Monthly Archives: February 2012

Winter Twilight, AuSable River Valley



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Living Local: Five Fabulous Finds

My husband and I were on a “corporate retreat” over the weekend in Traverse City.  It was actually more of an extended date, but we definitely talked business.  Some.  Mostly we enjoyed the food (predominantly local), the bookstores, and the library.  Yes, we are the only people I know who make it a point to spend time in the libraries at the locations we travel to.  Last spring we spent a great two-week vacation in Brevard, NC, sliding down waterfalls, hiking, cruising the White Squirrel Festival, and sitting in their library.

The seemingly pathetic thing is that, in spite of all the great shops, only a couple of which we even stepped foot into, (not including the three bookstores), and the ski trails, and the myriad of activities we could have participated in, we spent hours both days in the library, perusing books and writing.  I was inclined to feel guilty about it when, on Sunday, having foregone a trip to Black Star Farms up near Suttons Bay, (which I was dying to do) just so we could stay in the library a little longer, I finally gave in and we agreed that, “you know, this is really what refreshes us.  I guess we shouldn’t feel guilty about it.”  So until our stomachs could take the delay no longer and needed lunch (at about 2:15), we sat and refreshed ourselves in a sunny corner of the second floor, with a stack of books on either hand.

So, yes, the library was great, but the food was incredible.  We ate at Trattoria Stella, where internationally renowned chef Myles Anton oversees his culinary kingdom with grace, style, and an incredible talent for putting foods together.  We had a naughtily late dinner at La Patisserie Amie, where the menu was definitely bona fide French.  Unless you enjoy pate foix gras, escargot, frog legs, or a predominantly seafood menu, this is not the place for you.  I copped and shared a Steak Bearnaise with my husband – which was the only thing remotely American on the menu.  I don’t really do exotic, or seafood.  We managed to find room, though, for a fabulous tarte chocolate aux noisette.  I love chocolate hazelnut anything, and this was definitely good.

But the best part of our trip was the intense local support in Traverse City.  Everywhere we went touted its extended use of local foods, materials and other products.  Many of the stores displayed wares by local producers prominantly at the front of the store.  (We didn’t go in many of the shops, but we window shopped most of them on our way to the next bookstore! LOL)

The one store that literally drug me inside was Red Hare Tack and Togs.  As a horsewoman, a high-style equestrian shop, especially one that appeals to the English rider in me, is a must-see.  My patient husband checked his email on his iPhone while I drooled over myself admiring the equestrian art of Tina Evans, particularly her two pen and ink sketches of a hunter/jumper and a dressage rider, which she had to be talked into framing and displaying for sale. I only wish she had prints of them.  I’m counting my pennies to see how on earth I can possibly justify the expense to hang those two beauties right over my bed.  (Drooling again)  The shop also displayed handmade saddle pads and half pad by Bad Pony, which are nearly divine.

We were staying local ourselves, traveling within less than 100 miles of home to spend our hard-earned bucks and hard-won leisure time (and okay, a little business too).  You don’t necessarily need to travel far away from home for a great experience, and sometimes it’s even better not to.

Here are my top five fabulous finds in Traverse City:

1.) Trattoria Stella

2.) Red Hare Tack and Togs

3.) Tina Evans

4.) The locally based economic support

5.) The Traverse Area District Library

What are your favorite local finds?


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What a Stud! (Er, uh, what a gelding?)

Saxton the Studly Gelding (an oxymoron, I'm sure!)

This is my boyfriend, Saxton.  My husband is aware that I have a boyfriend.  In fact, I received Saxton as a Christmas present from him about three Christmases ago.  It’s mid-winter here, and I’m starting to get ants in my pants about being able to train and ride. It’s hard for me, as an equestrian athlete, to be “okay” with not being a trail rider.  Up here in Northern Michigan, that is *the* thing.  We live right on Michigan’s Shore to Shore trail… just a short trailer ride away to be able to trail ride from here to Lake Huron or Lake Michigan.  A lot of horse folks love it!  I, however, am happy for those people, but have little wish to do any trail riding.  That’s not my thing.  I’m an arena girl.

There’s nothing I love more than teaching Saxton something new and having him get it.  The more I teach him, the more we communicate with each other.  When I walk down to the barn, he will look at me as if to say, “Are we working today?  I’m bored just standing here with these two lovely fillies, eating all day long.  Can we work?”  Hey, if you have a connection with your horse, you know what I’m talking about.  Your horse might say something like, “For heaven’s sake, we’re not working today, are we?” But you know what I mean about your horse telling you things.

Anyway, I had to show off my gorgeous, studly boy. (Okay, he’s a gelding, but all the fillies think he’s hot!)  Can’t wait to get back to doing fun stuff with him!


(For those of you who wonder, Saxton is a Missouri Fox Trotter.)

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Speeding: Life in the Fast Lane

Yesterday morning I got a speeding ticket.  No pity party here.  I totally deserved it.  In fact, the officer was very generous to not blast me for the full speed I was actually doing.  As I sat there waiting for him to fill out my ticket I realized this was the second poignant reminder of the day that I have a habit I need to kick:  Letting my adrenaline run my life.  I’m one of those crazy nuts who has two speeds – “high,” and “burnt out.”  Huh.  Imagine that.

I’ve long admired our Amish neighbors for the laid back attitude that permeates their life.  And I’ve paraphrased their famous ideology about their approach to work often enough. It’s usually an attempt to remind myself that slow and steady wins the race… and affords a much nicer experience along the way.  “Why hurry?” They say.  “There will always be more work to do.  Enjoy the work you have now.”
My husband was actually rather shocked to learn that I had been purposely speeding – and quite fast at that.  “Why?” he asked me. I couldn’t help but think that was one of the dumbest questions I’d heard all day.  “Because I had to drive an hour to get to the grocery store.”  Duh. I was hoping to cut it down to 45-50 minutes.  Not gonna happen.  And I’ll have a hundred-plus dollar ticket to pay to boot.  I was rushing to get to town so I could rush around from store to store, checking items off my list, so I could jump back in the car and rush back home. Why?  So I could squeeze in a run on the treadmill and some violin practice before bedtime.
It seems this unexplained drive to pack as much as possible into my life is, if not killing me, at least doing some major damage to my adrenal system, and I see my youngest daughter, my “mini-me” following in my footsteps.  Sometimes it takes a hundred dollar speeding ticket, a trip to the hospital, or some kind of major life crash to get our attention.  The adage “know thyself” is maybe more important now than ever.  But knowing and doing can be two totally different things!  Is it possible to do the things that truly make us happy, and do them slowly, with purpose?

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For the City Slicker in You: Homemade Latte

If you know me at all, have followed my blog, or listened to Small Home Farm Radio, you already know that, being a former city slicker, I’m not 100% sold on country life.  There are some things you just can’t get in my slice of rural heaven.  A good latte is one, fresh bagels is another.  I don’t have any intentions of mastering the fine (and extremely time consuming) art of making homemade bagels.  But a latte is another thing entirely.  Still and all, given the chance, I will pay too much money for a hazelnut latte at a well known (ahem, Starbucks) coffee chain, served in a paper cup with a cardboard insulator.  It’s all part of the experience.  In fact, I’ve been known to make a homemade latte and, well, pour it into a paper cup.  Sigh.  You found me out.

My personal preference (by a huge majority) is a hazelnut latte.  But you can make any flavor you like.  Here goes:

Hazelnut Latte

3/4 c. really strong, freshly brewed coffee, any good brand you really love, and the fresher the better.  Ground at home is even better.  I like Starbucks Kenya roast, but I’ve been known to use Chock-Full-o-Nuts, too. Seriously.  But there’s a difference between the two.  Moving on.

1 c. 2% milk (for heaven’s sake, if you want a skinny latte, go find another recipe.  I’m no help.)

2 Tbs. hazelnut flavoring*, or same amount of another flavoring (and no, I’m not going to help you with a “Hazelnut Light” either.  If you want sugar free, go hang out with the skinny latte folks in the diet aisle.)

Inversion Blender (you can make do with a hand mixer, a blender, or even a whisk, but IMO this way is pretty easy.)

While your coffee is brewing (because you’re not using instant coffee, right?  RIGHT?!!!), scald the milk in a small saucepan.  As the bubbles begin to form at the edge of the milk, remove it from the heat and put your inversion blender in the pan.  Mix for about 20-30 seconds until you see a bit of froth forming.

Pour your coffee into your mug (or paper cup if you’re a little crazed like I am occasionally).  Next, holding a butter knife or a spoon across the lip of the pan, pour some of the milk into the coffee, while holding the foam back.  You probably won’t use the whole cup or the coffee taste may not be strong enough.  Depends some on how strong you brewed your coffee.  When the milk is in, add the 2 Tbs. of flavoring, give it a quick stir, then add the foam from the pan to the top of the latte.

Enjoy this one!  Seriously.

*Here’s a link to Torani Brand Hazelnut Syrup at amazon.  That’s the brand the Starbucks’ uses that I stop at when I am out driving, virtually nowhere near my rural home.  I found some at Wal-mart, so who knows.  Check your local grocery.  Unless you prefer the taste of a sugar free syrup and that’s all your store carries, skip it.  It just doesn’t taste the same.  You can get other Torani flavorings at amazon or elsewhere online.

** Update 3/10/12 ~ Yes, I am aware that Starbucks does have its own brand of flavored syrup that they have made for their use.  As I specified, the one I sometimes stop at (I’m not naming the city it is in lest I get those poor folks in trouble with HQ) uses Torani syrups for some of their flavors.  They do have the Starbucks brand ones, too, but there’s obviously some reason they need to resort to Torani.  And no, I will not post your comment if you are using it as a plug for your own online flavored syrup store that happens to sell Torani and you haven’t bothered to ask if I would mind posting a link to your store.  I *will* however, give shameless plugs for products or companies I wholeheartedly believe in.  And I’m actually pretty nice (although obviously a little ornery if I feel taken advantage of), so in future, if you just “pretty please” me, there’s a good chance I would be gracious and post a link to your store.  Gratzi!  ~ Aspendale Farm


Filed under The Country Kitchen

A Porcupine Kind of Day

This is our little friend porkey who came to visit us.

Last week I was sitting at the dinner table, looking out the front window, when a strange creature made it’s way slowly across the driveway on the far side of our road.  It looked for all the world like a wolverine, which I knew it couldn’t be.  There are wolverine around here.  But a wolverine would not allow itself to be seen, and they are not slow.  In fact, this creature was uncommonly slow.  My other guess was, of course, a porcupine, but this critter was moving even too slowly for a porcupine, and it moved in an odd fashion.  Not the steady, waddling pace of a porcupine.

The kids and I crept out of doors, ever nearer, very cautiously.  Honestly, it didn’t move.  Just stopped and stayed put.  I finally got within about twenty feet of it … on the other side of the closed driveway gate from it, before I could tell that it was, indeed, a porkey (as they are affectionately known in our parts).

We did not care to disturb it, but just watched.  Eventually it began moving again and we could see that it was limping, but couldn’t tell exactly which limb or limbs it was favoring.  Hence, its very odd way of going.  We watched for awhile, but it was cold and we were without coats.  So we returned inside and it stayed out there a good, long time.

Next day the porkey came back.  But not to visit our neighbor.  The silly thing had hobbled across the road and was sitting under a pine tree in the front yard.  Way too close for comfort, only from the standpoint that we have a silly dog.  I love my English Setter.  Benson is the sweetest, fondest family friend anyone could ask for.  But he’s not going to win any awards for smarts.  Sorry, Benson.  We love you anyway!  (Actually, I like my dogs a little dumb.  That way I can keep a step ahead of them!)

Look at that precious face! Would *you* want to see it full of porcupine quills? Me either!


So this porcupine was definitely too close for anybody’s good.  We had to lock the dog in the house all day.  But the kids got to go out into the yard and play with the porkey.  Gently, of course.  They watched it turn ’round to put its tail in the way of whomever it was suspicious of, and they got a close look at some missing quills on its back and could tell, finally, that the right front paw was the favored one.  We left it alone and haven’t seen it since.  I hope it manages to heal up and get back doing what porkeys do … just not anywhere near my dog!  🙂

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I Am an Athlete…

Goofing around before a race: My father-in-law, Marty, came to watch us run. My girls are behind me, but my youngest son Danny is tucked under my arm.

This morning was the third Friday in a row I’ve been able to get back to the gym to lift weights.  Last Sunday I finally went for a 2.5 mile run with my sister-in-law, Chelsea.  That may not sound exciting to you, but it’s been a great blessing to me.  The week before Christmas I injured my back and was, literally, sitting on a couch with a hot water bottle, my back thrown into spasms any time I so much as got off the couch to walk to another room.  It was hard to sleep, I couldn’t do the regular farm chores, and about once a week I’d be feeling well enough to try exercising … a slow walk on the treadmill.  Invariably, the next day I was back on the couch in significant pain.  I won’t bore you with the details any longer, but it was a disheartening six weeks of sitting on the couch, the pounds creeping onto my body in places I didn’t want them, my muscles wasting away.

I am an athlete.  Not a high-mileage, hard-driving athlete, but an athlete.  My kids and I run 5k’s together, and my oldest son and husband do triathlons and half-marathons together.  The family that plays together stays together, you know.  Cecily, JJ, Jesse and I also work out at the gym together once a week to build the strength that helps us be better athletes.  Cecily has been my running and aerobics partner for the past two years.

I guess the whole point here is this:  I was not an athlete, until I started to think of myself as an athlete.  And it took an injury to help me realize how integral that part of me is.  Some time ago I heard that if you think of yourself as an athlete, it will change the choices you make.  You will train (exercise) and make better food choices, because that’s what athletes do.  Are you an athlete?  Do you wish you were?  Than think of yourself as an athlete!  Go get ’em, Tiger!


Filed under Natural Health