sunrise, moonset


I rushed outside for the sunrise
Winter coat thrown hastily over nightgown
Bare legs braving the frost
Misty fog of warm air rising from the river
Horizon slowly warming, blushing in pearly hues
Welcome to this new day.

I returned slowly, savoring the thought of piping hot coffee
That first cup always tastes the best
Pleasantly surprised by the harvest moon
Lingering as a bright ball of light
Slipping behind bare maple and birch, scruffy cedars and pine.


Last night at dusk I startled a deer in the cornfield
He snorted and blew, fleeing over stubble
His white tail flying like a flag, he all but flew
Over corn stalks the combine left behind.

Oftentimes it seems life is like the deer
Gone in a flash. What was that? Was it really there?
Sunrise and moonset remind me to breathe
Just breathe.

You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand.
    My entire lifetime is just a moment to you;
    at best, each of us is but a breath.
We are merely moving shadows,
   and all our busy rushing ends in nothing.
We heap up wealth,
   not knowing who will spend it.
And so, Lord, where do I put my hope?
   My only hope is in you.

Psalm 39:5-7 New Living Translation (NLT)


~ René Morley



open house, open hearts


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

straw bale garden

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

this old house

We moved into this house early in 1987 with three small children. A classic American farmhouse, built in the 1800s, it perches on a knoll overlooking the river, presenting some nice views. It certainly offered more space, which we desperately needed. But it was in rough shape.

We were young in parenting and in life. I was quite comfortable in our first home, a tidy little bungalow in the nearby hamlet. I had misgivings about a move further into the country. It wasn’t the condition of the place or the work ahead but that I liked having family so close by. One sister-in-law’s back yard bordered ours. Another lived across the street. I felt connected and protected in between.

Despite my objections, the Hubs insisted on this move to what I disparagingly called the Cordwell Ranch. In retrospect, it was the right move. True to form, he had a longer field of vision. So many times it has happened that way: he has had the courage to take the risk and press forward or encourage me onward.

It truly didn’t matter to us that it was so rough; we hardly noticed. Looking back, however, it is clear why nearly everyone who visited said something like, “Well, it has potential.” It was the kindest thing they could muster.

The kitchen was terribly out of date, with uneven cupboards that wouldn’t close properly (the mice loved — eek!) and an ancient wooden countertop with long grooves that caught everything (mother-in-law hated — a health hazard!). The yellowed linoleum was torn and worn and looked dirty, no matter how much I scrubbed.

The one room that could serve as a family room was more like a man-cave; once an attached woodshed, now complete with bar. Its walls were authentic barn wood, flecked with cow manure. The corner wood stove was absolutely required to compensate for its lack of foundation and the biting wind blowing across the open field through the icy cold north country winter. But we didn’t know that, yet.

The second story was one large open room, roughly finished, the stairway steep and narrow. The main floor was a series of small rooms, some daisy-chained together. The walls were lathe and plaster. All the windows and doors needed replacement, as did the electrical wiring, as we would soon discover. The ceilings sagged, the floors sloped, and the pipes froze in the winter. And that’s only on the inside! Outside was a scraggly yard as rough as a wagon trail abutting a barb-wire fence. The house was covered in deteriorating masonite siding. What’s not to love?

Oh, yes. There was also a grandfather maple tree gracing the back yard — the redeeming feature of an otherwise scrappy place. The grand-maple has been present through the seasons; ablaze in glory every fall and a reminder of God’s good gifts spring, summer and winter. I treasure this tree like no other!

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Our first contractor was a retired farmer who charged us $5 an hour, God rest his soul. His first project was to create three bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. Al didn’t understand sheetrock and insisted on using a circular saw for every cut. I can still see him, entirely masked in white dust, peering out through safety goggles. His signature was using trim to fill the gaps in his rough finish.  There was a lot of trim!

Another image seared in my memory is of our youngest, aged two, proudly painting molding laid out upon sawhorses. All of our chids learned early how to pitch in and each became a hard worker; life lessons that continue to serve them well. I quickly learned how to mud sheetrock and hang wallpaper, thanks to my mom and mother-in-law. I was never very good at either, unfortunately but we had a lot of help, thankfully. Many nights, long after the Hubs and chids were asleep, I was painting and papering an old house into a home.

Al’s final project involved a new kitchen ceiling. We realized it must be replaced only after ordering the new linoleum, which was to be installed the next day.  At the very least, we had to get the old ceiling out of there. The Hubs took a first pass, knocking down as much lathe and plaster as he could before going back to milk on Sunday afternoon. He left me and the chids knee deep in pile of debris across the kitchen, a portion of the ceiling still intact. But before he left, he called Al.

Good ol’ Al. He arrived within the hour and dove in. He was 70-something, still strong and determined, but he ran up against some difficulties where lathe ran behind the cupboards. Suddenly he ducked out and took off in his truck. He returned with a chainsaw and fired it up in my kitchen without a word. That finished the job. There was a thick haze of blue smoke and chain saw oil splattered everywhere — including across freshly painted cupboards. As I said, that was Al’s final project!

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 6.49.35 AMIn the nearly three decades we’ve lived here, we’ve more than rebuilt the place. Our biggest project was to remove the kitchen entirely and rebuild with full basement and second story in 2000. That was an adventuresome summer of cooking at camp, our living room completely disconnected from sleeping quarters and bathrooms. We’ve added brick patios with potting shed, cozy fireplace and soothing fountain. Last fall, we created a lovely master suite. It’s taken a lot but we’re pleased and proud of the results.

Over the past few years, however, it’s become less and less of a good fit. We don’t use the space fully or well. I began imagining the adventure of building new home, single story please, and dreaming about moving this old house on to the next generation to fill with laughter and love. Last year, the Hubs came on board with letting it go. For once, if only once in 33 years, I had the viewfinder.

This morning as I write, I’m waiting for the moving truck to arrive and our dream to begin to become reality. Grandboy Henry and family will inhabit the upstairs for the next few months as we build a new home on the adjacent lot. I can hardly believe it’s happening — any of it. I am so thankful. I hope they will be as happy here as we have been. I can’t wait to see what they do with the place!

May the Lord bless and protect you; may the Lord’s face radiate with joy because of you; may he be gracious to you, show you his favor, and give you his peace. Numbers 6:24-26

~ René Morley

quebec city

IMG_0467The first and last port of call on the fiftieth birthday sailabration was Quebec City. This was another of my bucket-list destinations. I was pleased when the Hubs suggested we go a day early and spend a night on our own before the cruise.

He made arrangements at Auberge St. Antoine, a richly historic hotel on the outer edge of the old city and very near the pier. Our itinerary allowed for two more nights in Quebec City on the return. What a gift!

It was a pleasant drive up to Quebec City, through woodlands and farmland, skirting Montreal, traveling the Trans-Canada highway until a scenic riverside boulevard led us to our destination. It could hardly have been easier. Staff at the St. Antoine were quick to greet us and park our car. The room was amazing, with an expansive balcony and both St. Lawrence River and Chateau Frontenac views.

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The hotel is one of the finest we’ve enjoyed, with every detail attended — right down to the dental floss! The weather was beautiful, brisk and bright, which made for great walking. We were up and down hundreds of stairs — eschewing the funicular — on several trips from the hotel at sea level to the Chateau Frontenac and beyond, following the boardwalk out to the citadel, the Plains of Abraham, and back again. Just perfect.

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On one of our trips up to the Chateau, we came upon small park with canons perched along the edge overlooking great views of the river and old city. It was set up for a nighttime production of some sort that looked worth a return visit. As it turned out, the climb back uphill was welcome after dinner. Being part of the local arts scene was, too. Always a turning point in feeling connected, more than just a tourist.

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The next day we had plenty of time to explore the old city. It is a fun place for walking, if you don’t mind the up-and-down. It is just lovely, full to the brim with quaint cobbles and cafés, artisan culture and architectural ambiance. I’ve often heard people refer to Quebecers as French elitists and we certainly recognized their pride of heritage in various conversations. However, we felt entirely welcome throughout our visit. (Which is more than I can say for certain European cities!)

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The hotel staff agreed to keep our car at a very good rate and in a much more secure location than pier parking. Then they went the extra mile (or five) and delivered us and our baggage to the pier using our vehicle. As it turned out, our ship was not docked across the street as we’d anticipated. It was definitely not walkable with baggage in tow.

Ten days later, we were back in port. We’d had time enough to explore the old city on our own before the cruise, so I’d booked a tour for our return. It didn’t leave until after lunch. Our driver from the St. Antoine had recommended the large farmer’s market not far from the pier. It is easy to spot by the green roof.

Inside the sprawling building was a bustle of activity. Merchants sold everything you might imagine in a market — from pumpkins to pickles, chocolate to cheese, maple products galore, clothing and kitsch. We loaded up on preserves and condiments for gifts and braced ourselves for a brisk trek back to the ship.

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We soon boarded for our one and only bus excursion of the trip. One is usually more than enough but I have to say this one was really nice. Much of that was due to our tour guide who, as it turned out, was a farmer from the region. She and three generations of her family live in the same farmhouse that her family has inhabited for 10 generations. What’s more, her family has been farming in Quebec for 14 generations!

Better yet, she has five brothers, all of whom are actively farming together with her and her family as a cooperative. They are a very diverse operation, with dairy, fruits and vegetables, maple syrup, and also firewood. That’s some teamwork, eh? To top that off (impossible, you say?) the youngest generation — 32 cousins — are mostly farmers! Some are still in school, their career choice perhaps not yet determined, but that is quite an amazing agricultural heritage.

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We were worn out from all of the activity of the past ten days and there was a bitter cold wind blowing so it was quite relaxing to sit back and enjoy a cozy ride and our guide’s informative dialogue. We stopped first at Montmorency Falls at sea level on our way to Île d’Orléans. These falls are much taller than Niagara Falls; though not nearly as wide they are impressive. If you look closely in the photo at left, you’ll see two figures walking toward the base of the falls, which looked like a rather adventuresome hike. Our guide noted that the frozen falls form a sugarloaf in the winter and Quebecers come out in droves to play. Apparently this is just what you do for kicks in Quebec City.

I was very much interested in visiting Île d’Orléans, renown as for its agricultural richness. Even though we were well past prime growing season, there was plenty of evidence of the bounty you’d enjoy most of the year. Most of the fields are typical of the region: long and narrow, woodland at the back. Most of the houses face the water, boating being the historical form of transportation. Our guide mentioned that the bridge to the island is closed much of the winter due to blizzard conditions over the St Lawrence River. There is only one gas station and a small grocery store on the island. I guess you’d need to be prepared to hunker down and ride out a storm!

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Our tour included a visit to a sugar shanty for maple taffy. There was a long trough filled with crushed ice. Maple syrup, boiled to a soft candy state, was poured out in strips on the ice. We rolled the warm maple sweetness around a flat wooden stick for a yummylicious treat. When we were kids, Mom made a similar confection she called sugar-on-snow. She’d set an aluminum baking pan out when the first snow fell in big flakes. Meanwhile, she’d boil maple syrup on the stove top. Soon enough the pan was overflowing with fresh frosty crystals. She’d trickle hot maple goodness over the snow, where it would harden in golden strands. We’d each grab a fork to pull sweetness into our mouths. It is a favorite childhood memory, one I must remember to make with the grandchids.

We learned how the sugar shanty in Quebec becomes a place of revelry and feasting, especially in the spring during maple syrup season. Quebecers dine out at shanties throughout the region, where they serve traditional dinners of maple ham, pea soup, maple pie, eggs, and other hearty fare. Well, that is quite an idea. Unfortunately, sugar shacks in the North Country do not operate as restaurants. However, I know how much we also welcome spring after the long winter. Quebecers have good form!

IMG_0563When we left the island and crossed back over the bridge to mainland Quebec, I marveled again at how shallow and rocky the water along the shore, how tricky the narrow channel with tides. Our guide noted that the river on the eastern end of the island is freshwater, in the middle it’s brackish and on the western end it is saltwater, as the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Atlantic Ocean are not far from here. On the ship we’d learned from the naturalist about the beluga whales that live in this river — some near Montreal and others not terribly far from here. Their DNA is distinct from belugas anywhere else in the world. Oh, what I would have given to have seen one!

We continued climbing in altitude until we reached Montmorency Falls Manor at the top of the falls. Here we were served afternoon tea with a lovely maple cake. After a bit of fall-gawking, we traveled on, climbing higher still into the Laurentian foothills and Lac Beauport region. It is beautiful country and quite exclusive, too — home to Patrick Roi and friends.

We were tired, the sun was sinking, and I was glad when we headed back to the pier. We’d covered a lot of ground in Quebec City, making the most of the short time that we had. But it is one of those places I sure do hope to return to one day. The next trip should be in summer, I think!

~ Rene Morley

three months

Three months since I’ve taken time to write? Mercy! What has become of my reflective discipline? (It tanked.) And where has the time gone? (It vaporized.)

I am most pleased to report that shortly after my birthday we were blessed with a new grandgirl. Her name is Rose Elizabeth. She is as sweet as can be. She joins the other three grandbabes, Henry, Oliver, and Sadie, in our personal North Country population explosion! Four grandbabes in less than two years. We are blessed, indeed.

The rest of the summer flew by, between visiting friends, visits from two of my sisters, and hosting a baby shower for my niece — which doubled as a mini-family reunion. It felt great to reconnect with everyone who could join in the fun.

IMG_0331.JPGA huge project at work loomed large into early October, commanding much of my attention and generating no small amount of stress. There were a couple of work trips thrown in for good measure. The bonus was spending a little bit of time with my sister, cousin and aunt in Orlando. (Can anyone say Café TuTu Tango?)
My farmers didn’t even notice, thoroughly caught up in the hustle and bustle of a north country summer. Make hay while the sun shines, eh? Eventually, finally, we all celebrated the new barn rising over the debris of last winter’s ice storm!

Meanwhile, the Hubs and I launched a master bed/bath reno project. It’s been more than a decade since we’ve renovated. I’d conveniently forgotten how much work it is, even if I am not doing any of the real work. Finalizing the floor plan, design, and color scheme; product selection, researching and purchasing both the jazzy (e.g. lights and faucets) and boring but essential (e. g. linens and fans) bits on a budget; securing and coordinating subcontractors for tile, glass and flooring. Oy.

IMG_0480.JPG It has been exhausting. Not to mention all of the disruption in relocating ourselves and the contents of three rooms to another floor for weeks and weeks. It’s no wonder we don’t do this very often!

It’s also no wonder we both felt a bit worn out by mid-October. So I guess our joint fiftieth birthday celebration was pretty good timing, all things considered. We enjoyed a maritime adventure, starting and ending in Quebec City, hopscotching to St. Pierre & Miquelon (France), Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. It was a great trip. I can’t wait to tell you all about it!

~ René Morley

perfect fit

20140609-100711.jpgI think this was just about as perfect a weekend as it gets. Beautiful weather, out and about, spending time with family and friends, and especially the grandbabes.

It started Friday night in the village park with opening festivities for the ultimate home town celebration: dairy princess parade weekend. June is dairy month, don’tcha’ know! There were all kinds of fun and games, food and freebies for young and old. Massive blow-up structures were the source of many giggles and squeals. Older folk lined up in lawn chairs to enjoy the show of live music and dancing in the street. Youngsters scrambled over farm tractors on display next to the classic cars.

The ever popular cake walk was situated directly behind our church booth. Excitement ran high among children hoping to score an 8-inch square of sticky sweet confection. Cheap enough for a chance, at twenty-five cents a ticket. Pop music was blaring on a continuous accompaniment loop. Such fervor for sugar!

Our church booth was a beehive of activity, giving away balloons on sticks and chances to win life-size cardboard cut-outs of Olaf, Ana, and Elsa from the Disney movie, Frozen. They were a big hit! We had a ball toss game as well. It was also a great opportunity to distribute information about our summer camp for kids. It was a lot of fun to be present in the community, working alongside friends and sisters in faith.

I was so happy for Ollie join me at the booth for a while. He is becoming so independent; such a little man! He made me laugh because he desperately wanted to play the game like a big boy but did but not want to let go of the ball. So he’d stick his hand through the hole in the plywood and pull it back out, ball intact, with a big smile. Too cute!

The hullabaloo continued through Saturday with parade and fireworks graced by the new dairy princess and her court. But early Saturday morning, I was off for adventures with Henry and his mama. First, to the bakery to order his very special first birthday cake. I can’t believe he will be a year old this month. But yes, he is walking and sporting a first tooth to remind us!


Then it was play time in the park, whereby Henry insisted on personally testing and inspecting every piece of equipment. This was followed by a stroll along the river and, finally, breakfast at the local crêperie. Yummy-licious!

Thereafter, we stumbled upon a garage sale with the perfect Henry-sized play kitchen, just like new. His mama insisted we stop and scoop it up, along with a few other toys. Great deals!

20140609-093534.jpg Then we were on to the beach, not yet open for the season. But Henry couldn’t have cared less about the signage; he was determined to get wet. The water was cold but he did not mind: ker-plop! This little guy sure knows what he wants and will figure out how to get it. It’s so much fun watching him develop from baby into little boy.

Throughout the weekend I was knitting, knitting, knitting for our new grandgirl due July 25. This is my third attempt at a sweater to suit the lovely lavender yarn I purchased for Rosie. I’ve moved on to a new pattern, which is proving a challenge. I’m sure I’ve unraveled at least five times what I’ve knit since I started! Still hoping to finish in time for the baby shower next weekend.

On Sunday we had the pleasure of Sadie’s company while her mama took care of some business. (Big brother Ollie was in the tractor with dada, working the fields.) Sadie is the sweetest girl! It is so much joy to spend a few hours with her. She has adorable chubs, the softest skin, perfectly flawless, rosy complexion, and a sunshiny personality to match.

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The a Hubs and I love taking the grandbabes to church; Sadie is especially easy because she sleeps or eats and snuggles. After church, I was determined to get some photos. You know how they say you never take as many of the younger chids as you did of the oldest? Well, grandbabes, too!

First, I snapped a few of her in the sweet gingham dress she wore to church. It was an Easter gift from GiGi and Pops and that is already a bit snug. Then, with a giggle, I slipped her into the onesie from my cousin. “She’s NOT my Grandma, she’s my Glamma!” It cracks me up, given my journey from Glamma-wannabe toapproval as a GiGi. Just like the weekend, it was a perfect fit.

~ René Morley