Wednesday, September 30, 2009

It's Apple Time

In the September issue of Better Homes and Gardens magazine, I did an interview with a Seattle family who created a gorgeous (and fruitful) garden fence using espalier apple trees. Espalier is a way of pruning and training a tree to grow sideways and in this garden the trees are planted like they are holding hands around the yard. This pruning method is often used in formal gardens as a decorative way to grow fruit. (In fact, espaliered apples are used in Monet’s garden in Giverny as a low-growing fence.) But it’s also an efficient way to raise apples and pears because of the small amount of space the trees take.

Monday, August 31, 2009

A Puppy For Archer

Archer, our Jack Russell terrier got a new friend last week. Tess, a smooth-coated Irish Jack has stolen all our hearts because she’s so darn adorable—even when she’s chewing the buttons off your shirt with her carpet tack teeth.

When Archer’s friend and nemesis Snap (our first Jack Russell) died last year, he was on his own in the house. Without Snap to befriend and torture, he turned his attention to me. Archer dropped a ball onto my computer keyboard at least 10 times a day. If I threw it, he’d run madly after it, hurling his burly body through the air, crashing into walls, threading through table legs, balling up all the throw rugs. Once he’d nailed the ball, he’d run laps around the house, growling and twisting his wedge head back and forth like a madman. Then he’d come barreling at me, ball in mouth and slam it back down on my keyboard.

Time for a puppy.

Now instead of attempting to lure me into a game of catch every 15 minutes, Archer plays with Tess. Yelping with pain when she bites his ears, Archer runs around the house with Tess in hot pursuit, her stumpy legs pumping. She looks like a crazed wind-up guinea pig. They roll across the floor under my feet an angry two-headed beast—snarling, yipping, and biting—while I write.

New puppy. Good solution. I’m getting so much work done now.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Zucchini Boats

I was in my garden with my hands on my hips surveying my late tomato crop (a cool summer means they aren’t ripening very fast). And while I was bemoaning my lack of ripe tomatoes, I spied a large green object on the ground. “Watermelon!” I thought. Then I realized that we didn’t plant watermelon this year. A closer look revealed that it was a giant zucchini—the size of a small canoe.

I leaned in to pick it (wrestle it was more like it) and I saw several others. I hauled out four whoppers. Too big to sauté (I like smaller, less seedy and fibrous squash), I decided to make zucchini bread. But my recipe calls for just 2 cups per loaf, which hardly makes a dent in my massive squash stockpile.

They are sitting like vegetable missiles on my counter taunting me. I’m open to suggestions of how to use them.

Monday, August 10, 2009

A Good Summer Read

Before summer slips away...

If you love books and dogs, you should pick up the novel Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski. Of course, Oprah beat me to recommending it (she’s a good judge of good books—and a dog lover too). It’s beautifully written with lyrical descriptions of nature, dogs and country spaces.

This book is especially interesting to me (as owner of five dogs) because of its plot line discussion of creating a new dog breed (albeit a fictional breed). And the descriptions of canine intelligence and dog-as-companion are written with so much heart.

Don’t be intimidated by its size (I could use my hardbound edition as a doorstop). Some passages were so beautiful, I turned back a couple of pages to reread them before forging forward.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Nature's Garden Fall 2009

Look for the fall issue of Nature's Garden on the newsstand. I interviewed a Chicago-area family who has a stunning backyard garden featuring gorgeous fall foliage and a wildlife-friendly landscape including a pond. My article appears on page 74. In the same issue, check out Sandra Soria's butterfly garden planted in front of her chicken-coop-turned-office. Sandy offers lots of tips for attracting both butterflies and their larvae. And there's also a fun article on growing your own mushrooms (I'm definitely going to try that). You can learn more about gardening for wildlife at

Friday, July 31, 2009

Camping with Girlfriends

Camping is all about food. Getting ready for meals, cooking on the grill and in foil packets, cleaning up--it takes five times longer than it does in your kitchen but tastes one thousand times better. Why is that?

I went on a overnight camping trip with three girlfriends and we cooked awesome food, swam, sunned on the dock, kayaked and toasted summer evenings with some great wine. Of course, we bonfired as well. My friend Kathryn kept the fire stoked all evening. This is her photograph of the fire just after the sun slipped behind the trees.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

New Sheep at Cat Crossing Farm

Meet our new flock! This month we bought five spring Katahdin lambs from a very dedicated breeder who raises a large flock about 10 miles from us. We’ve never raised Katahdins before (over the past 20 years we’ve raised English or Scottish sheep breeds including Cheviot, Jacob, Romney Marsh and Border Leicester). So this is our first American sheep breed. The breed originated in Maine, named after Mt. Katahdin, the highest peak in the state.

Another first is that Katahdins don’t have to be sheared. They are called hair sheep and they grow a thick coat that sheds off in the spring. Our lambs are undocked too, which means that they have long tails. They look more like a flock of little dogs right now.

A very vigilant llama guarded our sheep at their previous home, so our new lambs were totally comfortable with sharing a pasture with our three donkeys and three horses. It’s nice to have sheep again. Just seeing them grazing on the hill makes the farm look so pastoral, so peaceful.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

In Praise of Summer

“Summer afternoon - summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.” --Henry James

All the windows in the house are wide open and a warm breeze is whisking through the screens, making that shushing noise I love so well. I'm in total agreement with Henry James about a summer afternoon.

In midsummer, the roadway ditches are as blue as the sky--with wide sweeps of blooming chickory and clouds of flat-headed Queen Anne's lace bobbing in the wind. The sound of a crop-dusting plane whines in the distance. How do you capture this feeling and play it back on a January evening when you really need it?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Country Gardens Fall 2009

The Fall 2009 issue of Country Gardens is on the newsstands on August 4th. My "Slow Lane" column is all about taking note of the seasonal changes of the garden. The take away is that you should be out there ohhing and ahhing over your garden every day. Because, tick-tock, the season is slipping by. Which is why I've been so lax in posting to my blog. ;-)

If you want to become a fan of Country Gardens magazine on Facebook, here's the link:

Friday, May 22, 2009

Pecking Order in Action

It's spring. So it's chick time.

A teenaged barred rock hen is the newest addition to the Cat Crossing Farm menagerie. The owner of a local coffee shop called my husband Doug and said there was a chicken running around their parking lot. The coffee shop is in an urban area so it's not likely that the chick just hatched somewhere in the bushes and developed a taste for coffee...

So, of course, Doug went to get her. Now's she's living in our greenhouse until she's big enough to go into the hen house.

We also inherited 8 cute fluffy chicks that were used for a magazine photo shoot. They are in the greenhouse too.

And here's what we learn from chickens: That pecking order thing? It's real. Our big hens tried to peck Coffee Shop Chicken (and that's why she's living in the greenhouse). And although you'd think that this experience would soften Coffee Shop Chicken to the tiny chicks, she has nothing but evil-chicken-eyes for them.

I assume they will all get along someday...

Monday, May 4, 2009

Springtime in The Netherlands

I just got back home from a trip to The Netherlands where I saw millions of blooming bulbs: tulips, narcissus, muscari and hyacinths. The fields of flowers in and around Lisse are beautiful. And surreal. After living in Iowa much of my life, row crops are a familiar sight--long straight rows of green corn and soybeans. But sections of red, yellow and pink flowers aren't. Big blocks of color like a Mondrian painting.

Canals rim the bulb fields. In fact there's water nearly everywhere, but it stays well-behaved in canals because the Dutch are masters of water management.

The farm pastures were carpeted with grass and Texel sheep, Holstein cows and Friesian horses (all Dutch breeds) grazed happily. Long-legged European hares danced in the fields and white trumpeter swans nested along the canals. The landscape there is just startling beautiful.

And when I arrived home after 10 days abroad, Spring had arrived at our farm too. The narcissus were up and waving, the crab apples trees held tiny fists of petals that were ready to burst open and the grass was the same emerald green as in the Dutch farm fields.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Lambless in Spring

Last fall we sold our flock of Cheviot sheep and this is the first spring in 18 years that we haven't had lambs. My husband Doug can attest to how great it was not to worry about lambs being born in snowstorms (and having to rescue newborns when their afterbirth froze them to the ground--yikes!). A winter without middle-of-the-night breech births was bliss. But a spring without lambs gamboling in the pasture seems sadly lacking. Our Border collies Wink and Nell think so too and keep staring through the woven-wire fence at the horses and donkeys with wistfullness and memories of a good chase. To keep the dogs happy (and Doug too), we're getting a few lambs this spring. More on the new additions later...

Thursday, March 12, 2009

My new column!

Good news! I’ll be writing a column for Country Gardens magazine (starting with the Summer issue—and it’s still even called Slow Lane just like at Country Home). Check it out on the newsstand (it will be on the newsstand on May 18th). Or, better yet, subscribe! I have an article in the Spring issue (on the newsstands right now) about the peonies that grow in our garden (you’ll find it on page 49—you can also see our border of old-fashioned peonies with our outhouse-turned-potting shed in the opening spread).

I have an article in March 2009 issue of Better Homes and Gardens. I got the great opportunity to interview Ina Garten (The Barefoot Contessa) about her garden. Very fun!

In the Spring issue of Creative Home magazine, I wrote an essay about gardening (or attempting to) with my kids when they were small. And I wrote an article about growing roses for Family Circle (March 2009).

I am excited about this too: I'm in the process of putting together of book of essays, so if you want me to send you a note when it's published, send me an email with your email or postal address. I’m at I'll post the announcement here on my blog too.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


In the January/February 2009 issue of Country Home magazine, I wrote a column about the transformation of one of our farm outbuildings into a studio. Our former chicken house measures 16 x 32 feet and was home to our hens for 10 years. Then we got an idea about reclaiming an outbuilding when we were on a family trip to Sweden. My kids stayed in a little garden shed with bunk beds--and were totally smitten with the idea. And so was I.

So we came home and started looking at our outbuildings in a whole new light. Out went the chickens (they got a new chicken house). And then we (and I mean our friend/contractor Randy) scooped out the building (an obvious and necessary first step), laid white pine flooring, put up drywall and built a brick divider so the space is bisected into two rooms. We use the space as a photo studio and office.

And we're probably the only farm in the country with two phone lines in their chicken house.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Star Trails at the Farm

My son Graham, who is a photography student at Brooks Institute, took this photo on our farm in January. It's our windmill (a restored Woodmanse) with star trails swirling around it. He was outside in the bitter cold after midnight for 40 minutes in order to get this shot (he didn't want to leave the camera and tripod set up and alone in the farm yard because he thought the horses would come over in curiosity and knock it over.)

Sunday, February 1, 2009

My new digs

It was sad news indeed, but the cancellation of Country Home magazine (with my column as well as my blog on the site) means that I've moved to new publishing locations. I'll be blogging here about country life, gardening and pets. And I'll be still be writing for a variety of home and gardening magazines. I'll post current articles (and their locations) if you're interested in taking a look. Thanks Karen