For the People, By the People…

Exeter is currently soliciting community feedback for the town that will lead to an update of the Master Plan, an important process that reflects our vision for the future of the town. The Master Plan Steering Committee offered the first public workshop last week and several from our neighborhood carpooled to the event. I was encouraged to see the turnout of about 200 for this first public event, step one of a process to involve as many citizens as possible.

Exeter Master Plan Workshop 1/25/2017

The number of younger families attending was reassuring as they are the real future of this town. We broke up into small discussion groups, voicing concerns, dreams, naming what we liked about our community, where we thought improvement was needed, critical areas to be addressed, and our wish list. Each group had a large town map on the table and could circle areas using different colored markers for different functions. When we were finished, a moderator wrote each of our answers on an easel board and one by one we approached the list and marked 1, 2, 3 depending on our wish for priority.

How stimulating and educational it was to be at a table with some of Exeter’s Gen X citizens. We shared common views and some different opinions… a healthy sharing with different generations to make sure all voices are heard. Feedback will be used to guide revisions to the current Master Plan and eventually land on the desks of the Board of Selectmen in the fall.

Having previously lived in other parts of the country, this was the first time I have experienced a community coming together to discuss a master plan in this way. Not a lecture, not a survey, not a forum, but an informal and neighborly sharing of ideas…. a very good thing. 



Do you compost?

I love smart appliances. My Alexa is becoming a good friend as she turns lights off and on, regulates thermostats, tells me the news I ask for, updates sports scores for mister gardener, and so much more. Siri is still a part of my life…especially away from home and with Apple Play in the jitney. Nest helped protect our home while we were away… alerting me when a leaf fell from a plant.

A recently debuted smart appliance has caught my eye. It’s the ZERA. Have you heard of it? If you are a gardener or environmentalist, you will be interested. There are many ways to recycle food wastes both indoors and outdoors, but this is an indoor food recycler that turns food scraps into compost in 16-24 hours. Yes, that’s right. It’s that 16-24 hours that intrigued me. How could that be?


ZERA Food Recycler

The recycler is a Whirlpool Corp. appliance, a freestanding gizmo, about 34″ tall. It is hefty at 118.6 lbs but looks very ‘kitchenie,’ like a tall trash can. All that food that is regularly sent to a landfill, including meats, can be converted to fertilizer in a day, the company maintains. It is designed to hold 8 lb. of food, a week’s worth for the average family.

whirlpool zera

The process uses heat and airflow and a small bag of ‘brown’ composting stuff containing coconut shells pellets…that the company sells. It is supposed to work without the pellets but the quality of compost won’t be as good. It’s just like adding ‘brown’ matter to our outdoor compost. The appliance is said to be quiet and there is no food odor.

I found the online site where they offered the early bird special at $699. I missed out on that but they are still offering a small discount online. Beginning early summer 2017, the first appliances will be available in test markets and at select retailers online sites for $1,199.  Yes, I want one and wish they’d selected me as a tester of the product. Check it out at Whirlpool.









A Tree House Vacay

Hilton Head is a small island, only 12 miles long and 5 miles wide, but full of championship golf courses, fine dining, tennis facilities, hotels, condos, and villas. It’s a busy place….lots of traffic and lots of visitors enjoying it all.  To fully unwind, we always gravitate toward the least traveled areas to relax within peaceful environs. In Sea Pines, we stayed at a unique hideaway, a virtual oasis, very secluded, yet amazingly close to civilization.

We felt like kids again as our oasis is a tree house overlooking Calibogue Sound. Called a Sea Loft, it’s perched high among the treetops of live oaks and majestic pines with a view across a salt marsh to the water.


Waiting for the sunset…

Each morning a variety of birds greet us at eye level, eating, chirping, and pecking away at berries and bark. There are cedar waxwings, brown headed nuthatches, bluebirds, hawks, an eagle, woodpeckers and others that have entertained us in the trees and sky from our breakfast table.

Beneath us, other visitors meander freely through the wooded area. We watched the tiniest deer resting in the wax myrtle and there are telltale signs of foraging raccoons beneath our tree house.


Another visitor arrived on our doorstep and actually stepped indoors for a couple of minutes. Was he trying to sell a little Geico Insurance? Sorry, we weren’t buying….


Really not a Geico gecko, but a Green Anole that came a’visiting…

We’re lucky that weather has cooperated enough to be graced with spectacular sunsets in the evenings.

img_3025Our location is just a four minute walk to Harbour Town where the well-known candy-striped lighthouse welcomes boats and visitors alike. We often pop into the little village on foot to enjoy delicious food, a variety of shops, late afternoon ice cream cones, and, of course, to climb the iconic lighthouse for a bird’s eye view, including one of the top ten golf courses in the states, Harbour Town Golf Links….

Click to enlarge:

Thanks to our hosts for allowing us to become eco-tourists in their Sea Loft for a short time. Time to pack up and head back to the land of ice and snow in New Hampshire. Sad to leave but fully refreshed.  Sigh…..











One city on my life bucket list was Savannah and, happily, I was able to cross it off my list this week. We decided to take a day trip for a ‘hop on and hop off’ trolley adventure of the Historic District. One of our guides called the 15-stop trolley loop an ‘appetizer’ for all that Savannah offers.  That was very accurate. Our day trip did make us want to return for the full meal.

We were told it is America’s first planned city, ca. 1733, designed by General James Edward Oglethorpe. He designed neighborhoods around open squares that served as functional areas for communal activities. Today there are 24 park-like squares named after people or historical events with monuments and statues at the center.

Johnson Square, below, memorializes Revolutionary War hero, Major General Nathanael Greene. He and his son, George Washington Greene, were buried beneath the monument in 1902… after years of burial misplacement of the two in the Colonial Park Cemetery.

Johnson Square honoring Nathanial Green

Chippewa Square seems to be well visited, made very popular by the Forrest Gump film. The bench where he sat during the movie was filmed here and the site attracts tourists who want to be photographed standing where the bench once was. At the center of the square is a statue of Oglethorpe, by none other than Daniel Chester French who hailed from our Exeter NH.   Small, small world…

Statue of Oglethorpe

We did not physically visit any of the park squares on this trip but tailored this day to architecture and history…. and food, of course.

Old Savannah Cotton Exchange, Romanesque Revival style

Chart House, built before 1790 with ballast stones from sailing ships

There are two basic periods of architecture we were told, Colonial and Victorian, with many styles within these periods of history. We gawked and stared open-mouthed through the rich architectural neighborhoods and restored buildings of the city.

Sometimes we had to look harder to see a little humor in architecture, like these eyes gazing out at us.

Who's watching us???

An unforgettable building was St. John the Baptist Cathedral, the Mother Church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Savannah, that I thought rivaled cathedrals I’ve seen anywhere. Click on photos for full size.

Walking through the old Market was interesting for a bit of shopping, food, and photographing things like this old ghost ad on a building.

Bayer Pills Ghost Ad

We ended our day very good note, happy to be among the 6 million who visit Savannah each year. Then….when we arrived home that evening, I turned on the telly only to see the Forest Gump movie was showing. Yes, I watched it from beginning to end and took special notice of the background scenery around Chippawa Square.



Shrimp boats a-comin

Living in Virginia, we watched crab boats from our Gloucester deck, in New Hampshire we watch the lobster boats, and on Hilton Head, we’re watching shrimp boats. All three types of boats have seagulls working for a meal. Fun to watch…


Leaving on a Jet Plane…

With more snow and ice on the way for the northeast, we escaped just in time to bask in the warmth of a South Carolina sun on Hilton Head Island.

We are staying near Harbour Town at the toe of the island and much of what we’ve done so far is within walking distance…. especially the fantastic sunsets at night!

The first thing we do on the island is slow down. There are tons of bikers and walkers and we are learning to live the leisurely life style of the residents. It isn’t an island with lots of nightlife but an island laced with golf courses, tennis courts, bike rentals, walking trails, nature preserves, and 12 miles of glorious ocean beaches…. not to mention fabulous Lowcountry cuisine.


If you love a live oak, this is the place to see an island full of them, covered with Spanish moss and full of resident bird life.

The island took a big hit from Hurricane Matthew and a remarkable clean up is underway on every street…including ours where we got to know one owner’s sweet pup. 

Cleanup has not interfered with island life. Roads are clear and residents are replanting.

We chose Hilton Head for just the right reasons: food, nature, relaxation. It’s a very good thing.




Aucuba japonica in New Hampshire

In warmer states, folks might stifle a ‘ho-hum’ yawn if they see the Aucuba japonica leaf pictured here… but for me, seeing the plant in New Hampshire is a thrilling sight. First of all, it thrives in hardiness zone 7 or warmer. We are officially zone 5b. Secondly, it’s a sentimental reminder from my 7b home and no matter how common, it’s a favorite for me. Thirdly, there’s nothing more striking than this variegated ‘Aucuba Gold Dust’ variety in a floral arrangement.

In the proper zone, it is an evergreen shrub but a friend in New Hampshire who grows it in zone 6 says it dies to the ground each winter and rises like a phoenix each spring. She shared cuttings with me a year ago and once they were well-rooted, they were planted in our landscape last spring, now protected beneath sandwich boards for the winter. My fingers are crossed for these small shrubs’ survival.  Stay tuned…

In zone 7b, the plant is fairly slow-growing but tough and adaptable, able to thrive in a wide range of, but preferably moist, soils.  It does well in deep shade where this variegated variety flecked with gold shines like a beacon from the shadows.


Propagation by cuttings is almost foolproof. This winter, my friend again shared leftover cuttings from a floral design workshop I organize for our garden club. Success in rooting was almost guaranteed with short roots sprouting on the old wood along the stem nodes.

Aucuba Roots

Not only do I have success with stems, it’s easy to propagate plants from just the leaves. Once my little plants have developed enough roots, into a soil mix in clay pots they will go… and when they are ready, I’m sure there’ll be a home waiting for all of them. How can folks resist?

Aucuba Leaves

Scientific name: Aucuba japonica
Variety: Gold Dust,  v. variegata
Common names: Aucuba, Japanese Acuba, Japanese Laurel
Family: Garryaceae, cousins to the better known dogwood family (Cornaceae)
Plant type: shrub. Female plants will have red berries in the fall if a male is nearby.

We finally found it…

It’s the freshwater ‘Jailhouse Spring’ that we hear residents talk about. We knew the general area but not the exact spot on the map until we learned about a new neighborhood development proposed for that area. The proposal for the development is almost 50 acres of land and 39 houses on a hill above the Squamscott River. The road into the new neighborhood would take you past the bubbling spring where we heard there are usually a line of cars waiting to fill jugs.


We found the way to the spring on an unmarked road that crossed over a 3-way intersection in a quiet neighborhood. On this cold morning there were several cars in line patiently waiting their turn to provide drinking water for their families.


The spring is named for the jailhouse, now gone, that was built here in the mid-1800’s. It provided water to the inmates and local residents alike. At one time there was a nice spring house but now it’s a small pump that goes off and on, pumping cold water into a depression in the ground. I spoke with one man from another town who came once a week to fill jugs. He said the land is owned by the home on the hill and they test the water to make sure it’s safe to drink, adding that he has children and this clean water is what he provides for them.


The surrounding neighborhood has organized a group to oppose the proposed new development, citing waste contaminants from long-gone farming activities including lead, coal ash, and more on the land, would be hazardous to remove. Trucks with the waste must exit through the small roads in the neighborhood creating risks for residents and contaminating the freshwater spring.  Arguments against also site the added traffic on the small neighborhood roads and clearance for emergency vehicles. All of it is in the planning stages so we will watch for future reports on the proposed development in our newly adopted Exeter NH community…. and we are happy to have found the bubbling spring!

Architecture, History & Trees

Every time I pass one particular home on our road, I have to be careful. The site is so spectacular that my eyes cannot help but stray from the road toward the site on the hill. It is eye candy for an architecture, history, and tree devotee like me. The farmhouse itself is old, dating from 1733 with the large addition below added in the 1780’s. The sign on the porch reads 1780.

The house is amazing but two things that actually cause me to drive off the road are the massive trees from the 1780’s that flank the porch. They honestly take your breath away. Every time we pass when mister gardener is at the wheel, I snap photographs to look at later.

Here are a few I’ve taken in warmer seasons of the year. Photos can’t accurately portray the size of these two maples but in researching, I found that the tree on the right is the largest sugar maple in the state of New Hampshire. The limb that juts out at a 90 degree angle is larger than most sugar maples attain in a lifetime. Click the photos to enlarge.

This Federal period farmhouse from the 1780’s has 2 1/2 stories, a typical I-house with a gable and chimney at each end and one room deep. The entryway above has the half sidelights and the transom, both visible in the photos. The siding is original. An ell, so common in New England, connects the home to the c. 1733 home on the property. On our drive yesterday (before the big snowfall), I photographed the home from a side road where the view of the original farmhouse is visible.


I have photographs of the trees in fall as well and it’s an amazing sight. I’ll let you just use your imagination.

In looking at historic maps from the area, I see the home noted and the name of the early inhabitants. But since the 1950’s, a family of 12 children spent their childhood there and several still live there and close by. But this is the “small world” fact I recently discovered when researching. The realtor who sold us our home in Exeter was one of those 12 children. I love it when I can connect the dots like that….



Helena is visiting Virginia

My sister is winding up a work related speaking engagement in Ft. Worth Tx and is due to fly home to Virginia today. I haven’t heard but I’m sure her flight was cancelled. You see, Helena is in town in Tidewater VA. Across the state, she closed airports, closed major highways, caused over 100 auto crashes and 58 stalled vehicles on state roads overnight. Visibility was zero and the U.S. Coast Guard closed the Port of Virginia. No commercial boats could enter or exit the Chesapeake Bay. Farther south, there were 18000 power outages in NC with a state of emergency called and a cancellation of some inauguration ceremonies for the new governor. South Carolina experienced their share of snow and ice…. and brrrr… it’s cold!

My three brothers who live in Richmond were very excited to awake to snow. Most people batten down the hatches, start a fire, and make hot cocoa, but these fellas run toward the great out of doors. We all love snow in my family. Not sure why… but I’m sure glad they shared a few photos from Richmond.


Snow covered Mahonia in bloom



University of Richmond

University of Richmond campus


Steps and boxwood cleared of snow

Helena has been quite a storm, having impacted two dozen states from coast to coast when it’s all said and done. She’s on her way out to sea late today in Virginia but she’s not finished with us. Helena is now visiting New Hampshire. Snow is falling hard and I hope we awake tomorrow to scenes like those above.




Smart but getting smarter…

My youngest son is always thinking of unusual techie gifts for me at Christmas….things that I’ve never heard of or would never purchase for myself. Last year I opened a small box that contained something that looked like a tan branch with these words on the box: Parrot Flower Power. I had NO IDEA what it was. He laughed and told me a detail or two.  It is a plant monitor that senses when a potted plant needs sunlight, water, fertilizer, and proper temperature for the soil and the App sends alerts via bluetooth to my smartphone.

Yes, I’ve had fun with it for the past year although I though I was super plant savvy enough. It’s a bit addicting pitting me against the Parrot deciding what a plant needs. I used it outdoors in the summer in potted plants and now it’s inside for the winter telling me to water my indoor geraniums more than I feel is necessary. I do listen though.

There is a database of over 7,000 plants… more than I’d ever need but it’s fun to browse through the plants and see basic needs. If you’re curious about this gadget, check it out HERE.

This year I’m looking forward to being really smart in our home.  His gift was the echo dot so I can communicate with everything in every room in the house with my new assistant Alexa!  Move over Siri…..

A New Day, A New Year…

Last night, mister gardener and I enjoyed a lovely filet mignon dinner for two to celebrate New Year’s Eve. An early to bed guy, we expressed our Happy New Year wishes and he tucked in well before midnight, giving me the go-ahead to make the appropriate noises at midnight to frighten off all evil spirits that might be lurking. Well-wishes for the new year flew across states and timelines via texts and emails from family until 12:30 or so when I faded and hit the hay.

Today we hit the reset button for the new year of 2017. Christmas decorations have been put away. Our lovely tree sits outside providing a haven for small birds and today mister gardener and I talk about our gift of a brand new year and shared thoughts, plans, ideas, and desires.

Christmas Tree 2016

I don’t make a list of resolutions but it is a good time to reflect on the past and think about future wishes and dreams. We will do a little traveling, I plan to pick up my needlework again, and we both plan to move forward in a more positive direction. I feel bruised from political chaos and polarization that has become the new norm these days… and remedies seem remote. However, no one can take away HOPE.

Have a Happy, Healthy, and Vigorous New Year!

A Marshmallow World Today

Exeter NHWe were told it would be a big storm for most of New Hampshire but living on the coast, we expected mostly rain and wet snow yesterday. And that’s exactly what we got. The city, with help from the sun and rising temperatures, took care of snow and ice on the roads and we could be out the door early on our errands.

The year is drawing to a close and we are looking forward to moving on in 2017. We had a wonderful Christmas with the wee grandchildren doing all the things that make the holiday special. Baking and dining seemed to take up a lot of our energy so resolutions for getting back in shape top the list for 2017.

Christmas Cookies 2016

Christmas Dinner

Phone calls, FaceTime, photo sharing albums of family, festive decorations, gatherings from Kentucky, Virginia, and Ohio brightened our December days. Garden club activities… Christmas luncheons, a fun Yankee Swap, decorating the Exeter Historical Building, and annual neighborhood gatherings capped off the month…..

Neighborhood Christmas Party 2016

…..until finally the big day arrived and excited wee youngsters hurried up to bed with visions of sugarplums keeping them awake way too late!

Off to bed...

Hope everyone had a wonderful and meaningful Christmas. Best wishes for a healthy and prosperous 2017 and I’ll be right back here in the new year.


Bringing the outdoors in…

On a snowy day like today with dangerous roads, we decided to stay home rather than continue holiday errands, a very wise decision. Hot chocolate and a fire in the fireplace was the theme of the day. But, we were also warmed by wonderful  blooms of an outdoor plant brought indoors several weeks ago.  In Virginia, I’d just stick geranium pots in the garage to overwinter but that doesn’t work in our New England climate. Brrrr…!

A year ago, encouraged a couple of years ago by Judy over at NewEnglandGardenAndThread, I brought my favorite annual geranium indoors as an experiment. The first year it stayed in the original large clay pot until spring. It did fine, never got leggy, and bloomed regularly. Outdoors it happily went in the spring, but at summer’s end, it had grown too huge for our windowsill.

So I cut that mammoth geranium down to small nubs, dipped each in a rooting hormone and stuck them in a soilless mix in a trough that now sits in my sunny kitchen window. I thought I’d lose most but, no…. the results really surprised me!  Every wee plant rooted quickly and flourished. Blooms seem to multiply overnight even on the tiniest plants. As soon as one fades, there are 4 or 5 blooms waiting to take its place. It’s our winter flower garden on the windowsill and those sweet blooms warmed us on this wintry day.


Playing catch-up

Make sure you knock on wood when you utter a statement like I did a few weeks ago: “I don’t remember the last time I had a cold.” Actually the statement was true. It had been at least 15 years… probably more… since I’d had a crummy cold. But I can’t say that now. It’s been three weeks of coughing, sniffling, sneezing, moaning, swollen glands, fever, red nose, aching, sweats, sore throat, joint pain, watery eyes, headache, runny nose and boxes of tissues.

I’m well now and just beginning my Christmas shopping, trying my best to choose the shops and times that beat the holiday crowds. I glance over at the check-out lines when I enter a shop… and when the line looks sparse like the birds in the picture below, I grab a basket and hurry to fill it up with wonderful gifts.

However, Murphy’s Law trumps a light check-out line and I often see this sight as I hurry to check out. It seems everyone has the same idea and it’s a rush to the cash register.

And here is where I seem to find myself….the last person in line.  Friends and family: if your gifts are delivered late this year, please forgive me!









We’ve had a little snow this week, not much, but it did cover the shrubs and grounds with a heavy moist snowfall. I was surprised to see snowplows clearing the roads and sanding for this small amount that fell. They knew much more than we knew. The next morning was a drive-at-your-own-risk in getting to work. Temperatures had quickly plunged during the night and black ice warnings were everywhere early in the day. We read and saw photos of cars in ditches in our area, spin-outs, flipped, collisions, all due to the ice on the roads. It was the perfect storm for dreaded black ice.

Conditions were perfect for another interesting phenomena…. hoarfrost. We’ve all seen it but maybe you didn’t know it had a name. Hoarfrost forms on cold, clear nights with high moisture content and very little wind.

What happened: Our wet snowfall began to melt and added humidity to the air. The frigid night air caused water vapor molecules to attach to freezing surfaces, coating everything with tiny ice crystals. If conditions are right with more moisture in the air, the crystals can be quite long and feathery. Ours were tiny but, still everything glittered brightly in the morning light.


As the sun rose through the trees, I could see the delicate crystals in the sunlight so I walked out to see if I could capture some photos. I had to hurry because as soon as the sun rises, the crystals melt. It was already happening.






Getting there…

We’re lagging behind everyone we know in decorating the home for Christmas. Two daughters are sharing photos of their multiple trees adored thousands of lights, themed tree ornaments, and rooms devoted to Dickens, Williamsburg, Disney…. so clearly I needed some inspiration this year get started. First things first: Santa came out of storage yesterday and, as he has for 30-some years, greets visitors at the front door.

Churchill’s Gardens, just down the street, provided the perfect showcase for inspiration with their holiday greens, twigs, and berries for sale and a wonderland of Christmas in their showroom. Holiday music, themed trees, several Santas and reindeer were there to greet us in this North Pole atmosphere. mister gardener and I spent time absorbing the ambience, bought a ribbon and some southern magnolia leaves, and returned home to invite Christmas to our home.

So far, something simple for the door…..


…..and our planter we filled with gathered greens, berries, twigs, and the southern magnolia, which greeted us this morning with the season’s first snow. I can’t think of anything better than a nice snowfall to inspire us for the Christmas atmosphere.


iPhone’s new Portrait Mode…

The iPhone has introduced a fun new setting for photos called Portrait that gives the photo background a blur. It’s not the first phone to add depth of field but for iPhone owners, it’s a brand new feature that can be lots of fun. I have not experimented with humans yet but judging from these quick shots around the house, it is effective.

It uses two cameras on the back of iPhone 7 Plus to give a similar effect delivered by your DSLR camera. The phone snaps two photos: one regular photo in focus and one digitally blurred for the background and it does a pretty darn good job. Behind the spotted laurel (Aucuba japonica) in the blue container sits a yellow 15 lb. bag of birdseed that’s unrecognizable in the photo. In a regular photo, I could read the printing on the bag.

Not too grand when you enlarge these, but it works fine. I can see blurred branches on the crabapple tree that should not be, and the edges of the main subject in photos isn’t always sharp. But it’s just fine for my needs.

I found by experimentation that the camera needs lots of light to take an effective photo and the blur is more dramatic the farther the subject is from the background. Once you are at the correct distance from the subject, a yellow ‘depth effect’ memo pops up and you’re ready to go.

This neat new setting makes it less likely I’d have to pack an additional camera when traveling!

One holiday to the next…

Last week, I felt blessed to be in the midst of family for Thanksgiving, thinking about those family members who couldn’t be with us and reflecting on those who are no longer with us. Somehow those family traditions and tried and true recipes make everyone’s presence felt. What a week it was!

It was all good with some minor setbacks: three little children with colds, one mother fighting a cold, and at my house, a computer that bit the dust, a dishwasher that kicked the bucket, and signs of an impending cold. So, with houseguests, dishes piling up in the kitchen, and no computer, I’ve technically been offline (except for emails on my iPhone) and not checking the blog world. Thankfully, my recovered computer was plugged in two days ago and the dishwasher was repaired yesterday. Life is better.


We did all the usual fun things over the week…eating too much, watching the Macy’s parade, walks, shopping Black Friday sales in Portsmouth and encountering a very New England Santa passing out local coupons…img_0221

Exciting for two sons and a son-in-law was a weekend trip to the Ohio State-Michigan game in Columbus. With two of them OSU fans and one a Michigan grad, someone had to come away disappointed in this double overtime matchup.

With the turkey off the table, the glitter and lights of Christmas are in full swing everywhere. I’ve barely rolled my pumpkins to the curb at my house. I think it’s time for a little holiday music and a trip to the tree farm….


Prepping for the Holiday

Yes, our flock is back. They wander through our backyards and strut their stuff down the middle of our quiet street. Several neighborhood crabapple trees are an attraction, a bit of spilled birdseed another. The acorn crop was overly abundant this autumn and will keep the birds well-fed until spring.

Tom Turkey

Of course, seeing these big birds reminds us of the holiday on the horizon…. Thanksgiving! Foods and recipe ingredients for our meal have been ordered or bought and the baking will begin this weekend. We will combine family food traditions to make the holiday special for everyone.

For me, that tradition is a special ham. My favorite salty Virginia ham, on the table with the turkey, is mandatory, and it must be an Edwards Virginia Smokehouse country ham. We slice it paper-thin and serve it stacked on buttered southern buttermilk biscuits… and eaten warm. Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same without this Thanksgiving tradition.


Added to desert menu every year are chess pies from a ‘secret’ recipe that has been passed down for many generations in my father’s Appomattox VA family, along with other choices: apple crumb pie, pumpkin custard pie, chocolate balls, buttered caramel and one birthday cake. Lots of sweets! We always eat early enough in the day to guarantee an appetite for delicious leftovers by the time darkness falls. I think a lot of folks do that…

We are looking forward to the week. One granddaughter will arrive from Bennington College by car, however we’ll be racking up the auto miles for airport transportation: once on Sunday, twice on Wednesday, once on Friday, and once the following Sunday. They’re worth every mile and we have much to be thankful for!

*Edwards Virginia Smokehouse photo

A Tiny Princess

They may look like miniature pine trees or small hemlocks with their tiny needle-like leaves but they are not. This tree, commonly called princess pine, that we see on walks through the woodlands in New Hampshire are “fern allies” that produce powdery spores that disperse in the wind. It’s too early in the season to see the “clubs,” the appendage at the tip of the plant that produces spores but click HERE to see them on our Virginia property.

Princess Pine

We don’t see too many of these living fossils on walks in New England, but we had them fully carpeting our sandy woodland on our Virginia acreage. Perhaps it is a different variety that thrives in the warmer zone 7b but they certainly look the same.

clubmoss princess pine

The plant is in the clubmoss family (Lycopodiaceae), a prehistoric group of plants that grew before there were dinosaurs or pine trees. The princess pines grow about 6 “- 10” tall on cool, moist forest floors and spread by spores and by underground stems… that can surface and cross obstacles that may be blocking the runners beneath the surface.

If you heat your home with coal, you may be burning this fossil. Ancient tree clubmosses could grow about 100′ tall. Like the giant tree ferns, they grew in warm, swampy areas in the Carboniferous era 360 million years ago and were transformed into coal beds that are mined today.

princess pine

Through the years, people have used them for Christmas decorations on church altars, wreaths, arrangements, the spores used in powders for the skin, to coat pills, as flash powder for photography or fireworks… but moderation is advised in pulling up these clubmosses for it will be easy to destroy an entire group. In at least two states, they are endangered and protected and threatened in other states. So when you come across these tiny trees, stop and be amazed, and walk on….


The American Beech

Last but not least in stunning fall yellows is the beech tree, perhaps my favorite tree of all. The maples have shed their leaves. Oaks are hanging on to drab leaves. Soon the forest will be owned by hemlock and white pine trees but now it’s all about the beech tree. This forest was aglow with shades of yellow as we trekked about 3 miles on beautiful trails.

White pines in the picture below grow through and tower above the slow-growing beech tree’s lemony fall canopy.


The leaves of beech trees are alternate with toothed margins and straight parallel veins on short stalks. The trunk in the background below is a white pine.

Beech leaves against white pine bark

The beech trunk is said to resemble an elephant’s leg with the smooth, thin, wrinkled light gray bark. What do you think?


The leaves that fall and cover the ground are springy and odorless, thus the perfect filler for mattresses for early Americans and those in other countries.

“The leaves of the chestnut tree make very wholesome mattresses to lie on… [Beech leaves]… being gathered about their fall, and somewhat before they are much frost-bitten, afford the best and easiest mattresses in the world to lay under our quilts instead of straw; because, besides their tenderness and loose lying together, they continue sweet for seven or eight years long; before which time straw becomes musty and hard; they are thus used by divers persons of quality in Dauphine; and in Switzerland I have sometimes lain on them to my great refreshment…”
John Evelyn, Sylva: A discourse of forest-trees, 1670.

Beech Leaves

To see the massive old beech tree we left behind in Virginia, click HERE. Beneath the tree we recovered a wine bottle from the late 1700’s or early 1800’s and very large oyster shells discarded in a pit. It was fun to think the tree sheltered those folks at an early American oyster roast.

“I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow
to keep an appointment with a beech-tree…..”
– Henry David Thoreau, 1817 – 1862