Another Christmas

I’m stressed…the holidays do that to me. Every year I tell myself this is the year I will get excited. This is the year that will be magical. This is the year I will enjoy my friends and family. That we will get out and enjoy all the fun things going on.

This year I had to really push myself to even put out decorations, but I knew if I did not, then I would never get in the spirit.

Perhaps it is because no matter what relationship I’m in (or not in), the whole process falls on my shoulders. Would we even have Christmas if it wasn’t for women?

I finally got my better half to bring down the tree from the loft. Yes, a fake tree on a farm. But with everything going on it is just easier and I don’t have to worry as much about the cats knocking it down.

In addition to being in charge of decorating the house, I am the one who sends out Christmas cards, shops for gifts, wraps and bakes and who ensures that everyone gets the same amount.

There are so many things going on this year, and many that I typically attend. My better half is a bit of a home body and trying to get him out lately is a chore, so I’ve missed a lot of the fun.

Each year, the city of Concord hosts a Midnight Merriment where the stores on Main Street stay open until Midnight and there are lots of sales. It’s a lot of fun and even somewhat romantic with the lights and music and party atmosphere. But we didn’t make it this year.

I did get to have dinner and drinks with a couple of friends. That was nice and I would like to do more of that. Staying in touch with friends is hard under the best of circumstances.

The warm weather and lack of snow isn’t helping much either. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining; but, well, what’s a New Hampshire Christmas without a little of the white stuff?

We are still working out the details of Christmas, but it looks like we’ll be spending the better part of the day at home. We plan to cook a nice roast, which I’ve already ordered from the local beef farm down the road. It should be very romantic with Christmas music, good wine and the fun of cooking together.

Once the holidays are over, I’ll feel better. The New Year always brings with it a sense of reflection and renewal and that is what I need most of all.

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November!

We live among rolling fields fenced by stone walls and old sugar maple trees.  In October the air shimmers with misty hues of red, orange and gold.  The air is crisp and clear, but still retains a certain warmth.  Old logging roads and wooden paths beckon you along their winding way enticing you with what may be hidden just around the corner.  Ducks and geese call to each other as they fly by on their way to warmer climates.  Days are shorter and nights are cooler making for perfect cooking weather, for this is harvest season and fresh food abounds.  In the evenings, you may catch the hint of wood smoke in the air coming from a chimney or two, as families sit by the fire chasing off the slight evening chill.

Just one month later the vision is drastically different.  November brings shorter days, cooler temperatures and that hint of snow in the air.  The only leaves left on the trees are brown and dried.  Forests now reveal hidden stories that were once concealed by fresh green leaves.  The skies are a cold steel gray most of the time, but even the sunny days do not bring much warmth.  The only sound you hear is the howl of the wind, which can bite right through you.

If it wasn’t for Thanksgiving, November would be a very bleak month indeed.  While it can snow here in November, it often just threatens to, spitting down a flake here or there almost as a tease to those hardy skiers.  By now, most people have their homes winterized, wood stoves are going strong and anything related to summer has been stowed away until next year.

What we eat and how we cook changes drastically.  Outdoor grills are replaced with indoor crockpots.  Fresh vine vegetables have been canned or frozen and now replaced with heartier squashes and root vegetables.

Instead of meandering down wooden paths and taking in the beautiful scenery of October, we now stay indoors, watch football and keep a look out for that ever promised snow so winter sports can begin.

Despite November’s dreary appeal, it has its place on the seasonal calendar.  We become so enamored with October that we might well forget that winter is just around the corner.  November is here to remind us.  She is stern and unforgiving, raw and cold, but there is beauty in her starkness.  Because of her, we give ourselves permission to stay indoors wrapped in a warm blanket with a good book and a hot beverage.

As we come up to Thanksgiving and we look for things to be thankful for, perhaps we should be thankful for the month of November.  After a hectic summer cramming every outdoor activity possible into a few short months, November allows us to slow down, take a breath and rest a while.  It’s that deep inhale and exhale before the holiday season begins and the craziness jumps into full gear.

This seasonal break between summer and holidays doesn’t last long up hear in the north.  Give yourself permission to take a few moments to just breathe.  Now is a great time to refresh yourself.  It is also a good time to take a look at the world around us and appreciate it for what it is.  Not dressed in her seasonal best, we should accept nature at her worst when all her scars are bared to us and she prepares to blanket herself in snow.

Our Newfoundland, Elli, checking out the field after a November frost.

Our Newfoundland, Elli, checking out the field after a November frost.

A Quick Note About Fall

Fall I think is one of those seasons that is so noticeable. One minute it is summer with all the warm, long, grass-between-your-toes days and then the trees are a multitude of colors, vibrant and warm in nature, but the days are cooler, shorter.

I have been so busy doing so many things that I almost missed it, that is until my boyfriend and I took a drive up to Quechee Gorge, Vermont last weekend. It was beautiful up there and I had never walked the trail down to the bottom of the gorge before. Walking down was easy…walking back up, well that’s another story.

Quechee Gorge

The Gorge from the top on the Bridge.

Quechee Gorge

Another view of the Gorge.

Quechee Gorge

It was a beautiful day for a hike.

Still, if you love quaint New England, you can’t beat Vermont, and just to add to our fun, we drove the extra ten minutes up the road to Woodstock, another quaint New England town.

Even with all the fun and outdoor excitement I was still in my own little world. Then, on my way home last night it really struck me how much the trees had changed. Everything just glows with reds, oranges and yellows and there are almost as many leaves on the ground as in the trees.

October brings with it all types of goodness. I love this month. I love the color, the smells, the sights, and, yes, the food. What’s the point of fall if you can’t eat it?

In fact I made this amazing pull-apart apple bread that I will share with you in the coming days. It was super easy and very tasty and I found it on Pinterest. (Who says Pinterest is useless web surfing!)

I know what comes after fall is depressing, but for now I am going to enjoy what we have. The weather has been fantastic and perfect for baking and canning and you can’t be depressed when you wake up in the morning as the sun comes over the horizon and turns everything to a vibrant gold.

On top of all that I have been involved in the local Agricultural Commission and have been made a board member. I don’t run a commercial farm, but I figure that gives me the times to help those who do. Tomorrow one of the local farms is holding a Farm Day event. I plan on attending and get a first hand glimpse of how a real beef cattle farm is run.

Now I just need to finish the first draft of the story I’m working on before the Crimbake, the mystery writers conference in Massachusetts. I have to pitch a story to an agent and I want to be done.

As the weather gets cooler, I’ll be inside writing more and my plan is to get back to this blog again. New Hampshire has so much to offer, you just need to experience it to understand and if you can’t be here, I can at least do my best to explain it to you.

Labor and Days

Thank a farmer

Today is September 1st, which makes this a very important day. First it is the ‘unofficial’ start of fall. It’s going to be a beautiful day and already the sun is shining on freshly rained-on grass making everything sparkle. Some of the trees have started to change color, the apple orchards are advertising their early apples, peaches are at their peak and apple cider donuts are for sale. (Funny how I always equate seasons with food. Hmmm.)

Today is also Labor Day, so happy Labor Day to all you hard working folks including those who work inside the home as well as out. I know everyone needs a break now and then and I also know there will be many people working today.

And this brings me to the other important thing that is happening…The Hopkinton State Fair. The fair is a tradition in our family and we use to bring the kids every year from the moment they could walk. For the most part we had fun, though I still remember the times of having deal with a screaming child because they wanted to go on “just one more ride.”

Still, the fair is nostalgic for me and I enjoy it, so this year my boyfriend and I went together…without any children! This was the first year I was able to see the horse pulling, which I enjoyed and we spent over four hours talking to farmers about their animals and why they do what they do.

It was great. We spoke to one person who raises four beef cattle and two horses. His kids bring the cattle to the fair and show them. “I feel it give the kids a sense of responsibility.” Said their father. “We do it for fun.” Can you imagine having a cool dad like that?

We watched as a group of teenagers showed their dairy goats. They had to show them before they were milked then had to go and milk the goats and then go back to show them again. They all did wonderful and a particularly pretty black goat took home the blue ribbon.

In the oxen barn, a young boy of about eight or nine walked into the pen with one of the big oxen, pushed his horns out of the way can proceeded to hug and hang on the big cows neck. The oxen stood quietly and let the boy climb. My boyfriend and I quizzed the young man on the names of his cows, their age and how he likes them. Clearly he had no fear of these huge animals and was very proud to answer our questions.

Farmers never get a day off. Even on Labor Day animals need to be fed, they need clean water and they need to have clean homes. In fact, not only do farmers not get Labor Day off, they don’t get ANY days off. There is always something that needs to be done on a farm.

Farmers grow crops for our food, raise animals for meat and dairy and learn how to live off the land. It’s a hard job, but most would tell you it is a labor of love.

So remember, today is a special day. Enjoy it. And when you are cooking up those juicy steaks, buttering up that corn-on-the-cobb and having that apple pie for dessert, remember to thank a farmer, who, on this day, is still hard at work.

Blogging University Days 10 and 11

Blogging University Day 10 and 11

Tell us about your favorite childhood meal — the one that was always a treat, that meant “celebration,” or that comforted you and has deep roots in your memory.

 Tell us about the home where you lived when you were twelve. Which town, city, or country? Was it a house or an apartment? A boarding school or foster home? An airstream or an RV? Who lived there with you?

With trying to edit my first novel and sending out queries and starting my second novel, plus reading samples from my critique group and, well, critiquing them, I decided to try and knock out two days of the writing challenges in one blog.

I do this because, in a way, these two challenges are connected for me. Telling about my favorite childhood meal stems from the fact that there weren’t a lot of meals when I was growing up, until I turned twelve and my stepfather came into the picture. However, this doesn’t quite turn out the way you think.

Growing up we didn’t have regular meals. My breakfast usually consisted of some sugary cereal or Poptarts. Lunch was usually the school lunch and we all remember those days. Rubbery hamburgers, mac and cheese, square cold pizza, greasy tater-tots. I was always considered a finicky eater. But who could blame me?

Dinners? Dinners usually consisted of a can of beef-a-roni or a frozen TV dinner that took forever to cook in the oven. But hey, it was food and who was I to complain.

I grew up in a small 860 square foot bungalow home on the outskirts of town. It was just my mother and I. We had a one-car garage, but no car and a backyard with a swing set that abutted the public service land where the electricity poles went through. We lived in Manchester, New Hampshire on the north end almost into Hooksett.

My parents had been divorced since I could remember and the year before I turned twelve my mother started dating the man who would become my stepfather. It wasn’t a good relationship. They were both alcoholics. I think what made it worse was that he had children, most of whom were much older, but one who was six years younger. The year I turned twelve, my mother and her boyfriend married.

The first thing my stepfather said to my mother was, “Get rid of the kid, the cat and the dog and our marriage will be fine.” From there it only got worse.

My mother and stepfather fought every day, arguments that usually turned to blows. The two bedrooms upstairs did not have doors and the new stepsister would constantly invade my privacy. Looking back she was probably only looking for some type of solace from the bickering going on below us, but having been a single child up to this point I wanted nothing to do with the new sibling. Of course, if I just looked at her sideways she would wine and I would immediately be accused of bothering her, instead of the other way around, which only served to annoy me more.

Twelve is a tough age. It is when I hit puberty. I began to grow and my body changed. My mother, being self-absorbed in this new destructive relationship wasn’t much help. Previously, the little bit of food I ate sustained me. All of a sudden I was hungry all the time.

My stepfather had been the primary cook in his first marriage and chose to cook meals on the weekends. Since both of them spent a majority of the time drinking they didn’t not eat a lot of weekday meals and the food my stepfather allowed into the house was not the same food I had grown up with. Having had mostly bland meals, the new menu did not meet my palette. Spaghetti sauces that contained more peppers and onions than sauce, baked beans that contained chicken wings(?) and foods like sauerkraut and liver were common meals and I chose to go hungry instead.

The one meal I looked forward to came in the summer time. My mother would pull out the charcoal grill, light the coals and let them get hot. Then she would lather a cheap steak with lots of barbecue sauce and cook it until the meat separated from the bones. Then she would whip real mash potatoes and open a can of peas. This was my favorite meal.

That summer my mother rented a cabin at the beach and invited my stepfather’s two older daughters to come stay with us. At that time, they didn’t like my mother anymore than I liked my stepfather. They were not afraid to take out their hatred on me.

Being of very pale Irish skin, one day at the beach, my mother and stepfather left to go back to the cabin before lunch (after all, you’re not allowed to drink beer on the beach) and left me in their care. My mother asked that they bring me back when I felt I was getting too warm. That was my cue that I was starting to burn and that was something I did very well.

Sure enough, within in hour I could feel my skin heating up and asked that they take me back to the cabin and they refused. We stayed on the beach for a couple more hours then they decided to go for pizza. The only pizza I was every exposed to were those pre-mentioned frozen square things you get at school. I wasn’t sure I liked “real” pizza from a pizza restaurant. As we waited in line, my new stepsisters asked what type of pizza I would like, to which I answered Cheese. The conversation that followed included comments about how plain cheese pizza was only good for dogs. I’m not sure if I was more hurt by their remarks or concerned that they wouldn’t buy the cheese pizza and I would go hungry yet again.

By the time we got back to the cabin, I was sunburn (to a crisp, my mother would say), but at least I had eaten some pizza, which turned out to be okay, since it was only dog food and not “real” pizza anyway.

My mother was not pleased, but she never stood up for me or said anything. I refused to leave the cabin after that and if I recall correctly, my stepfather made us all go home early before our week was up.

At thirteen I left my childhood home to move in with my father and stepmother. It was a good move and the meals were healthy and regular.

Years later, when my mother passed away, the house fell to me. I thought for a time about keeping it, but then decided against it. Once in a while I will drive by my old home and remember some of the good times I had there. After all, I did have a backyard with a swing set.