Celebrations Ahead

Spring cleaning has commenced!  We are powering through it this year, because in the next 25 days' time, we will be celebrating two family birthdays, Easter, and having a baby shower at our house.  My favorite room to spring clean is the formal dining room.  It's a chance to play with all the china, crystal, and silver.  Everything sparkling and clean at the end.

It's also been an excellent time to take stock...enough tea cups for the baby shower?...how to set the table?...how many chairs will be needed?...what will the Easter table setting be this year?...do we have a table cloth long enough?...what sort of flowers shall we use?  Way more fun that spring cleaning bathrooms!

The Many Faces of Spring in New Hampshire

Two days ago, it was all fog and rain and puddles and mud.

Yesterday, I was admiring the pansies at the garden center (and contemplating the wisdom of buying them).

And today, this was the view out the window...three to five more inches of snow.

I'm glad I came home with a fern for house, instead of pansies for outdoors.

Dappled Copper Leaves

Unlike the rest of the deciduous trees in New England that go out in a blaze of splendor in the autumn of the year, the beech trees tenaciously cling to their leaves all through the winter.  They hold tightly to them through all the snows of winter, through all the ice that coats them.  Soon, on one particularly breezy spring day, they will blow away and be replaced by fresh, new leaves.  But for now, I'm enjoying their glorious dappled copper color, made even more vibrant by a day of rain.

And I'm a bit captivated by how the leaves are almost an exact match to the cedar shingles on the garden shed.

Small Town Wanderings

Colette and Max each had their "must do before winter ends" list, and I've done my best to make them happen.

Last week, I took Max and his friends for one last hurrah of snowboarding/skiing.  Instead of our local mountain, they wanted to try out the big slopes at Mt. Snow in Vermont.  So, I dropped them off for a day of fun.

Two hour drive there, two hour drive back, and the whole day to explore the Vermont countryside for me.  I headed over to Bennington, Vermont, where I browsed through an antique store, discovered the local museum is closed only on Wednesdays (that very day), and drove about looking at the historic homes in town.

Spotted this beautiful, old church.

And I drove down a street lined with wonderful, historic homes to the site of this obelisk that commemorates the Battle of Bennington in the American Revolution.

This week (which technically is spring, although it's still so cold here), Colette and I headed over to Vermont for a bit of antique shopping and a stop at the Cabot Cheese Shop, where Colette proclaimed, "Cheese makes me dance!"  Then we popped back over the border into New Hampshire, did a bit of shopping, and stopped at our favorite gelato shop for one last chance this winter to get their decadent Italian hot chocolate.  I ordered dark chocolate hot chocolate with a scoop of fragola (strawberry) gelato.  Yum!  Tastes just like a chocolate covered strawberry!

The long goodbye to winter is mostly done...I think.  

Snowshoeing Treks

Lately, we've been able to go trekking with our new snowshoes.  I bought them for all of us for Christmas.  It was a little odd adding in a gift for myself, but I knew the store would be sold out if I waited until after Christmas when everyone would insist I had to go get myself a pair too.

So, with great excitement, we set off down a trail in our town one Sunday afternoon.  I took about six steps and one of my snowshoes broke.  A bolt...lost.  Fortunately, the snow on the trail was quite packed, so I just returned the snowshoes to the car and continued on foot.  Here are a few pictures from that first expedition.

Having some experience with the trail now, we knew it would be a great place to bring the dog the next time we went.  The trail was easy walking, and yet the deep snow on the sides would discourage her from bolting off into the woods if she saw something intriguing...squirrel, fox, etc.  At first we kept her on the leash, but there was really no need.  So, we let her off and she was ecstatic.  Just look at that happy face!

She'd race ahead of us, then turn around and run back for loves and pets, then race ahead again.  She must have run the trail three times over!

Fresh air.  Exercise.  Fun with the family.  Fun for the dog.  We love it!

Gently Easing into Spring

Happy First Day of Spring!  While some of you may already be enjoying warm temperatures and green grass, things are a bit different here in northern New England.  I've learned to take a cue from the natural world in embracing the coming spring.  No flowers outside yet...temperatures still in the 30's.  So, I've learned to slowly and gently embrace spring, and take it as it comes.

Today, I sorted through my scarf drawer and pulled to the top all the ones in beautiful spring colors.  I will still need to bundle up for a few more weeks, but I can freshen up the wardrobe with lighter, brighter colors.

And as spring shows itself in tiny ways here, I made tiny changes.  The first day of spring means it's time to lighten up the decorating...in tiny steps.  Today, I turned the antique coverlet to it's lighter side.  It shows its indigo side in autumn and winter.

One of the hallmarks of early spring in New England is sugar season!  The sap is running and the sugar houses are busy making syrup...perfuming the air with sticky sweet steam and wood smoke!  I was thrilled to find this antique Currier & Ives print with its depiction of sugaring off time from long ago.  It reminds me that springtime in New England is what it is...cold, but wonderful in its own way!

English Country Dance

On a recent day, with the snow softly falling, Technohubby and I attended our first English country dance, held at this beautiful building in a nearby town.

We've done a fair amount of dancing in the past, but English country dancing, as we were to learn, is a bit different from straight contra dancing.  For the first time in a long time, we were the least experienced dancers in the room.  That's a bit intimidating, but everyone makes mistakes and people were very patient with our occasional errors.

Some delights of the day included:

- Feeling like we just stepped into a Jane Austen novel (or movie)...ever so lovely!

- Noticing the difference in English country dancing...a bit more elegant, a little more space between people, the beautiful music, the fun call of "set to your partner".

- Live music provided by a violinist and a pianist (on a Steinway)!

- Friendly people!

- Dancing to the tune of "In the Bleak Midwinter", one of my favorite Christmas carols.

- Dancing the dance that Emma and Mr. Knightly dance together in the movie "Emma" (Gwyneth Paltrow version).

- Refreshments served on real plates.  I know this may sound silly, but I just so appreciated that someone was thoughtful enough to provide solid, ironstone plates and would care enough to wash them all at the end of the day.

Here's a quick video snippet of the dancing.  Enjoy!

Rolling in Her Grave

My Irish great-great grandmother would be rolling in her grave at how badly I've muddled St. Patrick's Day this year.  Normally, I'm quite passionate about holidays...adding a few touches around the house, planning a special meal, etc.  This year, however, St. Patrick's Day completely slipped my mind while planning the week's menus.  And despite my Irish heritage, I am most decidedly not a fan of corned beef and cabbage, so planning an Irish meal requires a bit more thought than grabbing a cabbage and a slab of meat.  It was while grocery shopping that I realized I'd forgotten to plan a suitably Irish meal for today. What to do?  I happened to be standing directly in front of the brownie mixes.  I made a quick decision to give myself some grace and not stress about a whole meal, and a brownie mix with some chopped up Andes mints would be our St. Patrick's Day treat this year.  We'd pretend that had something (anything) to do with St. Patrick's Day.

So, in the end, I cooked some pasta (think Italian).  I sauteed some sliced jalapeno chicken sausages with a sliced onion (hmm...more of a Mexican flavor now).  And Colette whipped up a delicious cheesy cream sauce and added a little cayenne pepper and red pepper flakes for a bit of a kick.  When it was all tossed together, the melding of flavors was decidedly more Cajun than anything else.  I served it with a salad.  When we finished, I asked Technohubby, "Well, how did you like your 'Irish' dinner?"  His response, "Well, the salad was green."  We all had a good laugh!

And for the record, when you cook Andes mints into brownies, they lose all their green color.  But the brownies are really good!

Sabbath Rest

A interpreter, headed toward the Meetinghouse. - Old Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts
"I was glad when they said unto me,
Let us go into the house of the Lord."

- Psalm 122:1

Signs of Spring

For the last two days, we've had unseasonably warm temperatures...today it hit 62 degrees!  The snow is melting fast.  Puddles, puddles everywhere.  I think we lost about six inches of snow pack overnight.  Yesterday, I saw two chipmunks.  We rediscovered one of our rock walls...it's been missing since late-January.  And sap buckets can be seen hanging from maple trees all over town!  Maple syrup season is upon us!

And with all of these signs of spring, came a sense of urgency.  I did a mental inventory of everything on my plate between now and mid-June and immediately made a mile-long to-do list.  Sigh.  Goodbye to the quietness of winter.  I'll miss you.

Burgers, Linen, Couture, and Chocolate

Colette and I had a Mother-Daughter Day in Boston today.  The necessity of the trip was purchasing linen and buttons, but as long as we're leaving the country for the Big City, we might as well do it up right!

First stop was to taste test the burgers at Shake Shack.  As native southern California girls, we do miss our In-n-Out burgers, and hope springs eternal that we might find some burger close to it here in New England.  (Five Guys just doesn't do it for us.)  But Shake Shack...well...it's almost as good!  (Leave me a comment, if you want to hear my full analysis.)

Then it was off to the button shop for buttons and to the fabric shop for linen!  Yard and yards of white linen to line a stack of projects on my sewing table.  So happy to have finally procured this!

Then on to the Ralph Lauren store.  Ahh...enter "the world of Ralph Lauren", as the commercial before "Downton Abbey" tempts us.  So beautiful!  Really, I go here to admire the fabrics and construction...just incredible!  Oh...and the decor is really lovely!

This lace, knee-length jacket was simply gorgeous!  Lace, an otherwise limp fabric, was backed with a semi-stiff tulle, giving the lace some structure.  Brilliant!  

Despite the piles of snow outside, the front window was trying to sell us resort wear.  The blue dress was lovely!

Then we walked around the corner and grabbed some dark hot chocolate to go at L.A. Burdick.  A fine ending to a really fun day!

March Days

"It was one of those March days
when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold:
when it is summer in the light
and winter in the shade."

- Charles Dickens

Three Centuries of Dance

When we lived in California, we attended many vintage dances with our dear friends. All of us ladies had Victorian ballgowns.  The men had frock coats and top hats.  And, once our children were about eight years of age, we took them along too...a rare opportunity to look one's finest and practice exemplary manners!  And although we dance rarely now, my love for it has not waned.  So, when a nearby historical society was hosting a gallery talk on their new exhibit, "Three Centuries of Dance in the Monadnock Region", I put it on my calendar!

"Country dances are very simple and agreeable
and possess the Mind of Youth with
pleasing and sprightly ideas."

- On Dancing and Music
The Portsmouth Gazette, August 1774

In colonial times, dance masters would have traveled from town to town and taught dance classes, so that people in the country could learn the latest dances.  This portrait is of dance master Phineas Barnes Taggart (1812-1892), who taught dance classes in the 1830's and 1840's.

Note the small notebook in the portrait above.  A dance master would've written down a few notes about each dance, as the calls can be quite complicated.  Below is the handwritten dance manual of Thomas Hadley (c. 1850), a farmer, machinist, musician (fiddler), and prompter (the 19th century term for a dance caller).  

My Grandfather's Fiddle

Upon a dusty shelf, I saw, the other day,
That fine old yellow fiddle, my grandsire used to play;
Its tones were of the sweetest, so round so full and clear,
On Christmas and Thanksgiving it always had to go
Where lads and lassies gaily tripped the last fantastic toe;
The "Money Musk" and "Chorus Jig" were danced in merry glee.
"McDonald's Reel" and "Old Zip Coon" -- old-fashioned tunes, you see.
No "galops", "polkas", "schottisches" were in that fiddle found,
No dizzy waltzes, which require a constant whirling round.
But good old contra-dance tunes flowed forth, in a lively stream,
Like "Fisher's Hornpipe," "Speed the Plough," likewise "The Devil's Dream."
But grandsire used to play them as no one else could do,
There was no "let up" on his part, til they danced the figure through;
But now it is dismantled, the strings and bridge are gone;
The "sounding post" no longer stands, the "tail piece" hangs forlorn.
The bow is bent, the hair is loose, the pegs are scattered round.
The back is cracked, the neck askew, it has ceased to give a sound.
Well, I suppose we'll all be laid upon the shelf someday;
Like the fine old yellow fiddle my grandsire used to play."

- A.E.B.
Keene Evening Sentinel, March 23, 1893

Dances were a much anticipated social event!...a chance to see family, friends, and neighbors...to meet members of the opposite sex...to get away from farm work and have some fun!  Since the prudent farmer "makes hay while the sun shines", winter was the season of socializing.  It was interesting to note that all of the dance invitations in the exhibit were for dances held between November and March.  I loved the wording...inviting the gentleman and his lady.

Attendees at such balls would've been given a dance card.  A gentleman might approach a lady and request a polka or a quadrille, and the lady would pencil his name in on her dance card, so she could see all of her engagements for the night.  The gentleman would have a dance card as well, with the ladies' names written down.

This was a lovely, multi-page dance card in the shape of a lady's muff (another reminder that dances were held in the winter).  For the exhibit, they had copied each page and displayed them.  I enjoyed reading the menu for the night.  Old menus are fascinating!  Macaroon ice cream?...yes, please!

Everyone who visits this exhibit is invited to take a paper foot and write your favorite dance memory on it and tape it to the window.  The window becomes an interesting piece of art...a collection of wonderful memories.

I thought for a long time about what to write...so many wonderful memories!...how to choose just one!  And in the end, I chose this one and wrote the following story:

Many years ago, our family was attending "Mr. Fezziwig's Ball" at the Riverside (CA) Dickens Festival.  My husband had gone to get some refreshments.  And as I sat on the edge of the dance floor, in my blue silk ballgown, a stranger approached and asked me if I could polka.  I said, "Yes," and he took my hand and led me onto the dance floor, as the music was just starting.  Well, if you've ever seen "The King & I", Yul Brynner had nothing on this man!  We whirled about the dance floor and my feet barely touched the ground!  He left me, when the music ended, breathless and with a wonderful memory!

Sabbath Rest

A little Downton inspiration today...tweed, tartan, and antique jewelry.  Enjoy the show tonight!
  1. Oh, that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
    Has a wondrous attraction for me;
    For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above
    To bear it to dark Calvary.
  2. In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
    A wondrous beauty I see,
    For ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
    To pardon and sanctify me.
  3. - George Bennard (1913)
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