gananonqueOur final stop on the mini-getaway was a quaint St. Lawrence River town. “There’s not much there,” a Canadian forewarned. “A couple of blocks. Yeah, and a few shops.” Never you mind, I thought. I’d read that Gananoque was worth a visit and so it was!

We strolled up Gananoque’s main street, stopping in several shops with local character. The best was the ancient hardware store, Donevan’s; I couldn’t resist the window displays of items purchased decades ago. Inside we found two older gentleman at the helm. The younger appeared to be at least 75 and the elder was navigating by walker. His was the voice of authority when I had questions. Turns out Charlie is a local legend at 92 years old!

The store was a combination of genuine hardware (at the rear), household goods, trinkets and flea market fare (at the fore), some with an invitation to make an offer. I found a miniature tea set, Fiestaware style (for the grands) and a percolator knob (that didn’t fit, as it would turn out) but the real value was in the cultural and generational exchange.

The tea set was unmarked and the Hubs suggested we make an offer. “Well, you could do that,” the younger clerk said, “but make it fair.” I turned that over in my mind. ($10? $15? Surely no more that.) Before I could respond he tried to dissuade me, perhaps one of the other tea sets would do? (No, not really.)

Finally, he pulled his phone out of his pocket with a flourish to call Mary. “Hello, Mary, this is Gary.” For whatever reason, the proprietor’s daughter was not on front desk duty this day. (Is Gary her husband? Such mystery and intrigue!) These three must make for some sort of retail sales staff record.

It took only slightly less time to place the call and receive a return call and finally get a price ($15) than it did to make the actual transaction … but not by much. Gary preferred I pay in cash but our Canadian was in short supply and he had no American change. He agreed to process by credit card only after warning we’d pay taxes to do so. This led to commentary about local and national politics and other disturbances. I don’t know that we’ve ever spent $20 with more interest!

IMG_4681The Tuesday afternoon sun was brutal, beating down relentlessly, so we were thankful for a reprieve on the Lost Ships of the Islands St. Lawrence River boat tour. Despite our familiarity with the region and abundance of excursions from American shores, the Canadian perspective is unique.

We saw many more islands than we have on U.S.-based boat tours with much better narration and a much nicer boat than good ol’ Uncle Sam provides. My favorites were the historic island stop for American slaves escaping via the underground railroad and two islands linked by reputedly the world’s shortest international bridge, a small white structure connecting stony footprints in each country. This must be among the world’s friendliest borders. It seems that every island flies a flag but some fly flags for both the USA and Canada.

Most islands are independently owned and many are so small that a few trees and single family home consume them. This is typical of the region; only a few are large or lavish. There are nearly 2,000 islands; some are far too small to inhabit, others are state or provincial parks open to the public. We sailed past millionaire’s row which sparks our imagination for living the high life. The most famous among the rich and famous are Boldt and Singer castles on Heart and Dark Islands, respectively. We’ve toured each and were happy just to sail by on this trip.

What set this St Lawrence River boat tour apart was a rich media presentation as we passed over sunken ships. The turbulent Great Lakes and rocky shoals and shifting sandbars of the St Lawrence River have claimed far more than their share of ships and lives. It was intriguing to see below the surface through videos of divers as the story of each wreck was relayed. We sipped ice cold Canadian beer in comfortable shade as clouds rolled above and small skiffs, boats and ships of all sizes sailed past on either side.

We followed a large vessel for a while — whether saltie or laker I cannot say. The Great Lakes Seaway System is amazingly versatile and vital to both countries. As our northern border and “fourth coast” it is worth a visit, in and of itself. We locals tend to take it for granted. The large ship stayed true to the deepwater channel as we veered off under another span of the Thousand Islands International Bridge. It was a perfect day on the mighty St Lawrence.

 

Disembarking, we had just enough time to stop by the Gananoque Brewing Company for local libations before dinner.  Delicious! Our final stop was a perfect landing. I’d learned of the Maple Leaf Restaurant in a Lonely Planet guide book. With this inside scoop, we were determined to stop for a bite. Inside we found an impeccably clean and tidy restaurant with old world charm. The menu included several types of light and tender snitzel and delicately seasoned spatzel; top that off with strudel and you simply cannot go wrong.

I mentioned to our waitress how we’d landed there and the next thing we knew, Vlad, the proprietor, was at our table. He has been running this place for 28 years and is justifiably proud of the results. We left with a cool cloth bag filled with leftovers for dinner the next day. We will return, I am sure.

Thus we wrapped another modest but meaningful Canadian adventure. We never fail to find warm and welcoming people, fantastic food, and adventures midst our northerly neighbors. I hope I’ve inspired you to visit!

~ René Morley

 

IMG_4605Kingston is a small historic city with loud and proud loyalty to the crown, interesting architecture, and quaint English pubs. We got into town late in the day and drove directly to the hotel. We ate dinner at the Pilot House because it was an easy walk and we were exhausted from the dunes in the heat! They offer several varieties of their famous fish and chips.

Being farmers and all, we were up early to seize Monday. It was overcast and drippy, a sleepy morning where not much was happening. Martello Alley is currently the #1 thing to do in Kingston, so we headed there — unwittingly a full hour before they opened.

The proprietor is just that great that he flung wide the gates and welcomed us in. We spent the better part of an hour enjoying the place and his company. He was admittedly perplexed about the Trip Advisor rating. I think his winning personality plus innovative approach help explain this success.

It really is a great idea! He’s transformed a decrepit old alley into a year round art gallery that is owned and operated collectively. He quickly unlocked doors hanging on brick walls to reveal a sampling of artwork for sale, each door a different artist. An inner courtyard revealed more art, flowering plants and a cafe seating area. Even further into the alley, more valuable artwork was on display on walls and tables in the main gallery.

By then, Kingston was waking up but we weren’t sure how we wanted to spend the day.  We haven’t visited in years so we hit the reset button and joined the hop-on, hop-off trolley tour. Yes, it’s touristy but it’s also an easy and relatively cheap way to get the lay of the land. At times we had the trolley to ourselves. It is a thorough tour, which includes the Royal Military College of Canada, some government buildings, Fort Henry, and several museums, including the Canadian Penitentiary Museum.

This latter museum is free but unrelated to Kingston Penitentiary tours, which are among the hottest tickets in town. (Book in advance.) Who knew Kingston was the penitienary capital of Canada and had seven prisons in operation? The tour also passed through the Queens University campus. Near there we hopped off and found our way back to a glass artist before taking a delicious lunch at Chez Piggy.

As an aside, I will say that Fort Henry  is  among the best North American military forts I’ve ever visited. Interpreters dressed in period costume vividly portray fort life as it was back in the days of American and British conflict. I was tempted for a repeat visit but the Hubs wasn’t overly interested. It was hot and we were doing a lot of walking so it didn’t take much to convince me to stay on the trolley. I expect we will go back with the grands in tow someday. They will love it!

Later that afternoon, we took the Wolfe Island ferry. It’s a pleasant surprise to find ferries run free in Ontario as part of the highway system. This particular ferry is large but very busy; you must plan ahead to drive on. Locals queue early, park in place, and return when the ferry docks to board. The line of cars and trucks was much longer than the ferry’s capacity on this trip. We were walking on, so no worries! It’s a short sail across the St. Lawrence with lovely Kingston harbor vistas. I enjoyed chatting with several locals and lifelong islanders heading home from work.

On one lady’s advice, we walked off the ferry, hung a left, and landed at the Wolfe Island Grill. There we were greeted with friendly staff, a delightfully fresh and innovative menu (for example, a watermelon, feta and mint salad), waterfront patio and local brews. What more could we need?  After dinner, we caught the ferry back to Kingston. Easy peasy.

On Tuesday morning we had “The best breakfast in Kingston” at Peter’s Place because, well, the Hubs insisted. Breakfast is the meal he most often has to forgo due to his work schedule and so he doesn’t like to miss it on vacation. This  was classic diner food and just that, no apparent local specialties. It was my least favorite meal of the trip but he was happy!

About this time, I realized that we’d missed the annual military tattoo  at Fort Henry by one full day. Drats and double-drats! We won’t make that mistake again. I was suffering some regret as we wandered around town, strolling down Princess Street, browsing and shopping. There is lots of variety in Kingston retail therapy and local flavor in arts and antiques. It was a pleasant morning. The best part was a vibrant farmer’s market where I found unique preserves and pastry gifts to bring home.

My only real disappointment in Kingston was in our hotel, the Marriott Delta Waterfront. It’s a great location but a truly disappointing property and hardly worth two of the four star rating. I won’t bore you with details; suffice to say we were satisfied only because we were staying for free. If you’re headed to Kinston, try the Sheraton?

~ René Morley

 

IMG_4685Last weekend, the Hubs and I struck out for Canadian adventures across the river. Our northerly neighbor is vast, second only to Russia in landmass and leading all in coastline. Fortunately for us, about 75% of Canadians live within 100 miles of the U.S. border. That means one of the best things about the North Country is Canada.

Toronto, Ottawa (tulips, tulips, more tulips!) Montreal, and Quebec City nearby in the east: what’s not to love? But there is so much more to Canada than her major population centers and for this birthday get-away, I wasn’t in a city frame of mind. We had less than three days and two nights. I developed an itinerary for modest hotel reward points and a few new explorations centered on the St Lawrence River and Lake Ontario. When the Hubs asked, “What should I pack?” I said, “Sand shoes and all kinds of casual.” We left home Sunday morning, headed to Prince Edward County. All he had to do was drive.

I recently read that Prince Edward County is emerging as a foodie mecca and assure you that is for good reason. The County is farm country; field after field of oats, corn, soybeans and other crops followed by acres of fruit and orchards and fields of vegetables. There were a few dairies, no Holsteins but other breeds in pasture. It is also wine country, with endless vines and plenty of wineries. We tasted a lovely range of sophisticated selections, from crispy-dry to appertifs; my favorite was the full bodied Sandbanks Cabernet Franc.

IMG_4599The Sandbanks Winery makes it easy to explore with $5 per glass and free tasting when you buy two bottles. And my, oh, my mercy, if you also have a thing for butter tarts, be sure to buy some there! You will never find a more delicate, melt-in-your-mouth crust or delicious filling. What’s your pleasure: the quilt trail, wine trail or butter tart trail? Yeah, it’s rough living in the County.

The gentle landscape is flecked with small towns, antique shops, fruit and vegetable stands, bed-and-breakfasts with “no vacancy” signs and cottages with lakeside views. There is no hotel on the peninsula currently but a forlorn structure in Picton has been leveled to make way for progress. I only hope the place doesn’t lose it’s sense of self in the process.

IMG_4580County roads are narrow, the scenery spectacular from nearly every vantage point –hilltop to furrow to lakeshore. I loved reading names of roads and establishments suggesting Scottish or Irish heritage but the County is foremost loyal to the crown; we’ve never seen so many Union Jacks!

We followed the progress of the combines as long, golden ripe fields of oats heavy with seed became brush-cut hollow stalks, the fields shaved close like an old man’s head, wagons piled high and tight with massive bales of straw. “Every farm has a combine,” the Hubs commented, “no matter the size.” Farming must pay here, I mused.

We delighted in dizzying dunes of silky-soft sand at Sandbanks Provincial Park — an anomaly on the Great Lake I happily credit to a Creator with infinite imagination. These dunes out-do the Outer Banks in their unique way. Seriously, get in your car right now and just drive because you do not want to miss out on this place. Entrance to the park is pricey ($17) but given the free ferry at Glenora, that was okay. We arrived fairly late in the day and there was no cut rate available which also explains why, when we left only an hour or so later, some rascals were scrounging passes from departing vehicles.

We savored refreshing craft brews accompanying an artful ploughman’s lunch and amazing views at Miller House at Lake on the Mountain. This lovely lake holds close her mystery, high above the Bay of Quinte on Lake Ontario. Spectacular views rival many we’ve relished abroad.

We’d go back just to repeat any one of these County experiences. At the end of a long day, tired and sand-dusted but fully satisfied, we ferried from Glenora to Adolphustown and continued on our way.

~ René Morley

 

 

IMG_4505Over Independence Day weekend I visited my sister in Virginia who is 14 months younger than I. We have a lot in common — not the least of which is a rural upbringing, two sister siblings and our parents. We were both young mothers and then non-traditional students. We succeeded against considerable odds in attaining college degrees — and she even more than I. We took A. Big. Trip. to celebrate her success in 2012. We both love our chids and adore our grandchids with all of our hearts and are crazy proud of them. There are lots more characteristics we share, but you get the gist.

However our pathways diverged fairly early and dramatically. She’s lived in several states, from east to west coast, and abroad; I’ve never lived anywhere but the North Country. She completed her degree in a medical field; mine was in education. Her career is high stakes and pressurized (medical care to cancer patients); mine is in education (no life-or-death decisions, thankfully). She’d like to travel for work; I’d like to travel less for work! She’s been a city girl most of her adult life; I’m a country bumpkin.

We don’t look much alike and our personalities are also quite different; I love to remind her that she has mom’s spunk! But all that really matters now is how much we enjoy spending time together. My get-away to visit her in Virginia was embarrassingly long overdue. It was fun to just be together — in her adorable new home and picturesque neighborhood, visiting where she works and worshipping in her wonderful church.

Our long weekend was not long enough and jam packed with activities, including Busch Gardens fireworks, Hampton Harbor boat tour, antique shopping, delicious food and drink. We stumbled upon an excellent brunch at Mango Mangeaux, an ubercool bistro spun out of Shark Tank fame. (You know how I love orange!) Breakfast with Amanda at Food Craft was also amazing — both her friend and the food. We started with the Scotch eggs, which I’d never heard of but highly recommend.

One more thing we have in common, it’s safe to say, is that neither fancy ourself an artist. So what were we doing in the middle of our weekend in the middle of a Bob Ross paint night at a downtown Hampton block party?  Among other things, we were straining to hear the instructor lead us through the wet-on-wet technique made famous on PBS. (If you’ve ever heard of Bob, you know about his happy trees.) The instructor’s voice was barely audible over the Deloreans playing 80s tunes on the perimeter of park as the festival kicked into high gear all around.

Somehow, we both turned out reasonably respectable art — in two hours, no less. My sister was much better with shadows. I developed more distinctive light. They both look decent until you take a close look at the original we were trying to copy. It has so much more detail and definition — of course!

I left my masterpiece in Virginia to dry properly and brought only photos home. Then I had the “brilliant” idea to create a composite image of hers and mine. It wasn’t an original idea because yes, there is an app for that. I call the end result Sister Vista. It is an apt reflection of she and me: similar in so many ways, simultaneously unique in other ways, and even better together.

hs-srs-composite2017

~ René Morley

I’ve long been longing to have the grandchids sleep over since, it seems, almost forever. Granted, they are quite young. Ollie and his sister Sadie are 3 1/2 and 2 1/2, respectively, and almost inseparable. We added Hens, aged 3, to the mix as well — he lives just a stone’s throw away. My logic was safety in numbers, they would bolster one another if afraid or lonely.

IMG_4542

I’ve been scheming since last November, when I purchased inflatable toddler beds and youth sleeping bags on black Friday sales. This past week I picked up a twin inflatable mattress, a third youth sleeping bag, and an extra- large pool noodle at a local store. Pops inflated the mattresses. I washed and dried all the sleeping bags. Then I set them up, side by side, on the rug in the guest suite alcove. Perfect fit.

We left the wedding bar-b-que with two grands in tow; the third joined us shortly after we got home. Pops made popcorn to get the party started. For several hours they played together so nicely, sharing miniature farm animals and implements, storing hay as wooden blocks stacked in the barn. They boys were glad for Sadie’s help when wasn’t tending her baby dolls. But as we know, babies are a a lot of work and she kept quite busy between blankets, bottles, and rocking chair. Even bath time was a breeze — except that Sadie wanted to swim. It was a little tight in her pond.

Finally, finally! it was bed time. We’d kept them up a bit late by normal standards, assuming that would make it easier to settle down and conk out. We all trooped upstairs with requisite nighttime gear — water bottles, soft blankies of all shapes and sizes, favorite stuffed animals, a pile of books, extra pillows and more blankets. They settled down without any trouble, each taking an air mattress and sleeping bag, snugged up side-by-side.

Settled for all of about ten minutes, that is, and then the fun began. I need a drink. I need a snack. I need a snack, too. Hey, where are you going, GiGi? I have pee coming! Can I pee in my pull-up? I want to pee on the potty. (Now all three are up and we troop into the bathroom for one to pee.) Will you read us a story? (A Fly Went By. Then we said prayers.) I don’t want this blankie. I don’t need Lambie! I want my baby. Where’s my water?

One after another they’d hop up to find what they needed, sleeping bags and blankets askew as they tramped from one bed to the next, tumbling and stumbling on the uneven air mattress chambers. The image going through my mind was of the arcade game Whack-a-Mole. One pops up and then another and then another. You cannot predict the order or outcome. It was truly comical.

In the middle of all of this, Henry’s mama shows up to check on him. I was flabbergasted: are you kidding me? I thought that would surely end it. But no, Henry assured her he was fine and escorted her to the bedroom door. He said he needed to get to sleep! Sadie wondered if her mommy and daddy were coming to check on her?

Shortly thereafter, Pops started to snore on the hardwood floor. Initially, he was trying to fake them out, pretending to be asleep, assuming they’d settle down. Well, the joke’s on GiGi. We spent the next hour stepping over and around him and trying not to wake him up because, unlike the GiGi, Pops did have to get up and go to work in the morning.

Meanwhile, the hooligans show no signs of settling down. I’ve turned off the TV, finally. (Yes, a little slow on the draw there.)  I’ve pulled the shades. (It’s too dark.) I’ve turned on a nightlight. (It’s too bright.) I’ve moved the nightlight. (Still too bright.) I’ve turned off the nightlight but turned on a bathroom light. (Where are you going, GiGi?)

I realize this is never going down with each in their own bed, so I pull the pool noodle from the closet to slip under the fitted sheet and provide a bumper at the far side of the bed. But the little rascals caught sight of that pool noodle and were on it in a flash, hanging like monkeys on a branch as I dragged it across the room. I was trying hard to stifle my giggles while I insisted they stop, settle down, back to bed!

Sadie joined me in my bed. Then she wanted to rock. Then she settled back in her bed … but Ols needed to snug. Hens joined us in the rocking chair. (Hey, what are you guys doing?) Then Sadie was back up, looking for comfort. I began bribing them shamelessly with offers of treats in the morning, breakfast with cousins Rosie and Anna, whatever I could think of … if they would just settle down! (What kind of treats, Gigi?)

I moved their mattresses to the open area near my bed. Pops was alone in the alcove, snoring. Ols said he couldn’t sleep with Pops snoring. Ols joined Sadie and GiGi in the big bed. Hens joined us in the big bed. We positioned sideways to fit better, the four of us, and that doggone pool noodle like a hard pillow for GiGi. Then Hens went back to his bed. Ols went looking for a bed. Hens offered to share his bed with Ollie. Ols settled in Sadie’s bed as Sadie was still in bed with GiGi.

Then Hens said those fateful words, “I want to go home.”

Sadie chimed in. “I want to go home.”

Oh, how GiGi’s heart sank! You can probably guess how it went from there.

The irony is that Hens was ready  — not because he was afraid or lonely but — because he was tired. Go figure.  “It’s too noisy there,” he explained to his mama as they trudged back through the long grass in the dark, past the lilacs and birches, upstairs to Hens’ own quiet bedroom.

Only Ollie did not want to go home, which blessed my heart and broke it at the same time.

An epic fail. GiGi is a sleepover failure! I know we’ll try again when the time is right. Probably when the parents need us to have them overnight. I gather that it’d be a hard sell any other way. ;/0

Meanwhile, GiGi needs redemption. It’s small consolation that this need for redemption is nothing new. I need redemption in one form or another on nearly any given day. Such is life, eh?

~ René Morley

 

It all started with an idea to reduce clutter. That is, to reduce kitchen clutter and hide it in the pantry! I thought we could also reduce kitchen cabinetry, although I am not sure that proved true.

Our floor plan created an L-shaped space behind the kitchen — perfect for a pantry. Walking past the pantry, the hallway leads to the garage. Walking through the pantry, a stairwell leads upstairs to the guest suit (above garage) or down to the basement (a.k.a. Pops’ Dugout). But the pantry space itself contains just about everything else we need.

The pantry is set up for guests as much as ourselves, hoping they will feel at home and help themselves. A bookshelf cabinet became coffee station and breakfast nook. Open shelving displays Polish pottery; easily at hand are a percolator, coffees, teas, granola, and protein bars in an old sugar jar that also holds with small treats for the grandchids. A wire basket contains fresh fruit and vegetables.

A small beverage fridge tucked underneath contains yogurt, half-and-half, and refreshing libations. Lower shelves are mostly open for ease; the exception is the corner cabinet with a swing out shelving system. The counter holds an assortment of small appliances at the ready. We used a more affordable “Arctic white” quartz countertop here; it works great with the cabinets. I liked that the particles were finely grained, the design not too abstract.

The washer and dryer are on the back wall, with upper cabinets for cleaning supplies, laundry detergents and small tools. Adjacent to the laundry space is a small utility closet. Opposite the laundry space is an industrial stainless utility sink. Most importantly, the countertop and base cabinets stop just short of a space custom-sized for my pantry cabinet.

The pantry is an antique oak cabinet that my mother-in-law, Betty, purchased at an auction many years ago. It was an aged brown, almost black in color and stood in her garage for many years, often coveted but essentially forgotten. I knew she knew I had my eye on it at one time but I never expected to own it.

A couple years ago, unbeknownst to me, Betty gave the cabinet to the Hubs. He had it refinished for me as a lovely birthday surprise. It is as efficient and practical as it is beautiful, holding all of our foodstuffs.

On or near the pantry I have placed some of my favorite things, including my grandmother’s knitting needles in a cut glass vase, my grandfather’s canister lunch tin, my aunt’s flatiron, a metal milk jug we used for raw milk back in the day, colored glass bottles and vases from various places, a ceramic shoe from Holland, and wall art — from Spain, NY wine country, and a small child. Every time I am in the pantry these things remind me of loved ones connected to this space and their important role in our lives. I’m sure that is why this small room is among my favorite spaces in the house.

~ René Morley

I wondered when we moved if it would feel strange or awkward to start over. After after 30 years of raising a family and growing into middle age together that ol’ house was home. What would it take to make our new house feel like home? As it turned out, not all that much!

By the time we moved in we were so familiar with the space that had emerged over 8 months of architectural planning and 8 months of construction (a.k.a. the big dig) that it wasn’t a big leap. We were home, again.

They say the kitchen is the heart of the home and I sure hope that’s true. We want ours to become a frequent gathering place for family and friends. The Hubs and I love a friendly crowd for food and fellowship.

I worked closely with a local kitchen designer on the cabinet layout and also crowdsourced some decisions. Pressed for time, I put two questions out to my network via an online brainstorming and voting tool.  What is the best feature of your kitchen? What one thing would you change about your kitchen?

The end result was informed by the wisdom of the crowd. I couldn’t be happier with the outcome. Have a look!

Details, details? If you want details, you got ’em…

The most important thing I heard from my peeps was not to settle on kitchen appliances — a common regret. I selected the GE Café series but splurged on the wall oven with easy French doors and made the leap to gas cooktop. I added a trim kit and microwave-convection combo, which provides flexibility in a second oven. (I must admit that convection functionality is somewhat lacking.) I added a pot filler over the cooktop as an affordable, functional and fun addition.

I was on the fence about painted cabinets until I selected the hardwood floor, then I knew only painted would do. I selected the quasi-custom Homecrest cabinets with Dover doors in sand dollar gray, upgrading interiors to create optimal storage. I don’t know that this would be a great choice if we were in family-raising mode as every smudge seems to show.  My contractor insisted a local custom cabinet maker would have been less expensive; as counterintuitive as that seems perhaps he was right? Regardless, I love the finished effect and wouldn’t change a thing about our new kitchen.

I discovered a perfect quartz countertop with beautiful veining in the Dekton “Entzo.” If I’m going to splurge, it has to be for big impact. This is where the Hubs comes in really handy: when I am down to the final decision he gives unwavering support to take the plunge!

The backsplash was created with simple and affordable white subway tile. Cabinets were trimmed with crystal glass knobs and stainless cup pulls, both reminiscent of farmhouses of old. I love these knobs! (Acrylic knobs purchased at a big box store for an antique cherry buffet look cheap by comparison.)

The farmhouse stainless steel sink and faucet were manufactured by Kraus and purchased online. The sink came with a rack insert, a hugely helpful feature. The slate blue counter-height stools are of metal and swivel, a clearance sale special at HomeDecorators. Over-counter pendant lighting is mercury glass by Regina Andrew, a black Friday bargain at Macy’s. I love bargains!

Finally, on the advice of our local flooring specialist, I used a hardwood native to our region for optimal adaptability. Appalachian brand maple is sourced in Canada; ours has the “quartz” stain which presents lovely variations of brown and gray.

In all truth, I purchased this hardwood because it was a big bargain, something about a special order glitch, price significantly reduced, well below budget. I was a little bit leery; would it look too trendy or eventually date our home? But the price was right and I love the finished effect.  I’ve since learned that dark hardwood often disappoints by showing dust and requiring continual cleaning. We got lucky, I guess, because this product works well for us.

Most of the kitchen-living space is painted a greige color. Who knew greige was a thing? I selected HGTV Sherwin Williams “Into the Gloaming ” #2455. It’s a perfect blend of gray and beige in continuation of the cabinets. I relied on neutrals throughout the house but especially here, where the amount of wall space could be overwhelming. Initially I was concerned that neutrals might be too boring but instead they have had a relaxing effect. No regrets!

So, there you have the nitty gritty kitchen details! There’s more to come (next up: pantry) so I hope you “visit” again, soon.

~ René Morley

IMG_4184Hidey-ho from the No Co! It’s been awhile, eh? I’ve been feeling rather guilty to have let go of my discipline for writing these past months. But always, eventually, I return. So, hello, again!

I love to chronicle the comings and goings and doings in our small corner of the world — which would all be quite mundane if not for five precious cherubs otherwise known as My Sunshines. Each melts my heart and lights me up from the inside out. The oldest is 3.5 years and the youngest approaching 9 months. Such joy they bring. All five together are like a barrel of monkeys let loose at the zoo! That’s about as exciting as it gets in the No Co. :=)

So, I know that we have some catching up to do…

IMG_4240

We moved in April! The new house is everything we hoped for and more. I can’t wait to share some of my favorite features, personal design elements and a few hard-won bargains with you. The contractor moved on a couple weeks ago and we are turning our attention to the outside. I’m thrilled that the Hubs agreed that we could plant another big patch of wildflowers! I ordered several pounds from the Vermont Wildflower Farm before he could change his mind. (BOGO, no less. That makes me very happy.)  My grand plan for a straw bale garden, however, has been deferred a year. ;=)

I’ve had flurry of work travel late this spring which has been a bit wearying. But I was blessed and refreshed by a visit with one sister last weekend and looking forward to an Independence Day get-away with another sister this weekend. Then a dear friend and her husband will visit from New Hampshire. We are in for some serious celebrating of an amazing milestone in her life. I can’t wait to reconnect.

The Hubs and I are planning a mini-getaway in late July. We’ve set our target as Kingston, Ontario and environs. We’ve not visited that area in a long time so if you have any tips, please pass them along. We’re interested in wandering around Gananoque and Wolfe Island. Only recently I learned about Prince Edward County, which looks fantabulous if we have time to venture that far afield.

Oh, and did I mention that we’re launching a children’s church program this summer? I’m looking forward to that adventure with every hope that our precious grandchids will benefit. It’s a life-long gift to learn early of our heavenly father’s great love for us. As hard as it is for me to get my head around, I know that his capacity to love and care for My Sunshines is greater even than GiGi’s!

~ Rene Morley

 

IMG_4754Last weekend I stumbled on an article in the The Virginia-Pilot, “Greener Living: Norfolk gardener sold on straw bale veggies.” Straw bale — what?  Turns out there’s a whole movement around a form of container gardening that uses pre-conditioned straw bales!

I read just enough on the Straw Bale Garden website to convince me to buy the book. (Of course, it’s even cheaper on Amazon.) The founder, Joel Karsten, tells a compelling story. The science behind it seems sound, the benefits real and significant, and the investment to get started quite low. It does require some advance preparation, a couple of weeks to properly condition the bales. Joel has been working at this for twenty years, so there is a lot of detail packed into the book.

The proclaimed benefits of straw bale gardening seem too good to be true. It works beautifully for most vegetables, including root vegetables — which are hard to grow in our clay-heavy soil. It works great for tomatoes and vine vegetables, herbs, even cut flowers and especially annual bulbs. It works with either seedlings or seeds and provides a boost to the growing season — another No Co benefit. It’s less work and — get this — no weeds! Furthermore, a straw bale garden will grow, quite literally, anywhere. The mere presence of soil is irrelevant. The method has been proven all over the world.

Given the state of our lawn, formerly known as hayfield, and the work ahead of us this spring as we settle into our new digs and begin landscaping, I know that we’re not up for a “real” garden. I think a few straw bales are worth a try! Not convinced? Listen in on the first 12 minutes as Joel does his thing …

Here is another fella’ using straw bales as a container. This is a pretty good example of what not to do — according to the SBG method. He also can’t seem to remember he’s working with a bale of STRAW not hay! But I couldn’t resist sharing “Daddy Pete’s” perspective. ;=) Joel’s SBG book seems essential for getting started on the right foot.

Stay tuned for our No Co straw bale story … assuming the Hubs climbs on the straw bale bandwagon. Are you in? Ready, set, garden!

~ René Morley

IMG_1343 IMG_3146

This Easter was simply fun — more so than any I can remember in a long time.  Of course, it comes down to the chids. This was the first year the grands were of an age to enjoy the sweet and silly side of a beloved spring holiday. Each of them knew the Easter bunny was coming!

Henry received his Easter basket a few days early, before traveling to visit his Nana. He came tromping into my bedroom early that morning, proudly displaying his bright blue tin bucket of treats and toys. “Look, GiGi. It’s my Easter!” He guarded that bucket like a doberman until it was time to load in the car. Before he left, he warned me sternly not to eat his treats while he was away.

Midweek we visited Ollie and Sadie and took along some plastic eggs for an inside activity. They happily retrieved their Easter baskets and took up the hunt, delighted with any new game involving hiding and seeking, Oh, my mercy! I’d no idea a plastic egg was such a prize. It’s a good thing there were an even number to split between them.

IMG_3812.JPG IMG_3815.JPG FullSizeRender.jpg-2 FullSizeRender.jpg

After church with Henry and Anna and a delicious dinner with the whole crew, it was egg hunting time. The grands thrilled to the challenge, tearing off across a scruffy-brown but mostly dry yard — quite a novelty in late March in the North Country, to say nothing of the balmy 65-degree day. Baby Anna Beasy was content to watch the action as adults scrambled to keep up with chids scampering along in pursuit of brightly colored hollow eggs filled with all sorts of small treasures. Rosie, youngest of the mobile grands, carried a basket half her size with dogged determination. She was in it to win it!

I had a sudden flashback, Easter, circa 1972. My sisters and I were decked out in new Easter dresses, white socks, shiny shoes. Department store Easter-wear was inexplicably inappropriate for frost zone 3 but we braved the spring chill to find a couple dozen hard-boiled eggs dyed in a beautiful array of pastel blends and tucked into nooks and crannies around the yard and outbuildings at our grandparents’ home in Belleville. We never found them all but Grandpa did, by the tell-tale smell of rotten egg as he mowed the lawn weeks later. Was that one special Easter or an annual tradition?  Such is the way of childhood memories.

When all the eggs were safely in a basket and only last fall’s apples remained on the ground, the grands moved on to digging and sliding in the sand pile, cuffs and pockets quickly filling, or swinging on the swing set, nearly falling asleep, before bouncing off to the bounce house, sock feet becoming damp and brown. It know it’s unreasonable to expect they’ll remember this sweet slice of family life but somehow, I hope they do.

~ René Morley

 

Betty-babies DSC_0002

betty-rosieTomorrow we will bid adieu to my mother-in-law, Betty. As a woman of faith, it’s an honor and a privilege to commend one so dearly beloved into the hands of God. We’ve known for a long time this day would come, her health in gradual decline over the past few years. And yet, it’s still too soon.

Nonetheless, as the Hubs would be quick to remind us, our hearts are full to the brim. “If she lived another decade,” he said, “there is nothing she could add.” This is what it means to be rich, I think.

Even as an out-law (as my sis-in-law, Joan, would quip) I have miles of memories to rummage through and cherish. I wrote a poem for her 85th birthday to try to convey my admiration and appreciation. Betty taught me a lot about how much family matters. I was sometimes a slow student but she never lacked for grace or kindness, much more than I deserved.

DSC_0090The proof is in the pudding, eh? Certainly her six girls did her proud, demonstrating love and remarkable resilience through several years of around-the-clock care when she became housebound. The three boys as well, carrying on the farm after Lloyd died and, most recently, transitioning into a third-generation dairy. Indeed, the way they have all worked together and hung together despite inevitable tensions and differences is a testimony to both Betty and Lloyd.

20130223-062215.jpg 20130629-073826.jpg 20140317-200442.jpg IMG_0214 IMG_2883

Among my most precious memories of Betty in recent years is that moment G’ma welcomed each new new great-grandchild into the family. Oliver Lloyd joined at #16, Henry James made #18, Sadie Nadine was #19, Rose Elizabeth #20, and Anna Beatrice, #23. Betty, always the mother hen, would tuck each precious wee one into her wing and sigh with contentment. She established the gold-standard in grandparenting legacy, knowing as well as anyone that it is among God’s most precious gifts.

I know she is free from pain today, for the first time in a very long time. I like to think she is dancing in newfound freedom and joy. Ours is the sorrow to bear but only until we meet again. Godspeed.

~René Morley

HER CHILDREN STAND AND BLESS HER. HER HUSBAND PRAISES HER: “THERE ARE MANY VIRTUOUS AND CAPABLE WOMEN IN THE WORLD, BUT YOU SURPASS THEM ALL!” CHARM IS DECEPTIVE, AND BEAUTY DOES NOT LAST; BUT A WOMAN WHO FEARS THE LORD WILL BE GREATLY PRAISED.

Proverbs 31

 

 

 

 

 

DSC_0340

Have you ever felt your life spinning darkly, spiraling out of control? Have you ever been overcome with dread, filled with a sense of doom? In other words, have you ever experienced a panic attack? Me, too.

A week or so ago, a friend called with an urgent request. “I need you to pray for me.” I could hear the panic she was trying to suppress. I know that feeling — as if the bottom is about to drop out and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. “Of course, yes!” I responded. In all sincerity, it’s an honor to lift a friend in prayer. But what she needed most was to know that God is near. He hears. And He has everything under control.

One of the worst panic attacks I’ve experienced in recent years occurred while on vacation. I’d completed a huge, high profile project just before leaving the country. My work involved a lot of data which required manual manipulation, so the potential for error was real. I did everything I could to get it right. But still, I awoke in the middle of the night a few days later in a full blown panic. Surely I’d messed it up! Certainly it would implode! In this age of connectedness, unfortunately, a minor mistake can blow up online in no time flat with exponential embarrassment. I couldn’t even revisit my work to ease my mind, given our remote location. There was nothing I could do.

At one o’clock in the morning I was convinced that my fate was fixed and I’d be fired by the time I returned home. I was overcome with dread, adrift on a sea of hopelessness. I turned to my playlist and selected a song to play over and over, praying, breathing, my way through the panic. Hours later, I finally fell back asleep. The Hubs was none the wiser for my tsunami of mid-night angst.

IMG_1092

That was the most recent worst but not nearly the first. I’ve experienced many panic attacks — most especially as I’ve climbed the hill of middle age. One summer I was in the emergency room twice with symptoms I didn’t understand — each time misdiagnosed. I finally came to appreciate that I was experiencing panic, amplified.

I’d so often been irritated by exhibitions of irrational fear in others that I suppose there was an ironic justice in developing personal problems of this nature. If nothing else, I’m much more compassionate with panicked people suffering alongside me.

The good news is that we don’t have to suffer alone. God is near, very near. He does hear.  Through my struggles, I’ve learned to pray and praise my way out of panic.* I use a combination of breath prayers and song to realign my spirit with my Heavenly Father. Only when I release control into His capable hands do I find peace. He has never failed to carry me across the abyss of my panic.

There are lots of resources available on breath prayers. My own approach is very simple. “Lord, Jesus,” I pray, breathing deeply in … “Grant me peace…” I pray, breathing slowly out. I pray as I breathe over and over, as long as it takes to settle myself. I vary the out-breath prayer as circumstances warrant, perhaps requesting healing, protection, or some other petition for divine intervention, whether for myself or another. If you’re new to breath prayers, you’ll find these resources helpful.

Shortly after I spoke with my friend, I emailed a link to a song that helped me through that most acute distress on a mid-night ocean of fear. I hope it helps you, too.

Josh Wilson “Carry Me” (2013)

 

~ René Morley

*This is certainly not to discount anxiety medication, which may be a useful and necessary aid in some circumstances.

 

 

 

IMG_3280If any single thing defined 2015, it was the big dig. We broke ground on September 15. Our contractor initially said a house could be built in 3 to 4 months. Somehow I translated that to mean “You’ll be in before Christmas.” Hmmm. Apparently, not our house.

After 3 and a half months, we’re not close enough to call it. They’ve made great progress and we’ve had wonderful weather (until this week) to help them along. The closer we get the more exciting — and real — it becomes.

I have to admit that I never actually thought we’d do this thing.

I’ve been talking about building for a long time. I say “I” only because the Hubs wasn’t completely sold on the idea. I get that. We have decades of wonderful memories here. It’s been a great house for raising a family. There is a lot right and not much wrong with our current home. It has its quirks, sure, but it’s very comfortable. Yet my dream has long been to pass it along in our family. The Hubs has been a bit more attached to this ol’ house than I but eventually agreed.

I’ve been thinking about house designs all of this time. My goal was a single-story home and to age in place. We’ve not moved for 30 years but I still hope this next will be the last. I’d like to avoid awkward retrofitting if mobility challenges crop up. As much as I dislike the idea of either of us living alone, if so we’d need a place easy to maintain and manage. I want all essentials on the ground floor. Large windows and lots of sunny space. An enclosed porch. A large and comfortable master suite but minimal sleeping space otherwise.

No one is more surprised than I that each of our three chids chose to settle in the North Country. Creating comfortable space to be together as a family and fun, safe space to enjoy the grandchids were of the highest priority. We need to maximize open space and create easy traffic flow for our tribe.

We started getting serious last November (2014), when we met with an architect. Eight months later, everything was starting fall into place — but house plans were still incomplete! Finally, we insisted on stamped plans “as is” and trusted the contractor would work out the kinks. So far, no complaints.  Bill has been masterful at making it all work. The bonus has been that the Hubs gets his man cave / play space in a basement we had no intention of including at the outset.

As the big dig has progressed, the Hubs has been busy behind the scenes sorting out the sale of our current home, property surveys, and intricate details between farm and personal property and finance agencies. I’ve been working on interior details like flooring and lighting, appliances and fixtures, cabinets and color scheme. Nearly every afternoon as the sun is setting and the workers are packing up, Henry asks, “Can we go to the big dig?” Sometimes he insists on taking his digger along and we take time play. To a two year old, that’s a pretty big sandbox!

Here’s a peek at the progression the past few months. I’ll be back in the New Year with the final results.

IMG_2405 IMG_2411 IMG_2416 IMG_2427 IMG_2453 IMG_2456 IMG_2626 IMG_2665 IMG_2677 IMG_2698 IMG_2699 IMG_2708 IMG_2710 IMG_2716 IMG_2745 IMG_2758 IMG_2761 IMG_2762 IMG_2764 IMG_2887 IMG_2889 IMG_2969 IMG_2970 IMG_2972 IMG_2975 IMG_2977 IMG_2979 IMG_2981 IMG_3004 IMG_3006 IMG_3134 IMG_3834 IMG_3280

~ René Morley

 

This week I read the Christmas story in the second chapter of the gospel of Luke online. YouVersion Bible app’s Christmas Story Tracker follows the activity of people reading this passage across the world. The last I checked, more than 66 million people had done so this month. Remarkable — for one app! I love watching the globe virtually light up, star by star, as readers join me in my journey back in time.

Screen Shot 2015-12-25 at 7.18.22 PM

In one particular version, I was struck by the repetition of a phrase: It came to pass.

It came to pass that angels visited ordinary men and women to ensure God’s perfect plan would prevail. It came to pass that Caesar Augustus issued a decree that obligated Joseph  to travel with his wife, heavy with child on a dangerous journey to Bethlehem. It came to pass that a baby was born into the most humble of circumstances and yet his arrival was heralded from the highest heavens.

Was this supernaturally bright star  the comet of the ages, a strategically aligned planet, or something else? We may never know but it had a powerful impact, along with a host of angels celebrating the good news with great joy. It came to pass that lowly shepherds tending flocks nearby and learned wisemen from afar were compelled to find and worship this child. They just couldn’t help themselves, given all that came to pass!

Perhaps we know the story so well that we take it for granted. Yet as dramatic and fantastic as they seem, these angelic visitations and heavenly proclamations in the midst of a Roman Empire census might have come and gone without our awareness — except for the babe. His arrival was a disruptive force extending far beyond his place and time. The way the Christmas Story Tracker lights up across the globe is a simple illustration of how everything changed when God came near.

This Christmas I’m especially thankful for my faith. It is a gift I did not earn and cannot repay. It grounds me every day midst the ebb and flow of local circumstances that often challenge me and global disruptions that sometimes frighten me, all of which are far beyond my control. I’m thankful for faith to believe that it all came to pass.

~ René Morley

MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM OUR HOUSE TO YOURS
(Buck Owens / Marjorie Cooper) Buck Owens – 1968

Merry Christmas from our house to your house
Merry Christmas from our chids to yours
May happiness be ’round your Christmas tree
May your disappointments be few

IMG_3245.JPG

Merry Christmas from our house to your house
May peace and goodwill follow you
And may you be blessed with health and happiness
Merry Christmas from our house to yours

IMG_3220 IMG_3231

May all of your loved ones be near you
And may all of your spirits be bright
May all of your dreams be what this Christmas brings
Merry Christmas from our house to yours

IMG_3244

Merry Christmas from our house to yours

~ René Morley



Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 38 other followers