“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”*

A storm walloped us last night.  The house vibrated and shuddered in the strongest sustained winds that we have seen since moving in.  Sometime after midnight, we started hearing thwacking and whumping sounds, as if some large creature wanted its way inside.  George investigated and found flashing had broken apart and was flailing wildly against the roof and gutter. 

Nothing we could fix in the storm, so we sat snug in bed, warm and dry, with the dogs snoring at our feet, wondering how much damage we would see when the sun came up. The noise and worry kept me mostly awake and I could not help but think how the night felt much like the past months—worrying about a whirlwind of damage, while we are tucked up in our little sanctuary.   It has been a terrible year in so many ways, but also, for us, one with rich moments of contentment and joy. 

It is a little disconcerting to feel overwhelmed with worry, disbelief, and disgust on the one hand and feel oddly happy on the other hand.  But this grim year has given us two things that we never had before—luxury of time and stability of place. 

We had endless uninterrupted weeks at home to really dig in and do things the way we had planned and dreamed, but never quite had the time to pull off.  And, after a lifetime of moving around, we now live in a place where we can make long-term plans.  This has been the year in which our plantings and plans are coming to fruition. 

So, covid and crazy politics be damned, we made it a satisfying and fulfilling summer and fall. 

For example, George built a garden shed. 

I have long wanted one, but we never had the time or place to build one before. 

He designed and built the shed of my dreams, small, but with plenty of shelves and hooks for storage and tools and a workbench where I can look out the window while potting, wreath-making, and puttering. 

To top it off, it is adorable, with a red door topped with a rabbit head. 

It has saved me loads of time to have everything in one convenient place.  And, for the first time this year, I feel caught up. 

Everything was harvested on time, my garden paths are properly mulched, my compost is turned, my bulbs are in the ground, my perennials are divided and put to bed, and I’m ready for winter.   

But winter has yet to arrive.  The weather continues its weird ways—an unsettling harbinger, perhaps, of much worse to come.  Our drought continued into the fall—days on days of unvarying sunshine. 

Even the trees were suffering.  Several strong windstorms whipped through.  One uprooted the beautiful old wild russet apple that George had left as a signature tree at the top of our driveway and tore off a side trunk of the giant oak that frames our view. 

George planted a flowering crab where the apple had been and, because the damage to that oak trunk was on top of previous damage, we had to have it taken down.  

Our stately oak now looks oddly amputated and bereft of its other half. 

November was freakily mild, feeling more like September, or even May.  We had one hard frost that took out the tomatoes and peppers, but the garden continues to produce lettuce, carrots, chard, spinach, and brassicas even though it’s now December.   

September garden

Overall, we had a good year in the garden, especially for squash, pumpkins, and the carrots that the mice did not taste test. 

Despite the Japanese beetle damage to the leaves, the edamame did really well

Because generations of mice continue to plague us.  They taste tested almost everything, but liked my precious peanuts best, leaving only a trail of shells behind.  For the first time, they got into the greenhouse, decimating overnight the seedlings for our winter greens. 

Greenhouse in September–the ginger and turmeric are on the right

The greenhouse must have seemed like mouse heaven—abundant food, warm, dry, safe from predators.  When I cleared the dense greenhouse tomato vines, I found an empty mouse nest of cotton and milkweed hidden behind them. 

A few mornings later, I found a mouse drowned in my watering can.  I was not happy. 

Some mouse relief came in the form of a Cooper’s Hawk that moved in for several weeks in October, patrolling the gardens and yard.  One morning he disemboweled a mouse on a fence post right outside our window.  After eating every bit, he daintily wiped his beak on the post, one side,

then the other,

before taking his hunting stance again.

Fortunately, the mice did not touch the greenhouse ginger and turmeric and we had a bumper crop. 

We used a dehydrator this year for quite a few vegetables and had enough ginger to dry some for our own ginger powder, which packs amazing flavor.  Our little ginger patch grows enough to keep us in ginger all year. 

Aside from making powder, we freeze it, cover it in vodka and refrigerate, and have enough to give some away.  It is one of my favorite crops. 

My flax also did well this year, even though it was so hot and dry. 

I’m getting more knowledgeable about processing it and this year’s crop has been the best yet for spinning—long, smooth, and much less hairy than previous years. 

I’ve been weaving fabric for a dress

and am working on a small overshot coverlet with the wool that I spun and dyed earlier this summer. 

I have been happily immersed in collecting, repairing, researching, and writing about (in my other blog) antique spinning wheels and textile equipment and am always spinning—right now some beautiful Gotland, Cormo, and Clun Forest fleeces.

Sadly, my bees, which had been a good strong hive all summer, swarmed at the end of August, which is not good for the bees left behind (or those that swarmed).  Although the remaining bees left continued to bring in pollen, their numbers dwindled as the queen was not vigorously laying.  The weakened hive was robbed clean of honey by other bees—a quick but ugly ending.

As usual, October and November brought vivid sunrises

full moons

and golden light pouring in our windows. 

Capp continues to be healthy, which is a great relief. 

He is packed with personality and enriches our lives every day.  And our quirky, sweet Alice is now a celebrity mom.  We bought her when she was three years old from a breeder, who was retiring Alice from breeding after one litter.   

We were a bit stunned to learn that one of her pups from that litter, Click (aka Grampian’s Up on the Rooftop (it was a Christmas Day litter)), won Best in Breed at the National Dog Show.  The show was televised on Thanksgiving Day and Alice sat in my lap and watched her son Click on TV.  An extra Thanksgiving treat. 

Despite that excitement, we really missed being with our kids and grandkids on Thanksgiving.  Next year we hope to toast to vaccines, a change in government, and a new year that isn’t quite so memorable.  Cheers to all (and *apologies to Charles Dickens for using his amazing opening line from A Tale of Two Cities to title a blog post). 

40 thoughts on ““It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”*

  1. Good to see your post, Brenda. Overall, it seems it has been a good year on the homestead. Wind damage and critter invasions aside, the bounty of your garden is much to celebrate. Your flax is beautiful and your weaving room has grown crowded! Your weavings look beautiful and to make your own cloth and clothing is amazing to me. Your view across the valley is pretty sweet, too. You must be humming with contentment.
    I’m impressed with your new potting shed, definitely a gardener’s dream, nice work George! Glad to know that Capp is doing well. I bet Alice’s breeder is wishing she hadn’t let Alice go so soon, BIS is very impressive!
    Hope your holidays are cozy and snug. Let’s hope the new year is vastly better than this one… can’t close the door on it fast enough. Best to all.

    • Good to hear from you, too, Eliza. What a year–so poisonous and depressing. But this place of ours is such an antidote–it focuses my days on what I can control and the small daily comforts of growing and creating. We’ve done a lot since you’ve been here!
      We laughed about Alice’s breeder having seller’s regret, too. Alice is a perfect combination of sweetheart and pistol, and it makes me happy to know that her genes will live on for many generations.
      If this weather keeps up, there won’t be anything cozy and snug about the holidays. We’ll be sunbathing.
      Enjoy your holidays and let’s hope we can get together again before too much longer!

  2. What a great surprise and treat to read about your adventures, and adventures they sure are. You both achieved a lot of successes this year so as we head into winter, you must have smiles on your faces. Busy folks you are. Love the potting shed and the rabbit, and applause to George for the build out. I shivered reading about the mice. I hate rodents of all types. I don’t do well trying to coexist with them, and I’m so sorry about your bees. Your fabric and coverlet are truly beautiful. You are right about having time and being able to stay in a place that is as safe as anywhere is these days. VT, ME, and NH are seeing higher numbers but nothing in comparison. We are not going south this winter because we feel safer here. There were always foreign countries I had no interest in traveling to because of safety, but who knew we’d live through a time when we had to think about going from one state to another. As to the dog show, I can only imagine the excitement you felt. You knew you were living with a star, and they proved it. 🙂 Stay well, and enjoy your inside time.

    • I guess I need to post more often so that when I finally do it won’t come as a shock. I’m not a fan of mice either, but am willing to peacefully coexist if they stay outside and don’t destroy my vegetables. I have never had mice in the garden like this. And they were so incredibly destructive. I lost a lot–especially seedlings–to them. But at least it isn’t rats. We also have chipmunks stashing winter seeds in the compost piles. I kept expecting to slice a head off with my shovel when I was turning the piles. Maybe we need to get a cat or terrier.

      I’m getting itchy to travel, but enjoyed exploring places closer to home–especially the beaches. For some reason, I thought Maine beaches would be more of a promise of the beach than the real thing. How happy I was to find such gorgeous places. Now that it’s winter, we can take the dogs for some salt water beach time. And yes, Alice has been and will always be our own personal star!

      I’m sorry you couldn’t go south this year. If the weather doesn’t change, it will like the Carolinas in New Hampshire anyway! Happy holidays to you!

      • We have ducks, chickens, and goats on the property (my daughter’s) so as you can imagine we attract a variety of four legged critters, and she and I aren’t necessarily on the same page of the book on how to control them. 🙂 Yesterday, a friend arrived in SC, and the temperature here was 16 degrees higher. I had a good chuckle. 🙂

    • It’s been quite a year, hasn’t it? How are you faring without any travel? I’ll bet your pups liked having you home. I hope you and your family are doing well through all this mess.

  3. I’m looking for someone to restore an antique spinning wheel. I live on Cape Cod MA. I was given your “link” as a possible resource.
    Thank you.
    Mary Haaland

    • Hi Mary, There are several people who do wonderful work on restoring wheels, but most are not anywhere near Cape Cod. There is someone in Natick that would be the closest to you. What kind of restoration do you need? Is it a part that could easily be shipped or does the whole wheel need work? Are you on Facebook or Ravelry, because both have up-to-date lists of people who are doing repairs and I could send you links. Otherwise, if you give me an idea of how much work needs to be done, I can send you some recommendations. I’m glad you reached out, I’ll love to see old wheels restored.

  4. Lovely post as always Brenda. Your gardens are abundant with food…it seems quite amazing to me considering it is late November….strange times we live in, indeed. I love your shed, it makes such a difference having a weather-proof shed and knowing exactly where all the garden tools are!
    Just as your say, this has been such a contrasting year, with enough time for gardening and hobbies (sorting the shed has been one of our many gardening projects )and yet in the background the constant need to be vigilant about Covid and not being able to see our adult children and grandchildren as often as we would like.
    I love the fabric you are weaving for a dress, make sure you show us the finished project!
    I’m sure Capps and Alice have been great company during this strange year, and well done Alice for being the mother of a champion dog, although I bet she loves being with you best of all!

    • Yes, the dogs think this year is fantastic–we are home all the time. Alice especially is a home body. After coming from a multi-dog environment, she thrives in being queen of the house and is very attached to us and this place.
      I can’t believe how much time the shed saves me. Having everything I need right next to the gardens is such a pleasure. I can’t wait to use it in the spring for planting and transplanting seedlings. I have been doing it in the kitchen and making a huge mess.
      I have been weaving more and more fabric for clothes. Some come out better than others, but they are all one of a kind.
      Enjoy your summer!

  5. I’m so pleased that you pop in now and again to give us an update on your year. What a very productive year you have had on the garden and creativity front. That shed is a work of art in its own right and an absolute essential. Oh dear what a problem rodents can be but was cheering on that beautiful Coopers Hawk. We had a rat take up residence actually in the walls of the house, I could hear it gnawing on the woodwork. Had to take action, could not coexist with him.
    What a lovely surprise to see your doggy grandson winning ribbons, and pleased that Capp is keeping well.
    We are so lucky over here with, seemingly, the virus under control. I do hope the promised vaccine brings it under control in the rest of the world and 2021 can get back to being some what normal. A turbulent year behind us. Best wishes for a happy and peaceful Christmas.

    • I seem to be doing one post per season! I started another blog on my spinning wheels and antique fiber tools and I try to post there twice a month. So, I haven’t had as much time to read other blogs or to write on this one.
      I have to say we were cheering on the hawk, too! In fact, we were very sad when he left. A rat in the walls would drive me crazy! I really don’t like rats.
      We have also been fortunate in Maine in keeping the virus in check. We have a relatively old population and most people here have been staying home and wearing masks in public. But our numbers are climbing now. Let’s hope these vaccines are effective and safe. So many people are suffering, what a feeling it will be to put this nightmare behind us. From your blog post, it looks like things are opening up down there.
      Happy Christmas to you and Jack!

      • Blogging can be a very time consuming pastime, but I’m so pleased to see you pop up, seasonally in the reader. I only do one a month now, but love to keep in touch with blog buddies through reading blogs and commenting. Hope your covid numbers stay down and I think the world is holding its breath for the vaccine to be both effective and safe. We will be wearing masks, for the first time, when we get on that plane, even though I think the risks are minimal over here. I hope you have a really safe, happy and peaceful christmas

  6. You have had a wonderfully productive year in the garden, Brenda, despite a few setbacks. It is a great year for being a recluse. You don’t even have to apologise for it ! The colours of your flax are stunning. And I do love your garden shed. What a wonderful place to be potting! Keep safe. Have a good productive winter – It’s amazing that you are still getting crops. I like the way you can close down for the thick of winter.

    • My “year of being a recluse” timing couldn’t have been better. The colors are the spun stuff is wool–the flax is the silvery stuff hanging in the middle. It’s much harder to get vivid colors on flax than on wool, but I intend to dye some flax next summer. We did get a good frost last night, so that my shut down garden production–although the collards and kale may continue strong. Hope you are all staying well. Are you getting to see your grandchildren? Enjoy your summer, Kerri!

  7. You have both achieved so much! I set out with very good intentions but can’t claim to be ready for winter by any stretch. I have enjoyed all the extra time I’ve had but not without a tinge of guilt given all the suffering that has taken place across the world. We’re both very fortunate that we are able to retreat to our respective sanctuaries and live a relatively normal life.
    I have been following all the election hoo-ha with increasing frustration and disbelief. It seems incredible that this can carry on against the backdrop of an out-of-control pandemic. Relief to come in the future maybe, but precious little action now when it is so needed.
    Your weaving is wonderful. It must be doubly satisfying to do it with your own home grown yarn!
    Keep warm and safe.

    • I love coming inside in winter for weaving and spinning, so it gives me extra incentive to get the outside work for winter completed so that I can weave with a clear conscience.
      But, I totally agree about carrying around a load of guilt. This pandemic has certainly hit some with ferocity–in the illness itself and its economic toll–while others, like us, are able to–as you said–retreat to our sanctuaries. It doesn’t feel right to go on much as usual when other people’s lives are completely devastated. I don’t know what is more out of control in our country–the pandemic or those in power. I have never felt as powerless and frustrated in my life as during these past six months. I thought I was cynical before, but I’ve developed whole new layers of cynicism, disbelief, and disgust that I didn’t know I had in me.
      Let’s hope there are some lessons learned and we take a turn for the better next year.
      In the meantime, I love watching your renovations and hillside transformation. Keep warm and safe yourself and enjoy your holidays!

  8. I always enjoy reading your updates and seeing your wonderful photos of your beautiful home. The fabrics you have woven are gorgeous. Glad to see the dogs are well. Congratulations to mama Alice! I was pulling for Click to win the sporting dog title! What a beautiful dog!

    • Thanks Beth! Isn’t Click a handsome boy? And, of course, once you’ve had a special Lab, you’ll always root for them! Hope you are staying well, we’ve missed getting down to Georgia this year. It will be our first trip once we can travel out and about again. I hope you have a good Christmas.

    • Thanks! I love every part of the process of weaving. I find it very satisfying and engrossing. On the other hand, I always make mistakes knitting, so find it rather frustrating. I admire you knitters and your beautiful creations. Are you ready for this latest storm? I hope we get some snow, but keep the power!

      • And that is how I feel about weaving! I can’t get my selvages straight and true no matter how I try! I know it is just practice, but how much??? 🙄

        The storm was wild, but we got mostly rain and for once kept our power! How did you fare?

  9. It’s always such a pleasure to visit here and see what you have been up to. You two amaze me, you are so industrious! What you have achieved is breath taking! I echo your sentiments re this year, I too have feelings of contentment mingled with horror. Your new shed is delightful, how wonderful to have everything in one place. Shame about the apple tree, those winds sound like they mean business, hope you sort the flashing soon. A curse on your mice, they can be so destructive can’t they. I have my own plague to battle. Your hawk is a stunner I hope he returns. Your weaving is a triumph what a useful skill to have. I’m thrilled to hear about Alice’s son and happy to hear Capp is well. Until next time, stay well and keep safe in your wonderful homestead. xxx

    • The mice really took me by surprise. I had a pile of imported compost in the garden this spring and, while shoveling it, unearthed a mouse and her baby. I carefully rehomed them nearby, never thinking that they would become a scourge because mice have never been an issue in the garden before. If only I knew … Good luck with your own plague. Mice in the garden are bad enough, but I can’t abide them in the house. Enjoy your holidays Dina!

  10. It somehow comforts me to know I’m not the only one plagued by mice, but now I know why that hawk was hanging around my property earlier in the summer; rodent predators are always welcome! I feel lucky to have been cooped up during this strange year in a beautiful place with grown-up leadership. Alas, I haven’t made the progress you did on my backlist of projects. I love the image of all that dyed yarn out drying on the porch railing. Here’s looking for a return to some semblance of normality in 2021.

    • I agree, there is something comforting about knowing we aren’t battling the little critters alone. It does seem as if there’s a mouse explosion around the state. I’m hoping it’s a yearly cycle and they’ll all starve or be eaten by next year! Right now they are continuing to migrate to the relative warmth of the greenhouse. They just keep coming and coming …

      Aren’t we lucky to be leaving in Maine during this time? I feel very fortunate. And, at least the mice aren’t spreading the virus! Cheers to a better year in 2021.

  11. Brenda, you continue to amaze me with your productivity…even w the unwanted critters taken care of by the Cooper’s hawk. And I love your she shed. I had a much longer response but was unable to previously post as I haven’t been on word press for some time. Blessings my cousin and wish we had connected decades ago when I had better mobility. Hope your holidays bring joy as we near the solstice and the time when the days grow longer.

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