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.

The Spirit of a House

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Renovation

Fireplace Before

As the renovation project continues I’ve spent a lot of time on a ladder, paintbrush or putty knife in hand, thinking.

We moved into this house in 1967 when I was 11 years old.  We drove by this house every Sunday for years before because my mother lusted after it in a huge way.  Why, I do not know and never will.

On moving day we were allowed to pick out our bedrooms (although I have an idea they were already picked out for us).  The exception being the room I’m currently doing which is adjacent to the bathroom.  The master bedroom, also known as the creepiest room in the house.

I believe an old houses has a spirit that is palpable when you walk into it.  I think it’s part of the appeal to those of us who live and love these old places.  We can feel the lives that have been lived in them.  The house in Enfield is truly one of the happiest buildings I have ever been in.  Friends have commented on it and it’s the reason we fell in love with it.  Good things had happened in that place over it’s 176 year life.

The house on Fort Pelham Farm is not the same kind of place.  I felt it the minute I walked in 48 years ago.  It has some bad juju and we all know it, just ask my siblings.  I’ve done the genealogy of the place trying to figure out what could possibly have happened here that could give it such a sad vibe.  You know, it’s not just sad, it’s a little angry as well.  I’ve never found anything in particular and sometimes think it’s spirit comes from neglect or “improvements”done by people who knew not what they were doing or were just plain lazy.

Bill and I have done a lot to this place over the past few years.  In the back of my mind I’m hoping that renovating in a thoughtful way will help to disperse some of the bad vibes that have been felt here over the years.  The living room, with its 3 year project coming to a close was the scene of friends dancing on its expansive floor before furniture was returned.  Walls had been replaced, sanding, painting and general TLC had come to an end with a smudge stick of sage from the garden burned to exorcise the demons.  I truly believe the act of lovingly breathing new life into the building itself helped its spirit.  That and lots of laughter with family and friends.

Upstairs the woodwork has been painted, the plaster patched, the wallpaper begins to go up today.  Just painting has made the room feel lighter.  I think as we continue to improve the structure itself and bring in laughter and love the spirit of the place can change.  Once the garden is in full swing I will also be rolling a couple more sage smudge sticks because you never know.

Signs of Spring

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Birds

150403 Redwing Blackbirds (4)

Nothing says spring to me like the sound of a redwing blackbird.  The past few days they have been in my yard by the hundreds

150403 Redwing Blackbirds (7)

They’ve been cleaning up around the feeders.

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Although there’s safety in numbers they are a cautious lot and spend much of their time landing and taking off.

150403 Redwing Blackbirds (9)

The sight and sounds are amazing.  Add it to a 60 degree day and I can almost breathe a sigh of relief but there’s still way too much snow.  Mud season has only reached my driveway.

 

Lace

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Family

140325 Huck (2)

 

I grew up and currently live in a town with a population of a little over 300 people.  Although many of the faces have changed over the years I still am connected to the people who were a part of my childhood.  I remember when I was in the sixth grade there was a total of 32 kids in the entire school.  We didn’t have a third grade that year because there weren’t any kids that age.  My mother was “the chief cook and bottle washer” (her words) at the school so I remember the number of people she fed daily.

To say we were close with our peers at the time doesn’t really do justice to what our relationships were.  Yes, we went to school every week day.  We all were involved in 4-H in one way or another.  We spent time at each other’s homes, knew their parents, their extended families.  It was as though we were all related.  I figure there’s about a 15 year span on either side of my age of people I feel a certain closeness to.  These are people I always felt I knew better than the people I went to high school with.  When we are reunited for one reason or another it’s more than seeing a long ago friend, it’s more like reunion with a family member you haven’t seen in quite some time.  We have a tight, collective history.

I always think of my life as a woven piece of fabric.  As time goes by weft threads are added that represent the relationships I have.  Family, friends, acquaintances are all represented in one way or another. When I lose someone who is part of my life it creates a hole in the fabric itself.  Sometimes it ravels a little, sometimes the hole is so large it threatens to undermine the integrity of the fabric itself.  In the past few months three people I grew up with have died, all in their early 50’s.  It initially comes as a shock and for me it puts a little hole in the fabric.  Those holes are also where their threads end.  What initially starts as a fine fabric builds into a heavy, substantial cloth and I feel as though by the time it’s done it will be a beautiful lace.  With time the holes become less ragged and are transformed by memories into something beautiful.

Let A Renovation Begin (Or I Must Be Out of My Mind)

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Renovation

(1)

If you own an old house and are used to doing your own renovations this will ring true with you.  A few months ago I was moving things around in the upstairs rooms and cleaning out some closets with a shop vac when I accidentally got too close to the wall and ripped an entire, full sheet of wallpaper off of the wall.  Yeah, too close with the vacuum.  What started out as an accident turned into a minor obsession.  I stripped two walls in as many hours.  Wallpaper never comes off that easy unless it’s 50 plus years old (probably much, much older) and is adhered to a horsehair plaster wall.

Fireplace Before

With winter upon us and no heat upstairs for the most part I walked away from it.  Today I stripped the rest of the paper off and took a good hard look at the condition of the room.  It’s not pretty.

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Water damage to the walls and ceiling on the west wall.

(2)

The plaster around all of the window trim is in pretty bad shape.  And what is up with that nail in the first photo?

(4)

There is some serious cobbing done on the wall over the doors on the east side.  The paper in between won’t come off because it’s some foreign substance not even related to plaster.  The woodwork around the door on the left was added after the papering was last hung (wonder what was there?). The plaster over the door on the right is ready to just fall off, but as you know dear friends horsehair plaster doesn’t just fall off.  It’s never that simple.

Now I have to call in my plaster expert to see what he thinks about this mess.  I’m at a bit of a standstill, at the same time it feels like I’m moving forward.  Never underestimate the power of a sunny day to motivate me into a project.  It might have been better if the yard was without snow – I might have just dug in the dirt.

 

Enough

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Uncategorized

150324 Sunrise

Sunrise this morning looks the same as most of the sunrises have for a while.  It was 9 degrees.  Yesterday’s high was 27.  The sap has yet to start running (other than possibly one afternoon last week) but everything is ready to go.  The snow has compressed some so the wind that has been blowing for the past few days is not whipping it into your face when you’re outdoors.

My chickens went on strike over the weekend.  At first I was worried they were eating their eggs but there was no evidence.  They are simply sick of the cold as well, I’m sure.  They started laying again yesterday, much to my relief.  I didn’t think I would worry about my birds as much as I have this past winter.

It feels as though I am in a state of suspended animation.  I know spring will get here but at the same time I wonder if it really will.  I’m waiting for the lamb part of March and we’re getting dangerously close to the end of its days without it really feeling like spring.  I haven’t even planned the garden.  I’ve been asked a few times these past few weeks what it will look like this year.  I have a vague idea because there will be some big changes this year but haven’t commit anything to paper.  Haven’t ordered my seeds, haven’t even checked out what I have.  Guess I should do a germination test on some.

I think today I’ll do that, get out the seed, draw out the plan, dream about summer.  The sun is brightly shining and quite possibly I could see some mud in the driveway before late afternoon. When I feed the chickens this morning I’ll close my eyes and listen to the birds singing their spring songs and dream about hummingbirds and orioles at my feeders.  With that I may even start some tomato seeds just to see something green growing, even if it’s only on the window sill.

This Ain’t Right

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Opinion / Rant

IMG_1611

 

My dogs are spoiled rotten.  They are total indoor slugs that I indulge.  Here’s the thing, they were bred to be that way.  My dogs are house pets, not working animals.  There’s a huge difference.

A particularly alarming event has been unfolding in New York state over the past couple of weeks and I think everyone needs to know about it whether you have animals of any kind or not.  Something is happening all over this country that threatens everything I think is right about small scale farming and I am at a loss.

Jon Katz just posted Gofundme – Save West Wind Acres from an Orwellian Nightmare.  They are going through something I can’t even imagine, yet in following this I realize that it can happen to every single one of us that has animals of any kind.

This winter has been brutal – snow, wind, bitter cold.  My dogs spent most of it by a fire in the wood stove.  I can’t say the same for my chickens and a good deal of worry went into how they were fairing in that coop in the cold.  Their water was heated.  The coop was situated in a place to catch what little winter sun we had and it was up against the east side of our house to cut down on the wind that would hit their building.  Their bedding was deep.  I was fortunate and the only casualties were a number of eggs frozen solid that weren’t collected in a timely manner.  If I’m honest there might have been a couple of combs that had a little frostbite.

I grew up with a menagerie of farm animals – horses, cows, goats, a couple of sheep, chickens.  We took good care of our animals.  They had shelter available to them at all times.  They had good pasture, they had fresh water but they had a choice of where they stayed no matter what the weather was.  I remember seeing the horses standing just on the other side of the fence (quite a ways from their shelter) on a cold, cold day with freezing rain.  There backs were covered with sleet and there were icicles hanging from their chins.  Did they know they could go inside out of the weather?  Of course they did.  Would they?  Not on your life.  I think they were afraid they would miss something if they weren’t overlooking the backyard.

We seem to be experiencing a loss of freedom at a rate I can’t begin to understand.  Someone can file a complaint about their perception of something happening in my backyard and I can be arrested, brought to court or fined.  What ever happened to trust in personal responsibility?  I live with small farmers all around me.  I would be the last person to file a complaint based on something I see as I’m driving or walking by a place.  I never before thought about what it meant to live in a world where a person’s ignorance regarding nature, farming, food production, gardening was so extreme that they presume they know better and need to call the “authorities” to rescue whatever I’m raising.

We are being regulated to death.  I’d like to be able to take responsibility for my own well being.  If I go to a workshop at someone’s house I’ll risk illness by drinking their well water.  I’d like to take the risk in eating that whoopie pie baked in someones home kitchen and brought to the school bake sale.  While I’m at it I will be also eating those dill pickles that aunt Bertha made with very little processing.  I’ll eat that tomato or potato or cucumber right from the garden, just wiping the dirt off on my jeans.  I want my cheese made with raw milk, thank you.  If I get sick the only one I have to blame is myself.  I’ll take my own risks as mundane as they seem.  I really take offense at someone telling me what I can and can’t do.  Wow, aren’t there a lot of you out there that are with me on this?  Do you feel like things have been taken too far?  Are people soooooo stupid that they have to be forced into eating and doing only the things that someone tells them are safe?

Read Jon’s article and if so moved send a few dollars to the West Wind Acres funding request.  Honestly, if I could have been at the courthouse today I would have.  Thousands of others should have been too.  There are things that should just be left alone – good people doing good things is one of them.