Tag Archives: Carding Chronicle

Beet Dreams Are Made of These…

BeetsA few housekeeping notes: Join me starting April 7 when the third novel of Carding, Vermont, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, debuts in this space. If you subscribe to my website, you’ll find an installment of my new book in your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday for 12 weeks.

A paper edition of Dazzling will be out in May along with the ebook. Then in June, I’ll release the first Carding Omnibus, all three novels with a couple of kicker short stories.

The Carding Chronicles will be suspended while Dazzling appears in this space because I have a new novel and a new non-fiction book on publishing that need my attention. The Carding Chronicles will resume once Dazzling comes to an end.

Lee Tennyson frowned as he watched his wife’s car disappear over the hill, headed toward town and the hospital where she worked. Six months pregnant, and she was still doing twelve-hour shifts on the floor of the ICU.

He didn’t like that. He didn’t like that at all. Yes, he was proud of Christine, and he knew she was an amazing nurse. And yes, he understood how passionate she was about her work.

But he also sensed how much of their sons’ growing up Chris was missing.

“Are you ready, Buddy?” He bent down to question his oldest, curly-haired Noah. “Time to get to the bus.”

“Can we walk to the bus stop today?” the child asked.

Lee smiled because he knew the real reason behind the question. “It was cold overnight,” he said, “and the water in the ditches is still frozen. How about John and I meet you at the bus after school, and we can play with the water on the way home?”

Noah started clapping and jumping. “And you’ll bring my water boots to the bus?” he asked, referring to his favorite pair of bright yellow knee-highs.

“I’ll bring the water boots, promise,” Lee said. “Now let’s git.”

That’s what Chris misses, Lee told himself as he rumbled down the long driveway in his farm truck, his sons taking turns imitating the grinding noise of its old gears. She’s missing draining puddles, redirecting streams, and making sand dams.

And the thing of it is, if she’s not there today, she can’t get it back.

After they waved Noah off, Lee faced dressing John for their daily trek to the barn. No matter how much he cajoled and promised, it always took Lee longer than he planned. “I swear you are the wiggliest child ever born,” he muttered as he searched for a second arm to stuff into the empty sleeve of John’s blue jacket.

John jabbered incessantly as he propellored himself toward the barn. He pointed at the dwarfish spikes of grass beside their path, crowed at the rooster who crowed back, stopped to examine the sculptural qualities of various sheep droppings, and threw kisses to their head goat, a buck aptly named Houdini, who turned his face away as if offended by contact with a lower form of life.

The boy was so busy, he didn’t notice his father’s contemplative silence. Lee’s eyes flicked from one part of the Tennyson family farm to the other as they walked, adding up the annual worth of each income stream that the land represented—logging, hay, wool from their growing flock of merinos, maple syrup, heirloom and commercial apples plus blueberries.

Lee grew and Chris canned or froze most of their vegetables, and they sold corn in season at a roadside stand. and through the Coop general store. He wasn’t sure about Chris’s latest project—goat cheese—but he was willing give it a try even though Houdini spent more time wandering outside his fenced pasture than servicing the harem he had in it.

“He’s just an intelligent Nubian goat,” Chris grinned when Lee complained. “You’ll notice he never takes his ladies outside the fence, and you always find him somewhere close to them. He just refuses to accept the fact that you think of him as a domesticated animal.”

Lee’s jury was still out on the goats until he tasted Chris’s first batch of Tomme de Chevre Aydius.

The real question was this: If the cheese was a success, would they make enough for Chris to stay home after their third child was born?

Lee mulled the money issue over as he moved from chore to chore, hay for the sheep and goats with cracked corn for the chickens while he and John gathered their eggs. For all the boy’s inability to stay still, the child had a well-tuned instinct for carrying fresh eggs without breaking them. And John was the only one could get into the small nook where one of their Ameraucanas liked to hide her pale blue contributions to the Tennyson breakfast table.

When John started rubbing his eyes, Lee sat him up on a stool next to their seed sorting table, gave him a small bag of apple slices from his pocket, and then poured a jar’s worth of beet seeds across the sorting surface.

He and Lydie Talbot were both avid seed savers, and had been swapping and testing antique vegetables from each other’s gardens for a few years. This year, Edie Wolfe, Charlie Cooper, and Ruth Goodwin were part of the swap that Lee planned to host in his barn early in April.

With one eye on John and the other on a small glassine envelope, Lee counted out twenty seeds, rolling each one of the nubbly nuggets free of the group with his thumb.

“This is for Edie,” he told John as he opened the flap of a second envelope, and started counting again.

He was on the fourth packet when his thoughts strayed back to the library’s annual midwinter fundraiser, a Taste of Carding, that he and Chris had enjoyed. There were always strange concoctions to try—zucchini pickles, hot pepper jelly, flat bread pesto pizza, a wide variety of cheeses all made in Vermont, and relishes, chutneys, salsas, and sauce.

There was this one jar at a tasting table filled with a curried sweet potato salsa that beckoned every time Lee walked by. He and Chris eventually struck up a conversation with the vendor who called herself an “aggie entrepreneur,” and their talk turned to value-added farming.

“Dairy farmers got tired of seeing all their profits go down the hill in a milk truck, and so they started making cheese which added a value to the milk that people were willing to pay for,” the woman said. “We all know how the price of milk fluctuates but the price of a good cheese…well…that’s pretty constant.” Christine’s head had snapped up when she heard that, which is the reason why they owned a billy goat named Houdini and three does named Bippity, Boppity, and Boo.

“I looked around and realized no one was doing much with sweet potatoes,” the woman continued, “so I figured I had a niche.”

Lee picked up one of his beet seeds, rolling it between his thumb and forefinger while he imagined a beet empire based on salsas, relishes, pickles, barbecue sauce, pesto, and chips. Did he dare? Could he do that?

The cock crowed, and so did John. Lee finished his packaging, labeled the small envelopes, and then lifted his son to the floor of the barn. The little one looked up, his cheeks brightened by the cool air of early spring. “Ready Daddy?” he asked, curling his fingers around Lee’s index finger.

Lee slipped the jar of seeds into his pocket. “That’s a good question,” he said. “I think so.”

The next Carding Chronicle will be published on April 1. And then six days later, on April 7, I’ll start sending you installments of The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, the next novel about Carding, Vermont.

If you enjoy your visits to Carding, please tell your friends and encourage them to subscribe. The more the merrier, eh?

Petition Drive

365-17The Carding Chronicles are stories about the little town no one can find on a map of Vermont. When you subscribe to the Chronicles, a new story is delivered to your inbox every Friday. If you’re enjoying the Carding Chronicles, please share them with your friends!

This week features an excerpt from the next Carding novel, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life. Here’s the story so far: Stephen Bennett nearly died in an accident in April. It is now May, and his thirteen-year old daughter, Faye, has not regained her emotional balance since almost losing her beloved father.

Faye’s fear has turned to anger at the world, making her edgy and sharp. When her friend and teacher, Chloe Cooper, is reprimanded by the school superintendent, Faye leaps to her defense. I think you can figure out the rest from what follows

The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, will debut in this space on April 7. If you follow my website, regular installments will be delivered to your inbox over the course of twelve weeks for your reading enjoyment. Tell your friends. Sharing is a good thing.

At some point in the middle of the night, Diana Bennett thought she heard the sound of the printer in Faye’s room. But after listening to silence for a while, she decided she was wrong, and fell back to sleep. Tomorrow was Saturday, and she had to be up early. It was always standing room only for breakfast in the bakery when she had fiddlehead omelets on the menu.

Since the temperatures in mid-May vary widely in Vermont, folks in Carding usually swanned around in fleece vests until late morning. Then some time after eleven, they swapped their fleeces for T-shirts, keeping the fleece handy, just in case. As the old joke goes: If you use your car’s heater and air conditioner on the same day, you must live in New England.

Faye had chosen the color of her fleece vest with care that morning. Olive green because she didn’t want the starkness of black or the grab-your-attention hue of her favorite magenta. So it was olive green. Right in the middle.

Business for her petition drive had been brisk from the moment the Crow opened its doors. Faye quickly discovered that most caffeine-deprived people would sign anything if it stood between them and a cup of the bakery’s breakfast blend.

“Good morning, Mrs. Hennesey,” Faye called out. “Would you sign my petition?”

The bustling woman stopped short to peel her eyes off her cell phone screen. “Sure, sure,” she muttered, scrawling her signature before hurrying into the Crow. When Faye retrieved her clipboard, she counted up the names she’d collected. Fifty three in just one hour. That’s pretty good, she thought.

“Whatcha got there, Faye?” A male voice drifted over her shoulder. She spun around, hiding the clipboard behind her back. How would Gideon Brown react to a petition drive about his ex-wife Chloe? Faye decided that the sidewalk in front of her parents’ bakery was not the best place to find out.

“Nothin’,” she said.

Gideon smiled, and cocked his head at her. “I thought we were friends,” he said.

“We were,” Faye said. “I mean, we are. I don’t think you’ll be interested in this, though. It’s just about school.”

“Some sort of homework?” Gideon asked. “I’m happy to help.”

Suddenly, Faye spotted Margie Rosen headed toward them, and shrank against the bakery’s wall. It was the first time she’d seen the woman since the day of her father’s accident. To her dismay, Margie’s path coincided exactly with the empty spot on the sidewalk in front of Faye.

“Ah, I thought I might find you here,” Margie said, looming over the girl, her bat-wing eyelashes fluttering. “My brother tells me there have been some difficulties at school because of you. He’s asked me to talk to you—and maybe your parents—to see if there is something we can do to settle this situation.”

Gideon watched Faye’s expression turn to stone, and thought he detected a bit of…what?…fear in Faye’s eyes. He swiveled his head toward Margie, and his skin crawled a little though if you’d asked him why, he couldn’t have told you. He shouldered his way between the two females, and thrust his hand out to Margie.

“I’m Gideon Brown,” he said. “I’m a friend of Faye’s. Is there something I can do to help?”

“Oh, I’m Margie Rosen. The superintendent of schools is my brother,” Margie said, extending her manicured fingers. Gideon didn’t like the way she lingered over their handshake. “I can’t believe we have not met before,” she said.

Gideon maneuvered himself closer to Margie in order to give Faye the cover she needed to scoot away. It would have worked but just as Faye turned, the clipboard slid from her hands, hit the concrete, and spilled petitions all over the sidewalk.

“Oh my dear, let me help pick these up,” Margie said as she bent forward, careful to let the top of her shirt gape open in Gideon’s direction. Then she read the petition, and gasped. “What is the meaning of this?” she asked, pushing the papers under Faye’s nose.

The girl glared, her hands fisted by her sides. “I have a right to collect signatures on a petition,” she said.

Margie closed in but Faye refused to back up. “You do not have any rights,” the sputtering woman said. “You are a minor, and your parents are legally responsible for what you do.” She rolled the papers up in her hands. “I doubt your parents will let this nonsense continue once I tell them the consequences of your behavior.”

“I have a right to my opinion,” Faye yelled. Heads turned in their direction.

Margie pointed at the door to the bakery. “In there. Now.”

Faye crossed her arms. “No.”

Margie stepped even closer. Faye smelled stale coffee on her breath. “You get inside now. I aim to put a stop to this,” the older woman said.

Faye angled her head out, and the motion reminded Gideon of a snapping turtle just before it strikes. “I said no. I meant no, and you can’t make me.”

Margie hissed. “We shall see about that.” Then she stalked to the bakery door, and wrenched it open.

Faye nearly sobbed as she sagged against the wall. “I hate her,” she said, her voice small. “I hate both of them.”

Gideon didn’t say anything until he’d read the petition. “What’s going on, Faye?” he asked softly. “Is Chloe in trouble?”

Faye nodded, and closed her eyes to keep her tears inside. But it did no good. “It’s the Rosens.” She choked out the name. “It’s all their fault. Everything is their fault.”

Gideon opened his mouth to ask another question but before he could, the bakery door flew open, and Diana craned her head toward her daughter. Gideon thought he’d never seen such a tired, anxious face.

“Faye,” Diana said quietly. “Could you come in here, please?”

The girl’s head drooped. Then she dragged herself inside to meet her fate.

Gideon picked up the petitions Faye left behind. What could Chloe possibly have done that was so awful?

“You do understand, Mrs. Bennett,” Margie said as her painted, pointed finger stabbed a copy of Faye’s petition, “that allowing students to attack a school administrator in this way only stirs up unwarranted disobedience. We can’t have that. My brother is always the first to champion civic engagement among the young. But we must draw the line at the way your daughter is demanding Reggie’s resignation because of a personnel matter. What goes on between the administrators and staff in the Carding schools is not the business of the students.”

Diana looked at her daughter’s bowed head. “Chloe Cooper is a good friend of ours,” she said.

“That does not give your daughter the right to stir people up against my brother,” Margie said, raising her voice another notch. “Managing a school district is hard enough without worrying about who is friends with who. Personal feelings cannot be taken into consideration when it’s a matter of discipline. Reggie cannot play favorites for any reason.

“But he does. All the time,” Faye spluttered.

“He does not, and he never has,” Margie snapped. Then she turned to Diana. “Allow me to make this quite clear to you, Mrs. Bennett. You will take a firmer hand with your daughter’s conduct, and stop this petition drive at once.”

“Or what?” Diana asked

“Or I will advise my brother to sue you and your husband for defamation of character.” Margie’s eyes glinted. “And I’m sure you don’t want that kind of trouble, especially under your current conditions.”

Now it was Diana’s turn to hiss, and her words coiled like vipers. “Faye is not defaming anyone,” she said. “Her petition does not accuse your brother of anything. It merely asks whether his actions against Chloe are justified. That is always a legitimate question to ask of a public servant.”

The atmosphere of the bakery grew still. Peter’s spatula hovered over the eggs on the griddle. Hilary stopped pouring breakfast blend in mid-cup. Then the front door’s bells tinkled, and Edie Wolfe stepped through with her dog, Nearly.

Her eyes flashed from her daughter to her granddaughter to Margie and back again. Nearly tilted his ears forward, and crinkled up his brow. He disliked the smell of human anger, all full of needles and pins. But three of the women in the scene in front of him belonged to him, and it was his job to protect them. So he turned his attention to the fourth female, sniffing her air quietly so as not to be noticed. Funny, he thought, the stranger was not oozing anger like the other three. Margie’s scent reminded him of…what? The dog mentally shuffled through his olfactory library for an apt comparison. Then he lowered his chin to take in a larger quantity of air. Strange, Nearly thought. That woman smells like a cat. How could that be?

“My brother is no mere public servant,” Margie said. “He is a highly trained education specialist with more than one book to his credit. Carding is fortunate to have him, and I will not allow this…questioning…to sully his reputation.”

Thump, thump. The dull sound came from above. Diana’s head snapped up.

Thump, thump, thump.

“Faye, would you please go up to make sure your father’s all right,” Diana said.


“Now, please.”


“Please Faye.” Diana’s voice lashed the air.

“Ooh, nothing is right around here any more,” the girl hollered as she stomped up the stairs, flailing her fists in all directions. Then she opened the apartment door, and saw her father sprawled on his back, his face white, eyes bulging with fear.

Faye leaped over him to the phone and dialed 9-1-1. Pinching the receiver between her shoulder and ear, she knelt beside Stephen’s head, cradling it in her hands while she ran her fingers over his skin to check for blood or signs of injury. The doctors had cautioned them about blackouts, about the dangers of Stephen hitting his head again.

Fortunately, it didn’t take long for the thrum of emergency sirens to shred the air, and the sound made the fear in Stephen’s eyes subside. He smiled at his daughter, and squeezed her hand. “Thank you,” he whispered.

The next Carding Chronicle will be published on March 18. If you are enjoying these stories (they’re a great break from politics, eh?) please encourage your friends to subscribe.


365-71The Carding Chronicles are stories about the little town no one can find on a map of Vermont. When you subscribe to the Chronicles, a new story is delivered to your inbox every Friday. If you’re enjoying the Carding Chronicles, please share them with your friends!

And one additional note, the next Carding novel, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, which will debut in this space on April 7. Twelve weekly installments delivered right to your inbox. Tell your friends to subscribe so they can enjoy it too!

It’s that time of year again, Agnes Findley reflected as she joined the stop-and-go line of traffic heading out of Montpelier. You can’t tell what color the cars are because they’re all coated in the same gray dirt, and the roads buck and weave like the ocean in a heavy swell. One second, your car’s up in the air. The next second, it’s bottoming out in a dip.

She sat through two red lights, her fingers drumming a slow-motion tattoo on her steering wheel, silently cursing the traffic. Then she laughed at herself, remembering why she’d fled the eternal car crawl of Boston. In Vermont, her commute from Montpelier consisted of two turns, two sets of lights, and then a nonstop ride all the way home.

A brown UPS truck turned south on Route 14 just ahead of Agnes, and she soon found herself fascinated by the sharp sway of its cargo box as it negotiated the curls and dips of the frost-heaved road. Charlie’s right, she thought, the road looks like a strip of fried bacon this time of year. I wonder how they keep the boxes on the shelves inside those trucks.

As soon as the bottom edge of the sun touched the hilltops, Agnes felt the temperature drop. As the light shifted from bright to gray, Agnes geared down for the turn to Carding, on the lookout for the tire-eating pothole at the corner of the Route 37 bridge. What was it about that particular spot in the road that made it so fragile? Every spring, the town road crew patched it, mended it, repaired it. They’d even hired an engineering firm to figure out how to reconfigure that whole stretch of road in order to overcome the infamous pothole. But the same chasm reappeared every year as the days grew longer.

Her pulse rose a notch when she spotted a knot of people coagulated in the small park-and-ride overlooking the river. “Agnes,” someone called as she got out of the car. “You’re just in time.”

She hustled to claim a spot at the guardrails next to the love-of-her-life, Charlie Cooper. “What’s the report from upstream?” she asked as she turned up her coat’s collar. The air hung chill and damp by the river.

“The ice is broken in Royalton,” old Henry Wood said. “My cousin Nellie says she can hear the big chunks knocking against one another.” He looked down at the Corvus where a ribbon of gray water flowed over the white of the last month’s snow deposits. He shook his head. “It hasn’t been that cold this year so my guess is that the ice is no more than a few inches thick. Won’t be much of a runoff.”

The sun finally slid behind the hills to the southwest, and everyone glanced in its direction in silent salutation. “Heh, think about it. Three months from now, we’ll be complaining about the heat,” Henry said, and the sun watchers laughed.

Just then, a low roar in the distance hushed the crowd. Every head turned to look upstream at a bend in the river. They felt the rumble through their feet. The crowd tensed.

Wil Bennett leaned as far over the guard rails as he could, pointing his video camera upstream. The rumble moved up a decibel level. The dusk thickened. All eyes strained to see in the gloom.

“Here it comes!” Wil yelled.

Ice shards careened around the bend, and the water level rose rapidly—one foot, two feet, three. The roaring runoff spilled over a low spot in the land just before the park-and-ride, shedding car-sized chunks of ice in its rush. In the span of a single heartbeat, the serene scene of pristine snow below the watchers disappeared in a wild rush of pale blue ice, pewter-colored water, and gray slush.

Agnes felt the guard rail shudder in her hands. Henry had been right. They were only six to eight inches thick but the display of power was still impressive.

“It’s hitting the falls,” Wil yelled, and they all relished the crash as the frozen slurry plummeted thirty feet into Half Moon Lake.

Anxiety zipped through the crowd, and everyone drew back from the guard rails at the same time, suddenly aware of how flimsy the metal rails were in the face of such fury.

“Lived here all my life,” Charlie yelled over the roar, “and that never fails to amaze me. Why?”

“I can’t answer for anyone else,” Agnes said, “but I like seeing human beings humbled now and again. Ice outs, thunderstorms, blizzards, they remind us of our place in the world. And it’s not on the top of the food chain. That’s just a silly illusion.”

Charlie chuckled. “My, you are feeling philosophical today, my dear. How did things go in Montpelier?”

Agnes sighed. She volunteered her legal skills for a consortium of environmental nonprofits, lobbying on their behalf at the statehouse. She squeezed his hand. “Not as well as I hoped, not as bad as I feared. I’m afraid it was all very human.”

The next Carding Chronicle will be published on February 26. If you are enjoying these stories (they’re a great break from politics, eh?) please encourage your friends to subscribe.

A Novel’s Quilt

Brainstorms are the best storms to have, especially when they’re with other creative people.

A couple of days ago, I posted a few cover design ideas here, and asked some designer-type friends what they thought.

A lot of great ideas came back with the neap tide, among them one from my friend Chris who focused
on a different facet of the cover of Scandinavian Stitches. Here’s the cover:

While I was focused on the little quilt of the house,
Chris took a look at the whole piece.

Hey, she said, if The Road Unsalted is the first in a series (which it is) then why not use the shelf
as a place to put things that are important to one character or another with a quilt to match?

So last night, I sewed up this test block for a quilt made by Elizabeth Weston Brown, grandmother of Gideon Brown,
one of the driving forces in The Road Unsalted. Elizabeth was a traditional quilter, and her grandson adored her. Which is why his grandmother’s quilt is draped over the arm of his favorite chair.

Test block for quilt on cover of The Road Unsalted

The Road Unsalted

A quilt top from the Carding Quilt collection

Last November, I started penning a novel. Nothing unusual about that, per se, because most writers (whether they are published or not) are penning a novel.

The story arc for this one—its main plot thread—is one that I’ve carried around in my head for a number of years, and I’ve started at least four or five books based on this idea. But each time, I abandoned the effort because there was something about it I did not like.

Sometimes it was the tone. Sometimes it just grew like topsy in a way that did not suit. Whatever the reason, I have shards of this book scattered through my writing life.

Then last November, without any visible planning on my part, I opened up a notebook and started writing the first Carding Chronicle, The Road Unsalted.

Without any effort, apparently, the characters and the town and the accoutrements necessary to the plot showed up, almost as if I’d called a meeting that they’d been waiting for. I found myself happily anticipating getting up in the morning to write (it’s the second thing I do, right after making a cup of tea with milk and honey) as well as thinking about what and who would appear in the next chapter as I fell asleep.

I’m almost done with the first draft, and expect to start the rewriting process later this month. From there, it will be on track to be published in early September.

The Carding Chronicles are contemporary novels, each one taking place in the town of Carding, Vermont, population 5,000, located in the Corvus River valley on the shores of Half Moon Pond, a great swimming place between the tumble of Great Carding Falls, and the marshy drop off to Little Carding Falls.

Carding’s claim to fame in the outside world is a remarkable school founded in the late 19th century, The Carding Academy of Traditional Arts. Carding Academy was founded by two women, Emily Willis and Kitty Wolfe. Emily came to Carding from New York City with her husband, the writer Hanson Willis. Kitty was married to the founder of the town newspaper, the Carding Chronicle. The goal of the school is the preservation and expansion of what most people would call folk arts such as quilting, wood carving, furniture and instrument making, knitting, printing and book making as well as painting and sculpture.

The academy has had its ups and downs financially. But it’s been on an even keel since the 1970s when Kitty’s grand-daughter, Edith, took over as the school’s director.

Edie, as everyone calls her, pushes the boundaries of folk traditions, welcoming everyone who has a vision they want to express. She also has this uncanny knack of sensing the swirl of emotions as they move through Carding, and using this knowledge to nudge events. It’s not a quality that everyone in town appreciates.

The quilt top pictured here was the first one made by Carding’s most famous designer, Chloe Willis Brown, when she was just seventeen. At that time, Chloe was about to leave Carding for college, an adventure she viewed with trepidation. That summer, she cut up a number of dresses, skirts and shirts that she’d collected since she was a young girl, fashioning their cloth into a quilt to bring with her.