In our world, family has had a meaning that is all inclusive of those that surround our day to day lives in the community at present. Each place we have lived has woven a new fabric labeled family that we offer support, encouragement, and friendship to whether it be to relatives or neighbors. Celebrating the highlights of birthdays, births, and holidays become a pattern of “family” life that we settle into happily.
So family has many definitions for us. Each place we’ve called home has defined a new version of family. Our time living in New York was marked by one very special person that entered into our lives quite unexpectedly. We lived in a tall 1872 slender chocolate brownstone connected next door to another brownstone in the historical section of Albany. Next door lived a young college student (the age then of our daughter Madeleine now) named Emily. I started to pass Emily on the street coming and going in and out of our city brownstone. Emily was so strikingly pretty. She had keen fashion sense as well as an aura of maturity well beyond her years. We began waving a little hello to one another as we passed on the street. I usually had the kids in tow, wagons, bikes, pets…all the paraphernalia I shlepped back and forth to the city park for our outdoor play with other urban families. She must have thought we were quite the scene as we moved slowly and erratically down the sidewalk loaded down with our go-to park essentials, picnic baskets, and scooters.
Our friendly waves turned into chats. Our chats turned into invitations to Friday night sushi takeouts at our brownstone…all curled up in the family room with some Disney movie on for the kids. Emily joined and fit easily into our family routines. The kids were used to a young woman Emily’s age because we had a french student live with us for a year not that long before so they welcomed her without question.
As we got to know our sweet young neighbor, we learned her happy controlled exterior was masking a painful reality that consumed her life during that final year of college. Emily’s mother was fighting the battle of her life. She was in the final stages of ovarian cancer. Every day for Em…was about the balancing act of either fighting to save her mother’s life or accepting the reality that her world would change forever.
About 4 months after getting to know Emily, having her as a part of our family routine, and seeing her struggle through the surreal reality of what was happening in her real family’s world…her mother died on Christmas. It had not snowed yet that Christmas and her mother dearly loved that first winter snow. The town brought in snow machines and covered her front yard with snow so she could look at the window in wonder one final time.
Over the months leading up to her mother’s death, Emily told us stories about her mother…her life, her sickness, and her hopes for her 2 daughters she was leaving behind. Even though we never met her, I felt that we were all a part of her mother’s life in some way. Emily is one of those people who is wise way beyond her years. She takes on the world with such resilience and strength that it is wondrous to witness. I imagine…and I hoped…that her mother took comfort in seeing that her daughter was such a strong young woman at 21 and would move through life with the strength we all hope our children will have if something tragic happened to us.
A year later, our family moved away from Albany. Emily graduated college, moved away as well, and continued to take life by storm becoming a successful business woman in Boston. Since moving back to the Northeast last year and only being an hour outside of Boston, I couldn’t wait to connect with her once again to catch up on all the years that passed inbetween.
But, before Emily came up for the first of hopefully many visits to our farmhouse, she had some news that she needed to share.
Science advanced tremendously between 1999 and 2015. New tests were found to be effective in screening people for their likeliness to develop certain cancers. Em spent many years thinking about whether she would take action if she learned she carried the same genetic code to be at risk of the cancer that robbed her mother of so much life. As she entered her 30’s, Emily decided living with the unknown was harder than being able to have knowledge that leads to being able to take actions that might save her life in a way it didn’t save her mother’s life.
I dreaded the news that she told me. After going through a barrage of tests, Emily learned that she was at an extremely high risk for ovarian as well as breast cancer. Every year that passed now that she entered her 30’s, her risk factor grew alarmingly higher.
She is now in her early 30’s. I am now the age her mother was back then. My daughter, Madeleine is the age Emily was so many years ago in Albany. And here life comes once again to a screeching halt as she must make some decisions that need the maturity of someone well beyond her years.
I cannot help but look at my own daughter and have greater understanding that I did at the time, of the amazing strength and presence of character it took for Emily to cope with her mother’s death at the age of 21.
So Emily was to arrive at the farmhouse with a heavy heart and some heavy news. She made the decision to undergo a full mastectomy as well as the recommended surgery for oophorectomy. Here she is a 30 -something successful woman coming back into my life with another chapter of struggle staring her in the face.
Em & I spent a relaxing weekend up here out of the bustling city of Boston those few months ago. She is one of those people that has a terrific knowledge of healthy eating and has an active lifestyle full of jogging and working out. Everything about her situation just feels so wrong…because she is one of those people who is doing everything so right.
I wanted to be sure and feed her the most nutritious meals that I could that are not only delicious but beautiful and healthy. I chose a silky smooth Root Vegetable Soup… rich in vitamins and fiber.
I filled up my hands with parsnips, rutabagas, ginger, and carrots. Everything was chopped and roasted and pureed and gently heated into a smooth silky healthy soup.
Emily and I sat at our long country table in front of the warmth of my kitchen fireplace. The days in October were stunning and the air each night was becoming brisk and cool. We ladled generous spoonfuls of the winter soup into large bowls, tore off crusty chunks of bread, and discussed all of the pros and cons that she was facing in her life.
This weekend reunion filled with warm laughter and serious life-talk between the two of us was back in the fall. She made some tough decisions yet again at such a young age. She decided she would go through the surgery. Instead of feeling sorry for herself and the series of unfortunate events that have defined portions of her life, she was nothing but grateful for the advances in technology that give her the gift to prolong her life on this earth.
Last night, my phone lit up the news from her father that Em sailed through surgery and is recuperating in the hospital. She is on the other side of this hard fought decision now and everyone who has the privilege of knowing her is beaming with happiness (and of course relief) today.
So I’m busily preparing another round of healthy, hearty, winter time soup. This time, I’ll package it all up and bring it with me to Boston next weekend when I go to help care for her there. This next soup will be flavored with the delicious smokey flavors of ham hock, spiced with herbs, and filled with nutritious beans and vitamin rich chard.
So one chapter closes happily so far. Winter continues to be gentle to us up here as we look for opportunities to live fully within the season. It has been one year now that we have called New Hampshire home. This winter has been so unbelievably tame compared to the harsh dose of crazy sub zero temperatures from last year. I can no longer imagine living somewhere where there is no change of seasons. Exciting thoughts dance through my mind of the spectacular emergence of spring and how I’m going to tackle continuing to learn about and play around in my little garden.
I crave some sort of seasonal change that is dramatic and many of the people who live here share the same sentiment. Driving around on the country roads here during winter is picture post card beautiful. Life becomes so still, so withdrawn, so wonderfully silent.
Many homes place candles in each window that reflect against the winter white landscape making little country scenes that sparkle with warmth and coziness.
But, just beneath the surface of quiet trails that wind their way through the woods and little lost lanes where the only signs of life come from the winding plumes of smoke slipping out of the chimneys, so much activity is happening all around.
I stopped into our adorable local bookstore in Warner, called Book Ends, so I could return my milk bottle and pick up a fresh one delivered there from the farm up the road in Contoocook. There is a little room in the back of the bookstore with dark barnwood paneled walls, beautiful artwork on display from local artisans as well as local foods that can be purchased like jarred jams, milk, and honey.
In the room, a circle of women set up their spinning wheels near the heat of the wood burning stove. I asked if I could sit for a spell and see how they go about their work. Fingers were busy separating the wool that was heaped in large baskets in between each spinning wheel. Many women wore thick winter socks and their feet paddled up and down on the pedals of the spinning wheels as the large wooden wheels pulled the fuzzy wool and spun it into fine strings of yarn.
The colors of the wool were beautiful. The quiet spinning of the wheels and paddling of their feet was like watching a beautifully painted country scene coming to life in front of me. As they sat in the center of artwork hung all around them, I couldn’t help but think someone should sit right here and paint the scene in front of me. The women spoke in hushed tones, the room was bathed in natural light coming from the wintry scene outdoors. The fireplace flames winked and waved casting a glow over the circle of women.
I picked up my bottle of fresh milk to head home. I thanked the women for letting me sit and enjoy their company for awhile. It was their normal routine but for me it was a rather magical moment. They spend their winter months meeting each week in this circle of life…circle of friendship…which becomes a circle of family.
Our new coffee shop, called Schoodacs, in the our little village of Warner has been humming along with activity since their doors opened in October! In the fall, the farmer’s market set up shop all over their front lawn creating such a festive community scene. The piano on the large front porch was often tinkling with music as customers took their turn entertaining anyone coming and going for a coffee or tea.
But, winter time has been an entirely different scene. A wonderfully different scene! Life at our little coffee shop hums to the rhythm of winter adapting smoothly as life does up here in the great white north. The coffee shop, Schoodacs, turns inward to warmth and companionship with gatherings of story times (for adults!) and weekend brunches with local artists playing their tunes for us to enjoy over long leisurely winter Sundays.
What do I mean by “stories for adults”? For three weekends in January, we had the privilege of gathering together at Schoodacs coffee shop to enjoy a master storyteller named Odds Bodkin. What a name, right?! Perfect name for the artistry that this man displays through his love of character-filled storytelling. As the sun began its early winter time descent, a group of locals gathered together for an evening of story telling magic. Who doesn’t love a good action packed story?
After ordering a piping hot latté and choosing a warm french toast muffin, we curled up into chairs around Odds as he gathered his harp and his guitar around him. Odds Bodkin, with his fabulous bushy white eyebrows that practically tell the story on their own merit…begins, with his deep baritone melodious voice, to weave the tale of Homer’s The Odyssey.
What a fabulous winter time gathering! All ages in the shop were transfixed by the spellbinding talents of one man’s voice, his ability to weave his words into visions, all while watching his fingers pluck and strum the long strings of his harp and against the dramatic sounds of his guitar.
Just when we were on the edges of our seats, eyes-wide open, and imaginations gone wild…Odds would look at the room intently and softly whisper, “Until next weekend…” A collective and resounding (perhaps rather childish, too) groan would fill the coffee shop as we all pulled ourselves out of his fantastical world to wait another week before gathering again once more.
So…now, I’m off to make (probably photograph) and then package up my soup and head into the big city of Boston for the weekend ahead. New friends and old friends once again become the family that everyone needs around them. Winter time in New Hampshire may be quiet, magical, and hushed…but no mistake…just below the surface, there is activity happening in each nook and cranny around here. Winter activities that are wonderfully different from summer activities abound every where I look…making each season so unique, so special, and so wonderfully New Hampshire.
Mentions in this entry:
Schoodacs Coffee Shop – Warner, New Hampshire
Odds Bodkin storyteller
- 3 carrots, chopped
- 1 large potato, chopped
- 1 large parsnip, chopped
- 1 small rutabaga, chopped
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 tablespoons sunflower oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1½ quarts water
- 1 piece fresh ginger root, peeled and grated
- 1¼ cups milk
- 3 tablespoons crème fraiche or sour cream
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- springs of fresh dill, to garnish
- roasted chestnuts then drizzled with butter and sprinkled with rosemary, garnish
- Put the carrots, potato, parsnip, turnip or rutabaga, and onion into a large saucepan with the oil and butter and fry lightly.
- Cover and sweat the vegetables over low heat for 15 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally.
- Pour in the water, bring to a boil, and season well.
- Cover and simmer for 20 minutes until the vegetables are soft.
- Stir in the vegetables, reserving the stock.
- Add the ginger and vegetables to a food processor or blender and purée mixture and stock to the pan.
- Add the milk and stir while the soup gently reheats.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the crème fraiche or sour cream, plus the sill and lemon juice. Season if necessary.
- Reheat the soup: Do not let it boil, or it may curdle.
- Serve garnished with sprigs of dill and crumbled roasted chestnuts