Come along on my PA trip

Hello from PA tonight!  I had a real easy 8 hour drive today –  alone with my thoughts and music. I sometimes crave solitude so I can work out whatever is rolling around in my head or heart. I’m here setting up at the Market Square Wholesale show,  which is always a great time to see old friends and make new ones A lot of our shop owners have been with me for over 10 years so I know them well,  know their families, and it’s a great time to catch up.

SO, I’m trying something a little different today – I don’t want ya’ll getting bored and leaving me. So I’ve got a video report for you.

Thanks for traveling along!

Spring Issue Sneak Peek 2017




It’s just about time for our Spring issue to ship – approximately Feb. 1st!  All three of our homeowners were so great to work with! The time I was able to spend with them in their homes was such a blessing to me and so much fun.

Rick Fuller, Mary Elliott and I went to see Pat Linton in Ohio last year after the Simple Goods show. Pat was so easy going and even humored  me by taking us to Donatos  for pizza! Donatos is an Ohio based pizza place that is my FAVORITE!  I LOVE pizza – I mean really love pizza and I am always happy when my road trips take me to Ohio! My GPS knows the way to every one! Ok, back to reality or I’ll be hungry!  Pat’s was truly a wonderful home in every way. You are going to love it!  Her maiden name was Campbell so she has appropriately named her residence, “Campbell’s Tavern.”  Step inside with me and see why the name fits so well …..



It’s hard to say what is more impressive – that hornbeam or that BOWL! Thank you Pat for a wonderful day!

Also in Ohio, is my friend Andy Teter. We too had an awesome day together last year. Andy’s 1834 Stone house sits on two beautiful acres and you literally can see a horse and carriage pass by it’s so idyllic.  Andy has the best dry sense of humor and we laughed and laughed. She has a keen eye for special early pieces that have texture, form, and patina.





Sharon Clymer and I went to visit Michael & Vaden Crowley in Kentucky last summer. I remember it was a hot day! But Vaden’s  gardens were in all their glory! Her home is filled with wonderful early things that were hand-picked by Vaden for their soulfulness. It is so much fun when the stories and photos all come together and I get to look back on the time spent with such wonderful homeowners and reflect on how we are kind of similar in our taste – but also so very different indeed.




We also have a really neat article in the spring issue on how to cover your stove. Kris and Paul Casucci did an incredible job remodeling their kitchen recently and they share the directions with us on how to give it an authentic look.


I love old Gristmills and search them out all over the country when I travel. There is something so soothing about the water turning as you reflect on the amazing ingenuity of our pioneering forefathers who built these water powered mills with wooden parts.


ALL this and SO MUCH MORE in our upcoming spring issue!

I had such a wonderful day today, and I hope you did as well. I woke up to a very foggy morning with a slight drizzle but there was so much solace found in the barn. The warmth and dryness, and smell of hay and horses. Even though our beautiful snow is all gone and has left us a lot of M U D, I still found great pleasure in doing chores this morning.


On my way back to the house I stopped at the mailbox and found an unexpected surprise from a subscriber who means the world to me. I opened a box of Twin Bings and a cute spring note – how in the world did she know how much I was craving a treat? And to send all the way to Iowa for them … what a LOVE.


And while I was having one for breakfast, an old friend from way back in my past blessed me with this video in my inbox. I think if you give it a chance – you just might find a blessing in it too….

Winter settles in …

Well, I’m a tad late with my post –

Getting the spring issue to print and some internet issues kept me from posting my snow photos from about ten days ago or so. The snow brought bitter cold temps with it, and then afterwards we were in the 60’s!



I love the farm blanketed in snow. I know the cows look cold, but they really aren’t. As long as they are fat and in good health, they stay warm from the inside out. We feed them hay and grain every day too. Sadly, now, all this beautiful snow is gone and we have … MUD! But that’s ok – we need the moisture for all that strong green grass in the spring.





Work on the cabin is non-existent due to the weather and Todd preparing for a big horse sale in Oklahoma City (he left this morning), but since my latest cabin update we did get the sub roof on. In order for the tin to go on the roof, the chimney builders will have to erect the chimney that goes up between the two cabins. Aunt Cory’s log house had two cellars – one under each pen, and both were filled with rock. Tons and tons of rock! So the next step is to get all that rock moved here to the farm so the masons can use it for the chimney. Then the tin can go on the roof and so on.


If you know me, you know I’m not a great cook. I get by and we don’t starve, but it’s far from my favorite thing. And that is under normal kitchen conditions! Now with my microwave, single hot plate and crock pot – I’m seriously handicapped!  But I wanted to share a dip I made for New Years that is oh so good!


1 lb. bacon cooked             1 cup mayonnaise               1 cup sour cream

8 ounces cream cheese softened            1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese    1 tomato

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (I used the toaster oven)

Mix mayonnaise, sour cream, and cream cheese in a bowl and stir. Add cheese and tomato and mix well. Pour into a shallow dish or pie pan and bake for 20 minutes or until bubbling. Garnish with additional tomato and bacon on top. Serve warm with corn chips.

On these dreary winter days you might be in the need of a good book. I rarely deviate from Historical Fiction but somehow stumbled on a writer that probably everyone on the planet knew about but me – Charles Martin.   He seems to be pretty prolific and has had several titles on the New York Times Best Seller list. He writes nothing about what I typically read, but I have to admit that after reading two of his books, “Wrapped in Rain” and “When Crickets Cry,” there were several occasions that I stopped and thought -“Wow,” and had to reread the sentence a couple of times because it was so poignantly put. I will indeed read more of his titles in the future.

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I’ll be sharing sneak peeks of the upcoming Spring issue with you very soon – so stay tuned my friends! Thank your for stopping by to see me today!

17th C. Purity

Between Christmas and New Years I had the best time visiting my friend Marion Atten in Illinois. You might recall her home was featured in my book, The Settlement – long about eight or nine years ago. Marion and I both marveled at the fact that it had been that long ago.  For the past three years Marion has been calling DeWitt, Illinois home – moving there to be closer to family after Chuck had a long run of rehab after an illness. I’m happy to report that he is doing really great and I know their grandchildren are sure glad to have them closer – not to mention their son and daughter-in-law.

It was great fun to see how Marion has placed her 17th C. antiques in her new home, and even more fun to see some of the same museum quality pieces she had before in a new setting. We discussed at great length how each home dictates the style and direction for itself. To read all about this and see more photos – stay tuned in the coming year of, “A Simple Life Magazine!”   For now, here are just a few sneak peeks!


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In With The New …

My goodness, Mom always told me that the older you get the faster time goes by, and was she ever right! If I get any older I will blink and miss it all! She also used to tell me, “Don’t wish your life away.”  I would always be looking to the next event and forget about what was happening that day. These are all good lessons to remember but hard to live by.


2017 is a good year to chase after the dreams you hold in your heart!

I want to sincerely THANK YOU for all your support and interest in Homestead Publishing. It’s an honor to have your ear and your friendship.  Lots of good things coming ahead in the New Year!

Christmas Eve in Brown’s Cove

Many, many years ago I discovered this wonderful Appalachian story by George Foss. It was originally published in Discover: The Arts & Humanities of Greater Baton Rouge November/December 1981. I saved it and read it each year on Christmas Eve. It takes me right to Brown’s Cove in an instant. These are my people, these are my kith, my kin. It’s a long read but treat yourself ~ you won’t be sorry. Wishing all my beloved friends and family a day filled with old traditions.


No one ever went to Hilma Powell’s house by mistake. It is one of the most “out of the way” and “away from it all” places I know. If you start out, as I did, from Washington, DC., head west into Virginia on Route 211 past old Fairfax Courthouse through the Civil War battle fields of Manassas and Bull Run to Warrenton. There you reach the crest of a gentle rise and for the first time see the Blue Ridge Mountains stretching north and south before you like a misty wall. Turn south for Charlottesville running parallel to the mountains through stands of pine and sycamore trees. West again on I64 into the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge. Double back north at Crozet and follow the winding blacktop through the tiny towns of Whitehall and Free Union. Where the road turns sharply to the right over a bridge, take the left fork. A loose gravel road runs past the eighteenth century home sites called Mountfair and Brightberry. Don’t go too far. To the right by a post is an almost hidden two-rut trail which leads up into Brown’s Cove. The trail is full of rocks, pools of water and in winter, snow. About a mile of axle-breaking jolts and perhaps a push or two brings you past a large stately country plantation house the locals call “Headquarters” because Stonewall Jackson used it as his field headquarters while directing his army from the Shenandoah Valley through Brown’s Cove on their way to join Robert E. Lee in the first defense of Richmond. A few hundred yards farther and you see a large old log house which once served as the dwelling for the overseers of the Brown plantation. It leans slightly from its three hundred years of standing, and there are several cars of all makes and vintages parked randomly about. We are not the first ones there for a Christmas visit. You see, despite the remoteness of the location, and the difficulties of the trip, folks are drawn here as surely and certainly as the Magi were by the star. This is because Hilma is the most hospitable person who ever lived, and she and the others who will also be there make this one of the very best places to be any time, and at Christmas, more so.

Hilma is a part of the Virginia mountains and countryside, born in this very house. Almost blind since birth with a congenital malady common in parts of the mountains, she constantly “looks after” the house for her husband, Al, her brother, Lloyd, her cousin, Marybird, various boarders, relatives and a constant stream of transient visitors from near and far.

Al is a New Englander, set apart by his birthplace and foreign speech. But Al came into the Virginia mountains and met Hilma, fell in love with both and stayed. Al does everything from fixing roofs to stringing fence.
Lloyd is a gentle giant with long arms and huge callused hands. He suffers from the same loss of sight as his sister and moves about the house, barn and garden with slow and deliberate grace. He talks very little, listens much and is quick to laugh.

Marybird McAllister is an older cousin who has boarded with Hilma for more than 20 years. Now well over 80, Marybird is the archetypal mountain woman: married at 13, mother of 10 children, widowed. She is totally illiterate but can recall and sing the words and music to more than 150 old songs and ballads. It was to hear the singing and banjo playing of Marybird that I first came to this house years before.


Along with these permanent residents were a number of visitors. Mary Shiflett, Hilma’s nearest neighbor and close friend, is a large, robust woman. She had brought with her two gallons of her own homemade apple butter and four of the dozen welfare children she boards at her own home nearby. Mervin Sandridge, another neighbor, breeds cattle for a living and tells tall tales and plays the fiddle for fun. Sarah Ritchie, a pretty young woman, has taught in mountain schools from the Blue Ridge to the Cumberlands. A dark man called simply Jerry, is also there. Jerry never speaks. He is not unable to speak, he just does not speak. Jerry roams the hills with a rifle and a large dog, often bringing offerings of fresh game to Hilma, Mary and others thereabouts in exchange for a hot meal.

Hilma and Mary Shiflett move about the wood stove in the large room which serves as both kitchen and dining room, mixing the ingredients for biscuits and cornbread which will soon be passed around with Mary’s apple butter. In the other big downstairs room, Al places kindling in a pot-bellied stove. The room is filled with chairs of all sorts, and around the walls are several beds, couches and an old bellows organ which is Hilma’s pride and joy.

There is an intense warmth from the glowing stove which is broken only when the door is opened as someone enters or goes out, letting in a swirl of the crisp, icy mountain air. The smell of fresh burning wood mixes with that of hot biscuits and cornbread being handed from person to person on heaping plates followed by bowls of fresh churned butter and dark brown apple butter sweet as candy. The room is filled with people sitting and talking, radiating out from the stove like the spokes of a wheel.

Everyone’s thoughts and words are drawn and focused on the fact that tomorrow is Christmas. It’s cold enough, but will we have snow? It seems too clear, but you can never be certain. Is there enough wood in the house for the night and for cooking in the morning?

There is some talk of the neighbors who are not there that evening. But soon attention swings to the youngsters who came by with “Miss Mary” as they call her. What do they want for Christmas? Have they been good? Do they expect Santa Claus will come and remember what they want? Each excitedly recites his expectations and main hope for the nearing Christmas morning. There is the certainty that “Miss Mary” has used a considerable amount of the money she received from a year’s worth of making quilts and apple butter to make the desires of her “kids” come to life with tomorrow’s light. Mary proudly recounts the number of quilts she stitched and the number of jars of apple butter she dipped up this year, adding that when she was younger she also had the time and strength to run two moonshine stills and to help take lumber off the mountain.

I ask Lloyd Powell what Christmas was like when he was the age of Mary’s charges. He tells of the ritual of hanging stockin’s over the fireplace and how each one on Christmas morning would contain an orange — always an orange — some hand-carved toys, perhaps a pocket knife for the boys and a pretty comb for the girls, and lots of store candy. And every Christmas Eve the grown-ups would tell the young-uns that if they crept quietly out to the barn exactly at midnight, they would see all the animals kneeling down to pray and talking to one another as if by magic on this one night of the year. He laughingly recalls how the parents would smile, confident that long before that special time, droopy young eyes would close in sleep until the dawn came with the magic moment long past. How like my own futile attempts to wait up for Santa Claus it seemed.

Another car bumps along the road and stops. Professor Davis from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville comes in greeting all and saying how it simply would not be Christmas unless he came by to hear Mrs. McAllister sing “The Lady Gay.” He delivers an especially courtly bow to Mrs. McAllister and presents her with a Whitman’s Sampler box of chocolates. She is delighted by the attention and says that she will need a minute or two to “study up” the song. She begins humming softly to herself. The box of candy with its cellophane wrapper still intact will be placed in a large trunk of her belongings upstairs in her bedroom. It contains several quilts made by Marybird herself, numerous handmade rag dolls to give out to visiting children, many faded family photos and at least two dozen untouched Whitman Samplers from previous special occasions. Marybird prefers gifts of chewing gum for immediate and unceremonious consumption. Suddenly and unannounced she commences the song… “There was a lady and a lady gay…” It is an ancient British ballad known to Professor Davis and other ballad scholars as “The Wife of Ushers Well” which recalls some of the nearly forgotten pagan magic of Christmas. As the story unfolds with each repetition of the archaic five-note melody, it tells how the spirits of three young children are allowed to return to life to visit their grieving mothers under the Christmas blessing of the baby Jesus. Next with very little coaxing necessary, Mrs. McAllister plays an appropriately festive dance tune using a homemade banjo and sings “Hey Mary, don’t you weep, don’t you moan…” During the last few stanzas, Jerry rises and dances a traditional clog step while we all clap in time.


Once the music has begun, its momentum grows. Hilma plays on her cherished organ, fingers moving over the small keyboard and feet pumping the bellows with a march-like rhythm and motion. She plays those pieces, mostly hymns, which the season suggests to her and we all sing along: “Wondrous Love,” “The Little Family,” and “Green Grow the Rushes.”


Someone expresses regret that Mervin Sandridge didn’t bring along his fiddle since he has considerable reputation as a fiddler and his playing is much admired. He recalls how he had handmade his first fiddle from a dried gourd and how it was replaced by a brand new factory-made violin ordered from a mail order catalogue the Christmas when he was eight years’ old. Since he had no case, he carried it about in a flour sack. One night walking home after playing for a barn dance, quite late for a youngster, he thought he saw a man in the woods with no head. He had heard folks tell about this ghost with no head and took out a-running for his life. He slipped crossing the creek and fell smack on his fiddle. He went on home crying great wails, not caring now whether he lived or died, carrying the flour sack filled with wet splinters which had been his beautiful violin. An emergency family conference led to a trip to Charlottesville the next Saturday and the acquisition of another instrument, a factory clone of the original, this time complete with case.


As the hour grows late, “Miss Mary” readies her youngsters to leave for home. Mervin drives off in his pickup truck for his farm some 10 miles distant. Professor Davis continues up the climbing road to the cabin he uses a retreat from city and work. Jerry and his dog cut through the woods for his shack up the mountainside near Brown’s Gap.

The house is still amply full with Hilma, Lloyd, Al, Marybird, Hilma’s five cousins from Indiana, and me. Trunks of bedclothes are opened, quilts are handed out and sleeping places assigned. Pallets are made on the floor for a few of the children. Hilma, Lloyd and Al ready the house for the night. As Lloyd places a full charge of kindling in the stove he asks Al, “Is Mr. Foss going to sleep stoke tonight?” Al replies, “I don’t know l ain’t ast ‘im yit.” I break in, “What’s sleep stoke mean?” Lloyd answers, “That means to sleep closest to the woodpile and stoke the fire if it gets low and cold in the house durin’ the night. It’s a special honor on Christmas Eve.”

I suspect that I am again the victim of another good natured “snipe hunt” such as mountain folk like to play on city folk, but figure that it is the least I can do in return for the wonderful time I have had this evening and for the wonderful time I will have tomorrow.

Dried delicatessen

There will be a great baked ham, heaps of fried chicken, perhaps a pot of rabbit with dumplings, courtesy of Jerry’s unfailing aim. There will be baked sweet potatoes and fried apples, a rainbow assortment of homemade pickles and preserves, biscuits and cornbread. Hilma will bake a huge chocolate cake made with the rich guinea hen eggs that Lloyd gathers daily. There will be more of “Miss Mary’s” apple butter, and someone will produce a bottle of clear, smooth moonshine whiskey, cooked from barley mash and laced with sweet mountain blackberries.

With memories of the recent evening and anticipation of tomorrow filling the mind while settling down for a long winter’s sleep, there is hardly room for visions of even a single sugarplum left.