SATURDAY’S EARLY BIRDS – Marilyn Armstrong

I keep seeing wonderful, exotic birds — who vanish exactly the minute I have my camera in my hand. Are they afraid of the camera? Does it look like a weapon?

It’s eerie. I walk very quietly into the dining room and put the camera on, facing away from the glass. I turn around — they the one I wanted is gone. All the rest are there, but the Cardinal or that big golden woodpecker?

Rainy morning squirrel. I do believe he’s shaking off the water!
I love when they just lay down in the seeds and won’t be moved, no matter how many birds come and try to bump them off the feeder. In this case, a nuthatch got tired of waiting while Mr. Woodpecker rolls in the food.

Flown away. Gone with the wind or at least, a feather.

A plump woodpecker. This one is a Hairy Woodpecker (pretty sure) because he’s bigger and has a long beak.
I missed the big red papa but got a nice look at lovely mom. Not as showy as her scarlet mate, she is still a very pretty bird.

That being said, the birds who are used to the feeder are hanging around long enough for me to choose my shots, which helps. I have enough pictures — including ones I have yet to process — so I can pick and choose and hopefully, get better (or at least different) photographs.

BEWARE THE HORNS! CEE’S BLACK & WHITE CHALLENGE – Marilyn Armstrong

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Horns

I didn’t have much in the way of horned critters in my heap of pictures. Just a few goats and the local cows who sometimes have horns, and sometimes, have them shaved down. I suppose it depends on if they like to fight with them or not. Got a great shot of two goats head-butting, but I’m not sure either of them has horns.

Considering the enthusiasm with which they were going at it, maybe it’s just as well if they didn’t! The cows, on the other hand, were placidly bovine and seem disinclined to do anything other than munch on grass and lie on the cool ground under a tree.

As usual, some are Garry’s and the others are mine.

These guys have horns!
Farm cows — with horns! Photo Garry Armstrong
A bit of head-butting – Photo Garry Armstrong
Close-up head butting. Don’t they get headaches?

BARTERING – THE COUNTRY WAY – Marilyn Armstrong

Bartering may be “old style” in the U.S., but I think that’s just in cities. Because in the country, a lot of bartering still goes on. The countryside … where the cows outnumber people and only the horses look fat and happy.

July - Farm Stand

“I’ll write your brochure if you’ll frame a couple of pictures.” Done!

“I’ll clean your kennel if you’ll groom my Scottie.” Done!

But then there are the old-fashioned people. “I’ll plow your driveway because you are a member of our church, even though you never show up. How about I dig you out — and you come to church this Sunday?” A bargain is a bargain. He didn’t require we come every Sunday, right?

The steeple of the now-abandoned UU church in Uxbridge. Built in the mid-1800s, it’s getting pretty shabby. Might be earlier, but I’m not sure.

“Sweetie, I’ll buy your prom dress and all the trimmings. All I want from you are a couple of hours to take some nice pictures of you all dressed up and ready to go.” Done and done! Until she decides to not go to the prom at all (long story).

“God? Hello up there? If you make my cancer go away, I’ll attend church every week. Forever!” Unfortunately, God didn’t say anything. Fortunately, cancer was remitted by surgery.

When you negotiate with The Big Guy Up There, you’ve got to hope he’s listening. Faith is the coin of exchange. You believe, he delivers. Or not.

Personally, I think one, loud, direct, incontrovertible Word from The Big Guy would go a long way to turning this nasty old world of ours into a better place, especially if accompanied by a major smiting. The “blind faith” thing is getting a bit old.

THE GREAT OUTDOORS, NEW ENGLAND VERSION – Marilyn Armstrong

A Photo a Week Challenge: The Great Outdoors

We live in rural Massachusetts, but it’s hard to think of it as “the great outdoors.”

There’s something a bit enclosed about New England. Trees and stone fences. No big open areas, but smaller sections. Fields, valleys, rivers, lakes … and an amazing Atlantic coast. We are less grand than the west but cozier. Greener.

Less grand than the west, but friendlier. And we get more than enough snow to make up the difference!

The cows in the meadow
The last of the woods, now bare
Vermont mountains
Roaring dam in Blackstone
Photo: Garry Armstrong
Photo: Garry Armstrong
River Bend in early winter
Photo: Garry Armstrong
Photo: Garry Armstrong –Winter at home

 

TIME FOR A LITTLE CHRISTMAS DECORATION – Marilyn Armstrong

Christmas down by the Mumford River 
Another square for BeckyB

In downtown Uxbridge, they have decorated the park. I think this is the first time I’ve seen more than the snowflakes. They’ve been around for a few years. But this year, we have reindeer, an elf, a couple of snow guys and a big red sleigh. That’s huge for little old Uxbridge.

A snow guy along the Mumford dam in downtown Uxbridge

Since we have a park and a river and two dams in the middle of town, it’s quite decorative. Since we were getting dentistry done next door, I got lucky and took some pictures.

Time is a ‘wasting! It will be Christmas next Tuesday!

CAPPUCCINOS COME TO TOWN – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I live in Easton, Connecticut, a small town of about 8000 people. We are proud of our rural, suburban character and our many acres of protected fields and woods. Many of us cling to our strict residential only zoning laws because we want to preserve the beauty and character of our town.

There is no main street or any street at all for that matter. But there are several working farms in town. There are also four farm stands that have expanded into larger, more diverse stores. In addition, we have an old inn that is now just a breakfast and lunch restaurant.

We have also had two general stores since the 1920’s or 1930’s. Recently, these two stores have modernized. One, The Easton Village Store, became a deli that also sells pizza and some essential grocery items.

The other just reopened after a major transformation and is now my favorite place in town. It’s called Greiser’s after the two generations of store owners. I remember Greiser Sr. from my childhood. The Post Office was part of the general store and Mr. Greiser was both postmaster and store manager.

Post Office when I was a child with Greiser Sr. behind the bars

I was thrilled as a kid that my grandfather would let me hold the mail when we went to the post office. But I was nervous that I might drop some of it into the pickle barrel that sat between me and the post office boxes.

The store when I was a child

When the son, Richard (my age) took over the store around the 1980’s, he petitioned the town to move the post office into its own room, attached to the store. After much wrangling with the zoning board, he was finally granted a zoning variance and the Post Office declared its independence!

Richard standing next to one of his ‘antiques’

Richard continued to sell a smattering of supermarket items. He also had a small deli counter and sold lots of sandwiches to workmen in the area.

But his real passion was ‘antiques’ – old stuff, the kind of items which are closer to junk than heirlooms. He collected lots of old stuff and started a side business. He had interesting things like an old gas pump, old phones and typewriters and a full-size carousel horse I adored!

A sad aside – Richard was divorced and subsequently fell in love with the Post Office manager. They married and were very happy together for many years. Then she died suddenly from a massive heart attack in the post office, right next door to her husband.

Richard has recently decided to retire and neither of his two children wanted to take over running the store. So he rented the front rooms of the store and kept the back room for his antiques.

The woman he rented to, Adriane, decided to totally reinvent the space. She turned it into a ‘gourmet’ country store and coffee shop. It also sells miscellaneous items like candles and soaps, blankets and aprons and trendy teas. It has a distinctly upscale country vibe.

The décor is warm, comfortable and rustic. There are places to sit down to enjoy your coffee, both inside and out, in an armchair or at a table. And there is still friendly conversation, with Adrianne and with other customers. The experience is still small-town intimate.

But the food is high-end city. The refrigerator section houses vitamin waters, fancy cheeses, cultured butter, frozen pasta and packed, marinated vegetables. The teas and coffees served are in the cappuccino, macchiato, espresso, matcha and chai latte vein.

The baked goods are delicious croissants – almond for sweet and bacon and egg, ham and cheese and spinach and ricotta for savory. The cakes and muffins are flavors like orange spice, morning-glory, and almond poppy-seed. The ‘sandwiches’ are paninis, like Brie and fig preserves on whole grain, locally baked bread.

The funny thing is that The Easton Village Store and Greiser’s are no more than two miles apart. But they are in and represent, two totally different demographics. They are worlds apart.

The Village Store is in the one-acre zoned part of town, which is more suburban and middle class. It’s food tastes run more toward the deli and salad counter at the local supermarket. Simple and traditional. Greiser’s is in the three-acre zoning area and is more rural and upper middle class. Food tastes here run more high-end urban. More Whole Foods than Shoprite.

Adriane behind the counter

I’m thrilled with the new Greiser’s. I love the vibe and the food. I’ll be even more excited when their chef (yes, they have a real chef) starts making cooked meals for dinner take-out.

I never thought I would be able to sit in a comfy chair and enjoy a cappuccino or latte just one mile from my home! (I tried making them at home but without a foam machine, it doesn’t really work).

Comfy chairs at the front window

So one small part of my town is slowly inching its way into a more urban, 2018 food culture. Easton now has a place to go with atmosphere, personality, and charm as well as good food and good conversation. Now I can have a touch of urbanity in my otherwise rural life.

Three Cheers!

PORTRAIT OF A SMALL TOWN – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I live in Easton, Connecticut, a small (8000 people), rural/suburban town in Fairfield County. I came here for summers from the day I was born in 1949 to the day I moved here full-time in 1991. We used to be called a ‘bedroom community’ because our residents commuted to work in nearby cities like New York, Stamford, and New Haven.

Small waterfall in my backyard

The town is strictly residential. Zoning doesn’t allow commercial enterprises that can’t be grandfathered into a business that existed in the mid 20th century. There have been constant fights over the years to allow some commercial zoning so we could reduce our exorbitant real estate taxes. But the town purists, including me, have always prevailed. So there are at least six working farms in town, four farm stands, and only two small general stores.

The food stands sell more than just produce these days. They all sell baked goods and milk. Some sell jams, dressings and sauces, and other condiments as well as honey and other specialty items. Two sell locally cured bacon and other pork products.

One of the farms that has a large farm stand/store, is called Silverman’s Farm. It’s been around since maybe the 1930’s. The founder, Silverman, Sr., came here from Russia and I think he was the first Jew in town. My grandfather was also Jewish and from Russia and he spent summers in Easton from the time I was born, in 1949. I used to love to listen to Grandpa and Silverman, Sr. talk in Russian and Yiddish. I also loved Silverman’s five daughters who all helped in the store. I was heartbroken when one got married and moved away.

For many decades, the farm stand used to just sell produce. The property had apple and peach trees which supplied summer and fall fruit. Around the 1980’s or 90’s, old man Silverman turned the business over to his youngest son, Irv, who is my age. Irv extended the building and added a nursery, a florist (the florist is gone now), and a Christmas tree farm. (There are several others in town).

He also limited his produce items but expanded his inventory in other directions. This included delicious house-baked pies, plus jams, bottled dressings, sauces, salsa, etc., maple sugar products, apple cider, ice cream, candies and a wall of baked goods.

Part of Silverman’s store with an orchard in the background

His brownies, cider donuts, and oatmeal raisin cookies are the best I’ve ever had. And his Fruits of the Forest pie is unique. I serve it often and everyone raves about it.

Silverman’s also has a section that sells rustic, country chatchkis and plaques. And Irv created a large and very popular petting zoo across the street from the store. This attracts crowds of families on weekends and in the summer. He also used to give apple cider making demonstrations that attracted local school children as well as tourists from other towns.

The business is thriving. Silverman’s is written up as a tourist attraction in local as well as New York City papers and magazines. Lines of cars jam his road in the fall when he advertises ‘pick your own apples’ and sells pumpkins for Halloween. Plus he has a large number of year-round customers, like me.

Apples and other fall fruits on display

Irv’s kids don’t want to take over the business and Irv is past retirement age. I hope he can find a new owner who will run it as well and as lovingly as he has.

Another local farm is Sherwood Farm. In season, they grow their own vegetables and make their own honey. They sell locally made pastries and fabulous fresh baked bread. Also locally produced milk and yogurt. They sell eggs from their own chickens. They have a large greenhouse and keep goats and cows on the farm.

I go here several times a week for a good part of the year. I’m addicted to their bread and Tom loves their fresh milk and their locally made mozzarella, which he eats with the farm’s homegrown tomatoes. He’s also crazy about their creamy, flavorful ice cream, which is made at a farm in upstate New York. They have interesting flavors like Banana Chocolate Chip, Black Raspberry, and Pumpkin.

This place looks and smells the most like a real farm! In the summer it’s great to see bags of corn or beans being brought in from the fields and dumped on the counters.

You can also talk to the farmer about which crops are good this year, when flat beans will be in season and what the difference is between the different squashes.

One of the two stores in town used to be my grandmother’s butcher and general store. We called it ‘Halzak’s’ because that was the name of the two brothers who owned it and ran it for maybe 50 years, starting in the 1940’s. It used to sell a little of everything, like a true, old-world general store. And everyone stood around chatting with the brothers before, during and after their purchases. So buying meat and groceries was a social event for my grandparents.

About twenty years ago, the brothers sold the business and it was modernized into The Easton Village Store. After much wrangling with the zoning board, the new owners were allowed to expand the store into the back rooms that used to store the meat when it was still a butcher shop. But not much was done to change the interior décor or set up.

Five years ago it was sold again and totally redesigned and modernized. These owners went through another battle with the zoning board and finally obtained the right to have tables for people to sit down and eat on premises.

This was not in the original zoning permit or the past usage. So the town said that this was not a valid feature. Hence the zoning battle. Fortunately, the store finally won and now has granite counters in the back as well as a few wood tables in the front.

The grocery store items are limited and The Village Store functions primarily as a deli. It also has a pizza oven and sells some fresh baked goods that we like (mainly scones, muffins and bagels). It also sells coffee from those big metal canisters. Not very good but it was the only game in town.

The other local store in town has just undergone a major transformation. I’m so excited about it, I’m going to dedicate a separate blog to my new favorite place in town. I think I’m going to call it ‘Cappuccinos Come to Easton.’