Sky and Wind, With a Little Mustard

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Many New Englanders dread winter and muddle through it with a sort of grudging resignation, mixed with stir-crazy frustration and patches of downright hatred.  Others leave.  But we love winter in Maine.  After years of living in Anchorage, where days are short, sunlight scarce, and glum gray skies the norm, the constantly changing, brilliant winter skies here are a continual–and still unexpected–delight.

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Soon after the leaf colors fade, the skies come alive.  October and November seem to produce the year’s most brilliant sunrises and sunsets.

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They linger with changing colors, highlighting the gorgeous filigree of our leafless oaks and maples.

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October’s morning fog settles in the valleys below us, revealing folds in the hills that are otherwise obscured.

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These months also bring wind–and weather–from all directions.

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Massive fronts move over us, the edges of which are often visible as a line on the horizon.

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Hills on the bottom, clouds on top, with a sliver of light in between.  This was a particularly ominous looking front that ended just at the edge of the ocean over our hills.  The smudge in the middle is rain.

The end of October treated us to a massive wind storm.  Fortunately, we had enough warning to prepare and cover our equipment and bring in outdoor furniture.

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Alice knew something was going on when the deck furniture disappeared.

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There were lots of bluejays seed-gathering before the storm came in.

It was quite a dramatic show on hillside, with whipping winds and sideways rain.

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Storm coming in.

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The oak leaves were blown horizontal.  And then stripped.

Unfortunately, along with much of the state’s population, we lost our electrical power early on.  We have a wood stove for heat, propane for cooking, and candles and battery lamps for lighting.  Our water is from a well on our property, pumped by electrical power, so we have no water when the power goes out.  But the town provides water from a tap at the fire station, so it’s not too much of an inconvenience.

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Our real worry was our two freezers, packed to their brims with garden produce, sauces, and meat for the winter.  George pulled out the portable generator that we had from our RV days, which managed to keep the two freezers going and to charge our phones and computers.  We went four days without power.  Not bad compared to others in the state, and nothing compared to Puerto Rico, but enough time, nevertheless, to remind us to appreciate all the little luxuries that power brings.

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On the day after the storm–Halloween–the bees were bringing in huge loads of orange pollen.

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We had a small birch come down on our woodpiles.

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Hydrangeas were ripped off of their stalks …

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… where they gathered in an eddy by the porch.  Otherwise, we had little damage.

Our street lost power because of a beautiful old maple that fell across the power lines.

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It was a magnificent old tree, turning brilliant red in the fall.  I always wanted to get a good photo of it for the blog, but couldn’t because the power lines ran right across the tree, ruining any chance of a good shot.

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Now most of the tree is gone, taking the lines with it—temporarily—but leaving one beautiful back portion as a reminder of is previous glory.

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Soon after the power returned, and we were getting back to normal, I was excited to learn of an antique flax break for sale.  I have been looking for one since spring, with no luck at all.  This one came up at an auction in Massachusetts, where they were selling pieces from the American Textile History Museum, which sadly closed last year.  I wasn’t able to attend the auction, but a fellow spinner and wheel collector from the online group, Ravelry, was there and offered to bid for me and the bring the wheel home with her.  I couldn’t believe it when I had the winning bid of less than half of what I was willing to pay for it.

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Aside from a few worm holes, the break is in good condition and nice manageable size.  

It’s rather depressing to the see the museum collection scattered all over the place at auction, but nice to know that many of the pieces are going to spinners who will use and appreciate them.

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George has been making me peg boards for hanging yarn.  It’s beginning to look like my own museum.

To make room for my new flax break, I took down the drying rack that had been full up with mustard pods.

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The first batch.  I ended up with about five times this amount.

I grew two very small rows of mustard this summer, for a mustard-making experiment.

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Mustard’s on the left.

The pods had been drying for months and it was easy to crush them with a rolling pin, leaving the seeds.

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The difficult part was separating the pod chaff from the seeds.  I winnowed them in the wind outside and then handpicked pieces out.

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I got most of the chaff out by sifting through colanders.

It wasn’t too tedious because I only had about 2/3 of a cup of seeds when all was said and done.

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But the pods are spiny little devils.  Next year, I will have to find a more efficient and less prickly way of cleanly separating the seeds from the mess of pod bits.

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I tried two different mustard recipes—one with white wine and vinegar and maple syrup, and the other with apple cider, cider vinegar, honey and coriander.  The initial tasting was pretty good.  They are now “working” in the refrigerator, where the flavor is supposed to develop and mature.  If they turn out as well as I think they will, I am going to grow more mustard next year.  We don’t use it as a condiment, but do cook with it, and it’s fun to be able to experiment with exotic mustard flavors.  I will have horseradish ready to harvest next year.  Horseradish mustard—yum.

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The dogs enjoyed Thanksgiving, with a fat Turkey and all the trimmings.

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46 thoughts on “Sky and Wind, With a Little Mustard

  1. Wonderful post! I, too, like winter, and once this very busy week has passed, I plan to take regular walks. That wind storm was something else, wasn’t it? We lost our power for nearly a week.

    • I guess some of us are just four-season kind of people. I felt for you, losing your power for so long. It’s such a time sink to deal with all the tasks to keep things going without power that it leaves little time for much else. I’m contemplating solar!

      • Boy oh boy, you got that right. Then, it seemed to take another week just to get the house back to the way it should be. Glad to have the power back. And, yes, glad to have four seasons.

    • The storm seemed to take out mostly big old trees that had been weakened in some way. Necessary and expected, but still a pity. You may not have bluejays in Australia, but you have more than enough colorful, exotic beauties to make up for it. Bluejays are considered by many to be pushy, trashy birds, but I love them.

  2. Good to see a post from you! Hope all is well with you all as we head into the snowy season.
    It’s hard to see favorite trees go down, but I always think how the term ‘windfall’ became a blessing. Before chainsaws having a tree fall on its own made it easier to utilize into firewood. Birch burns well at least!
    That storm must have really raked over you being up so high in elevation. But you do have those killer views, including awesome clouds, sunrises and sunsets.
    Hunkering down for winter, it won’t be long now. You’ll have lots of time to spin. Stay warm!

    • Sometimes life interferes with blogging, despite good intentions. It has been a somewhat tumultuous summer and fall, with lots going on. But things are settling down now, all is well, and I am looking forward to spinning and weaving while snow falls outside. I’m also already planning gardens for next year.
      The storm wasn’t the only thing to take down trees. Our new neighbors cut down all the trees on the small lot next to us. The trees were over their septic tank and leach field, so never should have been allowed to grow so large. It took away some of our privacy, but opened up the view even more.
      We’re nicely hunkered down. It’s cold tonight. Winter may finally be here.

  3. That was quite a storm. We weren’t out of power near as long as you, and we have city water. We are all so dependent upon electricity that a storm like that brings us to our knees. Hope you didn’t lose anything in your freezer, and your new acquisition looks wonderful. I’m guessing you won’t have any problem keeping busy this winter. 🙂

    • When we were young, we lived for several years in a little cabin in Alaska without electricity and loved it. Now I get whiny if we are without power for a few hours. I guess it’s a matter of attitude. Or age.
      We didn’t lose anything in the freezer, thanks to the generator. Some of our neighbors weren’t so lucky. I like to freeze all of our garden bounty but it sure does leave us vulnerable to outages in a way that canned produce wouldn’t.
      You are right about storms bringing us to our knees. Imagine how quickly things would get ugly if we had a major, long term breakdown of the power grid. Ouch.

  4. I so enjoyed your writing about life in Maine- I too am retired to Maine, further south of you. Some jokingly call it “ northern MA” but you know, I swear when I cross the bridge from NH the air smells fresher and my soul knows it’s home. Your studio looks bursting with Fiber-y creativity. Thanks for sharing.

    • Welcome to the blog. It’s always wonderful to hear from fellow retirees in Maine. I have been making a lot of trips to Connecticut lately and every time I head home, I can’t wait to get over that bridge from NH. You are right that it seems like a magical transformation point–from traffic, congestion, crazy drivers, and dirty air to a sweeter, more leisurely, more expansive way of life. Maine isn’t without problems, but, oh, I love it here.

  5. What a great post! The skies, and your view of them are fabulous. I love that blue just past twilight. As for functioning without electricity, I’m fairly well equipped, but no fireplace. It’s good you’re well-equipped as you are–and how lucky to have water nearby. I remember ours would be unavailable as well when I was a kid and the electricity went out. The mustard harvest looks like a bit of work, but having bought that seed, you have some good seasoning there. I like making my own mustard once in a while, and of course, it’s good in pickling. Your dogs were truly behaving themselves with that turkey. I hope your winter is a good one.

    • The homegrown mustard seeds are really hot and spicy so I’m looking forward to seeing what the mustard will finally taste like. I’ve found that all of the garden herbs that I dry myself are so much more flavorful than what you can find in the store. I expected home grown fresh herbs to be tastier but was surprised at how much better the dried herbs were, too. The dogs showed admirable self-restraint with the turkey, but they knew that they would get a share. Happy winter to you!

      • Yes, I’ve been doing some of my own herb drying, and they are better–well, they have to be fresher, don’t they? I think I’m going to enjoy the winter rest this year!

  6. Here in the midwest where tornados are the norm, we have a generator that plugs into the box on the electric pole to our house that can run the entire thing. Since we bought it we’ve only had to use it once! 🙂 But if we need it it’s there! Love all your pictures. So beautiful!

    • I don’t envy you the tornadoes. We get occasional ones here, but they are babies compared to your midwestern monsters. A few people in our neighborhood have whole house generators that turn on automatically when the power goes out. Their houses were all happily lit up while the rest of us huddled around our meager candles. I’m happy to hear that you liked the pictures. Thanks for commenting!

  7. I can see why you enjoy living in Maine, those are amazing pictures of the sky! You are well prepared for loosing electricity it would be chaos here! So glad the flax breaker has found a good home. Hope the dogs enjoyed their treat at thanksgiving! Sarah x

    • It’s lovely here in Maine, Sarah. It’s funny, because this part of the country has some of the earliest European settlements and what are to us “old” houses, yet we seem wild and new compared to your ancient cliffs and long-settled countryside. I look forward to getting to Dorset someday and seeing your museum (with its old flax tools) and fossils. The dogs had a very, very good Thanksgiving. They love turkey.

    • Thank you. I won’t actually be using the flax break until next year’s harvest. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy looking at it. And I’ll be buying more spinning wheels!

  8. Brenda, I often find myself trying to explain to people who are not New Englanders that winter is not dark and dreary here. While the days are short (although not as short as Anchorage), they are often sunny, and the quality of winter light is phenomenal. When I woke up during the night last night, I found myself looking at a winter sky, with cold air so clear that millions of stars were visible.

    • Yes, the winter light here is glorious and I miss our skies terribly when I leave. As for the clear night skies, we have the most magnificent swath of milky way over our house that it’s quite breathtaking. We have two meteor showers coming this month, too!

  9. I do enjoy your posts Brenda, they conjure up images of such a different life style. It is like living back in the 1800’s, or there about, when there was no electricity and all food was grown in the garden and clothes made from scratch. You may need a bigger generator in case the power is down for longer periods, but I was pleased it kept your phones and computer going!!!.Thank you for sharing with us.

    • Thanks Pauline. We are planning eventually to get a bigger generator or to put in some solar panels. But we were very pleased this time not to lose any of our lovingly raised food.

    • Thank you! Do you ever lose your electricity after big storms over there? It’s a common occurrence here, although we don’t usually lose it for days. We have underground power on our hill, but the lines leading up the hill were down so it didn’t benefit us this time.

  10. I wondered how you fared in that big storm–and I was quite certain you were well-prepared for anything that could come! I agree about the skies at this time of year–the sunsets are long and slow and spectacular and the light in the late afternoon just glows. It’s good to read your words, and know that someone is a champion for the beauty of late autumn/winter. And I have been so bummed about the textile museum closing and dispersing its contents–but I feel better knowing people like you are saving and using some of the treasures.

    • I just got back from another auction offering some textile museum items. I brought home three wheels! They went for a song–practically giving them away. I bought a great wheel for $10. Imagine. If it hadn’t been for the small group of spinners bidding on the wheels, they would have all gone to antique dealers. It’s very sad to see those carefully collected beauties damaged and neglected. Kind of broke my heart. But spinners took home five wheels, so that’s something.

  11. Howdy Brenda! Home now and happy winter is upon us. I just missed that storm and Rick was here to hold down the fort. The freezers here are always our big concern. Thankfully, we too have a generator just for that reason…can’t bear to lose all that precious bounty! Glad to be home and settling in. I can now catch up on the blog and read others ( which I fall short of while traveling). And, of course, time to knit, spin, dye, and felt…yeeha!! Let’s try and arrange a time to get together, before or after the holidays. Sounds like you are staying busy in all areas over there in Waldoboro…you certainly savor life!Best to you, denise

    • Welcome home. I hope that you had a wonderful time Ireland. I am really looking forward to getting together. But … it looks like it will have to be after Christmas for me. I have visitors this week, am going to Florida next week, and then my daughter and grandchildren will be here until after Christmas. After that, clear sailing, so let’s get together and do some spinning–or whatever! I will send you email later in the month and we can make a plan. Should I use the nursery email address?

  12. Your posts are always such a delight to read, you always have so much going on! I did enjoy the pics of those huge, dramatic skies, especially the fiery one and the storm coming in. Stunning. So glad you had that generator, losing the content of your freezers would have been awful. It looks so cosy with the candles, it sounds like quite the adventure, although I’m quite sure after four days having the power restored was a relief! Shame about that maple, loved the mustard and those dogs had me smiling!xxx

    • Goodness, I always feel like you are the one with so much going on when I read your posts! All those little rescued hedgehogs and birds requiring love and attention. The dogs are enjoying the colder weather, winter hounds that they are.
      Our skies continue to be mesmerizing, with an enormous, glowing moon these past nights

  13. Beautiful photos of the sky. A dramatic sky is not something I associate with winter here in a Chicago, but maybe that’s because I’m always looking at the ground to avoid slipping on ice. Too bad about the maple. When we lived in Wisconsin there was a whole museum devoted to mustard in a small town nearby (Mt. Horeb).

    • This is the only place I’ve ever lived with such glorious, dramatic winter skies. Anchorage winters featured lots of dismal low clouds with occasional magnificent sunrises or sunsets that occurred during work hours, due to the short hours of daylight. Other places I’ve lived were mostly tree-bound, which attenuates everything that happens skyward. That’s why I’m so appreciative of the winter sky shows we have now.
      Of course, I had to look up the Mt. Horeb mustard museum. I see it was started by a former Assistant Attorney General who left the practice of law to collect mustard. Some former lawyers find mustard, others spinning wheels.

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