May and a Walking Wheel

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Our drought is officially over. April did it in. We have had a soggy, misty, cold-footed, gray-skied, sodden-lawn spring.

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April’s wet and chill delayed the emergence of new growth, but in May, we are greening up.

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Trees are blooming, leaves popping out, and a few flowers are showing their colors. Our lawn is so green it feels more like Ireland than Maine.

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As I raked up the “mummies,” old apple drops from last year, I found that some were germinating the seeds within.

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It looks as if something chewed this and spit it out.  But it’s just the rotting apple with its seeds sprouting.  A perfect medium for growing.  I planted these in a pot.  It will be fun to see if I can bring some apples up from seeds at the same time we raise them from grafts.

In May, the birds and the bees are back.

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Rose Breasted Grosbeak

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Our bluebirds and swallows have been jousting over the most select bird houses, but seem to be settling into the same ones they chose last year. Several birds have checked out the new houses we put up, but last year’s houses seem to be the preferred real estate.

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When I cleaned out last year’s nests, I found the bluebirds had lined their nest of grass, twigs, and assorted vegetative matter with about an inch of compacted but soft, downy, white something. At first I thought it was sheep’s wool, but then realized it was Zoe’s fur. I like to brush dogs outside in the spring and summer and throw their fur to wind. It’s an easy way to dispose of the fur and I thought some birds might use it. Little did I think that I would find a lovely reminder of Zoe in a bird’s nest almost a year after she died. I hope Capp and Alice’s fur will line nests this year.

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As for Alice, we have discovered that she is a beast in the water. Her father was a hunting retriever and she obviously has his genes. I suspect she would retrieve to her last breath. When Alice is happy every bit of her being exudes pure joy in doing what she is doing.

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Capp, in the water, prefers retrieving sticks to bumpers. So far, he is an enthusiastic farmer boy, inspecting (and eating) all we do in the yard. A gorgeous bundle of swagger and sweetness, he is full of adolescent male curiosity and loving intelligence. We are fortunate to have two dogs packed with personality and love.

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Both dogs are garden marauders, though. George had to dog proof our raised beds to keep pups from cavorting in them. They love to eat every kind of green and brassica, charcoal bits, weeds, sticks, and Capp eats tulips (not good for dogs!).

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Our hillside is starting to look a bit like a little farm.

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Cold frame is filling up.

The strawberry patch is doing well, the asparagus shoots are poking up, our orchard trees are swelling with buds and we are putting in new beds for flax and more vegetables.

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George built a holder for the tractor’s shank ripper.  Looks like a throne or an electric chair.

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Even our mushroom logs look like they might produce something.

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The white is mycelium growing (so they tell us).

We are tearing out almost all of the rugosa roses that lined our parking area and the front of the house in a scraggly hedge want-to-be.

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I hate to destroy someone else’s vision for the property, but after two years, both George and I came to harbor a sort of hatred for the spiny invasive devils. Allowed to grow wild in a hedge, they might be wonderful. But they were not planted in wild-hedge territory. They sucker up huge unwieldy shoots and creep everywhere underground, through lawn, gravel, wood–persistent little spiny monsters. And for much of the year they are really very ugly.

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So, we dug most of them out and righted their severely listing retaining wall. We are planting a variety of sweet-smelling pollinator-attracting shrubs instead. RIP prickly invaders. I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of you.

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We have installed a new package of bees in the hive and, on our few sunny days, they have been bringing in loads of yellow pollen.

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I did a post mortem (I wish–what do I know, really?) on the hive and concluded that I killed the bees through my worrying and ineptness. The hive was loaded with honey and I could find no obvious signs of disease. Without getting into too much detail, I believe that I should have insulated the hives and should not have opened them for what turned out to be totally unnecessary winter feedings of sugar cakes. I had large bee die-offs both times I opened the hives, so there clearly was a connection. The good news is that it doesn’t look like the bees died from mite infestations or other diseases. The bad news is that I probably killed them. Live and learn. In any case, I harvested one frame of delicious honey and the bees this year have a good head start.

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May also brought me a walking wheel.

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I am having a sort of love affair with antique spinning wheels. I now have three wheels. Mudd Sharrigan did a beautiful job in restoring the flyer and bobbin for my Connecticut wheel.

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The flyer, bobbin, and whorl, broken and chipped.

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Mudd retained the original flyer as much as possible, while rebuilding the arms and filling in the chipped areas.  

I took the ancient flax off of the distaff–it has been on there longer than I have been alive–and found that the distaff was made of a sapling, stripped of bark, with the branches curved upwards.

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The distaff on a flax wheel holds the prepared flax to be spun. 

Such distaffs are not uncommon, but just think of someone going out in the woods and picking out a young tree and shaping it so long ago. I love the history of these old wheels.

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A comparison, of the size of the Connecticut flax wheel with the New Hampshire Walking Wheel.

My new/old wheel probably dates from the 1800s in New Hampshire. Walking wheels–also called great wheels–were used for spinning wool and are huge compared to the Saxony style flax wheels.  My new wheel is as tall as I am.  What a beauty.

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She has a spindle–the Sleeping Beauty prick your finger kind of spindle– with an accelerating head (also called a Minor’s or Miner’s head) patented in the early 1800s.

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I am just learning the ins and outs of spinning on her. It will take a while.  When I hit the sweet spot, it clicks, literally, with a tick-tick-tick sound of the spindle and wool. I can see that it is a dance of wheel, wool, and spinner.

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More on this wheel later.

Stitching, Sleuthing, and the Cuckolds

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It is sunny now, but much of January was cold, cloudy, and icy.

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Not inviting for outside activities.  But there were wild turkey tracks,

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brilliant skies,

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windy blue water breaking up the ice,

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bluebirds in the apple trees,

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bluebirds checking out the swallow boxes,

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and I was happily engrossed in sewing baby quilts for my niece’s twins.  Transforming fabrics I love into fox and hedgehog faces.

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Those faces greeted me every morning for weeks and I admit that I felt a pang when I wrapped up the quilts for their new home.

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I finished the quilts just in time for my niece’s baby shower in Connecticut. There were several quilters at the shower (including my niece) and I know the quilts will be well-used and well-loved.   Twins.  My best friends when I was young were twins.  How sweet to welcome twins into the family.

After handing off my quilty creatures, I stayed overnight with my brother and sister-in-law and came home with a new treasure–another antique spinning wheel. This wheel is personal. It has been in my mother’s Connecticut family for generations.

IMG_1131.jpgWhen I was growing up, the wheel stood at the corner of the living room, a decorative antique curiosity. It was a petite, pretty wheel, with black striping and a whorl of flax. When I was 16 or 17, I became interested in spinning and weaving. The wheel must have been in decent shape then because I set it up with a drive band and learned to spin on it. Soon after, I left home, went off to college, and then Alaska. The wheel stayed behind. I continued to spin with a drop spindle, but that also was left behind on one of our cross country moves.

I went decades without spinning. So, it seemed serendipitous that after retirement and our move to Maine, we spotted a neglected old wheel in our town’s only antique store. Cleaning that grime-encrusted wheel to bring out her lovely, glowing wood was rewarding on its own. But to get her sweetly spinning again was a real thrill.

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The Maine wheel has similar, but simpler, lines than the Connecticut wheel.

There is something about these old wheels that captivates me. I am not the slightest bit “spiritual,” whatever that means, having apparently received the skeptic gene instead. Yet, in the tactile, soothing, rhythmic occupation of spinning, it almost seems as if the wheel has a personality, infused from the generations of people–probably women–who touched and worked it before me.

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And, in fact, the wheel’s quirks and feel today may be a result of the way those women spun.

To me, spinning is a lovely, soothing occupation. I imagine women, maybe old, with weakening eyesight and muscles, gently working the wheel, grateful to sit with the musical whir and clutter-tap sound of a task so familiar as to be second nature. But who knows. Maybe the spinners, old or young, were gritting their teeth in frustration as they had to sit inside, housebound on a glorious day with hours of tedious, endless, mindless spinning. Whatever they felt, I will never know. All the spinners are long dead, but the wheel remains.  And the imprint of their feet.

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My brother and his wife have taken good care of the old family wheel. I had been thinking of getting it spinning again. I took a look at it while I was staying overnight with them in Connecticut. A flyer arm had broken off, one of the leather maiden bearings was missing, but it seemed to otherwise be in good shape.

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So, we decided to get it fixed and spinning again. I wrapped the wheel for a trip to Maine. It is probably the first time the wheel has left Connecticut in 200 years.

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Once I got home, I decided to see what I could find out about the wheel’s maker, “J Platt,” whose name is prominent on the front side. What followed was two days totally immersed in internet research up and down various family trees–my own and those of Connecticut spinning wheel makers.

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I immediately found a Pennsylvania woman with an antique spinning wheel blog, who several years ago had restored a J. Platt wheel almost identical to mine. She had tentatively concluded that the wheel was made by a Josiah Platt, who married Sarah Sanford in 1758. Sarah’s brother Samuel made spinning wheels.

My sleuthing–I became obsessed for days–turned up another possibility. There are a few well-documented Connecticut spinning wheel makers in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
Samuel Sanford, John Sturdevant, Solomon Plant, and Silas Barnum, for example. I looked at examples of their wheels and found that the lettering and placement of Silas Barnum’s name on the wheel was almost identical to J. Platt’s. Interesting. Silas Barnum’s mother was a Sturdevant and his sister married wheel-maker John Sturdevant, so there was a family wheel-making connection. And Silas’s wife, was–BINGO–a Platt. Martha Platt, with a brother named James Platt, who was born in 1775, just a year after Silas, and living in the same town. So, my bet is on James.

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Cleaned and beeswaxed.

I discovered that antique wheel obsession is not an uncommon malady. There is a Spinning Wheel Sleuth newsletter, a similar group on Facebook, and various other on-line resources. I have also been trying to find out more about my Maine wheel. It has simpler lines than the Connecticut wheel, a result of Shaker influence. But I don’t think it is a Shaker wheel. The research continues …

Yesterday we carefully wrapped the Connecticut wheel again. I unwound the wool from the bobbin. I had spun that wool “in the grease,” meaning that the fleece had not been washed, over forty years ago. It was pretty stiff and crusty now–more like a dense twine than yarn. I removed the distaff with its flax, which is brittle and musty-smelling, likely a hundred years or so old.

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We loaded up the wheel and Capp and drove to Wiscasset to drop the wheel off with Mudd Sharrigan for repairs. Mudd is a master and I feel fortunate to have him nearby.

Since we were in Wiscasset, we decided to explore the Boothbay Region and to check out a supposedly dog-friendly beach. The beach was a disappointment–short, narrow, and right on the road.

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Capp was entranced with the smells.

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Lots of stinky stuff.

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He started to venture into the water, and then danced back.

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The water was frigid, so we we didn’t encourage him. Plenty of time for swimming come spring.

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Boothbay Harbor is charming. Really charming. And it has the feel of money. Some Mainers refer to the “Volvo line,” a north/south demarcation below which the Volvo/BMW/Mercedes/Audi-driving tourist and second-home people from lower New England states tend to cluster. The area below the line just feels different. More money on display, more high-end shops and restaurants, more people who exude entitlement, and more impatient horn-honking drivers. Boothbay is right about on the line. Midcoast, where we live, remains above the line. Just barely.

From Boothbay Harbor, we drove to Southport Island and Cape Newhagen. Off the Cape, with its tricky waters, lies the Cuckolds Light. Such a name. The light sits on the Cuckolds, two small rocky outcrops in a string of reefs and shoals.

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The name supposedly comes from a point of land on the Thames River granted by King John to the cuckolded husband of one of his lovers. Maybe. I wouldn’t be surprised, with the Maine dry humor, if there wasn’t more to the name than a longing for the Thames River.

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Name aside, Cuckolds Light is notable for the rockiness of its underpinnings. Nothing there but the light and the rock. It must have been a limiting world for the lightkeeper and his family. The light was decommissioned as a working lighthouse in the 1970s. Now it is the Inn at Cuckold’s Light, a place of “pampered luxury,” which is available for about $1500 a night. I guess that puts the Boothbay area firmly below the Volvo line.

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Sow. Snow. Sew.

IMG_7223We took one lazy day after our roadtrip and then headed outside. It felt like spring and we were itching to get to work.

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Poplar catkins

We have been here almost a year now and have spent that time assessing the sun, wind, and drainage to plan the layout for our gardens.

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Alders

We decided to move the raised vegetable beds that we installed when we moved in last May. That area–at the side of the house–will be our little orchard, with fruit trees and berries.IMG_7146 Our first project was to start a drainage ditch down one side. We will get the area ready to plant by the end of April. IMG_7202.jpg
The raised beds are moving to the area we cleared below the house. Once we remove some stumps, and finish burning brush, we will lay down the frames and finish moving the soil. We are putting in additional raised beds and will have regular beds for potatoes, corn, asparagus, strawberries, herbs, squash, and melons. Perhaps we’re too ambitious, but it’s so much fun.IMG_7178
Along with outside work, I started seedlings indoors. Lots and lots of seedlings. We are fortunate to have triple-paned southern-facing windows that act like passive solar powerhouses, generating enough heat on sunny winter days to warm the house. Because the windows act so much like a greenhouse, I decided to go without heat mat for germination and without supplemental grow lights. A risk, I know.

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These water jugs as seed beds act like mini-greenhouses.

So far, I’ve been pleased. The kale germinated within 48 hours and all the seeds were up within a week.

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Do you think we’re growing enough lettuce varieties?

Most of my seeds are from Fedco, a wonderful Maine co-op. They have by far the best germination rate of any I’ve ever used.  I have had no damping off (sometimes older seeds are more prone to it) except for in two little peat pots of a seed from a company other than Fedco. Interesting. My recently planted pepper plants will be the real germination test, though. They require good warmth to germinate, so we’ll see how they do without a heat mat.

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Water-jug marigolds.

As the plants have been emerging, inside and out, the birdsongs have become increasingly competitive–me, me, pick me!  After I saw a male bluebird in full throat at the top of a maple down the street, George quickly put up bluebird and wren houses. I started pruning the lilacs and apples and then … snow.
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IMG_7298.jpgLots of snow. About eight inches. It brought the wild turkeys, searching for windfall apples at the edge of the yard.

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Turkey tracks are huge. My boot is in the lower left for comparison.

Then it got cold. The snow has lingered on. IMG_7326

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The snow makes Zoes feisty.  She’s trying to kill her ball.

IMG_7302I’m not sure yet how much damage we will see to emerging buds and sprouts.

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Poppies emerging before the snow.

Today we are housebound by a coat of ice and mizzle of freezing rain. IMG_7407.jpgOn the bright side, the snow and ice have given me time to finish sewing projects. In January, I was making great progress on a quilt for a granddaughter when my sewing machine started to act oddly. The motor belt seemed to be slipping–something it had never done before. The band was old, brittle, and cracked. I decided that it was time for a tune up anyway, so dropped off the machine at a local fabric store to be picked up by the local sewing machine repairman. His normal two-week turn around time stretched three because, on delivery day, the fabric store was closed due to heavy snow. Three weeks without my machine during prime sewing season. IMG_6556
Finally, the machine came home with a new belt, all greased and lubed, and, for the first few nights, smoothly humming away. The next afternoon, however, I sat down to sew and the new motor band started slipping a bit. I let it sit for a few hours, tried it again that night, and it was fine. But the next day, it started slipping badly. Really badly. Odd that it slipped during the day, but not at night. Then a light went off–actually a lot of light. The machine was sitting right in front in one of our greenhouse-like southern windows, awash in sunlight. That sunlight was HOT and the heat was expanding the band so much as to cause it to slip. Duh. Problem solved.

The quilt is finished and ready to be shipped out west. My quilting style is best described as low-stress or wabi sabi. No seam is too crooked, no corner too awry. I put it together, hope it will come out approximately square , and enjoy the process. A real quilter would roll her eyes and tut disapprovingly. But it works for me.

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An exuberant, one-of-a-kind quilt for an exuberant, one-of-a-kind granddaughter.  This quilt was made of about 60 different fabrics that my daughter collected when they lived in Okinawa and traveled through Asia and Australia.  

While the machine was away, I worked on the spinning wheel. When I treadled the wheel without spinning any yarn, all moved sweetly along. But when I started spinning yarn, the drive band tended to fall off the wheel. Eventually I realized that the mother-of-all (wonderful name) was wobbling back and forth when I put tension on the yarn, causing the band to jump off the wheel tracks. I shimmed it up and all went smoothly. My lovely old wheel is now spinning.

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The white shim steadies the mother-of-all crossbar. The mother-of-all holds the end supports, called the maidens, the u-shaped flyer and the bobbin of spun yarn.

Spring goes on.

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Our neighbor uses old-style buckets for gathering maple sap. The cold spell keeps the sap flowing. The piece of scraggly wood in the hole in this tree looks like an old man’s face.

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So Far, So Good

IMG_5014So far, in this new year, we have been

up before sunrise,

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sewing (me, not George),

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This petite Singer Featherweight is the only sewing machine I’ve ever owned. It is older than I am, easy to use and maintain, and pleasing to the eye.

building a bookcase (George, not me),

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Before even tackling the bookcase, George had to set up a workshop.  He put a lot of time and care into this beauty.  I love it.

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and getting acquainted with a spinning wheel.

We found this beauty black with grime at an antique store. She seemed to have all her parts and the price was right, so we took her home.

We found this lovely old wheel at an antique store, black with lanolin-infused grime.  Likely she had been sitting in an attic or barn for years.  She seemed to have all her essential parts and the price was very right, so we took her home.  Unfortunately, when we bought her last summer, I wasn’t blogging and didn’t think to take any photos of her original state.  Wish I had.

After several weeks of cleaning and more cleaning, beautiful wood emerged.

In the fall, I started cleaning her up.  It took several weeks and a lot of elbow grease but eventually beautiful wood–at least three different kinds–emerged.

The workmanship on these old wheels fascinates me.

The workmanship on these old wheels fascinates me.

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I'm still learning her quirks and feel. When the yarn properly uptakes to the bobbin the band tends to fall off and vice versa. With some more time, I hope work it out.

I’m still learning her quirks and feel. When the yarn properly uptakes to this bobbin, the band to the wheel tends to fall off and when the band stays on, the yarn doesn’t feed.  I hope we’ll work it out.

If not, she makes delightful shadows

If not, she makes delightful shadows

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Zoe likes January.IMG_4871IMG_4872

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we have been doing a lot of cooking,

My wooden spoons, more than 15 years old, hand carved by Don Duncan in North Carolina.

My favorite cooking utensils, 15 to 20 years old, hand carved by Don Duncan in North Carolina.

This one's hickory.

This one’s hickory.

a little wildlife viewing,

I gave George a game camera for Christmas to check out the wildlife on our property. So far, all we've seen are these fat raccoons heading down the driveway in the middle of the night.

I gave George a game camera for Christmas to check out the wildlife on our property. So far, all we’ve seen are these fat raccoons heading down the driveway in the middle of the night.

The local turkeys seemed to have survived hunting season. There were more than 30 turkeys in this snowy group.

Our local roving wild turkeys seemed to have survived hunting season. There were more than 30 turkeys in this flock.

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going for daily walks,IMG_5052IMG_5071IMG_5119IMG_5090IMG_5146

and watching this amaryllis bloom.IMG_4842IMG_4918IMG_5171