Garden Bounty

140805 Iris

My vegetable garden has been somewhat of a disappointment this year.  The tomatoes have blight, the cucumbers are slow, everything is 2 to 3 weeks behind because of the cool temperatures and copious amounts of rain we have had.  The things that are doing great are my perennials.

The cooler temperatures have allowed me to begin a long, long overdue garden rehab project.  Yes, new gardens are going in but one of the reasons for the new gardens is that there are so many things that need division in the old gardens.  I have to say that it has taken me by surprise.  One iris, planted about 5 years ago, yielded a garden full of new ones.

I’m never one to complain about free plants mind you but this is a little concerning to me when I look at what I have to divide.  I dug up three plants yesterday, an iris, a balloon flower and a Stella di Oro lily.  The iris yielded about 30 usable rhizomes, the balloon flower maybe three separate plants and the lily went from one larger clump to six good size plants.

The distressing part for me is the fact that I haven’t even begun to dig up the garden that needs to be redone.  I’m not one to throw plants over the bank but foresee that happening.  How many haphazard gardens are there from plants being pitched when the gardens are redone? (You gardeners out there know what I’m talking about).  I have two of those right here.  Daffodils come up all over the place now where they were thrown purposefully or accidentally over the years. Hostas, myrtle, daylilies, even Jack in the Pulpits.  I prefer to refer to those haphazard messes as reserves for the day when I need them.

Yesterday I gave away half of the iris to a friend that was here in the morning.  I didn’t give him a choice – I told him he could pitch them over his bank, I would never know.

This is how friendship gardens happen. Someone is dividing up their plants in order to have them be healthier and bloom better, they are overwhelmed with the number of unexpected plants they end up with, they force them onto their friends and family.  That gives me a whole new perspective on a couple of the gardens that I always thought of as “friendship” gardens.  Maybe all those special plants are really things that were being cast off and rescued by my mother, similar to things that have happened to me recently.

Regardless of how the plants have ended up in my garden I love most of them.  Even if some were cast off from another’s garden renovation I look upon them fondly.  Some of them have been here since 1968 when we moved here and my mother began gardening in earnest.  To identify certain specimens with certain people in an aspect that I love.

So as the garden renovation continues I will be giving away a lot of things and hope that some years from now someone will say,  “Oh I got that from Joanne in 2014 during the big dig”.  For that reason I’m careful what I give away and make sure it is weed free.  The last thing I want is someone cursing me out for some invasive species that I introduced to their garden.  Although at this point irises are feeling a little invasive.

140805 Stellas

The Pantry

140404 Pantry

I finished building and painting the shelves for the pantry.  The painting was fine but the building was not without its cursing.  There is nothing like trying to fit something that’s square into somethings that’s not.

Sunday I moved a few things into it but will work on that in earnest this week.  There is still the pantry closet to build that will be going in on the end of this in what was once a shower stall.  The floor will then get another coat of paint.  That will have to wait for a few weeks since there is another room that needs finishing.

This is the perfect solution for the time being.  Eventually this room will be going away to make room for a kitchen expansion but for the time being a little paint and elbow grease has made it into something functional.  It’s kind of amazing how you can use a little imagination and come up with this.  Remember this is how it started out.

140308 Bathroom to Pantry (4)

One project down, thousands more to go.


Another Home Improvement Project



Saturday morning Bill and I took a ride to Friends of the Sun in Brattleboro, VT to purchase a wood stove for the kitchen.  I had done some pretty extensive research over the past few weeks figuring out what would be the best option for us.  The stove would be mounted on a 9″ raised hearth with the hookup using the fireplace and chimney.  The fireplace, as beautiful as it is, has not been something we can really use for heat, or anything else for that matter.  When my parents had it built in the ’70s the chimney was not built to the same height it was originally.  Any time we used the fireplace we ran the risk of the wind blowing from the west, over the top of the house and directly down the chimney.  I once had to move a blazing fire into another fireplace because the smoke and ash suddenly blew into the kitchen.  Many times I woke up in the morning to a kitchen with everything covered with ash.

We decided on a Hearthstone Hearthmount.  It’s a soapstone stove which is something I have always wanted because of its heat retention properties and its beauty.  When we arrived at Friends of the Sun the stove was sitting right in their showroom and we soon found out they had one in stock.  I had anticipated having to order it so this was a bonus.  Although after a look in the warehouse our salesman told us we would probably have to wait until next week to pick it up because their warehouse guy wasn’t in and it was in an odd location.  He set us up with the materials for the chimney installation and sent us with the owner to pick up what we could.

131116 Stove (1)This set up is going to solve a bunch of problems.  It will keep the chimney dry and we will be able to heat the ell with wood.  The box consisted of 25′ of stovepipe, along with insulation and a cap.  It all seems so simple and easy when you are picking up the parts.

I swear the owner of this business is Mr. Rogers incarnate.  If he’d been wearing a cardigan it would have been perfect.  Their warehouse is a small, packed little building a short drive down the road from their showroom.  When we got there Mr. Rogers informed us that he could get the stove out for us if we wanted to take it right then.  Woohoo!

131116 Stove (2)

So after moving some things around it was taken off of a rack. . .

131116 Stove (3)and loaded into the truck.  We tied a couple of things down and made the trip home.  Oh, did I mention that the stove weighs 440 pounds?  Hmmm, think about that for a minute.

131116 Stove (4)As soon as we got home BIll got the tractor out, took the stove off of the truck and unpacked it except for the pallet it was bolted to.  We decided the only way to get this into the kitchen was through the patio door.  Bill drove right onto the patio and approached the door only to find that it was too wide to fit in the door.  Damn, now what?

We decided to put it in lengthwise but the pallet was too narrow to hold it with any stability on the forks.  We stood in the yard trying to figure out how the two of us were going to get this inside and I just kept thinking WWDD? (what would Dad do).  I remembered there were two dollies in the barn that my father had used to move heavy things around. We got one and put it under the stove pallet, then picked it up.

131116 Stove (5)This pic is pretty blurry – probably because I was yelling at Bill while I was taking it.  When you are driving the tractor you have no way of knowing the height of the load you are carrying, especially when it is near the ground.  He came into the edge of the patio a little low and I could just imagine the sound as the stove hit the ground.  We were only able to get close enough to the doorway to set down the first set of wheels on the floor, he tipped up the forks to make it slide the rest of the way off, ran around into the kitchen and the two of us eased it off into the room.

131116 Stove (6)There it is all uncovered waiting for installation.  Honestly, that move took about 6 years off of my life it was so stressful.  Just writing about it raised my blood pressure.  440 pounds is really, really heavy – thank God for Dad’s little trolley (and remembering it was there).  Bill called Mike and made a date for Sunday morning to install it.

The first couple of hours of the installation on Sunday was spent wrapping the 25 feet of stove pipe with insulation and wire mesh.  They then went up on the roof and tried lowering it down the chimney.  Did I mention it was raining and we have a metal roof?  Yeah, even with ladders it was scary.  They were unable to get it up there and drop it down so decided to pull it up from the bottom.  We had been told that we would probably have to flatten some of the piping to go through the damper in the chimney but we were fortunate to have a damper that allowed the pipe to go through as is.  A rope was dropped from the top of the chimney and the pipe was pulled up and attached to the cap.  That was the easy part.

131116 Stove (7)As they began to move the stove Mike told me we really needed four strong men, one for each corner.  We couldn’t think of any other guys to call so it was up to them.  Fortunately the dolly had placed the height of the stove just a little higher than the hearth.

131116 Stove (8)We had to do a lot of lifting and shimming to get this to work.  It had to be “walked” over because they could only lift it a little at a time.  Another stressful little period of time.

Getting all of this to fit together was another challenge.  There was a lot of fabrication going on in the garage and a trip to Wilmington to the hardware store for a piece of stovepipe that would finally enable the hookup.  There was a moment when it looked like this wasn’t going to happen without getting a different part for the back of the stove, a minute when they both walked away.  Some times you need those moments to walk away from a difficult situation to think of it in a different way.

Both guys were determined to build a fire in this before the day was over and figured out a way to connect all of the pipes in a safe way (not without a few more frustrating moments mind you).

At 2:45 Bill told me to light the first fire and this thing is everything I’d hoped it would be and more. In about an hour the temp in the room went from 55 to 76.  Bill thought that was a little too hot, I thought it was just right.  And it’s beautiful to boot.

131116 Stove (9)On our way back to Enfield Bill said this was probably the best home improvement we have done.  The heat in the kitchen never turns off once it really gets cold outside.  The stove is designed to have greatly reduced carbon emissions and will stay hot for 12 hours or so.  It should make a big difference in the oil bill.  What really amazed me was how efficient the burn was, once it was started we burned 3 good size pieces of wood in 3 hours and it was still burning when we left.  Sweet.









Flashback Friday – Our first renovation project

I thought I would share a few old posts over the next few weeks.  It will help give me a little perspective.  These posts were migrated from another blog spot so I apologize for how wonky they look in WordPress.

We are about to begin one of the biggest restoration projects to date (and our first in Rowe). By big I’m referring to area. Without measuring we figured this room is about 28′ x 15′ – I think that may be a conservative guess.

The barnboard on the end wall is going to stay – Dad told me it was put up originally because the plaster was falling off the wall. This kind of repair seems to be the way it’s been done in sooo many of the old houses we’ve worked on (or visited).

As you can see the ceiling is coming down in the far corner – it’s been like this for a couple of years but there are other points in the ceiling that are really beginning to sag so we’ve decided to gut the room, insulate and drywall. If it was a true restoration we’d be mixing up the plaster but it seems to be a lost art (and we don’t have the time or knowledge to do it). The window that is closest on the left actually has a deep ledge, almost a window seat. That whole window is being removed and replaced to bring it back flush with the wall. It overhangs the patio with a small roof and the whole structure is rotten and looks like its ready to fall off.

Of course this is the kind of help Bill will have for the week – they look better earlier in the day. God help him is all I have to say.

I’ll post next week on the progress – I will at least have shots of the demo – 200 years of dirt. Everyone will be in respirators, fun is.
We began the living room project in June of 2008.  It took us 3 years to finally finish it (these kinds of projects seem to stretch out when you are only working on them on weekends).  We had a lot of help along the way from people that know what they are doing.  It’s good to have friends like that.  Here’s a shot of what it looked like after the floor was finished.
We are thinking about another room restoration and I have to keep reminding myself what a long, tedious thing it is to do.  But with every room you learn.  You gain skills that make the next job easier.  We’ve done 2 bathrooms and many bedrooms, halls, etc.  The next project will be a room upstairs, a rather large one.  It was once a bedroom but the plan is for it to house my looms, sewing machines, fabric and fiber.  It’s been in boxes too long and having it have a place of its own will only free me up to be creative rather than looking for what I might want to do next (or shopping because its too tedious to search).  I wonder how many duplicate tools I will find when the unpacking begins?

Slow and Steady

131016 Moonrise

I arrived late to Rowe on Wednesday to see that the shed was being worked on.  Most of the paint was removed and there was a window in the west wall.  The opening has always been there – there was a screen in that spot in need of repair.  A hinged shutter, a door of sorts, covered the hole year round and has been there as long as I can remember.  It’s always interesting to walk into an interior space where there is light that has never been there before, you feel like you’ve been missing something.

It was still light out as I unloaded my car but fairly clouded over.  I started cooking a little supper on the stove and walked into the living room where the light coming into the east windows was this amazing color, and bright for sunset.  I looked out, grabbed a camera and this is what I saw.  The light reflecting off of the clouds from the west with the moon rising in the east.  It was stunning and there for less that 10 minutes.  Of course Mr. Photobomb was in every shot.

I woke up out of a half sleep Thursday morning to Chester growling – softly (he’s kind of chicken).  I got up to see Mike , my brother-in-law and Jim, his work partner working on the shed wall.  The dogs went out to happily greet them and we took a walk to the back forty.  When I returned Mike and I talked about the condition of the clapboards and where we were going to go with this.  He also told me Jim had found the window at the dump.  Jim works at the dump part-time which gives him access to the good stuff.  He’s always thinking ahead to where he might recycle something.  A bonus for both of us.  I left them to their work and assume that it will look wonderful in the next week or so.  They do really good work.

131017 Paint

Exterior painting is not something Bill and I are interested in doing.  We have done it at the house in Enfield but the house in Rowe is just too tall.  Mike has been painting for years.  When he paints you know he will do whatever he can to get the paint to stay on for years to come.  He repairs, replaces and caulks where needed then primes and paints.  He is meticulous.

We haven’t been able to do more than a side a year because of the size of the job and the expense.  It will be another two years probably before the house it completely painted so for the time being I just photograph the good sides.  They finished the front a few weeks ago and I have to say the house is looking quite beautiful. I am hoping to build a new storm door before winter.  The strap hinges and thumb latch were made at Williamsburg Blacksmith quite some time ago and that aluminum door really needs to go.

131013 Front of House

Of course when you look at the photographs there are more things to add to the to do list.  Antennas and dishes have to be removed, lightning rods reattached.  Every once in a while I look at a photograph like this and in my head just pretend it’s all done.

Homeowner’s ADD

130512 Heat Gun


I’m not fond of this time of the year.  I’ve come down with a bad case of homeowner’s ADD.  I have a theory that everyone has Attention Deficit Disorder but for me it’s really apparent at certain times of the year.

Part of the problem with the home owning part is the house in Rowe does not have heat upstairs (or power for that matter) so any projects that I want to do have to be done in spring, summer and early fall (or just bundle up while you’re doing it).  Last week I had a conversation with brothers-in-law Mike.  He’s working on a house just up the road from ours and swears that whoever built the one he’s in built ours.  There is the same intricate woodwork. We talked about stripping paint.  I have used all kinds of methods of stripping paint, all involving some rather harsh chemicals but he’s been using a heat gun.  Hmmmmm . . .

I had Bill get a heat gun because I have a small room that once had carpet glued to it.  The carpet was removed years ago but the mastic stayed.  This room is above the living room and I had visions of using a chemical remover and having it leak through the floor onto the new ceiling below – not good.  I tried using this head gun to get the mastic off and it was BRILLIANT.  You can only remove a little at a time but once you’re rolling it goes fairly quickly.  The disadvantage is that I have to sit on the floor in order to do it.  It’s hard on the back so I can only do it for an hour or two before I have to give it up.

The weather this past weekend was really not conducive to working outdoors.  When the sun came out I tried to pull weeds in some of my flower beds but the black flies were so thick that it wasn’t pleasant at all.  I would come in out of the clouds, both rain and flies, and run down my mental list of the wants and needs indoors.  Most of them run into the wants like the floor upstairs but then there is the matter of turning what was once a bathroom into a pantry.  This involves removing the toilet and sink and all respective piping (after removing all of the junk that’s accumulated in there for the past year).  That little project is rather pressing at the moment because we will soon be coming into preserving season and I want that finished before it starts.  I need an inventory of canning supplies as well as making sense of a large closet that’s been used for a pantry for a number of years. Making sense of it is being kind, I can’t find anything in it and every time I cook something I waste a lot of time digging around looking for that special something I KNOW is in there somewhere.

The wood shop has been cleaned up in the past week and I was thinking about that side table that I really need to make for the living room.  That sounded like more fun than stripping floors and moving toilets.  I restrained myself because I knew if I went out to the shop I would never come back in and those inside projects would be still calling my name.

The thing is that I also spent a good deal of time weaving and rug hooking this weekend – going from one to the other.  I think I need medication.

130512 Floor StrippingBut does this look like fun to you?  Good thing it’s a very small room.


Ghosts of Christmas Past

100101 (17)

After getting our Christmas tree in Heath a week ago I was thinking about our first Heath tree.  The living room had been in the process of rehab and I forced everyone to make commitments to get things done by promising a Christmas Eve celebration when the walls had very large holes still in the drywall, nothing was painted and the plastic had not been off of the floor for almost 3 years.  There’s nothing like the thought of 20+ people coming to your house for dinner to get things done.

Russell was to finish a paneled wall  going over the huge hole above the fireplace.  The entire room, walls and trim had to be painted.  The baseboards had to be trimmed (another job for Russell).  The plastic had to be pulled up, the glue from the tape removed from the floor.  Furniture had to be rearranged throughout the house – it had all been in one room since we started this project.  Cleaning, cleaning, cleaning.

Christmas fell on a Friday that year.  When I arrived the Saturday before the panel was on sawhorses in the living room – unpainted.  They needed to “acclimate”.  I believe the woodwork had one coat of paint and not all of the walls had any paint at all.  To say I was a little stressed is an understatement.

Russ and Carmen insisted we come and get a tree for the room.  I was thinking, “Is it going to be big enough to cover that HUGE HOLE above the fireplace?!?”  Russell just smiled.  We spent the morning hunting for trees, eating, socializing.  We came home to see that my brother in law had finished painting the entire living room while we were gone (he’s a painter by trade).  The girls pulled up the plastic from the floor and we moved and cleaned for the rest of the day.  And the first tree in over 20 years was put up in front of the bay window.  The vintage Santa took his place and it seemed as though we could pull this off.

That Monday the panel was primed and placed above the fireplace.  When I arrived it was just a matter of a few decorations and some major cooking.  Large candle sconces went over the electrical boxes on the walls.  We put candles everywhere.  Cait had made 80 luminaries for the driveway.  Candle carriage lamps lit the mantel covered in fruit, nuts and berries.  Every place at the table had a candle and there was very little electricity used that night.  People were charmed, enchanted by the soft glow.  Those of us that had pulled this off were just thinking, “It’s all theater.”

I had just spent the past couple of months working at Old Sturbridge Village when all of the events were by candlelight.  Initially we had an event where people took guided tours at night to see how people saw things in the 1830’s.  It was all a matter of social standing.  If you were poor you saw things by the light coming from your fireplace.  As you moved up on the social ladder you may have had candles made from tallow or beeswax.  Those in the fine houses with money had oil lamps in addition to the firelight and candles.  So you saw a progression from poor to rich and it got brighter all the way.

I think the house at Fort Pelham Farm saw a complete progression.  I’m sure many candles were used but they were used in a much more judicious manner than that Christmas Eve in 2009.  We’ve come a long way in our creature comforts but there is nothing that says Christmas to me more than candlelight.