Learning New Things About Old Things

160722 Chester Photobomb

This morning I was doing some photography for a book that Peggy is writing on wool.  It’s been a long time since I’ve taken photographs for someone else, let alone tabletop items.  It was stressful and wonderful at the same time.  She also wanted a photo of my wool wheel in a specific place.  As you can see I had more than one obstacle to deal with.  He is a master of photo bomb.  I had to physically remove him from the area.

Along with the photographs I took was one I had to scan.

Charlton Woolen Weave Room

This is a photograph of the weave room at Charlton Woolens probably taken in the mid to late 1930’s.  My grandfather’s toolbox is one of many in the photograph.  This photo was one of the many reasons I wanted to experience the Crompton and Knowles power looms. In doing so this photograph is so much richer.  I now have an understanding of what was happening in this room, where the weavers stood, the noise.  I look at this photo and think about how you must have felt the vibrations in your feet and gone home with your ears ringing.  I have a better idea of the kind of job a loom mechanic had.

I’m always amazed at just how long research takes when it comes to history if you want to understand the whole story.  Genealogy gives you the names and dates of the people – the who, what and where kind of thing.  The photographs, when you can find them, begin to fill out the story.  Then there is the living history.  This is far more elusive but when you find it you can put yourself in your ancestors shoes with a little bit of imagination.

Social history is what makes studying the past come alive.  It’s where you begin to understand a little about the way people thought about their world and made their life decisions.  Public records give you clues into things.  You begin with the big stuff – politics and religion and work your way down to minutia.  Things like what were they wearing and how did it affect how they moved and did their work.  You look at how men and women treated each other, how economics made or broke their lives.

I think there’s been an injustice served on the American people in not teaching our history in a way that is accessible to everyone.  I think a lot of the turmoil that we see is a lack of understanding of what has gone on before.  I feel like people are making up things as they go along in a way that is only self-serving. Their knowledge is so narrow.  Maybe because social media has taken over our lives and rather than read a book we read twitter every morning.  I think the idea of knowing our history has been lost.  It’s too bad because some of the greatest stories ever told are true.

I plug along learning new things about old things everyday.  I’ll continue to put myself into situations where I can understand what was going on or the work involved.  One year I dug my garden plot completely by hand so I could feel what kind of work went into putting in a kitchen garden for the women of 1840.  It’s one thing to read about it, quite another to do it.

The real goal is putting the family history into words with understanding.  Not just any story, a story that makes these people human. One that makes you understand that the world could be just as scary a place to them as it sometimes is to us.  History repeats itself, over and over, but unless you know something about it you don’t recognize it when it happens.




GoofsI didn’t really realize the implications when Buddy died.  I wasn’t thinking of being dogless.

My daughter has been “borrowing” Sophie to help her get through the loss of Buddy.  I understand this and wholeheartedly support it.  She slept with Buddy for 14 years, she needs something breathing next to her at night.  I’ve been there.

Chester is truly Bill’s dog.  He does everything and goes everywhere with him.  He spent the last week in Rowe with me but I know he missed being with Bill (except maybe for the one night he got to sleep on the bed with Cait while she was visiting).  He seemed to smile about that for days.

I realized yesterday that my life with dogs centers around food and being outdoors.  I was baking all day and doing it with Julia Child’s style – in other words I was making a HUGE mess.  Normally when things end up on the floor the dogs are there to pick it up.  I’m thinking I may not even realize how much of a mess I make because the dogs are cleaning up after me.  This may sound disgusting but I know anyone reading this who has a dog knows exactly what I’m talking about.

The other thing is they love to be outdoors.  Every single time I open a door to the outside world they are out.  There’s something to be said about not having to go out when the temperatures are below zero but there is also something about being forced to breathe fresh air regardless of the chill.  They also show me how wonderful winter can be.  They love the snow – LOVE it.  I forget how much they love it each year until the first snow when their total delight and enthusiasm is hard to miss.  The thing is they never get sick of it, no matter how long the winter is.

We can all learn lessons about loving our circumstances by hanging out with our dogs.  They are happy and content with just being as long as they are with their people.  Definitely something to aspire to.


One Fine Day

150222 Snow (7)

The weather broke here if only for one day.  Long enough to get outdoors, move some snow, clean the coop and then do some snowshoeing.  The temperature got to a balmy 36 degrees which felt downright tropical.

The snow is deep.  Anywhere from 3 to 4 feet, then there is the drifting.

150222 Snow (9)

Chester always wants to go with us.  I was afraid he might quit halfway through this hike.  It’s one thing to be on snowshoes, quite another to be sinking up to your neck with every step.

150222 Snow (17)

The sky was so blue and the sun so warm it was hard to remember how much we’ve complained about the snow.  Truth be told I love winter when it’s like this.  If it stays above 20 degrees and the wind doesn’t blow I can be outdoors.

150222 Snow (24)

What really amazed me was Chester still relentlessly following us around with that ball after the hike he just took.  He carried it the whole way then sat with the snowshoes in the sun waiting for the next adventure and hoping it involved that ball.

Thank goodness for days like this.  It’s like a reset for your soul.  Spring is on its way it just may be June before all of this snow is gone.


That Special Dog

140719 (31)

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.

10457158_10202492129690105_8043429474343509256_n (1)

Fig Bars

140727 Fig Bars

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.

Adopt a Mutt

Goofs Dogs come to us in different ways.  For years I went the purebred route – yes, poor Sophie is a purebred.  She must come from a weird line. I adopted a Samoyed years ago that had so many issues it came to a very sad end.  She was a product of particularly bad breeding compounded with initial owners who had no idea what they were doing.  After that I swore I would never adopt someone else’s dog, ever.

Along came Chester.  We’ve had him for almost 2 1/2 years now.  He had some issues when he came to us but this is a classic case of love can fix a whole lot of wrong.  He’s become quite comfortable with us as a matter of fact. He still doesn’t like being left alone but the panic is gone.  He still doesn’t like being in a crate but now he sees it as his bed and not a punishment.  He’s still afraid of everything – not in a cowering kind of way but if something startles him he runs in the opposite direction.  Bill thinks it’s good to have a dog that considers self-preservation.  He’s afraid of the dark so he won’t go out of the perimeter of the spotlight at night.  He will stand on the edge and woof (more of a woo woo).

My sister got a puppy last weekend from a rescue group.  She’s 12 weeks old and seriously cute.  She’s bright and will be a very good dog I’m sure.  Her daughter posted a link today about a woman who’s project it was to photograph the least likely to be adopted dogs at her local shelter. Her photos are beautiful.  When I read it I knew that I could never set foot in a shelter or I would come home with a car load of dogs.

I’m happy to see the shift from owning a purebred to adopting a mutt. There are so many of them that need adoption and if Chester is any indication an adopted dog could very well be the best dog you’ve ever had.


There is a lot going on in the house at Fort Pelham Farm.  We decided to turn the old bathroom into a pantry for now and the library will become a bedroom for my Dad who will be moving home in about 6 weeks.  Yes, you guessed right, I will be in Rowe full-time starting in May.  Not exactly the circumstances I had always envisioned but right now it is what it is.

140308 Bathroom to Pantry (4)This is the lovely bathroom that we used for years and years.  It was time for it to go and boy was Bill excited about this project (not).

140308 Bathroom to Pantry (7)He pointed out that this is the glory part of home improvement – removing the toilet.  Chester is making sure he is doing it properly.

140309 Bathroom to Pantry (1)Okay, I primed everything – don’t judge, we still have a ways to go.

IMAG0577Initial painting is done – the shelving I will be building this week.  Another coat of paint still on tap but the project is moving along.

Did I tell you that I have dozens and dozens of jars of canned goods sitting on the floor in the living room right now with no home?  Yeah, nice decor.  That’s because they were stored in the library.  All of that shelving had to come down to make room for Dad on the first floor.

IMAG0580Hello old friends – haven’t seen you in quite some time.

IMAG0579Before.  These shelves were built in 1985 to replace the shelving that was there when we moved in.  I’m assuming that was done because the room had lathe and plaster and it was what was the back of the bookshelves.  Originally the shelves were on two walls in the room with a window seat under the north window.  IMG_0191

It took Mike and Bill all of about an hour to get this out of there. You will notice that Chester is always in the middle of things.  I personally think he just likes having his picture taken.

IMAG0585Another work in progress.  Mike will be repairing the walls and fixing the ceiling.  The floor will have to wait, it’s too big a job for our time constraints.

I have to say that I’m not fond of renovation projects with a specific time deadline.  Things are not done the way they should be, they are done in the quickest way possible.  The pantry started out as a project for me.  A temporary fix in a space that was not being used.  The eventual plan with that room is for the walls to come down and have it be part of a more open kitchen – that’s down the road a bit.  Kitchen remodeling is not for the faint of heart.

The other fact pushing this project along is we know spring will get here at some point and when it does we will not want to be spending any time indoors.  While the weather is still wintry we can at least feel like we are getting something done.

A Burning Question

140216 Chester snowshoeChester doesn’t care if the snow is too deep to run in, he still wants you to throw that ball.

The photograph looks a little bizarre because he was moving when I released the shutter.  I typed that line and wondered “Are we even releasing a shutter anymore?”  Are we?  This looks like a double exposure to me but I know it’s not.  Hmmmmm . . . .

When the Weather Starts to Warm

This winter has been brutally cold so far this year.  This past weekend the temperature rose to the mid to upper 30’s and it felt like spring was on its way.  It was the kind of weather when staying indoors is not an option and Bill decided it was time to cut trees.

Saturday’s tree is along the ridge going down to the back forty.  The trees there have always been too close together and because they are on the east side of the garden and quite tall they shade the southern half of the tilled area until almost noon.  There is a tree that we will keep for it’s shade and I will just plan the garden accordingly but this will begin to bring earlier sunshine where it’s needed.

The first thing done when felling trees is to look it over to make sure you have a good idea where it it will fall.  This tree only had limbs on one side of it and was leaning over the bank so it was not difficult to discern where it would go.  Bill made the first cuts on the side the tree would fall then sawed the other side as you can see in the video.

The next phase is to cut the limbs off of the tree

IMG_0099Once that was finished we use the logging winch on the back of the tractor to bring the log up to the spot where we will chunk it up and split it for firewood later.

Okay, originally I thought that this was a really pricey add on to the tractor but after about a month of tractor ownership you realize if you are going to use the bucket for anything you need weight in the back of the tractor.  If you are going to work in wet, muddy areas you probably are going to need to winch yourself out at some point. If you are going to cut down large trees using a winch becomes a safety issue at times. It turns out that what I thought was a pricey toy really is a workhorse and we have never looked back.  As you can see from the last video it has made Bill’s life a lot easier.