10 years later

10 years later

Today is everywhere rain, and the snow is lifting fog up into the sky like hands thrown up in frustration or submission: I give up trying to be winter.

I felt the rain all day like some sort of permission. Let’s not do. Let’s stay put. This is the generosity of bad weather on a day off (if you’re lucky enough to have a choice in the matter): permission to read a book, stare out the window, make mental lists without lifting a flesh-and-blood finger, let your mind wander into the foggy past.

Ten years ago today there was a blizzard. I remember this because it was during that blizzard, the first of the winter, in fact, that we were shuttling all of our worldly goods from the shipping containers on the driveway back into this house. This house that we slid down the hill.

Ten years ago this house was like an old friend who’d had minor plastic surgery. Familiar and yet… something not quite familiar.

Ten years ago, this house felt lightly perched on its new foundation. Old bones tentative about its new seat. Untethered somehow.

Ten years later, we are emphatically settled. The house has given up its polite perch on the edge of the chair and settled, groaning slightly, into a comfortable slouch. Us, too, I suppose. We’re as stuck here as I’ve ever been anywhere before. Rooted.

I have plans to see friends tonight, but everything in me is crying to stay put and listen to the rain, watch the dog’s paws twitch in his dreams, dig my roots in even further.

But it doesn’t matter how much we dig in, does it? The world spins on. These posts and beams have been this house’s bones for more than 200 years, and standing as trees for at least a hundred more. It’s watched all of Vermont history pass by. Nothing stays.

Ten years from now? H will be out in the world. I suppose we’ll be here, thinking back thirty years to the day we first peered in the windows of this endearing old wreck of a place and said, “Yes, this is home.”


The first night we stayed in this house, 20 years ago last March, we slept on a futon on the floor in a small second-floor bedroom that had a cracked and crumbling plaster wall. And we were smitten.

That wall didn’t bother us much. The whole house was a project, and the crumbling wall seemed the least of it. We were naive, newly married, and thrilled to become owners of an ancient farmhouse with hewn beams, worn pine floors, and a wood stove.

At first, the room remained a spare bedroom with a cracked plaster wall. Eventually, when Hyla came along, we hired a guy who did plaster the old way (with cow hair mixed in) to repair the cracks and make the room fresh for a baby.

Continue reading “Pivot”

What we did on our summer vacation

It’s the last day of summer, and before we launch into fall color, carved pumpkins, and big bowls of soups and stews, I need to take a moment to acknowledge what we accomplished around here the last couple of months.

And when I say we, I really mean he, as in M. Because he was the brains and brawn behind most of these projects. I was just there to hand him the hammer when requested.

I write a lot here about cooking and books and music and animals and poems and long, lazy walks in the valley, but you really do know that we have live a normal life here, right? We work, go to school, pay the bills, scoop the cat box, have leftovers for dinner, pick up cat fur from everywhere, mow the lawn, scrub the shower floor.

I just don’t share these glamorous moments with you because I don’t want to make you too jealous.

Really, though, this summer has been busy with some outdoor projects that needed doing, and I’m grateful to M for making them happen.

First of all, there was the driveway. The poor gravel driveway that was battered by a couple years of use, then by the relentless rains of spring. It developed a canyon. We developed swerving skills to drive up and down without hurting our cars, but sooner or later someone was going to get a wheel in that ditch and it needed to be fixed.

Driveway - before

Enter Chip, whom M spotted working with his backhoe on a property in town and asked if he had time for a couple small projects at our place.

(And please forgive me if backhoe is the wrong term. Is it excavator? Oh, I don’t know about these things.* To me it’s a glorious machine that can dig a hole in 15 minutes that would take us three hours by hand. It’s a godsend, is what it is. But I digress…)

Over came chip. The driveway was smooth in 20 minutes.

Driveway - after

But while Chip was here, he performed an even bigger miracle. And I’ll show you what that was.

He turned this:

Muck 2 - before

Into this:

Muck 2 - after

Three years of accumulated wasted hay (thank you, picky goats), muck, etc., dug out to bare earth again. We can now walk into the run-in without ducking our heads.

And what’s really cool (and another brilliant idea from M)? Chip dug a hole in the goat yard, dumped all that delicious muck into the hole, then covered it with soil, which we then seeded, and now we have a beautiful little rise that the goats can play King of the Hill on. Genius.


New pasture

"Birthday hill"

Driveway smooth, muck gone, new hill for the goats.

That, my friends, would have been enough. Dayenu.

But wait. There’s more.

The firewood arrived. We’d ordered it green and early, so it would have plenty of time to season before the winter. The problem was where to stack it all. In the spring, we’d had a septic problem that turned out to be at least somewhat a result of stacking wood on the ground above the line from the house to the septic tank. Over the years, the pressure of all that wood essentially bent the line.


Fresh wood needs home

We had one wood crib that M had built a couple of seasons ago to hold some of wood for the large stove. It made sense to us to build a second one next to that to hold the new wood for the smaller stove.

Double wide

Hmmm. Perhaps we need a third.

Triple wide

And then he went and put those nifty red roofs on, to match the one on the barn.

Red roof

I love them. Everything all dry and orderly and protected from the weather. This, my dears, is what it means to be an adult. To be so completely pleased by a neat place to stack the firewood.

That took care of all the short wood. There was still the rest of the long wood to stack, which we put here:

The other wood pile

It’s not as pretty, but it does the job.

Look who we found while we were stacking! She (?) was actually there under the plastic along with two or three babies, but I couldn’t get to my camera before the babies fled.

Woodpile friend

A wood pile makes a good home. The chipmunks are always in them, the wasps have settled in, there are discarded snake skins everywhere.

After all the really necessary projects were complete, M turned to one last summer project: making a table for the grill.

We’ve had the grill (a Big Green Egg) for years, but until this year it’s always just sat on its little feet on the porch floor. But we had an old work table that needed a new life, and in a matter of a couple weekends, M transformed it into a cozy nest for the Egg.

Nest under constructions

Just its size


Wheels and everything!

It’s very spiffy. And, right this very minute, as I type, M is preparing two pork butts to put on that Egg to make a last pulled pork of the summer. Because, around here, we don’t let go of summer until the equinox pulls it from our suntanned, calloused paws.

* I do, however, usually know a hawk from a handsaw.

Good old bones

Outside looking in

We stood on the deck behind the house, thigh-high in late-spring snow, peeking inside the big window, 19 years ago this week.

(Remember how Vermont winters used to be?)

Our friends, the house’s owners, had written to say, “We’re selling the Vermont house. Do you want it?”

We drove from Pittsburgh and arrived while our friends were out running errands, so we were locked out and could only peer through the glass and imagine ourselves inside.

The house, built by a poor farmer from timbers cut on the surrounding land, had stood for nearly 200 years, and had seen a lot. This particular week, it was silently witnessing a fresh and terrible grief. We didn’t know what we’d find in this house. Heartbreak certainly. Ghosts maybe.

But the house was a comfort. If it had ghosts, they were kind ones. We didn’t say a lot on that visit. Our friends were suffering, but still warm and welcoming, and we let the house put its arms around us all.

That night, we slept on an old futon on the floor in a small room where the plaster was crumbling in the corner. We hadn’t yet been married two years, but we knew something about our future, and after that night we knew that it included this house. This land.

At breakfast, we came downstairs to the small wooden table in the kitchen. Bright eastern sunlight streamed through the huge window.

Big window - interior

Who had the foresight to install that incongruous window? Certainly not the farmer who built the house, who was more interested in warmth and practicality than views.

Someone later, though, understood the balm of morning sun, cut a giant hole in the house’s hide, and filled it with light.

Living room view

The house, when we first met it, was in (as one very wise woman said) “oh, brother” state. It was lovable, but shabby. No one had focused their attention on it much in a very long time.

We moved from the city that never felt like home, the two of us, a moving van of apartment furniture and books, and a long-haired orange cat named Seamus.

Life arrived in expected and unexpected ways. We got a dog. We worked on the house. We had a child. We did dishes in the farmhouse sink with a view out the big window.

We moved the house away from the road; the plaster cracked in places, but the house’s old bones flexed and then stood firm, the house’s haunches resting on a new foundation.

We cleared the trees to reveal a view of the local hills through the big window.


There have been many cats. And another dog. And now there are goats. There are nights of board games, music, tears, books, dumb movies on the DVD player, homework, arguments, parties, bad jokes, piles of laundry, messy cooking projects, angry words, tickle fights, popcorn.

There will be more of everything, if we’re lucky. And lucky we are. All together right now in this house built of old bones and kind ghosts.

Big window



Ask anyone who knows us. We don’t rush into things.

We study the situation. We agonize over the details. We talk out the possibilities, mentally try out a series of “what-ifs”, watch the wind, wait for the stars to align.


We think of alternatives that delay further decisions. We come up with Plan A, then re-evaluate in favor of Plan B, then C…

Sure, we’ve been known to make impulse decisions. You only have to look at our overflowing book shelves and CD collection to realize that.


But some things take a long time to develop, and the longer you wait to start them, the longer you wait to enjoy them. Things like cheese, and cider, that need to develop flavor slowly, over months and sometimes years. Or a perennial bed. Or the asparagus bed that I still haven’t planted (being too worried all these years about choosing the wrong location, so never choosing any location).

Golden Russet

Two birthdays ago, I bought M an orchard. Rather, a potential mini orchard of four apple trees and two pear trees. I figured we’d waited long enough, and after we lost our favorite Golden Russet tree to Hurricane Irene, it seemed a sign to plant a new one, and a few others while we were at it.


Golden Russet, golden dog

We should have bought those trees years ago. We should have planted them the summer after we moved the house. Imagine how big those trees would be now? Not full-grown, by any means, but…bearing fruit.

That which we should have done we did not do.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t do it now.


We had those trees planted a couple weeks ago. The nursery where I bought them was kind enough to let them stay there until we were ready for them. Then they came with shovels and strong arms and fertilizer and mulch, and they planted.

Seckel Pear

Cox's Orange Pippin

The beautiful part of having made a decision, having finally taken an action, is that you get the satisfaction of waiting and watching the gradual outcome: the soft layer of white mold developing day by day on the camembert; the regular, reassuring “burping” of the cider as it ferments; the tender branches of the baby trees spreading out, and the first buds appearing next year.

Cold day for planting

Of course, we’re on the brink of winter now, and the saplings have lost most of the few leaves they had a couple weeks ago. But I like to imagine below the surface, their roots stretching out comfortably for the first time in their own plot of land, feeling at home and settling in for the long haul, waiting on spring.

Hard freeze on the Golden Russet

I won’t even have to put shoes on

The other evening, I went out to dinner to celebrate a friend’s birthday and when I got home, M and H surprised me with this:


To you, it might look like just another pile of firewood.

To me, it looks like heaven.

It means a winter of never having to go out into the wild weather to fetch wood from the woodpile. It means not having to kick the pile to separate the frozen logs while I’m in the middle of a work day. It means not having to bring the snow and dirt into the house along with logs. Heck, I might not even have to put on a coat.

Instead, I can just step out onto the covered porch and take a log. A dry log.

If I had arms as long as M’s, I could just reach out from the open door and snag a log without touching the porch.


How lucky can a girl get?

A load off my mind

Remember way back when, when did that little house move/renovation project?

Back then, we were looking for ways to cut costs and one of the decisions we made was that we would do all the painting ourselves. We figured we could handle it and it would cut a good chunk out of the budget. We’ve done a lot of the interior and things look okay (though we just bought paint last month to finally do the stairs and my office). We also did one exterior coat, and paid someone to do the second coat on the second story, figuring I could easily complete the second coat near the bottom last summer.

Well… that didn’t happen. And it’s been hanging over my head all spring. I really enjoy the painting, but it turns out I don’t have as much free time in the summer as I was hoping I’d have, and it also turns out that my free days rarely coincide with the non-rainy days.

Front scraped for painting

We finally got smart this spring and hired someone a friend recommended. He’s great! He knows his stuff, and he’s fixing some of the things that the last (non-pro) painter didn’t do so well. And, best of all, he’s out there doing it right now, while I’m here doing the things I’d rather be doing. Check that one off the list!