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A Year in Review

The crickets have been chirping in the corners of this blog, I know. So much has transpired this summer that I frequently find myself expressing thanks for the fact that my head is firmly attached to my shoulders so I do not have to worry about that, too.

When we bought our little house on the hillside last summer, we knew my Dad had aspirations of a New England retirement, but the details were speculative and fuzzy. This past Spring, discussions began in earnest as to how we would incorporate my Dad into our life here in Vermont. Our lot is a long rectangle on a fairly steep slope, so options for building my Dad a tiny house on the property were limited and the most reasonable option would have put his house right on the boundary line of our own property and terribly close to our neighbors’ house (who we adore, mind you, but neighbors do change).

Expanding the garage into an apartment was another option, but would have required extensive renovation and new permitting for the septic system. Finishing the basement into an apartment was another idea, but without a walk-in entrance, or ground-level windows, that option was less than ideal. There was also a vacant lot abutting our own about halfway down the north side of our property that would have been perfect for my Dad because it had its own entrance on the street and there was abundant space and privacy for his home but, alas, neighborhood intel confirmed that the owner of that lot had absolutely no interest in selling it for a price that was anywhere near reasonable, if at all.

We were running out of options and ideas, so we started looking again at the real estate market to see what it might have to offer by way of alternatives. With great irony, the first prospective house that I found online, and the first house that we went to see, was the one we’re all in today. Well, Travis and I are here. My Dad is like a summer blockbuster: COMING SOON.

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Our new house is about 45 minutes from our little house on the hillside, and it has a sunny in-law apartment for my Dad above the garage (but with it’s own drive-up entrance), and a home for Travis and I to raise our own family. We were both able to keep our jobs, and fairly similar commutes, and its closer to Travis’ graduate school.

It’s not easy to part with my first home; there have been so many wonderful memories in just one year alone! The original owners were amazing, and I hope they are loving life in Arizona, and our neighbors are great. This home is where I made applesauce for the first time with apples from our orchard; drank in every sunset I could; fell in love with the magic of a wood-burning stove; and felt the pressure of felling, cutting, splitting and stacking enough wood for the coming winter, and the next. It’s been incredible.

moving truckAnd to think how much has happened in just one year! Wow. On July 29, we packed a 26 foot long rental truck, towing a dolly with Travis’ car, and followed it with my Dad’s old GMC (no AC or working windshield wipers made for a fun drive) and headed North. We split the drive over two days and made it to Vermont in one piece. And neither truck broke. A miracle, really.

We closed on our little house on July 31, and unpacked our trucks that weekend. We had the most gorgIMG_4583eous weather on the day of closing, and after signing all of the papers, we went out to lunch with the owners to this taco place in Montpelier. They were amazing, even leaving us some clean dishes, towels, sheets and extra cleaning supplies so we wouldn’t have to go digging for everything on our first night there. It was the most joyful, thoughtful and kind real estate transaction imaginable, and I’m very grateful for that experience.

Travis very quickly got a job with the county-wide mental health provider working at a group home, and I returned back to Maryland for another month to wind up my affairs. I moved up full time in September and started “telecommuting” to my law firm in Maryland. It was an exciting time, but also very stressful. We fought more than I care to admit, but we tried not to lose sight of what was important.

IMG_4929We split a lot of wood, too. We bought a few loads of dry and semi-dry wood for the coming winter, which we stacked, and then felled and split about 4 cords of wood for the next winter so it could dry out in the year’s time. Compared to some of our neighbors, it’s still not that much, but the process consumes a significant amount of time. Like they say though — wood warms you twice, once when you’re stacking it, and again when you burn it.

One of my favorite things was to see how Travis came alive working in the forest… I had never seen him get that excited about anything before we moved up here. He loved to find weird tree parts, like logs of spalted maple, and bring them back to dry them out or sand them down to see what the finished grain would look like.

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Sometime after I moved up there, I also befriended the neighbor’s cat. And by befriended, I mean bribed with food. I named him Mr. Mustachio (technically it’s Monsieur Mustachio but Mr. works just fine by him).

I like to think he adopted me, but I’m pretty sure it’s just because my food was better than what our neighbors had to offer. Either way, he started hanging around a lot, and the neighbors didn’t mind my adopting him. He’s loving life here at the new house.

In November we went off-season camping in Groton State Forest. Boy was it cold, but we had the whIMG_5195ole park to ourselves! We had to hike in, too, because the park was technically closed for the season.I was wearing so many layers to keep warm I felt like the Michelin man. Such a crazy idea, but it was a lot of fun.

In December I realized that my telecommuting job wasn’t going to generate enough income to cover our bills, and I started studying for the Vermont bar exam so I could get licensed. From then until I sat for the exam in February,  I was clerking in a local law office by day, working remotely for my Maryland firm by night, and studying for the bar exam on top of that. Madness. IMG_5306

But wait, there’s more!  I adopted a giant rescue dog in January. She was supposed to be a therapy dog, but she’s the one that needs therapy. We named her Duchess.

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I think she’s part equine, part Anatolian Shepherd. She is the quietest dog you will ever meet. She spooks like a pony, but she does have her happy-go-lucky moments where you can see a flicker of doggy spirit. She has a very low food drive and  gets home-cooked meals to supplement her kibbles… I think she eats better than I do most days. Training is interesting with a dog thatdoesn’t get excited about treats, or toys, or much of anything, really, but we’re working on that. I don’t think she’ll ever be a therapy dog for the world, but she’s certainly a great therapy dog for me. Mr. Mustachio adores her, too.

And we experienced our first mud season. Oh, boy! You have not lived until you’ve driven through almost a foot of mud, on an unlit road at night. Our poor little cars didn’t have the clearance to get through the muck for a few weeks, so we had to ferry ourselves back and forth with the truck and leaving our cars at a park and ride a few miles down the road.

We were not without sadness in our first year here, either. We lost little Paco very suddenly in the early spring; our family lost our beloved Shi Tzu, Scooter; my Grandma K passed away; and Travis has now had two deaths in his family. These things never get easier.

And, more recently, Travis has taken a new position within his organization that comes with significantly more responsibility. We’ve moved households (again) and I have accepted a job with a local insurance coming that starts in late August. Travis starts graduate school soon, and we’re going to be planning our wedding set for next June.

A lot going on to say the least. And what a year it has been!

 

Woodland Secrets in the Snow Prints

When the woods are bare, there’s little to be seen by an untrained eye like mine. But after a fresh snowfall, the forest really comes alive. All of its activity is etched into the fresh powder, like the words printed on the page of a novel. When I realized that there was way more going on in the woods than I ever anticipated, I started snapping photos of the prints so I could try to identify the animals that made them and learn more about what was going on.

wild turkey snow print trackSome of them are fairly easy, like wild turkey tracks. There’s a flock of about 10-15 hens that roams the area, and just the other day they were in our apple orchard scavenging. They’ve had a good winter because we did not get a lot of deep snow cover, and they’re social, so you’ll usually find multiple sets of tracks.  I love coming across their prints because it feels like I’m tracking a dinosaur and, in a way, I am. Did you know turkeys can hit a top speed of 25 mph on foot? Not too shabby for such an awkward looking creature, if you ask me. 

Tmouse snow tracks printshen there’s the little guys like mice and voles. You can quickly identify their tracks because of the teeny-tiny foot steps and the line that goes down the middle that’s left by their tail. A lot of times these little prints will come up from nowhere around the base of one tree, scurry scurry across the snow, and then disappear down another hole at the base of another tree (or under a log).

IMG_1369At first I thought the squirrel tracks were raccoon tracks because they have little claw-like fingers and the prints were spaced so far apart. But it turns out that squirrels use a dual-propeller action to leap along, so you’ll always have two tiny tracks close together (the front feet) closely followed by the larger tracks (the back feet) with spacings up to three feet apart if the little one is really cruising. I think chipmunks do the same. We have both in our woods, and they love to torment the dog.

Fox tracks are neat because they alternate steps, with the back paw going into the same print as the opposing front paw, so the result is almost a straight line. I read somewhere that this type of gait helps conserve energy in the winter because they’re using the same print twice instead of making a new one. fox prints tracks snow

And then the most interesting find of all was the five-toed foot prints that we came across one morning. I didn’t measure them, but they were fairly big, almost the size of my dog’s foot prints. My theory is that these are from a fisher cat, which is a member of the weasel family, but I’m not 100% sure. It could be also be a skunk. We’ve got both roaming the woods, to my knowledge. FotorCreated

All in all, it’s been quite an adventure learning about the snow tracks that the critters leave behind. If not for the snow, I’d have no clue how busy it was!

3 Great Turkey Leftover Recipes

I shouldn’t be surprised how much turkey leftovers we had, given that our Thanksgiving dinner was for a mere party of two (2), but after the dust had settled and the smoke had parted, we still had a substantial pile of roasted turkey to contend with. So! I thought I would share my a pint-sized compendium of my favorite turkey leftover recipes.

  • Oprah’s Chicken Turkey Pot Pie with Cornbread Crust
    This one is an all-time favorite in our house, in large part because it is extremely forgiving and tasty. If you don’t have peas, use corn. If you don’t have potatoes, use squash. It’s such a great catch-all for leftovers and sad little veggies languishing in the crisper drawer.  Plus, if you can follow the directions on making the sauce and the cornbread, it’ll come out great every time. This was my first Thanksgiving turkey reincarnated.
  • Joy of Cooking’s Turkey Tetrazzini
    This one is what’s currently in our fridge, and boy is it tasty! I love the almonds and mushrooms, and any recipe that gives me a reason to open a bottle of wine is always good in my book. The funny thing is that, while we’ve  had a Joy of Cooking book in the house for eons, I only just learned about this recipe at a holiday party this past weekend when I brought up my plight of inundation-by-turkey-leftovers.
  • And of course, Turkey Noodle Soup!
    When all else fails (or at least looks like it’s almost past its prime) there is always soup. I love soup because I can use the carcass to make stock, and then throw in the less-than-pretty bits of meat pulled off the bird and any less-than-pretty veggies and it’s delicious!  Perfect for cleaning out the freezer or the fridge.

What’s your favorite Thanksgiving turkey leftover recipe?

Beginnings

26146_528287647258_2462164_nMy single digit years were full of fanciful stories and sagas that unfolded in loopy pencil script across pages and pages of paper purloined from my parents’ office. Teen years bespoke of journaling about everything and nothing, and dark, brooding poetry full of teenage angst. College years still included courses in creative writing and great literature.

Yet, somewhere along the way I lost my way. I stopped writing for the love of writing and only wrote for the toils of law school and work. Legal writing in particular, with its precedent and polemic, is like an over-baked cake. No matter how much spice or icing you smother it with, it’s still dry and unappetizing. Law in real life in not nearly as good looking as it is on television.

So my hopes for this blog are twofold. In addition to rekindling my writing, I hope to inspire others who (like me) are teetering on the fence of making a great change in their life.

In my case, my fiancé and I moved to Vermont, where we have no family, no relatives, no friends, and no appreciable ties to the community. Heck, I don’t even own snow tires! But my compass was pointing me in the direction of slower, more simple living and so here I am. Cooking up a new story for myself from my little house on the hillside. I hope you’ll join me at the table.