Monday, March 30, 2015

Moss Baskets at Southern Exposure

Spring has finally arrived, at least on the calendar! Time for bunnies and blooms, sweet fragrances and chirping birds. We started the first day of spring with a fabulous dinner, a toast to the equinox and a moss basket-making workshop at Southern Exposure, one of my favorite places in the world!


I've written about Southern Exposure on the Gypsy before. It's a marvelous group of vintage buildings set in the country with remarkable gardens. It was too early to see blooms, but there were signs of spring in the pretty roses placed gracefully in the fountains.

Every workshop begins with one of Chef Elsie's amazing dinners. This time we were dining in the "Corn Crib" building.

The tables were beautifully set and it was a festive way to welcome spring, as we all raised our glass to the new season. Then we enjoyed salmon, salad, a garlic mashed potato dish and a cheesecake so light it was unlike any I'd ever had before.

After dinner we adjourned to the craft tent. Our supplies -- two moss baskets, dirt, gloves and an array of plants --  were waiting for us on bales of hay.

Micah and Angie were our leaders, explaining the properties of the baskets and how to fill and care for the end projects, the needs of the various plants included and how to replace our basket plants with others when it was time for the plants here to go into the garden. As they led us through our paces, the resident hens walked around the tent.


We all puttered with our baskets -- does the geranium go into the one that hangs on the door or the standing one? How should we divide our pansies. Rosemary on the door? Alyssum inside?

We needn't have worried. The baskets were beautiful -- and you saw a lot of happy smiles, plenty of photos taken for Facebook and deep concentration!

When all was said and done, we hit the gift shop and used our 20 percent discount happily before hitting the road for home. My next post will take us inside there!


Meanwhile, I was a happy camper. So far, I haven't killed the contents of either basket and they make me smile whenever I see them! I just can't wait for them to grow and fill out! We go back for a forsythia wreath workshop soon. I'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

"Who" Do You Love?

After our trade show escapades, it was time to enjoy the great company of Randy and Elaine, Rick's brother and sister-in-law. We did some fun things -- a great lunch and dinner out, a ride through the area and lots of talk-time. But perhaps the most amazing moments were spent watching their owl.

Well, I suppose it isn't "their" owl. But this one seems to rather enjoy the tree just off their back deck where he has a great view of the bird feeder and, down below, any poor critter happening to be moving from one spot to another without looking up.

What struck me most is that it was such a peaceable kingdom. Of course, the owl had survival on his mind, yet he seemed to not be interested in the birds that were plentiful at the feeder or the squirrels who danced around him -- and got right in his face!

This is the original photo of the owl and squirrel that I showed cropped at the top of this post. I was shooting from about 20 feet away through glass. I was most grateful that Randy and Elaine's glass is a lot cleaner than mine! (I also said "thank you" to my little Canon Powershot SX 170 with a great zoom!)

I can see why the birds cluster around the feeders. Randy and Elaine keep them well filled. Over the course of our time there, I saw about eight different types of birds -- not counting our owl friend. Lizzie would have been in heaven, chattering away at them!

But of course the majestic owl was the one to capture my imagination (and the better part of my memory card.) He is a Barred Owl.

Barred Owls are common in the northeastern United States but have been spreading westward. They are noted for their brown eyes, rather than the more common yellow or golden eyes (and that fact makes photographing their eyes pretty tough!) They tend to go for rodents -- mice, voles, and shrews -- but also will take on a squirrel, birds, and a variety of other critters. As I mentioned above, this owl has never been seen going after the birds that are just a few feet away, and as you can see, he didn't seem to have squirrel on the mind, either!

I'd lie in wait for a turn of the head, a shift to a new branch or different position much in the way he was waiting, staring at the ground, on the hunt.

Some of the photos were almost painterly.

Some adapted well to black and white or a tint.

But my favorites were clearly the originals. Handsome, strong, regal as he sat in his nook on the tree or on a nearby branch, the cold wind ruffling his feathers, the snow forming a cap on his head.

It is a sight I shall never forget.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Books You Don't Need From a Place You Can't Find

Our Massachusetts trip really was a break in the action after our Michigan winter. In addition to looking forward to spending time with Rick's brother and his wife, we also anticipated the trade show and that great relief after when you know it has gone well. Even though there was still a lot of snow and ice, in our hearts it felt like spring was just a few days away (which it actually was!).

While returning back to Randy and Elaine's home base in Pittsfield after the trade show, we took the scenic route. It wasn't quite a scenic as it might normally be -- it was a cold, constant rain. But our destination was warm and cozy and well worth the extra miles. We were visiting the Montague Bookmill in Montague, MA.

And how do you get there, you might ask. Well, when the shop's motto is "Books you don't need from a place you can't find," you might expect a few twists and turns on the road -- and we found them. When I told my friend Kate about it she said, "So, if you get to Montague, you're good, right?" Not so fast! There are a lots of ways you can go to possibly get there -- but most of them are wrong! Let's just say we were happy to see the Montague Mill complex!

All worries were over when we walked into the shop. This is my dream place -- a historical building filled with very well organized books and cards. All the books are used, or at least all I saw -- but all in excellent condition. We saw several families cuddled on sofas reading to their children, people working on their laptops and lots of people settled in to read.

The mill itself was a gristmill built on the banks of the Sawmill River in 1832. If you're in the Northhamptom/Amherst region you are within striking distance! The building served as a mill and home for a machine company until the 1980s when it was turned into a bookstore. After several owners, current owner, Susan Shilliday, brought the bookstore in 2007.

Susan's story is an interesting one. Rick and I know her brother Barkley and Rick had met Susan on a previous trip East. She had been a successful screenwriter, writing the popular series "thirtysomething," the films "Legends of the Fall" and "I Dreamed of Africa" and for TV, adapting Madeleine Engel's "A Wrinkle in Time." Raised in the South, she had lived in Los Angeles for many years as she built her writing career. But when her daughters graduated from high school, they went to college in Massachusetts. Sometime after their college graduation, Susan decided she was ready to quit the L.A. scene and head East, purchasing the Bookmill.

From the looks of it, it was a wise decision. On this rainy day, one that you wonder would make anyone go out who didn't have to, the shop was crowded and everyone was enjoying themselves. I found a used copy of my current book club selection in fiction, along with one of Peter Mayle's books set in Provence. Rick bought a collection of Alice Munro short stories and a book of recipes for camping. We weren't the only ones in line, either. And I confess, with an unlimited budget, I would have been happy with the art selection, cookbooks, biographies and volumes on theatre and film. Who wouldn't?!

Even the bathroom was fun!

And who could resist the vintage typewriters! That was definitely a blast from the past!

As we left the Bookmill, we stopped into another shop, Sawmill Art Gallery, which featured work by regional artists. I found a couple of treasures there, too, of course! And then it was back to a laid back evening in Pittsfield.

Not bad for a cold, rainy, wet day! And even the rain stopped by the time we hit the road -- now, who could argue with that!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Driving by the Wayside Inn

We've been enjoying beautify and snowy Massachusetts this week, as Rick and I headed there for one of his trade shows. Sometimes you just have to kill time. Rick had a client meeting and there were a few hours till I had to be on the trade show floor, so I took off to see a little bit of the area near Marlboough, Massachusetts, including Sudbury. There wasn't a lot of time, but I was happy to find a terrific wine store in Marlborough and then a delightful old country store near Sudbury.

This is Longfellow country, or so they would remind you. Although the Wayside Inn Country Store isn't part of the historical district (or maybe it is -- it was old enough!), it was a great place to stop. (Actually, this might be part of Henry Ford's purchase of 3,000 acres in the area, including the Inn property itself and this was moved from Sudbury to this site in 1929.) True, it had the usual souvenir stuff, but the candy room more than made up for it, with a combination of hard-to-find vintage candies and old favorites. (They also had the best ginger snaps, which I didn't discover until I tasted some I bought for someone else and wish I'd bought them for us, too!

Of course, the front was fun with its two opinionated benches -- for Democrats and Republicans!

After getting lost for a few minutes and stopping at an antique store, I found the official Wayside Inn Historic District, which includes the inn and several outbuildings. I didn't have time to go into them but the history was interesting. The inn itself is still in business after nearly 300 years and its website calls it the oldest operating inn on one of the oldest commissioned roads in the United States.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow visited the inn in 1862 and the following year wrote "Tales of the Wayside Inn," featuring a collection of characters and introducing the popular poem you may have learned in school:

Listen my friends and you shall hear 
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere.

After publication of the book, the site became a tourist destination and boarding house. (It was interesting for me to think of tourist attractions from the 1800s, given that getting around wasn't as simple then and to make the effort to get there would have really been a challenge.) In the years that would follow (and the new owners over time) it would be come a literary mecca for writers.

Henry Ford discovered it, too, buying it in 1923 with the idea of turning it into a Greenfield Village or Williamsburg-type historical center. (Incidentally, neither of those had opened at that time.) He credited an admiration of Longfellow as his motivation. To accomplish his goal, he purchased additional land around the building, added new buildings to the site and commissioned a fully operating grist mill to be built.

Ford moved the old general store from Sudbury onto the 3,000 acres along with a one-room schoolhouse and a second vocational school for boys to train workers for employment in his automobile factories in Michigan. He kept the inn going and often visited himself on his annual "Vagabond" retreats with pals named Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone and John Burroughs, and used it as a stopping point on his family summer holidays in Maine. Eventually he placed the property into a trust to preserve the area in perpetuity. In later years it became a part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The mill is particularly picturesque, especially on a snowy winter day, looking almost like a Christmas card. It was built to be a museum in the style of mills in the Delaware Valley and England. For many years it produced corn, wheat and rye for the Inn.

In the 50s, after a hiatus, it was leased by Pepperidge Farm to proudce stone ground heat flour. This arrangement lasted for 15 years and then produced flour for King Arthur Company. Now the mill produces four for the Inn and its gift shop.

The combination of the other outbuildings (including the Martha Mary Chapel, which unfortunately, I didn't find in time to photograph) the snow, the picturesque setting all made this a delightful break in the action.

But then it was back to work. Yes, with a bit of a heavy sigh, yet smiling.

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