In the Wheelhouse

I started to write this post in February, right before the invasion of Ukraine.  I put the post on hold because the daily consumption of ghastly news sucked the life out of me and it felt absurd and grotesque to chatter about our everyday pleasures when people were being bombed and driven out of their homes.  Eventually, I decided to get on with it. 

Despite all the misery in the world, our life goes on and I still want to record it with all its trivialities and local concerns.  I read a Penelope Lively book recently that addressed this issue, noting that when those “who live out their lives in a politically stable country, in peacetime” complain about their daily ups and downs, it seems “positively obscene” compared with the horrors of people living under repressive regimes or being forced to leave their homelands. 

Nevertheless, “in the meantime, the only sensible and expedient thing was to get on with private life, while governments came and went, a cacophonous backdrop to the real business of existence.” (Penelope Lively, Consequences, p. 145). 

So, we get on with our private life, but appreciate our bit of hillside even more, seeing how passionately Ukrainians are fighting for their place in the world. 

With every season, we become more rooted here. 

We have even named our home, unusual for us–we have never named houses or cars.  But it seems to right to acknowledge the special nature of this spot–and our relationship to it—with a name.  It is now the “Wheelhouse,” a name with three definitions, all appropriate. 

George made the sign

Most obviously, the house is a haven for spinning wheels.  Many rescued and brought back to spinning life, they inhabit every room but the bathrooms.

Aside from the wheels, this place shelters us, like a boat’s wheelhouse, providing a sanctuary from which we can navigate our lives through the increasingly ominous world around us. 

Finally, to the extent being “in your wheelhouse” describes that sweet spot where your interests and abilities flourish, the name could not be more fitting.  So, as the world becomes increasingly unsettled, we hope to be able to ride out our old age in our Wheelhouse. 

We have become so in tune with this place, increasingly observant and appreciative of the subtle changes through each season, that we are reluctant to travel and be away from it. 

Local trips to the ocean are a must, though. 

Pemaquid Point

And we have visitors.  Our daughter, her husband, and our three grandchildren were here over Christmas. 

We lit up our yard evergreens, and, fortunately, had snow, making the short days festive and cozy. 

In the fall, George took on the herculean task of cleaning out and organizing our basement so that we could put in a used pool table and air hockey before the grandkids came.  We installed them just in time and, while the kids were here, the basement was in continuous use, with raucous laughter, and screams of outrage and excitement.  Apparently, the family genes for competition are alive and well. 

My grandmother and mother both had the reputation of cheating at Scrabble when playing with grandchildren.  I try not to emulate them but did discover that the muscles used for throwing shuttles in weaving put me in shape for some rousing games of air hockey and that it’s fantastic for keeping aging reflexes in shape.  Thanks to George’s brother, Joe, the highlight of our concrete-basement-chic decor is a Miller High Life sign from Homer, Alaska, that we believe used to hang on the walls of a Homer landmark, Alice’s Champagne Palace. We also set up a dart board that we have hardly used yet and George is building a small bar, with a beautiful handmade butcher block top. 

If we have to retreat to the basement in a nuclear attack, at least we’ll be well equipped for entertainment. 

The weather ran hot and cold all winter.  We had a few good snowfalls, which I took advantage of by putting out flax for retting and trying some snow carpet cleaning (only moderately successful). 

During the thaws, our yard was invaded by no-longer-shy wildlife feasting on the fallen apples from our old wild trees.  For a time, several deer jumped the fence every night, and even hopped over the second fence into the vegetable gardens, eating my leeks down to stubs. 

We were very concerned when we spotted a porcupine waddling around an apple-laden corner of the yard and perched in our neighbor’s tree overhanging our fence. 

Our dogs are not porcupine-wise.  Alice would want to confront it, Capp to play with it.  Fortunately, the porcupine did not stick around for more than about a week and we were spared snouts full of quills. 

With mixed feelings, we took down another large tree. The maple in the corner of our driveway was increasingly shading out our solar panels, while also starting to look scraggly and stressed up top.  

One of Alice’s bumpers was stranded near the top

It felt like the betrayal of a friend to cut it down.  But, as with the old oak and apples we took down earlier in the year, once the maple was down, we loved how it opened up the view and let in more light and air. 

Best of all, our solar production soared and we rather wish we had done it earlier. 

With several large trees coming down,

George has his hands full cutting and splitting firewood. 

Aside from that, and daily dog walks, though, we savor having time for indoor projects in the winter. 

George has been doing woodworking, making furniture,

parts and shelves for my spinning wheels, and signs. 

The grandkids have always called the garage upstairs the “other house.”

We both bake a lot—George has perfected bagels with nooks and crannies on top. 

I enjoy weekly saunas, sometimes sharing it with old spinning wheels or flax breaks showing signs of powderpost beetle damage.  Most do not show signs of current infestations, but the heat of a few sauna sessions alternating with some freezing outside temperature is supposed to kill any that might still be active. 

Sauna with a very old flax or hemp break

For me, winter means spinning and weaving. 

I wove another small overshot coverlet, “Tennessee Trouble” pattern, from wool that I had spun and naturally dyed. 

Then I switched to commercial singles linen,

for six cushions for dining table chairs. 

My favorite piece, however, is a coat made from two fleeces from multi-colored Jacob sheep, Zola and Eloise,

from Catawampus Farm in central Maine. 

Over the past few years, I spun the fleeces off and on (along with a lot of other spinning)

using my antique spinning wheels and then wove the handspun

into a nubbly twill fabric. 

I then sewed the coat with a red silk lining and, amazingly, it came out just as I had envisioned. 

Fortunately, it is still cold enough that I have been able to wear it a few times before the weather gets warm. 

I also sewed up the linen that I had woven at Marshfield School of Weaving last summer into a skirt and top. 

More and more, I’m enjoying making clothes out my handwoven cloth.

The dogs are moving into sedate middle age … sort of. 

George takes the dogs on daily trail “walkabouts,” which, for Alice, consists of continuous frenzied bumper-fetching with a single-minded zeal that blocks out everything else.  One day, while running through some thorns, she ripped a tiny wedge out of the edge of her ear. 

We now know by experience that Labradors’ tails and ears bleed profusely when cut, approaching stuck-pig-like proportions, and if shaken or wagged, will splatter sufficient blood on you and your kitchen to resemble a grisly crime scene.  It took us a bit (with no help from our (now former) vet) to figure out that the only way to stop the bleeding was to wrap her ear well and firmly against her head.  After a trip to the emergency vet in Portland, the poor girl sported a head wrap for several days before it healed up enough to sustain a good head shake without bleeding again. 

While she looked adorable, she probably found the headwrap humiliating. I didn’t make any jokes at her expense for fear that Capp might paw-slap me in her defense. 

In the meantime, we are still finding blood spatters in odd places.  Soon after, we had to bring Capp to the emergency vet after he spent a day in obvious pain, restless and hunched over.  Turns out he pulled a back muscle playing in the deep snow the day before. 

Who knew?  We also did not expect that changing dog food would wreak havoc with both dogs.  For a couple of reasons, we decided to change dog food a few months ago.  After a ton of research and recommendations, we picked one of the designer-high-priced brands, that appeared to be well-formulated for Labs.  We eased them into it slowly and they seemed to love it, but both developed severe diarrhea.  At first, we didn’t associate it with the dog food, but after several months of treatments, it appears that is what caused it.  Apparently, it is too rich for our dogs’ plebeian taste.  We now seem to have things under control, although Alice still isn’t entirely back to normal.  Other than that, the dogs are happy and becoming even more affectionate, if that is possible.

As the weather warms, we will be moving outside.  We have a full line up of projects. We still have carrots, tomato sauce, and frozen and dried fruit and vegetables from last summer. Time to eat them up. I have started this year’s seedlings and cannot wait to get into the gardens. It is still a little soggy and cold to do much, but bulbs are emerging and spring is here.  I am hoping that, no matter what the spring brings, it will be a good summer for sunflowers. 

29 thoughts on “In the Wheelhouse

    • Thank you Tom. I haven’t had the heart to blog or even read blogs lately. But, I’m going to have a good comforting read of your posts, which always bring your part of the world alive for me. Hope you and Mrs. T are doing well.

  1. Brenda, I am not sure why I was able to receive this, unless it is because my husband also does a word press blog, but I am thrilled that I did. I love the coat. I just spun some jacob that I am planning to turn into caps, and hope mine turns out with a similar tweed. Love the cloth you wove at Marshfield – I am scheduled to take a class there this summer, and hope mine turns out half as well. Pemaquid is my favorite spot anywhere, and although we live in Delaware, Maine is our go-to place to be. What a delightful life you just described. I understand the musings on Ukraine. We have had similar ones. We just lost a kitty suddenly, and have even felt guilt over our mourning, as, for many others in this world, ours pales in comparison. Hoping your doggies are doing well. As with us and our kitties, they are your family. Take care, and good health to you. Colleen Ware

    • Well, however you got here, welcome! I really enjoyed working with the Jacob and the fleeces I had were particularly lovely. I was nervous when I started weaving that it wouldn’t turn out the way I had planned and, sure enough, the plain weave I sampled first was not what I had in mind. I was relieved when I turned to the twill because it was exactly the effect I wanted. What class are you taking at Marshfield? It’s a wonderful experience weaving on the old looms. As for Maine, we love it and are very fortunate to have landed here. But, the more attached we become to this place, the more heart-wrenching it is to see people having to leave everything they love behind in Ukraine. I don’t know if I could do it.

  2. Always love catching up on your news, even in these tumultuous times. I didn’t know porcupines could climb trees. The coat is fabulous. Pity about Alice’s ear.

    • Good to hear from you Peggy. Yes, porcupines are excellent climbers. I think this porcupine was a little apprehensive about the dogs and perhaps felt safe in the tree (as well as enjoying the apples up there). Making the coat was great fun. And Alice’s ear is all better, fortunately.

  3. Lovely to see your post, Brenda! A marvelous update of all the goings-on at the Wheelhouse (great name, btw). I am blown away by your made-from-scratch clothing, a rare art indeed. The tweed coat is awesome!
    It is nice to be on the cusp of a new growing season, I’m really looking forward to the warmer weather and hanging with the bees and hummingbirds in the garden. Happy Spring to you all!

    • Hi Eliza! It has been a busy Wheelhouse winter and my head is still dancing with plans for more weaving for clothes. But, I will dial that back while I get the gardens ready for planting. The gardens are really coming together and, you are right, it’s exciting to start the new growing season. I love planting those first seeds. Lots of fun spring fleece scouring and flax processing, too. I hope you have a sweet spring!

  4. I always enjoy your posts, and I read them twice because there is SO much that you and George complete in a year. It also gives me a wonderful window into a snowy, different world.(one of the joys of blogging). I completely agree with your sentiments on writing while this appalling war rages on. I almost decided not to write about a lovely holiday we had at Flinders, but I did so eventually…as life goes on, and it is a distraction from the bad news.
    What a great idea to turn your basement into a fun holiday place for your grandchildren…it is always wonderful to spent precious holiday time with your family. The house and garden looked very festive and just right for Christmas.
    Your woven jacket is an absolute feat, it looks lovely and really suits you. Your weaving and George’s skills in making furniture must keep you both busy and content in winter. Nice to see the dogs are appreciative! They always look relaxed and enjoying life with you both. Best wishes and happy weaving.

    • I need to start doing more posts so that they won’t be so long! It is good thing I finished this post when I did, because just as I finished, I heard about the latest atrocities in Bucha. It is hard to blog in the face of rape and execution-style killings in Ukraine. But, as you said, our lives do go on, and there is value in keeping connected in our blogging community. I really enjoyed your Flinders post, by the way. The basement isn’t just for the grandchildren. George and I have always loved to play pool and have become addicted to air hockey. Both of us do love the slower, indoor pace of winter, when we can work on creative projects. Winter flew by this year. I’m hoping for a good balance of gardening and weaving and spinning this summer. Last year, I was so busy outside, I hardly got any weaving done in the summer. Enjoy your fall weather–it’s good to hear from you.

      • Thanks Brenda, at the moment reading stories of every day peaceful lives in blogs such as yours gives me some relief from what is going on in the Ukraine.

  5. Hello Maine! Great to hear from you, and as always, you guys are busy. Glad the dogs have survived their ups and downs, applause for your weaving and sewing skills, and I love the name because it is perfect. Yes, gardening season with all its ups and downs is coming, and I can’t wait either. It sounds like you put your basement to good use, and there is nothing better than hearing family laughter. The news and what is going on in the Ukraine can suck you down into a very dark and sad place. I think about the atrocities and pray for the people, but I have to limit how much I watch or read. I certainly understand about weighing a blog post against the news because I do it every time. Writing a post does seems trivial, but the blogging connections keep us going so we can live with the news. I hope you have a wonderful spring.

    • Hello New Hampshire/South Carolina! It looks as if you had a pretty good winter down south. We were supposed to be in Georgia this week, but had to postpone. I’m dreading the drive down there, I have to say. Don’t you find the interstates get more congested every year? Enjoy spring planting and garden planning. I always look forward to your posts, even if I don’t comment much!

  6. I’m so pleased you did decide to update us with all your activities. The war is a terrible thing with tv giving us daily look at the atrocities. But what can we do? I hope the world powers can stop it soon. In the meantime we must be forever grateful we live in our democratic countries.
    What a busy and creative time you and George have had. I just loved that coat and to have made it from scratch makes it so special.. what an appropriate name you have called your place too. That photo of the house decorated with snow and the tree festooned with lights embodies the spirit of Christmas. You should use it to make Christmas cards for next year..
    You live in such a different climate to us I really enjoy reading about it and seeing your beautiful dogs is a delight. Hope your spring is bountiful and I look forward to the next episode.

    • Sadly, there isn’t much we can do in the face of these atrocities. I just wish our governments would do more. It’s a very helpless feeling to sit by and watch what is going on, especially since there are so many echoes from the period leading up to WWII. On cheerier topics, I likewise love seeing the photos of your garden, because of your different climate and opposite seasons! I’m out to do some preliminary work on the gardens today, the ground still hasn’t totally thawed out, so I have to take baby steps. My indoor seedlings are coming up nicely, though, so I get the joy of seeing their new growth.

  7. Brenda, I was so happy to see your post and catch up with what you’ve been up to. The Wheelhouse is a perfect name for your home! I am in awe of your beautiful weaving skills. Your coat is gorgeous! Poor Alice, I’m sure she hated having that wrap on her head. So glad to see both dogs are still romping around and that you and George are doing well. Can you wrap up a few of those bagels and send them down here?

    • I am just getting caught up on your posts from your cruise! I haven’t even been checking in on blogs lately, so I have a lot of catching up to do. Alice was mortified by the head wrap, but she healed up nicely. Are you no longer traveling in your RV?

      • Brenda, at the end of 2019 we decided it was time to stop towing the RV for trips. Since then we have enjoyed not having to set up and break camp when we travel. January was our first ever cruise and we got really spoiled on it. Good to hear from you.

      • I get it! We almost bought another smaller trailer about a year ago and then decided to rent cottages instead. We like the privacy and being able to rent places that are very dog friendly and right on the ocean.

  8. Thank you for a wonderful post, as always, my creative and very busy cousin. And I too have been trying to find balance as “the world is too much with us”.

    • So much bad news to digest over the past five years or so–I have to keep telling myself we have lived in a golden age of history and the recent outbreak of thuggish politicians, pandemics, and ruthless invasions was the norm through most of history. Of course, in the past people weren’t fed an endless unreeling of catastrophes by multiple forms of media. Keeping busy and creative helps.

  9. As always, a delightful catch up. It’s always fascinating seeing what you have been up too. I’m glad all is well with you all and that you are being so creative and constructive. I love the name of your house, just perfect. Yes, I too feel so dreadfully sad to see so many fleeing their homes and suffering from such a unnecessary war. Here’s to an end of the madness. Poor Capp, glad all is well now. I’ve often had dogs snip their ears, it’s a nightmare for sure!xxx

    • Yes, here’s to an end of the madness! I wish you had been here for the ear debacle, you would have known how to stop the bleeding. We now have enough bandage wraps to survive several more ear snips. Happy spring to you. It’s lovely to see everything blooming in your yard. We only have a few crocuses and snow drops so far. But I planted a lot of bulbs last fall, so it should be all blooms in another month.

  10. For some odd reason, I am no longer getting email notices of your posts. I came to this one via Tootlepedal’s. Weird! Anyway, glad to read you are well and continue to live the creative life.

    • Hi Laurie! You probably don’t get notices because I post so seldom that the blog gods think I’ve expired. We are doing well despite all the craziness in the world. Quite the storm yesterday, wasn’t it? I thought we were going to get blown off our hill.

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