Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Life That Never Was.....

am weeping at a letter, one sent electronically, written by someone I have never met.

Beyond the fact that this was NOT the first letter of this sort, I am overwhelmed that someone would think to write to me. And, that letter would be the catalyst for THIS letter.

I won't divulge the specifics, but it is one of many letters, comments, online accolades. They sort of say the same thing, I suppose....I would like to tell you....you inspire me....I wanted to always do (fill in "x"), but was not strong enough, as you."

This letter, though, this letter was more dire. Words like "FAILURE" when speaking about themselves, dotted sentences here and there.

And that, that was what was shattering my heart.

The letter was scribed perhaps a month ago...and in that time, I was mulling it over, letting it haunt the recesses of my cobwebbed gray matter, and being surprised by it ALL.

And then I decided to write THIS letter, which I daresay I'll call a LOVE letter, for that is what I mean it to be....

First, let me say that I am SURPRISED--astonished, really--that people not only READ these ridiculous, long ramblings, but that they think it something to contact me about. More so, that they tell me about the aches of their hearts, ask for advice, write to me of their fears, confide in me.  I am honored....

But, it is embarrassing...because, truth be told, I am as fine and as foolish as the next soul out there. As recently seen, I am subject to as much tossing about and heartache as the next gent or gal, no doubt about it. In fact, I'm not even sure that I am writing this with a mixture of melancholy as well as fortitude, as so much seems to be happening all at once, that I'm not sure what to make of it.

I aspire to no known rituals to combat fear or do anything out of the ordinary and--in fact--STILL have done nothing out of the ordinary...I exist still as a dreamer with a horse and cart pipe dream and like so many dreamers...it just sits out there, over the horizon.

And, in fact, I could as easily say that my life was a failure too, but still I carry on, because I can, because I have this gift to move my bones and breathe air and see so much beauty and....it is all in short order.  In one week, I will have crossed the thresholds of what some might call old age in women.  I blink my eyes in blind wonder:  one moment ago, I was 20 with my whole life ahead of me, and now it's double-turned and I'd have hoped that I would have been further than this, by now. 

But I've nothing to my name, not unlike fabled Gypsies, and no more than a skill and trick or two up my sleeve, and the fearlessness to move forward...or is it? Because I know how short and precious life is--I have seen and seared the image of the soul departing in One Dear Man---and it will haunt me forever.  And it goads me ever forward to accomplish what I can, no matter how small it all turns out at the end. What is it for all of us just to do what we can with what we have?

Which brings me to another point: there is no failure in doing what is right, but may be "common." There are days when no original dream can be had.  One may lament that they could not do what their youthful heart wished upon, because of family, obligations, security, fear. But this would not label you a FAILURE. The bravest thing is to sometimes do the heart-crushing thing; do not think that I couldn't envy a person with a true house, secure money coming in. Do not think that there aren't certain pangs and longing looks each time I walk down an isle of baby clothing or see small children running around. But that life cannot be had by me, one who has chosen to live without a particular job set and lifestyle; I have no love of small mongrels of government mandating my life inside a box to push paperwork, but that decision carries it's own risk.

 Nevertheless, it is true; the grass is always greener, and sometimes those that look to have a life attractive to us also have longings, sadness, pain, or loneliness. It is the human condition, and we are all in this together.

There are days I would like to howl into the Wind, or wrap myself into a hug. Perhaps because my father's birthday is three days after mine, there are small, trembling sorrows...perhaps because so many little earthquakes are happening around me lately...who knows. Tomorrow, I will get back up and wrestle the world and smile a true smile, for life IS Beautiful, even if it makes you humble, even if it makes you quake and bow in front of it.

I have lived a Life that Never Was, too. I've no true career to speak of. No family, heck, not even a dog at this point. There are possibilities, though--always out there. And perhaps next week, next month, and most certainly next year, there will be adventures...heck, I aim to lasso a few adventures in a day or two, if possible.

But there are days of feeling blue too...For healing, I have broken out old and dusty pencils and paper; I have not touched one artist's material for almost all of this year.  But...this was a special work.  It didn't matter the method of the work, I wasn't focused on stylizing it, as with some of my other little art efforts. Here was simple drawing the way I'd done it as a girl.....And, the beauty of this moment is that I could make My Bear Prince Father hug me, ever still.....

I write this to you as a friend, one who wishes the best for you, even when it is tough. Even when life seems to have passed you by. I suppose finding peace is the best way to put it, and being "ok" with whatever you have. For indeed, most of us are blessed in the world, even on our worst day.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Beekeeper's Lament....

There is an old--perhaps ancient?--tradition amongst beekeepers. How this curious custom began, I've little to go on, but it recognizes the importance, and perhaps the super-perception of these creatures..and it goes something like this:

Should something happen in the beekeeper's family, it must be told to the bees. The bees were considered part of the family, and would only thrive in families that upheld them with regard.  Usually, the bees are told is when the beekeeper himself, dies but,  if there are weddings, births, or deaths, the bees should know. There are some that say you should knock once on the hive, and then whisper it from the side of the hive, into the entrance, but all manner of the telling was done: beehives were shrouded in black cloth when someone died, or a piece of funerary cake and wine was left at the entrance of each hive. In some cases, the hives were even repositioned to face the grave of the beloved deceased.

Hives were beribboned for weddings and births, and sometimes the simplest thing to do is to lean over and tell the bees, hive by hive, of the news, and then walk away....

I've nary an idea as to why there is this tradition of Telling The Bees, but there are records of this in old Ireland, England, Olde Europe, as  far back as the Middle Ages.

So then, I ask you, what happens when the great news to tell the bees is actually about the bees themselves? How does one tell them?

What if the bad news involves not being able to deal with those little winged families, and that the "death" is within a business that you have grown to love?

To backtrack: I promised you the truth of this little journey, and as far as I find this road inspiring (and it IS inspiring), I also promised to tell you as much of reality as I could muster...

You may know I am a beekeeper---as was my mother, and grandfather. In fact, some of this old-time beekeeping mayhem has gotten me to Iowa and Illinois, has fueled part of the mini-Beyond Vagabond journey, led me to new friends, and has become part of my life.

The truth is a bit more complicated. The bees which I had worked with, which had made my name and purpose, were not mine, but my ladlord's and landlady's, owned outright by them but worked by me, as part of an urban revitalization project. After almost five years of work, there were differences in vision, and then, this past weekend, I would bid farewell to those animals, as I was suddenly no longer part of the project.

Whether this is temporary, I do not know. To be fair, there are many things afoot, and on shaky ground right now,  but I will say, it's rather like getting part of one's personality chewed off.

There is part of me that knows that I will regroup. It is easy enough, with so much Lifeblood full of beekeeping knowledge, to continue with that journey. There is money enough and time and resources to build. I have met loyal friends and customers, and I would hope they would continue the journey with me. I believe it will happen.

But another part of me laments for those creatures I've lost. Sure, you may laugh--shake your head, even, at the small grief over smaller bugs, all of which look alike. Perhaps it is no consequence for you. But each of those bugs--Apis Mellifera--was a teacher. Each showed me the need for calmness, and the way in which to truly think as they did. I have become a master problem solver, and have bridged a gap from old stories of my grandfather, to a living method of teaching. I was led into awe with each new discovery, and developed a profound respect for the powerful might of these small families.

And mostly, I have grown closer to my mother, who had shared never-before heard stories, some which she had nearly forgotten, because of this little project.

For this, I am forever grateful.....


Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Horse...Is A Horse?

omething about the mountains always calls me.  Pennsylvania, land of Appalachia, teases me with these monumental, mysterious earth-giants.  And, now, here I was, atop one of them, speeding up a mountain road…in search of some horses and driving lessons, to boot.

I had just left the Twisted Sisters (said with fondness!), Tina Sams and Maryanne--herbalists, soap makers, farmers, hip women, and future professional comediennes! Together with Tina’s daughter, Molly, you could not find three more creative, HI-larious, and kind people. This bunch, I daresay, was pretty much kin by the time I put my foot on the gas pedal and left the driveway.

But now…now was another story. The jalopy and I headed the OPPOSITE way of my house.  Little towns became lush forests and we headed up, up, up, until I could actually look down on the vista below. Memories of Upstate New York flooded me--that place held so much promise and so many small, broken dreams--but as always, it was about moving forward. It always was….

I was headed to Newport, PA. By all accounts, it between a small town and large farmlands…and by all accounts, I WOULD get lost, simply because I am a complete albatross on the roadways, direction-wise. I called my hostess--Kris. She ran a driving school, and would know the way. A jovial voice answered “You’ve gone too far,” because I missed a fork in the road. By then, I was looking at eye-high corn on either side of me.

After I rerouted, I managed to come up the gravel drive of a secluded cul-de-sac, and that opened up into beautiful fields. An Appaloosa grazed in the near pasture, a beautiful sight. My nerves and adrenaline were on hyper drive. I had built this crazy moment up in my head.

Months, MONTHS of frustration at not being able to do any of those things on my “want” list (learning to quilt, learning to drive horses, learning to play the fiddle, auditioning for the theater) had me wound on pins and needles.

Kris was a jovial woman, clearly old enough to have been in the horse world for some time. She greeted me with a firm handshake and twinkling eye, and then led me to the farm office nearby their house…

This place was the real deal. A tiny yellow rescue barn kitten ran around the office. Through the screen door, I saw several large chicken and a macho rooster strutting their stuff, on mantels everywhere, there were pictures of a young Kris, jumping and showing horses, and ribbons and trophies…and through the side door, I saw one of the advertised Percherons, eyeing me warily through the side of his stall.  I took it all in, excitedly…

Kris explained her program and I explained what I wanted. Her fee for driving was fair, but she suggested I come every week, which was probably stretching the budget. We talked about leasing horses, we talked about various things…and while I understood her standpoint of making a living, I realized it would be hard to get as much hands on experience as I would like, unless I found some extra means for money. I wasn’t 100% dissuaded, but it gave me pause. Plus, I realized that the distance between her and I was a bit more than I had originally expected, so the cost of gas was pushing the project right to the very limit.

I tried asking for a barter situation. What’s a farming/mountain woman wanna-be to do? I had no problem paying for certain things up front for sure, but I hoped to barter for some extras. Unfortunately, but understandably, she declined…but my heart sank a little anyway, and I started wondering about alternative ways to make up for any possible money discrepancies, anyway.

Undeterred, I decided to follow Kris out to meet the horses anyway.  The barn was huge, clearly well kept. We rounded into the stalls, where her magnificent Percherons were kept, and we seemed to hopscotch between the classic white, and black horses, looking at one or another in every other stall. And they WERE gorgeous, giant beasts that towered over one's head, and each gentle and friendly as kittens.

...But that was the problem, they were TOO friendly.  Each of them, though quiet and kind--and stunningly beautiful--would immediately walk straight up at me, inadvertently crowding me in order to sniff my hair, shirt, eye me. Again, there was no malice to a one of them, but there is something quite jangling about a beast so huge that their chin hairs brush the top of your hairline, and there they are towering directly over you.  I was waiting for their owner to command or move them back, and it never happened. This was a stark comparison to Joe's Percheron's, who waited for YOU to meet them, never daring to cross the invisible threshold between man and beast.

Kris sort of laughed it off, moved them briefly, and continued to talk as they sidled up again.  I  was a bit concerned, to say the least...and at one point, I even broke out the most basic of ground training an gently poked my two fingers into the clavicle of one of the mares. Immediately, she gave to the gentle resistance and moved backwards, as any well trained horse should. So I wasn't sure that the owner was just nervous or chatty, or wasn't too worried about the horses, but she wasn't asking them for proper and respectable space.

And so I left with the feeling of nervousness...and some worry....was I making too much of it? Was I expecting too much, with too little experience.  There was nothing but confusion and unease...and THAT would be the theme of days yet to come.....

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Countryside Chronicles III: Into the Countryside

"Stop the Car!" I yelled to my cohorts, sisters Maryanne and Tina.  We had been riding around the beautiful countryside of Manheim (or was it Mount Joy?), amongst Amish farmsteads and rolling hills...and as we rounded the corner, there stood the vision of TWO horses and a large mule, pulling a harrow that dug up a large field. A boy straddled the equipment, already an expert in his young age.

Foolish as it was, I wouldn't have minded pitching myself right out of our moving vehicle, just to be able to trot up to the lad, and ask him HOW DO YOU DO THAT?  Nevermind that he would have taken one look at my crazy hair, and probably the dirt and mud I'd have accrued from flying headlong outside of a moving automobile...and probably pronounced me something straight from the underworld...no, I wanted to know. How, OH HOW did you train those animals to do that? What was this secret that I forever seemed to be on the other end of?

But no, my women friends managed to talk me from the plummet and rolling part, and off we went....

Along the journey, we would see charming farm stands just idly up by the road, or signs for BROWN EGGS. PEACHES. SWEET CORN. We finally stopped at a farm that had RAW MILK and RAW MILK ICE CREAM.  I can't help it, I've always liked milk the way my mother's generation had it. And in Pennsylvania, it's legal to sell raw milk.  We turned down the road (driveway?) to what would be a Mennonite farm. Their huge barn and farmyard housed several large, bug eyed Holsteins. Two young boys puttered with some sort of farm tractor. The farm wife, bonnetted and paisley aproned, was on a lawn mower in front of the house. She waved curtly as we swung into the front of a little farm store, the screen door waggling behind us as we found ourselves in front of a bare room with freezers and a refrigerator.

But...it was charming. A little board had the day's items and prices. There was an open cash register with cash and coins laid out; this place was working on the honor system, and I loved that.

I was happy to find jumbo eggs for sale at $1.75 a dozen (!!) and the raw milk in Harrisburg is almost $7.00 a gallon. Here? THREE WHOLE BUCKS (!!!)  I bought one of each and made a note to visit this place everytime I visited the sisters. I supposed I would have gorged on the $4 a gallon raw milk icecream, but how would I transport it back?

Soon enough, it was time to go drove around for a little while more, finding secrets along every road and curve. Eventually though, the sun was going down and we were off to another fun "chore."

If I hadn't divulged it before, I say now that Maryanne makes soap. Fantabulous soap. Dare I say soap as good as my super duper soap-maker and farmer friend (and writer!) Donna OShaughnessy.  Maryanne's was on par with that good soap, but it was different. Different oils, colors, designs...which is why there can be many good soapmakers out there....and I was in for a treat--I would watch Maryanne and Tina make soap.

Their soap making headquarters is actually a sweet little storefront originally made for the Christmas Tree farm Maryanne's husband runs on the farm. It has since morphed into a cozy workspace with oils, essences and soap ingredients, and has an area for soap drying. Plenty of wonderful and unusual soap is made here, and you can find these at Lancaster County Soapworks.

The ladies are super-efficient at their craft, mixing and batching soap with skill that comes with running this little business for over a decade. The sisters were funny and insightful, chatting with me about all sorts of things--business advice, life advice. I seeped this in, stunned at their candor and frankness. They told it like it was, without being harsh, and one got the sense that these two should rent themselves out as those sort of Aunties that helped you with everything. In fact, I swear that---should I close my eyes---they were filled with equal amounts of magic and gravity that the Aunts from Practical Magic could very well have been in that room.....

We talked more over a dinner of pizza and ice cream...and I suppose this is a great segue-way to introduce Tina's daughter, Molly. The young lady (I dare say we were all old enough to call her "kid") is a beauty...equally as direct and funny as her mama. I wouldn't have guessed that Tina was someone's mama, but that's only because her spirit is so daredevilish, there is nothing typically domestic about her. Let me be clear though---from what I understand of her life, that she is an absolute amazing mama....I'm still trying to adopt her and her sister as those "Aunts" I was telling you about!

I was quite sad to leave, the next day...but part of the weekend journey also had me going out the opposite way past my house to visit a woman about riding some horses. Ever the mamas that they are--I was given FOUR FREE bars of soap (I think I will be clean for at least a year!), and Tina Tucked some of her homemade applesauce into the box that held the milk and eggs for the trip home.  I loved these people. Loved them.  I was finding kindness everywhere...

Then, as it always seems, I was on the road. Those folkloric Pennsylvania roads would lead me to the horses and horse training of my dreams....or would they?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Country Chronicles II: In The Land Of Women

A long awaited 2nd edition of a weekend adventure; this life is so busy, I've NO TIME to be busy!

"A woman is like a tea bag - you can't tell how strong she is until she gets in hot water" Eleanor Roosevelt

f I think about my journey--the entirety of it, not just a weekend's worth--I realize this: the common thread binding it all....are women. Yes. Women. Strong women. Loud, outrageous and courageous women. Through all of the states I've traveled, they have been friends, co-conspirators, cheerleaders. A million mothers am I blessed with.  Don't get me wrong--there have been husbands, sons, brothers. But the ones that got me there--from Iowa, Illinois, Florida...and even now in PA, are women. They have seen me through everything.

Tina Sams and her sister Maryanne, are no different. When I last left you, we had just left another amazing woman, Sarah Preston, who had seen me audition to teach dance at her radiant shoppe, Radiance. I was amazed also, to know, that she has gotten her first hive, an AMISH made one, and would I like to teach classes?  Why yes, that I would. We talk about apiary matters, for some moments, but soon enough, Tina and Maryanne have me whisked away.

There is much to do. They have soap orders to deliver to the historic Landis Valley Museum. But first, we rush across the cobblestone street, and over to the large historic Market right in Lancaster City's square.

The place is hopping. Throngs of people walk or dally in front of various farm stands, kiosks and other shoppes that occupy a huge open floor plan. Everything, and I mean, EVERYTHING but the kitchen sink is in here. A Doggie bakery brushes against a blown glass stand, and sweet shoppes display mouth watering calorie whoppers. An Ethiopian deli neighbors a little quilt stand where a be-kerchiefed Amish grandma steadily sews--on sight--as quilted bags, purses, potholders, and more harken to another time.

I am overwhelmed...in a delighted way! Too much good food and good vibes over the loud and happy din of busy shoppers supporting local farmers and artisans....just what a gal like me likes to see.   We don't have time to dally--we are still due at the museum, but Tina and Maryanne buy soft pretzels from a happy vendor and she laughs at our jokes. They kindly offer me one....tasty stuff!

Then we are off, piled into Maryanne's car. We talk about the neighborhoods we are passing, and the two share a bit of history about Landis Valley. Seems that two antique-farm collecting brothers had gotten themselves tons of old farm equipment, and these eventually became the foundation of Landis Valley. Basically, the place is a beautiful historic property with buildings, structures, and more based on old Dutch/German farms. There are driving horses (more on this later), an heirloom seed project, and lovely old buildings and shoppes.

Soon enough, we pull into the main gift shoppe, which looks like a beautiful old Shaker saltbox construction. Inside, the ladies talk with the shoppe owner whilst I peruse the goods for sale. Beautiful redware pie plates, figurines, and even Christmas ornaments glint at me from shelves. Old woven rag rugs, beeswax candles, tin candle holders and treenware are for sale, as are handmade brooms, woolen items and other primitive wonders. I was in love. Tina shows me upstairs where tolle-ware, free hand cut out pictures (a Pennsylvania tradition), and more beautiful items awaited. I wondered how I could stow away, to permanently be surrounded by this beauty.

Soon enough, the handmade soap was offered up, and we were off...but not before we went to the main desk. My lovely benefactors wanted to MAKE SURE that I spoke with someone about the horse driving program. Tina was sure I could volunteer with the horses, but I had no luck on the phone, getting permission to do this.  The girl at the front desk, though baby-faced, was tenacious. She gave us THREE different numbers, and was sure I would get a response. I thanked her profusely, impressed by her spirit of helpfulness.  Since it was the weekend, I would pursue the matter once Monday hit.

From there, we hit the local burger joint....but there was nothing ordinary about it (though I dare say now, my old-age memory fails me for a name!).  The menu didn't sling greasy meat and potatoes...nosiree! This place was high-falutin': an interesting assortment of burgers--including vegetarian fare...and sides, were the name of the game. In fact, we had spicy fried mushrooms for a side, and I had a burger made of CHICKPEAS, with cucumber and a toasty bun. Maryanne, I remember, had a sort of apple crisp between two pieces of toasted bread. An unusual meal, with great conversation.

After that, and a moment at Tina's house, we did a most usual AND unusual thing...they actually honored my request to just drive around the countryside which, by luck, was their neighborhood. Yes, mightily exciting stuff, right?  But, indeed, THAT, to me, was exciting. I remember--too, at some moment--both mentioning how they hadn't realized,  in some time, how lovely and lucky they were. I suppose when you've lived in a place long enough, you will find a thing very mundane. I could say the same thing about the large city which I lived in--it's interesting to see excitement through a tourist's eyes, I suppose.

But truly--we went past yellow corn fields, plummeting roads that overswept old white centurian barns...zoomed past lowing black and white cows, past fields and fields of weeds that had names by people a century ago. We joked every time a saw a horse that I'd grab one and fling it in the back seat of the car. We laughed and told stories. We rounded bends with streams, watched hawks and crows dive, and...and...

We took a sharp corner past a corn field and on the other side, my heart stopped...there on the other side of a field, stood a kid--maybe fourteen or fifteen. And he was standing on a harrow, pulled by two drafts and a mule!  Foolish, indeed, but I literally yelled out with excitement...for what person like me sees such a thing this close with her own eyes. Actually, what of ANY of it had I seen. Every moment was a picture perfect post card, seared into my head...for eternity and a day...and here I was, with two new women friends, to share it all....

And there was still more to come....

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Countryside Chronicles I

ather ‘round, My Lovelies, for this story is one that might best be told around campfires and gatherings and such…at least I’d like to think so.  I suppose, in many ways, this isn’t the first story about what happens to a wild-haired city girl, when she dares venture into the wily countryside, and yet, each encounter is its own fingerprint, unique and stand-alone.

You will find the fruits of my weekend as shown above, with these wonderful little trophies found along the journey. Truth is, they are but a small representation of that time,  lovely tokens of a far grander picture. I found the stoneware (and antique way to hold old kitchenware), and the two rolling pins (for future old-timey bread baking, and each a dollar, to boot!), at an old antique outdoor market near Lancaster. The soaps were a gift from Soap-making/herbalist/editor in chief/general mischief maker sisters. All in all, not a bad score for a weekend outing. Honest-to-goodness, though, that wasn’t the finest prize to be had….

So sit back, my Friends, and enjoy this story, and you will understand the Countryside Chronicles….

This tale is one that is typical in two ways: it involves the splendor of the country, and it involves some amazing women. Which is just the right mixture for abundance and--of course--mayhem. Do not put a group of high spirited females together and expect less than magic, I tell you...and you can take that statement to the bank.

I had been out into the countryside, a couple of weeks back, and spend a good deal of time, then, with artist friends Carolee Clark and Jen MacNeill-Traynor. I had also spend a few hours with friends Tina Sams and her sister Maryanne, who lived a bit further up, in Manheim, which was far more rural than Jen and Carolee’s small town environs.

It wasn’t until this trip around, actually spending a night amongst the sisters, that I would fully understand their surroundings and, to some degree, why these dames were so funny and vivacious.

Somewhere beyond long, rounded roadways, beautiful corn and cow fields, and old barns and spring-houses, is a Christmas tree farm. As outlandish---or at least unique--as this place seems in the midst of old-time conventional farming, it’s unpredictability mirrors the sisters who live in this magical place.

Tina Sams is the editor of The Essential Herbal, been an herbalist for more than two decades and, in many ways, paved the way for herbalists after her. Her magazine is superb, a full compendium of every way to use herbs, and other related herb topics. Her sister Maryanne and her husband Bob, own the Christmas tree farm, living on the opposite side of Tina, on a most spectacular piece of property. Behind the evergreen branches, you will find berries and herbs and fruit and nut trees tucked away. And beyond these, an enchanted little cottage holds a wholesale soap business of Maryanne’s, with Tina as an astute assistant.

These ladies are a hoot, to say the least. They’ve been around the block, painted the town red, and have the funny and insightful tales to tell. Within minutes of seeing them in action, I could tell that they both are a barrel of laughs, like just enough good clean fun, and are kindhearted people. They are also extremely clever business women, and willing to lend an ear, and plenty of advice in regards to helping others with theirs.

My trip to see them would also include a few other wonderful women--and I was country-bound, actually, for reasons that had nothing to do with visiting. See, you may remember I have this dancing fever. It was quite a part of my youth and I haven’t quite managed to shake it. So I drag my old(er) bones 'round and teach dance, and it would be no different in this case.

Sarah Preston is the radiant proprietress of the equally titled Radiance, an amazing shoppe that carries herbs, oils, holistic items and much more revelrie in an enchanted space. Sarah herself is the picture of kindness and beauty and was nothing but supportive when I mentioned to her that I taught dance. She wanted to host classes, and I would stop by that weekend to show her some of my fancy moves.  So off we went--Tina, Maryanne, and I--over the river and woods and into the heart of Lancaster City.

I hadn’t an inkling that Lancaster--the proverbial heart of Amish Country--had a CITY, but it reminded me of a trendy downtown…full of art galleries, cafes, outdoor parks, and other little charming nooks and crannies that make such places appealing. Not the hustle and bustle of mad metropolises such as New York, this place was quaint, if busy.  Old buildings stood as historic sentinels, and in the middle of this, on the third floor of an old brick colonial place, was Radiance.

The place swirled with color and light, and I met lovely Sarah and was ushered into the large dance space, festooned with Indian sari and batik fabrics.   I did two routines, and then suddenly, the sisters and I were off and running, out into Lancaster County and it's outskirts.....

Yes, it’s not quite a country tale, but when we were done, there was FAR more bedlam to come.  Farmer Market Mayhem, Countryside Romps,  Soap Making, and the horse and wagon tale that…wasn’t!

And THAT, my Lovelies, is Tomorrow’s Tale!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

On All Four Hooves...

s you may have heard, I have a slight horse predilection.

It's a fever, People, and it's been far too long since I've let the horsen ways stick in my craw, and gut....and just exactly how do you propose a horse and wagon project without a horse?

I've actually been a little despondent about it lately, truth be told. I mean, here I was, breaking a sweat--if not my back--in a crazy physical job that, while satisfying (and keeping me seriously THIN), was not at all what I'd thought I'd see myself doing.....

But...but....I was near Lancaster county which, by some lore, legends, or nearby gossip, was olden horse country. The Amish lived here, and generation's worth of farmers, and they all had horses, or knew of those who did.

So imagine all the moving, all of the job training, all of the uncertainty, all of the running around--fun as some of it was--but....no horses.  Yes, there are colorful costumes for dance, and drumming, and growing of free and tasty food. But not a hoof in sight.

Oh, I drove by them plenty o' times--darn near crashed the work van just wanting to stop on the highway...but no. Dutifully, I sped right by beautiful pastures and stunningly ancient barns and forgot about the farms, headed to another client in my modern day job. Ahh, life is a jagged little edge some days. 

Who lived on these farms, I wondered? How did they afford these near obsolete giants? Did they still use them to work? The storyteller in me concocted passels of stories, any number of possibilities, for these phantom farmers that I never saw, and their bucolic properties.

Amongst these stories, I'd hoped to add mine but...as with so much lately, the ending isn't certain....or maybe it is??   Finally, finally, I've connected with a farm that actually TEACHES this sort of thing! Right in the heart of Central PA, there is a beautiful farm that works with Percherons...a great sign as they are my favorite breed of large horse (besides the Gypsy horse, but I'd have to marry the King of Prussia to afford one!)

And so, this weekend, I am off on a merry-go-round adventure: a dance audition of Eastern proportions, a cup of tea--or more--with friends, and the big visit with the horse-driving whisperers! Wish me luck!

It's an exciting time---let's hope us all stand on all feet, and all four hooves....

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Houseful of Wishes

I am being stared at, by hares, as the sun breaks over the horizon, jetting the entire dawn sky pink. I smile, staring at the hasenpfeffers, as I whiz by their early curbside breakfast, realizing how perfectly insane that view from my driver’s window would be, a couple of weeks ago, in New York City.

But these two weeks have been a whirlwind and a revelation. I think about this, as I turn the corner, the one with the old white-washed 1800’s house with the saffron robes hanging on the washing line. I smile, knowing that a week ago, I discovered a Buddhist Monk living their, the stark contrast of house and owner making me grin even more. Even here, it is New Yawka strange.

I turn a corner, the one with the small modern house which boasts a colonial barn that has been converted into a two-car garage. This sort of jumbled modern and prim living, the long rolling hills, the strange winding roads, are the charm that have plastered themselves into my heart. It is a ragtag world quilted into a bodacious world here, full of surprises and beauty amongst it’s everyday living. I am swooning with the atmosphere of it.

But mostly, I am happy about today’s journey which--unlike the past two weeks--highlights an unusual celebration; I am about to set down roots, if even for a short time. Indeed, this little car of mine carries a few humble boxes, half of my life. And for a year and a day, I will be ensconced in a teeny cottage, a temporary home.

Here, there will be work, but there will be other opportunities. There are wishes to be had here, dreams to continue and work on. There are bittersweet ponderings, too, as I wonder if my father would ever approve of this latest crazy scheme. I think of him, this past Father’s Day, fresh as a widow bride, and there is grief but small smiles as I realize he would have understood, for I was the daughter --as he would say--“as crazy as I am.”

And so my world is about unveiling small trinkets, pocketfuls of hope, old things I have acquired in journeys, and other sentimentalities...

           There is more wistfulness unpacking this little world than expected, as I realize I am
      doing it alone, and somewhere I hope that there is a man missing me as much as I miss him.

It is a far away and crazy risk I am taking here, there are parts of me that don’t know what I am doing here, and parts of me that isn’t surprised one bit by this capriciousness.

In the meantime, I am hoping so many little hold-your-breath hopes, during this year of so much stretching. They are big and small hopes, but all real and meaningful in my humble, furniture-less house. As with everything, there are so many possibilities,  these little ideas written in scrawl from so long ago...such as….

1. Planting a real garden
2. Preserving some food
3. Continuing folk art
4. Returning to some sort of performing arts
5. Finally playing the fiddle (Big Red did end up in PA, after all!)
6. Horses, horses, horses---of course(s)!
7. Starting a barter community
8. Writing, and writing some more…

And that’s just for starters. I know it sounds ambitious, but the clock never stops ticking. There is a life to be lived, in this House of Wishes. I only hope to muster enough courage and energy to do it all.

And so it is, the year of wishes…

So I ask you, my Friends: what are YOUR wishes?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Enchanted Town

If this picture reminds you of an enchanted forest, you are only half right.  Instead, this ancient greenery lives in a storied town..and that, my Friends, has always been Pennsylvania’s charm.  This bygone place celebrates roots as old as some of the trees here, it’s colonial history written in every settled place.
If you are an old-fashionista like me, this will make your antique-loving heart beat a wee bit faster. And mine does, for one such magical little town called Mechanicsburg, just a stone’s throw from where I reside.

From what I understand, this place was aptly named in its heyday, when it was considered the dead-last stop to go to have your wagon checked, before people headed out en masse out West, during the mass exodus post Civil War--to get land out there-- and to find gold during the gold rush era.

Mechanicsburg was the place to go to get wagon parts, check wagons, and other such notions, and the little town hints that some folks did, indeed, make small fortunes in the wagon business. I suspect other stores popped up around this hub, and my minds eye wanders to proper women in Victorian garb, business men and sweaty brow laborers, charm and ingenuity and commerce and etiquette. The tales of this town, the old stories, are here now, left by history to feed our imaginations….

Old houses line the streets...

                                                         One curiously named pub....

For those with a yen for the "mountain man" style...

                                              I suspect some of my Iowa friends would love this....

                                                      An old Victorian style mansion....

                              Old whitewash and lattice gingerbread work around the porch....

                                             The budding fiddler in me will be visiting this joint!  

                                                     Olde world charm in the details!

                                                  Picturesque lovely scenes everywhere....

                The highlight of the place seems to be this scrumptious old house--splashed to the
                                                           10's with old details...

                                                 A view from below....................

                                          This was at a backyard of an herbal store!

                                                      And now we say goodbye....

Until next time, dear Friends!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The First Week....

t’s mad as hares, ‘round here; the world, or my tiny corner of it, roils with its own kind of busy-ness. Mind you, it’s not a big city type of run-around, that sort is more about catch up travel and hustling.

No. This is the the sort of busy that has one feeling productive, accomplished, and full of wonderment. Or, perhaps, there is time to just savor it all.

The highlights to my busy seven day adventure

The Never Ending Fruit Patch: People, I have never seen so much free (and tasty!) food. As I mentioned before, the boss-friend has generously allowed me to pick some of the beautiful berries on his little farmstead, and forty cups of strawberries later (not including those that magically popped into my mouth somewhere between picking and refrigeration!) I am awash in berry goodness. There have been strawberry jams, strawberry shakes, strawberry shortcakes…..strawberry overload, but I’m not complaining!

The Vegas Kitty:  Animal high drama ensued when boss friend’s  TWENTY year old cat disappeared for three days. Yes, Warren was upset (who wouldn’t be?) but having spent one of my own nine lives as a vet tech, I knew that felines were a wily bunch. Some part of me guessed that she actually was off taking a jaunt in the large great outdoors, and that she would probably be back.  Warren was sure she had been hit by a car, attacked by stray cats, or had gone off to die.

“No,” I assured him, “she’s like one of those little old ladies taking a road trip---they go to Atlantic City or Las Vegas and play the slots,” I joked.

This seemed like a good thought--but by day two of Missing Kitty, spirits were low. I had suspected the animal would be home by dinner time the night before, and the next morning without the cat brought a somber reality to everything.

Day three continued the grey mood, and the day echoed this by bringing rain and dark clouds. We slogged through work and ran back to the farm.  As we rounded the corner of the farmstead house, I heard a plaintive wail amongst the sounds of the downpour. Just as I put two and two together, Warren sauntered from the other side of the house proudly carrying one very wet, elderly cat. Shed been huddled up along the carport, having come from who-knows-where.

We were soaked, but I had to laugh. “I told you she went to Vegas, and the casino. From now on I shall call her Vegas Kitty.”

Run, Rabbit, Run: New York is known for many things, but cars dodging random rabbits on the road? Not so much. Yet here, on THREE different occasions, I had to truly test my granny driving skills in order to avoid smooshing fluffy bunnies. Toto, we’re not in…New York anymore.

Lost: Yes, I was, often, and usually while on a road. Or a highway. I’m afraid I’ve been spoiled by the steel machined world and the mechanics of the mass transit system of the Big Apple. It’s easy to not pay attention to where one is going, if a train or bus conductor does this for you. It’s much harder to then navigate a totally foreign system  in a different state, a never ending labyrinth of exits and off paths. There is no apt description to the hilarity (or panic) that ensues when one takes ONE hour to get to a location FIVE miles away.

Squirrel Adventures: The boss-friend is constantly trying to keep squirrels off of the farmette, but this is admittedly hard to do when one has nectarine, apple, and peach trees. The codgers love the food growing here, so boss-friend is constantly using humane traps to grab them. He then takes them off into another neighborhood to release them. On my excursion back to my place later, one day, he asked me to take the latest “prisoner” to release it in my area. I blinked. Stared blankly at him. I’d never released a squirrel before. He assured me that this was perfectly safe, even placed the cage in the back of the car with a brick weighing down the front to keep the squirrel from crawling out. Of course, there was a wee bit of concern when I made a drastic turn (on one of those maddening highways) and I heard the THUMP of the brick as it fell off of the cage.

However, all is well that ends well since the squirrel didn’t budge, and then made a mad capped flying dash out of the cage once I opened it. Happy Journeys squirrel friend--may you avoid being caught in the future!


I picked asparagus for the first time.
I found a patch of wild garlic…and later scrambled it into an egg.
I went to a cute town made up completely of old historic houses…


Thursday, June 7, 2012

First Day in PA: The Strawberry Queen

It had already been a crazy morning.

I had just finished stuffing less than half my life into an obscenely overpriced little economy rental car (though it had great gas mileage!), and had nearly been flattened by mad traffic on the George Washington bridge off-ramp, on the way out of New York. That would be the LAST insult New York City would sling at me, though, because I was headed to PENNSYLVANIA.

Pennsylvania, she had been subconsciously calling me for some time, I guess. How can the old fashioned sort, like myself, resist the charms of such a place? Here was the antiqued state, beveled as far back as Revolutionary history, still steeped in nature, full of farmland, and old-world ghosts…and mostly, full of heavy horses and people who knew how to work them.

I was curious about that place. I wanted to be further out of the city, I wanted to learn old hand-me-down traditions and crafts. I wanted to explore forests, grow my own food, ride behind a round draft horse, and just breathe out. Nowhere in the Big Apple did I feel I could do that, and here was a grand opportunity.

But I surprised myself. I was packing, boxing up bits and pieces of ten years of my life. And I started to miss the godforsaken place. When could I go back to the Metropolitan Museum? Would this really be my last time on a subway? What about my community of friends?

But Pennsylvania…that was another story. There were artist friends, out there, somewhere amongst those verdant hills…but where? And would there truly be time to fulfill some of those crazy projects whilst holding down a year-long position. Heck, would they even LIKE me?

The answer lay within minutes of my crossing the border to that great state. My employer, also a roundabout friend of the family, promptly grabbed the myriad boxes and bags from my overstuffed car, helped me return the little cruiser to it’s rental agency, and off we went.

He first showed me his little urban farm. I’d seen it before--a curious establishment sandwiched interestingly behind a warehouse and car business. I found this to be the case in certain areas near Harrisburg--the odd mishmash of quaint houses neighbored up against warehouses and industrial businesses. It seemed rather jarring--old wooden historical structures against concrete, sterile buildings.

Nevertheless, my boss-friend seemed to make it work for him. On three-fourths of an acre, he grew an impossible array of things, a tiny mecca of farm goodness, out of nowhere. There were peach trees, green with peaches-yet-to-come. There were teeny pears on a pear tree. Raspberry canes shot out of one side of a shed. There were wayward grape vines, there were plots of lettuce, onions, tomatoes and basil. There was a mulberry tree, hanging with fruit. But mostly, mostly, there were strawberries. And they were ripe.

                    The ten foot monster known as the strawberry patch. Hiding amongst these leaves
                                              were   enough red berries to feed a small town

People, people:  I have never seen so much free fruit for the picking. A huge swatch of strawberry leaves stood along one stone railing along one end of Warren’s farm. That daft patch of strawberries was roughly ten feet long--a massive, long, corridor of sweet berries. When my friend told me that I could pick my own strawberries..that, in fact, he had THREE HUGE BOWLS of them still in his fridge, because he was so overrun with them…well, who could resist?

Folks, I can tell you that I think I picked half a quart right then. Tons of berries, obscene amounts of those tasty red treats--and that even THEN, there were still more on the vine(!), well, what can I say? I have NEVER had that happen in New York. Free food? Outrageous. But within an hour, I had enough fruit to dare to think up jam and baking recipes with them.

And the day was NOT done!  My boss friend then drove me around to get a feel of the countryside, and the countryside we did see. Within sheer minutes of pulling out of a suburbian alcove, we were staring at large postcard scenes--barns, bright fields, beautiful rolling trees, cows…the whole shebang. We turned down a curvy road, sped past a U-pick strawberry farm (oh, the irony!) and stopped into a cute country store that boasted an Amish type vegetable grocery setup complete with large home baked goods section, herbs, and tons of great produce. Without hesitation, I grabbed a whoopee pie. People, if you have not had a whoopee pie, you may not have lived, not completely, in my book. The thing is considered Pennsylvania country authentic--two soft cookie type cakes, with whipped filling in between…sorta like those oatmeal cream pie with filling in between, except mine was far, far better. I had the pumpkin pie with cream cheese filling. No, there weren’t even crumbs left when I finished polishing it off.

From there, we went to the local giant nursery/plant wholesaler, Ashcombe. It was a giant place full of all things garden-ish, but super-sized---greenhouses held plants of every make, size, shape, and flowerage possible. The main store was a large and long place that held all sorts of magic--the outer section had birdhouses, birdbaths, a plethora of seeds, watering cans in various styles, whirlygigs and stone statues. We could have been there forever, in this Eden maze, but we were there to see bees!  There was a glass bee display--perhaps you've seen them? A few frames from a hive are sandwiched between glass--so that one can see the inner workings of bees. These were a pretty strong colony, full of brood (babies), pollen (no honey yet!) and a small army of bees. We didn't see the queen, which wasn't unusual, but overall, it was a happy little colony.

Whilst still at Ashcombe, my boss friend met with a young girl he knew, who told him about a local festival at Boiling Springs, a few towns over, and it was happening that day. Which meant, of course, that we must go over!  After whizzing around for a few minutes, we stopped at the most picturesque town I'd ever seen. Historic buildings, ones with Olde English overtones, stoned and chimneyed, flanked every curvy road. Hedges and trees boasted colorful birds, crows and jays calling. The focal point of the place aptly named the town, for indeed, there was a large lake that wended back to a creek and then an offpoint where a spring bubbled forth.  In the creek were various ducks and, enchantingly, swans, which seemed to be there of their own volition (though I have yet to see swans in ponds, anywhere lately).

There was an outdoor arts festival afoot, and we managed to wind our way past happy family crowds, up hills and down around historic districts to visit with vendors parked in colorful rows along sidewalks. Their wares were impressive--most were small artisans with pottery, woven rugs, stained glass, amazing painters, wood workers, and more. My FAVORITE was the older couple whose booth was nothing but beeswax ornaments. A large variety were amassed, in various colors, and some obviously scented with oils. The whole place was perfumed delight! I spoke with them briefly, and hoped to catch up with them another time.

Finally, finally, we went home. If this was the FIRST DAY, in Pennsylvania, what could possibly lay AHEAD??

Sunday, June 3, 2012

May You Be On the Road...

You are here to live your most authentic life. I say this to those who question why I'm bandying about on this strange adventure. I say this to those who have told me that they DREAM about doing the same sort of things they read at this same small reading spot. And I say this to remind myself, whenever I am scared, that this is one heck of a ride.  Life is short, My Friends.  Do not wait, do not talk yourself out of, everything you love. It took me a long time to learn this, myself.

I sit here between two worlds--one leaves the Midwest, it's beautiful faces, it's kind hands holding one up, it's strangers so willing to become family. I leave it's long golden acres and old, staid farmhouses. I leave friends with names and histories, of animals, husbands, and children of some remarkable women that I consider kin.

There are old stories there, great homemade food, and vast vistas that will burn my eyes, and break my heart, forever. There are funny moments and moments resplendent with deep thought. It has been a beacon to my small sorrows and urban-phobia. It saddens me to know it may be some time until I return here to this charmed place again. Somewhere in the last part of my chest, I will remember a million beautiful old barns, placid cows, winding roads. Illinois and Iowa will haunt and inspire me--they are beautiful twin ghosts. Like something or someone who has just saved my life, I will never forget them, and those goodly friends that I have met on their calm and dusty roads...I could go on and on thanking them, the gratitude in my heart over-pouring, and still feel it were never enough.

Meanwhile, the new kid on the block lives out East. With wild green hair, dress of colonial stone, accessorized in Revolutionary history, and all quilted together, Pennsylvania is my new mistress. She is a year-long opportunity to do many things unheard of in New York, and a chance to challenge myself to be more independent. I tremble out of excitement and fear, equally, a near-ingenue to this game.  I have no idea about this marriage between that state, and I, but I am looking forward to this extended honeymoon, despite so many trepidations. I leave one table full, but still wanting dessert. This, so far, has been one amazing feast...

And so hereI am on this road..still. And my hop is that you be on the road you wish, forever...