Down East to Down South

After our whirlwind summer, we decided to head Downeast in early October for a little oceanside relaxation–Maine style. We found a fantastic dog-friendly rental in Jonesport, a fishing and lobstering town about a two-and-a-half hour drive down the coast that feels somewhat like a drive back in time.

Jonesport is a no-frills working town, unspoiled by heavy tourism. Beautiful old houses dot the edges of the small downtown, many built in the early 1900s, when Jonesport was living high off of sardines. One of the busiest towns in the area then, it had several sardine canning plants. When the sardines played out, Jonesport moved to other types of commercial fishing, including lobstering.

Long working hours on the lobster boats

Since Maine’s lobster industry is now under assault, it looks like Jonesport will have to continue to adapt.

We were there in early October, still tourist season in Maine, but seemed to be the only tourist-types around. As we drove in, we stopped at a local grocery store to pick up a few things. The parking lot was swarming with young local hunters, talking and laughing as they headed out for waterfowl. In a town where everyone knows each other, we must have stood out like sore thumbs, but people were invariably friendly and went out of their way to be helpful. We really liked it there.

Our rental was right on the beach with panoramic views east, south, and west.

In the early mornings, we watched a parade of lobster boats heading into the sunrise. Come afternoon, we watched the same boats return.

The fog rolled in once, fast smothering the boats across the way at Beals Island.

Just as quickly, it rolled out again.

Evenings brought fiery sunsets over the Jonesport docks

and a full moon rising.

Mostly we relaxed watching the boat, water, and sky entertainment, but I also spent hours walking the beach.

Sandy, walkable beaches are a rarity in Maine and this one was deserted.

Just me, birds,

boats, crabs,




and the unexpected sweet fragrance of the October-blooming beachside roses.

The dogs were, of course, in heaven.

Especially Alice, for whom ocean retrieving is the height of joy.

Aside from a quick trip to Machias for our favorite very-last-of-the-season (we actually got the last order) fried clams at Riverside Takeout, we did not go anywhere or do anything.

Our kind of vacation.

We returned home to end-of-the season chores in anticipation of cold weather. I harvested and hung my cotton plants

and processed some of this season’s flax,

including some Stormont Gossamer, a fine heirloom variety from Ireland that is a dream to spin.

The Stormont Gossamer is on the top right

George processed our small peanut crop, completed the deck, got the trails ready for winter, and stabilized our side porch.

The weather all month was almost disturbingly warm. Monarchs lingered into late October.

While the vivid fall leaves should have signaled colder weather,

the warm-weather peppers, tomatoes, okra and artichokes continued to produce. It was hard to put the garden to bed with so much food still growing, but I eventually pulled most of the warm-weather crops to get it done before we headed to Georgia at the end of the month.

Amazingly, we were finally going to take our twice-postponed trip to visit our children and grandchildren. It was originally planned for March 2020, right when the initial covid outbreak shut everything down. Our second attempt was scuttled by a prolonged bout of serious dog gastrointestinal issues after we changed dog foods. We half suspected that another bizarre calamity would hit in the week before this planned trip. But, no. Armed with recent flu shots and covid boosters, we left home, taking the old-person route through Pennsylvania rather than battling the horrors of driving near New York City or Washington DC. Even so, the roads were too congested for me.

Given that congestion, we were surprised to see miles of humongous new hub warehouses going in along Pennsylvania interstates, eating up the flat former farmland. How all the trucks delivering out of those warehouses are going to fit on the already almost-overwhelmed interstates is a mystery to me. As it is, the slightest hiccup from road construction or even a small accident brings traffic to a grinding halt, backing up the interstate for miles.

Naturally, the dogs came with us. They are excellent travelers and we found great dog-friendly hotels. Alice had a raucous afternoon at my brother’s house in Connecticut, where we stayed our first night. Although she had not been to the farm in years, she seemed to remember it and took off into the woods with my brother’s dog, racing around like a much younger dog, oblivious to our calls. Very un-Alice-like. We later realized that something there likely reminded her of the hunting training she had in her early years before she came to us.

We arrived at our daughter’s house on Halloween–a holiday that has exploded into a major extravaganza in her neighborhood, with elaborate decorations, haunted houses, and buzzing golf carts ferrying hundreds of trick-or-treaters through candy land.

Quite a contrast to our rural Maine Halloween, where we are lucky to get one set of trick-or-treaters at our house.

After my daughter and her husband moved into their house, they had thinned out some of the tall pines growing in the back.

While we were there, a sawyer brought his portable sawmill and turned the downed logs into gorgeous lumber. George was a sawyer many years ago and it was a pleasure to watch this portable operation. And the whole yard smelled of delightful freshly sawn resinous pine.

We had lunch in Senoia and saw where much of The Walking Dead was filmed.

After a few days, we headed to our son’s house on the other side of Atlanta, driving through the neighborhoods where we lived more than twenty years ago. It was a bit disorienting. Trees have grown huge, neighborhoods have changed, and what had been small, declining town centers in Duluth and Suwanee have developed into unrecognizable bustling hives of modern shops and restaurants. So many people–far more than when we lived there.

We had a relaxing time at our son’s house in Gainesville, well removed from the Atlanta craziness and traffic, eating, talking, watching UGA football, and visiting wineries.

Their lovely dogs put up with ours,

including their handsome young hound, Tucker, who endured a just-in-case muzzle based on his history of brotherly fighting. He was a good boy.

It was wonderful to spend time with our family in their own homes. The only downside was that two of our grandkids were sick–bad timing. The flu was rampant down there and I was paranoid about catching it and getting stuck in Georgia–coughing, feverish, and longing for home. Fortunately, we survived unscathed and set out at about 4:30 on a dark Sunday morning, almost hitting a big buck deer that jumped right in front of the car a few miles into our trip home. Speaking of deer, we must have seen a hundred dead ones, from newly-killed to a pile of bone and fur, on the interstates on this trip. Depressing.

Between the dead deer, the army of 18-wheelers, and general congestion, road trips are not what they used to be. We used to love long road trips, driving all over the country and Canada. But, at least on the east coast, the stress of heavy traffic sucks the pleasure right out of driving for me. At least gas was cheap in Georgia.

Camellia season in Georgia

It was so sweet to get home. In our absence, my cotton boles had popped

and my experimental saffron crocuses had bloomed in the greenhouse.

Best of all, we had a new dog waiting to join our pack. A lovely year-old girl who needed a new home. Meet Scout.

She fit right in, as if she has always lived here.

Alice and Capp are adjusting to having an energetic teenager in the house, but doing well.

Alice and Scout

It remains freakily warm, with no real winter weather in sight. The male bluebirds are squabbling over a birdbox, something they don’t usually do until spring.

We are putting up Christmas lights and looking forward to snow. Enjoy the holidays.

Summer Show and Tell

As usual, summer was a whirlwind.  It started at a nice pace. 

May brought a sweet mix of sun and showers,

feeding a frenzy of new growth,


and nesting birds.

George focused on firewood, converting our downed trees into neatly sawed, split, and organized piles for our winter heat. 

Thanks to George’s spring and summer work, we are wood-ready for winter

To add to his work, he had to cut quite a lot of previously split wood into shorter lengths to fit our new wood stove, so devised a jig to efficiently saw through a stack at once. 

While he was working on firewood, I savored being back out in the garden, tending my seedlings, fruit trees, and planting.  Everything was on track. 

I wove some funky sapling trellises for the peas–they worked great

And then, on the last day of May, I unexpectedly came down with covid. Gardening came to a screeching halt.  It was a relatively mild case and, fortunately, George did not get it.  But even after I recovered, I was sapped of my usual energy for about six weeks. 

As a result, I spent the rest of the summer playing catch-up.  Only now, in late September, am I starting to feel as if I have time to really relax and catch my breath again.

In June, right after I recovered, we spent a week Downeast at Bear Beach, the same cabin that we rented last year. 

Our daughter and grandchildren joined us for most of the week. 

We hiked,

discovered amazing fried clams at Riverside Takeout in Machias, explored Jasper beach,

played cornhole, sat by the fire, and relaxed.  To the dogs, it was absolute heaven, with short hikes and twice-daily ocean swimming. 

The sunsets were stunning. 

The grandkids then returned home with us for a week, while our daughter headed off on a trip of her own.  We did a lot of cooking and baking with the kids,

visited some museums, and played badminton in the area George recently cleared at the top of the driveway. 

At the end of the week, our daughter and son-in-law both came for a few days of good eating and relaxation.  

Maine lobster–keep eating it

It was wonderful to get to spend so much time with them. 

After they left, I hit the garden in earnest. Earlier in the spring, with George’s help, I tried a new tactic to deal with the Bishop’s weed (aka that damned goutweed) that is trying to take over the perennial garden.  I took out all plants but two hollies in the infested area, covered everything with cardboard and then six inches of heavy mulch. 

I rooted out every stray plant that popped up and am hoping a similar burial next year will get the scourge under control. 

Despite the fact that I did not keep up with weeding the vegetable garden, it was amazingly productive this year. 

We grew enough asparagus, peas, lettuce, beets, carrots, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, beans, corn, potatoes, onions, pumpkins, squash,


okra, chard, collards, eggplant, fennel, leeks, brussel sprouts and peppers to eat out of the garden from June through October

and to freeze, store, and dry to last us through a good portion of the winter. 

The potatoes had a lot of problems and I’m going to take a break from them next year.  I did that last year with corn because I was battling corn ear worms and it seemed to work—the corn was wonderful this year with very few worms.

The solar electric fence keeps the raccoons out. Without it, they would feast.

For the first time, I tried artichokes, which were amazingly successfully, producing about two dozen artichokes off of just two plants. 

We are smoking hot peppers this year and experimenting with making our own chili powders.  

I continue to grow figs, ginger, and turmeric in the greenhouse.  I also grew six cotton plants, which are doing magnificently. 

I have grown cotton before, but this is the first year that some bolls are maturing and popping while the cotton is still in the ground.  Usually, I cut off the whole plant right before frost and hang it upside down inside for the bolls to mature and open. 

Sea Island Brown cotton for spinning

As always, flax is one of my favorite crops.  This year, I grew two different varieties.  I again planted Nathalie, which grew extremely tall this year. 

Nathalie and me

I also tried a heritage variety, Stormont Gossamer, which is supposed to produce a very fine flax fiber.  I am looking forward to comparing the two after retting and processing.    

Sadly, we didn’t get to eat these. The day before I was going to pick them the birds decided they were at peak perfection and ate every one.

The fruits and berries are starting to produce really nice harvests.  Blueberries and black raspberries give us more than we can eat.  We had our first real crop of hazelnuts and northern kiwi. 

Once again, I bagged the peaches and pears while on the tree. 

It protects them from pests and gives blemish-free fruit. 

I put away a good batch of peach bourbon barbeque sauce and made peach pie. 

The pears are just ready to pick

and we had a grand total of two apples!  Next year we should have more apples.  We are still waiting on the pawpaws, but they are finally looking happy and growing well.  I also planted blackberries, plums and apricots this year, so will be rich in fruit before too long.

Our flowers are flourishing and full of pollinators. 

This is the second summer I did not keep bees. 

I have been trying to observe whether removing the honeybees will result in an increase in other types of pollinators. 

It is hard to tell at this point,

but we certainly attract a wide variety, with several types of bumble bees leading the pack.

While I focused on gardening, George worked on infrastructure. 

He rented a small excavator for digging culverts, a trench for a water line to the greenhouse, and holes for fence posts and tree plantings.  He also worked on drainage, built a retaining wall, and improved our trails. 

Perhaps the best investment this summer was a grapple for the tractor, which makes short work of carrying logs, moving brush, and transporting rocks—all frequent and necessary tasks as George continues to clear and transform the area below the house. 

His biggest project was rebuilding our back deck. 

It was old, weathered, decayed, and ugly, with rusted-out screws.  George did not just replace the old deck and railings,

he took the time and thought to transform the deck into a really beautiful and inviting space. 

Capp helped, of course, inspecting George’s work.

In August, George turned 70.  Both of our kids flew in for the weekend to celebrate and it was such a treat to have both of them here together.  We went to the local Union Fair, but mostly cooked, feasted, drank, and talked.  I bought George a little Ooni pizza oven for his birthday and we quickly became addicted to it. 

With ingredients fresh from our gardens, it makes unbelievably tasty pizzas and it’s really fun to use. 

As summer winds down, we are still doing some harvesting and food preservation,

but I am starting, slowly, to put the gardens to bed and turn to inside activities. 

I have “Julia Larrabec’s linen” on the loom for fabric for a dress and skirt and lots of plans for winter spinning, weaving and wheel repairs. 

I never have much time for weaving in the summer, but did finish some madder-dyed overshot fabric

and wove some hand towels. 

I have several fleeces washed for winter spinning and will be processing my flax soon. 

Brilliant fall sunrises have arrived.

The dogs remain happy and full of love. 

We are looking forward to fall and winter. 

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. 


It was a memorable spring for visits.  The most remarkable was a visiting snowy owl, whose magnificent presence mesmerized our neighborhood for several weeks in April and May. 

We have had snowy owls on our hill in the past.  But only glimpses for a day or two.  This spring, he stuck around, patrolling from house, to house, to farm, taking advantage of the rodent-rich year.  He usually spent his nights across the street at the house highest on the hill. 

In the mornings, he would move to our side of the road, at various hunting stations, and usually concluded the day at the high peak of our next-door neighbor’s roof, seemingly content to just sit. 

Everyone in the neighborhood tracked his whereabouts, traded photos, and speculated about why he was staying so long.  He was not at all shy and did not seem to mind having people or dogs around. 

Sitting on a rock on our back yard.

But after two visiting photographers stalked him one day, he packed up and left, presumably for summer on the tundra.

Perched in our big back yard oak

In the meantime, we had a lot going on.  In April, we finally had our kitchen redone.  It had cheap oak cabinets and dark formica countertops that we had long wanted to replace. 

We had debated expanding the kitchen or opening it to the living room, but eventually decided to leave the layout the way it was.  It is a great kitchen for cooking—very compact, efficient, and cool in the summer. 

We did need more storage, so put in additional cabinets under the island and along one wall.  We love to cook and now it is such a joy to be in the kitchen with everything just where we want it.   My favorite addition is the table George built for one wall. 

The top is from a cherry tree from our land and is simply gorgeous. 

After the kitchen was completed, in May, I drove to Pennsylvania to visit museums and antique wheel collectors. 

The Germanic buildings at Ephrata Cloister, a religious settlement requiring celibacy, scant meals, and sleeping on narrow benches.

The drive down was hair-raising—torrential rain on highways clogged with 18-wheelers (there seem to be a lot more trucks on the road since covid hit).  I vowed never to drive through New Jersey again, but it was worth it.  

Ephrata Valley wheels and a tape loom

People who collect antique wheels have developed a “railroad” system of volunteers who transport wheels when traveling.  I railroaded a car-load of New England wheels to Pennsylvania and exchanged wheels there with another railroader from Michigan.  So, we moved some mid-western wheels to New England (where they are hard to find) and vice-versa

Landis Valley Farm Museum in Lancaster

We both met up with two other wheel enthusiasts for tours we had arranged of the textile equipment at Ephrata Cloister and the Landis Valley Farm museum. 

A tape loom in the Landis Valley Museum collection

I spent another amazing day visiting with two different wheel collectors–talking wheels and weaving. I managed to fit nine wheels (for three different people) in the car coming home. It was a wonderful trip, especially sweet after a year without travel.

Nine wheels in the car

Once home, gardening was in full swing.  Last fall and this spring, George has been planting trees, for screening and beauty. 

He planted redbud and shadblow in the understory and what we laughingly call an archipelago of evergreens and a Japanese stewartia along a slope in the front lawn. 

They look like a tree army vanguard, slowly working their way across the yard.  A star magnolia George planted in the fall survived two snowfalls while budding out,

to give us quite a show. 

In fact, it was a very blossomy spring all around. 

The lilacs were spectacular.  

It has been very dry and hot, though—a continuation of last year’s drought.  

We had a heat wave while the apples were in bloom, which may be the reason we are seeing fire blight on some of our apple trees. 

Fire blight, a bacterial infection, was unknown in Maine until about a decade ago.  Now, it seems to be spreading fast in the north and we will surely lose some of our old wild trees from it.  I feel terrible for the commercial growers having to deal with it.

This ancient wild apple, beloved by the waxwings for its cidery yellow fruit was hit the hardest by the blight

The climate is certainly changing here—new insect pests and diseases are moving north every year.  It felt as if we had no spring this year–we went straight into hot and humid summer (too hot for me). At this rate, in a few years, we may only be growing peaches and pawpaws.  

I am experimenting with bagging peaches, pears, and apples this year—trying three different types of bags and leaving some unbagged for comparison.  I’m hoping for a good crop. And finally, five years after planting, we will have our first tiny crop of northern kiwis.

While searching for kiwis, I noticed this mourning dove peering out at me from a nest in the vines.

As usual, we have lots of nesting birds this year.

To avoid the house finches nesting in our hanging basket as they did last year, we decided to go with window boxes this year.

George made them for the house and a shed.

When not outside, I am always spinning, weaving, and rescuing wheels.  This amazing cannon-shaped Ontario great wheel had been languishing in someone’s shed for years. 

It is inside now, and spinning. 

I wove my first rug from wool I had dyed over the last two summers with plants from our land. 

The most exciting weaving, however, is this small piece.

It is linen I wove from flax that I grew, processed, and spun myself.  After learning to turn flax into linen, I will never think of the clothing the same way again.

After a somewhat frenetic early spring–we always seem to take on too much–we unwound on a week-long vacation Downeast. 

We rented a cabin at the end of a dirt road, on its own beach, not far from Cutler, Maine. 

We loved the area—no traffic, few tourists, lots of beauty. 

We visited Quoddy Head lighthouse,

at the easternmost point of the contiguous U.S. and Jasper Beach, an unspoiled crescent beach of round rocks, that make the most extraordinary rumbling sound with the waves. 

The dogs thought it was paradise, with their own beach playground. 

Alice adores the water and would fetch until she dropped if we let her.

Capp prefers to fish,

mostly for seaweed. 

I went swimming—with a wetsuit, after the first frigid dip. 

Mostly we just enjoyed being by the water, with lots of reading and relaxing.

We are back home now working on gardening and projects and looking forward to family visits here in July.

Emerging From the Covid Cocoon

With a year of plague-induced seclusion under our belts, we are ready to start venturing out.  We are still patiently waiting to be vaccinated, however. Just today, Maine extended vaccination availability to those under 70, so we are hoping to be jabbed before the month is out.  Although we are eager to see our family again and to savor the pleasures of eating inside a restaurant, moseying around stores, and browsing through the library, our year at home has been productive, creative, and satisfying.  And it has changed us. 

I have an even deeper appreciation of the life we have created here, shed layers of stress, embraced my reclusive nature, and have less itch to travel.  I have become far more attuned to the weather and the seasons, to the point of following the sun as it tracks across the room—morning weaving at the big loom in full southern sun,

midday weaving tapes and spinning wool as the sun hits the eastern side of the room,

and afternoons at the flax wheel, which sits in the western dormer.  It will be interesting to see what long-term behavioral changes come out of this upside-down year. 

Our weather these past three months has been as unsettled as the political scene (my fear that our democracy might not survive this year turned out to be well-founded—but we did squeak by).

We have had a few snow dumps—which make the dogs crazy with joy—

followed by melting back to bare ground. 

We had one spectacular ice storm,

some frigid patches,

warm patches,

and lots and lots of high wind. 

A December wind even blew the outdoor shower off its foundation. 

It is well-secured now. 

Christmas was quiet, but lovely. 

With the cold weather, George moved his projects indoors. 

When we had our garage built, the plan was for George to use one bay for a woodworking shop.  He finally had the time to get it fully up and running this winter. 

He made a bookcase for the bedroom,

installed an additional shelf in my loom room,

and has been working on my spinning wheels, including making a curvaceous treadle for the pendulum wheel

and fixing the wooden axle on this more-than-200-year-old bobbin winder.   

For me, winter means spinning and weaving. 

I finished a small coverlet that had been in the works for years.  It started with a lustrous Nash Island fleece that I brought home and washed two summers ago. 

I spun it last winter and spring and dyed the yarn late last summer with madder, woad, and Japanese indigo from my dye garden, and goldenrod, which grows wild here.   

The final step was picking a traditional coverlet design—pine cone blossom, also called pine burr—and the actual weaving.   

Alice approves. 

I have also been weaving more fabric for clothes,

weaving tapes,

and doing lots of spinning—wool and flax. 

I have added a few wheels to my collection, but do not have them yet.  They are being fostered with other wheel collectors until we can really start traveling again.  I am fostering several wheels for others, too, so there is going to be a lot of wheel railroading going on this spring. 

As if my wheel collecting is not enough, I discovered the world of Conder tokens recently.  A weaver posted a photo of one on Instagram and I was instantly intrigued—a graphic piece of history captured in a coin. 

The bobbin winder on this 1790s token looks very much like the one George repaired above

Because of a scarcity of small denomination coins in the late 1700s due to increasing industrialization and population growth in England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland, business owners, merchants, and local governments started minting their own. 

They are often intricately designed, representing local industries and trades,

anti-slavery pleas, and political satire.  I have collected a few of the textile related designs and one political one, which I will be using as weights on orifice hooks for my spinning wheels.

We are still eating food that we put by from the garden—we have enough winter squash, frozen and dehydrated vegetables and herbs, tomato sauce, carrots, and ginger to last until spring.  

In fact, we had so many pumpkins and winter squash that we donated them to a local farmer friend for her pigs.  Sadly, we had to give up on greenhouse greens this winter, because the mice kept devouring them.  We have not had any signs of mice in the greenhouse for the last six weeks, though, so I planted seeds for spring greens.  We will keep the traps well peanut-buttered, spread the minty mouse deterrent, and keep fingers crossed. 

Pruning and outside spring chores are just around the corner. 

The mourning doves are coo-cooing, foxes are barking and looking for places to den,

and I put wool on my apple branches in hopes of keeping the spring-hungry deer from nibbling the shoots.

In the meantime, we are enjoying the final month or so of hunkering-down, while planning our reemergence into society. 

“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). 

Wreaking Havoc


No half measures this summer—everything has hit with ferocity.  A normality-ending disease, human wrecking hammers smashing every aspect of our system of government, life-sucking heat and drought, and new garden pests have all been wreaking havoc.  Even George has created a little havoc with massive tree clearing.  It’s exhausting.


All summer, it has felt as if we are existing on two levels.  On the one hand, we have been enormously productive, working on things we love, which brings deeply satisfying contentment.

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On the other hand, there is an underlying current of tension, anger, and disbelief over the state of the world that never really leaves.  I have never felt so powerless in my life.


So, we do what we can to improve the world where we do have some power—our little hillside domain.


Staying home, with no visitors, has given us ample time to really dig in and do things right.  In previous years, I had so many things going on in the summer, that I was always playing catch up in the gardens.


Flax in July

This year, with George’s help, I finally managed to get enough mulch in the walkways to keep the weeds under control.


Most everything has been thriving, despite the crazy weather.


June started with weeks of wet, dripping fog, leaving things feeling sticky and smelling moldy.  When the fog lifted, the heat settled in.


My experimental peanuts like the heat


The peanuts grow underground off of these pegs extending down from the stems

Week after week of brutally hot sun and high humidity.


It is not weather we are used to in Maine.  We soldiered on, working outside through the heat, dripping sweat and fending off black flies and deer flies.


It finally got so bad that the heat was making me feel slightly sick and I ended up retreating inside in the air-conditioned sanctuary of our garage loft.  The dogs were uncomfortable, too, parking themselves in front of their personal fans.


We were not the only ones to notice that the gardens are thriving.


The chipmunks and mice discovered them, too, this year.


Tunneling their way under everything, they decimated my brassica seedlings, ate bean plants down to nubs, and nibbled and gnawed their way down every bed.


Tunnels everywhere

They aren’t picky eaters—peas, strawberries, melons, flax seeds, carrots, beets—I even found a wee mouse with huge feet nesting among the potatoes when I dug them up.


Fortunately, they can’t climb up the corn and we now have a small solar electric fence to keep the raccoons out.  So far, so good.


Aside from the rodent mayhem, insects have created some havoc, as well.  Seemingly overnight, plum curculios descended on my cherry trees, leaving not one cherry unmolested.  I had never had a problem with them before, so wasn’t prepared.  I will be next year.  Since I only have a few fruit trees that are mature enough to bear fruit, I decided to bag some of the fruit against pests this year as experiment.


Plastic bags on the apples, cloth on the peaches.


It looks weird but seems to be working.  While it has been a record year for Japanese beetles, we only saw one monarch butterfly all summer.


Japanese beetles made lace of the soybeans

We had so many last year, I don’t know how this year’s migration got waylaid, but something must have happened.  I miss them.

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Our birds and bees have been thriving, though.


Every year we have more birds nesting on the property.  They seem to like it here.


House finch hatchlings in the hanging basket

The robin that had been nesting in the sauna wood box, moved her subsequent nests to under our deck, much safer from predators, and raised two broods there.


Baby robin under our deck, ready to take the leap

I harvested my first honey this year.


Tastes like home.


Birds aren’t the only creatures who like it here.


All sorts of animals have discovered our trails—deer,



We are hoping the coyotes don’t get this fawn



Coyotes (sometimes called coywolves) appear on the camera day and night


domestic cats, a bobcat,


porcupines, raccoons, foxes, skunks,


Young skunks

rabbits—all right behind our house.


Young porcupines jousting

We rarely see the larger animals—only their tracks—but the game camera gives us a glimpse into what is going on when we aren’t around.


George has been a whirlwind all summer, mostly clearing out highly overgrown areas,


to give space and light to our screens of evergreens, wild apples, the new orchard trees we are planting, and to maintain our view and that of our neighbors.


When our neighbor moved into his house in the early 70s, the hillside was almost entirely cleared, with blueberry fields and pasture.


In the years since, trees have grown up at an amazing rate and much of the hillside now is heavily wooded. The growth rings on this large maple show that it is about 45 years old.


George hasn’t just been taking down trees, he put in a welcoming light and new sign at the head of our driveway,


built me a grape trellis, stacked and split four years’ worth of firewood, and created what we’ve named our “industrial drive” along one of our trails, where he processes wood and parks equipment.


It feels good to be getting so organized.


Aside from the gardens, I have continued to focus on my flax and spinning two fleeces for natural dyeing.


Drying flax

I processed most of last year’s flax and will finish it and this year’s harvest in September.


Flax tub retting

I should have enough to actually weave some fabric this year.


Some of last year’s crop, ready to spin

My dye gardens are thriving


Harvesting Japanese indigo

and I’ve had two dyeing days,


one with weld and indigo and one with madder.

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Yellow from weld, blue from Japanese indigo and green overdyeing weld with indigo

Because this was the first year the madder bed was old enough to harvest,


I wasn’t sure what to expect for color.  It wasn’t exactly what I was aiming at, but I love it.


We have not stayed home all the time.  I’ve picked up a couple of spinning wheels,


we socialize with neighbors,


I’ve been kayaking and swimming,

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and George and I went to the coast for our wedding anniversary, enjoying a walk on the beach and some fried clams.


We’ve been fortunate to have very few Covid-19 cases here in Maine, so far.  Let’s hope it doesn’t escalate too much in the fall.

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Figs in the greenhouse

I’m looking forward to cooler fall weather and inside weaving time but dreading the upcoming months until the election.   It is going to be ugly.


I will try to focus on the beauty here and hope we make it out the other side with our sanity, health, and government intact.


Sweet Alice




As usual, summer whirled by.  We took on too much, but are feeling the sweet satisfaction of transforming our slice of hillside into our long-dreamed-of ultimate home.  It feels good.


George capped off a summer of building projects by finishing the sauna.  He put an amazing amount of time, thought, and work into it.  And it’s a beautiful creation, with gorgeous wood inside and out, nestled in the trees, promising hours of bliss—soaking in heat, hot cedar fragrance, and the flickering light of the woodfire.


To accompany the sauna, George also built a deluxe outdoor shower.


Beginnings of the shower (with the dye garden and fleece washing station behind)

There’s nothing like watching eagles soaring overhead while showering.  Getting clean has never been so sweet.


While George was busy building, the butterflies moved in.


The Eastern Tiger Swallowtails appeared first


Eastern Tiger Swallowtail caterpillar–the only time I’ve seen one–the “eyes” and swaying head were a bit creepy


Black Swallowtail caterpillar

We were besieged by monarchs.  In their caterpillar incarnation they ate our milkweed to desolate skeletons, every tender bit devoured.

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We were fortunate to catch the moment of metamorphosis from caterpillar to chrysalis while the grandchildren were here.


Attaching to form a chrysalis

I hope it didn’t give them nightmares of alien transformations.

IMG_3205Lots of writhing and pulsing, as a massive chrysalis (where did that incredible hulk come from?) shed the vivid caterpillar skin, leaving a shriveled bit of tissue-paper debris in a matter of minutes.

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By August, Monarch chrysalises were hanging everywhere—from perennial stalks, siding, windowsills, and even a wheelbarrow.

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As good hosts, we left them alone—no cutting back of perennials or bumpy wheelbarrow rides during chrysalis-hood.  On the final day before butterfly emergence, the chrysalis becomes a deep blue, with wings and colors visible.


But the actual emergence is very fast—it’s over in minutes.  Although I kept on eye on ripe ones, I kept missing the magic moment.  I finally camped out on our deck steps shelling tiger beans, next to a chrysalis looking about to burst, determined to wait until the moment of emergence.


After about an hour, there was a sudden twitch and the chrysalis listed to one side.


Then, in an eerie similarity to the caterpillar-chrysalis transformation, in minutes the butterfly shed the chrysalis and burst out—BOOM—into a crumbled color of wings with an outsized body.


After a few hours drying, it was off, feasting on nectar for the migration south.


Some evenings more than a dozen would be dancing over our Joe Pye Weed.


They stayed well into October.  I hope they made it to Mexico.


It was a good summer for growing—monarchs, flowers, and vegetables.

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The gardens produced wonderfully and I swear the vegetables get tastier every year.




In the summer, we filled the greenhouse with tomatoes, cotton, a fig tree, passion fruit vines, bay laurel, herbs, turmeric and ginger.


Passionfruit flower


Curing sweet potatoes in greenhouse


Hoping for tomatoes into November

Now it’s also planted with greens for fall, winter, and spring.  I’m looking forward to seeing how much it extends the season for us.


Sweet Alice

The dogs and bees are thriving, too.  Capp appears to have recovered completely from his mystery illness last year, which is such a relief.


Capp sunbathing

He and Alice are our best buddies, making us rich in love and dog hair.


My adopted bees settled in beautifully and are going into fall as the strongest hive I’ve ever had.  I’ll wrap the hive next month and hope they make it through the winter.


Samuel Morison great wheel

Much of my summer was textile-related—most of it outdoors.


Gotland fleece ready to wash


Dew retting flax

I went to two natural dyeing workshops, washed fleeces, spun a lot of wool for dyeing, worked on wheels, grew and retted flax, and taught a class on antique wheels.  In late summer, I set up my outdoor dye kitchen for two dyeing sessions, using plants from my dye garden and our land.


Simmering goldenrod


Japanese Indigo–notice the blue tinge to the water

What a range of colors emerged: blues from Japanese Indigo and Woad; yellows from Weld, Goldenrod, and Queen Anne’s Lace; gold and orange from Dyer’s Coreopsis; and green from overdyeing the yellows with the blues.


Dye day one, Woad, Japanese Indigo, Goldenrod, Queen Anne’s Lace and overdyeing for greens

There’s a wonderful sense of witchy-ness in hovering over a brew of plants transforming them to potions of color.



Dyer’s Coreopsis


Dye day two–Japanese Indigo, Dyer’s Coreopsis, with overdyeing and afterbaths of washing soda and iron

I was so busy with outside activities that I had little time for weaving.  In September, however, an antique wheel friend offered to sell me her Leksand loom, a beautiful 19th century Swedish loom for weaving bands.  I was thrilled.


Beautiful old Leksand–I’m very fortunate to have this loom

They are very hard to find and really fun to use.  It took some time to figure out how to set it up and weave on it–all the helpful books were in Swedish.  I also rescued an old Maine tape loom that had been covered with 70s-era painted flowers and have a line-up of spinning wheels waiting for my repairs.



Cape Breton wheel needing work

Last week I finally warped up my big loom.


It’s still too beautiful, though, to spend much time inside.  The leaf colors are spectacular this fall.


But, winter is coming.


And I plan to be a recluse—home with George, dogs, snow, wheels, spinning, sewing, and weaving.  And the sauna, of course.



Spring Ahead


I have not died or otherwise disappeared off the face of the earth. I simply have been engrossed in worlds other than blogging. Now my challenge is to condense nine months packed with living into one blog post.  We have gone from spring mists


to fall mists


to this


since I last wrote.  Here goes …

One reason I dropped out of the blogosphere was because Capp became terribly ill in July. Seemingly overnight, he went from a happy-go-lucky, just-turning-two-year-old lab, full of mischief and swagger, to a ball of misery who didn’t want to leave his crate.


After time at the local dog emergency clinic and with our local vet, his mystery condition was bumped up to the veterinary specialists in Portland, an hour-and-a-half from home. He almost died.


Home after tests with lots of shaved spots.

He spent three days at the Portland vet on an IV and undergoing a battery of tests. At first the fear was cancer, but it turned out that he had immune-mediated neutropenia, which was causing his white blood cells to drop to treacherously low levels. After six months on prednisone, and other drugs, he is finally back to our old Capp.


We still don’t know exactly what caused his condition. The theories are a reaction to immunizations or perhaps a tick-borne disease (although he tested negative for all the common ones). He remains on a low dose of pred and must have regular blood tests, but we are so relieved that we didn’t lose him. He has become quite popular with the wonderful vets and technicians caring for him. One tech calls him “Cute Adorable Puppy Prince,” and it has stuck. Amazingly, we had pet insurance–the first we’ve ever had for a dog–and they really came through for us, too.


Throughout Capp’s illness, Alice has remained her sweet affectionate self.

Because of Capp’s illness, we have been sticking pretty close to home. In the spring, we consolidated our vegetable beds into two fenced-in gardens. “We” meaning George–he did all the fencing and leveling.


The gardens were lush and productive this year.






We were eating our garden potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, and onions well into February. I tried growing cotton this year, and it did well, but frost hit before the cotton fully developed.


Cotton blossom.

Next year, I will try hanging the bolls inside to continue to mature.



The vegetable beds. Much neater than last year.

George is getting really good at putting in trails.


We have a whole system that now reaches each corner of the property.

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The first set of trails were named after the grandchildren. The next will be named after the dogs.

He also is building an outdoor, wood-fired sauna–something that I became enamored with during our years in Alaska.


Preparing for the sauna.

But the biggest project this year was building a garage.




We hired contractors to do most of the work, but George did much of the prep and finish work himself (he’s still doing finish work) and oversaw everything–not an easy task. The upstairs is an open space that will be half guest room and half an area for sewing, my small loom, and my really big spinning wheels. I inaugurated the space two weeks ago with a gathering of nine great wheel spinners from around mid-coast Maine. It was wonderful.


I have fallen deep into the spinning and weaving world. Old wheels just seem to follow me home and it gives me a thrill to work on them and get them spinning again.


Amazing wood on Shaker wheel from Alfred Lake, Maine.

They fascinate me with their beautiful wood, colors, craftsmanship, and history.


This European wheel, likely from Austria, was singed by being too close to the fire.

I am planning on doing a few presentations and classes on antique wheels with another friend this year.


Canadian Bisson wheel.

We’re hoping to convince lots of spinner to rescue these lovely wheels, so that they won’t be lost to future generations.


It’s amazing how beautifully the old wheels spin. I have continued to buy local fleeces–this year Romney/Finn, Gotland, and Cormo–because I enjoy the whole process of scouring, processing, dyeing, spinning, and weaving.  It’s so satisfying to do it from start to finish.


Beautiful Cormo fleece.  I will spin with this on the great wheels

And flax, well, I’m just in love with flax.


About a third of my line flax this year, all processed and ready to spin.


Home grown and dyed flax woven into tape on an antique tape loom.

In the spring, before Capp’s illness, I took an amazing flax course at Snow Farm in western Massachusetts with Cassie Dickson–a flax guru, coverlet weaver extraordinaire, and all-around wonderful person.


The flax Cassie brought was retted in various ways so that we could compare them.

The course was for five days and covered everything–planting, processing, spinning, dyeing, and weaving.


Classmate Victoria, an amazing textile artist.   A link to her site: victoriamanganiello

I felt so fortunate to learn from Cassie, she usually teaches in the South, closer to her North Carolina home.  Here’s a link to Cassie’s site: CassieDickson.  People in other Snow Farm classes were fascinated by the flax.


Flax that we processed, spun, and dyed at class.

There was in class in welding sculptures out of all sorts of found objects, aka junk, and the instructor and one of his students kindly made us stands to keep our cups of water for flax spinning.


I treasure mine.


In the fall, weaving took the spotlight.


I wove these on my small loom in the summer.  Destined to be chair cushions.

I again traveled to western Massachusetts–this time to Vavstuga in Shelburne Falls for the introductory weaving course. What a treat. Having been–until recently–totally self-taught in weaving, I just soaked up all the years of knowledge shared through this wonderful weaving school.


A tablecloth being woven by a returning student.

The focus there is on Swedish weaving styles and looms, so it was especially timely for me because I had decided to buy a Swedish Oxaback loom. I was able to bring one home with me from Vavstuga and get right to work with it. Bliss.


Putting the first warp on my new loom.

I also really enjoyed Shelburne Falls. Every morning I went out early to the Bridge of Flowers, which spans the river right in front of the school, and chatted with the head gardener.


Every evening I walked down to the Falls, which were swollen with water after torrential downpours that we had on the second day.


I’m returning for another course in May. Can’t wait.


Current project on the loom.  Overshot with handspun and  naturally dyed wool and handspun linen tabby.

We have been rich in guests these past months, which has also kept us busy. We had family reunions in Connecticut and Massachusetts in July and both of our children, with their spouses, and the grandchildren were here for Thanksgiving. We had a big dump of snow, to the delight of the grandkids, who have never lived with snowy winters


Soap Sally, our creepy Thanksgiving snowperson, freaked out the dogs.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, so I really savored having the whole family here.  The granddaughters took to weaving like fish to water.


Our daughter returned again in December with the grandkids and, while George stayed home with the dogs, we took a two night trip to Quebec City right before Christmas.  It was magical.


And, of course, I brought home a beautiful Quebec wheel.


This post is starting to sound an awful lot like one of my mother’s holiday letters. But rather than edit it, I’m going to post it, as is. Or I may never get it done. I will try not to go so long between posts again.  I have been posting pictures on Instagram under “olddogsnewtruck.”  It’s more my speed these days.  Happy Spring.


Summer’s Bounty


Hearing of all the weather turmoil around the world these past months, we have had an embarrassment of fine weather. It feels as if we are living on an island of perfect summer days, leading to a startling bounty of goodness to see, smell, and taste.


I only had to water my vegetables one time the entire summer and I have never in my life had gardens produce such large and luscious yields.


We barely kept up–a frenzy of chopping, slicing, blanching, and freezing–and then giving the rest away. Our freezers are full of beans, eggplant, zucchini, fennel, corn, roasted tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste (a first), salsa verde, chopped basil and parsley rolls, and corn.


Our agribon-covered tunnel for the brassicas was a great success, giving us pest-free cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, and kale. The cover is still up over the brussel sprouts, which are just about ready to eat. We had bumper crops of potatoes and shallots and continue to have more tomatoes than we can eat. Our okra plants ended up doing pretty well, despite a slow start. But I didn’t know that you are supposed to harvest the pods after just a few days and left them on far too long. Hard as a rock. So George bought and froze a case of okra from our local farmer’s market. Only peppers are left to process–roasting and drying–yum.


Our latest harvest came today when Capp noticed mushrooms sprouting from a wood-chip bed. We had spread the bed with wine cap mushroom spawn earlier in the summer but didn’t hold out much hope because the mushroom spawn that we had carefully pegged into logs last summer had failed to do anything. The chip bed is along our woods trail and Capp sometimes pees on one corner–the same corner in which the mushrooms have sprouted. Perhaps he has a magic elixer. His pee seemed to deter the raccoons from our corn this year, so I’m all for it. We haven’t eaten wine caps before. Let’s hope we like them. We’ll do a tiny taste tonight to make sure they don’t kill us and go from there.


My little flax patch grew happily without any attention from me.


When the stalks were about 2/3 yellow, I pulled the plants by the roots and bundled them into stooks to dry.


Almost harvest time.  Some seed heads are brown, some yellow, some still green.


After drying, I took the seed heads off, a process called “rippling,” with two wooden tools I bought on ebay.



Before rippling.


I really have no idea what they were originally used for–they were advertised as “flax hackles,” but I’ve also seen them for sale as Turkish weaving beaters, so who knows? In any case, they are beautiful hand carved tools that worked very well to comb the seed heads off of the flax.



Seeds on a sheet.

After I removed the seed heads, I retted the flax. Retting is essentially a process that rots the stems a bit, breaking down the pectin to leave long fibrous strands for spinning. I retted my flax in three batches.


One was submerged in water in a kiddie pool–held down with rocks. The other two were retted by the dew–one in the flax patch and one on our front lawn.


Interestingly, the batch in the flax patch, which is lower down on the property, retted faster than the batch on the lawn.


I then dried each batch again and have it waiting for the next stage–when it’s smashed and combed–called “breaking” and “hackling.”


Although I scoured every antique store in mid-coast Maine for a flax break, I had no luck in finding one. So, George has kindly offered to make one for this year, while we continue to look. The break smashes the stems, separating the spinnable fibers from the rest.


A small bit of flax that I processed is hanging from the distaff.  

As our vegetables and flax grew, so did our flowers.




It was a wonderful year for bees and butterflies.




We had lots of monarchs this year AND lots of these milkweed tussock moths, which turned some of the milkweeds into skeletons.

Berries are thick, bringing berry-eating birds, including our waxwing babies.


Wild cherries over the bee hive.  


Unfortunately, our cursed bluebird continues to hang around and he may be training up his progeny to be just as nasty as he is. After months of enduring his assaults on our house and car windows, we hoped that he might calm down once his babies fledged.


I grudgingly admit that he was a good provider and was surprised to see, when I pulled up the photos, that the female had a damaged claw–it was always bent under.


Was his aggression protective of her injury? Or did he cause it? I have no clue, but he was one incredibly aggressive bird. The two of them raised three chicks and they went off in the world.


We didn’t see anything of them for several weeks. The past few days, however, the whole crew is back and a male with a short tail is attacking house and car windows again. I fear he is the next generation.


We haven’t been entirely immune from weather woes. My mother’s water-front Florida house was slated for demolition by Hurricane Irma at one point. We spent some helpless, nail-biting hours wondering if the house and its contents would be swept away, while our weather continued sunny and glorious.


But, Irma danced a bit eastward and the house was spared. Fortunately, my mother wasn’t there and–due to her dementia–didn’t know that her home was imperiled. A small benefit of extreme age, I guess.


Clouds crimped like fleece.



Crimpy fleece like clouds.

Our weather was like summer today, with an overlay of fall smells and colors. I love fall and look forward to slowing down after a hectic summer. I am already planning inside activities–spinning, weaving, and sewing. I processed all the fleece that I bought this summer, using George’s loam separator to pick the vegetable matter, crud, and poop from the fleeces.



CVM fleece (California Variegated Mutant–awful name, lovely wool).  

Actually, with one exception, the fleeces were extremely clean and washed up beautifully.


The wood is in. Bring on fall and winter.