Hunkering Down

It’s that time of year: having met summer’s exuberance with near-tireless energy, there’s a pulling in, a settling down which I greet, this year perhaps even more so than others, with a quietly enthusiastic embrace. Done are the days of perpetual watering; of putting up the bounty of the garden against the months that are too cool for growing berries, beans, and tomatoes; of spending long hours out of doors just for the sheer pleasure in doing so. Now there will be more time for reading and writing, the plying of needles of one form or another as I sit by the fire, and savoring the aromas of sustenance simmering for long hours stovetop or roasting slowly in the oven.

The bees are ready too. Done are their days of rampant foraging, returning time and again to the hive with bellies full of nectar and pollen pockets bulging. Now the populations of the hives have dwindled according to nature’s dictate, and the smaller colonies will make use of the stored bounty of their forebearers’ efforts to sustain themselves through the winter. I’ve made one final inspection of each of the hives, ensuring that there is an adequate supply of honey and that the frames are arrayed to best support the colonies’ endurance through the cold months; the hives will not be opened again until late March when Mother Nature signals the return to dynamic growth of resources and bee populations alike.

The chickens are moulting, acquiring a fresh set of feathers to better warm them through the shorter, colder days ahead; the garden beds sport an aromatic layer of fortifying mulch; and the slipcovers have been changed, dishes swapped out, and the deep, dark corners of each room thoroughly dusted and cleaned in preparation for cosy hours spent indoors. We are, happily, ready at Acorn Lodge to shift into a different way of being for the next few months, just as the bees are ready to hunker down in their warm and secure hives for the winter.

But more than that, and somewhat wonderingly, I seem find myself more and more inclined to hunker down for the long haul: any trace of wanderlust that might have motivated me to travel in years past seems to have dissipated entirely as we’ve settled in here. I have no interest in planning for travel, no desire to take a break from here, and only the pull of communing with loved ones will induce me to leave — though even then, it’s with some reluctance. I can’t say with any degree of certainty how long this ‘winter’ without travel will last. Perhaps at some point there will be a shift in circumstances, as with Mother Nature’s prompt to the bees, that provokes an awakening of the urge to explore new places and experience unfamiliar ways of being. But for now, I am completely and utterly content with the content of my world: I feel myself privileged to be able to order my days exactly as I see fit and can conceive of no greater satisfaction than to live each of those days right here, gratitude for this wondrous experience being the source of my fulfillment.


The home is not the one tame place in the world of adventure.
It is the one wild place in the world of rules and set tasks.

— G.K. Chesterton

And Then There Were Three

Of course, I only wanted three hens when I first began making plans for keeping chickens at Acorn Lodge, so perhaps this is merely a case of “Be careful what you wish for” come to fruition . . . but still, the further thinning of our small flock has taken some time to come to terms with. Sadie, the Welsummer, is gone. Her departure from our chicken run was ultimately compelled by the need we felt to care for ourselves: we needed to protect our own well-being in order that we might continue to care for our girls in the manner we see fit. And yet, the decision to cull Sadie from the flock was a difficult one.

Dolly, Dottie, and Biddy all began laying eggs back in September within a few weeks of each other, more or less according to expectations — most hens begin laying at around 6 months old. Right about the same time, two things happened: Sadie fell to the bottom of the pecking order (yes, it’s a real thing!), and she began to behave aggressively towards me when I would enter the run. She would run at me and peck at whichever appendage was closer, leg or arm, hard enough to draw blood. I began to armor myself in black rubber boots and long sleeves before entering the run, but also did some research to try to figure out how to deal with an aggressive hen.

The first piece of advice I happened upon suggested picking up the offender immediately upon entering the run each time, keeping a hold of her firmly while completing any chores or spending time with the flock. Sadie didn’t mind being held and I would carry her along with me into the Barn to fetch grit, oyster shell, or treats — which I hoped might also serve to endear her to the others if they associated her with the delivery of such. For a few weeks it seemed this might be the solution to keeping myself safe from her strong beak, but then one day as we sat together on the log in the run, she suddenly craned her neck and pecked my cheek, about an inch-and-a-half below my left eye. Shaken and bleeding, I retreated from the run looking for another approach.

The only other piece of advice I could conjure that seemed sound involved utilizing distraction: throwing treats into an area of the run away from where I needed to be might buy me enough time to complete any necessary chores without drawing Sadie’s attention. This worked pretty well if I needed to enter the run during the day, and I decided at the same time that I could choose not to let the girls out of the hen house in the morning until their food and fresh water were already in place, meaning I could then open the door of the house, set the ramp for them, and high-tail it out of the run before Sadie had a chance to go after me. But neither of these strategies allowed for me to simply sit with the girls, enjoying their company, as I had done in the past. I missed spending time with the flock, but remained hopeful that once Sadie started laying she’d settle down and we’d be able to get back to my visiting the run on a social call.

And then, one day in November, my husband went out to the run to offer the hens some oats, their favorite treat: we’ve hand-fed them oats almost daily since they were about a week old, and visitors to Acorn Lodge have often participated in the late-in-the-day ritual. On this particular day, as he squatted down at the door of the run to proffer the treat, Sadie sailed at him and pecked just to the outside of his left eye. Almost as soon as he’d left the kitchen to visit the hens he returned to me, shaken and bleeding (sound familiar?), the white of his eye rapidly becoming suffused with blood as well. As we rushed off to the doctor to have his eye checked — thankfully there was no damage — we kept thinking, “What if it had been a visitor, a friend, that she had done this to?”

Sadie still wasn’t laying nor was her plumage becoming more hen-like: layers sport fluffy bottoms and an overall silhouette that suggests nothing so much as a 1950’s debutante in a short ball gown. Her tail feathers weren’t exactly rooster-like either, but her aggressive behavior, which had come to include chest-bumping, combined with her failure to lay, suggested that perhaps she wasn’t ever going to develop fully into a hen — and certainly she wasn’t showing any signs of settling down into our little flock. We, quite literally, have the scars that prove that. Certainly we undertake an obligation of care and nurturance for the animals we adopt into our lives, but of course, we are obligated to all of those animals and we have a duty to care for and protect ourselves so that we are able to provide that nurturance. And so, the next morning, I delivered Sadie to the farm center that had taken Lollie/Lalo in last summer.

The first thing I did when I returned home was visit the chicken run: I sat with the girls for the first time in months, and now it’s back to being a regular habit. Biddy likes to roost on my shoulder, while Dolly and Dottie prefer nestling into my lap as we enjoy each others’ company. We coo back and forth while I stroke their soft feathers, and I am suffused with a feeling of well-being. I feel the chicken run is a safe place once again for all comers, and I’m thrilled that I’m able to nurture the girls fully, without constraint. The decision to remove Sadie from the flock was not an easy one, but I’m at peace with it: I tried — and failed — to find a way to keep her, but the demands of the greater good of the flock and its keepers prevailed.

“Happiness can exist only in acceptance.”

— George Orwell

Home Sweet Home . . . and Garden

Smokebush in October

Though most of our property (all but one small corner) escaped burning as the wildfires raged around us, our garden did take a few fire-related hits: a prolonged lack of water combined with poor air quality and being left vulnerable to hungry deer meant that most of our plants experienced an accelerated autumn decline . . . and then some. Rather ironically, the ‘smokebush’ (Cotinus coggygria) that sits on the slope of the rocky knoll behind the house seems indifferent to all of the drama that has unfolded around it, and it’s been a beacon of hope in all its fall glory, providing a counterpoint to the dismay I felt as I first inventoried the damage to my garden.

All summer long I was so busy IN the garden that I never found the time to write ABOUT the garden. There were stories to tell (about the success of growing cukes in the green house; the rescue of the rattlesnake caught in the strawberry netting; the first harvest of hops, and so much more), but I was busy: with new plantings chosen specifically for the benefit of the bees and chickens, with an expanded kitchen garden space, with the first attempts at pushing the boundaries of the garden into the woodland in a sensitive manner — but mostly with watering. I’m a committed hand-waterer, and there’s no getting around the fact that hand-watering takes time. For me, the time is mostly meditative (rather like ironing, or hand-washing the dishes), but it’s also a chance to check in with my plants, to observe what other attention each might need and to assess how each is contributing to the overall plan: it’s gardening, defined. This daily attention binds me to the garden (requires my presence and energy) but also binds the garden to me rather in the way the nurture of offspring cements the bond between parent and child.

One of the young perennial borders in June

My dismay at the state of the garden upon our return was not merely an ephemeral impression wrought by the visual disarray of what had been so carefully nurtured along thus far, but instead deeply felt and persistent. Almost the very first thing I did upon our return home after the mandatory evacuation order had been lifted was to give every part of the garden a good, long drink of water — but then I felt so overwhelmed by my dismay that it was fully a week before I could begin any of the many tasks that awaited me to begin to bring the garden back from the damage that had been done: sifting out debris that had rained down out of the woods with the fierce winds; cutting back plants that had been parched and/or scorched, or deer-damaged; and washing away ash residue from what remains. Mind you, a gardener expects to be taxed with ‘putting the garden to bed for the winter’ each autumn, but this has been a fall clean-up on steroids. Thankfully, my dismay has also been put to bed by my efforts, hope restored by action and faith buttressed by already-apparent signs of recovery as the rainy season begins: by and by, the garden will be ready to cycle into new growth and respond to my ministrations once again.

Early spring

So many lost so much as a result of the fires that the setback for our garden is nothing, of course, and yet my dismay was real, was something for me to acknowledge and work through. That done, the full expression of our appreciation for the efforts of the firefighters who protected our home is possible without any reservation: we are so very grateful that Acorn Lodge stands, our little brown nut sitting prettily among the oaks, our HOME SWEET HOME . . . and GARDEN.

Reporting Remotely

One week ago today, I woke up shortly after midnight and smelled smoke. My sleep had been uneasy anyway because of burly gusts of wind that kept buffeting the house, but I was instantly wide awake and out of bed once the smoke began to filter in through the bedroom window, left ajar for fresh air. I went straight to my computer to Google ‘fire Sonoma Valley’ and immediately found images of out-of-control fires burning in Kenwood, in the valley just below us. Pulling on clothes quickly, I began to load my little car with food for the dog, cat, and chickens; I pulled out the box of DVDs that hold the images of our children’s early years on them, and put together a basket of other incidentals I though I might need if we were to be gone for more than a few hours. The wind was still swirling and the air smokey as I made my way back and forth from the house to the barn to load up the car.

This done, I walked from room to room and shot a video of each on my phone — a record of what each looked like, providing a cursory inventory of what each held. Then I stepped outside once again and snapped this, my view from the back steps out towards Frey Canyon, the sky glowing orange directly above the area where the fire was roaring down below.

Once the electricity failed I lit a few candles, unsure of how much longer to sit tight and whether I should call the friends who live next door to wake them. Shortly after 2 a.m. another neighbor drove up the street: he was waking everyone to let them know about the fire. By 3:20 or so, we were all evacuating — our way down off the mountain being limited to a single option. Just as we reached the bottom of the hill, an official call for evacuation in our area was made, and our friends and I decided that we should drive south since there was another fire burning in the northern part of Santa Rosa.

We arrived in Petaluma shortly after 4:00 a.m., me with the company of our dogs, cat, and hens — and we’ve been here since. [Most of us, anyway: thankfully, my niece picked up the chickens and has them with her in Bodega Bay, since the hotel (understandably!) wasn’t willing to let me have them in our room.] My husband, who had been out of town (climbing Mt. Whitney!), joined us Tuesday afternoon.

I’ve consumed more media in the past week than I have in the past year: hard as it was to watch the horrifying images and hear of the devastation, we’ve been hungry for any sliver of hope that our home would survive. We received word late Monday night that there was a “large fire” on our street and went to bed assuming the worst — sleep being elusive as our minds raced through all of the possibilities of what we would find, what we would do. Then, miraculously, one of the local stations was actually reporting from right in front of the house for all of Tuesday morning, which was enormously reassuring. We could see that there were fire crews dedicated to protecting our homes: laying out hoses and monitoring the (thankfully rather tame at that point) flames in Annadel State Park that were within 100 yards or so of the edge of our street. We could continue to hope.

As for now, the dawn of Day Eight, we continue to play the waiting game with as much patience as we can muster. We’re grateful for the tireless efforts of the firefighters, and for the generosity of those around us in offering comfort and feeding our need for hope: the house still stands and we await the lift of the evacuation order with full hearts.

And So It Goes

Last night, in anticipation of a warm day today, we opened up the house before we went to bed to allow the cool air in while we slept. Upon arising this morning, we were making the rounds to get all the windows closed up and just as we entered the kitchen, which is in the corner of the house nearest the chicken coop, we were surprised by the sound of a rooster crowing. Stepping quickly out of the house, I caught sight of the chicken we have known and loved as Lollie standing proudly on a log in the coop opening up to another full-throated “Cock-a-doodle-do” and revealing himself to be Lalo. And just like that, the story of raising 5 hens changed.

We like to think we’re the author of our own stories, and for the most part, I am privileged to be able to believe that I am, that I have control over how the story goes. I was deliberate in the breeds I chose, I purchased the chicks from a reputable breeder, I made considered decisions as to how to feed and care for my new charges, and further carefully planned how best to house them over the long term. I was writing this story of our sweet little flock of hens — or so it seemed.

Sometimes, a story writes itself. Lollie was so much bigger than the others (we had affectionately dubbed ‘her’ The Beast); while the others are happy to be stroked and held, Lollie always shied away from any contact initiated by us but instead would peck (hard) at our clothing and skin (as if to intimidate); and in the past week it had become harder to ignore the beautiful plumage that was looking more and more like a rooster. Try as they do to correctly determine the sex of chicks before shipping them off, the breeders acknowledge there will be mistakes: Lollie’s story was always different than the story that I had imagined (and kept trying to believe) — in fact it is Lalo’s story and it is not mine to tell. Within an hour of this morning’s revelation, I delivered Lalo to a local farm center so that a new home for him can be found.

Recently we visited a brewpub where our waitress was generously tattooed. In particular, I noticed two tats in elaborate script that were symmetrically arranged and I asked her about them. One suggested, “Everything is a story.” The other claimed, “Stories are everything.” As we sit with our sadness today after losing our Lollie, the stories ARE everything and we are grateful that, for a time, our stories were intertwined. Truly we are only authors of our own responses to whatever comes next, whether it be anticipated delight or unexpected bummer, THAT is what we can control as the stories unfold. ‘Flock of five hens’ becomes ‘flock of four hens and one rooster’ becomes ‘flock of four hens’ — the story changes and we move through our disappointment to embrace the new normal with grace because we can. And so it goes.

The Birds and the Bees

Lately the population at Acorn Lodge has swelled in number by an additional 30,005, or so — not by any accident of ‘the birds and the bees,’ but rather because we’re finally acting on our plans to keep chickens and honeybees here. Over the last year or two we’ve done the reading and obtained (and built) the requisite equipment: the proper tools will support our endeavors best, and our setting, home to all manner of predators who would relish a chicken dinner, added another layer of consideration to our preparations on that front. And then, a few months back, we eagerly placed our orders to reserve the breeds our research suggested would be the best fit for us (we wanted local bees; hens that are docile, and lay a mixture of egg colors, among other features). Careful ‘family planning’ is a cornerstone of well-managed domestic bliss, yes? Finally, with April and May cleared on the calendar so that we could be dedicated ‘Mama’ and ‘Papa’ for the newly adopted, we felt ready!

Well, the chicks arrived, more or less according to plan, via the US Mail. Shipped on a Monday for overnight delivery, I didn’t actually get the call to collect the peeping box until 6:38 a.m. Wednesday morning, but once the hatchlings were nestled into their brooder box, encouraged to drink water, and had discovered their feed they were happy to settle in and are growing so quickly I feel I can almost see it happening. We have five different breeds: a Dominique (Dolly), a Silver-Laced Wyandotte (Dottie), a Buff Orpington (Biddy), a Welsummer (Sadie), and an Easter Egger (Lollie). They are darling to watch and interact with (they will eat from my hand now, and Lollie will hop onto my outstretched palm to do so!) but the real story here is the chronicle of the bees’ arrivals.

The rocky knoll that sits on one side of our driveway appears to be a sweet spot for swarms — this is the third spring in a row that we’ve been graced by said. An enormous swarm, the size of two footballs, gathered on April 1 in the easy-to-reach-into young hawthorn tree that I planted on the knoll last spring, and with the help of some local beekeepers the swarm was easily contained in a temporary box. Thrilled to have secured local, feral bees for my hive, I called to cancel the package of bees I had ordered for pick-up later in the month. Early the next morning I transferred the swarm to the hive I had ready for them, and for seven sweet hours the colony appeared to be setting up housekeeping in their new quarters. But alas, they swarmed again (absconded) — leaving me as forlorn as a spurned lover, the joy of the previous day dashed to pieces by their abandonment of the hive. The following day, I reinstated my bee package order.

Several days later I spotted another swarm in the same area, but this swarm (the same bees?) was 30′ up in the towering fir trees, too difficult to try to capture. Then on April 13th, a third swarm gathered, this time back in the hawthorn tree. This swarm was more an average size and I decided to capture it myself, transferring the bees directly into my hive from the tree. I did not cancel my bee package order this time around — once burned, twice shy — but instead ordered another hive set-up in case I needed it. Two weeks on, the feral colony looks to be staying put and I’ve since picked up my package of bees, so I’ve now got two hives going: the bees have arrived, and how!

We didn’t plan to start beekeeping with two hives, but neither did we plan to start our lives as parents with two children — and we did. Our first pregnancy, many years ago, was greeted with the same kind of joy I felt on capturing that first swarm of bees: we were ready to have children, and rushed right out to buy a crib, thrilled to anticipate the baby’s arrival. But that first combination of our DNA was not a successful one, the miscarriage being just as devastating as having that swarm abscond. That baby was not meant to be, any more than that first swarm was meant to be ours. Then life unfolds, nature takes her course, bringing us first our twin sons and then our daughter, and honestly, I can’t imagine — wouldn’t want — any children other than those that are ours. I have no regrets for what might have been, only gratitude for what IS.

Here and now, with the tenure of the birds and the bees established at Acorn Lodge, the stewardship of coop and hives is my welcome responsibility, my opportunity to extend myself in the care and feeding of others, my privilege to observe and appreciate.

Make the most of what comes and the least of what goes.

The chicks enjoying their favorite treat of fresh chopped herbs from the garden

The Care and Feeding of Others

Today I pulled the final bit of pumpkin from last summer’s garden out of the freezer in order to bake up a batch of biscuits for our dogs, one of a couple of tasks I have set for myself this afternoon. I’ll also spend some time in the garden (starting the seeds for this year’s pumpkins in fact!) and continue with some reading on the subjects of chickens and bees (more on that soon). I can’t claim to be accomplishing anything of great importance these days as I putter about, but I am nonetheless deeply satisfied by day’s end — and that, I’ve decided, is accomplishment enough.

The thread that seems to run through my activities on a given day seems to be tied to my urge to nurture: the organizing principle behind my efforts is the value I place on the care and feeding of others. I feel it as a driving force, and one that I’ve recently come to acknowledge as THE motivation for rousting myself from my cosy bed each morning. By extension then, almost paradoxically, the care and feeding of others is, for me, a completely selfish act (perhaps my mother was right after all!): acting on my desire to nurture others is the very best way I have to nurture myself.

I’m happy to bake biscuits from scratch for the dogs, willing to spend the time it takes to water the garden by hand, delighted to tidy up and refresh the cottage ahead of the arrival of guests. I actually don’t mind even the routine maintenance tasks of house and garden — planning and executing meals, weeding and pruning, neatening and cleaning inside and out to ensure an easy comfort. Each of these activities affords me the blissful solitude I crave as a confirmed introvert and ensures the payoff of eventual company (which even an introvert needs from time to time!). Pets and garden, friends and family actually do me a favor by asking of my time and energy because there is no other way I’d rather be spending my days: the care and feeding of others is my true religion.

My darling daughter found this recipe online and I have no idea whom to credit — but our dogs will do anything for these biscuits!

Dog Biscuits
⅔ cup pumpkin purée, canned or fresh
2 large eggs
3 tbs. peanut butter (I use one with no added salt or sugar)
2½ cups whole wheat flour
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place all ingredients in the mixing bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium for about a minute to obtain a stiff dough. Gather up half of the dough and roll out to ¼” thickness. You can either use a cookie cutter to cut out shapes or use a knife to cut squares or strips. Repeat with the other half of the dough, then gather the scraps together and reroll to cut more until all the dough is used. Place the biscuits on a baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes until browned and crisp. Let cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

“There are random moments — tossing a salad, coming up the driveway to the house, ironing the seams flat on a quilt square, standing at the kitchen window and looking out at the delphiniums, hearing a burst of laughter from one of my children’s rooms — when I feel a wavelike rush of joy. This is my true religion: arbitrary moments of nearly painful happiness for a life I feel privileged to lead. Think of the way you sometimes see a tiny shaft of sunlight burst through a gap between rocks, the way it then expands to illuminate a much large space — it’s like that. And it’s like quilting, a thread surfacing and then disappearing into the fabric of ordinary days. It’s not always visible, but it’s what holds everything together.”

— Elizabeth Berg

Cosy in the Woods

Cozy in the Woods

When our (twin) sons were very small, one of the stories they loved hearing was contained in a chunky little book called Cozy in the Woods. The would ask for it often as they began to speak (“Cosies . . . woods!”), and given that it is illustrated by one of my favorite artists, I was more than happy to read this endearing story to them again and again. Now, as we continue to settle in at Acorn Lodge, I find I hear the echo of their small, sweet voices in my head regularly (“Cosies . . . woods!”), and especially as we finally begin to unpack our books, we are indeed feeling cosy in the woods!

We own thousands of books, and many of them have been squirreled away in long-term storage for more than two years now, since we could not accommodate them all in our San Francisco home. The bookcases that line the two long walls in the Great Room here have, at long last, been built into place over the last few weeks, and so we have begun the task of lugging box after box of books into the house and unpacking. Some of the books are as yet unread, treats (one hopes!) for future dates, but we are delighted to commune with the others once again as old friends.

We have been fortunate to have our fair share of visitors at Acorn Lodge since we moved in a few months ago. There is joy in the warmth of friendship, in the exchange of stories, in sharing this space with them — an undisputed cosiness generated by their company for which we are grateful. We find many of the same charms in our books: because of the possibility they represent to explore the unknown, to suggest new ideas, and to offer fresh ways of looking at the world, books are friends to our need to create meaning. We were determined from the outset to provide adequate space for our books in our new home. For us, there is no ‘home’ without books, and we are gratified to cosy up Acorn Lodge with their treasured presence.

The first volumes that were unpacked comprise our collection of children’s literature, one that is not inconsiderable. I believe that the most important means of nurturing children (aside, of course, from providing for health and safety) is simply to read to them. Many years ago, I was asked by the Director at our children’s nursery school to share my love and knowledge of children’s books with the other parents at school, so I created an annotated list of the books which were our children’s favorites. The list was added to in the years that followed, after I had joined the staff at the nursery school, and I offer it up here in case anyone is looking for a good book with which to cosy up to the child(ren) in his or her life.

Kelly’s Picks (PDF)

With our library at the ready, full of volumes to suit everyone from the youngest to the most ‘mature’ among us, we feel truly blessed and unequivocally at home. The leaves are falling now from the trees outside the Great Room windows, but with books to hand and a fire to sit beside, how could we be anything but cosy in the woods?!?

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.”

— Cicero

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The Fruits of Our Labors

The orchard, newly planted

Our small orchard was planted out on July 4th, the first opportunity we had to transfer the 12 bare-root whips I had received back in January from their temporary pots to permanent ground. It took so much longer than I had anticipated to ready that permanent spot: building a retaining wall along the driveway in order to provide a level grade, getting the fence up to protect the young trees from the deer, and erecting our garden shed in the adjacent space. Finally, armed with pick-axe and shovel, we broke ground, amended soil, and wrestled the trees from their pots though the day was a hot one – we just didn’t want to wait any longer to establish our orchard.

When I say ‘small orchard’ I mean that literally. It’s not just that we have a small number of trees, but rather that I have pruned them according to the advice from a book called Grow a Little Fruit Tree, which will yield . . . well, small trees. The idea is to nurture trees whose mature canopies top out at about 6 feet, meaning the fruit is easy to harvest; crops are reasonably sized; and the trees may be planted relatively closer together.

We have planted two plums (Early Laxton and Blue Damson), two apricots (Blenheim and Moorpark), two pears (Comice and Seckel), four apples (Ashmead’s Kernel, Yellow Bellflower, Grimes Golden, and Cox’s Orange Pippin), a Van Deman quince, and a Black Mission fig – all this in a space that measures just over 100 feet square.

Of course, it will be two or three years before we harvest any fruit. Cultivating an orchard is an exercise in delayed gratification, to be sure. But we have the thrill of anticipating the literal fruit of our labor someday and the satisfaction of reaping the metaphorical fruit already: I am utterly delighted to gaze out upon the orchard from the nook in the kitchen, appreciating that it stands both as a promise for the future and in tribute to our labor of love in fulfilling the vision we have for Acorn Lodge.

Meanwhile, much of our recent labor has yielded tangible results more quickly: the lavender we planted at the edge of the orchard is in bloom, and the basil that we’ve been carefully tending nearby has already been put to use in several batches of pesto for the freezer in addition to lending flavor and visual appeal to homemade lemonade.

Lemonade with Lavender and Basil
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup water
3 tbs. dried lavender blossoms
1½ cups freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 fresh basil sprigs
3 cups water
Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Set over a medium heat and simmer, without stirring, until the sugar is fully dissolved and the resulting syrup is clear. Remove from the heat and stir in the lavender blossoms. Leave to steep for at least 30 minutes and as long as an hour. Strain the syrup into a pitcher, then add the lemon juice, basil sprigs, and water. Stir and chill thoroughly before serving.


For me, the surest contentment comes of having done the work myself, whether stirring up a pitcher of lemonade from scratch or planting out an orchard on a previously bare patch of ground. I like feeling at the end of the day that I’ve been productive – that is the sweetest fruit of all.

Lavender in the orchard

“The reward of a thing well done, is to have done it.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Home at Last

Cinnamon-Sugar Breakfast Puffs

Given the symmetry of the façade of Acorn Lodge, it seems utterly appropriate that we were finally granted our Occupancy Permit on June 1st . . . 6/1/16. There remains much work to be done so the days are busy still, with the sounds of table saws and nail guns providing a somewhat jarring but ultimately reassuring soundtrack. Dust is my constant companion, my vacuum cleaner my new best friend. Nonetheless, as we begin slowly to unpack and settle in there is no doubt that we are HOME.

It has been delightful to become reacquainted with treasures that have been packed away these last two years. I feel a bit like a child at Christmas as I unwrap dishes and other delicate objects: the paper falls away to reveal cherished items that feel doubly dear to me as I appreciate them anew. Further, after spending two years in storage following repair and refinishing, my piano has come HOME – and though it will take some time and dedicated effort to regain what proficiency I had, I can hardly wait to begin tickling the ivories again.

The Cottage was finished just days before the piano was delivered to take up residency there, and shortly thereafter, the Cottage stood ready to welcome guests, standing in as HOME-away-from-home for Acorn Lodge’s first visitors. It’s a cosy and, we hope, comfortable spot, and as I prepared for our friends’ stay, I discovered a cosy and delicious recipe that will become a signature breakfast treat at Acorn Lodge. We love our friends, and I love my new kitchen, and we all loved these little muffins – and you know what they say about HOME . . .

Cinnamon-Sugar Breakfast Puffs
2 cups flour
1½ cups sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1 generous tsp. cinnamon
1 scant tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
Pinch cardamom
½ tsp. fine-grain sea salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup whole milk
3 tbs. unsalted butter, melted
2 tsp. vanilla
½ cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
Generous pinch fine-grain sea salt
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a mini-muffin pan.
Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, and salt into a large bowl. In a second bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, butter, and vanilla. Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and stir a little at a time until combined.
Spoon the batter into the tin and bake for 16-18 minutes. (Or cover and refrigerate batter for later use.) Meanwhile, combine the remaining sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a shallow bowl.
When puffs are cooked, remove from the tin after 2-3 minutes and place on a cooling rack. Let cool for a minute then coat them in cinnamon-sugar mixture. Place back on rack to cool further. Serve warm or cold.


Home is where the heart is.

-Pliny the Elder