Tuesday, December 16, 2014

This too shall pass...

For those of you who are reading bits of our family tale, you'll probably know by now that we found our New Hampshire dream home

...but, after much soul searching, we made the heart wrenching decision to let this particular dream go...for now.

Think with the head.
Think with the heart.
Think with head.
Think with the heart.

We realized that the scenario we need must have the qualities of our dreams, but also has to make sense to the practicalities of our bank account.

I'm afraid that on this journey of ours to find our little resting spot in New England, we've disappointed people along the way.  We rushed down a perceived path that called for quick action and quick thinking.  

However, when that sparkling fairy dust of dreams finished falling softly to the earth and the end of the slippery and multi-colored rainbow gently touched us to the ground, we each took several long deep breaths and realized we were going to have to walk around that landing pad for awhile and begin thinking with our heads a bit more.

As a family, we have each looked at one another and the phrase "This too shall pass..." has been heard many times now.  It has been heard lately as a whisper, as a declaration, as a wishful statement, and as a question.  

We are sorry for the people that we have disappointed along the way as we pursue goals, shift gears, and make last minute turns. 

One decision that has not wavered for a second is our newfound love for the state of New Hampshire.  We spent the week of Thanksgiving exploring the tiny back roads of this gorgeous and evocative state.

The town of Keene, New Hampshire is like a scene lifted right out of a Norman Rockwell post card.  Patrick and I spent several hours nestled into the window seat of Prime Roast Coffee Shop in downtown Keene talking over the many faceted decisions that we were about to make, afraid to make, wanted to make, but hesitated to make.

It helped that this little cozy coffee shop makes superb lattés.  I had my hint of peppermint flavor added to my darkly roasted brew. We settled deep into our new pillowy down coats, and watched the activity of the little town buzz by as everyone readied for the lighting of the Christmas tree across the street.

For the first part of the Thanksgiving vacation, New Hampshire still donned a mantle of gourd colored golds, deep orange hued rusts, and dark moody chocolate browns. It was perfect scenery for us as we drove from village to village enjoying the end of fall muted colors, barren landscapes at the prime of changing seasons.

Farm stands are everywhere in New Hampshire.  Their little topsy turvy wooden structures were all shuttered and buttoned up for the season.  Crinkly leaves scuttled all over the fields, the forests, as well as the tiny back roads as everything is making way for the turn over of blustery fall to the quiet and crisp arrival of winter snowflakes.

After we returned from New Hampshire, hearts heavy with grief for the wrenching decision to let a very sweet little country home fade from our grasp, I wanted to cook a delicious meal that would feed the angst, disappointment, and yearning for answers that we were searching for in vain.

Since the holidays were looming on the horizon and we were making the decision to launch ourselves into more instability with our wayward decisions, I thought I would prepare a feast that would stand in for the Christmas repast that might not happen this year.

The memory of that week long journey filled with the muted colors of late fall, the soulful sound of the New Hampshire winds, and the swirling movement of the multi-colored leaves all influenced my gaze as I paused when I came across this recipe for, 

Proscuitto Wrapped Pork Loin with Roasted Apples.

On the Eve of Thanksgiving, as all the small villages in the Monadnock region were preparing for the next day's turkey feast, many eyes were watching the incoming flow of thick grey clouds that were rolling in over the softly undulating hills.

Everywhere we went, the locals were glancing upwards and mentioning the first impending Nor'Easter of the season.   Six to eight inches was the prediction being bantered about at the local Monadnock Co-Op.  Everyone was busy predicting the amount of snowfall to arrive by Thanksgiving Day. Everywhere we went, the hustle and bustle was apparent as the locals prepared for the first winter's footprint to step up to the front door.  

Eight to ten inches...was what we heard from others.  The chat from our little coffee shop in downtown Keene to the buzz at the wonderful antique store, Bowerbird & Friends, in the artistic little village of Peterborough, quickly turned more and more to the looming Nor'easter.

Passing the cozy saltboxes nestled in the Monadnock region

And then it began.  The wonderful swirl of winter flakes fluttered and pirouetted all around us. We had just returned from getting Madeleine in from the Boston airport...and the world was transforming into winter wonderland.

For us, having been in Texas for four years, snowfall, and everything wintery had become a distant memory.  We practically sat with our noses pressed against the car windows while watching the lovely feather-like flakes fall in a dizzying dance all around us.

Truly, it was like being in a snow globe that was being gently shaken.  We watched as the grand city of Boston retreated behind us and the rolling hills of the Monadnock region unfolded and tilted before us.

The landscape slowly changed from those browns, rusts, and golds, to that pristine down-like snowy brush stroke of white.

The snow fell and fell and fell.  The earth looked scrubbed clean and sterile as everything became blanketed in starched white and stretched out to the corners.

Four inches, six inches, eight inches...the falling snow continued to pillow up on covered bridges, creaky old mailboxes, and twisty little country roads.

On Thanksgiving Day, we woke up to the most brilliant white landscape that looked nothing like the panorama we had seen the day before.

And...it was gorgeous.  Pristine white snow.  The mark of the changing season...the anticipated pulling out of downhill sleds, and the thoughts of afternoons filled with cross country skiing treks.

Since there would be no feasting at the Kenney home this Thanksgiving holiday, we made reservations at a little village inn called "Monadnock Inn" on Main Street in Jaffrey, NH.  

After the dizzying excitement and stress of trying to secure our dream home, understand the ins and outs of septic systems, leach fields, wells, barns, generators, and all the whatnot that comes with historic old homes, the pleasure of sitting down for hours in front of a warm fire for a soup to nuts Thanksgiving meal was a huge delight.

I savored every sip of that ruby red glass of red wine. We generously spread the chive studded cream cheese over buttery crisp crackers, and thoroughly enjoyed our steaming bowls of clam chowder. 

Every table was full, the chatter of happy families telling their tales to one another surrounded us, and the crackling fire in the fireplace was attended to throughout the afternoon.

What a mixture of savory and sweet for this Thanksgiving meal similar to the savory as well as sweet choices we found ourselves mulling over hour by hour.  The sweetness, akin to  daring to step outside our average every day lifestyle and plunge into something way off the beaten path is still a flavor that we crave.  The savoriness, akin to having to wince at the unflavorful taste of reality has taught us that our best interest is our foremost concern in the long run.  Taking our time to ensure that our hearts aren't overruling our minds or our minds aren't overruling our hearts we know will continue to tug and pull at one another until they both can tussle it out.

Thanksgiving dinner at The Monadnock Inn in Jaffrey, NH

Back at home, I worked quietly in the kitchen, my head filled with dizzying and conflicting thoughts that would not stop swirling and bumping together.  In one moment, I pounded the pork with my hefty mallet and then at other times, I calmly sliced the garlic into thin petite slivers.

As always, the aromas of onions being sautéed, the scent of a pork loin being roasted, and my herb scented hands flavored with  rosemary and thyme, are like a balm that soothes all that is uncomfortable and uncertain around me.

We took one of the days we were in New Hampshire and decided to go Christmas shopping in the active little sea port town of Portsmouth, NH.

Along the way, we passed this terrific hillside where brightly clad children were flying down the snow covered hills while precariously perched on their assortments of sleds.  

How fun that looked!  How carefree!  We laughed watching them and realized their world was so full of stability and playfulness right now.  And then, the phrase was uttered once more,

"This too shall pass..."  We, too, will find that right balance in our search and become carefree and playful once more.

The gorgeous Monadnock winter scenery

Winter scenes in the adorable village of Walpole, NH

We had a fantastic day in Portsmouth, completely immersed in everything festive and jolly.  Christmas carolers crooned on the street corners, winter snow piled up along the sidewalks, and lights twinkled on the town Christmas tree...Everything seasonal was out on full display and now sweetly capped with winter white.

Street scenes from Portsmouth, New Hampshire

We had a terrific meal at a local seafood favorite called Surf.  The parmesan fried calamari spiked with a chili pepper vinaigrette was a hit.  The clam chowder at Surf was considered by each of us to have best flavors of those tried during the week.  We're still novices when it comes to lobster rolls but all I can say is nestled bites of warm fresh lobster meat in a crusty baguette with ladled butter drizzled on top?  Heavenly?  Oh, yeah...just heavenly.  We felt more local with every messy bite.

Surf Seafood in Portsmouth, NH

Surf Seafood in Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Our worries for that day were shelved and fully ignored.  Portsmouth is a fun sea port town filled with great shopping and dining.  Since it was a holiday weekend and also right at the official start of the Christmas season, the streets were filled with families visiting, eating, and laughing with one another.  We all agreed, we'll be back to play in this town for sure.

After drooling over all the sweets on display in the shop windows of Portsmouth, we decided to indulge in some locally made/chemical free pumpkin whoopie pies.  They were a perfect blend of spiciness and sweetness.  

I'm actually writing this entry as a hive of activity swirls around me on our final day in our Texas home.  The moving truck is finally here, after having broken down and further complicating our already over-complicated life at present. 

Boxes are being stacked everywhere, paper is flying, tape is being stretched and pulled with that lovely screeeeching sound.  Yesterday, our credit AND debit cards were hacked and we sat helpless in the car watching someone have a grand shopping spree at Toys R Us, compliments of the Kenney's.

As I sit at my lone kitchen table, I'm actually enjoying all of the hubbub swirling around me.  The idea of adventure is always exciting to me.  The idea of the collective materialistic markers of our lives being neatly packed into boxes feels somehow wonderfully freeing.    

Patrick calls me the rolling stone.  We're the family of rolling stones, I guess.  We've even discussed the idea of NOT settling down at all, but embarking on a journey that would keep those belongings stored away in those cardboard boxes for awhile longer.  

I was telling my mother-in-law how much I feel like I have disappointed people with our recent decision not to buy, what we believed, was our dream home.  I told her "I am too much a dreamer...who doesn't want the realities of life to interfere".

She responded by flat out telling me that "Dreamers are the people who are Do'ers".  

I like that.  Being a dreamer certainly has its drawbacks.  But, hopefully I can be a dreamer that can also be a do'er, too.

And...then my daughter chimed in when she got home from college and summed things up nicely.  She said, "Mom!  I have the perfect quote for us right now..."  

"When life hands you lemons...hand them back.
Life will be...like...

Monday, December 1, 2014

In between boiling rigatoni and melting dark chocolate...a peek into a mad woman's mind!

Sweet little tugboat in the Boston port

I'm sitting here in Boston, looking right over the harbor, writing these words.  Every few minutes, I look up and out across the busy Boston port and watch the chubby little tugboats determinedly taking charge of the massive ships lumbering awkwardly into the city.  Somehow the tugboats seem to personify our own desperate family mission to haul our oversized dreams to shore as we are being buffeted about by the ocean currents.

Whole milk mozzarella and smoked roasted garlic

As I begin to unwind from the chaos of the last week, I am feeling an overwhelming sense of calm and peace watching the adorable tug boats heft their load.  Our particular load of decisions and indecisions of the past week is gently lifting and hopefully, we are seeing the future more clearly than ever.  

It comes down to...we've either made the best decision of our lives in the last 7 days...or, you know...we've made the worst decision of our lives!

It makes my heartbeat race and my breath quicken to realize that we have peered down that hazy fork in the road and decided to take the path that is most certainly least followed by most.  

We were standing in front of that symbolic fork just a few hours ago...only a few more chances to back out, to run away, to call it all a foolish whimsy by a foolish couple who still think that it's fun to chase after rainbows and throw caution aimlessly at the wind.

"Just call the whole thing off..." as the Broadway lyrics go.

I should probably back up a bit from this ramble of information and sort through our jumble of recent activity and decisions.

We  found our little house in the New Hampshire woods back in September.  We've been ever so impatiently waiting for our house to sell in Houston so we can officially step out of the urban jungle into the quiet, remote, peaceful countryside of New England.  

Then came the news...yet again.  Another buyer wants our house.  OUR house.  Our Porcupine Hill Farm with lopsided flooring, tiny hidden bookshelves,  walk in fireplaces, and a sweet little bee hive stove waiting to bake fresh breads once more. According to everyone, the housing market is supposed to be dead for the winter up there.  OUR house owner had taken the listing off the market for the winter which gave us further assurance that it would be there for us as soon as our house sells.

"...about to make an offer."

"...new owner is going to use the house only as a seasonal residence.  It will be neglected and un lived in, meaning unloved the rest of the year."

There is nothing like seeing decisions with pinpoint precision when choice is about to be ripped away.  Patrick was still a continent away in Europe.  I was manning the sale of our home down in Houston.  And someone from Florida was about to snatch our dream home, location, woods, pond, bee hive stove, barn...away from us.

What could we do?  Our hands were tied.

Or, were they?

It was just not going to happen this time.  

Nada, nada,nada...this word kept drumming in my head.  What could we do?  We would have to do something...anything to save our little farm!

Time to move into top gear...that gear that hauls you up a steep mountainside with a groaning engine sound that defines determination.

Deep and long conversations over coffee and cookies

Realizing that we were well down that least trampled fork in the symbolic road of life, we decided to throw all caution to the wind.

You see...

The dream house that I have been describing...

...Patrick had yet to lay eyes on.  In fact, Patrick had yet to ever lay foot in the state of New Hampshire.  

sigh...cue... looney tunes music! 

Ingredients for Eggplant Rigatoni with Pine Nut Crumble

The news of this potential sale of the one and only house that I had truly laid claim to in my heart meant that our vision of what our future was to look like was about to dissipate.

...and then ...

our house sold...just like that.  Offer accepted. Under contract...inspections positive...moving truck booked.


...now we would potentially have no dream home to go to.

The last of the fresh basil

I heard the news from our realtor as I was rummaging through my pantry, my freezer, and my refrigerator...contemplating how to pull together a delicious meal with items in the house as we began the process of packing up, paring down, and emptying out.

The news of another buyer was like a gut punch to the stomach.  We couldn't lose this house.  I had such a strong connection to the spirit of the house, to the bigger than life Teddy Bear personality of Don the owner, and to that tucked away cozy wooded center chimney cape lined by a protective wall of hefty grey stones. 

Top Right:  So entranced with the property
...one of the only photos I took is of the sweet pond near the farm

I pulled out a crinkly bag of rigatoni.  Absentmindedly, I hefted several cans of crushed tomatoes out of the pantry, pulled the last chunk of milky mozzarella out of the fridge...grabbed the last of the garlic...plucked the last of the basil...scooped out the last of the pine nuts.

I could barely think in linear fashion.  I could barely breathe in full breaths much less concentrate on thinking creatively with the ingredients loaded in my arms.  I looked down at them...lost in thoughts of a little abode a thousand miles away...all I could see was that little 1774 home in the woods of New Hampshire.

The. Decision. happened in between making a creamy luxurious rigatoni dish and a sinfully rich chocolate pear cake.  I barely noticed the scents of torn basil, the feel of soft slices of mozzarella cheese and the rich plump tomatoes being crushed into the sauce. Somehow, I must have mixed together the crumble topping made with cups of parmesan cheese, more basil, and handfuls of toasted pine nuts.

Then came the most chocolatey of chocolate cakes made from the last of the chocolate bars (yes, there is always a stash of chocolate bars)...the last of the pears...that last of the almond flour.

It happened in between the creation of these two...

...that I called our realtor...my voice a mixture of hysteria and despair with a kernel of possibility.

When working with a couple like us, you have to appreciate every aspect of the innocent and unsuspecting realtor that (equipped to make home transactions, not psychological evaluations and therapy sessions)  had the misfortune to enter our (meaning...my) creative dreamy sphere of mis-matched thoughts and erratic behaviors.

"Hilda, we want something old.  Reeeeeaaaally old, dripping with history".  If it's half falling down...that's o.k., we'll go take a look at it."

"Sure thing," she replied.  "New Hampshire has 'old' aplenty." So we moved from old farmhouses to crumbling Victorians and then sporadically looked at uber modern capes, and finally, at the end of a very long narrow road, landed on this charming cozy center chimney cape...Porcupine Hill Farm, nestled in the Monadnock region of southern New Hampshire.

I slowly stirred the thick chunks of dark chocolate morsels on a double boiler and watched as they melted into a thick sludge.  

Looking down into that inky darkness, my mind's eye was torturing my imagination with all manner of ways we would lose this house. I conjured up a daymare that involved Don, the owner of Porcupine Hill Farm.  He was sitting across a table in a dark smoky haze-filled room.  A red tipped cigar was dangling out of the mouth of some unknown, unwelcomed "other"  buyer.  From the tip of the cigar, ash fluttered to the table with a little sizzle as it landed on a soon-to-be signed contract. A dimly lit green glass lamp was hanging overhead and slightly swaying back and forth making little screeching sounds.  Don was negotiating a contract with a murky faced buyer... another buyer...a different buyer, who flew in from Florida with the sole purpose of snatching my dream home out from under us.

Ingredients for Chocolate Cake with Pears

I snapped back to reality and laughed at the alarming path my over active imagination can take when let loose.  The aroma of the pasta dish permeated the house and smelled divine.  The chocolate concoction poured thick and was ready for the smooth sweet pear halves to be gently laid on top and slowly sink into the batter.  My stomach lurched in hunger and my mouth watered with anticipation of a hearty meal, that I knew I would might barely be able to taste. 

But, my eyes grew large and wide again as the haunting scene of far away negotiations happening played before me again and again...all taking place in vivid daymares as I distractedly stirred chocolate in a bowl at my kitchen counter.

What happened next is something that we will either chuckle at in years to come or grimace at in years to come.

To put it mildly...all hell broke loose.  Phone calls started flying.  Emails and texts were exchanged with what would become life altering consequences.

We could not lose Porcupine Hill Farm. I just knew we were to be the next owners to carry this house forward intact and untouched by modern changes.

Hilda, our wonderful and eternally patient realtor, bemused and amused, attempted to keep up with our frenzied pace of action at that point.  

More calls were made. Calls went out to Patrick in England, to Don in New Hampshire, to our realtor, to Don's realtor. 

Offers were negotiated back and forth between Houston, England, and New Hampshire.

Within hours...a contract was signed.  A contract was signed that was Not "Florida man's" contract.  It was ours.

The murky image of who we now had dubbed "Florida man" was finally fading into the smoke filled and dimly lit negotiation room that had been mercilessly concocted in the dark recesses of my mind.

Poor Patrick.  He would be turned around one day after landing from Europe.  Our daughter was going to fly over to New Hampshire as well in order to join in on the family madness.  My son and I were booked and ready to hop on a plane the next day.

We would journey to Boston. We would drive with frenzied speed up into the woods and over the hills of New Hampshire's Monadnock region.  We would turn down the tiny inconspicuous dirt road that parallels the sweet sounding babbling brook filled with gigantic stones.  We would gently scatter the wild turkeys that putter across the road in front of our rental car. We would finally roll up the crunchy gravel drive to our Porcupine Hill Farm and lay claim to this dreamy little corner of the world.

Creme Chantilly

I can barely recall how exactly those inbetween hours from Houston to New Hampshire passed by.  On one hand, it was like watching a film being fast forwarded with high pitched periodic screeches. On the other hand, time crept along like a film that gets stuck and blurrily moves ahead one jumpy choppy frame at a time .  From the beginning of my attempt to rid the cupboards of ingredients that could not be moved, we had signed, over 3 time zones, a contract on a historic farm from 1774, located thousands of miles away.  

Oh, dare I mention again that my better half had not stepped foot in this ancient and potentially hazard filled house...ever.

At this point, the Rigatoni dish was cooling patiently on the stove top.  With little memory of doing it, the crème Chantilly was whipped and sitting in the refrigerator to be dolloped on the chocolate cake.  The chocolate cake with sweet pears gently nested on top oozed a little melted chocolate as Riley and I sliced it into thick rich pieces.

This is one meal that will certainly be seared into my memory with not only murky and hazy recollections of how the two dishes came to land on the table...at the same time as memories that will be filled with pinpoint accuracy as some of life's biggest decisions were made in between boiling rigatoni and gently melting chunks of dark chocolate.

Please stay tuned...