see her love and concern and had to see a bit of Olive in myself as I grow older.

This was my first book on the iPad and it was a very enjoyable reading experience. Just so clear and easy to navigate. I found I preferred to the two page book format rather than holding it vertically. I am going to transfer my New Yorker subscription to the iPad.

I picked up The Yiddish Policemen’s Union on vacation and found its quirkiness very interesting. Set in an alternative history where Jews were relocated to Sitka, Alaska, after the war, but are soon to be dispossessed, an alcoholic detective, his Tlingit/Jewish partner and his ex-wife investigate the murder of the Messiah. The sprinkling of Yiddish words gave it a gravely texture.

Last night, I started Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. I haven’t read The Corrections despite having a hardcover copy on the shelf. I think I bought it because he stood up to Oprah. While it averages a 4 something in LibraryThing, the written reviews vary widely and some people really hated it.

I forgot about the sewing machine but this post is already too long..


I started drafting an entry on July 30 but only got a first paragraph done that blamed the craziness of July for my summer silence.  Three workshops in three different locations kept me on the road and busy, requiring that I take this past week to get caught up…and very much settled back in.  The solstice when I sat and wrote my last entry is just a fond, if distant, memory.

But now I am off the road and getting prepared for the semester.  And discovering that this is HOME.  And in ways that our house in the burg never was.  I loved that house and the neighbors but this place is just different, room to spread out both inside and outside, and I am busy rebuilding my routines to take advantage of that space despite the horrible heat that tends to keep us holed up in our master suite that has the window air conditioner.

There are multiple paths for our dog walks that vary with the time of day as we explore the property, and with space to really work out, I’ve made the Wii my afternoon habit.  For now, I’m using the paneled den off the kitchen because of the heat, but I may invest in a treadmill for winter and move the workout room upstairs where there are at least two rooms that would be perfect.  We did add a $35 inflatable pool with a floating chair that has been a blessing for both its cooling and relaxation.

We’ve had a break in the heat for the past two days, and I’m on the porch now as evening comes, hanging out with the hummingbirds who buzz around the feeders and warding off the mosquitoes with bug spray.  We’ve heard a bob white calling from various trees for the past two weeks or so. Right now, it is in the island of woods that push into the corn field.  I have yet to see it although I haven’t honestly tried that hard.

ChickensI DID discover which chicken has learned to crow like a rooster: it is Dottie, the silver wyandotte.  I had the dogs out quite early one morning and found her raising her chest, flapping her wings and letting out an honest-to-goodness Cock-A-Doodle-Doo. That’s her in front, the black and white one. She’s pretty old for a chicken, at least 6 or 7.  We have been battling a black snake who gobbles up the eggs faster than we can harvest them.  He seemed to have disappeared after we shared a few hard boiled eggs with him, but now he is back and we really need to deal with building a better hen house.  We want a bigger flock, some of whom will end up in the freezer, unlike our current group of ladies who are more pets with benefits than anything.


One thing I have been doing in all the craziness is reading.  Lots of American history, from Ben Franklin to the Civil War with a little World War I thrown in.  Right now, I’m plodding through James M. McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom, part of the Oxford University Press’s history of the United States.  I like his somewhat ironic tone but find the minutiae a bit dull and am still in the early chapters before the election of Lincoln.  I find them depressing: this government was even more dysfunctional than the current one with representatives beating each other and the Supreme Court making outlandish interpretations of the Constitution. Multiple parties sprang up, making the electoral process chaotic.

While it was worse, I can’t help but see parallels with slavery being replaced by taxes as the no-compromise issue with things like gay marriage and other cultural issues also being a factor.  The compromises in the 1850s were all made with the goal of preserving the Union, and I do sometimes wonder how long states like Texas, California, and New York will continue to be step children of the Federal government when they have their own trade deals and large economies.  It’s really a matter of passing a referendum, I would guess.

But that’s all for another day.  My husband just arrived with the mail from the burg and it includes a long handwritten letter from an old friend to whom I wrote earlier this summer and I am going to settle into my wicker rocker and read it. The perfect lovely Friday evening…