12 Days of Chickenmas

It’s that most wonderful time of the year – the time when flockkeepers brace for a new round of chicken-themed gifts coming their way. I happen to be up to my wattle in chicken tchotchkes but for everyone else out there, here are some suggestions:

I wouldn’t mind if my true love gave me this on the first day of Chickenmas. There’s nothing more soothing to watch than a flock of chickens, and artist Karen Bezuidenhout  paints hers strolling through a forest. 30″ x 24″, available from Sundance Catalog, but at a price. $3,700. Not exactly chicken feed.


For a lot less scratch, you can do well and do good to honor someone on your list with a gift of a flock of chickens through Heifer International. A $20 donation can change lives.


Prefer to wear your chicken love? I’ve got my eye on this Jacques Pepin apron from Sur La Table,  although at $50 I’m hoping it might go on sale after the holidays. The collection also includes coordinated placemats, mugs and paper goods. Three French hens, indeed:


For $320 you could be at the top of the pecking order in these feather-trimmed Uggs, which feature Swarovski crystal trim and a collar of “ostrich, chicken and peafowl” feathers.


Chicks can be chic: ranging in sizes and priced from $8-$46 are these stylish vessels encased in chicken wire from Jayson Home’s Grant Glass Collection.


Perhaps a “prosperity hen” garland will bring you luck in the New Year. Crafted by women cooperatives, these are available from various sources, including Gardener’s Supply Company, where they are priced at $14.99.


For the most dedicated flock keepers, these harnesses from My Pet Chicken bring free-ranging to a whole new level. $10.95 each.


Online retailer Brave New Look  offers a variety of chicken-themed clothing items, including leggings and “ugly chicken sweaters”. But this “Saving My Chicken” t-shirt for $26 is my fave:


It would look lovely paired with this scarf from purplepossumuk on etsy.com for a mere $10.42:


These winsome decorative knobs from Anthropologie’s “Farm Collection” would be perfect stocking stuffers. $10 each.


Need a cuddle? You can order your very own Roxy, a 12″plush hen from Amazon for $19.99. No barnyard mess, no chicken poop, but, of course, no eggs, either.


Although Amazon has that covered, too, with this egg-laying chicken keychain for $4.68:



And on the last day of Chickenmas, I hope to take a break and hang out with my hens and the latest copy of Backyard Poultry magazine. You can make your favorite chicken keeper happy with a year’s subscription for just $25:



Whatever you find under the tree, I wish you and your flock a merry little Chickenmas!



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Family Album: Thankful

We are usually in NYC for Thanksgiving but changed it up this year. Turns out there is so much to be thankful for on either coast. With a road trip to the OC and San Diego and then turkey day in Santa Barbara we were grateful to check in with almost all the family.

Nothing makes the CE happier than a ride in the Duffy.


Except maybe for spending time with these kiddos…


Fireside dinner with Tina, John and the girls:


Fun to watch these cutest ever gym rats:



And then Evie took the show on the road to San Diego where she crushed it at her very first State gymnastics competition:



So happy to have Taylor and Angie with us for Thanksgiving:


And Phyllis with her friend, Rachel:


It’s not exactly Central Park but I couldn’t complain about the view on my Thanksgiving morning walk:


The only downside is that we left Daniel to his own devices in NYC, and he decided to go SKYDIVING! Ack! Of all the things I am grateful for this week, I am most thankful that I didn’t know about that until after it was over.


I can’t imagine why he couldn’t just come home where it’s a thrill a minute. Why, just yesterday, we saw the chickens cross the driveway:


Life is good. Love to all.













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Lions, luxury and love in Chicago.

Chicago is the place I always planned to live but turned out to be the place I hardly ever get to anymore. So it was a double thrill to be invited to our friend Olivia’s wedding – lots of love for her and for a favorite town. Four glorious fall days in Chicago and a spectacularly beautiful wedding – what a great way to end our three weeks on the road.


First stop for us is always the Art Institute. I know The Bean has become the go-to Michigan Avenue landmark but for me it will always be those lions. (Not to mention those Cubs!) We are always amazed by the treasures within this grand museum. I’d forgotten how great their Renoir collection is – the famous “Two Sisters” and “Fruits of the Midi” were my favorites this trip:



I also liked these “Male and Female Heads from The Tavern Club, 1937”. Very Atlas Shrugged, aren’t they?


And the lions have a friend prowling about inside, too. “Relief of a Lion Walking” by Antoine-Luis Barye:


We stayed at The Peninsula, where superlatives fail to capture its perfection so I won’t even try. Here’s a peek of our suite – the floral panel features silk embroidery. Divine.


After staying in six hotels in three weeks, my road-weary pet peeve had become staying in rooms where there is no charger outlet by the bed. The Peninsula provides built-in chargers of every kind built in to a leather-stitched drawer in the nightstand. Perfection.


The common areas are no less exquisite than the rooms:


It was hard to leave our aerie at The Peninsula, but we had to head outside – Chicago is such a great walking city. Hello, Hancock building! Hello, Chicago River!





A highlight of the weekend – dinner with dear friend Rosanne at Harry Carey’s:


And Daniel flew in for the wedding!


So special for us all to celebrate Olivia’s big day. She was the most elegant, sparkly and beautiful of brides.


The reception was like a dream…


No idea when we will get back to Chicago, but in the meantime we will cherish this wonderful memory of family, friends, love and those majestic lions.

“It is hopeless for the occasional visitor to try to keep up with Chicago — she outgrows his prophecies faster than he can make them. She is always a novelty; for she is never the Chicago you saw when you passed through the last time.”

                                                                                                       — Mark Twain





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A Last Look at Michigan

We fell hard for Michigan. As we stepped off the ferry from Mackinac Island and began our trek southward down the middle of The Mitten, we had plenty of time to ponder our time there. Yes, Midwesterners are still just as nice as we remembered. Wow, they still refer to soda as pop! They are not meta or ironic and for the most part, not even all that cynical. They are politely interested in visitors from distant locales, but they have no interest in following you home. They like where they live.

I ticked off the places we’d peeked at: Frankenmuth, Glen Arbor, Torch Lake, Traverse City, Petoskey, Charlevoix and the jewel that is Mackinac Island. We really just skimmed the surface. If we are lucky enough to make a return visit, it is the Upper Peninsula that beckons. I would bury myself in Jim Harrison novels and head up to Copper Harbor. Preferably in the summer, because I am not completely crazy: Copper Harbor gets an average of 207 inches of snow every winter.

A few hours into the drive, we stopped in Grayling for lunch. The Grayling restaurant, with its lunch counter and wooden booths, looks about the same as it must have when it opened in 1937, although the framed newspaper clippings on the wall hark back to the sinking of the Lusitania.


We pressed on, driving south and finally west to where the Black River winds its way to Lake Michigan at South Haven, a little town we will always remember because here we had our first successful stay at a bed and breakfast. We’ve tried it before: once, after bone-wearying travel delays we drove up to our designated B&B in the wee hours, found it illuminated by a flickering fluorescent light from the gas station across the street  and discovered we were basically checking in to the Bates Motel.

. Another time, in another place, the CE lay awake all night in a room where the worn polyester bedspread slipped and slid dangerously close to his skin and a half-dozen portraits of large-eyed cats stared down at him in the dark. He woke me at 5 a.m. to announce that we were moving to a Courtyard Marriott.

But in South Haven, we found Yelton Manor, where gracious innkeepers Bob and Elaine have spent thirty-two years perfecting the art of hospitality. Our stay there was brief, but we had time to sample the popcorn and peruse the bookshelves that line nearly every wall of the artfully designed common areas. The inn is pristine, cozy and welcoming.






We walked into town for dinner, across the drawbridge where  bridge tender gave us a friendly wave as we went by.  The tab at Maria’s was under $40, so we celebrated with a cone at the local Dairy Queen. Reason enough right there to move to Michigan – the young man who waited on us could not believe that we live in a place where there is no Dairy Queen. Neither can I.

After a restful night and a healthy breakfast, we bid farewell to our kind hosts and continued our drive southward for the last stop of our two and a half week sojourn. Onward to my beloved City of the Big Shoulders: Chicago…






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A Grand Introduction: Mackinac Island

We didn’t know jack about Mackinac. It was only during the twenty-minute ferry ride from Mackinaw City over to Mackinac Island that we realized we’d been saying it all wrong. Despite that “c” at the end, it’s pronounced with an awww, not an aacckk. I later learned that early Native Americans likened the island’s shape to that of a Maehkaenah,  or turtle, in the language of the Menominee Indians. Maybe they spell it the way they do just to get a laugh at the expense of blundering tourists.


However you pronounce it, Mackinac Island is the loveliest possible skipping stone between the Lower and Upper peninsulas of Michigan, jauntily perched right at the spot where Lake Michigan passes the baton to Lake Huron. It isn’t really all that close to anything, which is just fine by the 500 or so souls who live there year round and watch the “fudgies” or daytrippers who ride the ferry over to buy trinkets and the island’s famous homemade fudge, come and go.


Cars are not permitted on the island, so when you disembark from the ferry, you can either engage a horse-drawn carriage, rent a bicycle, or, like us, start the winding climb up the hill on foot. We passed quaint cottages with prim picket fences and heard the clop-clop-clop of horses passing by. An equine fragrance permeates the air, but all earthly evidence is quickly removed by a small army of good-natured gentlemen bearing shovels. The island is pristine, dotted with gracious “cottages” built during the Gilded Age when wealthy industrialists summered there.




Overlooking the harbor is Fort Mackinac, which played a dramatic role in the War of 1812, but the top spot on the island is commanded by the aptly named Grand Hotel.


Built in 1887 of Michigan white pine, The Grand Hotel boasts the longest porch in the world at 660 feet. You can pay a $10 fee to tour the common areas of the hotel, or a small fortune to stay there, which we did for three glorious days, feeling lost somewhere in time, which also happens to be the name of the 1980 movie starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour that was filmed on the premises. We sipped cocktails on the porch and looked out over the lake, feeling, well, quite grand!


We awoke each morning to this spectacular view


and spent the days exploring the hotel between the sumptuous breakfast and lunch buffets and formal four-course dinner. Jackets and ties for gentlemen, thank you. My handsome husband cleans up so nicely:


Of course, sparkling Michigan cherry juice was on the menu:


and there were the hotel’s justifiably famous Grand Pecan Balls for dessert. They serve 50,000 of them each season and I am embarrassed to say that we ate our share. The main ingredient, of course, is fudge.


After dinner a harpist plays in the parlor, where coffee is served by the hotel’s elegant and gracious staff:


The entire hotel is opulently furnished in the inimitable shouldn’t-work-but-it-does palette of famed decorator Carlton Varney:img_0849



We so enjoyed our three remarkable days on Mackinac Island. I even put an exclamation point next to the checkmark we made on our bucket list. If you go, I hope you have as Grand a time as we did.
















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Glen Arbor: Lake Michigan with a Cherry on Top.

Glen Arbor sits pretty, right on the pinky finger of the mitten that is the lower peninsula of Michigan. It gazes fondly to the northwest over Lake Michigan, making for some terrific sunset views


and it boasts the lovely Big and Little Glen lakes as back-up to the south:


The area is awash in water and natural beauty – and cherries! A sweet little factoid: the state of Michigan produces 250 million pounds of cherries annually. We ate them in guacamole, in salad and, of course, in pie, all at Glen Arbor’s Cherry Republic.


We stayed two nights there at The Homestead, where we feasted on the lake views


and on the fabulous polpette appetizer at Nonna’s Ristorante.


Much has been made of the area’s Sleeping Bear Dunes being voted “The Most Beautiful Place in America”by the Good Morning America television show. Personally, I would vote to crowdfund a trip for the show’s staff to Yosemite to see if they want to re-think that proclamation, but I must agree that Sleeping Bear Dunes is pretty spectacular. You cannot capture the scope of it in a photograph. You need to visit. And you absolutely need to view it from the Pierce Stocking scenic drive, which is kind of like Pebble Beach’s 17-Mile Drive,  with sand. The dunes rise 450 feet from the lake to the cliff above, where signs are posted warning visitors that a slide down the dunes will subsequently require a two-hour climb back up the hill.


The view of Glen Lake from the scenic drive is lovely,


as is the road under a canopy of forest:


It was a sweet little visit and we had a cherry good time!








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Smitten by the Mitten.

I started humming it pretty much as our plane landed in Detroit and ear-wormed it for the entire week until we rolled into Chicago.

“Michigan seems like a dream to me now / It took me four days to hitchhike from Saginaw / I’ve come to look for America…”


I grew up three miles south of the Michigan border, but time spent there during my childhood was either negligible or forgotten, or both. Well, except for one night senior year of high school when friends and I took advantage of Michigan’s kindly state law which at that time made it legal to drink at age 18. Needless to say, the night did not end well. Michigan raised their drinking age to 21 not long after, a decision possibly set in motion by the debacle in which our hapless crew discovered the folly of mixing copious amounts of cherry vodka and Coca-Cola.

But that was then and this was now, and after a week’s tour in Texas and a twenty-four hour foray to Virginia, we were ready to low-key it for several days until we were due in the Windy City. What could be more low-key than a road trip through Michigan? So off we drove from Detroit, north by northwest, me riding shotgun and humming Paul Simon and crinkling the paper map on my lap and generally driving my dear husband out of his mind. (It’s a talent of mine, well-honed after many decades of practice.)


Cornfields make me nostalgic. Way back when I had a newly-minted drivers license I used to take the Buick out on the back county roads of northern Indiana and drive past miles and miles of cornfields. Then, I was lost in the corn maze of adolescence and the corn maze of the Midwest, desperate to escape from both. But now I see a cornfield and I want to just stop by the side of the road and look at it for awhile. As Annie Proulx mused in The Shipping News, “as you get older you find out the place where you started out pulls at you stronger and stronger.” I was feeling that pull. I hummed a little louder.

“So I looked at the scenery /she read her magazine/ And the moon rose over an open field…”

Paul Simon was willing us to stop in Saginaw, where I have read that a local artist painted the  lyrics to America on various down-on-their-luck buildings around the town. But the more practical consideration just then was lunch, and with all due respect to Mr. Simon, we weren’t looking for Mrs. Wagner’s pies. Since we had fond memories of our German lunch the previous week in Fredericksburg, TX, we decided to veer off I-75 and see what was cooking in the little town of Frankenmuth. The answer: pretty much everything!



You really need to be hungry as a horse to eat at Frankenmuth’s  Bavarian Inn. Maybe that’s why Buddy the Belgian draft horse is stationed right outside the restaurant. For a nominal fee, you can commune with him over a few oat cakes, which seemed like the least we could do after we’d just downed noodles and cabbage and bratwurst and fried chicken and more.


A post-prandial walk around the neighborhood and across the covered bridge was a necessity:


No color in the trees yet, but just a hint of fall in the flowers:


The mitten that is the lower peninsula of Michigan turns out to be a size large and it took most of the day for us to make the catty-cornered drive up and across to our destination on Lake Michigan. Hours and hours of cornfields and barns and me looking out the window and humming, lost somewhere between Midwest past and present. Those familiar gray skies. Miles of flat highway stretching out beyond us. I had no idea where we were, but it sure felt like home.

” ‘Kathy, I’m lost,’ I said, thought I knew she was sleeping /
‘I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why’ /
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike /
They’ve all come to look for America /
All come to look for America /
All come to look for America”

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