feeling the stretch

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Sunscreen hand prints on our storm doors. A pile of swimsuits and towels on the tile by the stairs. Half-unpacked boxes in the corner and a kitchen countertop strewn with random bits which have no home. It’s summertime in Maine, which means we are sopping up every second of sunshine we can (until the flies chase us inside – when will they go away?! I thought for sure they’d be gone by now, but the welts on my poor girls’ backs show otherwise), and leaving the inside work for another day.

It was both a wonderful and dreadful time to move homes. We escaped mud season, and thankfully didn’t track gobs of dirt inside, but as soon as we vacated the other house and plopped our belongings over here, we had to start getting a handle on the yard work. In fact, J hopped on the mower right after our settlement and cut the front lawn. It’s been nonstop since then, and we are feeling the stretch – to enjoy the weather, to get the work done, to finish moving in, to keep up with our regular responsibilities!

We haven’t done much inside except to move into the existing closets and cabinets. When we bought our house in Baltimore seven+ years ago, we ripped up carpet and laid quarter-round right away, painting every room before even bringing furniture in. In theory, that was a great choice because there was more space to move around. But rushing the process led to snap decisions on colors, etc., and it wasn’t long before I was wishing we’d done something different. I’d like to paint just about every space in this house, but this time we’re going to live in it for a while first. The weather will keep us inside soon enough – best to save a few projects for later.

So we’re focusing on making the grounds our own. The garden is as planted as it’s going to get. I found myself slipping into despair as I looked up and down the rows and realized nothing had grown, not a seed had sprouted, until J reminded me, “you do this every year,” and true to form, everything is green and growing after several days of rain. Sadly, a garden fence is at the bottom of the project list for now, so my silly chickens still have full access to the plot. I could coop them, but their powers of tick control far outweigh a few plants in value, yes? So for now, we’re still chasing them out of the dirt several times a day. The result of their attentions is a wonky row of carrots (bonus: no need to thin because they’re not crowded!) a thick patch of kale, and a missing tomato seedling (what did they do with it?). I’m still finding a lot of broken glass and pottery, making me wonder if the area was an old farmhouse dump. It’s hard to say without knowing more about the history of the property, but I do miss gardening barefoot.

The other night, on a whim, I asked J to take the weed eater to the trickle of water running under the apple trees, just so we could see it. There’s a round cement cap over what appears to be a natural spring, just down from the garden under an apple tree with a perfectly curved branch for sitting. We’ve remarked that it might have been the original water supply for the property, way back when, but now it flows freely for the deer and other wildlife to partake – chickens and Schnauzers too. With his ear pro on, that husband of mine knocked down all the vegetation, even after working on projects all day, and as I prepped dinner for the grill, I watched he and the girls load the wagon with the cut pieces to be dumped elsewhere. When we wandered down after dinner, I found they had even gone so far as to clear out some of the rocks and make a barrier of sorts, redirecting the flow from a muddy, marshy mess into an actual stream. In some places, it was positively burbling and splashing along. We stood on the cap and watched a little frog do his best imitation of a stone, and then the girls rode the tractor with their daddy, one on each knee, along the path through the tall grass and back before a big, bright rainbow broke the sky, and we all went in to bed.

market day

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On Sundays, the girls go to my parents and J and I have three childless hours to do whatever we please. Sometimes we run boring errands together, trips to Home Depot or to the grocery store. Sometimes we drink coffee and do nothing, though that’s a pretty rare occurrence. Today, we went to the farmer’s market with our four-legged fur-child, who was very excited to have mama and daddy all to himself.

We came in at the far end of town so as to avoid the market traffic, and parked outside the little store there. I popped inside to pull cash, but the ATM was out of order, and I didn’t have a check to cash at the register, so we were limited to the $13 in J’s wallet and any vendors with a Square. The dog owners were out in force, and Stubby paused to greet an ancient Springer spaniel, and then what looked to be a pair of retired Greyhounds.

It was still early in the day, and there weren’t very many patrons about, though the vendors all seemed happy to be out in the sunshine. Pickings were pretty slim in terms of veggies – it’s still early for us – but there were cheeses and pickles, breads and mustards. We made a lap, stopping to talk to a friend who owns the ice cream bus, another who was shopping with his son. We tasted a beer infused gouda, and marveled over a loaf of herbed cheesy bread; both made it into our tote.

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Our funds spent, we sauntered back to the little store. J went inside for sandwiches and Stubby and I wandered around back to watch the lake. A loon drifted by as I fumbled with my camera. Despite Stubby’s best efforts to ruin the shot, I caught the image just before the bird dove, resurfacing well out of range. The distance they can swim underwater is just amazing – you never know where they will come up. There is a pair that returns to our own little lake each summer, and I am still in awe that we see such an exotic species on a regular basis – this is no Mallard eating bread crusts at the suburban duck pond.

Two hours already gone, and we hadn’t even begun the projects on today’s short list, so we headed home with full tummies to pick rhubarb and work on the chicken coop before bringing our little ladies home to nap.

 

more rocks

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Awhile back, I read a tongue-in-cheek comment that the largest crop grown in the state of Maine is actually rocks. I chuckled at the time, thinking it to be hyperbole. That lighthearted chuckle has turned into more of a rueful laugh as I begin my third season as a Maine gardener. I truly think they’re multiplying.

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There was an existing garden plot in our yard, a nice large, flat space with plenty of full sun and a row of rhubarb going gangbusters. I know there are pitfalls to moving into someone else’s dirt – soil exhaustion, potential chemical use by the previous gardener, etc. There were some pros for us too though – mainly the great location and the time saved by not having to break fresh ground. We are already a little late getting started.

So I’ve spent quite a bit of time turning the garden soil by hand over the last several weeks. It’s been slow going as I pick out broken glass and remove the rocks. So many rocks! The no-till method makes sense to me, so instead of renting a rototiller, I’ve been using the spade to dig and turn, breaking up clumps by hand. It’s allowed me to remove most of the weeds by the root, hopefully making my job easier in the coming months. The soil’s not great. It’s sticky and almost clay-like, but there are lots of worms and bugs squirming about, which is encouraging. I had hoped to mix some composted manure into the dirt before planting, but just couldn’t make it happen, so I’ll be adding some as more of a mulch, and will make sure to put the garden to bed properly this fall, which will make a world of difference next spring.

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The strawberries look really happy. J’s lab partner gifted us several transplants last spring, and they made the  move with us, perking right up once in the ground and even flowering. I’ve got almost half the plot turned now, and have put two rows of veggies in: tomatoes and peppers. But they are sad little plants right now, shivering in the cold. Our sunshine has been elusive this spring, and I’m hoping it will make an appearance soon. The weather has been strange all around, really. We had a doozy of a thunderstorm today, hail bouncing around the yard.

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I’m going to direct seed carrots, marigolds and zinnias tomorrow, and I have a small pack of pickling cucumber seedlings to go in. We’re going to attempt a sunflower house, too, and I’m sure the rocks will continue to spread. They self-seed, you know, and it looks to be a bumper crop.

a birthday

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My youngest turns three today.

I hung the glittery paper birthday banner in our front window last night, thinking about the day I bought it for her big sister’s first birthday party, and where I hung it then, and for the following family birthdays. I never intended to make it a tradition, but here it is. It hung in the summer rental for Beanie’s first birthday, and then in the second rental for her second birthday. It’s now hanging in our own home, a ready backdrop to cake and candles later tonight. My littlest love has lived in four houses in her three years; it’s so nice to celebrate in our home today.

I’ve posted twice now about our big move, though realized that I still haven’t made an announcement or explanation. Such is the tattered brain I’ve been taping together these past few weeks.

We have bought a home. A beautiful home with plenty of space for our family and for guests to stay – inside, rather than in a tent in the yard. And the yard! Almost seven acres total, with two small apple orchards and many mature trees. It’s on a dead-end dirt road, and our neighbors are proving to be just delightful. The first day of moving in (two years since the girls and I arrived in Maine, almost to the very day), they showed up with a bottle of apple cider wine from our very own trees.

And it feels like home already. Despite the rooms littered with boxes, and the big empty walls, there is none of that vague unfamiliarity that so often comes with a new space. No, this home is warm, and welcoming, and instantly comfortable for us.

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I baked a cake and we opened presents after breakfast. Swee even picked out a special something for her Beanie at the swap shed this weekend, and it’s truly the perfect gift. I’m tired – goodness, I’m tired! – but it seems fitting to celebrate our little love here tonight, in our family’s very own space.

bring on the chickens

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Oh, were we ever a sight yesterday afternoon. With very minimal time to spare, we decided to help the chickens make their big move. J somehow, somehow maneuvered his Silverado into the backyard and behind the coop. I ran next door to borrow a dog crate and then followed all five birds around the yard, shaking a parmesan cheese can full of scratch and calling to them like they’re dogs. To be fair, several came running like good little dinos, but the others had no intention of being captured. It was probably pretty funny to watch. With the big girls corralled, I headed in to the bathtub to scoop the “babies” into a cardboard box. When I reached in to catch them, one of the cockerels bit me on the wrist…and held on! He didn’t break the skin, but I was yelling some unpleasant things while trying to shake him off. Little punk.

Finally, all the critters were contained, and J had dug up enough of the base to tip the coop into the bed of the truck. Now, this thing stands taller than I do, with a fully shingled roof and barnboard siding. It’s heavy. More than once I wondered what would happen if it tipped the wrong way and landed on me. I don’t think I was much help, to be frank, but “we” managed to get it into the truck, get the truck out of the backyard, and lash everything down.

With the four-ways on, we crept our way to the new house. At one point I speculated to J that the people behind us might be taking bets on what exactly we were moving, though we eventually agreed that given the area, they probably accurately identified it as a chicken coop without much discussion.

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The girls spent their first night on the homestead last night. I didn’t let them out this morning, wanting them to know exactly where their home is since we don’t have a run set up yet, but J decided to free them after lunch. They certainly looked grateful. It will be nice to have them around again. I’ve missed seeing them in the yard, and I certainly won’t mind the bug control!

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Our little ones are only seven weeks old, so they overnighted in a big bin in the shed. I drilled some holes in the lid for air, and once we have the interior coop reinforced, the big girls will move inside, and the young-in’s will occupy Fort Knox until we can integrate them. Most sources suggest waiting til the chicks are 16 weeks old or so, giving the little ones a chance to grow to a comparable size next to their new sisters. We want them to survive any pecking order scuffles…literally. They’re growing fast, however, and we might not need to wait that long. I’ll snap some photos of them tonight…

home.

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We were doing our final walk-through before closing when I opened a cabinet door in the first floor bathroom and realized our new home has a laundry chute – from the second floor bathroom, through the first floor where I was standing, and on down to the basement washer/dryer hookup. I have happy memories of playing with the laundry chute at my Nana’s when I was little, racing up and down with my cousins and brothers, tossing something or other down to the waiting party and then switching places. I think it’s these amenities, the little details that help make a place feel more like a home, and this new house certainly is welcoming us in.

Moving has been a slower process than I’d maybe hoped, but it’s pretty much done though a lot of unpacking still remains. We won’t have internet until this coming Friday, and the cell service is such that I can call and text but that’s it (remember when that’s all cell phones could do?). J didn’t take any extra time off so all of the big moving has been done in short windows, and I’ve been coming back to the rental to work my real job. Our chickens are still here, and are hopefully moving today. They’ll have lots of space to roam.

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We lit our first fire in the woodstove this morning, and I’m looking forward to getting home to sit by it and thaw out from working in this unheated office; it’s chilly in here. Getting home. Doesn’t that sound nice?

 

babies

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I was out of town all last week for work, an experience I don’t have very often. It was five days of hard thinking, wrapping my brain around new concepts and different ways of looking at things. I’ve never had instruction in curriculum design before, but my head is spinning with all sorts of potential applications, personally and professionally. There was lots of eating out with colleagues I never see face-to-face, which was so very nice, but damn, am I tired! I got home last Friday, and am still trying to catch up.

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Before I left, our family had the chance to visit our neighbors over at Sweet Clover Farm and meet their little lambs. You might remember the open farm day they hosted last year, an event that was unfortunately canceled this spring due to all the late snow we had: there was nowhere for anyone to park! But with the snow finally gone, we were invited to bring the girls over to meet this years’ babies. We made friends with a sweet little man named Prince Valiant, and little Parsnip fell asleep in J’s arms, firmly solidifying his wish to expand into four-legged farming. I’m not completely sold on that idea, but something tells me I’ll get there eventually. They don’t call chickens the “gateway” critter for nothing…

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Speaking of chickens, our own babies are firmly in the awkward teenager stage. They’ll be five weeks old this Friday, and I think it’s clear that we have two cockerels and two pullets. You can see the difference in their coloring and their combs above, the darker birds being male, and the lighter being female. I had to look through my blog posts to remember that we moved the chickens outside at this same age last year, but it was a good three weeks later into the season. We also didn’t have to integrate them into an existing flock, which presents some logistical problems for our current setup, so these little nuggets will be staying in the bathtub a while longer. I’m finding they’re not nearly as messy this year, which is probably a combination of using the larger tub and the fact that there are only four of them.

Salmon Faverolles are known for being docile and friendly, even the roosters, so we will probably keep them all. They do have funny feathered feet with five toes (as compared to three!), so that’s been a little bit different. I’m working on a post compiling all that we’ve learned over our first year of chicken-keeping, so if there’s something you’ve been wondering, drop your questions in the comments!

IMG_8688.JPGOur first double-yolk egg. You can see the size comparison on my Instagram.