Singing the Praises of Warm Fall Weather

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When I opened my eyes this morning, still toasty under the blankets, the room was aglow with a warm, radiant light.  Recognizing the signs I jumped out of bed (no easy feat with these achy joints) to be treated to another breathtaking sunrise.

Autumn through spring these are expected but every single one starts the day as a huge gift.  I never see them as predictors of the weather, I see them as the beginning of a string of little gifts for the day.  It reminds me to look for them.

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Minutes later the fog was there and the sky had dramatically changed.  The most amazing part was it being so warm outdoors that I could throw on my Mucks and go out in my bathrobe to photograph the changing sky. I seem to recall there being snow on the ground by now last year or at least so cold I would have considered getting dressed first.

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The weather has been unusually warm for this time of year with it predicted to last through next week.  Thank goodness, there is so much garden work to do.  The cold doesn’t usually stop me but it definitely slows me down.  Fires have to be lit – physically and mentally in order to get going in the morning.  This blessed warm weather keeps the heating costs down.

There are a million things I should be doing indoors, this is usually the time of year when the cold weather projects come out.  I look forward to it – the weaving, rug hooking, quilting but it looks like all of it will be put off until after dark at least.  My carrots and rutabagas are still in the ground, the perennial gardens need cleaning out.  More wood needs to be cut and split.  The coop needs to be moved, buildings buttoned up for the winter.  Yeah, time to get moving and mentally sing the praises of warm fall weather.

Life’s Complications

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There are moments in life, not everyone’s mind you, when things come out of the blue that give you joy and anxiety and a host of other emotions all in one instant.  You feel like laughing, crying and vomiting all at the same time.  Finding new family members is one of those instances.

At this point most people know of my reunion with a son I gave birth to more than 40 years ago.  The instant it happened the emotions were raw and I dare say violent.  This has just happened to a dear friend of mine and I was the bearer of the news.

Adoption touches many more people than I realized.  When you’re going through it yourself you think you and your immediate family are the only ones, it closes in around you.  Finding my friend’s sister gave me a new perspective.  I can also feel the weight of the emotions she’s carrying while a possible reunion is imminent.

We weave a tangled web, all of us. I’ve come to believe by the time you are entering old age you can reflect on your life and think “what a mess”.  Some of us have opportunities to revisit some of those messes, they come full circle.  Some of us are just encountering messes that were left by other family members that have encompassed us without our knowing for our entire lives.

Bam , your WTF moment.

That’s how it feels and your life takes an unexpected turn.  That’s how it felt when I typed “I found her” in the subject line of that email this morning.  I was so happy to do it and yet I knew she was crossing a line of demarcation in her life.  Wow.

The Love of Handwork

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Craft / Uncategorized

151021 Baskets

Fall has come and gone up in the hills – we are now entering the halcyon days.  Days with that feeling of urgency to get things done before the snow flies.  There are a handful of projects that I really should get done before dark today but a post from a friend struck such a chord with me this morning I needed to share it.

Screw Finding Your Passion by Mark Manson was a post that was music to my ears.  It’s something I’ve known intuitively my entire adult life yet I’d bought into what others had told me.  I needed a plan, I should find what I love to do and make a living doing that.  In the back of my mind I was sort of calling bullshit because my passions are many.  They are always evolving.   I am one of those people who moves from craft to craft but will only move on when the obsession has brought what I consider perfection.  I will work a skill to its highest level I know.

I’ve been this way my entire life.  Focus and move on.  The problem is that as far as society is concerned what I’ve focused on has never been a way “to make a living”.  I think the reality is there are many ways to make a living and without a passion for something it sometimes doesn’t seem worth it.  I’ve almost always worked a job that was less than exciting while I pursued my passions.

I’ve recently begun weaving baskets again after a twenty year or more hiatus.  Basketry goes hand in hand with weaving textiles – all have the same structure, just different materials.  Baskets are 3 dimensional, practical and the materials are fairly inexpensive.  I could go harvest things in my back forty to weave and it’s been just another reason to go for a walk about to see what’s out there.  Always a different way to see.

With so many years of crafting under my belt I have found now that my real passion is for teaching others to do these things.  I feel everyone should make something with their hands – to feel the satisfaction of a finished product unique to them.  Learning a craft expands your way of thinking, exercises your brain.  As we get older I think we all need to continually learn something new.

I’ve begun teaching people to weave baskets, of all kinds.  I started by conning my daughter and grandson into making one.  Making these things is an all day affair so it’s not always easy to convince someone it’s worth doing.

150815 Baskets Cait and Francis

Yes, they were smiling here but by the end they were grumbling.  I look at this as planting seeds.  I was asked why would they need to know how to do this?  I told them they now had skills – if they ever needed a vessel they would know how to make one.  And their vessels were beautiful and I think they both walked away proud of that they accomplished.  Maybe some day they will want to make another.

I put out a message on social media that if anyone wanted to learn to make a basket to contact me and we would do it.  People responded and I am teaching which is good but there has been a huge unexpected bonus.

Weeks after I shared I’d be doing this I was contacted by a dear friend from several lifetimes ago.  I had not seen or spoken to her for over 18 years.  She was visiting her sister and they wanted to make a trip to Fort Pelham Farm to make a basket.

151023 Baskets with Linda and Vicky

The results speaks for itself but I have to say that the passion for weaving baskets has changed from the crafting of the basket itself to the crafting and cultivation of friendships, new and old.  Honestly, that’s something I can truly be passionate about.

No Place for Old Men

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There are projects around here and then there are the PROJECTS.  The jobs that require a lot of planning and thinking and some hesitation to start because you know they are going to turn into something unexpected halfway through.

All of the buildings on the property seem to slide in an easterly direction toward the wetter area of the pasture, a slight decline in the topography of the area.  For years we just referred to it as “heading for the swamp”.  The building that houses our woodshop has been heading that way for a good number of years.  It has a dry stone foundation that has collapsed in some areas to the inside of the building leaving it to rest on corners with big, gaping holes looking underneath.

The plan was to do this project last year but time got away from us (and there was no small amount of trepidation at the thought of how much work this was going to be).  You have to do a lot of thinking when it comes to these things.  Bill and Mike made plans to begin yesterday and now we’re in deep.

The land here is nothing but stones (huge ones) and it’s a known fact going in that digging is going to be a problem.  These two guys attacked the under side of the foundation with shovels early on in the morning and quickly realized they were going to need a little help.  Up the road one of our neighbors is one of the best backhoe operators I have ever known.  In his 70’s now he is still working his magic with the famed piece of equipment.  A quick trip up the road brought him down to start digging, saving hours of back breaking work and he left with a dozen eggs.


With the corner dug out raising the building was the next thing on the agenda.  Blocking and jacks were put in place.


This is the sort of thing you need to ponder – think through all of the ramifications.  There was the possibility of an avalanche of stone with the raising of the building.


They raised it just enough to push the stone through and pull it out from the other side.


Back breaking work.


I am surprised at how smoothly this went.  Of course I wasn’t the one moving stone.


And the work for the day ended with pondering the next phase.  Making mental lists of the order of things.


A good portion of the sill will have to be replaced, there will be footings poured, some blocks brought in.  The stone foundation will be rebuilt. Blocking was put in later in the day to stabilize the corner where a hydraulic jack was used.  Materials were purchased and everything readied for Monday.

These old post and beam buildings are so amazingly strong.  Even if the jacking in the corner let go I doubt that it would have much of a consequence unless left over time.  The best part of seeing this unfold was going into the shop and immediately noticing the difference – things were straight, no more floor sagging to the northwest.  Ahhhh.

The other thing is watching New England men, of an older generation, thinking, pondering, discussing each step as they went along.  You don’t want to rush into any of this.  I think by doing so they also prevent injury – taking the pace slow, drinking lots of water, moving a little at a time.  Slow and steady.




Old House Responsibilities

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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.

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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.

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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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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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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.


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.


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.


A garden riot of flowers on the table.


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.


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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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.



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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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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.

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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.

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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)