Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Lovely Snow Geese

There's nothing more beautiful on a cold, clear winter day than a gaggle of snow geese. When first you hear them, you can't help but stop whatever it is you are doing, and look up at their black wing-tipped whiteness against the blue sky. 

Although their numbers are much smaller in December than in the spring, they are impressive nonetheless. Like falling snow, they descend into the fields in swirls, circling and circling, their feathers sparkling as they catch the sunlight.

I was working in Geneva, New York the first time I saw the snow geese. Their unusual sound caught my attention; an unfamiliar ruckus of sorts and nothing like our local frequent flyers the Canada Geese. It was more like the baying of hounds, and there were hundreds and hundreds of them in crisscrossing V formations. I was in love!

As I came to look forward to the return of the snow geese, I shared my passion for these lovely birds with my sister while she was visiting one spring. We drove for miles searching the skies for the large masses of snowy white geese. We stopped at every vista, scouring the lakes for their large glacier-like congregations, until we came upon an open field covered in white. We jumped out of the car. There were thousands of snow geese as far as the eye could see. The noise was incredible, even as they took flight in waves and waves of white and black.

Last year some snow geese landed right across the road from our house and stayed for a day or so. However, the snow geese are not the farmers' friends. They forage in the fields, pull the plants by the roots and devastate the crop. But for me, the lovely snow geese are a little piece of heaven in winter.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

It's Been Something Seeing You Again!

We are now closed for the season, but what a season it has been! With almost 180 guests coming through our doors (almost twice as many as last year), we feel so lucky to have met such wonderful and interesting people. 

So until next year.....

Now it's been something seeing you again
In this time we've had to spend
You've been so good to be around
I thank you for that special thrill
Keep me going on until
The next time I'm in town 

Though I won't be back here for a while
Or hear your laughter, see you smile
And I'll remember what went down
I can't tell you how or when
But I'll be seeing you again
The next time I'm in town

Now the faces and the places range
'Cross the bridge of time and change
Once again I'm homeward bound
There's one thing I promise you
And that's another rendez-vous
The next time I'm in town

You can listen to this song by Chet Atkins and Mark Knopfler on YouTube.
Music:  Mark Knopfler/Chet Akins: Neck and Neck; 1990

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Crisp, Clear Autumn

Crisp, misty mornings. Clear, cold nights. Autumn can be surprisingly stunning, with every turn in the road a new, perfect picture: a frost covered, sparkly carcass of a black bear; a narrow band of low clouds over the lake; the whitish, translucent ice of the milky way; a shooting star.  I love the mornings this time of year. The mist and fog make everything soft and light.

My morning drive is often an obstacle course of road-crossing mammals. One week, I counted 6 different species, including a red fox and a coyote. A few days ago, though, a large black cow appeared out of the mist. Slowly, steadily it stepped out of the brush, stopping and looking in my direction, the fog swirling around its hefty outline. Fortunately, I was able to stop. When one cow finds a hole in the fence, and you can be sure the others will follow. I put the truck in reverse, and backed it into the owner's driveway only to be met by his camo-covered, ski-masked, gun-wielding son riding a 4 wheeler.  I'll never get used to seeing guns up close, particularly first thing in the morning. Cow, I pointed. In the road, I said. Cow? not a horse? he asked through the knitted muffler. (see, this happens more than you think!) I repeated --cow-- pointing up the road to nothing. The beast was gone, as if it were an apparition.

Closer to home, the willow tree still holds its green leaves but our maple trees are bare. One of them exposes the Baltimore oriole's nest, suspended on the end of a branch over the road. I can't tell you how many times I stood in the middle of the road watching that oriole fly in and out--right there--yet I've never been able to see that nest. Bluebirds and mockingbirds are feeding on seeds and berries while fighting off the bluejays, and Canada geese fly so low you can hear the whoosh-whoosh of their wings as they pass overhead.

While I crunch through the frozen grass, I take in autumn's crisp, dry breath, and keep watch for the return of the short-eared owls. Their moth-like flight and piercing eyes will be my entertainment for the winter. Until then, I soak up the ever-changing light, keeping my eyes open for the next beautiful thing.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Weaving Memories

One of our returning guests handed me a present before she left. It was a handmade, loop and loom potholder; colorful, tightly woven, and characteristically scrappy. Holding it, I was instantly transported to the floor of a friend's house where I was sitting cross-legged on the floor, pleading for my sister to teach me the tricky method for finishing the border of my loom potholder. It was just a flash, but this blast from the past inspired me to pick up the craft again.  I've been making potholders in the evenings ever since. 

Satisfyingly easy to make, the patterns come alive with color and contrast. It's like quiltmaking, only faster and more functional. This type of potholder is the best you will ever use. They keep out the heat. They are washable. And, their small size keeps the corners from going into whatever you are taking out of the oven. I figure by the end of winter, I'll have a whole basket of functional potholders to share with friends and guests.

I recall spending hours weaving and planning, picking out the unpleasant colors and struggling with the ill-fitting loops. I don't think my sister ever did teach me the trick to finishing the borders. But I was surprised when I picked up the loom again:  I knew how to do it. 

Just recently, I heard a report of a new memory study which found that the act of remembering actually creates a new memory which is stored in a new space in the brain. I'm happy to have this new memory in this new place.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Many Hands Make Light the Work

"The ovens are off!" proclaimed Mary, "We're two hours early!"

Last week, under torrents of rain, I trekked through the puddles to Mary's house to help her and her crew wrap baked goods for the Ithaca Apple Festival. Mary's booth is one of the most popular at the annual event, and people return specifically to purchase her goodies every year. The entire operation is quite labor-intensive with the majority of the work--baking and wrapping--having to be done at the last-minute by Mary. Helping her are some local girls, and her sisters-in-law, mother-in-law, daughters, nieces, and me.

In her commercial kitchen located just off the main house, she produces hundreds of fruit pies, pumpkin pies, pecan pies and shoo-fly pies; banana bread and pumpkin breads; white, wheat and raisin (iced or not) breads; sticky buns; apple dumplings (pictured here), apple goodie and apple crisps; oatmeal, chocolate chip, and pumpkin cookies; Angel-food cakes; and whoopie pies (hers are hands-down the best in the area). Once everything is wrapped and labeled, we pack it all on to trays or into banana boxes and pie chests. The men, arriving after chores, load everything into a large trailer for delivery the next day. The whole process is repeated again the following day.

Often working only by the light from a gas lamp, I cherish the two evenings I spend there with her family reveling in the friendly banter, the laughter, and the unmitigated cooperation. The girls busily work at assembling and cleaning, and share the most unpleasant and arduous tasks without prompting or complaint. Everyone has a job to do, and seems to know exactly what needs to be done and when. Floors get swept and scrubbed, trays are carried and stacked. Older children tend to the younger, even putting themselves and their siblings to bed. Fussy children get pulled aside, soothed, fed, and entertained. Chaos one minute, and in the next, everything is clean and in order. Many hands, do indeed, make light the work.

This year, we all got a chance to sit down and put up our feet as we peered through the windows for the first sign of the truck's headlights on the hill. Elam returned from Ithaca with an empty trailer--a sign of a very good day at the festival--and I got a ride home in the buggy!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Joe, Part II

The score:
Pip - 2 
Joe - 0 (still clueless!)

(painting credit:  "Mr. May" by Ron Donoughe 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Joe, the Vegetarian Kitten

I just made an appointment at the vet for our new kittens, Pip and Joe. I've been watching them obsessively, noting their habits and quirks. Their new favorite thing is to climb up into the car wheel wells, then giving our guests a fright when they jump out and flee. I can almost hear them say "boo!"

Pip, in a flash of gray stripes, has been snatching moles and mice from our adult cat Squatter, who, by the way, is getting bigger by the day. It's impossible to feed Squatter separately from the kittens, and so by way of one very large bowl, she's been getting high-calorie kitten food along with her regular chow. 

Joe, however, is clueless about the joys of mousing or eating mice. He follows behind Pip, sniffing around the area where the poor helpless rodent met its fate, but makes no other effort towards hunting. Frequently I'll hear some snapping of twigs in the garden, or paws pouncing on the porch, and I'll look out to find that he is chewing on stems, or tossing dead flowers about, or munching on bugs. He's also the first at the food dish, eating aggressively with his two front paws and most of his lanky body in the bowl. Pip and Squatter grab what they can from the space that's left.

I think he's a vegetarian (my friend Suzanne would be very happy to hear that), or maybe just a bit "touched." Maybe boy kittens mature more slowly than girl kittens? The females, as the primary food provider for the litter, have to be primed and ready to feed babies. They are a little more serious about life. A little more focused on eating animal nutrients and not fibrous weedy things. Did I say "babies?" Yikes, I think I made that vet appointment just in time!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

What's cuter than kittens?

About a month or so ago, Kevin was out of town, and I was changing over the rooms after breakfast and checkout. I heard a truck in the driveway, and I reached the window in time to see it pull out onto the road and read the business name on side panel. That's the guy who stopped in about week earlier inquiring about a reservation, and we got to talking about kittens. He said he had a few ferals he was trying to place in good homes. We said we would think about maybe taking one.

Then it hit me. I ran down the steps, flew open the kitchen door and there it was: A small pet carrier with his business card taped to the top. I peeked through the cage door and I see not one kitten, but two, hissing and terrified. It's 95 degrees outside. I've got a full day of baking and cleaning ahead of me, and he dropped off two kittens. Momentarily overwhelmed, I did the only thing I could manage.  I carried them into the barn, unlatched the carrier door, and walked out.

That evening, the kittens were nowhere to be found but I put some water and food out for them. All that night and the next I could hear their mews echoing from the barn. By the time Kevin arrived home, the mewing had stopped, and we saw no sign of them for days. I felt awful.

At the end of the week, however, I arrive home from work to find both kittens sitting under the truck. Hungry and frightened, they would run and hide whenever we approached, or peek out from behind a stack of wood. Slowly we got them to come out for food. Everyday they got more courageous, running around in the yard, chasing bugs, and getting closer and closer to us. One day we woke to find them on the kitchen porch, peeking into the windows and waiting to be fed. I don't think they have been into the barn since! Ever curious, scrambling around, and climbing the trees, they are a bundle of fun. We've named them Pip and Joe. 

Our adult cat, Squatter, has adapted so well. She tolerates their adolescent antics. She shares her food with them, including freshly caught field mice and moles. She'll carry her prey into the yard, make a fuss to get their attention, drop it onto the ground, and step aside. The kittens oblige by snatching it and scampering away. I can only suppose that she is teaching them to hunt like good barn cats--good girl!

I could fritter away the hours watching Pip and Joe explore their new world, wrestling and pouncing, hiding and climbing. They make me laugh, and that's a good thing. I mean, what's cuter than kittens?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Leading the Team

For months now, I have been telling my neighbor Elam that I wanted to help him bale hay, thinking the experience of back-breaking, sweaty work would do my soul some good. While he is always more than happy to laugh at me, he obviously gave the request some serious thought.  As I watched his youngest brother Levi drive a team of 4 draft horses past the house with the baler and two wagons trailing behind (one of which was carrying his young son), Elam knocked on the kitchen door.

We're baling straw tonight, he says. Just a few times around the field, that's all. Want to help? This is your chance to drive the horses, feel the power of the team as they make their way around the field. Kevin can take pictures, and you can show all your friends at work! 

DRIVE THE HORSES? I've never even been on a horse. You would really let me to that? Oh, no. Not tonight, I hear myself say. We have guests. I've got dishes to do. I need a few days notice to prepare for this. 

After a few minutes of cajoling, he leaves to continue his work without me, not wanting to force me into it. Kevin looks at me. He's disappointed too. I tell him the truth: I'm too scared. But he assures me it will all be fine. It will be fun! What an opportunity! This is your chance, Michele! Go for it! 

So I do. Donning my blue overalls (I mean, what DID I buy those for anyway?) and a long sleeve shirt, I trek out to the back field just as he's getting ready to start. After about two seconds of instructions and a snappy "giddup" we're off, with little Elam Junior on my lap, and Kevin documenting every second of it. A friend of ours remarked that Elam must really trust me. I've been thinking about that trust and his self-reliance, confidence, and spirit of community. How can any society survive without those things?

The ride was bumpy, but what a rush! I did it.  Elam helped with the turns. Little Elam Junior sat quitely. Levi stacked the bales. Kevin ran along by my side and took pictures. I was leading the team and no one got hurt.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Pots of Gold

Last weekend a quick and violent summer thunderstorm blew through the Interlaken plateau. Thunder cracked, trees bent, and one electrifying snap of lightning fried our modem with a loud "pop!" The rain lasted about 5 minutes. What followed this outburst was one of nature's most impressive phenomena. Through the green haze and puffy clouds came the rays of the sun and a rainbow, brilliant and majestic. One end of it illuminating a corn field to our south, and the other a field of grazing cows. Would our good fortune double--what does the folklore tell us?-- if we found both pots of gold?

After taking advantage of my first full year of AARP benefits (I turned 50 last summer), I am accepting the thought of retirement. Not retirement from life, but retirement from a full-time, work-for-somebody-else job. Our bed and breakfast is doing great and we love it. I'll need something else, however, to help keep it all going. Learning a new skill which can take me into my retirement (where ever that place may be) feels like the right choice.  So, beginning in January, I will be starting a new journey. It begins at the Finger Lakes School of Massage. 

I'm going back to school to become a Massage Therapist.

All the papers are in place, and now I am about to write what may be the most important prose of my adult life: A tuition scholarship essay. Writing this blog has been good practice. I've learned to collect my thoughts, create a story and put it on paper (well, e-paper), and find my voice. But I've never in my life asked for financial assistance, or had to affirm myself, my existence, my contribution to society, or ask for recognition. It is unnatural for a practical, efficiency-minded, do-bee like me to talk about what makes me special, or what sets me apart from everyone else.

I keep thinking about that rainbow and the two pots of gold. A shimmery, fading glimpse of the past and spark of the future. A reflective and colorful bridge between two careers and two phases of my life. The highs and lows, the graceful arc of a happy, productive, and fruitful life. Hmmm...maybe I just found a theme (somewhat hokey I know) for my essay. Or, perhaps I'll just point the scholarship committee here to read my blog because this, after all, is me.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Hay Fever!

The smell of hay is the scent of summer. For the past couple of weeks, we've seen an epidemic of hay fever.  Anyone who keeps livestock (or grows alfalfa for people who keep livestock) is baling hay, loading hay, and transporting hay. Alfalfa is agricultural perfection. It is raised and baled on the farm, fed on the farm, and spread as manure on the farm.

Watching the weather (make hay while the sun shines!) becomes an obsession because one good rainfall, at the wrong time in the process, can destroy the crop. Rain is a blessing and a curse. Timing is everything. There's so many acres to cut and only so much time to cut it before the first rain drop falls. The sky darkens. The clouds threaten, and still they cut. They windrow. They bale. They sweat. They plow in the dark, headlights (if they have them) illuminating the clouds of chaff, methodically and deliberately until the last bale is loaded onto the wagons. The filled wagons dot the landscape in every direction. 

A conventional baler throws the tied bales into slat-sided wagon with a powerful thrust machine called a kicker (or maybe that's a thrower?) and are piled up every which way. The bales in the Amish steel-wheeled wagons (which are flat and open-sided) are stacked neatly then pulled to the barn by a team of draft horses, creating a rumble that you first feel, then hear. As our neighbor's team quickly turns the sharp corner into his driveway, I've never seen him lose one bale. One of these days I'm going to help make hay, and Elam's offered to let me lead the horses--they know what to do, he says. Can you imagine me out there in the blazing sun driving the team? I've never even been ON a horse!

During this month's hay-making season, we have cows grazing in the field next to us. At night, by starlight, you can't always see them but you can hear them crunching on the grass, the young bull wailing in the night for no one's apparent pleasure but his own.  Perhaps he has hay fever too.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Keep singing!

Right now there's a Northern Mockingbird outside the window, feverishly and relentlessly singing to impress his mate, who just arrived in our yard today (he's been singing for about a month.) Driven by instinct, he settled in and kept singing. Night after night, a male barn swallow roosts beside his egg-filled nest, even after his mate has been missing for a week and the clutch is lost. Two winters ago a snowy owl made our town his home for 4 months bringing birdwatchers from miles around to observe and record his every move and pellet expulsion. What makes this place so right for them?

But, there's more. Always more. While cleaning up the remains from another spectacular peony bloom, I hear Kevin say "Here's Michele, I'll let you talk to her." On the other end of the phone line was our friend David from the market around the corner. One of his customers reported having a sandhill crane in their front yard. A sandhill crane just up the road? Could it be? I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see one this close, so I dropped the broom, the clippers, spritzed myself with bug-spray (thinking we would be trudging through a field), grabbed the binoculars, jumped in the car and picked up David along the way.

Okay, so up the road was about 3 miles, but in farm country, that's still in the neighborhood. I was half expecting the bird would turn out to be a Great Blue Heron. I was so wrong. As we pulled into the driveway, there it was, its red-patched head a beacon in the green grass under a small tree. It was no more that 20 feet from us, foraging on the ground below the backyard bird feeder. We didn't even have to get out of the car. It made no reaction to our being there. The property owner stood by, shaking his head. He never expected to be feeding a bird like this! Every few minutes, the bird would let out a loud, prehistoric-like clucking squawk. We were thrilled.

The crane has been there for about a week now, strutting around in the yard like a pet, and there is no telling how long it will stay or what attracted it there in the first place. The general area is perfect habitat for a sandhill crane, and so is the neighbor's yard next door, and the yard across the road. Why did it choose this particular yard?

Like the birds, we have chosen one place from a thousand in which to land. We're safe, well fed, and industrious. But which bird are we? The dependable migrant who stays the course year after year? Or the errant who has temporarily lost its way and must survive on wits and instinct? Or the wanderer who stays for a while, and moves on? No matter. For now, it feels right to settle in and keep on singing.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

You Just Never Know

Pure joy for a mother of three is having a whole bowl of fresh strawberries to herself:  Not the unwanted, mushy leftovers she usually gets, but the juicy, sweet ones served just for her with a dollop of whipped cream and with fresh flowers on the table. 

Words can't describe the taste of late spring, and the lines at the farm stands attest to our green-starved appetite. In our breakfasts this month, we'll incorporate asparagus, Swiss chard, rhubarb, and strawberries in savory custards or stuffed herb crepes, and the strawberries on their own or baked into a sweet little cake or tart.  But even though we pay extra special attention to our breakfasts, we never know what detail or event will make a traveler's visit memorable. Often it has nothing to do with us or the food.

One morning, our neighbor Mary had the opportunity to meet a guest from Maryland and they were surprised to discover they had a connection through milk.  As it turns out, the company Mary contracts to buy her organic milk is the same company the guest buys at her local market. Both recalled the story to me later, smiling. Saying, but not saying, how small the world is. How satisfying it was to put a face with a product, a family with a bottle of milk. 

We hear stories about waking to the sound of a horse-drawn plow plodding along outside the bedroom window; curious heifers running to the fence, pushing each other and vying for the front spot for a photo op; exhausted parents on a weekday getaway eating breakfast in their pajamas; sitting down at breakfast to find the other guests are your best friends from your post-college years; planning a whole day of wine tours only to plop down on the porch and go nowhere for hours; seeing a barn swallow nestling leave the nest; catching the purple light just before sunset. 

All the planning in the world couldn't make these things happen. As innkeepers, we savor these experiences and aspects of our life. Our house is a comfortable respite for those who are willing to treat themselves to it, and serendipity takes care of the rest. You just never know.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Barn Rules

Well, it has happened. I've missed my first every-other-Sunday posting deadline! I have been writing, but all I've got is about 5 topics in draft mode. What have I been writing about?  Rhubarb. Barn swallows. Kittens. Woodchucks. The quest for the perfect cup of coffee. Guests. Is it spring fever? More likely my brain is otherwise occupied with work (yes, my other job) on top of the regular coordination of laundry, preparing for guests, cleaning, baking, and having some fun time in between. All winter we make lists of projects, then good weather arrives and we have to cram it all in at once. We never sit down. And when we do, we fall asleep!

Here is some food for thought until I get my act together, that is, until I finish a story.  Someone gave me this list of BARN RULES right after we moved in, and I think they are as applicable to life as the Golden Rule:

If you open it, close it
If you turn it on, turn it off
If you unlock it, lock it
If you break it, admit it
If you can't fix it, call in someone who can
If you borrow it, return it
If you make a mess, clean it up
If you use it, take care of it
If you move it, put it back
If it belongs to someone else, get permission to use it
If you don't know how to operate it, leave it alone
If it is not broken, don't fix it
If it will brighten someone's day, say it
If you fall off, get back on.

There. I'm "back on" schedule.  See you in two weeks!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Our Country Kitchen

I confess:  I love cooking in a large country kitchen.  Our kitchen has 25 cupboards, 14 drawers, 2 closets, and 9 doors. It also has the original 1880's pantry, providing us with an additional 6 drawers, potato bin, large window, and 7 cupboards--one of which opens on both the pantry side and the dining room side. Very cool.

Both Kevin and I love to cook. He makes most of our meals and breakfast entrees, and I do most of the baking and dish washing. Getting adjusted to this large space was dizzying - literally - and we found ourselves walking in circles and frequently bumping into each other. Sharing the kitchen with your spouse can be pleasingly copacetic, kind of like synchronized swimming, with each having particular specialties, tasks, and timing.  But occasionally the order breaks down and it turns into a scene from Faulty Towers (...Basil!) or Hell's Kitchen (who moved the **bleeping** kitchen shears?). Fortunately, we figured out some things that work well for us, and may also work for you.  

Here's our list:
1) Never walk around the kitchen with a knife pointing outward.  This should seem like a no-brainer, but if your other kitchens were small, then you probably developed some habits that don't transfer into a large space. 
2) Keep all knives sharpened (a sharp knife is a safe knife) and store them in a slotted wooden knife tray in a drawer. Pasquale says "your knifa is lika your besta frienda and no one can hurt you lika your besta frienda."
3) Buy two free-standing paper towel holders so you always have one where and when you need it. 
4) Free yourself:  remove that annoying ring connecting your measuring spoons and cups. Buy a few sets of both and keep them inside the containers of those products you use most often like sugar, flour, popcorn, oatmeal, and pet food. The extras come in handy for multiple ingredient measuring as well.
5)  Keep the counter tops and flat surfaces clear of appliances and decorative items. Anything that does not get used every day does not belong on the counter.
6) Don't store anything in the cupboards above the stove. Ever.  
7) By all means, keep the kitchen shears IN THE KITCHEN and tools in the toolbox!

Another feature of our kitchen is a well-lit corner space next to the laundry room where I do the ironing. I love the feel of a starched napkin or pillowcase and so I toil to provide this small amenity. Last week I discovered I could make my own spray starch by mixing water and cornstarch, and, well, that just about made my day. Ask Kevin. I was giddy.

Of course, improvements can always be made to the current space. So what's on my wish list for our country kitchen?  It is not an automatic dishwasher - I actually enjoy hand-washing dishes. My dream kitchen would have the oven and the cook top as two separate units. Having to share the gas range causes some tense moments. Bing! There goes the timer. Sweetie, please step aside. I need to get into the oven NOW!!!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Bob's Retirement

Our neighbor has a team of six draft horses that he employs for almost every field job on the farm. And he is rewarded for it.  If you compare a horse-plowed field of alfalfa to one plowed by a conventional tractor, you will find the ground is softer and the alfalfa growing taller in the horse-plowed field, the hooves have turned and aerated the soil while the rubber tires packed it down. And though the baling is slower and more labor intensive, the operation is quieter and creates less air pollution. From a neighbor's point of view, this is a good thing.

Bob, who is about 16 years old, is Elam's favorite horse, and they have been working together for about 10 years. Their relationship is one of mutual respect, this nearly one ton horse built for work and the straw-hatted farmer who depends on him. Bob is a natural leader within the team, dependable and often the hardest worker. When the team is grazing in the pasture, you call Bob and he comes, and the others follow. But, they always allow him to enter the barn first.

But even Bob's discipline goes to the wayside when given the the opportunity to flee. One morning, as I drove past the farm on my way to work, I see the team charging down the driveway towards the road, and I quickly realize they are not harnessed. I stop, and Elam motions me to pull the car into the driveway to block them.  I do it, thinking to myself the insurance company will never believe this if I even live to tell the story. But it works: all six horses turn on a dime, and gallop back to the barn. I am momentarily amazed at their dexterity. I wave, satisfied that all is well (and that my car is in one piece), and pull into the road. But, seeing another chance,  they all turn again and this time pass me in a thundering cloud of dust. Elam jumps in the car, and we follow them up past my house. They turn into the field at full speed, the tops of their heads barely visible at the treeline. We stop. Watch. After a few big sighs and some quiet cussing, he asks me to get his brother with his riding horse, and he goes running after the team who are, by now, out of sight. I drive back down the road to his father's house, pick up two of his brothers and a saddle, and back to Elam's to get the riding horse. Mary comes out of the house, smiling, hands me a plateful of cookies, and we're off again to catch up to Elam, the brother riding his horse like a rodeo cowboy. Another neighbor arrives, I am relieved and start for the office again. All ended well, I learned later, and our guests were giddy after watching the whole episode from the front porch. Not only was I late for work, but I had a good story AND cookies!

Besides Bob, there have been other horses we've known: Maude, another favorite, who died unexpectedly after a long, hard day of working in the heat.  Joker - the lazy troublemaker and instigator of the above incident, who was sold off and with good riddance. And the beloved Pet, retired from driving the buggy, and who just this week became a new mother at a nearby family farm.

I have watched Bob lower his head to be petted by the tiny hand of Elam's young son. A little nudge from Bob and a big smile from the boy, I was amazed at the gentleness displayed by a beast of solid muscle whose head was bigger than the two year old. Lately, though, Bob's been halting in the middle of a job and getting tired more quickly.  Elam feels now is the time to retire him, before he's too old for anyone else to want him. Before he gets hurt and before difficult decisions must be made. So, Bob will be put to pasture by a friend who is taking him to Wisconsin. He'll be King Bob, a family pet and retired draft horse. No more leading the team, he'll be living a life of fresh grass and kind spirits. Happy retirement Bob!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

It's a Piece of Cake

At 1:00 on Easter Sunday afternoon, I poured myself a glass of wine, and sat down on the front porch to enjoy the warmth of the sun. That feels so good after a cold winter.  Things were under control:  Our nephews, ages 6 and 4, were watching the movies the Easter Bunny brought them. Their baby brother was fed and fast asleep.  Their parents had been gone for two hours already, off for wine tasting and an overnight stay at the Belhurst. A long overdue, and well-deserved break without the kids. Piece of cake, I thought, the next 24 hours will be a piece of cake. 

As an extended family, we have kept busy since they arrived on Friday afternoon. We had make-your-own-pizza night, and ate the hot and gooey creations outside on the porch. We hoofed over to the dairy farm next door, pet the draft horses, and let the baby calves suck on our fingers. We played with kittens. Lots of kittens. We collected duck eggs from a barn, ate a picnic lunch and went to the Children's museum. This morning we flew kites (boy, that Easter Bunny was right on!) under perfect conditions in the field across the road. And all of these activities were interspersed with bike riding and playing in the dirt, and with a little brotherly wrestling thrown in.  The baby, who is 8 months old, watched and laughed, cried, drooled, and chewed on anything you put in his little hands, including a plastic tablespoon. That was his favorite diversion of the weekend.

At some point, however, the calm ceased and we were quickly outnumbered. Discipline and restraint went out the window.  We had no choice but to put everyone in dad's Big Suburban and go for a ride to the playground. But these kids just don't wear out.  On the way home, hovering just above the radio and the road noise were their chants, in stereo,  of "I want ice-cream." The answer of "after dinner" was getting me nowhere.  I had to outsmart them. I had to restore order and authority. Then it came to me. We pulled in the driveway, and I promised a surprise if they went right in and sat down.  "Today," I announced, "we are having dessert BEFORE dinner."  I think I saw, between their cheers of joy and chocolate-covered faces, one little spark of surprise, or was it a quick assessment of the trouble they would be in if their parents knew? Kevin pulled out the largest soup bowls we had, and offered not only chocolate ice-cream, but pudding and crumbled oreos as toppings. To our surprise, not only did they finish their ice-cream, but both boys ate all of their rigatoni, 2 helpings each mind you, without any challenge at all. We did it.

Not having children ourselves, I always wonder how parents get through it. But with a few fleeting moments of self-confidence and by thinking on our feet, we managed. And we had fun. The boys had another memorable weekend at Aunt Michele's and Uncle Sonny's house in the country. Loving these 3 little guys, watching them grow and discover the world.  That is a piece of cake. Chocolate cake, with whipped cream, and cherry on top.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Keep A Goat Employed

Before we opened the B&B we had lots of ideas on what it was to be. It had to be a place where we would like to stay. A home that reflected not only our tastes, but who we are. A home where the innkeepers share their stories, converse over breakfast, help with travel details, but leave you to your privacy. The location of our house, rural and bucolic, is attractive to travelers who want to get away from the city but we also see guests who simply want to experience something different. 

The smallest details often make the biggest impressions.  And for us, that is our guest soap. I never thought much about soap, I suppose, but as innkeepers we considered the following: What if someone has allergies? How could we choose one standard scent? Do we want bars or liquid soap? Which is easier to clean up? Is there a way to incorporate something local here and help a small business? Enter, serendipitously, our friend Marty. Turns out his cousin Charleen raises goats on a farm in Darien Center and (you guessed it!) makes goat milk soap. I called her. Guest sized bars, she said, are no problem. I'll send you some samples.
Shortly thereafter, we received a small, sweet-smelling package from Harper Hill Farm containing little paper envelopes of beautiful scents.  Oh. My. Goodness. The variety of colors and aromas was overwhelming, but we managed to choose about 8 of our favorites. Even better, however, was how these soaps felt when you put them under water. They almost melt. Aromatherapy and moisturizer in one small little bar. 

The thing about small-batch soap is it's REAL soap, rich in natural glycerin. No detergents, synthetic colors, artificial foam boosters, petroleum or alcohol. An added bonus for us? She uses lard and milk from her own pigs and goats, herbs from her garden and as many local ingredients as possible. Perfect. 

Guests will find in their rooms a variety of scents from which to choose, and we encourage them to take their bar home with them. They may also purchase full size bars here.

As innkeepers, these unexpected friendships we make along the way become part of our home, to be shared with those who stay with us.  Small businesses have a friendly face behind them and most likely a good story as well.  So we help keep a goat employed. Buy goat milk soap!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

What's for breakfast?

Here at our house we are committed to using as many locally produced ingredients as possible. It's is easier than you might think, really, because our region is abundant with small, family-owned farms that promise free-range, Farmer's Pledge, or Certified Organic wares. We enjoy the challenge of creating tasty items that guests will find unique and memorable.

Depending on the day of the week, breakfast is either four courses (weekends) or serve-yourself continental style (weekdays). Our weekend breakfast features fresh fruit, local yogurt, a savory entree, and dessert (yes! dessert for breakfast!). Many venues in the area will offer strawberries, cherries, currants, apples, pears, plums, berries and a few surprises. During blueberry season, we head down the road and load up our buckets with the best blueberries around. We find freshly picked berries to need little enhancement, and so we feature them drizzled with blackberry sauce or with a dollop of whipped cream. When fruit is in abundance, jam making takes over the kitchen, providing the fresh taste of summer for us and our guests all year round.
Our property, too, provides a limited yet useful source of fruit, herbs, and flowers for the breakfast table. I'm an early riser, so each morning I put on a pot of coffee and step outside for snippets of posies and herbs while the birds are chirping and the guests are still asleep.

Quite often guests will rave about the yogurt, which is produced about 2 miles down the road. Jersey cow milk, which has a higher fat content than Holstein, gives it a smooth and creamy texture. We add a topping of granola or grapenuts from the local market and a drizzle of honey or maple syrup. Yum.

Breakfast entrees are savory, rather than sweet, and feature happy hen brown eggs with yolks the color of ripe apricots. We are always on the lookout for flexible recipes we can adjust according to the produce available, but our vegetable custards, herb crepes stuffed with spinach and feta, bacon-onion tarts, and shirred eggs have become our signature dishes.  No-nitrate bacon, Canadian style or thick-sliced from, share the plate along side goat cheese (chevre) medallions or straw potato cakes, both golden brown and crunchy.  The feta and the chevre come from Lively Run Goat Dairy in Interlaken. This small farm, and others in the area, are making wonderful, small-batch cheeses rich with freshness and aged to perfect sharpness. We hear the cheese makers may be developing a Cheese Trail. Wouldn't that be cool? We think it could be the next big thing in the Finger Lakes.
Last, but certainly not the least, is dessert. We keep it fresh and seasonal. Strawberry cake, blueberry cobbler, buttery little tarts and pies...we love serving this part of breakfast. This time of year, while fruit availability is lean, we'll be baking local maple syrup into a walnut pound cake glazed with more maple syrup. Our testers (friends, neighbors, etc) gave us a thumb's up on this new recipe.

Weekday breakfasts are just as substantial and fresh but with a few changes. Self-paced and casual, guests enjoy toasted home-made English muffins and jam, fresh fruit of the season, and muffins or sweet cakes.  Our lemon pound cake with its rich, dense crumb is one of our favorites for weekday guests.

Whether guests will be wine tasting, hiking, or traveling to their next destination, our breakfasts will fortify their journeys and sustain them until dinner. Often is the case, however, where they go no further than the front porch, sitting down and listening to the birds, enjoying the garden, or catching a cat-nap. We hope they are satisfied enough to wonder "What's for breakfast....tomorrow?"

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Boys of Spring

How far would you drive to see a particular bird? Tonight, just before dusk, I put on my red tassel cap, tossed my binoculars into the car, and drove about 6 miles hoping to catch the courtship display of the male American Woodcock. I know it sounds nerdy, but conditions were perfect:  Both the wind and rain had stopped, and the sky was white with cloud cover. I arrived at my destination cold...muddy...but full of hope. Lover-boy did not disappoint.

I am a birdwatcher. I can't help it. Watching birds is fascinating. They are amazing creatures. Some travel hundreds, even thousands of miles, twice a year, no matter what. Some feast on early berries for the long flight south, some feast on later berries when they arrive famished and exhausted. And finding a particular species is not as random as I once thought it was. If you had bluebirds in your yard last year, you will probably have bluebirds again this year and next.  Barn swallows? They return every year, probably the same birds or their offspring. A couple of years ago, one particular barn swallow--we call him Bebo--decided that our porch is much nicer and less crowded than the barn, so he found a mate and built a nest. Our guests enjoyed watching the babies fledge one by one and seeing the whole family roosting all in a row at night.

There are times, however, when a storm will blow a bird off-course or something goes wrong with its navigation system, or it passes through just briefly, and we get to see an uncommon bird in our local habitat before it perishes, as is sometimes the case, or moves on. Last Christmas we were lucky to have a visit by a Snowy Owl. He stayed until May.  Once word is out, generally via a posting by someone in the Cayuga Bird Club, people drive good distances to see the birds in the local habitat. You know you have found it when you turn the corner, and there are a dozen cars and giant camera lenses poking out from the windows. You walk over to the first person you see, they ask "Are you here to see the 'fill in the blank'?" and then they point. There it is. We all stand in silence and awe, saluting with binoculars raised. 

Back to the American Woodcock who is, by the way, one of the first spring arrivals.  It's a funny looking bird, brown spots and long bill and a waddle when it walks.  But when attracting a mate, this birds goes all out. I heard the peent...peent...peent and I waited. I was hearing at least two different birds. Without warning, he flew out from the brush in a diagonal trajectory making fast chirping sounds. He climbed higher and higher, spiraling with wings fluttering rapidly. The chirping continued until he was just a speck against the sky. Just as quickly, he dove towards the ground, spinning and zig-zagging nose first, a more melodious chirping marking his descent. Then silence, followed by peent....peent...peent.  I kept watching and listening as he repeated this sky dance three times before the darkness made further seeing impossible. Wow. I can't believe I finally saw it. Funny thing?  Lover-boy will keep doing this even after he's got the girl! 

(photo credit Michael J. Hopiak/CLO) 

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Beginnings of Spring

With spring just around the corner, the snow drifts are subsiding and our front yard has come alive! Not only are the green shoots of crocus popping up, but the migration has begun. Geese, both Canadas and Snow geese, are passing through in a constant stream of honking, sometimes flying so low you can hear the flapping of their wings.  If we are lucky, and often we are, they rest and feed in the field across the road.

No matter the temperature or the weather, the birds return and get right to work. This week's arrivals are the killdeer, bluebirds (usually here year-round but not this year), common grackle, and robins all of whom are marking out their territories ahead of the next wave. Also back, and in large numbers, are the red-winged blackbirds. The male house finches, now bright pink, are carrying nesting materials. The house sparrows fight the bluebirds for the nest boxes.  Our resident kestrel munches on his dinner of vole as we arrive home from work.  Soon we'll be saying goodbye to the snow buntings and horned larks who fed in small flocks at the sides of the road.

Spring not only feels different, but it sounds different. My amazement and respect for it will never cease. I don't know whether to look down at the ground for new green growth or look up in the trees for birds. It's invigorating. And it's just the beginning!

**bonus sighting:  We saw a red fox crossing the road last evening. In a very cat-like manner, it stopped, turned, and looked at us.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Green In Winter

What's fresh at the market?

Sprouts--alfalfa or broccoli or radish--a nutritious "crunch with a kick" for topping just about anything. Spinach--lush and dense and grown in real dirt, under real sunlight. Not the paper-thin, hydroponic leaves of the type generally available at the grocery store this time of year.

One of our favorite local markets, just
down the road and around the corner from us, is Country Side Produce. These farmers always manage to surprise their regular customers with something new. We stop in for happy hen eggs, jersey-milk yogurt and cheese and we find little bags of freshness, so unexpected yet so welcomed in these snowy and cold winter months. In December, we gave up on seeing anything but squash, potatoes and garlic - when suddenly there appeared greens of a variety that are (as the owner explained) grown right there on the farm and able to withstand a freeze or two. Then, just as suddenly, they were gone. No apology for the short supply. No promise of more. A few weeks later, spinach appeared and it, too, disappeared quickly. This week we have sprouts, and baskets of sweet, juicy organic citrus from California (okay, not local, but a taste of sunshine and worth every penny.) Today, there were jugs of maple syrup made at a nearby farm.

Sure we can go to the supermarket and get any thing we want, any time we want it. But this is more fun, probably more nutritious, and it definitely tastes better.
We eat what's in season and what's available. We know who grows our food and how they grow it. By doing this, we support our local economy and our neighbors in the process.

Upstate New York winters are snowy and gray. But with local farmers who are willing to be creative and productive for their devoted customers, this year we have some green (and orange) mixed in.

Friday, February 26, 2010

4x4 x 3 x 2

One 4x4 Ford F350 turbo diesel truck with Snow Dog plow.
3 strong men with shovels. 2 draft horses.
That's what it took to get us out of the driveway Friday morning.

How much snow did we get? Hard to say. We can see the grass, yet not the porch. We'll say about 15 inches for is still blowing and snowing.

The challenge:
A monster snow drift in the
driveway, which spread about 80 feet between the barn and the road.

The men:
Kevin, my hubby and innkeeper of The Hayward House. Elam, our neighbor and dairy farmer. Bill, our 81 year old neighbor and all around nice guy.

Can you guess who owned the 4x4 Ford F350 equipped with a Snow Dog?

The result?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Fear of Frying

Our dog Jake has a fear of frying. No, he's not afraid of heat (actually, he loves lying in the hot sun on the stone sidewalk). But rather, he's afraid of the sound of sizzling from a pan on the stove. I'll give you a little Jake history shortly, but first, here's a couple of disclaimers: Don't worry about getting out the tissues. At the time of this writing, the Jakester is alive and well. Let's face it. He's probably the healthiest dog around. Furthermore, let it be known that we have never hit, kicked, burned, abandoned, or otherwise inflicted any manner of cruelty on this dog.

We're not sure what breeds combined to sire this fine mix, but when we found him at the kennel as an 8 week old pup, his tag listed him as a lab/shepherd. I believe that was simply to make him more appealing to the general population and therefore more adoptable. Once we got to know him, however, we found not a molecule of lab or shepherd in this crazy mutt. He's white with brown and black spots. He's tall and skinny. He hates the water. He loves to run, leap, and chase. He does not drool. Did I say he loves to chase? And he always smells wonderful - like a new puppy. His attitude (and attention span) is terrier and hound from the end of his wet, black nose to the tip of his whippet tail. My dad says he's part goat. What other animal could reduce an aluminum soda can into a pile of metal filings without injury or stomach upset? Or, scratch and gnaw a door frame down to the studs, nails poking through and a heap of wood kindling on the floor?

These incidents should have been a sign. There is this problem. Jake's sensitive, the vet says, and anxious. Afraid we will abandon him (no way!) and never return (we ALWAYS return, doesn't he know that by now?). He's tried to scratch his way out of the kitchen to find us, and has broken all four canine teeth in the process. He's chewed a door frame down to the stud, exposing nails and leaving splinters of wood in a pile. Was he hearing ghosts? Was it a sound in a pitch undetectable to the human ear? We see the immediate change in demeanor when a perceived threat is in his space. He cowers, tail between his legs, and slowly creeps to the nearest door, or hides under a table, or tries to climb onto your lap to get away from whatever it is. Threats include the sound of sizzling. Or a buzzing fly (he's afraid of the flyswatter). Or from a clip binder (it's the snapping sound). And now, for his own safety, for the comfort of our guests, and for our peace of mind, he may no longer be left alone in the house. Either he goes with us for a ride (oh boy--RIDE!) or is locked-down in an undisclosed location. Sometimes he goes to Paws & Whiskers Boarding Kennel, where he is showered with love and exercised three times a day. Or he gets a mid-week indulgence: A visit to doggy-day-care at a horse farm, and a chance to play all day in the mud, and just be a dog with a dozen or so of his kind.

Anxieties aside, he is one gentle companion who is always on his best behavior for guests. Tail wagging, he greets new arrivals with a run onto the porch, and a charge back into the house to find his favorite toy, often a mangled stuffed animal or a joint compound bucket lid, rough from gnawing. While we are making breakfast, he whines at the door until we let him into the dining room where he waits patiently and expectantly for his new friends, always hopeful for a handout. He's even garnered a few personal notes in the guest book.

Jake turns 11 years old next month, but he's still as spry and playful as a puppy. During a game of Kong-Frisbee (a toy advertised as indestructible but Jake managed to chew a hole in it), he runs with abandon, leaps and stretches for the prize, his ears extended like wings and all four paws are off the ground. Our neighbor's little boy laughed until he fell over when he saw this stunt for the first time. Oh, the joy of a happy dog, doing what he loves the most. Running. Chasing. Leaping. He's not afraid to fly. What style! What technique! Fly, Jakey, fly!