The Return of the Sun

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I read with interest yesterday an article about Candlemas, celebrated on February 2nd, the day halfway between the winter and spring solstices.  It is a holiday to celebrate the return of the sun.  It was interesting because I was just noticing the lengthening of the days.  It’s been easier this year because the winter has been so mild, the temperatures hovering around 50 this week makes it feel like we should be tapping the trees.

This is also when my to do list becomes extremely long and I dare say unrealistic.  There is a need to clean out, pare down, remove the cobwebs, air the rooms.  It’s like you want to shake off the past year.

I also notice a ramping up of creativity.  I just pulled a project from the loom and have three lined up on the table waiting to go on.  I have other looms and am seriously thinking of warping all three with different projects.  I’m not sure how productive that might be but it’s a thought.

There’s also the rug I continue to hook, the sweater I’m knitting, the teddy bear nearing completion.  There are baskets to stain, rooms to paint, furniture to build, cookies to bake.  Uhm, yeah, I’m out of control here.

In addition to that a case of wanderlust has come over me. I just want to get into the car and drive, preferably to water (I daresay I’d have to drive to the ocean because everything here is still covered with ice).  I don’t even know why the water part matters, I want to visit fiber stores and quilt shops.  I want to wind my way through New Hampshire to Maine touching handspun yarn and fine woolen fabric.  Looking at looms and shuttles.  Changing up the scenery, dreaming up big projects (like I don’t have enough already).

Feels like a serious case of spring fever to me, or maybe just an effort to shake off what has been a harrowing month.  Then again it could be something like a mid-life crisis only well beyond the mid-point.  Let’s see how this all shakes out.

 

 

Review 2015

Every year I post a year in review that is largely visual in nature.  It seems that this year may prove to be different.  There have been so many profound changes that the photographs would only just scratch the surface.  I’ll throw a few in for good measure though, I can’t resist.

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After living with my father for a year and a half I put him back into assisted living.  It was a huge learning curve for me – but I learned that I cannot live with negativity day in and day out.  Living under a black cloud only drags you into that black abyss and it becomes more and more difficult to climb your way out.  In my heart I know it was the right thing to do for everyone involved yet on some level it feels like failure.  I’m working on getting over that in ways that feed my soul.

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Living here helped me maintain my sanity.  The close proximity to nature was a balm many times during each and every day.  Being able to see magnificent sunrises so many mornings began my days in a positive way.  It was a summer of rainbows – every day it seemed .  Hiking trails at the park, new trails in old familiar places brought discovery and appreciation anew.  Let’s face it, it’s quiet here, it smells good and nobody bugs you.  What more could the introvert in me want?

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Then there were weddings, lots of them.  My favorite was the marriage of my daughter – here.  Ten people, surrounded by my gardens in full bloom.  My favorite moment – the family humming Pachelbel’s Canon in D while Amanda and her father walked down the little makeshift aisle, thanks Cait for getting it rolling.  Although Amanda and Yusuf have been together for 9 years and we all knew this was coming it still felt like we were giving her away.  It was a line for me, both joyous and sad.

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As if all of this wasn’t enough November 11th was the birth of our first grandchild.  A boy who dear husband Bill never thought he was going to see (and now has big plans for).  Another shift in my life – from mother to grandmother.  I’m not sure how it affects other people but the generational shift has always been a profound one for me.  When Amanda was born it took me a while to wrap my head around going from daughter to mother, I’m still getting use to the idea of going from mom to grandma.  He is wonderful and I’m enjoying watching them grow into a loving family.

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All through this the constant has been craft.  The ability to make and do things with my hands is the thread.  It feeds me – no, it is a necessity. If I wasn’t able to create something, on a daily basis, I would have sunk into that deep, dark hole long ago.  It sustains me.  It seems odd to me in some ways to admit this.  I have been a crafter all of my life.  My modus operandi is to learn a new craft, work it to what I deem the best I am capable of (more of a plateau really) and move on to the next craft.  This year was all about weaving – again.  It was the realization that I’ve been searching my entire life for what my hands knew how to do.  Weaving has connected me to my past, to people I remember and loved the most.  It is something that will probably take the rest of my life to move towards perfection.  Meanwhile it calms me and helps me to reflect on daily life, meditation.  Something we all need and I daresay find in little things we do.  We just need to recognize it.

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The new year is promising in so many ways.  Growth is what it’s all about.  I’ll keep on sharing my skills and insights.  I’ll watch my family and friends embrace the changes in their lives and hold them all close because really, that’s what it’s all about.

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How Blessed We Are

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As I made my first cup of morning coffee today I considered all that I have to be thankful for.  A Thanksgiving day ritual for so many.

I put a couple of pieces of wood on the coals from last nights fire to take the chill out of the kitchen.  Thought of all of the time and work put into getting that wood in.  Thank you.

I pulled a beautiful, local, 20 pound bird from the refrigerator to bring it up to temperature and considered that it was walking this earth until just a few days ago. Thank you.

I turned on the water and washed my hands in its wonderful warmth.  Such a convenience taken for granted.  Thank you.

I will walk out to the garden and pull up the very last vegetable there this morning.  My rutabagas.  Tiny seeds placed in the earth 5 months ago turned into amazing purple and yellow orbs by earth and water, amazing when you think about it.  Thank you.

Potatoes that were dug two months ago will be peeled and cooked.  Carrots that were pulled and pickled will be chilled will be served.  Thank you.

The big table, made by the hands of a favorite friend will be moved into the middle of the room and set.  Thank you.

Guests will arrive bearing food they have put time into. The conversations and reminiscing will begin along with the laughter that always ensues. Thank you.

Thanksgiving is about the food, family and friends for me.  It’s one of those warm, fuzzy holidays and always has been.  This year looked like it would only be three of us eating a 20 pound turkey but evolved last week into a party of 10.  One of my favorite things to do it to cook for others.  It’s a gift of the heart and hands.

I am a fortunate person.  I live most of my time in an extraordinary place and know it.  I have a loving family and the most amazing husband who works harder than anyone I know to make all of this happen.  The newest member of our tribe was born two weeks ago and he will grow up surrounded by the love of so many.  The shift in generations has occurred and I can take up my mantle as grandma to help him know how blessed he is and how blessed we all are to have what we have.

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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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

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.

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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.

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

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Back breaking work.

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

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

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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

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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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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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.