Same As It Ever Was


There is a tradition here on the ridge that includes walking "the square" on New Years Eve. A two mile square-ish loop of dirt roads, containing three houses in total (two with year-round residents), that for some reason draws ridge-folk even beyond these few homes. A respectable walk with a couple of hills decent enough to feel your heart work. Pretty views, even on a dark winter night. Especially on a dark winter night. One of the roads is generally not plowed, but this year’s lighter snow pack makes it passable to those inclined. 

The waning near-full moon brightened the night, casting shadows across snowy roads in the form of humans, four legged friends, and century old maples. On this clear, starry night, Mars perched visibly over our little home’s rooftop in the western sky. Glowing orange in the distance, seemingly content in its beautiful loneliness.

Looking back on my writings from a little over a year ago, I noted that I was entering 2020 with a drive and clarity that hadn’t been felt in a few years. A welcomed awakening after a chapter that included a slow goodbye to my father, sending our one and only off to college, and packing up and moving our household and my parents’ household. Those years were about getting through, for merely keeping heart and mind afloat. On the cusp of 2020, something had lifted. I felt lighter. Clarity returned and with it, possibility. I stepped into the new year blindly optimistic. As 2020 quickly unravelled before the world’s eyes, I managed to hang on to that initial feeling of drive and clarity. For reasons I am not clear on, those feelings remained throughout the year and resulted in more than a handful of wonderful things that happened in our family's life, despite the very real challenges we all faced. We had the most abundant sugaring season to date, I was accepted into nursing school (specifically for hospice nursing; in the end I decided not to attend at this time), we grew the most productive garden of our lives, we unexpectedly welcomed our daughter home, and we had the pleasure of watching her creatively launch her post-college career amidst a pandemic. I relaunched my own business in a way that feels incredibly fulfilling and sustainable. We made it to the other side healthy and intact. 

There were challenges, of course. Like you, I miss friends and family. I miss faces. I miss babies knowing that I am smiling at them. I’ve seen first hand the devastatingly swift here today gone tomorrow nature of this virus, and I’ve seen others barely miss a beat. 

Early reviews of 2021 are not exactly glowing, but we continue to make our small life here, and we continue to steel ourselves in the face of the unknown as best we can. Which I suppose is the same as it ever was. Tomorrow we’ll enjoy a day of snow; we haven’t had much of it this year. Maybe I’ll make pumpkin pie. 

You're Sitting on a Gold Mine


It has been snowing since Saturday afternoon; soft, fluttery flakes gently accumulating in the most patient way. There seems to be no rush, no urgency with this band of moisture.  A comforting kind of snow that invites exploration, not overwhelm.

One recent evening, we’d just finished a hearty dinner of Shepherd’s Pie, made with turkey I’d squirreled away in the freezer after Thanksgiving. This humble casserole is one of my favorite meals to make, as it showcases so colorfully the abundance of stored homegrown vegetables, homemade bone broth turned into gravy, and local, wild, or homegrown meat. A tasty, colorful, frugal meal, and, it is total comfort food. Simple fare with tremendous attributes.

After washing up the dishes, Emily settled in with her book, I with my knitting, and Adam mentioned taking a walk with Scout. He asked if I’d like to go, and having just put my feet up for the first time that day, staying put was the more appealing option. He took off and I knit a few rounds. Soon after, a text, which surprised me as he does not usually keep his phone on or near him when he’s home. “I’m up at Birdy watching shooting stars. It’s amazing out here, you should come up.” Not one to resist an invitation like that, back to the basket my knitting went; I could put my feet up another time. The stars were calling.

He was right. The sky darker and clearer than seemed possible, stars shining warmer and brighter than any of the hundreds of twinkle lights I string all over the house, attempting to mimick the same. Magnificent is not enough of a word. Leaning back in the Adirondack chair, head tilted skyward, every little thing in the world made some kind of sense. Maybe not agreeable sense, but for a moment, I understood. The ease, the imbalance, the beauty and the pain. We stayed there for a while, not saying much, just looking up.

Eventually we made our way back down the camp road, and for no particular reason, at one point I looked over my shoulder, upward at the sprawling night sky we’d found such comfort in a moment ago. And there it was: beyond the leafless trees, beyond the stratosphere and beyond all atmospheric layers, traveling across the dark glittering sky, a shooting star for my very own eyes. Not the rarest of sightings, but soul soothing every time, whether you are seven or forty-seven. We continued on, not a human sound to be heard other than that of our own presence. Such vast darkness, land, sky, quiet. One of us mentioned, you can’t get this in Connecticut. And the other agreed. No. No you can’t.

We don’t spend a lot of time comparing this life to our former one, but things are generally new here still, and with Adam continuing to work several days a week down there, our arrangement is unconventional and with that, comes frequent assessment and discussion. We need these reminders as to why we are here. It’s not that it’s difficult to remember, it’s just that it’s easy to forget. This life we have set up is not simple nor is it common; we’ve described it as an experiment from day one, and I’d still say that’s pretty accurate. 2019 was the year my husband and I slept apart more than together. This is by choice, but only a temporary choice. A necessary, difficult step in fulfilling this crazy dream. A separateness that we would not have chosen in our family raising years, but felt it was okay to give it a shot now.  At times we've felt discouraged by the challenges of making a house in need of work feel like a home when our all-hands-on-deck time is so limited, but we must remember that we aren’t here for the house; we are here for the vast darkness, for the land, for the sky, and for the quiet. And we have all of that in spades. We feel fortunate to enjoy a certain peace of mind, that in our experience, can only be found on the land.

Our slow walk continued, until this warm dwelling of ours came into sight: candles in the windows and gentle wisps of smoke rising from the chimney to welcome us.

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A few days later we rung in the new year in the mellowest of ways. I am entering this new Gregorian year with vision and ambition that I have not experienced in several. The details are private, but I can share that I am grateful to feel so much clarity right now. Finally. The last several years have felt like survival followed by heartbreak followed by grief followed by remarkable change followed by loneliness followed by slow and steady healing. There hasn’t been room for much else, until now. I am ready and armed with plans, goals, and energy that has been absent for too long. My enthusiasm is wisely tempered by realism, as these first few days of 2020 have reminded me: all those best laid plans are subject to change without notice. Life has a way of getting impossibly hard real quick, emergencies and tragedy are always unplanned. I won’t delude myself into believing the best-year-yet hype. But I will take this feeling of drive and creativity into the months ahead, as best as I can, both for myself and for those around me.

I wish you the very best in your own pursuits this year, I hope you know good health, and you feel deeply that if you’ve got love, then you're sitting on a gold mine.

Let Us Invest Deeply

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You really are here!

Thank you for saying hello! It was wonderful to hear from so many of you last week. It is the very thing that makes a person who chooses to share their writing feel like people are indeed out there on the receiving end, that maybe they do find value in reading the words you scratch out. You are a gift to me. 

When I sat down to publish my last post, I did not have the final paragraph written, or even in mind. But I needed something to wrap up my thoughts on the naming of this new blog, and for some reason I did so with a totally unrelated rhetorical pondering on the nature of blog reading, then versus now. I wasn’t so much thinking of engagement via commenting as I was sheer visits/reads (those are the numbers I see here and on Instagram). But you all gave a hearty wave and hello, and for that I am incredibly grateful. It is true that comments make a blogger feel like what they offer touches people in a positive way. I’ve read before that it is a form of currency, reciprocation for writing offered, but that’s never been how I feel. You don’t owe me anything! Recently I heard a blogger say “comments give me steam to keep going, and often inspire future posts.” Steam. That made sense to me. I feel that way, too.

Thanksgiving 1

We enjoyed a relaxing stretch of days surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday. Both Adam and Emily were home for many days in a row, which is something this family does not see much of. The last couple of years my greatest gratitude at the Thanksgiving table has simply been that we’re all together. A small acknowledgment that carries a weight only a mother could know. I understand that Emily may not always be able to make it home for the holidays, even if she would like to. Adult life is coming for her swiftly, and with that, I am aware that life and work can enforce geographic limitations, whether we like it or not. It is one of my greatest sadnesses of the modern world, the disbandment of family and clan. Prior to this past year, I’ve lived my entire life within a fifteen minute radius of my childhood home (save for a six month stint in Vermont as a newlywed), and while I always longed to leave Connecticut, I only pulled the trigger once every last member of our immediate families had left. 


There have been more hours spent in the woods hunting this year than any other I can recall, and rifle season has ended with no venison in the freezer. I don’t remember the last time that’s happened. Adam would tell the story of his one missed perfect opportunity if he were writing here, but I won’t do his tale justice. An excellent, careful storyteller, Adam is not one of those bragging hunters who thinks they have it all figured out. He is humble, perhaps to a fault, and is the first to point out his own “shortcomings.” Since losing his best hunting partner and guide, Adam would say his level of impatience has been revealed. He is no longer copiloting with the most zen and patient hunter out there. Dad was skilled at placing stands, could spot a buck rub from an unreasonable distance, was an excellent shot, and above all, had the ability to sit up in a tree, in still-silence, for hours and hours. Adam? Well, he is incredibly proficient with his rifle, and excels at calling in those young bucks who’d chance just about anything for a date with a doe, but patient? The man who listens to podcasts at 1.5x the speed so the speaker will get to the point faster? Let’s just say my father’s presence kept my husband grounded, and I think Adam didn’t realize quite how much until these last two years. He is not one who needs to repeat lessons in life in order for them to be learned, so it is fair to say his next opportunity will not pass him by.

Hunting here is very different than hunting in Connecticut, where deer practically leap out in front of you left and right (only a slight exaggeration). In our current region, the lower deer population combined with more abundant land mass is such that if you are not able to muster all the patience within your soul, your freezer is going to remain empty. But the good news is we do indeed have deer right here on this land, and it is hard to beat the beauty of walking to your tree stand right from the comfort of home, no vehicle needed We had that at our last home, too and it was wonderful. There is hunting to be had here, for those who are patient. The end of rifle season brings the return of bow season back, and muzzle loader is coming up, too, so there is more hunting ahead.

Writing this makes me think of something. The patience Adam would say he lacks in hunting does not convey to all aspects of his life. At least by my observation. Yes, he really does listen to podcasts sped up, but that’s because he does not like wasting precious time in life more than it is a sign of impatience. Professionally, he has all the time and care in the world for his clients. When out exploring in the woods, there is never a rush. In that scenario, he’s as open-ended, lose-all-track-of-time as they come. But for some reason hunting is different. Maybe it’s because the anticipation can reach fever-pitch, which puts you in a different zone than say, combing the forest in search of chaga or chanterelles. Or maybe we can just chalk it up to his Gemini status, which I am prone to do when it comes to explaining the mysteries of my better half. And for the marital record, I do not think he’s an impatient hunter, that’s his belief. The vast number of hours he’s logged in the woods, often in single digit temps, waiting-waiting-waiting for that one opportunity as I slumber peacefully in our warm bed, or sip coffee beside the woodstove? Yeah, I’d say he’s the patient one.

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I hope you don't mind looking at a half-down wall between our kitchen and dining room for the foreseeable future. I sure don't! I'd rather feel this partial openness than closed off walls. We have discovered some rather significant structural issues that need to be addressed before finishing this wall properly with beautiful thick beams. Which is not going to happen until well after the holidays... or, when we find an abundance of time. 


Yesterday I dug into the freezer and pulled out about seventy pounds of tomatoes to turn into sauce. I usually make an oven-roasted tomato sauce, but went back to using the stove top this year because as long as it takes to simmer down sauce, it’s easier for me to do large quantities on the stovetop versus the oven. I made one round already in late summer just to have enough to get us through, and now I need to finish taking care of the harvest. I used this recipe with my last batch and am using it again as it was quite delicious. I was skeptical as it calls for lemon juice to correct acidity due to it being water bath canned and I didn’t want the flavor to be off. It wasn’t! Prior to adding the lemon juice to the first batch, I gave it a taste and it was so good that I thought I’d just pressure can future batches if it seemed too acidic with the addition of lemon, which it did not. I am thankful for this because I don’t always love the level of babysitting that is required with pressure canning, especially when processing large batches of something. That isn’t really talked about much in the canning world, it’s usually only mentioned that people need not be afraid of pressure canning (which is true), but you don’t hear much about the need to stay close to keep an eye on the gauge, adjusting burner temps as needed (which with my last two persnickety electric stoves is needed often). With a water bath canner you just set the timer and walk away.

I am glad the flavor stayed true so I can water bath this tasty recipe. I love a thick and flavorful marinara and this recipe does the trick. We don’t eat much pasta, so our main uses for marinara are as a 50/50 base with broth for any Italian type soup, as a 50/50 base with salsa in chili, swirled into quiche (we love that!), made into a hearty meat sauce and stuffed into baked spaghetti squash halves then topped with mozzarella and popped back into the oven to get warm and bubbly. Those sort of things. It is a wonderful convenience food that can be used in multiple recipes.

Speaking of recipes, I have a winter blog project in mind. I’d like to add many herbal and  cooking recipes to this site, but don’t want them to be in individual blog posts. When I look for a recipe on a blog I really want just the recipe. Maybe just a few sentences about it, but for me, a long preamble describing every moment in life that led to the recipe is unnecessary. I’d like to provide a virtual recipe box for you, straight and to the point. With pretty pictures, of course! I have a way to create “hidden posts” that I can list in one big recipe index, then put a tab for that on the upper menu bar. But dozens of posts with recipes will not be taking up front page space here, and I imagine one central index will be more user friendly. Hopefully all of that makes sense. I’m excited to use these winter months for such a project.

On that note, I’d like to share that over the last several months I’ve been working on a brand new online course that revolves around weekly food prep. You’ve been asking for this, and it is almost here! In my next post I’ll share all the details.

Our tree is up, decorations are slowly being placed here and there, and it is in these darkest days of December that I feel permission to rest deeply... biologically if not societally. Thankfully, the former is the instinct I am prone to acknowledge. Society will keep on spinning its tale with or without me, but biology is true and honest and dependable. Let us invest deeply. 

No Time to Waste

Tree farm

At some point last week I suggested to Adam that if we didn’t get our tree now, I’m not sure we’d be able to get one at all. He agreed. It’s just the nature of family life right now. The days feel uncertain in a way that is promised, as opposed to the uncertainty of all days, that mostly pass with an illusory veil of control. There are no illusions right now. There’s no time to waste. 

We headed out in the early moments of the year’s first snow, making our way to the tree farm we’ve been visiting for at least a decade. This time, no kid in the backseat. Are we really doing this without her? I told myself it’ll be fine, that it might even be nice for her to walk into a glittery home, already decked to the gills.

So there we were, just the two of us at the farm. Excited children ran in every direction as parents attempted to corral them, but quickly relinquished their efforts to the freedom and thrill of the day. Friendly, organized attendants ushered everyone in this direction or that, depending on a family’s preferred tree variety. Passing by one of these attendants on our way to grab a saw from the stand, he asked what kind of tree we were looking for. “Balsam fir,” we answered. “Oh, we’ve got thousands of those! I’m glad you weren’t hoping for a Fraser fir, not too many full size this year, but next year we’ll have plenty. Head over to that wagon and Felix will take you down to the balsams.”

Wagon? Tractor? But we’re huff it and haul it kind of people! Not once have we ridden on a wagon to find our tree. Riding along in a cloud of diesel exhaust doesn’t exactly evoke the Currier & Ives experience. Adam and I both froze momentarily, knowing exactly what the other was thinking (“How do we graciously decline?”), but in the next moment felt swept up in the kind instructions we were given, and Felix looked like a friendly guy who was pleased with his job of driving a John Deere around a Christmas tree farm all day. We had the wagon to ourselves on the ride down to this year’s balsams, which happened to be a field located in the far reaches of the 300+ acre farm, a corner that us huff-it-and-haul-it people had never ventured to before. It wound up being a solid five minute downhill ride into the valley. Probably would have been a 20 minute return had we been on foot. Uphill. Hauling a tree. We’d already sensed Felix was a good guy, maybe riding the wagon was alright, too. 

We found our perfect tree and on freshly snow-covered back roads, made our way home. Adam put the snow blower on the tractor and I put together a pot of venison stew. Later we watched It Happened on 5th Avenue and set up our tree, loading her with warm incandescent lights. We did not add ornaments that day, and still have not. Maybe it will happen with Emily.

The Prettiest Thing


I was raised in a Catholic church, though I resigned upon receiving the sacrament of confirmation at age 15. Inside the church I felt more confused than convicted, there were too many questions that went unanswered, and quite honestly, for me, a palpable absence of God. The church we attended was in the next town over, given that our small farm town did not have a Catholic church of its own. A few years after my departure, rumblings began in our community about building a church right here. At the time, the town was experiencing rapid growth with subdivisions replacing farm land and new roads running through old sugar bushes. The population could now support a parish of its own. 

No longer part of the church community, I do not recall the inception of the new church, but I do remember how modern it seemed in comparison to what most Catholics are accustomed to in their churches. It felt almost Methodist in its simplicity: clean functional lines with little fanfare, nothing ornate, gilded, or even a drop of stained glass in the place. At least, to my recollection. The south side of the building encased in a stunning amount of glass, allowing for God’s light to flood the pews. I remember appreciating that detail. Why bother with a gilded crucifix when you can fill the church with golden sun. 

Recalling this time, I would be remiss not to share that the greatest bit of excitement in the community came not from the construction of a new church, but from the announcement of the new priest who would lead it. I’m going to try and describe this as tactfully as I can, and hopefully will not feel the need to attend confession when I’m done. The women of our town were very pleased with the new priest. He was young and friendly and ruggedly handsome and rode a Harley and was known to indulge in the occasional cold one. Think Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing. (But less dancing and more praying.) Yeah. Women who long abandoned their church going ways now had their families at mass every Sunday morning, and sometimes on Saturday evening as well. There was even a not-so-secret but respectfully affectionate nickname for him: Father What-a-Waste. I probably don’t have to explain what that means. (Now I definitely feel the need to say five Hail Mary's and an Act of Contrition.)

I don’t know if he still resides as priest, but I do know he had the reputation of being a good one. Maybe it’s true that many of the women in town initially showed up for his rugged good looks, but it is also true that they stayed for his genuine faith, kind behavior, and charitable generosity. 

Last night we drove past the church and noticed through the southern wall of glass that the inside was filled with candlelight. Hundreds of warm glowing candles. On the altar, in the parishioners hands, they were everywhere. It was an overwhelming sight in the best possible way. A quick to pass moment as we drove down the road that caused me to gasp aloud at its beauty. Adam asked if I wanted him to turn around and go back; of course I did. We pulled into the parking lot and backed the truck into one of the few empty spots, facing the glassed church. We sat quietly and watched for a couple of minutes. Then I remembered... Advent. It was the prettiest, most magical thing. 

Santa May Find His Way


Many years ago, a little girl who lives on our street was worried that Santa would not find her tucked away home on this dead end country road. Her father, sensitive to her concern, decided to line both sides of our street with luminaries on Christmas Eve, to help guide Santa’s way. It’s a scene we’ve come to look forward to since moving here, and one that we’ll remember fondly as our time in this house comes to a close. 

Heading to Maine in just a few hours, we’ll miss our decade long tradition of having good friends over on Christmas Eve to celebrate Emily’s birthday. Christmas is not a holiday for them, so they've always been available to hang out on this night, and join us in honoring our girl’s annual trip around the sun. Highly observant in their own faith and its practices, they are curious about the ways in which other people celebrate holidays. I am too. I love hearing the why behind ritual and tradition. Most years during our Christmas Eve birthday celebration, Jeremy (a rabbi, so his curiosity is probably greater than most) will ask a question or two about the ways in which we celebrate: What does the tree symbolize? And the ornaments? Do people celebrate Christmas if they’re not practicing Christian? That sort of thing. 

I should point out that as a scholar of theology, I'm sure Jeremy already knows the answers to his questions, but he asks them anyway; I'm guessing as a way to connect with us around our traditions. I really appreciate his curiosity. Last year’s question was about the lights, which are second nature to me at this middle aged point in life, but of course how intriguing they must be to someone who does not celebrate Solstice or Christmas. What about the lights? Inside and outside... so many lights! This might be my favorite question of Jeremy's because the answer is simple and explains the entire essence of the season. Well, it depends. If you celebrate Solstice and Yuletide, they are strung to brighten the darkest time of year, and to welcome the slow return of the sun. If you celebrate Christmas as a Christian, they represent Jesus as the light of the world. And, as I've learned in recent years, if you happen to be a young girl in a little known town in eastern Connecticut, they help guide a jolly old man in a bright red suit to your welcoming home. For me, the story of this season is one of hope, magic, and generosity. Whether it is felt through celebrating the slow return of light, through the birth of a child who is the light of the world, or through the eyes of a little girl who trusts in her father’s promise. 


You know, the luminaries have been lit for many years now, and I imagine the girl is not so little anymore. And yet, every Christmas Eve, in the spirit of hope, magic, and generosity, her father continues to line our street with glowing warm light, so that Santa may find his way.

Mischievous Generosity


Yesterday I found my way to the big-ish grocery store to stock up on a few things for our annual cookie delivery. I’m not sure there’s a prettier thing out there than a freshly baked tin of Christmas cookies. It’s not too difficult to take any childhood favorite recipe and rework it using your everyday crunchy-girl ingredients, if you’d like to do so. Next year we hope to make maple sugar in addition to syrup, and reserve a bunch for holiday baking. If we get a good run on early season sap, it is more neutral in flavor and will make an excellent baking sugar for the more delicate treats. Sucanat is also great for certain recipes, but not so much in a standard rolled sugar cookie. I like it, but I’m not sure about Adam’s office staff or my neighbors. This post isn’t really about swapping ingredients though, nor am I suggesting that you should, but whenever I mention holiday baking there are questions so I’m just trying to give some info. With a little creativity you can think of all sorts of substitutions. Don’t get me wrong, these tins are unapologetically filled with sugar, but you know... it’s free range, hand crafted, harvested by the light of a full moon, organic sugar. So basically, as nutritious as kale. (Oh! One more thing, India Tree is a good place to find cookie decorating items.)

Anyway, back to the grocery store. I make my way through the necessary aisles and by the time I hit the register, have reached my limit of laundry soap off-gassing and government approved “safe” food choices. Rather than freak out in the middle of aisle twelve as I contemplate this being all that most people can afford, I realize it’s time to get out of here. The checkout lady is in her late seventies, by my guess, with beautifully manicured hands and carefully applied make-up. Her hair is so pretty, too. I’m terrible at styling hair. She seems tired and leans the weight of her small body into the counter. As she slowly scans my items, I wonder if she wants or needs this work. I hope she wants it. We discuss baking for a minute and when my pile of butter makes its way down the belt, she alerts me that Land O’ Lakes is on sale: Buy 1 Get 1 Free. I politely let her know that I saw the sign, but it’s okay, I really like this kind. She looked unsure of me for a quick moment, and resumed scanning without further comment. I immediately felt terrible, like some kind of elitist-butter-snob-jerk in the face of her sale-directing kindness. She wasn’t offended of course, as I wasn’t actually being a jerk, I just felt ashamed, given my seemingly reckless ten pound grass-fed butter purchase in contrast to her frugal sensibility. Silently though, my mind started playing its defensive monologue, explaining the myriad of ways in which we do not spend money so that we can budget for the damn butter. Thankfully though, on this day, my mouth knew well enough to stay shut. We carried on in peace, she with her admirable beauty and me with my lip balm regimen, she with her Buy 1 Get 1 Free butter and me with my pile of fancy stuff. 

Finally, she finishes scanning my items and tells me the total. Then she looks at me with the brightest smile, reaches for a piece of paper on the counter behind her, and waves it in front of the computer, registering me for a senior citizen discount that took $20 off my bill. At first I imagined she thought I was a senior citizen (maybe I should put in more effort than lip balm?), but then she winked and said, “You’re doing all this shopping for your mother, right?” Some moments in life come with a bit of magic, you know? I wish you could have seen the pleased look on her face, which can only be described as mischievous generosity. She was tickled by her exercise of power, and I was happy to see she still felt so feisty at her age. 

Today I’ll make the cookies, arranging each tin just so, and tomorrow is delivery day. I need to make one additional stop on my route this year; I hope she notices how delicious the fancy butter is. 

Slow to Arrive

Billymead pasture

Grandma June's barn.


We pulled into the first town off the highway, stopped at the post office to mail a package, and noticed Christmas music was playing on outdoor speakers, amplified through the small village. Children of all ages boarded the North Pole Express across the street, and one woman fashioned a roadside wreath shop from the back of her truck. Prettiest handmade wreaths I’d seen in a long time. Just outside of town, at the elementary school, I walked through a craft fair of impressive quality. There was a gentle snowfall. I couldn’t help but think, A+ for holiday vibes. We made our way up the ridge and the ground whitened as delicate flurries picked up in pace with each hundred foot climb; by the time we reached our drive, the ground was a blanket of wintry delight and I was so happy we decided to make the trip. Ozzy was visiting Aunt Johanna, but came running as he heard us on the road. We met up at our place and he stayed for an hour or so, joining Scout in creating a respectable ruckus on this early season snow day. 

The holiday spirit has been slow to arrive this year. Well, for me it has. There are a few reasons why I suppose, but regardless, the advent calendar keeps turning so I’d better snap to it or I’ll miss the whole dang thing. The drive north was helping. I think I’m almost there. 

We visited Aunt Johanna, welcomed into her home by the sweet-spice scent of freshly baked fruitcake, cooling on the counter. In the living room, tree trimming was underway which was a nice surprise because Aunt Johanna has a gift for creating the most enchanting Christmas trees. Adam's mother - her sister - has the same gift. Down at Uncle Kurt’s house, Aunt Jessie had just set up her Christmas Village atop one of the beams in their log home.  The houses were warmly lit and provided the exact kind of wonderment tiny village homes are known for. At Grandma June’s, a few carefully chosen decorations added festivity to her library, where she was restfully watching a Christmas movie. Outside, the snow continued to fall and the pasture was now thickly covered. This was not one of those mid-October dress rehearsals: winter had finally settled on the ridge, bringing with it a quiet peace that is impossible to describe, and impossible to miss. 

There is so much Christmas up here. So much winter. 

Reluctantly, we headed south at the end of the day. As we approached the southern border of the state, I closed my eyes and drifted to sleep which is my favorite way to get through the congestion of Springfield and northern Connecticut. Closer to home, I awoke to a flurry of texts from Emily telling me about her day. She’d made hot cocoa for herself and her friends to take on a tree-hunting excursion. Santa hats were worn,  the perfect tree was found, and when they returned to campus, the tree was set up and extra twinkly lights were added to her already twinkled-out dorm room. 

I couldn’t help but notice the deeper meaning here, that even in the absence of my own holiday spirit, we’ve raised her in a home that come December, glimmered and shined with festive gatherings and warm tidings. She was compelled to bring Christmas to college, and to her floor mates. (They were a little stunned I think with her whipping up hot cocoa for the outing, but it’s the small details that make the best memories.) The next morning I told her she inspired me to get into the spirit, that I had the new She & Him record playing, and Dad and I would start on the outside decorations that day. She replied, “Nice. Glad to hear it. Christmas is important.” 

So Adam and I pulled decorations from the attic and made respectable headway. Then we brewed some tea, spiked some nog, popped some corn, lit some candles, and settled in for a fun old fashioned family Christmas. It was exactly what we needed. Thanks for the motivation, kid.  


Later, Emily texted that a couple of friends, still inspired by Saturday’s hot cocoa and santa hat infused tree outing, decided to host her and two other friends in their room for a holiday dinner. They set out place settings on a card table, smuggled food from the dining hall, played Christmas music, dimmed the lights, and put a fake fire on the TV. They also “dressed in Christmas clothing,” but I’m not exactly sure what that means. A good time was had by all, and there was talk of repeating these Sunday dinners until they depart for winter break. Seems like they really know how to make the most of it. My inspiration grows. 

Solstice, Christmas, Yuletide... they sure have been slow to arrive, but thanks to the good cheer of family up north, and the infectious merriment of college kids, the season is finally here. 

Yet to Fade Away


Adam won a major award.

The church ladies asked him to stop by first thing Sunday morning, to pick up his raffle winnings from the previous weekend’s holiday bazaar. There had been several phone calls throughout the week reminding him of his good fortune, with excitement that his donation resulted in not one, but two! prizes: a “very nice” watch and a “beautiful” handmade sparkly Christmas tree. Really he just saw it as making a donation when purchasing the raffle tickets, but the congregants were so excited for his double winnings, that he didn’t want to disappoint them by abandoning his treasure. Now we have a sparkly new tree and a “very nice” watch. And he’ll probably do it all again next year because he cannot resist a good holiday church bazaar. Or a roomful of silver haired ladies that, prizes aside, is basically akin to hitting the pinch-your-cheeks-and-here's-a-cookie grandma jackpot.

A few doors down, we stepped into the tiny bakery that is housed in a converted garage, attached to the baker’s home, at the foot of the local ski mountain. Moments earlier, the sun broke over the mountain’s peak and streamed through the single front window of her shop, casting light on a plentiful early morning selection. Croissants of all flavors including some that were stuffed with smoked salmon, creamy dill sauce, and thinly sliced cucumbers, trays of lemon squares, cranberry walnut tarts, berry and cheese danish, chocolate chip cookies, macaroons, scones, baguettes, and so much more filled the tall glass case from which behind the baker stood. She was kind and warm and seemed ready to greet the day, welcoming any person that might stroll through the door in search of the comforting truth one finds in the familiarity of homemade pastry and a hot cup of coffee.

She opened the oven, showing Adam a tray of breakfast sandwiches that were receiving their melted cheese treatment. A colorful assortment of open faced ciabatta rolls with yellow-orange eggs, sweet Italian sausage, red and green roasted peppers, and creamy white cheddar cheese. Just the sort of thing Adam was looking for so she wrapped one up for him. Once placed on the counter, I noticed the sticker that sealed the paper wrapped sandwich included an illustration of an older-looking man with the word “Belmont” printed above the portrait. So, ever-intrigued, I asked.

“Oh, that’s Ford, do you know him? He’s the farmer my eggs and sausage come from, a real character. Bit of a local ski legend back in the day, lots of stories about Ford around here. Missing a finger on one hand from a farming accident, and part of the opposite hand as the result of another farming accident, but still stays real busy with his land and animals. Belmont is his farm and I wanted to name this sandwich after him, seeing as it includes his eggs and sausage, but also as a nod to a great man. When I told him the bakery had a sandwich in his honor, with an illustrated “Ford” sticker to boot, he was both elated and humbled. He said, “Really? I was fadin’... I was fadin’... and you brought me back!”

Damn. Enthusiastic church ladies, pastry from the hands of the baker, and a ski-legend farmer named Ford who’s yet to fade away. All this and it’s barely 9am. Calling it a good day.

A Gift We Hope He Never Needs


Mom and Dad's front yard.

My parents live in the most remote location in the entire northeast, perhaps even the east coast. I’ve jokingly said that in order to get to their house, you take the highway forever north in Maine, get off the highway, then drive another 2.5 - 3 hours through the woods, then you’ll be there. The thing is, it’s not really a joke, it’s pretty much exactly how you get there. Not many people in this country can say they live 3 hours from the nearest highway. Talk about remote.

This area of northern Maine is where my father’s family originates, and the place he and mom have returned to for retirement (although mom is currently at my sister’s house in Florida and will happily remain there until April, thankyouverymuch). They live right on the lake and enjoy all that comes with retired lake living - pontoon boats in the summer and ice fishing in the winter. Perhaps the best part of all is the road that runs right across the frozen lake. This “road” is plowed during the winter, saving them the 30 minutes it takes to drive around the entire lake in non-frozen seasons, in order to get to town. In winter, by driving across the frozen lake, they reach town in less than 5 minutes.

My father is an outdoorsman and their northern retirement was in part about returning to his native French Canadian roots, I'm sure, but it was also about enjoying the vast wilderness of northern Maine. To back track a  little, if you’ve been reading here for some time you might recall that just as my parents made the move from Connecticut to Maine, before the boxes were even unpacked (literally), Dad was diagnosed with advanced stage Multiple Myeloma. Not much of a welcome to retirement gift! There is no cure for this type of cancer, but treatments do exist to prolong life. Most important for Dad is the tremendously positive attitude he maintains. What can you do? You can live out each day of your life to the best of your ability, for as long as you can! Cancer or otherwise, it’s a pretty good plan.

One of the tools Dad has acquired so that he may enjoy the Maine woods with his newfound body that tires quickly and quite frankly, is held up by a skeleton that happens to have holes in it (!!), is a ranger. (It looks something like this.) The ranger allows him to drive for hours into the woods, scouting wildlife and enjoying his favorite place on earth. As active as he still is (which is far more than most people I know, including myself), he simply doesn’t have the stamina to explore deep wilderness on foot for a full day the way he did pre-cancer. And so, the ranger is a perfect tool.

The downside to all of this is that riding the ranger finds Dad very far from home... in places with zero cell service... on a mechanical apparatus that could break down... with a body that is rather vulnerable.

You can see where this is going, right?


Enter a daughter who leans toward a prepper mentality (though in a totally reasonable kind of way... surely). Nothing makes me feel less capable than not having a few basic things already in place for potential emergencies, at least for those emergencies that are most likely to come up in my life. Dad routinely takes solo trips into some of the deepest woods in the country; as capable as he is survival-wise, it had us thinking that a survival pack, designed specifically for the ranger and the adventures he takes it on, just might be the most perfect Christmas gift. A gift we hope he never needs.

Many of the items in this pack are things he probably already has on hand but they are divided up among his hunting gear, kept in his truck, or stored throughout the house. The purpose for this pack is to be all-inclusive, and most importantly, to be kept in the ranger at all times. Should the unfortunate happen, be it a mechanical failure or an accident on his part while he’s doing some exploring on foot (not too far from the ranger), he will have everything he needs to (roughly) survive for a few of days if need be, until help finds him.

At first I thought we’d put everything in a tote of some sort, but Adam decided on a small backpack in the event that Dad would attempt to hike out if the ranger breaks down; a backpack can easily be carried and used along the way. Let's take a look at what we've included. 


Water is life. With the LifeStraw he can stay safely hydrated from a beaver pond if need be. The collapsible water pouches were included in case the scenario makes sense for him to haul water from said beaver pond to where his temporary shelter is. He can use the LifeStraw from there.


Shelter is also life. I'm pretty sure Dad knows how to bed down by putting a thick layer of pine bows on the forest floor and fashioning overhead protection with sticks, branches, more pine bows, etc., but we're talking about an emergency situation for a guy who is not 20 (don't tell him) and has physical considerations. We went with convenience, and we hope the emergency tent, emergency sleeping bag, and hand/foot warmer combo forever stay in their respective packages.


Basic First Aid Kit - you know I prefer to make my own kit, but again, we were going with convenience for him. No need for him to be out in the wilderness wondering about the mysterious potions and oils I so lovingly included.

Folding Saw - a favorite tool of ours. We have several and they are stashed in various places: cars, backpacks, camping gear, hunting gear, etc. You just never know when you're going to need a good, lightweight folding saw.

5 in 1 Survival Tool - includes compass, whistle, waterproof matchbox, flint, signal mirror. I mostly chose this for the whistle and waterproof matchbox.

Compass - Yes, a second compass. We are compass people and to be honest I'm not sure the 5 in 1 tool is great quality. We wanted Dad to have a backup which is funny because in all likelihood he'll already have another compass pinned to his jacket or something.

Survival Candle - no, it's not for ambiance. But my family would not be surprised if I included it for that reason. Survival candles are great tools if you're having a hard time getting a fire started due to moisture and you need a good flame that can last and not waste precious matches. 


And finally, the self explanatory piece de resistance.


But what about food? There are a couple of things that did not make it into the photos, food being among them. We provided Dad with a few MREs which are the most convenient way for him to keep a large amount of calories that require no cooking and are not terribly heavy to carry. At first I thought I would make him up some dehydrated backpacker meals, which would actually be sort of tasty compared to an MRE, but they would require the act of heating water. Perhaps cooking would be possible, but we just don't know.

Additionally, we provided a headlamp with extra batteries. All said and done, there is still plenty of room in the backpack so Dad will be adding his own hat, gloves, extra socks, and maybe an extra coat.  I think he's going to include a tarp as well and some rope. Each has 101 uses. Oh, and rain gear. Pant and jacket rain gear saves lives... or at least sanity.

This might all sound kind of dramatic, but the reality is such that living where he lives, and being someone who enjoys exploring the wilderness, you have to be able to take care of yourself, or at least buy yourself some time because emergencies can and will happen. It’s hard for most of us to imagine, living in such civilized places as we do, what it would be like to be hours into the woods (by vehicle, not by foot), with no cell service, and an injury or a broken down vehicle to contend with. Seems a small backpack with a few survival essentials is a practical idea, and I do fancy myself a practical girl.

Maybe you too have a special guy or gal in your life that is always off gallivanting in the wilderness, making the most of their days while ignoring the heck out of their so-called limitations due to a stinkin' cancer diagnosis. In which case, you should totally copy this idea. C'est bon!