My Tapestry

Family stories are often treasured memories and unforgettable heartbreak woven together. The tapestry often turns out to be beautiful, in the end, and for that I am grateful. This past week my daughters and I had the privilege of spending hours in front of the wood stove with my parents, who were visiting from Delaware. We asked questions about their childhood memories and were enthralled with their recollections until the fire dwindled each evening. At times, the walls resonated with our tear-filled laughter. Other moments, we somberly, quietly listened to past heartaches that seemed so distant yet compelling, because they were literally a part of us.

We were appreciative to hear family stories about a few back-to-basic things that we’re now doing on our own homestead the way my grandparents did on theirs.

Missy's blue egg

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Don’t Miss this Autumn Jewel: the Harvest Moon

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Or so Anton Chekhov wrote. I’m reminded of the quote as I scratch “Harvest Moon” on a Sunday square of the calendar.

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As a writer, I wholeheartedly agree with the Russian author.

As a teacher, I instruct my students to interrogate all of their readers’ senses.

As a New Englander, looking forward to the approaching Harvest Moon that will bathe our homestead in cool, penetrating splendor in the crisp autumn stillness, I have to rephrase Chekhov’s truism.

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Industrious Stories

Use a bottle to water your potted plants

Sometimes one daughter enlightens me about the latest livestock fact she learned on a homesteading website while we turn over a new garden bed. Sometimes another daughter describes detailed plays from last night’s softball game while we rake, side-by-side. Grandparents, painted rocks, country songs, varieties of tomatoes, and life cycles of snapping turtles–they’re all topics of different discussions that we amble through, or synopses of different stories that we weave together, while we work side by side. They’re moments of investment into a lifelong relationship with my children.

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Deep-Purple Promises

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Bare, muddy feet make another feel elated every afternoon.

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Reaping a Harvest

Surely it had been bathed in the light of the Harvest Moon hundreds of times before–our little red cape that sits at the bend in the road.

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There where the lake greets the river in rolling melodies, spilling over the dam, the full moons of many Septembers have certainly rolled their bright lullabies over the humble clapboard walls and lofty shingled roofs of the unassuming home, stretched carriage house, and formidable barn.

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There, close to the marshy river bank where moose have made evening stops for centuries, iridescent moonlight has danced over the tassles of ripened corn husks many times before tonight.

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But tonight I am the one harvesting.

Reaping in the beauty of the billowing poufs of clouds as they soar through the sapphire dome overhead.

Gathering new perspectives on the beauty of night that I usually don’t traverse.

Gleaning a small insight into God’s unfathonable majesty.

I was up too late, as usual. The dogs, already asleep for hours in remote corners, stumbled to the back door when I beckoned them for their last stop outside before retiring to their cages for the evening. Having heard mention of tonight’s moon being  a Harvest Moon, I joined Maggie and Bixby in their jaunt out back. The bleached clouds, cobalt blue firmament, and ringed, colored orb begged me to linger. Maggie moonbathed by the back door, while Bixby and I ambled through the back field, down to the gardens.

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Seeing the garden vines and plants–a summer’s worth of daily effort–basking in the ancient light, thinking of the generations of farmers who had harvested their crops on this land by the light of the same Harvest Moon, I was so thankful for Jehovah Jireh, the Lord who provides.

He provided this home for our family. Provided the warmth of the summer sun to cultivate the promise of her garden. Provided the extra light of the lingering moonlight every year at harvest time, when more light was needed in the face of shortening days and lengthening amounts of work.

The bright full moon of September has been aptly called the Harvest Moon even longer than our modest cape cod home has stood on its small wooded plot. Even longer than our meek New England town was even a thought in anyone’s mind. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the full moon closest to the autumn equinox has been referred to as the “Harvest Moon” since at least 1706. Because of the elliptical path of the moon at this time of the year, the time between sunset and moonrise is much shorter than usual, meaning the night sky is illuminated much longer, giving farmers an extended harvest time during those precious days of the full moon.

For me tonight, it gave me time to garner insights into God’s breathtaking creativeness. Insights into the light he provides, so we don’t have to stumble in darkness. Insights that I will store away deep in my heart and unfold again one cold day when I need reminders of the warmth of our family’s first summer here, here in the home where God has placed us. Where he has planted us.

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Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Psalm 8:3-4

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I found this site very informative about the Harvest Moon and the upcoming Hunter’s Moon in October.

History you can feel in your toes

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It had been six long weeks. Three of research: internet, calls, emails. Three of sharpening and scraping: inch by inch, board by board.

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She helped me with devoted zeal and did more work than I… the daughter who always stares big jobs in the face, non-perplexed, and works till they’re done. The daughter who always respected history, even though science and math are her passions.

She did the math on this one, and the mechanical engineer convinced me, after three weeks of back-breaking hand scraping, it was time to bring in some help. Some mechanical advantage. After all, there were no hand hewn marks to preserve on over half of the floorboards. They had been trod for years, with no protection.

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On that half of the room, we would use a hand sander and cut our efforts and time of labor to probably a fourth of the amount.

But she couldn’t convince me to allow her modern technology to take over all the floor. In this northern land of preserved history, where you often turn many a mountain bend and see a Cape Cod like ours greeting you with its symmetrical simplicity and high pitched roof, there were many people I could talk to about preserving our floor.

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To some, it was too common. Not respected enough. Many flooring experts with thick, lazy drawn out “r”s were eager to help my “flah-bahds” by bringing out their big drum sanders to perfect and modernize my floor. Quickly scrape away multiple layers of uneven, hand hewn uniqueness to each board, leaving me with a floor like I could probably buy at Home Depot. They didn’t pause to offer any amazement at my floor’s endurance, how she had weathered two centuries of wear and yet was still strong under her scars. But I was determined that this one Cape Cod, the one that sprawls out where the lake meets the river, the one that tucks behind the maples at the bend in the road, it would not have a modern floor.

Yet there were experts who did respect the age and character of my wide pine floor boards. And they were gently honest with me. These men conversed with me me at the barn dance.

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Or we chatted beside the home baked whoopee pies for sale in the country store. They coached me. These men, local builders or carpenters, had themselves spent countless hours and exerted extreme efforts on their knees over antique pine boards. They tenderheartedly pointed out that my method was still scraping away the original hand hewn marks. These men, like me, were lovers of history that one can walk barefoot across, lovers of history that one can literally feel in ones toes, and they all kindheartedly told me, over the course of back-breaking, discouraging weeks, that my methods were not truly preserving the history. Adding a little mechanical advantage was not only okay, they assured me, but also might save my sanity.

I listened but wasn’t ready to give up yet. It became a battle of me and these floorboards against the world. Then the day came. I collapsed. I flung back and sprawled out across the scraped, dusty pine like a child ready to make an angel imprint in the snow. There, looking up at my low, wood beamed ceiling, I gave up.

I simply had no energy left in me to continue my plight. Looking at the minuscule ground my daughter and I had scraped away at over the course of almost four weeks, looking at the rough (I had to admit) ugly results of my efforts, and looking at the smooth efforts of her hand sander, I realized I had been wrong.

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Here in the boards that had been rather easily sanded (on the right) I saw more proof of the hand hewn marks made 214 years ago than I did in my ridiculous efforts.The stain had penetrated darker into the deeper hewn areas and it would always be darker. Always bear testimony to the hard, almost forgotten labor of the pit saw crew . I couldn’t feel the dips any longer, but I could see them. In the boards we had scraped (on the left), we lost both the feel and the sight of those marks. So I gave up, but did so gladly.

The next morning I started investigating vibratory sanders. Beside the General Store’s whoopee pies and over strains of barn dance music, I had been assured by the kindhearted experts that vibratory sanders were much gentler than drum sanders and they would enable me to preserve my floors with tenderness. I was ready to try.

Turned out, I could rent a vibratory sander that measured 12″ x 17.” Perfect for my wide plank patriotic floorboards, rebellious by their very nature. (Their width was illegal when New England was subject to the British crown, because the king declared all large pines were for British naval masts.) I could sand them individually, without smoothing out their unique, hand-hewn edges. I thought it’d be two days, one for sanding and one for applying top coat, and I’d be done. That was a week and three days ago. Granted, she was right (my engineer), adding mechanical advantage made the job much more manageable, but let’s just admit it right here, right now:

The words “easy” and “antique floor refinishing” can never be uttered in sentences of even close proximity.

Yet, most definitely “rewarding” and “beautiful” and “worth the effort” may all be belted out boldly in the same flooring discussion.

The most amazing fact about my patriotic floorboards? They were officially given new life on the very day that celebrates independence.

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A voluminous dose of 24 hours worth of rainstorms canceled our small town’s Independence Day parade and fireworks display but led to a true revival worthy of celebration in the little Cape Cod tucked behind the maples at the bend in the road.

They are still in need of a light sanding, another good cleaning, and multiple more top coats, but then I’ll be hosting a one-person parade on these patriotic floorboards. Followed by barefoot dancing. (It’ll be a two-person parade and dance if I can convince the engineer to prance and promenade with me.)

For one evening though, I put down my sandpaper and knee pads. I reveled in the rain-date firework display celebrating true American strength, persistence, and endurance. In fact, surely I enjoyed the breathtaking symbols of American steadfast determination even more than I would have before I became a liberator of beautiful patriotic floors.

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“In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.” Proverbs 14:23

 

Redeeming Prior Glory

The morning sunlight, infused by the old wavy panes of glass, loped around the dark-stained, wide floor planks. Boxes were still unpacked. Walls were in need of paint. The barn and storage units were overflowing with our furniture. But those worn, neglected boards called for attention.

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Did the men who crafted them more than 200 years ago know the results of their labor would be installed in the cape cod being built at the intersection of the lake and river in that rural NH area? The town was only 40 years old, settlement having been delayed more than 3 decades thanks to the French Wars. In such a young town, did they have an inkling that the fruit of their efforts would still be trod by bare feet racing to dinner, and used as a bed by a family mutt staying cool on a summer’s day, 214 years later?

Those old boards, worn down and barren of protection in most areas, needed to be refinished, or their beauty would be lost forever.

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But those saw marks. Refinishing would erase them. Erase the fingerprints of craftsmen whose trade is almost forgotten. Maintaining those marks would keep the character alive of not only the beautiful patriotic floors but also, in a small way, the hardworking men who sweated and strained to make them so beautiful.

Most likely, the men who crafted the floorboards in the late 1700s worked together in a team of 4-6. This “pit crew” was aptly named, because they needed a deep pit to do their job. Two men would work together at a time, one down in the pit and one at ground level, each controlling different ends of the long, dual-handled saw. Across the pit balanced a huge log. It had been squared with hand tools and marked with chalk lines, recording the direction it was to be cut with a vertical sawing motion. After 30 minutes of back-straining labor, usually resulting in two rough-sawn wide planks, the craftsmen would hand the saw over to two others on the crew. By tag teaming this grueling effort, the pit crew could use all the daylight available to them—crafting wide pine planks that would then be hand planed and used for flooring, furniture, or home siding—from sun up to sun down.

The signs of their effort had been preserved in my home through all these generations.

The only problem with my plan? I had no idea how to execute it. (Okay, in reality, maybe there were many problems.) So I did what any perplexed old-home owner in New England would do. I sent an email to Norm Abrams and Tom Silva. (Okay, I posted a question to This Old House website.) Realizing that Norm and Tom may take a few days to get back to me, I also took the advice of a friend of a friend. The only person who didn’t suggest wall-to-wall carpet or a large drum sander. He himself had spent months crawling around on his knees over 4,000 square feet of antique floors in a courthouse on the mid-atlantic seaboard that dated even older than our home. He wound up with an authentically restored wide-plank floor using no power tools. So while I waited for Norm’s response, I got down on my knees and started scraping my own marks of labor beside the ones made in the 1700s. What’s left I’m hoping will show some of their labor and lots of my own and hopefully our combined effort, that spans two centuries, will last and be enjoyed for another century or two.

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I’ll post details of my slow-moving exercise of love, and more that I learn about the history of these amazing wide boards, over the weeks to come. For now, I’m thankful for a break from my labor to enjoy a luxurious sunset over the lake tonight.

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While I revel in the changing colors over the still water, I consider how thankful I am that my beautiful old floor boards have a story that has now become part of my own. And while I am working to redeem their prior glory, I am most significantly thankful that God didn’t leave me in my depraved state, worn down by the scars of my sin. While he’s restoring me day by day and writing a beautiful story with my life, I have assurance that one day I will be better than ever. Oh, glorious day! One when neither morning rays streaming across my old floors nor the day’s end colors infused across the lake will even begin to match the beauty of “the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God.” (Revelation 22:1)

“Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story.” Psalm 107:2

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What I’ve learned so far about refinishing an old floor the hard way:

 Citristrip sounds great but, for my purposes, it didn’t cut it. It just couldn’t penetrate as deep as the dark, oil-based stain.

The alternative to an all-natural, safer stripping gel can be pretty potent stuff. Definitely only use it if you can ventilate your work area well and if you’re wearing jeans and have chemical-resistant gloves. That being said, the smell is fine as long as I have all the windows open, it is easy to work with, and it works quickly (more like 5 minutes instead of the 15 the manufacturer recommends). Of course “quickly” is relative when one is working on a one-foot-square area for 20 minutes at a time and one has a 20×20-foot area to complete.

One needs a good scraper and file. I file my blade with  every  new board or it is ineffective.

It’s hard.

It’s unbelievably time consuming.

It hurts ones knees and back.

Did I mention it’s really hard?

Patriotic floor boards

My floors are patriotic. No, they’re not red, white, and blue. In fact, in some places the centuries-old planks are horribly worn, with no stain at  all. But their age and width tell me they’re patriotic. Our New Hampshire farmhouse was built right after the Revolutionary War.

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And one of the little riots—virtually in my backyard—that started that giant war isn’t talked about much today. Maybe because it was in a backwoods NH town, maybe because the story of the Boston Tea Party, filled with masquerade and delicious-smelling bay water, is, well, more eventful to write about in textbooks. But a simple yet brave mill owner said “no” to the King.

The British crown wanted more tall, strong masts for their navy, so England asserted that the colonists only use the puny pine trees. The grand ones—12 inches or greater in width—were off limits. But Ebenezer Mudgett, and others who stood with him, said “no.” They said Mudgett had every right to provide the best products for his customers, hand hewn from the finest lumber that North-American-made had to offer. He refused to pay exorbitant fines for lumber in his own backyard, while the king gave him nothing in return. Nothing but forced taxation without representation.

So in typical New England-head-strong fashion, most NH homes suddenly had 12-inch-wide pine plank floors.

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Patriotism was fashionable. With every step on their wide-plank pine boards, the colonists were asserting their voices for freedom. Not surprising coming from the first colony to declare its independence. The pine tree went on to become a well-known symbol of Colonial ire. With prideful obstinance, they even depicted the pine tree on the flags flown on colonial warships. Throughout the colonies, people knew of the common mill owner in a small New England town who took a stand, inspiring many others to do the same.

So on this Memorial Day weekend, as we celebrate all the head-strong men and women who take a stand every day for our freedoms, I’m going to think of them as I traverse my patriotic floors.

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I’m going to remind my daughters of how thankful I am for so many who have gone before me, bravely taking steps against oppression. And I’m thankful for my floors, worn and scratched as they are, that remind me that sometimes everyone—simple mill workers, tired moms, everyone—needs to take a stand. “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind… remember the former things of old.” Isaiah 46: 8-9.