Auld Lang Syne

“Love awoke one winter’s night
And wander’d through the snowbound land,
And calling to beasts and birds
Bid them his message understand.

And from the forest all wild things
That crept or flew obeyed love’s call,
And learned from him the golden words
Of brotherhood for one and all.”

~Author Unknown

All is quiet here at Briar and Bramble as a single candle lights the table and the frosted fog on the hill hides the coastline from view. In this world of white on white, at the closing of the year, it seems like an appropriate time to let memories color the canvas of the past 12 months. And so, the year in review…

Winter

A time of reflection and dreaming…last year at this time, we tended the home fires. Just as I am now. Garden plots were plotted, firewood was stacked and restacked, bird feeders tended and observed, tracks in the snow followed, and longings for summer harnessed and bent into shapes of birds and other baubles. Dog snuggles and cups of tea provided all the warmth needed to hold on until the return of…

Spring

Battle commenced! The poison ivy retreated from the front slope, replaced with the common soldiers- blades of grass! Some lupine was strategically placed on this board of Risk, and some left to wild abandon. A few blooms this spring whispered promise of more to come in the future.

A leaf strewn culvert transformed into a woodland meadow, overlooked by an extended lawn and winding stone path. New roses now line the back of the house, soaking up the midday sun. An arbor, made of scavenged fallen trees from our wood, rose again and became the support for a long awaited wisteria.

Sometimes, you can’t do it all on your own. As is typically the case in tight knit communities, friends call upon friends of friends to get a job done. Through word of mouth, we were able to find a wonderful local landscaper and excavator to clear the stumps in the front field and lay the foundation for the Someday Meadow. Further help from family enabled us to cover the acre area with a mix of graze grass and wildflower seed.

Garden beds were planted, winter debris cleared, and Garden Center treasures placed in locations of honor…

Only to suffer in the late spring drought! The last bit of help that we needed was from Mother Nature. She held out for a bit but eventually, the plants started to take off. This was a relief, as we had some busy plans for…

Summer

We try to get as much accomplished as we can in spring, because we believe that summer is for celebrating. Summer weekends are for lazy porch breakfasts, lunches with fanciful cakes, lawn games, barbecues and lobster bakes on the patio, star gazing, listening to owls in the night wood, impatiently waiting for the baby phoebes nesting in the porch rafters to fledge, stringing bistro lights, and watching the flowers bloom.

I missed some of my own garden harvests…we were too preoccupied! After a year apart, we were happy to welcome friends and family to Briar and Bramble. Unfortunately, the spectre of covid still lurked then as now, but we had a summer of hope when we could safely and cautiously gather. As a result, between entertaining, working, maintaining B&B, horse showing, and sharing what the surrounding area has to offer to guests…the summer was a bit of a blur! And yet, somehow, against the odds, a meadow began to appear before our eyes in the front field!

There were stresses and trials this past summer as well. Trying to settle my mind and find moments of peace, I spent many an evening simply wandering around the Meadow…sighing as the pink of the cosmos and red of the poppies melted onto the pinks and reds of the sky above. The cosmos were a joy…blooming well into…

Autumn

It did seem as though we got an extended summer this year, which was much appreciated! As the warmth waned and the garden harvests began to dwindle, I spent a few frantic hours in the kitchen…hanging herbs to dry, freezing tomatoes, canning jams and dilly beans, experimenting with pestos, etc. I have to admit, I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to do more. Thinking ahead to the flower-less months, I filled books with pressed flowers and began making ornaments with pressed flowers.

I put off the end of season chores as long as possible…where had the summer gone?? Well into October and November, I was still creating new garden spaces for next spring, planting bulbs, and weaving wattle fences. My poor husband continued his endless battles with the practical needs of the homestead- cutting firewood, constantly mending the nightmare driveway, working with my Dad to replace and add to the insulation above the dormers. Finally, I had to accept the inevitable and put the gardens to bed. The outdoor furniture was covered, and the porch swept one last time. Once again, it was time to turn my thoughts towards the holidays and the return of…

Winter

It may have been time to retreat indoors again, but I had Christmas to look forward to! Greens to gather, ribbons to turn into bows, oranges to stud with cloves, cookies and breads to bake, trees to adorn, and all the rooms to decorate! Another few weeks of frenzy, plans changing, an outdoor party to organize, and all the madness of the final hours of Christmas Eve. And yet despite it all, Christmas always arrives in its blaze of joy…a bright flame in the winter’s dark.

And so here we are, in the quiet hours, the soft white days at the waning of the year…taking a deep breath and a moment to give thanks- before stepping off into the New Year…and eagerly awaiting Spring to arrive once again.

Thank you for being here and sharing in our small, but loved, world. Wishing you and your loved ones a healthy, safe, and most happy New Year!

Tidings of Comfort and Joy…

Early holiday greetings, Friends! I have once again let time slip away from me since my last visit to the blog world. I apologize!

This year more than most, I feel like the holiday season arrived at the door before I was ready. I have been trying to fit everything in, but it’s been some loong nights! One of my biggest Christmas wishes is to some day have enough time to do all the projects and crafts and baking that I would love to do! In the meantime, I do what I can in the weeks leading up to the holiday.

Those who know me best know that once December 1st rolls around, I become a pinch of Buddy the Elf, a dash of Clark Griswold, and a bit of Tasha Tudor. Whatever room I am in has either the Westminster Choir or Bing Crosby crooning in the background. The kitchen smells of spice, orange, and cranberry most evenings. The closets are stuffed with wrapping paper rolls that will likely crash into the head of anyone who dares crack the door open. The candles in the windows hold vigil each night. And the greens are everywhere…the trees, jugs of holly, sprays of boxwood, cedar, and juniper…

The trees are like memory boxes opened just once a year…ornaments recalling previous trips, beloved pets, momentous occasions, anniversaries, favorite hobbies, tattered childhood projects…They are also a celebration of history and the outdoors…apples and oranges slices similar to Williamsburg decorations, starfish and mussel shells in a nod to our coastline, dried flowers from the garden, birds nests and tiny twig woodland creatures…

This year, I tried to experiment with ornaments as gifts. In the autumn, I collected the last of the blooms and greenery and tries to press them into clay. Success was variable, depending on what I tried to use, but I was quite pleased with some of them. I’m hoping that in our fast paced world, a homemade gift is still appreciated. They were certainly made with love.

Which brings me to the heart of the season…finding joy in all the preparation, and the giving and receiving of love. I think that the reason that I enjoy Christmas so much is that it is a time to reflect, appreciate the simple things, and take the time to reconnect. Spending time with family is the greatest gift of all.

So I’d like to take a moment to invite you in for a Briar and Bramble Christmas. No matter where you are or whom you are, take a moment to find comfort and joy in the next few days. Thank you for being here. I’ll leave you with a post that I had written for friends last year…it is still relevant this December-

“As Christmas approaches in this most troubling of years, I can’t help but think of how the world has faced adversity around the holidays in crises past. Despite wars, natural disasters, personal losses, or financial hardship threatening to “cancel Christmas”, it always comes. If people open their hearts to the season and those around them, whether near or far, it always comes and brings a little light and cheer. So while everyone has experienced some adversity this year, great or small, find a bright star somewhere. My heart breaks for all the families with empty seats at the table, and I will hug my loved ones a little closer…even if it’s in thought rather than deed. Those who know me best know how much I love the holiday season. So I never considered anything other than decorating as if were any other year and as if the whole family was coming, as had been planned for the last (now, two) Decembers. It will be quiet here at this home we have come to love, but I’d still like to share our preparations. Come on in…”

So please, take a tour and you are most welcome to our home. Be safe, be well, and Merry Christmas!

Through the Grapevine…

Winter is a wonderful time for projects. Covid isolation and establishing Briar and Bramble happened to coincide last year, allowing me even more time to be creative and try my hand at new crafts. I have been motivated by finding uses for materials found at home- attempting to be economical and curious…and as a result, I spend a fair amount of time flipping through magazines and Pinterest. The results aren’t always polished, but I’ve been pleased with some of my creations…and I’ve enjoyed myself too (mostly!).

One of my ongoing projects began with my borderline obsession with Christmas decorating. I adore Christmas. Even as a child, I had a deeply rooted interest in history and appreciation for anything appeared “old”. Christmas has always felt like my chance to live in Victorian era Britain for a month! (Note: After spending several weeks in Scotland before the holidays a few years ago, I was very surprised to see that they don’t necessarily decorate in that style, even there!! But that’s another story for another time…) As soon as Thanksgiving is over, I begin to anticipate decorating for Christmas. I love the Williamsburg style…the traditional look, the greenery, the fruits and natural elements, ribbons, candles, and small white lights. Before we bought the house, I would decorate our tiny rental with so much greenery that became almost impossible to touch anything without knocking into a balsam cutting or a winter berry branch! You could imagine how thrilled I have been then, to have Briar and Bramble…the old house, huge porch, and several acres of woodland to forage for decorative elements. My excitement must be how an artist feels with a fresh canvas or a blank page…

Like the child staring at a heaping plate who is told that her eyes are too big for her stomach, I often have a “vision” that is bigger than my budget. So I tend to study the design magazines and websites of historic homes and grand gardens and then ask myself “Can I make something similar?” This past Christmas, I wanted a grapevine sculpture that I could cover in white lights. It just so happens that we have a huge, overgrown, out of control grapevine which has overtaken a large tree at the corner of the house. So…I had an idea. And I had grapevine. Lots of it. Now what?

I decided to start simple. It was the holiday season, so finding a wreath ring was not a problem. I cut several long pieces of vine and began wrapping it around the wire form. I literally just kept weaving it over itself, around and around, until the wreath was the width I wanted. I tucked the end in as tightly as I could, and the wrapped a bit of green gardener’s wire over it. I chose a length of tartan ribbon and sprigs of greenery that I had either bought or collected. As a finishing touch, I gathered some lichen and moss that had fallen out of the large, old spruce in the side yard. Then I could enjoy placing the greenery where I wanted, tack it down with a bit of hot glue if needed, and add a bow. I was pleased with the finished wreath…I even made a few more for friends, or to use in spring. It was good practice, but could I make an actual sculpture?

I was already learning a bit about grapevine as an artistic medium. It’s kinda cranky. Even when soaked, it snaps without warning. Long pieces will whip around and smack you in the face. The thin pieces aren’t as pliable as you’d expect. It’s not nearly as clean looking as willow. Actually, I think I’d much rather try my hand at willow…but I don’t have willow. I have grapevine. Old, neglected, dry grapevine. Dormant, winter grapevine. (I may find that it’s much easier to be friends with grapevine in the spring and summer when it’s growing and green. Unfortunately, I can up with this idea in December!)

In searching through my magazines and Pinterest sites, I came across an article in the UK edition of Country Living about an willow sculptor named Anna Cross. She creates absolutely amazing sculptures of animals and people in her workshop in Yorkshire using various varieties of willow. I was inspired by what she does. I knew I couldn’t do anything even remotely like her, but she inspired me to at least try something with my obstinate grapevine. I’ve since been in contact with her, and although I just wanted to tell her that I admire her work, she was lovely enough to encourage me as well. So if you’d like to see some *real* art, check out http://www.annaandthewillow.co.uk

After my research, I decided that it would be best to try to weave the grapevine around a form. Chicken wire seemed like a good option- it’s malleable and soft, has open spaces to tuck vine ends into, it could withstand the outdoors…and we had some out in the shed. Armed with garden shears, heavy gloves, a roll of wire, and an armful of grapevine, I set to work.

I have a new found affinity for hares. It may be the result of recently reading Watership Down….not really sure. But anyway, I thought a Christmas hare might be simple enough. It was easier than trying to tackle the life sized deer that had been my other thought!

I had a few internet images of hares for reference. Working with animals also helps when trying to recreate realistic anatomy. (That being said, my poor hare has some issues with his hind limbs…I don’t claim to anything other than a pure beginner here!!) Once I was (fairly) happy with the chicken wire form, I began weaving the grapevine into it. I learned quickly. It is easier to weave and not wrap. Short pieces are easier to work with than long lengths. Soaking the vine for a few days helps. Stop when you are happy with the overall effect. It would take a very long time and a lot of vine to completely cover the form. And some of the finer detail of the shape may be lost. Only work on the project as long as it is bringing happiness. Frustration means it’s time to stop for that day. Bring a fresh, new eye to it another time.

Several days later, I stepped back and looked at what I had put together. I was amazed…it actually looked like a hare! Sure, it was clumsy and “primitive”. The shape wasn’t *quite* right. But…I had pulled him out of a thought and a wish, and I had created him from something in my own yard. And that felt good…

I added a bow around his neck, a few sprigs of boxwood, and two strings of “fairy lights”. The Christmas Hare has been on the porch since the holidays. He makes me smile every evening as I open the porch gate after a long day at work.

A couple of weeks ago I began planning for spring. I’ve had several projects in the works since then, including grapevine balls to hang in the trees, and a bird for the garden.

The bird began the same way as the hare- with a chicken wire frame. This time, I soaked the vines longer and wove them wet. I still found the grapevine to be temperamental! Since I hoped the bird would have a more streamlined look, I cut small, straight pieces and tried to treat it like willow. (Or what I imagine willow to be like to work with!).

The bird was a fun, relaxing experience, thanks in part to one of the most engaging gardeners on the planet. While weaving, I listened to a few interviews with Monty Don…who always makes me feel like we are all going to be ok- as long as we garden, care about the natural world, and love dogs. He’s become one of my heroes. Although I know Monty Don will never read my blog, at least the rest of you will know that there is a very amateurish looking, but well loved, grapevine bird dedicated to him perched in a garden in Maine this summer!

It’s interesting how an idea and a desire for a new project can take on a life of its own. The grapevine sculptures allow me to try something new, let me appreciate a resource readily available to me here at Briar and Bramble, help me celebrate the holidays while also alleviating some of the dual covid and winter blues, and even let me feel connected to others over great distances. Not a bad way to spend a few winter weeks up here on our hill…

Until next time…