That Special Dog

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I opened my computer this morning not knowing what I would write about and looked at the photo above which is my current desktop pic.  Kids and dogs, kids and this dog.

I haven’t written much lately about Chester.  He doesn’t currently live in Rowe with me, rather than stay in the freedom of country life he would rather be at the shop with Bill.  Apparently there isn’t enough social interaction here.  He just really loves Bill and always wants to go everywhere with him so . . .  I pretend I’m okay with it.

Weekends are a different story.  He plays a lot.  Goes swimming at least once a day and when we do take out the boat he is very happy to go with us.  It’s all about the games.  There are tennis balls and frisbees on the boat and he knows it.  He will be playing fetch for hours, not just minutes.

We had company a couple of weekends ago that he loved more than anything. An eleven year old boy who seemed to be pretty committed to the game as well. Hours upon hours of fetch – on dry land and in the lake.

Watching these two you realize how great life can be, how great it should be.  They were so happy in each other’s company.

Chester seeks out children.  He loves them.  He is the most gentle animal and seems to be able to sense exactly what game will work with whatever age the child is.  If they are scared or nervous he gently helps them to warm up to him.  His goal in life is to make every kid want a dog.  I have had to tell more than one parent that not all dogs are like him, he’s special. He has been this way since he came to us.

I told a friend of mine whose business is training dogs that I have never had a dog quite like him.  He told me I had found my lifetime dog (he was still waiting for his).  He is right.  I’ve had a few dogs, there is a hierarchy in remembering them – from the best to the worst.  I loved them all but wow, Chester is it, there will never be another.

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Birds, Bees and Butterflies

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This garden was one we put in about 3 years ago (time all melds together at this point – maybe it was four years, maybe two).  It is pretty spectacular this year.  All of the plants have matured and I put in a few annuals that Bill brought up.  The best part about this garden is its attraction to hummingbirds, bees and butterflies.

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If you are within sight of this garden you can see it is a hub of activity.

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I was thrilled to see honey bees on a lot of my flowering plants this year, it’s been a while.

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There is always something to watch.

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I originally planted this for the color it would give our view of the back forty. When I sit in the Adirondack chairs and look over this garden I realize I planted the perfect wildlife garden.  There’s a hummingbird feeder that I have to fill every few days and I have seen finches in and out of it all day long.

There are also a critters that I could do without – chipmunks, red squirrels and woodchucks.  Although, truth be told, I love watching them too. They don’t really bother anything, they do dig holes all over the place.  If and when they get into the vegetable garden I might have a change of heart but for now I’ll share this beautiful space with anyone that wants to visit.

 

 

Enough Already

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I woke up this morning to thunder rumbling in the west and air that was thick.  Visibility was low.  It rained, hard.

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There were breaks of sunshine allowing me to get a little gardening in but the day pretty much looked like this.  Small breaks of blue sky with the ever present clouds building all around, thunder constantly in the background. The kind of day best spent doing chores indoors.  Digging in the dirt was more like digging in the mud.

There’s nothing worse than being forced to stay in the house when all you want to do is be outdoors.  Somehow doing laundry and vacuuming lose all appeal when there is sod to dig and plants to move.  Maybe sitting around thinking about it will make setting the garden in easier.  I might actually have a plan.

 

Fig Bars

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After baking these and posting this photo yesterday I had a number of requests for the recipe so here goes.  This comes from the King Arthur Flour Baking Companion – a book that I’m slowly baking my way through.

I started with the filling because it needs to cool before making the cookies.

1 pound dried figs

1/4 c granulated sugar

1 c water

1 tbsp orange juice

1 tbsp lemon juice

Grind the figs in a food processor or blender until a sticky, cohesive mass form.  (They say you can snip them with scissors but I have to tell you, without the food processors these cookies wouldn’t happen.) Combine the figs with the other ingredients in a saucepan, stir well, cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is very thick, 3 to 5 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

The cookie dough.

1/2 c shortening

1 c packed brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/2 c all purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1/4 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

2 tsp baking powder

In a large mixing bowl beat together shortening, sugar, eggs and vanilla until creamy.  In a separate bowl whisk together the flours, baking soda, salt and baking powder.  Add this mixture to the wet ingredients gradually, beating until blended thoroughly.  Refrigerate for 2 hours.

Heat oven to 375.

Remove dough from refrigerator and roll it on a lightly floured surface to 14″x 16″.  Cut the dough into 4 strips 4″x 14″.  Spoon filling evenly down the center of each strip.  Lift the sides of each strip over the filling pressing the edges together to seal.  Cut the strip in half crosswise, making a total of eight 7″ strips. Place the strips seam side down, leaving 3 inches between them, on  lightly greased or parchment covered baking sheets.  Cut each strip into seven 1″ pieces but don’t separate them yet.

Bake the cookies for 13 to 15 minutes, until they’re puffed and firm to the touch.  Cool for several minutes on the baking sheet before separating them and cooling completely on racks.

This makes 56 cookies.

They are delicious.  Reminiscent of fig newtons but fresher tasting.  The fig really shines.

When reading through the recipe I thought these might be more trouble than they are worth.  There’s a lot of dough manipulation that goes on.  The only thing about this is that you have to work fairly quickly once the dough is rolled out.  As it warms it’s more difficult to work with.  All in all it’s worth the effort, I probably will never buy a fig newton again.

How We See

Amanda's hands and chick

My chicks are a month old now and a far cry from the cute, fuzzy little creatures they were in the first week.  The day after I arrived daughter Amanda spent some time in the room with the chicks and I took this photograph of her hands holding one of them.  It was around nine at night, maybe later and the chicks were sleepy and welcomed the warmth of her hands.

When I loaded the photo onto the computer and opened it in Photoshop it looked nothing like this.  In fact I had no idea it would turn into one of my recent favorites until I began to play with it.  All of the photographs I took of people holding chicks had to be converted to b&w because of the red heat lamp in use over the chicks enclosure. A big part of it was having a cooperative subject and I attribute that to Amanda having spent the last 28 years being photographed – a lot. She waited, holding that chick until I went into the house and got the camera.  And it was a one on one situation.  After some cropping and playing with levels this it turned into something I love.  It speaks to me of the kindness and tenderness that is Amanda, and I would recognize those hands anywhere.

The next day I took this photo.

140705 Andy holding chick (2)Nothing like the one the day before.  The quality of the material to begin was not as good but wow, I have to say I love this almost as much.  This was manipulated almost as much, didn’t end up with the same result – but look at that face.  This is my grandson in his first chicken experience.  After a little coaxing he reluctantly held that chick. Not the same hands, not the same feel but something that really captured the experience for me.

Photography for me, when it’s good, is most often times a happy accident.  The first image more so than the second.  They were totally different experiences.  The hands were something I saw, captured and manipulated into something I see as beautiful.  I worked towards that image in every aspect – it just so happens it turned out better than I had envisioned.  The second was a capture of a moment and his face really gives away his uncertainty with the situation. It feels like he was just holding that chick just for the camera, otherwise he might have been just as happy to leave it quite alone (or watch but not touch).

These are the times that I truly appreciate digital photography.  I never would have achieved these images if I had been using film – I probably could have but it would have entailed hours of frustration in a darkroom and then I seriously doubt they would have turned out this way.  These took a few minutes and some mouse clicks to make it happen.  Minutes later I’m sharing them with family and friends.

It’s all still pretty amazing to me.  I do think photography has been diminished in some ways because of it.  Photographers used to be artists and technicians, you had to know your craft.  Technology has made us old film photographers obsolete, we can now reminisce about standing in a darkroom for hours trying to achieve our vision.  In the same breath I can say it has set us free – we can envision what we want, capture it and make it our own with the click of a few buttons.  The one thing that has not changed for us is how we see.

 

 

Digging Sod

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I have been thinking about expanding this garden for a couple of years now.  I blame the weather for my lack of commitment to the project.  It’s been too hot during the window I have every summer to move things around.

An opportunity presented itself in the past week or so that has pushed me to do this.  A lifetime gardening mentor is dismantling her perennial gardens and I am the recipient of a lot of her plants.  This is a mixed blessing.  I’ve written before about how I feel about plants in my garden that come from friends and family, they hold a special place in my heart.  For the most part perennials last more than a lifetime, that’s the reason you often see flowers blooming in odd places.  They are very often in spots where homes once existed that are long gone. I have many, many plants that I can tell you came from people I love.  Friendship gardening.

The difficulty in this particular gardening adventure is that I have been visiting Mabel’s gardens for decades.  They were spectacular in design and there were always new and unusual plants in them.  I learned a lot about the gardening of perennials from her.  There are many reasons why she has decided to dismantle her gardens but for me to go there and dig plants out of it seems so wrong to me.  They are part of how I think of her and it seems so sad to me to know that I will not be visiting an amazing array of plantings and have the narrative to go with it.  And it’s not that I visited often but it was just knowing it was there.

At the same time I will be taking a piece of her for my yard.  My sister and I walked her gardens over the weekend with her and she made a mental list of who was taking what.  There were tips on how to dig up certain things and where they might go.  There was also the excitement of having practically a ready-made garden for the moving.

Then comes the hard work.  I have been digging out the sod for a couple of days.  I finished yesterday early in the morning and have been thinking about other spots that should be dug up.  Plants will be moved in the next week or two to various spots around the house, some love sun, some shade. It has also forced me to do things that I haven’t done in the past.  I had to remove the forks from the tractor and put on the bucket – I’ve been shown once but never actually did it. As you can see that was a success.

All in all this project has given me perspective on my physical capabilities.  It’s easy to say I’m too old and out of shape to be digging this much space by hand but honestly it feels so good doing it.  Pace yourself I keep saying, stay hydrated my brain reminds me.  Focus remains a bit of a problem, I want to dig up all sorts of places and know that I could get myself into some trouble with the amount I’ve taken on.

I came in for another large glass of water the other day and my father said, “You know this place once had the most beautiful gardens in town”.  That, my friends, is something to aspire to.

The Coop – Some Thoughts

Coop Finished

I finished the coop today. This journey began June 18 so it took a little over a month to complete.  I have to say that I am pleased with how it came out and the chickens really love their new home.  They aren’t old enough to go outdoors yet but the ladder is ready when they are.

Building this taught me a lot of things, some of them about building.  The huge lesson I learned is that I can’t do everything myself.  I physically just can’t do it.  I was pretty disappointed to find that out.  For some reason I thought I could have this pretty much done in a couple of weeks – I’ve built things before.  I didn’t take into consideration the weight of a sheet of plywood and how high I was going to have to lift it.  I want you to know that I can barely drag one across the floor.

Bill was here to help on weekends and had a 12 day vacation where this was THE project. For the most part it was much more enjoyable having help build it and I admire Bill’s ability to just tackle anything.   It wouldn’t have been quite as pressing if I had actually waited to get the chicks until AFTER the coop was build.  I didn’t expect them to be escaping their initial enclosure at 2 weeks old, they grow fast!  As it was they were moved into it before any trim was done.

Building a shelter is one of those things that has been on my bucket list forever.  I always thought it would be a cabin in the back forty (and that could happen at some point).  Getting chickens was really just an excuse to build their shelter.  I had been looking at coop plans for a really long time and this one popped up into a search just a month or so before coming to Rowe permanently.  Yeah, I could have built just some little shack of unpainted plywood that I moved from place to place but I wanted something that looked good, something that spoke to the whole whimsy of having birds in the first place.  One would think having chickens is serious business but it really isn’t.  At some point their egg production may be important to me but for now I’m just watching my once fuzzy little chicks rapidly grow into adult hens. The coop provides them with as much protection as I can get from a building and it looks good in the landscape.

Coop in Evening

I took this photo the first night the chicks spent out in the coop – they had been in a room off of the shed up until that point.  Their heat lamp is glowing nicely inside and they were all settled into their cozy wood chips with water and food.  I worried though, was I sending them out there too soon?  Later that night I woke up to the sound of foxes in the back forty, I got up and looked out my bedroom window to see their snug little home with the glowing red lamp.  For now they are as safe as they can be.

Morning Walkabout

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This will be a photo heavy post today – just to give you a glimpse of the place right now.  It also serves as a record for me.

Each morning starts with picking up my handy bug zapper.  It’s deer fly season and this has proven itself to be a necessity.

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The patio garden – to my right as I cross the driveway heading for the back forty.  This is an old garden, a friendship garden with almost all of the plants coming from people we know.  My mother worked on this from the summer we moved in, 1967.  It’s going to be renewed this summer since the lawn is really creeping in at this point and things are really crowded.

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Towards the back of the garage there is the newest perennial garden and in the foreground is the raspberry patch.  The raspberries are in their third year and are just starting to fill in.

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We take the road to the back forty, we being me and the dogs.  They know the drill and love being out there.  On the right is the sawdust building for the sawmill.  I don’t think it’s a crooked as it looks in the photo but you never know.

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As I walk around what used to be the back pasture the dogs spend their time sniffing whatever went on the night before.

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From the same spot (more or less) looking towards a road that goes back into the wood lot.  There’s a branch that goes to a stump dump where I’ve taken some very nice compost for the garden over the years.  Everything about gardening is waiting – years not months.

The tete-a-tete chair my father made is up there and it overlooks the pasture back up towards the house.  It’s the perfect spot to drink a morning cup of coffee or that martini in the afternoon.

140624 (15)As I walk the perimeter I check on the berries, deciding what I will net this year so I get more of a harvest than the birds.  These are blackberries and the birds pretty much get all of them – they probably scope them out more often than I do.

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This is the view from the back of the pasture – the table was too worn out for the patio but too solid to burn so there it sits.  Just one more thing to weed whack.

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From the same spot if you turn around you look into the woods towards the wood lot – there are also some old, empty beaver ponds back there as well.

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Back up into the driveway I noticed that this summer is the summer of potted plants for me.  I love the way they look and I’m here to take care of them now.  This is the well by the driveway.  Years ago we replaced the wood cover with stone fearing our kids would climb up on top of it and fall in.  I think it might be usable in an emergency but I wouldn’t want to drink out of it now.

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This is the view from the patio, it overlooks the vegetable garden, the new garden and the raspberries towards the back forty.  I have annuals in pots as well and tomatoes and cucumbers.

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Yes, cucumbers.  I was skeptical at first.  Bill brought two pots of these up that he got from the plant gypsy we have come to the shop in Enfield.  I told him they would never grow.  How wrong I was.  Now I’m looking for the seeds for next year.

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Across from the patio is another perennial garden that has morphed into all kinds of things over the years.  It’s now overgrown as well but I love having the pots for color.  It is also a place for the birds that we can watch from the table in the kitchen.

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Another crazy potted plant.  Its in a pedestal pot so I guess I could take the hanger off of it now huh?

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Heading for the front yard and looking back over the gardens – this is the relaxation spot for every part of the day.  I swear people that drive by only do when we are sitting in those chairs.  I figure they think that’s all we do.

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This is the vegetable garden from the chairs.  It’s slow but steady this year, about a week to 10 days behind last years.  It’s been quite cool.

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But the potatoes are doing great!

This is what I look at every morning (even if it rains).  I check my plants, take a walk, play with the dogs all in about 20 minutes time.  It gives me time to plan my day.  Look around at what needs doing and try not to get overwhelmed by the list.  Prioritize.  Breathe in the fresh air, stand in the sunshine, hug a tree, center.

Coop Down

140529 Coop (6)The coop has been part of the landscape here for decades.  You see it in the background of photos taken at the turn of the century (1900).  When we moved here in 1967 and over a good many years stuff was thrown in there never to see the light of day again.  “You never know when you might need it” is the refrain that continues to this day and there may have been once or twice that something was salvaged.

Miraculously the building continued to stand, through some pretty snowy winters when other, newer buildings didn’t fare so well.  We always joked that it stayed standing because all of the junk was holding it up.

I finished cleaning it out a couple of weeks ago and stood back to look at what remained.

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There were structural repairs made over the years and the only thing that was really holding it up was the metal column in the center.

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Yeah, time to go.

140607 Coop Down (1)Now I have been waiting for many, many years for the tear down of the building.  Bill just happened to be driving by on his way to put the tractor away and decided to just knock it down.  Damn, I missed it!

Created with Nokia Smart CamThis is the aftermath of about 5 minutes of tractor work.  Amazingly it collapsed in on itself.  Now some real work begins in cutting up the huge chunks and hauling it away to make way for a new building.  I think it’ll be one of those little by little kind of tasks.  Everyday cut up a few more things into manageable pieces.

There are chicks arriving July 1st but won’t be housed in anything like what this coop was.  The only thing in common the new coop will have is its orientation to the sun.  Work is in progress but that’s a post for another day.  I can tell you this – I did salvage 12 squares of perfect roofing shingles that were stored in a faraway corner of that now gone building.  You never know when you’re going to need something.

 

Wise Words

Siberian Iris

I visited with an old friend the other day.  I see her much more often now that I am in Rowe than I ever saw of her in the past 35 years or so that we’ve known each other.  She has gone through some major life changes in the past few months.  She is a wise woman.  We talked about others that we know who are dealing with life changes of their own (myself included).  Some are retiring and moving away from the place that has been their home for over 50 years.  Others are taking care of aging parents, their children are moving out or they’re recovering from the loss of a loved one.

 

She said “You need to learn to love your new life.”

 

Profound words those.  We are all hit with changes – some predictable, some not.  For me, the changes were seen and prepared for in the best way I knew how.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t things that are happening that I hadn’t anticipated.  When life changes are made (or happen) it can take a while to truly get the big picture of how those changes are going to affect you and yours.  It takes awhile to get into that new routine.

I confess to be floundering a bit here.  There’s so much to do and so many of the decisions have to be made in somewhat of a vacuum. The idea of being in a situation where I can work on producing the kind of life I only saw myself doing after “retirement” has been a bit overwhelming.  I think I thought I would have a more concrete idea of what I was going to do than I do.  Things are getting done, not necessarily in the time or way I thought they would.  I just have to roll with it.

In realizing that things are never what they seem or intended those words about learning to love my new life were exactly what I needed to hear.  Decisions were made based on the realities of my life whether good or bad – this is the way life is.  Learning to love it – working on loving it – is probably the most important thing I can do to have things be just as they should be.