Thursday, July 6, 2017

Isn't she lovely? The produce of our weekly Malta Ridge CSA

We are lucky to live in an area  where a few farms and small rural agri-businesses are still surviving, despite tremendous development pressures.  Just up the road from us is Malta Ridge Orchard and Gardens.  This spring, I bought a CSA share from them, or more precisely, a half-share.  CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. When you become a member of a CSA, you are purchasing a “share” of the fruits and vegetables from a local farmer.  (Malta Ridge also sells egg and chicken shares, but I just bought the produce option.)

In addition to being close and convenient for us, Malta Ridge offers lots of choices, which makes their CSA program work well for me. Because they also have a farm store, I can pop in on "my" day and choose from among the fruits and vegetables on offer. For my half-share, I can take home eight items per week.  "One item" may be designated as three tomatoes, for example, or a bunch of carrots.

So what did I take home this week? 

  1. A large head of lettuce.
  2. A bunch of carrots.
  3. A bunch of radishes.
  4. Two onions.
  5. Three tomatoes.
  6. A head of cauliflower.
  7. Two yellow summer squash.
  8.  A pint of blueberries.
Plus, I still have a few potatoes, sweet potatoes and onions left from last week.

This is week four of my (half) share, which will run until the first week of November. It has taken me a couple of trips to the farm to work out a smooth routine, but I have it all down pat now. 

I carry the produce home in my market baskets, wash and trim things like the carrots, then add the trimmings to my compost bin. The baskets get a quick wash and I am all set until next week. 

Malta Ridge is in the process of selling its development rights, with the help of grants from New York State, Saratoga County, and the Town of Malta. This means the owners are ensuring that someone will always and forever be able to have a farm on those 132 acres. That is quite a blessing for those of us who live near by. 

Fresh, local, healthy, delicious, and forever a farm. What's not to like?

Find the Malta Ridge Orchard and Gardens store at 107 Van Aernem Rd. in Malta. They are off Malta Avenue, near Route 9, not far from Northway Exit 13. Their telephone number is 518 229-1255. They also have a Facebook page.

Want a few other suggestions for Saratoga and Washington County farm-related business you should check out? These are a few of my favorites.

Smith Orchard Bake Shop  (You will never bake another pie.)
4561 Jockey Street
Ballston Spa, NY 12020

Battenkill milk - sold in many places locally. Check their website. It's really good.

And did you know?  ALL of Stewart's milk, ice cream, and eggs are produced locally, from local farms. 

Please comment and share your favorites, too. Let's support our local farms and orchards!


Sunday, July 2, 2017

A Family Fourth

July 4th, circa 1900, probably near Westmoreland, NY.  My grandmother is the young girl seated in a chair near the center of the front row.
My grandmother, Millie Stebbins, born Westmoreland, NY, 1888
The surviving grandchildren of Millie Stebbins Holmes, 4th of July celebration, 2017, in Londonderry, Vermont. Shown L-R: Barbara Coombs Conner; Laura (Laurie) Kinsley Drinkwater; Katherine (Katie) Kinsley Healey; Royal (Tad) Kinsley; Mary Coombs Cafarelli. (The eldest granddaughter, my sister Ruth Ann Coombs Longley, died in 2013.)

Some of the great-grandchildren of Millie Holmes on the Kinsley side.

Ida Mae Specker

L-R: Randy Longley, elder son of  our late sister, Ruth Ann Coombs Longley, with Rebecca, Jeanine, and Mary Coombs Cafarelli.

My cousin Tad has owned Jake's Restaurant and Tavern in Londonderry, Vermont, since he was 22 years old.

Londonderry is a small town, and as in many communities in America, lots of folks come out for the annual Fourth of July parade. 

Tad usually hosts a post-parade bash at his restaurant and invites extended family to join the fun, this year once again with the live music of Ida Mae Specker.

On this parade day, all five surviving cousins were there, the grandchildren of Millie Stebbins Holmes. Our mothers, Henrietta Holmes Coombs and Jane Holmes Kinsley, were sisters, close in age and strong of will. All three of these women - grandmother, mother, aunt - had a great influence on us all.  We did a lot of remembering this weekend. 

By the time one reaches the ages we cousins are now, we have all endured some worries and bumps and blips and sadness. But these are the folks that you don't have to explain all that to. They know all about it and they love you and you love them right back. (My cousin Tad gives a world-class hug, by the way. He should bottle it and sell it.)

The tumult of the world right now, the sense of uneasiness that seems to hang over us all, makes a small town patriotic celebration all the more poignant. 

I think our mothers and grandmother would be ever so pleased to know that we cousins and siblings still feel the strength and comfort of the shelter of each other.

Happy Fourth of July, my dears. May our extended, blended families continue to celebrate together in small towns across America for another 117 years. 



Sunday, June 18, 2017

Happy Juneteenth!

Tomorrow is June 19th, or "Juneteenth", the oldest celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.

This weekend, many cities, including Albany, NY, held Juneteenth celebrations with food, music, entertainment, and other family-friendly events.

The story behind this celebration goes back to 1865.  It was on June 19th that Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas, with news that the war had ended and that all former slaves were now free.

Want to know more? It just so happens that a close relative of mine wrote a book about General Granger back in 2013. Check it out on Amazon, here.  If you are a history buff, especially if you are interested in Civil War history, you should take a look. 

Happy Juneteenth!

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Garden news around these parts: Tours and sales and hummingbirds in my own backyard (edited)

Overcast! Oh, yes it is, again! So cool and gray this spring has been. Very like English weather. At least in our yard, this has thrown off bloom times. Until yesterday, I had not seen any returning hummingbirds, where as in most years, they would have been here and happily darting about from blossom to blossom by now.

But last evening, I did spot a couple, zooming around in the near-dusk. They seemed frantic, even by hummingbird standards, going to places in our garden where, normally, plants would be in bloom: clematis, trumpet vine, peonies. But although there are buds on those plants, the hummingbirds were finding little to sip there.

I quickly boiled up some sugar water (see how to do that, here) cooled down the nectar, then rinsed out the feeder and filled it up. I hung it out last night, just before 8:00 PM, hoping the hummingbirds would find it in the morning. 

And they have.  Even bleary-eyed as I was making coffee, I quickly noticed their comings and goings at dawn this morning. It took them no time at all to find the feeder. I guess they were hungry. (Sorry, no actual hummer photos: They are too quick and my camera is too humble.) Later edit: Despite my lack of sophisticated camera gear, I was later able to get the somewhat blurry photo, above, of one of my hummingbird visitors this afternoon.

If you have never fed hummingbirds before, please do a little reading before you start. Usually, I only feed them in the spring, as it can be a challenge to keep the nectar from becoming rancid once the weather becomes very hot. But my theory is, now is when they really need the help. By midsummer, there is much more nectar available from natural sources and they don't need the feeder then.

Yeah, about that weather forecast.

Today was supposed to be sunny. Looks cold and gray to me. (Sigh.) Eat up, little hummers, and keep warm as best you can.
 Alas, the wet spring has been a challenge for sellers of plants this year. But you can take advantage of resulting special deals, such as at Fiddlehead Creek Native Plant Nursery, one of my favorite plant sources in this region. These next two Fridays and Saturdays, they are having a huge sale - all stock is buy one, get one free. The nursery will be open for retail sales for only four more days this spring, starting June 2 and 3, and then June 9 and 10. Their hours are 9-5 all four days. After that, the nursery is open by appointment only.  Find Fiddlehead Creek nursery in beautiful Washington County. Their address is 7381 State Route 40, Hartford, NY 12838.

It is getting to be the season for garden tours. There are two good ones coming up that you can buy tickets for right now. Check out Historic Albany's 2017 House and Garden Tour

Center Square Association, Hudson/Park Neighborhood Association and Historic Albany Foundation are proud to present the annual Hidden City House & Garden Tour on Thursday, June 22 from 5:00 - 8:00 p.m. Every year, this tour brings the neighborhood to life as homeowners open their doors and gardens to the public. Guests are able to tour, at their leisure, the beautiful and historic homes and hidden gardens that make up the Center Square & Hudson/Park neighborhoods. This year we'll also feature Pine Hills.

The link for tickets is here: 

And another favorite, the 23rd annual Secret Gardens Tour presented by Soroptimist International of Saratoga County, is coming up on Sunday, July 9, from 11 AM to 5 PM. From their promotional information:

This year, we are featuring an eclectic mix of 11 private gardens in and around Saratoga Springs. From homes on North Broadway, to a cluster of in-city yards, to a handful of suburban secrets, the gardens are a mix of styles and sizes, in both sun and shade, sure to inspire garden lovers of every level.

One cautionary note from me: Garden tours of private homes and spaces may have accessibility issues. You should be aware that there may be stairs, slippery places, narrow and uneven footpaths, lots of walking. Before you set off with your aged aunt or strollers full of wee bairns, you might want to call ahead for advice and details. (Trust me on this.) And please, do NOT bring your dogs.



Saturday, May 27, 2017

A Thousand to One

A thousand to one. That's my ratio for this week of encounters with jerks versus good people. Or maybe I have stated that backwards, because it is the good people who came out on top. They were the "thousand", while there was only one real jerk.

Let me explain. I am a lady of a certain age, complete with gray hair. I am not accustomed to being on the receiving end of aggressive behavior. Most people don't yell at grandmother types. They just don't. But earlier this week, a neighbor up the road was verbally aggressive and it made my adrenaline bubble and surge for over an hour. During this period of high adrenaline, I was feeling decidedly un-Christian toward him and began to understand why people sometimes long to move into the Canadian north woods, far from their fellow man.

Although I eventually simmered down, I was a little ashamed of how long it took me to do so. Why did I let one person's bad behavior live in my head that long?  

But any lingering feelings of ill will toward others have been wiped clean by later events this week. On Thursday, I attended a volunteer appreciation reception put on by CAPTAIN Youth and Family Services in Clifton Park, in southern Saratoga County. When I opened the program, I read that in the past year, 482 fellow CAPTAIN volunteers had provided over 19,000 hours of service to families and children in need in our communities. That's a lot of caring and loving from a lot of people. Already, the ratio of good people to jerks I was encountering this week was tipping heavily toward the good.

Then, this Saturday morning, quite early, I joined some of my fellow Malta Sunrise Rotarians at the Saratoga National Cemetery. We were there to help place flags on the graves of veterans, to honor them on Memorial Day.  

We weren't alone. Hundreds of people came, at 7:30 AM, on a Saturday morning of a holiday weekend. Hundreds. 

People came alone, in groups, with service clubs, with families. They brought young children. None misbehaved. No one did anything inappropriate for the place or occasion. There was not a single jerk in attendance. 

As with many an effort that uses volunteers, there was a little confusion at first. But people rallied, helped each other, showed what to do and how to do it, and the job got done. Before the morning was over, every single veteran's grave (18,000 of them) had been visited, a flag placed, their names read aloud, and each deceased serviceman and each deceased servicewoman was saluted. 

This week has been a lesson to me. Yes, I had one unpleasant encounter with one man. But I also rubbed shoulders with at least a thousand volunteers this week, people who gave their time and their energy to do good in their community. And those are pretty good odds. 

Please note: Volunteers will also be needed at the Gerald B. H. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery on Tuesday, May 30th, to respectfully re-gather the flags that were placed and bundle them for storage. You can just show up there between 8:30 and 9:00 AM. Folks will be there to show you what to do. Find the cemetery at 200 Duell Road, Schuylerville, NY.  And if you spot a grandmotherly-looking woman wearing a Malta Sunrise Rotary Club shirt there, please say hello.

If you or your group would like to help with the Flag Project next year, please email:  They also accept donations for flags. 

If you would like to learn more about CAPTAIN Youth and Family Services in Clifton Park, please check out their website, here:


Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Dutch Twins live on

Earlier this month, my older sister Mary and I took a jaunt to Florida to visit some of our far-flung family members.  Our last stop was on the west coast of Florida, where our cousin Katie graciously put us up for two nights.

In one of Katie's guest rooms, I found some old friends: The Dutch Twins, along with a half dozen of their companion "Twins" books, all by Lucy Fitch Perkins. Mary and I were both thrilled to see these familiar books again. They have done some travelling, these books, back and forth between our families, as each successive batch of early readers grew into them.

My mother's maiden name is the first one in this book: Henrietta B. Holmes. I note that she wrote her name in pretty decent cursive for a second grader. I estimate she would have been in second grade around 1925-26.

My maiden name, Barbara Coombs, is stamped in the upper right. There is no date there, but I think I read this same book around 1957. And my cousin Tad Kinsley, the youngest of our generation, seems to have stamped the book in 1972.

I know that The Dutch Twins was the first of the series that I read and that I loved it dearly. I can't really tell you why. I knew even then that it was a bit dated, but it charmed me. I read all of the other Twin books that I could get my hands on, but none equaled my first love, even though many were enjoyable.

Oddly enough for a children's book series, these were not all light reading. I remember finding The Belgian Twins deeply disturbing. It quite literally gave me nightmares. Now, thanks to the internet, I know why it was so terrifying: it was based on the actual stories of real children during World War I. In this book, the Belgian twins become homeless refugees, separated from their parents, hiding and fleeing ahead of the invading German army. It had lots of convincing details, I remember, such as the children's struggle to find food. Hmmm, maybe this book should be reissued for all of us adults to read now.

One book that had originally been part of our families' "Twins"collection has, quite understandably, disappeared from the group. I think my mother must have tossed it out before she passed the books back to her sister Jane for the Kinsley cousins to read, once I had outgrown them. I hesitate to even name it, for these days, it would be seen as outrageously racist. In fact, I think I will not name it here. If you are curious, you can google Lucy Fitch Perkins. I don't think you will have a hard time figuring out which book of the series I am referring to. But I don't think Ms. Perkins was at all racist. In fact, she wanted children to know and understand different cultures. But the view of these things was different in the 1920s and 1930s.

In my family, we now have a set of real life "twins" of our own, sweet grandchildren, a boy and a girl, just as in each of these books. Our twin grandchildren are only two years old now, but when they are older, would I have them read these books? Maybe. Certainly The Dutch Twins. They had a very wise and loving grandparent:

"I think I'll be a sea captain when I'm big," said Kit.
"So will I," said Kat.
"Girls can't," said Kit.
But Grandfather shook his head and said:
"You can't tell what a girl may be by the time she's four feet and a half high and is called Katrina. There's no telling what girls will do anyway. 

                                                  ~The Dutch Twins, originally published 1911.


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Eye of the Beholder

Ugh. This is not the time of year when the Northeast looks its best. It is grumpy season here, when winter has held on just a little too long, when mud is the dominant feature of our backyard.

And yet, this morning, when I looked out the back door, there it was, that yellowing up of the forsythia bark, especially noticeable against the still-gray woods. I ventured out with my camera and sure enough, there are fat green forsythia buds just waiting for a warm spell.

The small dogwood tree near the house has plumped up buds, too. Like a good gardener, I continue my inspection. While a casual observer may see only mud and mess, I know where to look for signs of promise and to me, beauty.

A hydrangea shrub still has a few flowers clinging on from last fall. Delicate chestnut-colored shad-bush buds are lengthening. The soundtrack for my walk around the yard was birdsong and babbling brook.

Under the shelter of a limbed-up spruce tree, the rhododendron is also sporting thickening flower buds.

Around in front, the bark of red-twig dogwoods is aglow. There are still some red blossoms left from the winter's bloom of the witch hazel. In a sunny spot, early daffodils are inching up.

Now is the time of year when I appreciate evergreen shrubs and hardy lavenders. I have made a mental note to plant more.  We need more plants for winter interest, I often think in March. But flibbertigibbet that I am, I lose that thought come May and June, when iris and peonies and such are filling up the spaces that look so empty now.

We recently had two ailing Norway maples cut down. I was glad to have that taken care of before birds could start building nests there. We have lived in this house for eleven years now, and for all of that time, two weathered soccer balls have been stuck in the top branches of one of those maples. They were artifacts left from the three boys who lived here before us. When the tree guys took that maple down, the balls were finally freed, and the young men in the work crew began kicking the soccer balls around to each other. It was a funny moment.

After the crew left, I found the soccer balls set neatly at the edge of the garden. I can't quite bring myself to throw them away just yet.