Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Care-giving vs. Ownership

            We are only the sixth owners of this property since 1736. This thought amazed me fifteen years ago when we first signed the promissory note to the bank. I now realize, we are merely giving care to a place that will be here long after we are gone and other names are registered on the deed.

             Hugh MacKay was first deeded land on Turkey Buzzard's Island and another 450 acres known as the Mound Tract in a land grant from James Oglethorpe as reward for his service and leadership in the Scottish Highlander Regiment. In 1740, Hugh was denied a promotion to the rank of Major. He then quit the regiment and the colony and returned to Scotland leaving this parcel to his brother. In 1748, James petitioned the trustees for 500 acres on the great Ogeechee,which he then named "Strathy Hall" to honor his Scottish home. The next year, Georgia became a crown colony, and the experienced James was tapped to lead an independent company from South Carolina in service to His Majesty. This company was sent to Virginia under the command of Governor Dinwiddie for service at the beginning of what would become the French and Indian War at the beginning of 1754.
            MacKay and his company were ordered to provide relief to the young George Washington in the Ohio Country and arrived in June with 98 men and supplies. Washington's troops had been unable to advance their position due to a lack of food, munitions, and men. Apparently, when MacKay arrived, there was some dispute over whose leadership would be recognized,  that of the struggling  22 year old Washington, newly named a colonial colonel after his leader's unfortunate fall from a horse, or of the senior soldier in the British army, Captain MacKay, who was coming to his aid.
             When Washington had arrived at the spot where the Allegheny meets the Monongahela (presently Pittsburgh, PA), he had expected to find an English fort begun by the Ohio Company. Instead, he discovered  that it had been seized by the French and renamed Fort Duquense. He pushed on to a clearing called The Great Meadows to await orders and an opportunity to retake the fort.  In May of 1754, Washington lead a group of about 40 soldiers through a stormy night to surprise an "advancing" group of French based on intelligence reports provided by his Indian ally, Tanacharison. "I ordered my company to fire" into the group, resulting in a brief, fifteen minute battle that killed 10 Frenchmen and captured 21. Washington lost only one man. The French survivors claimed that they were on a diplomatic mission to meet with the British, thus explaining their lack of sentries. While their wounded commander, Monsieur De Jumonville, attempted to explain this to Washington, Tanacharison, who spoke fluent French, sank his hatchet into Jumonville's head, splitting his skull. The young Washington stood shocked in the face of such violence, his first engagement. His private journals detail that the Indians then scalped all the dead and decapitated one. Washington disputed the claim of  a diplomatic mission in his letter to Governor Dinwiddie, as the French had been encamped for days off trail and had not made contact with him. The responsibility for beginning the war that eventually led to the American Revolution ultimately fell on the shoulders of George Washington and this incident.
            Washington retreated back to The Great Meadows, where he built a small fortification called Fort Necessity. With the arrival of the rest of his regiment from Virginia and MacKay's  98 men, there were 391 men defending this position. Soon 600 Frenchmen and 100 Indians advanced on Fort Necessity. It rained all day and flooded the marshy land. The French waited in the woods, as the English became more and more vulnerable and lost men to French fire, "We continued this unequal fight, with an enemy sheltered behind trees, ourselves without shelter, in trenches of water, in a settled rain, and the enemy galling us on all sides incessantly from the woods, till 8 o'clock at night, when the French called to parley"(account by George Washington and James MacKay). The English were allowed to retreat with the honors of war, their baggage and weapons, but gave up their swivel guns, thus Washington surrendered his command. In one clause of the negotiated document, the French claimed that Washington had "assassinated" the leader of the French in the ambushed "diplomatic" mission. Washington later claimed that an inaccurate translation of his agreed surrender had been orchestrated by one of his own, Jacob Van Braam. Though Washington and MacKay claimed in their report to Dinwiddie that they had killed "to above three hundred" in the battle that resulted in their surrender, the French leader, Villiers, stated in his journal that he lost 2 men and 17 were seriously wounded though Washington had one hundred casualties.
           MacKay and his men began their return southward, and he wrote to Washington, "I had several despuits about our Capitulation but I Satisfyd every Person that mentioned that Subject as to the artickle in Questan, that they Were owing to a bad Interpreter and Contrary to the translation made to us when we signed them...." In 1755, James MacKay arrived home and retired from his company, having been commended with Washington for his leadership at Fort Necessity by the House of Burgess, which then decided to disband the Virginia Regiment and thus demote Washington. At that time, Washington also resigned his position in the colonial army and returned to Mount Vernon, discouraged.
           Upon his return "home" to Georgia,  James MacKay settled into life as a respected member of the Kings Council. He acquired another 100 acres southwest of Strathy Hall, and then another 550 acres by 1769. In 1757, he was one of the men named to erect forts for the defense of the great Ogeechee district, and in 1773, he was a commissioner charged to lay out a road from the Great Ogeechee causeway to a point on the lower end of the Ogeechee Neck and to establish ferry service to the port of Sunbury on the south side of the Medway River.
            Prior to his service with Washington in the Ohio Country, slaves were legally permitted in Georgia, though James Oglethorpe had intended for Georgia to remain a slave-free colony. The colonists were authorized to import slaves under a quota system that allowed for 4 blacks for every 1 indentured white manservant by 1750. It was the only way the early settlers could see to be profitable farming this wild, untamed land, and by 1758, James possessed a large number of slaves for his time, 40.

            Even with the tractor mower that can cut the remnant of this property in 3 1/2 hours instead of the 8 it once took our old John Deere riding mower, even with weed whackers, hedge clippers, and many a chainsaw and blade discarded, we have been unable to tame this land. It rules our lives; the temperature extremes, the insects, the sandy soil, the climbing vines, the moss falling, and the Magnolia Trees dropping all provide a humbling reminder that this place will never achieve the perfection of a photograph. So, if you've been fooled by the forgiving, fuzzy eyes of age or the tiny images of the screen, know that we are not perfect. The yard work is never "done." We measure progress in tamed inches, not acres. We measure in beds formed, mulch spread, not grass grown. We water individual plants, as there is no sprinkler system we could or would install to pamper this land. All must survive our benign neglect. Children, pets, family, friends, and paying jobs have kept us pretty busy. Oh well.

Monday, February 4, 2013

A House, A Home, A Tree

      Often, when David and I are gardening together, I wonder what it was like to stand on this bluff in 1736 when the first settlers began clearing this spot. Those firsts, Hugh and James MacKay, had traveled from Scotland on the Prince of Wales to fight for James Oglethorpe in his Scottish Highlander Regiment, keeping the Spaniards in Florida where the British certainly believed they belonged. Indeed, one of Georgia's founding missions was to be a buffer between the wealthy and important Carolina colonies and the wild, hostile forces to the south.
            The boys, four - Hugh, Patrick, James, and Charles, landed in Darien, south of Savannah in 1732. They had few prospects of fame and glory at home. The clan had lost the family lands and seat, Stathnaver, in repaying debts incurred during the the 30 Years War supporting the Protestant cause. I can't imagine how hostile, yet fertile, this land must have seemed at first sight. Vegetation grows like jungle canopy here, and the heat and biting insects must have been a shock to bare legs under woolen battle kilts. Still, many Scots came seeking religious freedom and free land.
             Hugh and James traveled north to the southern bank of the Ogeechee River to begin building Fort Argyle while others remained behind to establish Fort Frederica on the Island of St. Simon. Would they have traveled through virgin lob-lolly pine forests and dense, wooded acres of wild Magnolia and  majestic Live Oaks?

            We are struggling with the impending loss of our second Magnolia tree in the last fifteen years. Originally, this house was built to nestle between two rows of these established trees. The first drawing, dated 1838, of the current house shows these trees, already mature. One tree was struck by lightening and fell early in our time here, scattering a family of raccoon nestled in the hollow of the old trunk. All survived, walking away dazed and confused as we humans circled the tree, thankful it had spared the house. It was protected by a sister tree that accepted the brunt of the damaging fall. This is the tree over which we wrestle. It is dying, but slowly. One trunk is hollow, a new home for the annual family of coons; the leaves are becoming smaller; the tips of branches bare. Still, we resist. These trees are at least 200 years old, as old as those at Mt. Vernon. They have witnessed great struggle and ease under their canopy. I have given thanks for their beauty, even as I curse the constant mess. We pick up leaves spring and autumn, and cones fall in the winter. Still, it is hard to destroy a living thing.
            This tree will come down. Soon I guess. It leans over the house. If it falls, we will be crushed. Yet it didn't fall the night before last, when the tornado alarms came over the Noah radio, and we went downstairs to wait out the worst of the storm.
This is the dying tree. The lean and bare trunk are visible
             Thomas Jefferson sent seeds of the Southern Magnolia to the Madame de Tess in 1787, and no southern garden was considered complete without this most majestic of trees. Indeed, Andrew Jackson carried seedlings to Washington to plant on either side of the south portico of the White House, recalling  forever his southern home at our nation's first home. The blooms can be 12" across, and they scent the night air of May and June while we enjoy dinners on the porch. I will sit and swing for hours at night, listening to the cicadas sing while leaning back to catch the breeze that carries the scent of lemons back to me.
             We have no record for when the trees were planted. We do know, however, they were planted for the first house that stood here. It might have been a simple log cabin built by James before he could establish a more permanent home. Or, the first home may have looked much like the one now standing, a simple four-over-four with lean-to rooms at the rear. This was a standard style for colonists. The trees have witnessed the return home of a victorious soldier as well as the invasion by Sherman, who visited and stayed here while on his march to the sea. It is a difficult decision to fell this tree. I pay tribute to its great majesty and grandeur.
This one shades my office, the last slave cabin, "Cook's House"
The largest healthy tree shades the chicken coop

Friday, February 1, 2013

More of Isabelle de Borchgrave....

More beautiful paper in incredible rooms!

This dress has been commissioned by the museum for permanent display. Can you see the creases in the Satin above? These same creases occur in the painting. 

I can not imagine gathering paper "poof" sleeves.

And peeking out......
were these dancing slippers. I had to get down on the floor to fully photograph them. Aren't they a treat?

The shoes are amazing, but the hat is unbelievable. 

This costume is meant to echo the finery of the Russian wedding guest depicted in the painting seen behind this hat. All the pearl beads are paper painted with iridescent paint. The jewels and scarf are paper as well. I still can't believe my eyes!

The perspective of the hat picture is difficult, it sits askew from the back of a chair.....can you see?

The trim is cut and curled paper. The tailoring is exquisite.

Again, there are more. Would you like to see? Emily completed the photos on her camera. I'll need to convince her to send them to me.

Amazing and Marvelous

     In January, I learned that writing doesn't happen if you don't sit down to do it. And....it can be hard work if there are other fun things to distract you (friends and family). Our family has been busy this month, and I'm finally sitting down to share with dear friends.

          I had planned to visit Emily for her birthday in Annapolis during the February President's weekend, assuming she would have a day away from class and that we would be able to catch a museum visit together.  In the fall, I had read about at an exhibit of the work of Isabelle de Borchgrave at the home of Marjorie Merriweather Post, Hillwood Estate Museum, in Washington D.C. Then, I discovered the last day of the exhibit was January 19th! I have been following the work of Borchgrave for twenty years, so I was determined. I braved snow across the state of Virginia to get myself up to see Emily. I'm so glad I did. We had the time of our lives and entertained her dear high school friend and rowing partner, Lizzy. She joined us at the museum, and then we toured her Georgetown together. For a mom, it doesn't get any better. So....really whatever I might write would be pale and irritate you in light of the photos of the costumes. For those of you who love fashion and art, please visit www.isabelledeborchgrave.com and be stunned and amazed!

Zoom in really close and see the lace. This dress was located in the dining room.

They say, "A picture is worth a thousand words." What could I possibly add? This is just a small number of wonderful costume pictures I have. More to come!

Monday, January 7, 2013


     I've been asked if my plan is to write every day, and I replied, "No, I don't want to face that fear of failure." And honestly, I thought I would take a day off until I was reminded to remember.

     David's mom died three years ago today. He called and asked me to write about her. I was really surprised, because he is so much more private than I am. He said he wanted others to remember and to know we had held close this love for her in our home today.

     Now, I'm sitting and remembering and giving thanks for all that Mom was and did for all of us. For us, she has not gone far - just on the other side of the curtain of time. So thank you for - raising the wonderful man with whom I've shared my life, opening up your heart to a young, scared wife, letting me do laundry at your house for the first year of marriage, coming from England for the birth of both our little girls, cooking many meals of hospitality for us, teaching me to cook, introducing me to your friends, taking us on trips, shopping with me (and a double stroller) in England, teaching me to play bridge, loving my friends and family, cherishing my homemade gifts, encouraging our dreams about "this old house,"helping us move, helping us renovate, harvesting chickens with me (pluck, pluck), never missing any event in our children's lives, being proud of our accomplishments, encouraging me when I wanted to work, babysitting,and.........demonstrating unbelievable sacrificial love. You never complained of not feeling well. You kept going until the bitter end with a smile on your face. You were gracious, fearless, and courageous in the face of death. You loved me enough to allow me to love you so completely and intimately at the end. You were so vulnerable and yet not angry. You were so calm and only concerned about us. We remember. We love you.

Yes, life goes on and is even joyfully anticipated. But, you never forget your Mom or your Grammy. You aren't supposed to. You are supposed to honor and remember those who've gone before, and we do.

- Katherine

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Back to School Blues

       Both of the girls just left the house, returning to school and all of the challenges and excitement each will face this semester. As I sit thinking about our holiday season together and how quickly it flew by, I can feel the temptation to sink into self pity creeping about the edges of my thoughts. And it IS a temptation to fiddle with fire and dance with the devil.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-22 says, "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit's fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil."

     So, I have been called to believe God's words to me, and He has told me how to fill my days - with continual, thankful prayer. I am to joyfully go about the busyness of each day, to hold onto good thoughts only and not dwell in the land of negative self-talk, to not let the fire of the Holy Spirit be doused with those negative thoughts or the careless words of another, AND just stay away from the bad stuff. Stay away from situations or people that make abiding and hanging with the Lord difficult.

     When we experienced the joy of bringing a baby into the world, our first thoughts were for her protection. We willfully dedicated her to the Lord and made the commitment to teach her about God's love. With the confidence of youth, I actually thought this would be easy! I was still innocent enough to not have my eyes and ears attuned to the unimaginable dangers - bombs destroying day care centers, gun going off in schools, children having cancer, or young parents dying before seeing their babies grow up.
     Then, the unimaginable horrors began to happen in the span of my children's early years. There was the Oklahoma bombing, The Columbine Massacre, a close friend's baby having cancer, and the death of my husband's college roommate and Emily's godfather at the age of forty. My vision shifted. It shifted away from a loving God and towards my own frenzied attempts to control my children's universe. I tried to exercise Godly wisdom in all my decisions, but lots of time, even if decisions were good ones, they were driven by fear and worry. I was always dancing with the devil, and he became the dancing partner I knew best.

       I knew I was struggling, but I couldn't find the key to closing that door and entering a new one.....and this went on for a long time. I was a "Henny Penny," the childhood chicken whose sky was always in danger of falling. There is a difference between diligent, prayerful parenting and constant fear, and I frequently found myself hovering in the land of fear and worry. It was killing my joy and sapping my energy. As dear, sister-friend, Julie, once told me, "Katherine, you have your feet stuck in the mud." She knows I have never forgotten these words of wisdom, spoken into my life while sitting in her swing and overlooking the marsh mud at low tide. But, how to dig out?
      We can talk about faith without understanding how to obtain it. How do you trust and believe? Does it pierce your soul or fall down on you like a cloak? Do you work at getting it, or is it a natural outpouring of a Christian life?
     Romans 10:17 tells us, "Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ."
     So, the first place I needed to run was to the word of God. It would show me the way. I was faithful to seeking God constantly, and He is the deepest desire of my heart. But when I read, One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp, I had a huge shift in how I experienced faith and trust in God. I learned the importance of giving thanks for all of life - the good, the bad, the big, the little - because all of life is God's gift to me. This point of view has changed me, forever. For this I give thanks!!! (by the way, Julie also gave me this book right after it was published)

     But, back to mothering these two precious young women.....Letting go of a young adult is the scariest thing I've ever had to do. I have to trust the job I've done for the last twenty-one years. Have I said all that I needed to say and exampled the best I could be? The answer can only be no, because I haven't been perfect. God hasn't finished perfecting me yet, so how could I have been all to the girls. That is a place for the Lord only.
      Now it is their turn to want Him, to seek him, to want what is best in this life, and to prepare for when it is hard. I have tried to be a sign pointing in the right direction, but sometimes the paint job has been sloppy or the sign a little crooked. But somehow, I think I've left a strong enough trail. They know what I believe, and they know I believe in them. I've got to trust in the truth of their own journeys. As each of their paths deviate from my own, and they take off toward their future selves, I'm trying to be satisfied with cheering them on and receiving only an occasional look back. But, I know to keep my arms open wide and my knees bent deep so I can catch them in a hug when they need to be reminded that life is good.....and all of life is gift.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Birthday, Bun Bun, and Creme Brulee

                When our oldest, Elizabeth, arrived home from Georgia Tech for Christmas break, the house felt a little empty. Beloved dog Biscuit died over Thanksgiving. We are not ready for a new dog, but we desperately wanted something under our feet, in the way, and needing attention. Soul-sister Leanne called to to check on us and tell us there were new bunnies at the pet store.
                 Leanne and I pretend we are farm girls together. Our lives collided when we were both having babies, while bonding over smocking and silver rattles. We both have only girls, and her caboose is named Catherine like me but spelled with a "C". Catherine immediately began interviewing possible pets for us when she knew we were in need. Their family actually went to meet a batch of pot belly pigs after thinking one would be a perfect fit for us. They decided not after listening to the constant grunting and realizing the growth potential of those barnyard babies!
                 They already have a bunny living in the house, so I really wasn't nervous. Elizabeth and I headed straight to the store to see the baby buntings and discovered the cutest and sweetest bundles of joy. But, we headed home empty handed after being unable to agree on a particular bun. I had fallen in love with a floppy eared, fuzzy faced lop, while she was stuck on a brown "Velveteen." For a moment, we considered two, and then made the mistake of sending photos and texts to David. He of course said, "no," to any and all new pets. Undeterred, we returned to the store two days later, with David and Emily in tow, and came home with this cute little thing.

                 Of course, this is no ordinary bunny! She is smarter, more beautiful, and sweeter than any bunny who ever lived! Playful and mischievous, we called her "he" and gave "him" the very distinguished name, "Sir Wentwirth Fippingdart, One of Many, With the Cute Bootee," after a childhood stuffed animal who was so-named by Elizabeth. Three educated weeks later, our "he" is recognized as a "she," and is nicknamed "Bun-Bun" like every other bunny, proper name pending.

                 This is her first walk in the front yard. The brown velvet harness and leash were hand-made by Elizabeth this week after taking apart a brand new cat harness! She didn't like the "look" of the store bought model. I agree completely that Bun needs style and pizzazz when stepping out. While on her walk, we discovered Bun like Camellias and kisses from Pumpkin the King Cat!                                

                 Last night, we had a fabulous, and I mean great, meal at Savannah's organic restaurant "Cha Bella." We were celebrating the birthday of David's father, Pi-pi (so named long before the book, long after the symbol). "Seventy-Six Trombones" serenaded the appropriate year, and I brought a batch of his favorite "Creme Brulee a L'orange" for him to enjoy in the privacy of home. I could go on and on about this evening, and I will another day. Let me just say, they have the best gluten-free flat-bread. This made my daughter, Emily, who has Celiacs, an ecstatic girl! 

You need this recipe from The Pines Resort in Nova Scotia. And you need to know how easy it is to make Creme Brulee! Enjoy!

"Creme Brulee A L'orange"

6 large Egg Yolks 
1/2 cup Sugar
2 Cups Whipping Cream
2 1/2 teaspoons grated  Orange Peel ( 1 Large Orange)
1 1/2 Tablespoons Grand Mariner

Preheat Oven to 325. Butter six custard cups (Don't be messy, wipe rim).

Beat egg yolks and sugar and let stand while you bring the cream and zest to simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly.

Slowly, dribble hot cream into eggs while the blender is on. Blend in the Grand Mariner.

Divide custard  between cups (we now use four). Set cups in large rimmed  baking dish. Fill the dish with water 1/2 up the cups (do this early on before adding custard). Bake until center is just set. It should Jiggle when shaken - about 40-45 minutes. Remove from the water. Cool, then cover and refrigerate, up to overnight (I'm always late and it works to put them in the freezer to chill).

Preheat broiler. Put cups on baking sheet, sprinkle evenly (!) with sugar. Broil until brown (2 minutes). Refrigerate 1 hour.