Up Front

Just Around the Corner Seed companies know just when to send their catalogs — in the deep of winter. So hungry for flowers are we by then that we buy more seeds than we know what to do with. “We’re like kids in a candy store; there are so many wonderful flowers,” says Henry Homeyer, and Homeyer is a man who knows his flowers. He is known as “The Gardening Guy” (www.gardening-guy.com) and has authored two books about how to garden successfully. The latest, just released, is “The New Hampshire Gardener’s Companion: The Insiders’ Guide to Gardening in the Granite State.” He says he starts a lot of his flowers as seeds (“it gives one hope and some green things to fuss around with”), but adds that New Hampshire isn’t the easiest place to do that. To do it right in this growing zone, you need supplemental fluorescent lighting. It doesn’t have to be the expensive full-spectrum lighting, either. He says, “I start 300 plants with two-tube fixtures, which you can buy for peanuts.” Another tool Homeyer uses is a 1/4-inch wood dowel that’s four to five inches long. After sharpening one end in a pencil sharpener, he says, dip that end in a saucer of water. “Touch one seed with it and it picks it up like a magnet,” he says. “Then just touch the soil and it releases.” That way you don’t get clusters of seedlings. The biggest mistake people make, he says, is not to thin their seedlings: “Six seedlings in a one-inch cube can’t be happy; they don’t thrive if they’re too crowded.” He suggests using small scissors to snip off five sprouts, leaving the biggest and healthiest. And one more piece of advice from Homeyer — read the seed packet. GO WILD Want to start a wildflower garden, but not sure where to start? One good place is the New England Wildflower Society (www.newfs.org), which has scores of native plant seeds, like trailing wolfsbane, wild monkshood and anise hyssop. You’ll also find instructions for getting the seeds to germinate and other helpful info. Q&A New Hampshire has sent just one president to Washington, D.C. — Franklin Pierce in 1853. He is consistently ranked as one of the worst presidents in history, but he is not without fans. One is Peter Wallner, Ph.D., author of two biographies of Pierce. He works at the N.H. Historical Society and teaches at Franklin Pierce College in Concord. Q: Is it just a coincidence that you, an expert on Pierce, work at a college named for him? It is. Q: Yours is the first biography of Pierce written in 75 years. Why so long? The first by a scholar, that’s true. Why that is is a good question. Historians dismiss him as an amiable nonentity, but no one had ever looked a second time to see if that was what he was. Q: One writer called Pierce “the Rodney Dangerfield of presidents.” That’s not a bad line. He definitely gets no respect. Q: How come? He appears to have been on the wrong side of the major movement of the 19th century — that of freeing the slaves. He was characterized as pro-slavery and lost all credibility with modern sentiments. Q: Is that perception faulty? Faulty in the sense he was not pro-slavery. He wanted to keep the nation together and believed it shouldn’t come apart because of one issue. He was a nationalist at a time when sectionalism was the wave of the times. Q: How do you rate Pierce as president? You can’t say he was successful because he didn’t resolve the main challenge of his presidency, slavery. If you look at other aspects of his administration, though, it was the least corrupt of the 19th century; he was a defender of American interests abroad; he helped promote trade and modernize the economy and the military; he believed in a balanced budget; he was a proponent of individual liberties. Q: Does it frustrate you that Pierce is so poorly regarded? The more I’ve gotten to know him, the more I tend to answer back. Even people who dismiss Pierce say he probably couldn’t have done anything about the problems of the time, that it was beyond one man’s control. Even his enemies admit he was a man of good character. The average American today who sees him ranked so low doesn’t understand that aspect of his personality. Q: Should New Hampshire people be proud of Pierce? I definitely say they should. If our motto is “live free or die,” that’s pretty much what Franklin Pierce thought he was doing. He was a great defender of civil liberties. Wallner’s latest book, “Franklin Pierce: Martyr for the Union,” will be released this spring by Plaidswede Publishing (www.plaidswede.com). Street Smarts (A quickie guide to the Capitol Block) In Concord, the shadow of the Capitol dome falls on some bright shopping spots. An elegant institution at the corner of Capitol and North Main Streets for 20 years is Rare Essentials Ltd. with couture for both sexes. You’ll see stylish women's wear like the Cole Hann handbag and Laurie D sweater pictured above. Madeleines Elegance Defined at 124 North Main St. serves European pastries, lunch and coffee to townies, legislators from all over the state and political hopefuls from all over the country. They work to keep the menu fresh — an easy task for baker Paul Brown, since there are thousands of French pastries to prepare and he loves to experiment. In February, ask for some crusty bread and the Gorton pork, which is a savory paté-like spread. 2 Capitol Plaza — Looking for diamonds, jewelry design, appraisal or repair? Maybe you just want to admire the fantastic art and craftsmanship on display. Mark Knipe Goldsmith is a trusted source of all the above and one of the coolest shopping experiences in the city. They discover and represent stellar artisans like David and Melanie Leppla of Waitsfield, Vt., whose hand-blown glass lamps are on display. 1 Eagle Square — Starbellies features the kinds of children’s clothes that make mothers and mothers-to-be go “awww.” They also stock a fantastic array of choice toys and games for the younger set. The whole store creates a surreal mood, sort of like a little trip back to childhood, where everything is colorful and imaginative. That’s in no small part due to the inspiration of the name, which was borrowed from a Dr. Seuss fable. The Baby Bungalow started as a Web-only business (www.babybungalow.com) but their unique selection was so in demand locally that, a year ago last January, they opened their doors to the public at 56 North Main St. They offer a lush batch of plush, from comforters to stuffed creatures, and lots of top-of-the-line baby hardware for the discerning parent, including Stokke Strollers and Britax car seats. 140 North Main St. is home to one of downtown Concord’s oldest establishments, Thornes Intimate Apparel and Adult Novelties. After 24 years of operation they still get a little dissed by their peers in downtown retail, but the shop’s clientele has matured and changed. In their first decade or so, the shoppers were usually men. Now just as many women drop in looking for naughty nightwear and red-hot ultra-high heels. Nashua to Keene - Close to the border through Currier and Ives country. By Barbara Radcliffe Rogers Just a few miles north of the Massachusetts border, a combination of winding back roads and rolling hills trace a zig-zag line from Nashua to Hinsdale, just southwest of Keene. Leave Nashua on Route 130, through Hollis (taking care to stay on Route 130 at the starfish-shaped crossroads) and on to Brookline. When the road forks shortly after the Village Store, bear left toward Mason. Go straight across Route 13 at the blinking light, past little Lake Potanipo (great kayaking in season) and look for Parker’s Maple Barn on the left. If they’re boiling sap, you can watch and sample, or stop for breakfast, a midmorning snack or even lunch of pancakes with maple syrup. If you have to wait, their gift shop provides worthy distraction. (For a fragrant detour, follow their signs along the circuitous route to Pickity Place, from Mason center, to browse in the shop filled with herbal gifts and foods. On the property is the original Grandmother’s House, the model for Elizabeth Orton Jones’s illustrations of the original Little Red Riding Hood. You can have lunch there by reserving ahead.) From Parker’s, continue on, taking a right on Route 123 through the village of Mason. About half a mile before the village you’ll pass a historical marker at Uncle Sam’s House, boyhood home of Samuel Wilson, the original Uncle Sam. Wilson helped his father build the house in the 1780s, when his family moved to Mason to escape the pesky British soldiers in Massachusetts. Route 123 continues through Greenville and follows the Souhegan River to a right turn where it joins Route 124, leading into New Ipswich. A detour of a few yards leads to the Barrett House, not open in winter, but worth a look from the outside at one of the state’s finest Federal mansions, built as a wedding present in 1800. Farther along Route 124 you’ll come to Windblown Cross Country Skiing and Snowshoeing (www.windblownxc.com), with 40 km (25 miles) of trails around Barrett Mountain. The beautifully groomed trails are at all levels, with some of the most challenging you’ll find at any New England cross-country ski area, others just right for beginners. On reaching Jaffrey you could stop for lunch at Aylmer’s Grille (532-4949) on Main Street or continue left onto Route 202 and watch for the sign for Coll’s Farm on the left. Stop to grind your own peanut butter (or cashew butter) in their health food section (532-7540). Stay on 202 only as far as Rindge, where you turn right onto Route 119 to Fitzwillliam. Just before Route 12, Sunflower Café (585-3463) is on the left, a bright little dining room with excellent soups, sandwiches and salads at lunch, an early dinner menu and superlative cakes anytime. Route 119 continues around the Fitzwilliam Green, where it’s hard not to stop for photos of the white meeting house and church in the town’s idyllic village center. Visit Fitzwilliam Hardwood Furniture (www.sbrackett.com), where you can find custom-made fine furniture — open weekends year round. If you’re in luck, the “open” sign might be hanging under the one that says “antiques” at the brick house next door. Route 119 meanders along parallel to the border, passing two tiny former granite quarries on the right, to the Richmond Four Corners, continuing on through Winchester to Ashuelot. Here a 160-foot-long covered bridge crosses the Ashuelot River in two spans of town lattice construction. The road follows the swift-flowing river all the way to Hinsdale, where you’ll find the nation’s oldest operating post office, right next to the impressive brick town hall. To return by a faster route, follow Route 63 through Chesterfield to a right turn onto Route 9, which continues straight through Keene and onto Route 101, leading back to Nashua. Length of trip: 112 miles Barbara Radcliffe Rogers is the co-author of the guidebook “New Hampshire off the Beaten Path” and a former columnist on the state’s less-known attractions for NH.com. Double the Pleasure Two important art exhibits are under way at UNH’s Paul Creative Arts Center. The New Hampshire Art Association’s 59th annual exhibition of painting, sculpture, photography, watercolor and printmaking (winning print shown above) runs concurrently with “The Disasters of War by Goya: Selections from the Georgia Museum of Art.” The Goya exhibition features 40 prints of Goya etchings that documented the brutality of the Peninsular War between Spanish guerrilla forces and occupying French troops in Spain and Portugal. The exhibitions run until Apr. 7. www.unh.edu/art-gallery Snap Judgment If you’ve ever read Plato’s “Republic,” you know the story of the cave. Prisoners who have been chained in the cave since childhood know the world only through shadows on the cave wall in front of them that are cast by a fire behind them. Socrates, who tells the story, wants to convey the understanding that most people are imprisoned in a world of ignorance with the truth, painful as it may be, is available to them if only they turn to see it. Heavy stuff, but not too heavy for some real-life prisoners in New Hampshire. Edward McGushin, an assistant professor at St. Anselm, recently taught Plato’s philosophy to six inmates at the State Prison for Women, hoping it would give them a different perspective on their lives. The program, funded by the N.H. Humanities Council, seemed to have some benefit. A second is being planned for next fall. N.H.’s presidential primary will take place less than two years from now, on Jan. 19. At least that’s how it stands now. Who knows what the schedule will look like after the incredible game of primary leap frog that’s taking place ends — if it ever does. After years of a relatively stable lineup (Iowa jumped ahead of N.H. early on with its caucus), the Democratic National Committee has officially moved Nevada ahead of New Hampshire and South Carolina a week behind. Now there are others — New Jersey, Utah, Alabama, Pennsylvania, Michigan, to name just a few — who want to butt in line. It’s possible Gov. Lynch will move our primary earlier to maintain our first-in-the-nation status, as state law may require. Nobody faults states that want to be more relevant to the primary process, but this leap frogging could create unhelpful chaos for candidates and voters alike. Raptors Rising It’s not your usual job — stand on the summit of Pack Monadnock and count the number of raptors that fly by. But that’s what Julie Tilden, a seasonal biologist, did this past fall. She was directing N.H. Audubon’s Pack Monadnock Raptor Observatory project, which keeps track of population trends. With her binoculars and spotting scope, she spent eight hours a day looking for owls, eagles, hawks and other birds of prey. Are they tough to count? Tilden says generally it’s not. “Usually the ones that come through groups, like broad-winged hawks or turkey vultures, use thermals. They’re rising up, looking like a swirling mass of birds, but when they get to the top, they stream out more or less in single file. You get a good eye for it.” A few were classified as “unknown” because they flew by too fast for Tilden and her volunteer counters to recognize what they were. “It was a really good year,” she says. “We counted more than 10,000 raptors.” That’s twice as many as last year, the first year of the project, but last year was rainy. Tilden loves her work: “I’m intrigued by raptors, more than any other bird. They’re such powerful creatures. They have a powerful presence.” So intrigued is she that she kept spotting on Pack Monadnock into November, when she saw a rare sight on the East Coast — golden eagles. What’s it like to spend more than two months, mostly alone, on the top of a mountain? “It was amazing, having a chance to see seasons change, all day every day, except when it’s raining,” she says. “You see other migrants like warblers and Monarch butterflies. It wasn’t lonely or boring; it was peaceful.” She hopes to do it again next year. N.H. Audubon (www.nhaudubon.org) entered all of the data collected on the mountain into a national database administered by the Hawk Migration Association of North America (www.hmana.org). Prickly Prowl If you’ve always wanted to get a closeup look at a porcupine, here’s your chance. On Saturday, Feb. 10, Dave Erier, senior naturalist for the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center in Holderness, will lead a snowshoe (if there’s snow) trek to the rocky outcrops of Science Center grounds in search of a porcupine. They hang out in the rocks in the winter for shelter. You might see them feeding in their favorite (beech, maple and hemlock) trees or just wandering about at, as Erier puts it, “their cruising speed of 2 mph.” Think the porcupines might not like visitors and throw their quills at you? Not to worry. Erier says quill-throwing is a myth — to get stuck, you have to make contact. For more info on the “Porcupine Prowl,” call (603) 968-7194 or visit www.nhnature.org. Hot Chocolate The candy — a shell of dark chocolate covered with colored cocoa butter — looks innocent enough. But looks, we know, can be deceiving. Take a bite and you’ll find, buried at its center, a mixture of herbs that transforms this truffle into an aphrodisiac. The alchemists are Maureen Sullivan and Alan Crowfut, owners of Unbridled Chocolates in Marlborough (www.unbridledchocolates.com), where the truffles, called “Unbridled Passion,” are made and sold. “We hired an herbologist, actually three, to come up with recipes for an aphrodisiac made with Eastern herbs that are safe to eat,” says Crowfut. With shatavari, ashwaganda, schizandra berry and other herbs, they fashioned an aphrodisiac for females. With damiana, tribulus, prickly ash and others, they fashioned one for males. The chocolates cost $10 for a pair. “They work,” says Crowfut. “We have a lot of repeat customers.” Sweet Send-off Looking for a New Hampshire souvenir that’s not the usual? Van Otis Chocolates has just introduced a box of chocolates perfect for gifts or guests — a gold-foil-trimmed New Hampshire souvenir box. An outline of the state is filled with either assorted chocolates or their award-winning Swiss fudge, then wrapped with a paper band with scenic photos of New Hampshire. The band can be customized with your own photos. They also can be used for business gifts, fundraising or to mark significant anniversaries. Store manager Dawna McDonough says the boxes have been “flying out of the store.” Each is available in a 6- or 12-piece box at $5.99 and $10.99, respectively. Van Otis Chocolates 341 Elm St. and 366 South Willow St. Manchester www.vanotis.com Vin Fiz A grape drink and a forgotten hero — what do they have in common? A lot, says David Hallmark of Portsmouth — enough for him to build a business around. The forgotten hero is Calbraith (Cal) Perry Rodgers, the first man to fly across the country. It was in 1911, just eight years after the birth of powered flight at Kitty Hawk. Hallmark says, “People tend to jump right from the Wright brothers to Lindbergh’s flight, forgetting that there was a man in between who is important in aviation history.” So what does a grape drink have to do with it? Rodgers’ flight was sponsored by Chicago’s Armour meat packing plant, which had just introduced a grape-blended soft drink called “Vin Fiz.” The company wanted him to drop leaflets about the product over the major cities he flew over, and to paint the tail and wing of his bi-plane with the soft drink’s logo. Hallmark is creating a business around “The Flight of the Vin Fiz” as the 100th anniversary of the flight approaches. He has replicated Vin Fiz for sale today — with a few modifications, like the taste. The Vin Fiz of yesteryear was described as “tasting like a cross between river sludge and horse slop.” The new Vin Fiz is made with pure cane sugar, not high-fructose corn syrup, and it tastes, Hallmark says, like a mild grape drink: “It’s not a punch-you-in-the-face soda.” It’s bottled in Newfields, N.H., by the Conner Bottling Co., a third generation bottler of vintage sodas. It’s available online (www.drinkvinfiz.com) and at Maine-ly New Hampshire in Portsmouth. Who Knew? If you’re a fan of author John Irving (who BTW was born in Exeter and went to school at Phillips Exeter and UNH), you know he is a tad neurotic, worrying a lot about being safe. In his 1978 bestseller, “The World According to Garp,” he imbues his character with his fear, writing: “If Garp could have been granted one vast and naive wish, it would have been that he could make the world safe. For children and for grownups. The world struck Garp as unnecessarily perilous for both.” When Irving’s real-life children were young, according to a Barnes & Noble biography, he bought an old Checker car (like the familiar yellow cabs), thinking it was big enough and heavy enough to protect his children. Note to Irving fans: A profile of his life and work will appear in next month’s New Hampshire Magazine. Asian Influences New Hampshire’s Asian community is still small, just 1.7 percent of the state’s population, but it’s growing. And that growth is bringing new opportunities to both Asians and non-Asians to learn more about the culture. The Derry Chinese School is a good example. The school teaches Chinese languages — primarily Mandarin — and culture to students pre-school age to adult at Saturday morning classes. Principal Walter Chan, who emigrated from Hong Kong 12 years ago, says half the people who attend are Caucasian: “Many have business in China or Taiwan and want to know the language.” Some simply like the Chinese culture, and still others might have an adopted Chinese child. “They want to make sure their children don’t lose their language,” Chan says. That was the situation that inspired Elizabeth Dalton, a non-Asian, to start the school four years ago. Language courses are not the only offerings at the Derry Chinese School — there are Chinese cooking workshops and organized trips to a great dim sum restaurant. For more information about the school, call (888) 928-8470 or visit www.derrychineseschool.org. A Fine Art Russell Banks, Richard Rhodes and Sy Montgomery — when you have writers of that calibre involved in something you know it has merit. The three are visiting writers — Banks last year, Rhodes and Montgomery this year — for the Master of Fine Arts in writing at Southern New Hampshire University. This is the first fine arts degree offered by the university, and it’s attracting students from as far away as Hawaii. The quality of the program, chaired by the university’s Robert Begiebing, PhD., is one of the reasons people are coming from far and wide to enroll; another is the fact that it is a “low-residency” program, convenient for working adults. Begiebing, an accomplished author himself, says, “Unlike the traditional masters program, where you go for three years with classroom instruction and vacations, this is typically two years out straight without breaks.” Only half of the program is on campus, three 10-day sessions; the other half is online, two seven-day sessions. Begiebing says students work with a mentor, with no more than a five-to-one ratio. “It’s very intensive,” he says. “They turn in 30 pages of manuscript every month, and have an extensive reading list in British and American literature, as well as craft books.” The M.F.A. writing degree came into being soon after the New Hampshire Writers’ Project, a statewide writers’ organization, moved to campus. University President Paul LeBlanc, with a doctorate in English and a former vice president at Houghton Mifflin, saw the opportunity to start the program: “The M.F.A. continues the expansion of liberal arts programs as we become a broad-based university.” The deadline for signing up for the next degree program is May 1. For more information visit www.snhu.edu. Treasure Hunt Curious about an antique in your attic? Wonder what the porcelain you inherited from Grandma is worth? Send in a photo and we’ll have expert Jason Hackler tell you what it is and appraise it. This is a desirable New Hampshire oil on canvas landscape painting of apple trees and is signed on the lower right by the highly collected artist Benjamin Champney. Champney was born in New Ipswich, N.H., in 1817 and became known as one of the founders of the White Mountain School of Art. After traveling to Europe and living in Boston, Champney purchased a property in North Conway and set up a studio, where he invited other artists and introduced them to the splendor of the White Mountains. Champney is best known for his mountain landscapes, and his grand scale works can bring over $50,000. Your painting appears to be in overall good condition and due to its subject and size it should be insured for $2,800. To see other paintings by Champney and the White Mountain School be certain to visit the exhibition at the New Hampshire Historical Society through May 6, and the Art Gallery at New Hampshire Antique Co-op. —Jason Hackler, manager/owner of New Hampshire Antique Co-op and partner of Jason Samuel Antiques, is a past officer of the Granite State Antique and Appraisers Association, a principal of the Active Appraisal Group, a member of the N.H. Antique Dealers Association and a licensed auctioneer. If you have an antique you would like Jason to appraise, please send a hi-res photo to bcoles@nhmagazine.com. If there are markings, please take a clear photo of them as well.