Old House Responsibilities

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Renovation

Owning an old house comes with certain responsibilities, at least I’ve always felt that way.  We are currently responsible for two, each in a vastly different time period.  The newest one was built in 1840.  As you know the house at Fort Pelham Farm was built around 1800.

Over the years I’ve done research about its past occupants – more or less a genealogy since it remained in the same family until 1941 with the sale of the house.  It’s easy to make assumptions about why the house left the family.  Olive was the last child of a long line of occupants and with no children of her own the ownership would eventually leave the family anyway.

Sale of House 1941

Olives parents had moved away from farming for the most part by the time the property went up for sale.  They were taking in borders who enjoyed the summers in Rowe and were also feeding people their chicken dinners – a sign for that remains in the museum.

Olive died in 2001 and two of her photo albums made their way back to Rowe.  I scanned each page that she had lovingly put together and it was easy to tell what a loss the sale of the property had been to her.  There was such great pride at being part of that family history.  She had marked almost every photograph and written her family history on the back of one.

As anyone who has owned a house of this age knows the upkeep on a house this age can be overwhelming at times.  For me one of the biggest challenges is how to keep the historical aspects of the house while maintaining its livability.  No easy feat.  More often than not the only thing you have to go on is research on other homes built around the same time period, some old photographs and the knowledge of historians that have gone about the restoration of other properties like yours.  For me there have been a few aha moments – one of which was the albums resurfacing.

There were a number of photographs taken of the interior of the house showing various furnishings and how they were set in the living room.

Dining Room at Fort Pelham Farm 1930's (7)

After looking at these it kind of sent me on a mission to find similar pieces into order to fill this room as we renovated it.

Dining Room at Fort Pelham Farm 1930's (6)

Any reader out there that is remotely engaged with antiques will readily recognize that without an unlimited budget this was never going to happen.

A few weeks ago there was a message on my answering machine from a man who told me he had furnishings that originally belonged to Pardon Haynes family.  When I called he explained he was the nephew of Olive’s through her husband and had inherited her furniture when she passed away.  He felt the furniture and other belongings should make their way back here thinking that Fort Pelham Farm was part of the Rowe Historical Society.  He was having them appraised and then would donate them for the tax write off.  I told him I would pass the info along to those who could help him.  When I did I found that he had already contacted someone at the museum.  I was relieved.

In talking with a couple of members of the society the excitement about this donation was palpable.  I cannot wait to see and touch these things.  I feel like there would be some sort of unseen connection to the past.  The spirits of this house lived with those things, used them, treasured them, passed them down.  I know they are inanimate objects but having lived in this house I know it’s the way it is because of the people who have lived here.

I do know that space is tight at the museum and offered to keep furnishings in the house they originated in – willing to insure and keep the house open to anyone that wanted to view and study them.  One woman said the museum could always sell them.

Uhm . . .

So at this point I just hope someone will let me know if and when they arrive so I get a chance to photograph and study them.  And touch and imagine what they might have looked like in the very room I’m writing in now.

End of Season

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Outdoors

150830 Morning Mist

The summer season is winding down.  With all of the pressure to prepare for winter it is still my favorite time of year.  Maybe it’s that sense of urgency, the knowledge that every single day will have to be packed full of projects because that cold, snowy weather is right around the corner.

It’s so subtle, it sneaks up on you really.  Mid August you begin to notice it getting darker so much earlier and the day doesn’t begin with the sunrise until after 5:00 AM.  The birdsong is changing.  The insects you encounter are different as well.  You’re listening to crickets, huge grasshoppers leap in front of you on that afternoon walk about.  Huge caterpillars are making themselves known with their size and color.

The leaves are changing to my favorite palette.  Gone are the bright, cheery greens of spring, the steadfast greens of summer. Now comes the olives, golds and rusts.

The photo above shows the reality of my vegetable garden.  It was so beautifully taken care of until August when I went on a week-long vacation.  It got away from me and at this point there’s no going back.  It hasn’t stopped producing.  The blogs I read show immaculately kept gardens but in the back of my mind this is how I imagine they really are.  The realities of doing anything agriculturally – especially by yourself – is that things are not as tidy as you wish them to be.  So you pick your battles.

The fall party this year has turned into a family baby shower.  I will be holding my first grand baby in my arms around the beginning of November.  The grounds will be as tidy as they can be – Bill takes great pride in his lawn.  The messiness of the chickens and that overgrown garden will be here in all of their glory as well as a building flattened and not yet moved and a back forty full of goldenrod taller than I am.

But you know.  The goldenrod is in full bloom and it is the loveliest shade of yellow.

Gifts of the Garden

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Family

150726 Amanda's Wedding

When we first started clearing the property here in Rowe the trees were encroaching on the buildings closest to the house.  The side field had been maintained but the pasture was all but lost.  Our girls were probably in their early teens.

I had been photographing weddings for years before my children were born and they were brought up knowing that the back yard wedding was their only option.  They would look at the backyard here and roll their eyes not being able to see the vision Bill and I had.  I would tell them that someday they would be married here and it would be beautiful.

This past Sunday my oldest married the love of her life in a very intimate ceremony in one of the gardens.  Their being married was something we believed would happen for over 8 years now but being cautious sorts they waited.  Amanda is one who hates to be the center of attention in any situation and they told me about 3 months ago that they were just going to city hall in Boston and getting married there.  The horror.

With much, much cajoling we convinced them to be married here with parents and siblings only.  That was almost too much for them really, the nerves were palpable on Sunday.   For what was to be one of the smallest weddings ever we did everything we could to make it a beautiful occasion and it certainly was.  From Amanda walking down the “aisle” with her father to the tune of her family humming Pachelbel’s Canon to eating al fresco in the field next to the garden it was as perfect a day as it could be for them.  It also allowed all of us to have a very intimate involvement in preparing for those vows to be said.

150716 Aerial view

Bill and I built a rustic arbor out of trees we cut across the field a couple of weeks before the ceremony and set it up at the beginning of a stone path.  It was a little wonky but fit the bill with our “rustic chic” theme. I ordered baby’s breath and lemon leaves from my niece’s flower shop to augment the flowers in my garden and picked some at my sister-in-law’s the day before.  They were a huge help in the quick planning of this.

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Draped and decorated.

Arbor Flowers

I tried to put flowers everywhere and took a lot of photographs.  Day lilies are so beautiful and fleeting and I knew once the sun set the flowers would be gone too.  Sort of temporary art.

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I had also picked some “weeds” along the power line and in the back forty.  Queen Anne’s Lace and Joe Pye Weed. Places were set with sprigs of herbs that smelled heavenly – pineapple sage, rosemary, lavender, thistle.

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A garden riot of flowers on the table.

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Lemon Raspberry cake made with garden fruit.  Molly Cantor made a cake stand just for the occasion.

Weddings are monumental occasions in people’s lives.  They represent a new chapter for those getting married but also for the parents of the bride and groom.  It doesn’t matter how long your child has been out of the house or how old they are when they marry.  As monumental as this ceremony is it’s just a fleeting moment.  In the span of a few hours my world shifted a little, in a wonderful, beautiful way.  I did what I could to make it a beautiful memory in a place where more memories will be made.

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Everything is now gone but the undecorated arbor and the flowers from the day.  They are taking their time in wilting away, a little gift in a way.  A reminder of an occasion but also of how much beauty is constantly around me that can be pulled together and shared.

 

 

 

 

Hen Madness

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Chickens

150618 Chicken FeathersI may have said this before but will continue to say it – having chickens is kind of stressful.  They are fun to watch, mine are friendly like dogs and their eggs are amazing but they might be more fun in an urban area or at least one where there is a little less wildlife.  I’m talking predators.

I recently moved my electric, portable chicken fencing to a different area thinking the hens would like a change of scenery and a place where there was more fodder.  In doing so I moved it away from their beloved apple tree and all hell has really broken loose since then.  They are not fans of the new space and would prefer to be around the base of that big, old tree.  Some of them got out daily – flew over the fence.  Now, I must admit the fence sagged in a couple of places and I had been a little lazy about fixing it.  They make a particular noise when they fly the coop and I just go pick them up and throw them back into the enclosure.

All of my hens look the same except one – her legs are yellow instead of pink – so we just call her Yellow Legs.  The other hens pick on her more, we figure because she’s different.  She’s at the bottom of the order, but she’s pretty sweet and I like the fact that I can recognize her immediately.  When I made the capes for the hens I quilted each one a different way so at least I can tell them apart when I’m up close.  It’s more to see who is a repeat offender in different situations.

The past few weeks I have had one particular hen that gets out a couple of times a day – once she’s out she pecks around but it seems as if she is just looking for me.  When she sees me she’ll run over, then follow me around.  I’ll pick her up and put her back in.  When I go to collect the eggs she always runs into the nesting boxes to greet me.  She’s a funny bird.  Two vertical stripes is her tag.  I know who she is.

Yesterday afternoon I was in the house and heard the telltale sound of flying the coop.  I was in the middle of something, then totally forgot about it.  Sitting, drinking my afternoon coffee in the living room I heard such a cacophony in the side field I leaped out of my chair to see a fox with a mouth full of feathers.  I bolted out of the door and it ran across the road, stopped to peek at me over the bank, then continued to run into the woods.  At the same time I saw two hens running in the opposite direction around the back of the barn.  There were feathers EVERYWHERE.

Once my heartbeat slowed I walked to the pen to do a head count – six, two missing but I didn’t stop to see who.  Good, at least I knew that the fox hadn’t taken any.  Now to get the two freaked out hens back to safety.

I walked out to the back of the barn and started my chick, chick call.  Nothing.  Chick, chick – stop, listen.  Chick, chick – a quiet little chicken sound.  I saw a hen pop her head over a weed covered bank.  I got some cracked corn and coaxed her to me.  She did her hen squat and I picked her up.  Yellow Legs (and she never gets out).

I spent probably another half an hour calling and calling to no avail.  I was sure it was my little friend with the two vertical stripes but when I checked she was in the yard.  I breathed a sigh of relief.

I went inside made and ate some dinner.  Informed my sister that I had lost a hen, probably to the same fox that has been trying to get hers.  I planned out what to do to keep the hens safer and mourned the fact that I hadn’t done such a good job so far.  I went out and picked up some of the feathers in the field (they are so beautiful).  Went back and walked the woods in back of the barn one more time calling – nothing.

I can see the coop from a window in the house.  The chickens don’t go in to roost until 8:30 these days so I watched them one by one hop onto the ramp and make their way inside, once they are in I go lock the door.  Then I saw a hen outside of the fence.

Running outside I knew it was the missing one because she has one, single tail feather.  I picked her up, put her in the pen and breathed a sigh of relief.

This morning I put the fence up around the tree, reinforced so there are no sags and will hope for the best.  Now I have another hen I recognize immediately – One Feather.  Honestly, I liked it better when I didn’t know who any of them were.

 

Volunteers

comments 3
garden

150601 Lucille's Columbine

My circumstances haven’t allowed me to garden at the house in Enfield at all for almost 2 years.  It’s just one of those things I’ve had to let go (to some extent).  The gardens all need to be dug up, cleaned up, replanted – not unlike what happened in Rowe last year.

There is a perennial bed as you drive up our driveway into the back yard that is divided down the middle with a chain link fence.  More than a dozen years ago my elderly neighbor, Lucille, tended a perennial garden on the other side of the fence.  Her gardening style was very similar to mine and we would spend time almost every day working in our gardens and swapping war stories over the fence.  We each grew different things but in the summer our gardens melded together into a huge, beautiful space.

A couple of years into our shared garden experience Lucille passed away during the winter.  It was a sad time anticipating what spring would mean for a gardener whose other gardening half would be missing.  The space was so large I knew that I would just have to let it go.  Her daughter was not a gardener.  She appreciated the beauty of the garden but did not have the patience or the knowledge to maintain what was there.

That spring, about this time the weeds were running rampant on the other side of the fence but in my garden columbine was blossoming all over the place.  I’d never planted them, they’d volunteered.  Lucille’s had jumped the fence and decided it was where it wanted to be. We all know this happens in perennial beds, plants seem to move themselves around until they are comfortable where they are.

I was in Enfield this past Tuesday.  My perennial bed sort of looks like Lucille’s did the year after her death.  Overgrown, saplings of all sorts springing up everywhere.  I got out my lopping shears and cut them all down – knee-deep in familiar but overshadowed plants.  I piled high the remains of my clippings to be moved to our mulching space, such as it is, next to the barn.  I gathered the piles and walked to the mulch pile and was delighted to see Lucille’s columbine blossoming away on the edge of the pile.  It’s been over 12 years since Lucille saw her columbine.

I give a lot of things away from my garden, and have over many years.  I don’t remember who I’ve given things to.  It always seems like an act of desperation finding homes for things that are overgrown but I know to be beautiful.  I love the plants in some of my gardens because they remind me of the people I have received them from – today I realized there are people who probably think of me when things bloom.  How nice.

Make Something Beautiful

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Craft

150531 Basket Workshop (4)

A few months ago I signed up for a day long basket weaving workshop with the majority of  my weaving class.  I’ve just fallen in love with these women, all around my age and many in similar life circumstances.  What I really love is they are always willing to learn something new.

Our workshop was with Wendy Jenson in her studio in Monterey, MA.  She is an amazing weaver, her baskets are stunningly beautiful and she is a wonderful teacher.

150531 Basket Workshop (1)

I’ve woven baskets before, many years ago.  The real reason I wanted to do this was to hang out with a bunch of creatives, all learning something new.  What’s really great is weaving is weaving.  The concepts translate into all kinds of different things so I think everyone had a leg up on those who have never woven anything before.  That, and these women are game for anything.

150531 Basket Workshop (2)

There was a choice of two different basket designs, a Williamsburg or a Carry All.  I chose the latter and was surprised at how the skills learned 25 years ago come back to some extent.  Everyone did a great job on their projects and I have to think we all went home happy with what we learned and what we made.

I really think the most important thing is to make the time to create something out of raw materials.  What started out as a bundle of flat reed was transformed in a few hours to a beautiful basket.  During that time of working with your hands you also work through the troubles of the day, week or month.  In this case with friends as therapists working alongside you.  When finished it feels as though all your troubles and cares have been poured into what you’ve created.  You have a memento of time well spent.

150531 Basket Workshop (3)

Projects Ending and Beginning

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Uncategorized

150529 Krokbragd (2)

I just realized how very long it’s been since I’ve been here.  Life is full.

The room renovation is almost complete – crown moulding needs to go up and to do that I need to learn to cope.  Fortunately there are only really the four corners to worry about.  We’ll see how that goes.  The room is so much better.  The bad juju has all but disappeared.  Funny what a lot of paint will do.

My latest krokbragd is off of the loom, I’m currently doing a woven edge.  It’s slow going – more so because there are so many other things that need attention.   First a couple of comments on this project.  I used rug wool from Brassard in Canada for the weft in this.  It worked up quickly but didn’t pack as well as the last krokbragd I wove using Harrisville Shetland.  The heathered yarn in this is beautiful though.  I thought I planned this project well as far as color was concerned.  I had everything lined up and numbered, bobbins wound, I was proud of myself because I’m such a wing it kind of person.  Well, none of it really went according to plan.  The time came to change over to the next color and I would just pick something different.  I’ve decided that these mats/rugs are to be woven in a more organic way.  They evolve while on the loom.  I planned on 8 colors, bought 11 colors from Brassard, then a third of the way into it picked up some rug yarn elsewhere to work in.  Because of the weight of the yarn this is definitely something I can see on the floor.  All in all it’s quite lovely – I can live with it.  All of you creatives out there know what I’m talking about, that’s really high praise.

My tomatoes, cucumbers and squash plants are at the end of their hardening off period.  I will probably till the garden for the second time tomorrow (around the rows of potatoes) and plant the beginning of next week.  The weather here has been kind of crazy.  Hot, no rain save a torrential downpour a couple of days ago.  I hate to plant things and have to water them everyday.  Other years it’s so wet and cold I’ve planted things multiple times.  It’s never perfect.  How dull life would be if it was.

 

A Fine Cup of Tea

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Family

Rhubarb

My life has become one of ritual – more of the slow motion type.  These rituals center around the garden and putting food by.  For years (and years) I have begun the canning season with rhubarb, always the first vegetable to make an appearance here.  I planted my own patch of rhubarb on the property about 5 years ago.  My mother always told me she couldn’t grow it here, she had tried for years.

Our real rhubarb ritual was to go to a friend’s house every spring and pick our fill there.  Their patches of rhubarb are magnificent.  This plant is showy and large.  The rhubarb at this house fills large swathes around the back yard of the house as well as over by their vegetable garden.  The woman with the gardens was also my mother’s best friend and I dare say picking rhubarb was an excuse to sit around a table with a cup of tea as well.

This ritual has gone on for more or less 55 years.  The family became part of who we are.  My mother passed away in 1989 but the ritual continued.  The rhubarb gave me an excuse to visit, hear the stories of my childhood, catch up with a family I felt was my own.

I would be greeted at the door with a paper bag and a paring knife.  Walking to the back yard I would pass a little flower garden where pansies were often planted.  Little smiling faces in the sun not bothered by a little frost, first blooms.  Once out back I would pull the stalks from the plants, cut the leaves and put them in a pile to mulch all the while remembering childhood sledding on the hill in the  back.  Recalling croquet games on the front lawn or swinging on the swing hung on the huge maple in the front yard.  Overnight stays with crazy family dinners including homemade bread and the best tollhouse cookies.  Laughter, always so much laughter and love beyond measure.

Once I had picked enough I would go into the house for that cuppa and chat.  What should have taken a few minutes often turned into hours but this is what it was all about.  Reminiscing and words of wisdom imparted across the kitchen table over a hot beverage.  Most of all it was a reminder of how much we all loved each other and our families.

The most difficult part of life I think now is the shifting of generations.  I am now of an age when all of our parents are leaving us.  This year I will not go to pick rhubarb.  The house is empty now and I am coming to terms with the fact that the matriarch is gone, left us a few days ago to join her beloved husband.  I picture cups of tea being served all around in that great reunion.  Walks around a warm, green verdant yard discussing kids and gardens.  That is my vision of heaven really.

The shift is also to my own patch of rhubarb here. On hearing of her death I went out and picked some rhubarb and baked a cake to be eaten with a nice cup of tea while I remember.  As I was in the garden I realized it wasn’t about rhubarb not growing on the property at all,  it was about the ritual of visiting.  Conscious or unconscious these women knew what they were doing.

Take Your Camera for a Ride

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Photography

150508 Hicks Sugarhouse

There was a time when I carried my camera with me everywhere I went.  You just never knew when a moment would arise.  These days I usually have my phone but the camera never seems to leave the table at home.  I’m fortunate to have a lot to photograph around where I live but there are invariably those moments as I’m driving that the light is so perfect, the situation begging and my camera is sitting on the table in the living room. Ugh.  The phone just doesn’t cut it.

Last night I was taking photographs for a dear friend.  The sun had just set over the mountain and it was the ultimate spring day.  The weather was perfect, just a slight breeze and the surroundings were defined by the noise – the decided lack of it.  Babbling brook, air flowing through surrounding pines, birds singing their evening song.  There was color everywhere.  The hundreds of shades of green mixed with some still bare earth or last fall’s leaves.  The fruit trees and forsythia showing off.  Bluets everywhere.

I don’t do photography like I used to.  Long gone are the days of proms, weddings and portraits but with that also went the urge to shoot – anything.  I try to make an effort to take photographs for this blog or Instagram but sometimes it just feels like too much effort.  It feels like I have to think too hard it seems.

When I was driving home this spot presented itself.  I heard “Stop! Just stop” in my head and I did.  I stood in the middle of the road and took a couple of frames (are they frames now?).  Got back in the car and drove home knowing that this would be a keeper.

I realized that I really need to just take my camera for a ride every so often – a little after sunset or before sunrise in the morning.  You see the most amazing things and they are quite often things that no one else sees or pays attention to.  So try it, you’ll be amazed at what happens.

 

 

Digging in the Dirt

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garden

150501 Rhubarb

 

Finally.  My sister commented the other day how she felt like she was coming out of a coma.  I understand.

Last evening I did a walk about checking for signs of life.  This the time of year when I’m anxious to see what made it through the winter.  As everyone knows this past one was particularly cold but we had a pretty good snow cover so I’m hoping that insulation helped everything survive.  It’s particularly concerning to me because I put in so many new gardens last summer.  The waiting has only just begun, some plants won’t show signs of life for weeks.

At the end of my walk I saw the leaves popping out of the canes on the raspberries.  My raspberry bed is in a sad state, overgrown with crabgrass (the bane of my existence).  I started to pull things out – dead or alive.  If it wasn’t a raspberry out it went.  Being a spur of the moment weeding event I didn’t have gloves with me.  The soil was the perfect texture – not too wet, not too dry and the perfect temperature.  It’s been 7 long months since I’ve had my hands in the dirt – seven months!  

There’s an article that my sister and I pass back and forth about digging in the dirt acting as an antidepressant.  I don’t think I needed a scientific study to tell me this.  All I needed was a long, cold, sleepless winter.  After just an hour of digging in the dirt I slept like a baby.  I’m addicted to dirt.