Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Thyme to cherish and rejoice...with my Soulsister!


It's true.  I don't care what anyone says.  It doesn't matter that our skin colors aren't the same.  We are soul sisters. My friend, Chenedra, and I...are soul is obvious to us.

I can see it in her eyes.  She can see in mine.  There are few times in life where you cross paths with another human being and there is that "click".  That wonderful, beautiful, bonding that happens between women...that moment when meeting one another goes from a 10 minute chat to a 2 hour marathon of watershed moments of delightful conversation in one minute and heart-wrenching the next.

Omni Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire

My lovely and spirited friend, Chenedra, flew all the way up from Texas (she loves the heat of the south) to New Hampshire (she hates the freezing winds of the cold) to spend a precious weekend together.  We bear hugged, I introduced her to apple cider donuts, we laughed until our tummies hurt, we cried a bit here and there, and if truth be told, I don't believe there were very many moments of silence between the two of us.  

That's I said...we're soul sisters.  

We've walked parallel paths as children.  We both learned at young ages that the world first and foremost is an unfriendly place...where coping was the name of the game and self-love was only a tiny kernel of flame that managed to grow strong and bright in the two of us eventually...eventually, only after years of struggle.  

Today, we are two mighty women indeed.  

We are survivors of what the world threw our way. I don't know if there are many obstacles today  that we couldn't survive and continue to embrace in this world with fascination, enjoyment, and appreciation of a happy life.

Spiced Linzer Cookies with Dulce de Leche filling

So when your soul-sister flies all the way up here to New Hampshire (oh, I forgot...she doesn't like flying), it is a memory-making weekend that is relished, appreciated, and unforgettable.  It is like a tonic that rejuvenates the body and soul.

My head was swimming with the possibilities of what to do over the visit.  Should we head to the coast and take in bustling Portsmouth, dine on seafood dishes, and breathe in fresh salted air?

Or, should we climb Mt. Kearsarge on a hike, picnic at the top, and lay flat on our backs without a care in the world looking up at the glorious sky?

High Tea in The Princess Room at Mount Washington Hotel in New Hampshire

Finally, I reasoned that I wanted her to see mountains.  "Go North,"  I thought.  "Towards the White Mountains."  Texas is expansive land, ranch land, and open as far as the eye can see. The mountains would be a different scene...a different kind of beautiful.

I was roaming around the internet world and I landed on a destination spot which became our weekend highlight...the majestic and historical Mount Washington Hotel.

Up and over into the majestic White Mountains, we headed straight north of our little town of Warner to Bretton Woods. Regally placed like a jewel amidst a crown of mountains, sits this massive white resort with its ruby red pointed turrets beckoning weary travelers to retreat, relax, and rejuvenate.

Our beautiful river trail near our farmhouse

I noticed that the resort offers an authentic English afternoon "high tea" in what they call "The Princess Room".  I booked us a table for 3pm and off we went on our New Hampshire weekend adventure.  I remembered the absolutely lovely English High Tea that my son, Riley, and I had at the resort Dalvay-by-the-Sea on Prince Edward Island a few years back. We enjoyed it tremendously.  I still remember sipping Lady Slipper tea for the first time and loving it.

The history behind this grand dame of a hotel is fascinating.  I'm not sure if there exists much up here in New Hampshire that doesn't have oodles of stories attached to it.  People here love to rekindle the history of this part of the US and it is evident in the architecture, the food, and the people.

At home, I decided to make an Acorn Linzer Cookie filled with Dulce de Leche filling for after my friend's arrival dinner the first night. 

I imagined this simple on the outside cookie, but so rich and decadent on the inside cookie, sitting atop one of the daintily painted floral porcelain plates that rest on a 3 tiered tea stand during high tea at the Mount Washington Hotel.

Our farmhouse in New Hampshire was built in 1828.  I can only imagine when this grandiose resort way up North opened its doors 1902, how amazed people were to see something so extravagant and luxurious appear in front of the looming mountainside.
Many of the latest design and construction methods of the day were used. Some of what I read about the resort was that, "the most innovative and complicated heating and plumbing systems of the day were installed.
As we strolled around the lower level of charming shops, waiting for our high tea time to open the doors to The Princess Room, we learned that the resort has its own private postal office.

As the wealthy stepped out of their carriages from Boston, New York, and Philadelphia in the early 1900's, they would have been greeted with the work of two hundred and fifty Italian craftsmen, skilled in masonry and woodworking, that were brought to Bretton Woods, housed on the grounds to create this opulent resort location.  Visions of Downton Abbey come to mind, don't they?!

We stood on the back veranda and took in the view of the mountain scene splayed out before us.  It was breathtaking, majestic, and expansive.  It must be a sight to behold in all seasons of the year...when spring flowers are sweet and fragrant, fall leaves are bright and colorful, and winter snowfall is soothing and impressive.

The view from the back of the Mount Washington Hotel in New Hampshire

We sipped on our tea.  I'm not sure how many tea cups we drank as we chatted and simply enjoyed each other's company immensely.  Friendships are so vital to our well-being as women.  I am forever grateful to have found my sweet friend, Chenedra.  She was a pillar of strength to me over the last 5 years as we shared each other's life stories, supported each other's decisions in life, and identified that life is matter how it is ours to choose to live to the fullest.  Happiness is a quest...a forever quest to reach, reason, and remind ourselves that we are free to be driver's of our own destiny.  Events do define us. But, once free will is obtained, that definition of freedom can be of our own choosing.

The Omni Mount Washington Hotel

310 Mount Washington Road
Bretton Woods, New Hampshire 03575 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Peanutbutter Cheesecake...on the outside...a journey of self examination on the inside


October, a month filled with a flurry of activity at our Nehemiah Homestead farmhouse, was punctuated by the swirling and whirling of leaves of all shapes, sizes, and colors as they released themselves throughout the days and nights and gently settled in colorful fluffy piles all over this land.

So much has changed this year.  So much of it good.  But, so much was about change.

Some of those more profound changes this year cannot be undone, shouldn't be undone, but define those bittersweet moments in life that make us all pause, reflect, and consider.

As the seasons flip over the calendar pages up here in New Hampshire bringing the drama of wild winds and the passion of intense colors to the landscape, my own life seems to be like a kite that has become caught up in their stage production in the sky.

I feel like I'm standing rooted to the ground holding fast and hard to the kite's tiny string that is the only thing keeping us connected.  I know the winds of change will eventually snap the kite from its tenuous string and carry it off into the swirling winds.  

But knowing that change is good, change is necessary...and moving steadily through those changes can be a challenge.

Kearsarge Mountain, Lake Sunapee Region, New Hampshire

The question I am asked most often lately is, "What is life like as empty nesters?!"   It is asked with looks of concern, hints of curiosity, tentative tones of jubilation, and borderline tearful shakiness. 

Amazingly, I haven't discussed this most significant change in our lives ad nauseum here on "Thyme".  It's a difficult topic to discuss.  It is a jubilant topic to discuss.  If it were a bowl of ice cream, it would be symbolized by a big messy scoop of rocky road with a rounded scoop of tutti frutti perched on top.  No, not scoops one on top of the other.  They would be side by side...because it seems as if I reach into the bowl with my spoon and I take a spoonful of one flavor and then the other flavor...back and forth.

After years of homeschooling, hours of meticulously researching and wading through dozens and dozens of curriculums, carefully laying out yearly school schedules just so, lining up field trips to museums, visitation to farms, tours of historic sites,  roaming from ballet lessons to fencing lessons, and tennis lessons, and french lessons... back and forth...back and forth... my days are filled with wide open spaces, big gaping question marks, dreamy daydreams about my future, all set off by the sounds of our new antique wall clock sounding off each tick tock...tick tock.

The wood has been carefully stacked for the winter months ahead.  The leaves have all been tamed and swept into the woods.  It seems as if each sound of nature during the day is amplified.  I have stacks of reading material that has been building for years.  I pull on my down jacket and pull on my warm boots and walk out into the woods...sometimes for minutes...sometimes for hours.

Kearsarge Mountain in Lake Sunapee Region, New Hampshire

I see change as good.  I see change as positive.  I see life as positive.  I must see things this way or I would become engulfed in the reality that life is barreling forward and there isn't a thing we can do about it.  

Fortunately, I am a dreamer.  I am struggling with this year's roster of change that demands an element of dreamy deliberation.  

Both children are now in college.  Both children are now in college.  Where in the "What to Expect when you are Expecting baby book did it tell us this demanding book would come to an end?"

Our son was fortunate enough to come home from college for the weekend.  Making a birthday cake surprise was woven with new emotions, new realizations, and new reflections. I went straight for a peanut butter no bake cheesecake.  He and I share a deep attachment to the healing powers of peanut butter...combined with the potent addiction of cheesecake.

My days now are completely changed from what they were for the last 21 years of my life.

One day, I find myself diligently working on a marketing plan that requires the click clack of fingers at the computer from sun up to sun down (which is 4:30pm in New Hampshire!) The next day, I find myself itching to call both kids and discuss their college lives from sun up to sun down (and as we can all imagine...with young adults...that doesn't happen!)

I look at my stack of reading material.  I look at my lengthy Netflix queue.  I know I can take off in the car or hike along a trail...with no pre-planning, forethought, or rearrangement of multiple lives.  

Change is good.  Change is positive.  I'll get there.  I'll pick off the first book of that reading stack one day. 

But...gosh darnit...change is hard.
{Probably nothing another little slice of cheescake can't solve.}

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Talisman for finding the perfect historic home...proximity to apple cider donuts


Sometimes when we rank the really important goals to achieve in life, the path to taking steps to those decisions becomes misguided and skewed.  Sometimes, we look for those elusive intangible signs pointing us in the right direction.  You know...lucky rabbit feet to stroke, slips of gibberish on cracked open fortune cookies that we keep folded in a wallet for far too long, and coincidences that seem...too coincidental.

Perhaps that lucky rock gets petted and rubbed more...the smooth surface seemingly sending guiding thoughts to our troubled minds and helping the brain cells discern reason from foolishness.  Or, there could be a barely distinguishable cloud pattern in the sky.  We stare at it...lo and behold...determine there is a shape there which could be interpreted as a sign which could be interpreted as the answer to that decision that is struggling to be answered.

We are, indeed, an interesting species!

I think for our family, that yearning for signs that can direct our rationale, whether it be wise or wayward...remarkably have to do with our single-minded effort to clasp our fingers around just the right sized, spiced, sugar-coated, grease to cake ratio of cider donuts.

Yes, apple cider donuts are our choice of talisman

Little wonderful round treats that have the power to hold sway over important decisions in our family. Donuts leave their mark with the Kenneys and are comparable to those caressed lucky rocks people pet in their pockets, that cloud pattern in the sky which display directional messages, or those murky images that form images from the tea leaves at the bottom of a porcelain cup.

Our little covered bridge below our farmhouse

This silliness may have started when I went to college in New York City.  I decided to join the Sierra Club during my senior year.  I gathered with strangers each weekend at some pre-announced meeting spot in the city.  We piled trustingly into a rented van, loaded up our L.L. Bean back backs, and took off for day long hiking trips into the Catskills or the Adirondack Mountains.

Coming from the steamy humid south, these weekend excursions introduced me to fresh cool mountain air, brilliant colors of turning maple leaves, and big fat plump acorns scattered all over the trails.

But, with certain anticipation was the drive back into NYC at the end of those beautiful fall days, when we would invariably find some apple farm along the way, tumble out of the van, many of us now fast friends, and clasp our chilled fingers around little bags of greasy sugar speckled apple cider donuts.

Those were wonderful days...filled with apple cider donut goodness. As I picked little sugar crystals out of my knitted scarf and licked my fingers from the last remnants of the donuts, life sent clear signals to my college brain...that this was the good life.  

Little did I realize, an apple seed was planted firmly that would play somewhat of a  part in swaying future family decisions.

Fast forward 5 or so years.  I had moved from NYC to Missouri, then to Michigan, a jump to Japan, and finally a return to the east that beloved apple farm speckled upstate New York.  We now have 2 children. We had decided the cookie cutter suburban lifestyle wasn't for us, thus a search began for the perfect ramshackle historic home.  Why ramshackle?  The budget didn't really allow for anything more past the fixer upper.  But, we were determined.  We decided we didn't have enough to do on weekends with two young children so we needed to add lots of house fixer upper type projects on top of the parenting load.

The view from the apple orchards

As we were searching between Albany, Schenectady, and Saratoga Springs, my used but much loved Volvo station wagon took us on all sorts of back country roads getting the kids to and from their school each day.

After school, we would pick a different apple farm to visit, pluck a few apples, and then dutifully purchase our little white bag of sugar coated apple cider donuts.  Munching on them in the car while scattering sugar all over the interior, we soon developed preferences and opinions about which cider donuts where the most apple-y, just right moist or too crumbly dry, were sugar-coated too much or just not enough.

Amazingly, or rather in our world not quite surprisingly, the choice of small town and historic home would often be punctuated with, "If we bought that home, we would be closest to 'fill in the blank' apple cider donut farm!"

So I guess it shouldn't be surprising that our move to New Hampshire would eventually involve not only our introduction to the stunning fall foliage of this state but to a renewed quest to seek out, taste-test, and perhaps one day declare our newfound winner of the glorious apple cider donut saga that somehow influenced previous home decision making process not unlike how a weegee board smoothly guides a group of hands to spell out spooky messages like...

"your great grandmother says {spooky music playing} you should choose this home...{more dramatic spooky music picks up volume] apple cider donuts within 2 miles! {thunder clap outside}"

Making Apple Cider Donuts at Gould Family Farm in Contoocook, New Hampshire

After quizzing the locals during our weekend "apple cider pressing" a few weeks back on where they consider the best apple farms, we had our first leads to a radius of possibilities, each farm declaring their apple cider donuts were the finest made, most apple-y, most sugar:donut balanced, etc.

We started our quest by choosing a farm located outside a particularly lovely historic village called Contookook (pronounced Con-tew-cuck)...Gould Hill Family Farm.   Never you mind that our children, who were so important to determining the apple cider donut winners for many years...are now in college.  Patrick and I were not thwarted in our excitement and anticipation of taste testing our way through this newly adopted countryside of New Hampshire.

Returning home to bowls of  hot Butternut Squash Soup

We arrived at the apple farm by way of the most enchanting country drive.  We crossed over or by a few covered bridges, slowed to oooh over glimpses of Mt. Kearsarge in the distance and admired the many fall decorated doors of farmhouses.

Gould Hill Farm in Contoocook, New Hampshire

Children were running this way and that...thrilled to be let loose in the direction of the apple orchards. To be honest, we barely noticed these adorable tots because our eyes went straight to the line of adults waiting for apple cider donuts.  The line spilled out of the huge barn and into the front lawn. No one particularly seemed to mind, however, as the aroma of apples, frying oil, and sugar enveloped everyone in a happy coma like condition.  The air was crisp, the sky was that captivating shade of peacock blue, and the happy chatter of children all produced those calming effects that make the world a happy place...even when waiting in a line for tiny little donuts.

Patrick and I took turns waiting in line and roaming around the barn as well as the farm. Gould Hill Farm not only has apple cider donuts people are willing to wait in long lines for but there were also on offer apple crisps and the kitchen is touted as making "the best" pumpkin whoopie pies.

Don't even get me started on New England's love affair with whoopie pies.  Now really... whoopie pies!  We are only at the tip of the iceberg in discovering the fascination with what appears to be a baseball sized round cake, cut in half, slathered with a spiced frosting and then to smushed together and sold as a "pie".  What are these people thinking?  I'm not sure, but I'm all for sampling the goods!

Basically, there's a whole 'nother world to be discovered out there.  But, that day's focus had to remain on apple cider donuts.  We were strong. We looked away from the award winning pumpkin whoopie pies. We stayed focused.

Finally, we retreated from the barn clutching our little bag of hot out of the fryer apple cider donuts. We wove in and out of the little ones to secure a safe spot outside in order to  safely peer into this sugary bag of goodness.  It was filled with 6 little round donuts.  The scent wafted gently into our faces as we laid eyes for the first time on the selection before us.  They smelled heavenly.  We each ate one greedily, then another...and then another.  

We reflected on our family's criteria that measure the success of homemade donuts and mulled over each bite ranking and sorting and mumbling our feedback to one another.  They were wonderfully warm, hot even.  The apple to donut ratio was good.  The sugar coating wasn't too much or too little.  

We thought about a group family chat with the kids. However, we reconsidered since we were happily standing rather carefree in the middle of an orchard on a nice fall day and the kids were (hopefully) busy dealing with the trials and tribulations of college courses.  

It was decided that Gould Hill Family Farm was an excellent start.  But, one that needed the input of our kids.  Our ranking and sorting felt incomplete and short listed. We stared at a few kids to see if their faces registered rapture as they bit into their donuts.  A return trip with the 4 of us in tow would need to be organized.  They were delicious donuts, mind you. But, we had tasted too many over the years as a foursome, not a twosome.  Don't worry. We weren't sad...our bellies were too happy for any negativity.  

We just knew this quest required more tasting, more farms, more donuts, our kids, and time to unravel the many delights of this regions rich farming community.  It's our duty, right? As new residents of this region, we need to thoroughly investigate the lay of the land. 

Onward... to more little white bags filled with hot out of the fryer apple-y goodness!

We returned over the hills and through the woods to our farmhouse.  We spotted a flock of turkeys running through the field.  Chester had taken a long nap but sniffed hopefully at our donut scented clothing. The air turned chilly quickly as the sun slipped down over the Mink Hills.  We lit a kitchen fire...spooned hot butternut squash soup into bowls, and declared this weekend one pretty good fall weekend in beautiful New Hampshire. 

Gould Hill Farm
656 Gould Hill Road
Contoocook, New Hampshire

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Children's Tale...of a Simple Life


Just when we adults think we have things figured out.  Just when we dot all the "i's" and cross all the "t's"...along come the beautiful little beings called children to sit us down for a spell...and teach us how to truly live...the simple life.

My cousin, and her beautiful little family, were coming up to visit us at our Nehemiah Homestead.  They were hoping for a weekend getaway from all things school, early morning wakeups, school lunchbox decisions, and afternoon activity dashes.  

I busied myself planning the perfect fall getaway weekend for these sweet little girls. Special dishes were filled with candy corn, apple spice cookies bulged out of the cookie tin, and plans for baking little apple rosette tarts would be the special treat...since it was #2 sister, Camille's birthday that weekend.

I penciled out on paper the ultimate fall weekend activities.  We wouldn't miss a beat of seasonal "to-do's" and I packed together an agenda of things to do and see.  We would be a bunch of busy-bees for sure. There was visiting the Gould Apple Farm up the road, hiking to the top of Kearsarge Mountain for the best view of the fall foliage, and the much-anticipated Warner Fall Foliage Festival taking place that very weekend of their visit.

But, these littlest of humans, with their precious little hearts and innocent little minds saw the whole weekend unfold with anticipation and excitement in the simplest of activities that I never could have predicted.  The world of children is so magical and pure.  Their minds are so untethered from the world of an adult mind that they make us stop and marvel at their uniqueness.  They have so much to teach us adults about what are really...the simple joys in life.

Apples picked from our apple orchard

Our chopped winter wood had just been delivered and was dumped in a humongous pile down the hill from the apple orchard close to the big heavy sliding doors of the barn.  The air was filled with that fresh smell of wood.  With absolute glee, the girls carefully scampered to the top of the pile to survey the view of the hillside stretching down towards the rumbling river below.  Their tiny little hands got to work, deciding that carrying the wood, piece by piece and stacking it inside the barn was the best activity imaginable.  I looked on with wonder at their view of the world and what represents a fun time. A simple time.  

I thought of my scrawled list of the "perfect" weekend activities.  Gee whiz, why hadn't I thought of the obviously exciting task of stacking wood!

Warner, New Hampshire Fall Foliage Festival

The oldest, Maria, shyly came up to me at one point.  She wondered if, just maybe, we could go exploring way deep down in the know, way to the back where the lights are dim, the shadows are heavy, and spider webs cling to the remote corners of the thick wooden ceiling beams.

I rummaged around under the sink, managed to find two working flashlights, and we took off carefully making our way down the creaking staircase, into the dimly lit cellar for an adventure only an 8 year old can imagine holds such mystery and heart-thumping intrigue. Maria bravely explored every nook and cranny down there. She peered into the large empty wooden spaces where, before refrigerators, a century ago,  large ice blocks were stored and food was place inside to keep it fresh.  We tried to open a locked door deep within  the cellar walls by pulling and wiggling the old rusted latch.  It was to no avail.  The heavy metal latch wouldn't budge.  Maria's curiosity was palpable.  We could only stand in front of it and have a discussion about what might be behind that door.  Did it go outside do you think? Does it lead to a secret room?  A secret passage?  We had to eventually make our way back through the cellar, crouched down low to avoid the hanging spider webs...that question of the locked door and its whereabouts a mystery to ponder deeply.

Warner, New Hampshire Fall Foliage Festival

At some point during the weekend, we did all manage to pile into the car...amidst sippy travel cups, piles of books, and fuzzy stuffed animals, in order to head to my tip-top #1 do-not-miss -bonafide good time-ultimate fall event destination.  We headed to our little town's Warner Fall Foliage Festival.  

We rolled up and down the hills of our Merrimack Valley.  The luminance of the light hitting the  fall foliage of lovely New Hampshire paraded us along its bucolic country lanes.  It was as if the trees were beckoning for sweet recognition, dressed in their finest corals, reds, and yellows, waiting and yearning for the gasps of appreciation from the littlest human beings in our car.  As we drove by, one could almost imagine them saying, "Yoooohoo!  Aren't we pretty?"

But tiny little voices could be heard from deep within the car.  "Maybe when we get back, if there are rakes, we can make the biggest pile of leaves!" and "When we get back, I want to climb way up to the tower of the house and see if there is anything spooky up there!" and "There was a lot of wood there to stack, we'd better get back and stack some more piles!".  

In the car, we swept by the stalwart trees with their leaves shimmering with the vibrancy and color of sequins, like on a Rockette's costume, waving back and forth trying to capture the attention and dazzle all of the passersby.  Deep within the car, the girls continued their wishes for, "when we get back...".  We spilled out of the car and onto the Main St. of town. The fair was indeed adorable.  All the sweet expected delights of a community gathering to celebrate the end of one season and preparation for another were there.  This fair is the last big hurrah of the season before flakes of snow begin to dazzle us with an entirely different palette of colors.

The girls hugged Smokey the Bear with unbridled rapture and climbed in and out of the titanic sized shiny fire trucks.  They licked sticky maple cotton candy off of tiny fingers and smacked their lips with satisfaction.  We giggled over tiny acorn ornaments hanging from a tree and wondered at the brightly painted fake cows planted here and there on Main St.  We made our way down the street, ate burgers and fries for lunch from our little town pub, The Local, and sipped on steamy hot apple cider in tiny little cups.

After hours of enjoying this classic country festival, filled with all things Americana and New England, piggy-back rides were in order as we retraced our steps and tiredly shuffled our way back to the car.

One would think we had seen and done it all on this fabulous fall weekend.  That is...seen and done it all from a 2.5, 5, and an 8 year old perspective.  What ranked top of the weekend activity list?  Hardly anything from my original list, that is for sure!  

It was the simplest joys that landed at the top.  The simplest joys that our befuddled and overly-organized adult minds can no longer grasp.

When we go back to the house, 3 seemingly tired little girls tumbled out of their seats. Not too much to my surprise, their little voices piped, "Do you have any rakes in the barn?" they asked, all peering up at me as if I held the keys to happiness in that big red barn...if I would only just say "yes".

Indeed, we did.  And their little hands dragged those big wide rakes out into the hillside of leaves.  Each had their own plan of attack on how to cluster together the biggest pile of leaves they could imagine.  The anticipation grew as squeals of excitement meant the pile was growing bigger and bigger...past the knees...up to the shoulders!

A simpler way of life.  Isn't that why we moved from the tumult of urban sprawl into this land where sometimes it seems as if time has stopped or slowed down considerably? Sometimes, reminders of this lesson come from the most unexpected places...the frenzied anticipation of our dog Chester over a simple walk, that first hot satisfying sip of fresh coffee in the morning

...and from the mouths of babes...who believe stacking wood, exploring barns and cellars, and raking humongous piles of the good life.  I say, they're on to something!

I made these little rolled apple and pastry tartletes by following this sweet video that I came upon: