Category Archives: House and Home

Transitioning

It’s gloomy and gray here today, with a decided chill in the air. We’re definitely in that transition time in the spring, when one weekend is great for sitting on the patio with friends, and other weekends the patio has a sheen of ice coating it. But the daffodils grow ever taller, and look like they’ll bloom soon, and I have two teeny crocus flowers poking their heads up in the juniper. They’re tightly closed against today’s gray skies, but the yellow and white buds are cheerful, anyway.

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I took the dogs for a walk over to our neighbor’s sugar bush early this afternoon, and though all ten of our paws are mud-covered, it was a great walk. The air is starting to smell like woods again, instead of just cold, and there was one stretch of path that smelled distinctively of mushrooms and wood-rot. An odd scent to get excited about, I suppose, but it heralds warmer weather and growing things, so it’s a very welcome one.

A few of the celeriac seeds have sprouted, along with some escarole and onions, and I have to remind myself that checking on the growing area every five minutes isn’t going to actually make any other seeds sprout. Although if it did, I’d have a forest of seedlings by now.

Jumbled wire

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Since Larry and I bought our house in the North Country, we’ve logged a lot of miles on 93 and 89 north. For most of the ride, the view is of trees and rock faces and fields, but every so often there are glimpses of New England towns, old farmhouses, and two-lane country roads that turn a bend and disappear into the trees.

Some of the farmhouses that we pass are oldoldold, and one of my favorite things to do is imagine who built them. I wonder about who has lived in them over the years, and what life was like in them before electricity, plumbing, and phone lines reached these out-of-the-way places.  I like to picture the kids trudging out in the morning to milk the cows before school, then coming in to a warm breakfast and a lunch pail all ready for them.

Obviously, my memories are heavily influenced by Little House on the Prairie and Caddie Woodlawn

The land we walked with our neighbor on Sunday used to be part of the farm that our house is on, and it was amazing to learn that an always wet area on the north side of a trail used to be a spring house, and the barbed wire we see occasionally was used to hold in cows. It’s particularly amazing because when you look at the land behind our house, it’s all wooded. It’s sometimes hard to imagine all of that space cleared and used as pasture. I often wonder why whoever stopped farming decided it was time to end it. I used to wonder when, but apparently it was sometime just before the 1960s, which means that the woods have had over 50 years to fill back in.

There’s something comforting, but at the same time hollow-feeling, about the fact that in such a short time, nature has all but erased what humans did there. The only pieces left of the spring house are some jumbled wire and a small pile of rotting wood. It’s enough to get the imagination fired up, though.

(The photo of the original-renovated-barn is a few years old. We don’t have any snow right now; in fact, the grass looks like it’s starting to green. Almost all of the trees in the photo are from within the last 50 years.)

The beautiful in the ordinary

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My friend Lee Ann has days she refers to as “pink stone days.” They are days that are magical, either because of the beautiful in the ordinary, or because they are extraordinary.

I don’t have a name for those kinds of days, but I may need to come up with one. I’ve had two of them this weekend, and it has been magical. Both yesterday and today, the sun was out bright and warm. Yesterday, we had lunch on the patio with friends, and then later walked over to check out their maple sap boiling operation (and got a half gallon of maple syrup! Tapped from the woods just to the northwest of our house!) and go out to dinner. The maple house was built by the neighbor by hand, including the wood burners under his pans. It is a beautiful building, and amazing to see the ingenuity that has gone into the set-up.

Today, we did some outdoor work, took a nice hike with the dogs, had a beer with a friend, and then we were invited by him to walk his land–over 80 acres of wooded hills and vales, with a cold, clear stream running through it.

The walk alone would have been magical, but our friend also narrated what we were seeing. Larry and I have come to rural living late in life, and don’t have the knowledge of the woods and the area around us that many of our neighbors do. When they’re willing to share that knowledge, we are willing students. We learned that where our house sits was probably once under the waters of Lake Champlain, and the ridge above and behind our house was an island. We saw a bear den, coyote den, porcupine tree, (the mound of porcupine poop around its base was about two feet tall at its highest point…needless to say, I’ve never seen anything like it) and deer skeleton that was relatively recently left by the coyotes.

We learned how to approximate the age of a deer by looking at its teeth, and to tell if a skull was male or female. He thought this one might be an approximately six to eight year old female. Her fur was scattered across an area about 25 feet long to the south of the skeleton, and our friend was able to paint us a picture of what the capture, kill, and aftermath might have looked like. It sounds gruesome, but when it is in this kind of setting, where wildlife lives a wild life, it just seems natural (if a little sad).

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There is no doubt in my mind that when I can spend time outside in the sunshine, I am a happier person. To have the opportunity to be with friends and our dogs, learn new things, relax with a few beers on the patio, and enjoy each others company made this a “surrounded by the beautiful in the ordinary” kind of weekend.

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Repurpose

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Despite the cookie-cutter set-up of each show, (which is true of all of the reality shows on television) I find I have been completely sucked in by “Fixer Upper” on HGTV. Joanna and Chip make me laugh, and the houses they re-do are just beautiful when completed. If Larry and I ever win the lottery, I’m going to see if I can convince them to come renovate our garage.

One of the things I like so much about the show is how they try to repurpose as many materials as they can. The table in the picture is from a shop I was in with friends this past Saturday, and I loved the use of old doors. I’m not 100% sure what’s going on with the two doors against the wall, but I think turning lovely old doors and table legs into new pieces always looks so pretty.

I wish I had more confidence about my ability to do those kinds of things. If I could just get the mind-set of, “If it doesn’t work, take it apart and start over,” it would help.  It’s funny, because that’s how I approach gardening and cooking, and I approached lesson-planning that way. I just haven’t been able to extend that to things that require a hammer, nails, and paint.  Maybe I need to add it to the list of things to tackle.

Anticipation

I’m sitting in the living room, and the smell of the Meyer lemon and Key lime plants that are fruiting and in bloom behind me make it smell like a tropical garden. They’ve been blooming off and on all winter, and inhaling the scent is an instant pick-me-up on gray days.

Now that the forecast is predicting lots of warming, I’ll start moving them outside for a few hours of fresh air each day. I’m rubbish at transitioning plants to new conditions in spring and fall, but I’d be devastated to lose these two, so I’ll have to be careful.

Walking the dogs today, there were signs everywhere that we’ll probably see an early spring. Mother Nature is unpredictable, but the early daffodils are three inches tall, the cherry buds are growing, and the ground had a little more give to it today than it has. I’ll start seeds this week for onions, celeriac, and Brussels sprouts, and hope that my sprouts actually do something this year. I had a bumper crop last year, but they were from the starts I bought as a hedge fund against my continued inability to get my own to thrive.

I have a love-hate relationship with winter. When fall roles around, I’m ready. I’m tired of the work in the garden and the break is welcome. Then there’s Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the new year to keep me occupied. And then…three (if we’re lucky) or four months until the cold lets go and the flowers come back. This winter was incredibly mild, so the longing for spring didn’t start as early as it sometimes does. I was harvestingkale and escarole from the garden into December, and I’ve been able to get out hiking with the dogs quite a bit. Last winter was so cold, any time spent outside felt like a punishment. Mild or no, I’m ready for green leaves, flowers, and food from the garden instead of the freezer and pantry. Welcome back, sun.

Things that matter

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This morning’s Facebook feed had one of those “your memories” photos from a year ago today. I’m wrapped in a blanket, one eye and part of my nose showing, and wishing it would be warm. Last winter was brutal, no doubt about it. Today is very different, with blue sky and sunshine currently holding out against the encroaching clouds that are pushing in over the mountain. According to the weather channels, the gray skies are going to win, but right now the sun glinting on last night’s very crunchy snow is beautiful.

When I pulled into our driveway last night, I had to brake hard. Standing in about fifteen feet from the road and grazing on the grass at the edge of the pavement were two deer. One spooked instantly and ran off to the north, but the other stared at me as if to say, “Oh, is this your driveway?” It sauntered off into the yard about 75 feet away, stopped, and looked back at me. I’m pretty sure it said, “Could you drive on now? That patch of grass is pretty tasty, and you’re in my way.”

I peeked out at it once I was in the house and it was right back where it had been, and stayed there for about fifteen minutes. The gardener in me kind of wanted to shoo it away, since the rotten animals have been nibbling the tips off of all my young trees in that field, but I’m still always so amazed to see them, and feel kind of honored that they stop in our yard.

Moments like these–sparkly snow, deer so close you feel like you could walk up and pet them–are good reminders of what matters in the world.

Except for this

Our house seemed like the dividing line for tonight’s sky. To the north of us, the clouds were a heavy, low-hanging gray with one bright circle of blue. To the south of us, puffs of clouds scooted across toward Vermont, while the sky around them was a clear-all-the-way-to-another-galaxy icy blue. At the tree line between us and the neighbors, a herd of deer stopped to graze on the newly uncovered ground.

The wind is gusting at us from the northwest, but the spruce trees outside my window seem to only be doing a slow-motion wave in response. Those trees are currently home to a male and female cardinal, a whole bevy of black-capped chickadees, and other birds that I see flitting about but haven’t yet been able to identify.

With the turning of the calendar to March, the earth around us seems to be breathing again. The ice that had everything locked in its grip is losing its hold, and the snow and low temperatures seem unable to stick around for very long. The air outside no longer feels like a slap with an accompanying two-fingered jab up my nose, and when I was scrabbling around in the garden this morning, I found chives starting to poke their pointy green heads out of the ground. Green things! Growing!

As the snow and the earth start to melt, gravity and the slope of the valley are pulling the water toward the lake to our east. The driveway has a creek running down its right side, and the culvert opening across the street by our mailbox has a whoosh of water flowing out of it. At night, the puddles in the yard crust over with ice again so that our evening walks include that satisfying crackling-crunching noise.

Most of the main vegetable garden is showing again, and the tiny hoop tunnel I put over the escarole last November is still standing (though I’m placing no bets on the remaining two escarole plants). The garlic and shallots are still covered by their blanket of leaves, and the row of asparagus gleams a faint yellow when the sun hits the layers of straw. Last fall, I planted daffodils and tulips at the ends of rows, and I walk by and squint to see if any of them are making an appearance. Not yet, though it won’t be long.

I have celeriac, onions, and parsley seeded, a gentle easing-in to the extensive seeding that will happen in April. There are forsythia, lilac, and apple blossoms just around the corner. (And mud. A lot of mud.) The clothesline will be stretched between buildings soon, and that fresh smell will fill the drawers again. The grill will be rolled out, fired up, and cooking by Easter weekend.

I don’t particularly like winter, except for this: without winter, the euphoria that is spring in the Northeast doesn’t happen. I am reveling in the changes.