Grace Notes

[Previous Suburban Farmgirl, October 2009 – October 2010]

I’m tickled to join MaryJane’s roster of scribblers expanding the notion that farmgirl isn’t a just place on the map, but a place of the heart.

True confessions (as the title of this blog makes clear): I was born suburban and raised suburban. I detoured briefly to New York City (I’m a writer after all) but now I’m raising my kids suburban, too.

Despite all the cul de sacs, WalMarts, and store-bought tomatoes, something a little bit country has always two-stepped inside me.

Bonanza: Ponderosa Party Time

As a girl, I pretended my pink bicycle was a horse named Apple. I begged my mom to make blue gingham curtains for my bedroom. This being Michigan, I picked a lot of apples, blueberries, and raspberries—and sometimes Mom’s flowers became “crops” in my pioneer girl games, too.

Paula and her trusty 'horse'

As a pre-teen I discovered “Bonanza” re-runs—hard! I probably would’ve been the geek behind the ultimate rabid fan site, had the web been invented then. (First album I ever owned: “Ponderosa Party Time”!!) Yes, I know the Ponderosa is a ranch and not a farm, and I admit that Pernell Roberts, my first big crush, partly fueled this obsession. But I also gravitated to their neckerchiefs and boots, their campfire coffee, their wide-open spaces, their general store, and those blue willow dishes. (Guess what my china pattern is today?)

By age 15, I owned bandannas in every color of the rainbow—and wore one almost every day. I’d walk two miles to a “health food store” to buy homemade granola ingredients and a cool new thing called Dannon yogurt.

For college, I moved from suburban Detroit to Iowa. (There used to be a sign at the state line, “Welcome to Iowa, A Place to Grow.” It was incredibly apt! Is it still there, anyone know?) I loved going home with friends. In Sue’s hayloft, kittens might be being born as we got out of the car. Cindy taught me about corn detassling. In the Amana colonies where Jeff lived, we’d devour pancakes big as dinner plates, served family-style with a groaning-board of every breakfast food imaginable.

All these experiences were like coming home to a place I’d never been. How was that possible? Yet it’s a sensation that recurs time and again in my current life: At the sights and smells of a farmer’s market. The satisfying slam of a screen door. Making a bed with a red-and-white Depression quilt. Being drawn to the curve of a particular pitcher at a yard sale. Spotting a shooting star. Drying clothes on a line (preferably with wooden pins). Making a pie—especially taking that extra minute to fashion a cute little apple cut out for the top. Feeling a cow’s rough tongue on my hand (though it only happened twice, once in Iowa and once in New Zealand). Mending a moth hole. Tossing a pretty tablecloth on the grass for a picnic. Being outside, anywhere outside, in any weather.

Grace notes, I’ve come to think of them. Countrified grace notes amid the rest of my everyday (very suburban) realities—and thank goodness for them! We can’t get *all* our calm and comfort from eating chocolate!

If you get what I’m talking about, you already know that these grace notes don’t always take the form of sights, sounds, and places, either. They’re also more amorphous experiences—like values and ‘tudes, like conspiring with a bunch of other women to plan a surprise party or a fundraiser. They’re that spark of kinship felt over tea with a like-minded new friend. They’re the satisfaction of a job well done (I’m thinking of my mother ripping two inches of perfectly good knitting because she realized she slipped a stitch a few rows back). Grace notes can be the optimism and can-do spirit of traipsing into the woods with a troop of Brownies—or of opening my pantry and cobbling together yet another decent meal in the nick of time.

MaryJane is fond of saying, “farmgirl is a condition of the heart” and that’s exactly right. The grace notes I’m talking about originated in farm life and have flown like airborne seeds all over the place. Those of us who find them and find a place for them in our hearts (wherever we may be) have something pretty wonderful in common.

I can’t wait to think about them in more detail with you all!

  1. Theresa B says:

    Love this, so true. Plugging you in to my google reader now. Looking forward to future Grace Notes!

  2. Mary Jo Baird says:

    Welcome, Paula! So very happy to have you here and I look forward to reading all your posts!

    Mary Jo

  3. Staci Wickard says:

    I was thrilled to see that you are the Suburban Farmgirl!
    I love your writing and always get great insights from your Momfidence articles.
    You reassure me that common sense in parenting is not dead!
    Looking forward to seeing more of you here…

  4. Karen Kehr says:

    Hooray for the suburban farmer! I, too, have spent most of my life in the ‘burbs, except for a 4 year stint in the country as a young mother. Those years never got out of my system, when we had a big garden and chickens and drank the neighbor’s milk. Now in midlife, I have returned to this lifestyle even though I’m at the end of a cul-de-sac! Glad for the blog, keep up the good farm work!

  5. Jane says:

    Welcome and I look forward to reading more Grace Note!

  6. bonnie says:

    Welcome Sister! How refreshing you are to our farmgirl sisterhood. Your writing is delightful. I’m looking forward to hearing more.


  7. Cate tuten says:

    Paula, Thank you for your writing and joining "MaryJaneFarm" roster of writers. I love Rebekah’s blog also. I am a kindred spirit and writer too. My farm girl genes come from my great grandmother who lived and loved on a farm and raised 13 children who all grew up to become doctors, pharmacists, wives, mothers, daddy’s- people all who in their own way gave back to the world. Respect, morals, and God were just as much a part of farm life as chickens, clean sheets on a clothes line, and milking cows. In my city ways I have carried on farm life. Yet, even at 54 with four wonderful grown children and one grandson of my own, I still dream of living on a farm. Yet, pies bake in my urban kitchen as I dream, and I’m hoping next month when I add a few chickens to my back yard my neighbors will be too busy in their ‘city’ ways to care!! All my country best, Cate

  8. I loved reading Paula’s Blog. I can relate to many of the things she talked about. I did live in a farm community, although I lived in town, I would go out to my friends farms and help with the cattle, pigs, chickens, bail hay and eat all that good homegrown food. What good memories I have of those days. I guess I do have the farmgirl in my heart. Keep writing Paula and I will keep reading.

  9. theresa says:

    Welcome, I can tell already that I will enjoy reading your notes- here it is a cool rainy sort of depressing day, but for a bit I was in the sun, picking herbs and goodies from my garden or the farmers’ market, riding my "pretend" horse (purple banana seated 20" wheel bike) or hanging clothes on my mom’s clothes line, or even better taking them down and burying my nose in the sheets. Yes the rain is needed, but the memory trip brought a happy smile to my heart. Thanks

  10. Florina says:

    Howdy! and Welcome Home!
    Being a Farm Girl is truly a condition of the heart!
    Can’t wait to hear more about you!
    Best Wishes,

  11. Katherine says:

    Grace notes…aptly named. I love it! This rings true in my heart. I was born and raised in suburban Michigan. My parents grew up as farmers and became factory workers to support their family, back when that was "a really good job." My Dad grew enormous gardens in our yard and in the empty lots nearby. My Mom canned everything in sight in addition to working full time and had the basement pantry of colorful filled quart jars to prove it. Looking back, I don’t know how they did it. Dad hunted and we all fished; the bounty fed us. We picked blueberries in the woods for free and shucked bushels of peas on the back porch. Technically, I have never lived in the country but I am a farm girl at heart. I put myself through college and became a nurse, moved to Texas after college, where I spent over the next twenty years in the suburbs again. I have sewn most of my children’s clothing when they were small, been a single parent, cooked and baked from scratch, crocheted, knitted, gardened and canned a little bit. I have to buy the berries or pay to pick them but I still love making jam. It feeds my soul as much as my family. We moved to Oklahoma two years ago after the children were grown and I am blessed with grace notes more and more each day. We live in a neighborhood of lots just over a half acre in a rural area. I have learned to card fiber, spin my own yarn and weave in addition to my other loves. I see red tailed hawks and deer regularly. I dance with the Okie wind while I hang laundry on the line. I have found friends with whom I share my heart as well as our interests. Grace notes are like fireflies in the summer sky. My heart is full.

  12. Cori says:

    You sweet thing! You just exude the farm girl spirit! I look forward to hearing more from you. Sock monkeys! I collect them, too. The older and more worn the better. I am also a suburban girl with a country girl heart.

  13. Jennifwe says:

    Welcome! It’s nice to meet another farmgirl at heart….as my husband and I just moved to North Carolina.

  14. Debbie says:

    Welcome Paula!
    I knew it would only be a matter of time before a Suburban Farm Girl Blog appeared! It just makes sense! I think you will touch a lot of us "suburban moms" with leanin’s towards a more "country way of life". Discovering Mary Janes Farm has been a wonderful experience for me! Finally a place to re-connect with my own "farmgirl" yearnings while living life in the burbs to the sounds of our own "grace notes". (LOVE THAT)Here area few of ours! Watching wild turkeys dine on the left overs of our veggie garden, smelling the ocean from our back porch and knowing it is low tide, heating water on the gas stove to do dishes at our summer cottage,taking the kids on a home school field trip to an organic cranberry bog,going on a walk so our daughter can take pictures of fall foliage with a big blue sky background,and stopping by the barn to say hi to our horsey friends in between riding lessons.
    I love writing "little musings" for the Keeing in Touch part of the magazine as well. Something about Mary Janes Farm has awakend my inner writer!!! I look forward to reading more from the Suburban Farm Girl Blog!

  15. Linda says:

    I’m glad you’re here. I live in suburban South Fla. but am a country farm girl at heart. Grew up in Ohio, learned to grow veggie and flowers there. Miss Fall with every fiber of my being, as well as all the aesthetics of the North. It’s been interesting these 40 years, trying to bring what I love to an area and climate which fights me all the way. But persist I have, and been succesful, some of the time. I have a maple tree in the back which gives us a modicum of fall color in January. It even loses it’s leaves, we rake them and lie in the pile. You do what you can.
    I’m looking forward to meeting you and all the other suburban farmers.

  16. Holly says:

    Welcome Paula! Very nice read I just had!
    I too was a suburban girl growing up on the edge of Spokane.
    We had a huge garden, mom did a lot of canning and I thought everyone did that. After all, so did my grandma, aunts, etc. I loved the Waltons and Little House and wondered why I hadn’t been born in one of those eras.
    I lived for 11 years in Seattle before I was able to move to my own little Mayberry (Lynden, WA) where I now live on 2 acres and have my own huge garden. Yea!!! I love to can and put away for lean times. I love practical antiques: rolling pins, graters, fans, cookie cutters, crocks, etc.

    I look forward to your postings and wish you well on this new endeavor!


  17. Alane O'Hagan says:

    Welcome! I love when people write (or speak for that matter) from the heart. I look forward to reading your future posts!

  18. sunshine says:

    GIDDY-UP!!!!!!! My red bike was named Paint and I cried when my dad took off the trainig wheels cuz I couldn’t tie her up to the neighborhood fences. In cowboy boots and pajamas, I lived for the Sat. morning TV westerns.

    I can just tell I’m going to love your blog. We live in the Northwoods of Wisconsin (I guess you could call it a very big northern suburb of the whole state!)and seem to identify with your grace notes more than the other farmgirl blogs.

    I’ve never lived on a farm but I’m sure one of those flitting farmgirl seeds landed in one of my pigtails.

  19. Martha Cook says:

    I loved this article! I am collecting not just Bonanza DVDs, but also "Petticoat Junction", "Bewitched", "Green Acres", "Rawhide", "Beverly Hillbillies" and the other fun, active, outdoorsy TV series of the 60’s. Instead of whiney people sitting on a couch in a living room (the recent sit-coms), the older shows showed people really moving around, and getting outside! I really appreciate your comment about Grace Notes – I am drawn to older linens, and dishes, pitchers with the lovely lines and textures of another time.
    M. Cook

  20. Candace Spencer says:

    I agree, Cousin! I have not always lived in Suburbia, but close to it more than I care. Now I long for my clotheslines again, a patch of dirt, some chickens and enough space around me to take a deep breath.

    My father’s family (the Spencer’s) are originally from Iowa and Quaker. My grandfather was not an active Quaker – was Methodist as that was the only Protestant church in the very small town where my father grew up and my Grandfather owned the General Store, Lost Springs, KS.

    I enjoyed your blog and the way you conjured memories. Thank you.

  21. Wendy says:

    Welcome Paula! I fell in love with "Mary Jane’s Farm" fairly recently. I was so excited to see there are others out there like me. I too have always lived in the suburbs, but have lived my life with the heart of a farm girl. Growing up my favorite shows on TV were the Wilderness Family, Little House on the Prairie, How the West was won. I learned to crochet, cook, sew, can by the time I was 10. I started quilting at age 32. I was always the youngest in the classes and other people would comment about how young I was to be quilting. I shun modern conveniences. In quilting I’m looking forward this year to entering a Grandma’s Flower Garden sewn completely by hand. I don’t machine quilt. That just rushes things too much. I don’t own a microwave (to all my daughters friends amazement). I cook only from scratch and love every minute of it. I take great pride in providing my family with healthy and nutritious foods for every meal. To this day I still dream of having my own farm. It seems to logical progression. I still can, freeze and dry most of our food for the winter. I buy all our produce at the local farmers market. Thursdays are my favorite day of the week. That’s market day. I’ve learned all the names of those I purchase from. Not something often found in the city (or suburbs because we’re too busy).

    I eagerly look forward to you future post! Welcome!

  22. Rebekah says:

    A warm Farmgirl welcome from the City Farmgirl! I enjoyed your post and can’t wait to read more about your "grace notes." Welcome, welcome, welcome!

  23. Darla Szasz says:

    Thanks so much for your thoughts – I live in town, but I wear an apron, hang my clothes out when I can, do my dishes by hand sometimes, have lots of "old stuff" around…

  24. Nicole says:

    On all the levels you are talking about "get" what you mean. I too grew up and lived my life suburban (with 15 moves in 20 years of married life) but now we live on a small farm of two acres 45 minutes outside of Portland Oregon. My husband and parents are mystified with my "farmgirl" side – it was always hidden in my heart, I just now get to live it fully. I look forward to reading more of your posts. Thanks for joing with MaryJane.

  25. Denise Kilman says:

    Thank you for sharing your love of farm living in the cit. I too live in the city and try to bring as much farm into my life as I can.Behind my garage are five beautiful chickens. Every day I look forward to letting them out of their coupe so they can tell me the morning gossip! One by one they march out and start reporting about all the happenings that took place in the dark of night. There are tales of cats walking about the coup and other animals that they can’t quite make out in the shadows of the moon.And of course there is the tattle telling of who crowded who on the roost and who decided their not going to lay for a while.Later in the day if the weather is nice or even a little cool, you can find me in my plastic lawn chair just watching the girls go about their day. I find it very peaceful to watch their dirt bath. their feathers make such a lovely noise as they splash the dry dirt up over their bodies.Grazing for bugs and tender plants is another peaceful scene.They seem to not have a care in the world as they walk along singing and looking for the next bite.All of my cares and concerns melt away too!I have other stories of hanging out laundry on the clothes line and learning to make home made soap but the chickens are what I love best. Thanks for letting me share.
    Denise Kilman

  26. Clare says:

    Like you, I was born and raised in the city but enjoy the country. I now live in a small city where my neighbor has chickens and her neighbor has cows. I can see the foothills, farmland and fields of growing plants from my front porch. I can always breathe better out of the city. I am evidently a farm girl at heart. I’m looking forward to hearing more from you and sharing some too.

  27. Eileen says:

    I grew up in a small town in Iowa, and I could hear the screen door close, and smell the freshly dried, clean sheets as I read your ‘Grace Notes.’ The feel of clover flowers between your toes and taking a strawberry from the patch also came to mind. Thanks for that moment on this rather deary rainy day(after a week with no sun)in the
    middle of a city. I keep planting anywhere I can and did harvest an alley pumpkin this year-also tomatoes, green beans, and kale along the garage. I still use wooden clothes pins, and I have my grandma’s gardening bandanna-it is salmon and olive green.

  28. Jaime says:

    Love, love your thoughts here. As a fellow lifer in suburbia, it’s encoraging to know that others, despite the concrete and stucco reminders, fashion themselves a bit of pioneer. My girls have recently discovered the "Little House" tv series after reading the books. How it warms my heart to listen and watch them at play as they pretend to be Laura and Mary. They too are prairie girls at heart and how marvelous that they can dare to imagine their life differently. I look forward to more of your posts.

  29. Teresa says:

    Great blog, I also live in the burbs, but my brothers farm is just a few miles away, can get a fix pretty fast when needed, better than any medicine!

  30. Teresa says:

    Great blog, I also live in the burbs, but my brothers farm is just a few miles away, can get a fix pretty fast when needed, better than any medicine!

  31. Phyllis Lloyd says:

    Thanks alot, I can not get the Bonanze theme out of my head, speaking of grace notes. Thanks for your words of wisdom

  32. carol branum says:

    hi paula,welcome…i just purchased a copy of urban farm mag at orchlens farm suppuly because many of the girls in the salon are wanting chickens in the city.Oh by the way,Dan Blocker is my 3rd cousin.have a great day..a farmers daughter,carol branum,lamar mo.

  33. Margie says:

    Very nice column! I too find myself in a North Carolina subdivision at the moment, and yet surrounding by tobacco farms, soybeans, cattle and horses. It’s lovely, and it’s nice to read about someone elses similar experiences. Looking forward to the next post!

  34. Arlene says:

    Thank you Paula; this is just what I needed. I’ve always been a farm girl at heart and it’s inspiring to read your "Grace Notes" and find out that there are other women just like me. Although I live in suburbia and have a country home, too, I love sheets hung on the line, making jam, and tending my garden. The outdoors is my favorite place to be. I look forward to future blogs.

  35. Pat says:

    Welcome Paula!

    I recognize you from Women’s Day which is one of my favorite magazines. I’ve lived in NYC my whole life, but I have many suburban family and friends, so it will be nice to read your farmgirl perspectives in your grace notes.

  36. Joy says:

    You definately hit home. Lookin forward to reading more. Thank you.

  37. CC says:

    Howdy & Welcome!! I had the crush on "little" Joe & carried a Bonanza lunch box for three years (new one each year, different design – I ran with the My Friend Flicka, Black Beauty lunch box crowd – Bonanza fit right in!)

    A farmgirl heart starts early in life!

  38. Judy says:

    Yes indeed, you brought back some memories. My sister and I called our bikes our horses also. And Pernell Roberts was my first crush too. Michael Landon was my sisters imaginary beau. We use to put ropes on our bikes for reins too. Mom would tell us to get them off before they tangled in the spokes. We grew up in the country and even our grandparents had a big farm. So we were around lots of animals all the time. We always had gardens too so eating "fresh" was a normal way of life. I truely believe that if you grow most of your own food and it’s preservative free, and you eat like that for your first 18 or 20 years of your life, with hardly any junk food, you have built a great foundation for the rest of your life. Agree? 🙂 Welcome Paula!

  39. Kim D says:

    Welcome to the farm. I grew up in Michigan and we moved around from city to country to living in the village limits but had a farm field right across the street. Playing in the corn fields, running around in them, climbing trees, and watching all the 60’s sitcoms that was in the country. Helping my Mom, Aunt and my best friend’s mom can everything under the sun. I grew up surronded by farms but didn’t live on a farm. I still live in Michigan and live in the country in 4-plex apartment! I have a very small space to grow tomatoes and green peppers. Have a freezer full of farm growing meat, not the kind that is in the grocery stores. So welcome from one Michigander to another Michigander!

  40. katie says:

    Can relate to your blog. Chickens, veggie garden, sheets drying outside on the line,and hey, my every day dishes are blue willow…Welcome

  41. Denise says:

    Thanks Paula.
    Loved the column and look forward to reading more. Didn’t know there was a name for my leanings but now I know it is a perfect description. I receive so much satisfaction by simple things like doing the laundry and hanging it out to dry, baking – my altime favourite and creating a heart home for my family. Farm life in my book has meant honest hardworking simple loveable life and people. They are real people with no hidden agenda. I love to look out at the mountains and to walk along the beach. I love the countryside but live and work in Suburbia. The outdoors or my kitchen are my absolute favourite places to be.

  42. Denise says:

    Thanks Paula.
    Loved the column and look forward to reading more. Didn’t know there was a name for my leanings but now I know it is a perfect description. I receive so much satisfaction by simple things like doing the laundry and hanging it out to dry, baking – my altime favourite and creating a heart home for my family. Farm life in my book has meant honest hardworking simple loveable life and people. They are real people with no hidden agenda. I love to look out at the mountains and to walk along the beach. I love the countryside but live and work in Suburbia. The outdoors or my kitchen are my absolute favourite places to be.

  43. Kathe says:

    I was raised and lived in the city for 27 years until I met and married my husband. When we got married we bought a house in a small town and at first I wondered "What am I doing out here?" I even made him promise that when something happened to my mom and dad, we would but their house in the city and move back. In the first year, my husband had me helping with the chores on the farm he worked and I learned so much about about farm life. Within three years we had a chance to buy 5 acres and build a house. We are 10 miles from town and I’m still not far enough away fron city life. I never did buy my folks house and ‘go home again’. I guess the farm girl was there all the time and I never knew. My life on the farm has been wonderful. My husband passed a year and a half ago and I miss him dearly, and am so greatful for all I learned from him. Keep the words coming and I’ll keep reading.

  44. Ricca says:

    Paula, You are such a talent, your brilliance bringing these memories back into our minds and souls! We are very lucky girls to be able to recall our Mothers with their clothes pin aprons on, hanging up the sheets. I also remember you writing and making little books for everyone when you were a child. Your children are lucky to have the perfect Mom. I believe your Mom can see you from Heaven and is so proud of you.

  45. Jennifer says:

    Hi Paula!!! What a great website! I was raised on a farm in Kentucky, but now call Los Angeles my home. I will always be a farmgirl at heart. I can’t wait to read more!

  46. Kimberly Ann says:


    You had me at the Bonanza photo (love that show!). I’m a suburban farmgirl myself and I can’t wait to read your thoughts on living the lifestyle in the ‘burbs.

  47. SuburbanFarmgirl says:

    Wow, thanks, everyone, for the neighborly welcome!! I love hearing everyone’s personal variations on suburban farmgirlness… and who knew there were so many Bonanza lovers left and girls who fed carrots to their bicycles?! I’m very glad to "know" you all! Paula

  48. Katherine Brouwer says:

    Hello, dear Paula: what a thrill to read your blog and know that you are continuing to delight more and more readers with your writing talent. Your Momfidence articles came after our children were grown, but your blog touches very deep memories. Early in our marriage we lived in a small town in rural upstate New York. My husband had a huge garden (back to his farm boy roots), and I canned, preserved, and cooked fresh vegetables al dente long before it became a popular practice. I can laugh today – but certainly not at the time – remembering coming home from a OB appointment in the city to find the helpful farmer who had volunteered to plow the garden plot for us had also included the area where we had just planted rows and rows of strawberry plants! Hanging out clothes – now our condo association forbids it; picking wild berries and making jam and jelly – my health won’t allow that, and even the memory makes my bones hurt; the church fair – beautiful handcrafts and homemade goodies; receiving an overflowing bushel of glorious dark grapes from a neighbor two days before our vacation and staying up very late making quarts of double strength grape juice – a genuine threat to Welch’s, no memoery enhancement necessary. And a dear friend who also had three small children taught me something I can still practice today almost a helf century later, the glorious tradition of lawn-sitting- the tree leaves still make lacy designs and the clouds countless shapess to encourage dreams. God bless in your new endeavor. I promise to be a faithful reader.

  49. Michele Kirkman says:

    My sister "Rodeo Rise’" wants to know if this rings a bell with you? Sung to the tune of the Bonanza theme song "here in the West we’re livin in the best…Bonanza Hoss and Joe and Adam know every rock and pine..Repeat…..
    Thought you’d like that She says it’s on the Album Lorne Greene sings
    You 2 are peas in a pod

  50. SuburbanFarmgirl says:

    Michele–now I can’t get that song out of my head! (I do know it!) Pernell’s solo album of folk music is even better! (:

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