another day in havana

We boarded a tour bus at the outset of our second day in Havana. Group 5. Independents. Our half-day itinerary included two primary points of interest: the José Fuster project and a choice between two museums. It was a cloudy and gray morning; a bit “wintry” for Havana, our guide noted. Not to us!

We first made our way to Fusterlandia, driving near to the coast. The guide remarked upon many properties along the way, former social clubs for the rich and famous that were nationalized after the Revolution, open to the public ever since, forevermore. Some, if I understood her correctly, serve as recreational camps for children.

Without exception these facilities looked like tired throwbacks to the 1950s. Also without exception, she extolled the state for the transformation of these properties: power to the people! We passed a circus in the vicinity; it looked deserted and as if it, too, had seen better days. The one exception on our journey was a Russian-owned hotel, gleaming and bustling with business.

There were workers on the shoreline, battling the wind, picking up trash. Maybe it was the season but it was noticeably less clean and tidy in the countryside than in any of the cities we visited.

The José Fuster project is a phenomenal example of visual art for the common good as the entire neighborhood of Jaimanitas, several miles outside of Havana, has been transformed. Fuster’s story is as fascinating as his art is captivating. I was immediately reminded of Antoni Gaudi’s work in Barcelona, equally beautiful and inspiring.

Fuster’s neighbors are an active part of the experience. Many open their homes, selling handcrafts in small shops. Neighborhood residents were milling about as the tour group descended.  Just another day in the life, apparently.

Unfortunately, an elderly member of our group was bitten on the arm by a small stray dog yipping and nipping about. It broke the skin in two ugly gashes. Another group member provided some iodine. The affected lady seemed much less concerned than I would have been, confident in tetanus shot protection.

From Fusterlandia we drove back to Old Havana. It was nice to have an the option between museums of the Revolution or the fine arts. The Hubs had no preference but I was full to the brim of the national heroes.

Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes holds an expansive collection for an impressive foray into hundreds of years of Cuban expression. It was  a welcome reprieve from group 5, most of whom chose the alternative. Our brains were quite saturated at this point, between daily tours on shore and seminars on ship, so we strolled quite casually from the top to the bottom.

It was mid-afternoon when we finished; just enough time to visit the small cafe in the museum for a Bucanero and quick snack. Here we experienced first-hand the cheap but dismal quality of food in a state-run establishment. We shared a bland small plate and left much of it on the plate. The brew, however, hit the spot!

Group 5 friends returned to the bus with rave reviews about the Revolution museum, located just across the street: win-win.

~ René Morley

Complete Cuba Series: Countdown to Cuba | Crash Course Cuba | Santiago de Cuba | One day in Havana  | Another Day in Havana | Costumes, Cathedrals & Old Cars | Cienfuegos | Sailing with Celestyal | Lessons in Cuba

simple things

We walked the trail last weekend, early on a cloudy-gray Saturday. A few inches of fresh snow lay undisturbed except for animal tracks. Lots of deer, rabbit, perhaps fox, and several other small prints I couldn’t identify. There wasn’t another soul in sight. Just me and my sister.

As we approached a wetland I noticed an array of flat, wide tracks. Instinctively I knew, “That’s beaver.” My sister nudged me, “Do you see him?” Sure enough, he (or she) was perched on top of the lodge, chewing on a thin branch. A smaller beaver swam nearby. We’ve had an unseasonably warm stretch so there was plenty of open water. They’d been busy , these beavers! There were lots of tracks into the woods surrounding the pond on either side of the trail. We watched them for several moments, fascinated by their behaviors. Eventually the small one caught on to us and THWACK! Her tail hit the water in a splash of alarm and they were gone.

Monster flakes were falling from the sky by the time we rounded the last bend. We closed the loop on our own tracks laid at the beginning of our journey, still just the two of us in a white world silenced by the snow. I felt refreshed by an hour in the crisp cold air, walking and talking with my sister. It’s often the simplest of things that restore us.

~ René Morley

 

 

open house, open hearts

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On the first Saturday of December we hosted an open house with Santa. It was one of those stars -have-aligned sort of opportunities. First Christmas in our new home. So many people to thank and so many reasons to be thankful. Young grandchildren and great-nieces and wee friends from children’s church experiencing the magical wonder and holy awe of Christmas. New friends in the community. Lots of good reasons to plan a Christmas party.

Most importantly, this will be the first Christmas since our beloved Betty passed over. She loved the Christmas season more than anyone I’ve known. Christmas a la Betty was a sight to behold. She trimmed the tree, the house, the yard, until every nook and cranny was graced by Christmas spirit. She spent an entire year preparing, purchasing gifts well in advance and baking sweets and treats for weeks leading up to the big day.

By the time I entered the scene the family was so large that gifts were exchanged in family groupings over the course of a week leading up to Christmas. Even then, she always exceeded expectations with beautifully wrapped packages spilling into the dining room from under the front room tree. On Christmas Eve, the entire brood gathered at the farm before church services. Santa made an appearance to the delight of the children as adults battled over Betty’s famous dill pickles in a gift exchange. Christmas was a celebration of family as well faith.

On the days leading up to our open house, it was almost as if my mother-in-law was shadowing each step. She felt very near as I was baking spiral hams and dozens of rolls, trimming with lights and baubles and scents of the season, wrapping packages to fill the gap under the mammoth tree that the Hubs, a.k.a. Clark Griswold, couldn’t resist — he carries her Christmas torch. I knew she would be pleased with our preparations for sixty guests. My sisters-in-law and others showed up with helpful contributions just as I knew they would because they also know family matters. Betty’s example and joyful celebrations of family life and Christmas will serve us well in to the future.

In one important way, as the song below so beautifully illustrates, this is her first Christmas. Listen in… and if that doesn’t boost your Christmas spirit, then spend some time with my Christmas playlist!

And it was just (February) past 
She said goodbye, and breathed her last 
And the great-grandchildren miss her so 
But if she could she would let them know … 
This is my first Christmas 

First time to hear the angels sing 
Glory, hallelujah to the risen king 
And a holy night is what this is 
‘Cause this is my first Christmas 
This is my first Christmas

 

 

 

I’m pleased to report the open house with Santa a grand success and a ton of fun. The house was buzzing with conversation among family, friends, and neighbors. Twenty children leaned in one by one, wide-eyed and eager to bend Santa’s ear — except for our three grandgirls, who each preferred to keep their distance! Santa gifted each child with a Little Golden Book retelling the first Christmas story.

I crouched low on the carpet, observing each of the children up close in their moment of joy on Santa’s lap. They were just precious. One of the most memorable was in 3 year-old Henry’s Santa exchange. It was a very short conversation. “I want a bounce house” (trampoline), Henry proclaimed. I prompted him to continue on his sister’s behalf, just as he’d practiced, so Santa would know Anna Bea would like “something that squeaks.” Alas, he’d changed his mind about sharing this detail. “No, GiGi,” he said. “She’s fine. Beasy don’t need nothing.” Well, huh. I sure hope Santa doesn’t forget her!

Long into the eventing we ate, drank and were merry in the making of memories and start of a new Christmas tradition.

 

Merry Christmas!

~ René Morley

happy birthday anna bea

On the last Saturday of October we celebrated Anna Beatrice, the cherub who turned one year old mid-week. Her party was the bookend on an amazing first year. Anna Bea’s family and extended family, including cousins/second-cousins, aunts/uncles, grandparents and greats all gathered to celebrate this sweet-as-honey girly-girl. The cousins donned costume in dress rehearsal for a big night of trick-or-treating just ahead.

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I cannot imagine our family without Anna Beasy. She always offers a bright smile, her beautiful blue eyes twinkling. She quickly settled in with brother Henry, mama, daddy and black cat, Bear Grylls in their new home — along with GiGi and Pops. We were one big happy family for several months. In April, our new house was livable and we parted in peace! Whew

That was eight months after launching a grand adventure in multigenerational habitation, selling / purchasing one home and building another (a.k.a the big dig); mama on maternity leave or working (either way with little sleep), GiGi working from home office, daddy on shift work and Pops working the farm … plus a newborn baby girl and a rambunctious two-year old boy. And a cat. That cat! Mixed, shaken or stirred, it could have been a recipe for conflict but instead it was pretty sweet. Whew! We did it. They did it!

Anna was blessed to meet her Great-Grandma Betty when she was only a few days old, a mere 87 years between them. G’ma nestled wee Anna under wing, true to form as grandmother hen. Anna didn’t have long with G’ma, to our great sadness, but she has been blessed by loving attention from the greatest generation, as Great-Grandma Alice and Great-Great-Aunt Beatrice so much enjoy her company.

img_3915I’m thankful Every. Single. Day. that all of our sweet grands live within a few miles. Anna Bea and her brother Henry are only a short walk across our yard, through a hole in the cedar split-rail (extracted from an ancient fence in our woodlot) lined with clumps of white birch and lilacs (birches transplanted from the back forty and lilacs from the Walker estate many years ago), and past the (brand new) shed where Anna’s daddy and brother build honey bee hives.

Yesterday I was sitting on my back porch, working on children’s church craft projects when a movement caught my eye. Near the periphery of our property, wee Anna was toddling around, bundled up for fall. Her daddy stood nearby, swooped in and scooped her up, put her down, and stepped back to watch as she turned again toward the rail fence. It was a beautiful fall day; I didn’t think much about it at the time. Later, her mama explained the scene: as soon as daddy set her down, Anna Bea made a beeline for GiGi and Pop’s house! At one year old, she already knows how we love her so and apparently also where to find us. Quite amazing, eh?

Life is sweet. Sweeter. Sweetness complete. Happy birthday, Anna Bea!

~ René Morley

deep and wide

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I love fall. It is a sentiment shared with nearly every North Country neighbor. You wouldn’t likely live here otherwise, knowing what is ahead!

Who doesn’t love breathing deeply of crisp air scented with sun-warmed apple, or looking long at forest and hedgerow ablaze in autumnal display? Paper birch, sugar maple, red maple, black cherry, black walnut, white oak, poplar and other hardwoods burn brightly interspersed with cooling conifers: white spruce, Norway spruce, blue spruce, balsam fir, scotch pine, red pine, white pine, and white cedar. No wonder the woods smell so good!

Nights are cool for sleeping. Days are bright, perfect temps by noon, and oh, so inviting. It’s a wonder I get anything at all done inside. Except that this is also an especially intense time of year at work, headlong into our busy season.

This month and next, my bandwidth is running thin, calendar clogged with compulsory appointments and meetings including some at a distance. I can hear our home calling for a thorough cleaning, which I continue to ignore. I missed my exercise class again. And again. Even as I was preparing a welcome meal for neighbors, an activity I thoroughly enjoy, I felt myself running low, lower. Kaput!

I truly thought I was out of steam but no, I rallied for the grands. It’s highly unusual to see them all in the same week, even in a weekend, much less on the same day. Yet for some reason, as the day unfolded, there they were, by one or two or three. It was the best kind of day, largely spontaneous and unplanned. An entire day pushing swings, pulling wagons, assembling puzzles, serving snacks, preparing meals, singing songs, reading books, building block towers, setting up train tracks, kissing and hugging, snuggling and comforting. In other words, full on GiGi. It doesn’t get any better. 

Then I awoke aching midway through the night, fumbling for ibuprofen. Ohhhh. I did not see that coming. On Monday morning, I was just plain tired but determined to start the week off right, prioritizing ‘quiet time’ before launching my workday. Which led me to a familiar passage in Ephesians. Still, somehow, if was fresh and new. Just like God’s daily mercies, eh?

When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father,  the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.  And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21)

Oh! How wide, how long, how high, how deep his love! How unlimited his resources;  he never fails to bolster and support me. I close my eyes and breathe slowly, willing my roots deep, deeper, into this infinitely abundant place of love. Pressing in, my heart fills. My soul lifts. My spirit sings in gladness.

Meditating on this passage is like a drawing deep breath in autumn: rejuvenating, reinvigorating, refreshing! May God increase our understanding of his great love for us. I’m making Pauls’ prayer my prayer for October. How about you?

~ René Morley

 

adirondack potato soup

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Have you ever heard of Adirondack red potatoes? Me, neither! Last week I received a few, passed along from my sister who’d visited my uncle who lives on the periphery of the Adirondack Park. Potatoes are just one of the cool things about this region.

The Adirondacks are gentle mountain range with 46 peaks reaching 4,000 feet or higher. The Park encompasses small towns and farmland, forest flush with timber, graceful foothills leading to what seems an endless array of small mountains rounded off by the ages. There are 6 million acres, both privately and publicly owned, harboring a gazillion rivers, streams, ponds and lakes rich with wildlife. Here’s a glimpse.

The Adk Park is the largest publicly protected area in the contiguous United States, greater in size than Yellowstone, Everglades, Glacier, and Grand Canyon National Park combined! (apa.ny.gov) Scattered amidst “forever wild” public lands are charming small towns and villages. The most famous of these is the lovely Lake Placid, NY, home of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics. In a word, awesome.

But, I digress. Back to the potatoes. Standing on the precipice of autumn, the potatoes spoke to me of soup. This is one of the Hubs’ favorite comfort foods and mine, too. The spuds cooked up to a pearly-pink, with delectable flavor and perfect texture. Hungry? My potato soup recipe is simple.

Part 1. Dice a large onion and fry with several half-slices of bacon in a large soup pot. While bacon and onion are cooking, peel (or not) and dice potatoes. When onion is soft and translucent, remove bacon and drain off bacon fat. Separate any additional fat from bacon and return bacon to pot. Add raw potatoes to onion and bacon. Add chicken broth to cover. Simmer until potatoes are soft.

Part 2. In separate sauce pan, prepare a simple white sauce. There are lots of recipes available online, for example this Betty Crocker version. I have a slap-dash method with 2-3 tablespoons butter, 1/3 cup flour, fresh ground pepper, and a brisk whisk while   adding in a cup of milk (give or take) at a slow simmer.

For the potato soup, I add to the white sauce 4 ounces of cheese and continue heating until melted. I’m not fussy about the cheese and use whatever I have on hand. If it is a softer cheese, like muenster, I also add some parmesan to give it some bite.

Part 3. Add white sauce to soup mixture. Stir gently. Enjoy at once or keep warm in crock pot until dinner.

Even better than making Adirondack potato soup, I hope you will learn more about the park  and plan your visit!

~ René Morley

bea happy

Labor Day is always bittersweet, as we are turning the corner on summer into autumn. At North Country latitudes, daylight hours are noticeably skittish this time of year. (It’s doggone near-dark at 7:45 p.m.) Evenings cool dramatically and most mornings are slow to warm. I know it’s only early September but something deep in me begins to brace, turning to face the long, cold winter ahead.

But this Labor Day was refreshingly different. In a word, it was a gift. I didn’t give a single thought to the  winter ahead — not one! I relished the toasty-warm weather — hot flashes be d@mned and turn up the AC! I took a few days off to spend time with my family and extended family. I did nothing by routine and everything by opportunity.  No regrets.

My sister, my cousin and I had a ball out and about in the No Co. But I must admit that the very best part of the past week was spending quality time with my Aunt Bea.  If you know me, then you know about my aunt. I will be forever grateful for her influence on me and my family. Time together is always sweet and always too short.

I don’t know anyone who has maintained a more genuinely contented outlook — despite the circumstances and this is key. I have no doubt that this is what draws so many people to my aunt: she is as happy as can be! She is quick to make an impact, wherever or whomever. She doesn’t wait for things to change. She doesn’t need someone to make her feel good about herself. She is always the first to embrace, welcome and affirm. She is outwardly focused and intentional in service to her family, church and community and has a lot of fun while she’s at it. I can learn a lot from her example.

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My cousin, Sally, said it best: “Mom, you’ve always been content.”  It’s true. My aunt has had her share of suffering and struggles but she doesn’t linger in that space. I believe her secret is in trusting fully in God — for yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He is good. It’s all good. Every cloud on Aunt Bea’s horizon does have a silver lining yet she is not particularly focused on the clouds.

“I’m almost 81, you know!” my aunt has reminded us for the past 10 months. It has always been this way — no matter her age she reminds us repeatedly of how old she is going to be. But it has also always been the case that her age doesn’t matter. Nothing can stop her from fulfilling her destiny.

imageOur youngest grandchild and my mom’s ninth great-grandchild was Aunt Bea’s first namesake. Anna Beatrice was born one day in advance of my aunt’s 80th birthday in late October last year. This week we held an impromptu surprise party for the bee-some: Queen Bee, Baby Bee and Mama Beekeeper. What a year we’ve all had! What joy for our Beas to finally meet!  Sweetness complete. It was extra special that two of my aunt’s three siblings (my mom and her older brother) could join the celebration.

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When I was a very young child I knew beyond doubt that my Aunt Bea loved God with all of her heart. I also knew she loved and cared for me. Eventually, I understood that I was part of her destiny. Better yet, my family became part of her destiny. What a legacy. I only hope we do her proud.

~ René Morley

 

glimpses of summer

It’s almost inevitable when we get to this point in the cycle of seasons that I think, “Where did it go?” The past few months of sunshine have been jam-packed and I’ve enjoyed every spare moment. I’m thankful for time with the grandchids, catching up with family and friends, and explorations around and about the beautiful North Country. The nights are cooling now as we turn the corner into autumn. Summer is but a glimpse in the rearview mirror. But oh, what fun we had!

 

Smack dab in the middle of the summer I spent a wonderful day with a good friend explorin’. Among other things, we toured Great Camp Sagamore in Raquette Lake, NY — one of those things I’ve been meaning to do for such a long while. I’m so glad we did. 🙂 Great camps are an important part of a rich Adirondack heritage. See them while you can!

~ René Morley

sister vista

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.

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~ René Morley

sleepover fail

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.

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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

 

my pantry

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. (If you missed the kitchen info, here you go.)

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

welcome home

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

my sunshines

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…

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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

 

easter eggcitement

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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.

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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