Something old, something new

2017: 1
A year ago I stood at the scrolled ironwork fence at the edge of the Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls, Ontario and took a photo.

We were just returning from a trip to visit family in Michigan and, like clockwork, I’d picked up some sort of virus and was sick in a way I hope never to be again in a soggy hotel room. On January 1, I was just coming out of the mist of the virus that we dubbed “Douglas,” and I wanted to breathe some fresh Canadian air. Poor M and H were still in Douglas’ grip, some 30 stories up in a hotel that has a beautiful view that neither of them could appreciate that day.

I have a lot of memories of that day, largely due, I believe, to the photo I took, which anchored me to the moment (pulling my coat close around me in the drizzle, not quite snow, not quite rain), to a feeling (unfettered and a bit loose on my feet after days of being in bed), to a thought (how quiet that rushing water is when you’re so close to the edge).

The next day, home at last, I snapped another photo with my iPod, this time of a lamp’s reflection on our bedroom ceiling. And then I decided to continue. I don’t know how I did it because I’m truly lousy at resolutions and doing anything on a regular basis (diaries, exercise classes, writing projects, reading projects) and there were many days in 2016 when I didn’t feel like taking a photo, or didn’t have a good idea of a photo to take, or didn’t have my camera with me. Still somehow I managed it: 366 black -and-white photos, one a day, no faking, no fudging, not always fabulous, but a record of the year.

That project taught me many things:

  • Set small goals: one photo a day is not a lot to ask.
  • Always have a camera on hand; you never know when a good photo will jump out in front of you and it’s a rotten feeling when that happens and there’s no camera to record it.
  • Don’t worry if you forgot your camera. Sometimes it’s just good to look with your eyes and record the moment with your heart. There will be other photo opportunities.
  • Be persistent with a project even when your will is weak, when you are tired, when you are sick, when you are NOT IN THE MOOD.
  • Look for light (and shadow) in new ways, look for texture and contrast, find beauty and detail aside from color.
  • Don’t be afraid of repetition, of returning to favorite scenes, themes, ideas. Each version is a bit different and the accretion of repetition is beautiful.
  • When it’s time for a project to end, put an ellipsis after it and then start a new one. Momentum is magical.

To that last point, I began a new daily project this past January 1, using last year’s photos to create a new found poem each day this year. I may post some of those poems/photos here from time to time, but if you want to know more about the project or to see them all, you can follow along at thefoundnow.

I have another photo project idea up my sleeve, too, but I’ll tell you about that later.

And what about you? Did you have a project last year (daily, weekly, sporadically) that brought you pleasure? Do you have plans for this year? I’d love to know. You are all so clever, and creative and inspiring; I can’t wait to hear what you’re up to.

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.