Rearranging the Porch Chairs…

Hello Friends! It’s been a while since we gathered on the porch for “chin wag” (as the Scots like to call a good chat…). I can’t count the number of blog posts I’ve started in my head, or the number of photos I’ve taken of projects in various stages, recipes we’ve tried, beautiful moments when the sun hit the Meadow just right. But I just never seem to have the time to sit down and put it all in the form of an actual blog. The technical aspects of this make it more of a slog than a blog! So- In an effort to reconnect with you all, and perhaps meet a few new folks along the way, I’m going to concentrate on the public “A Briar and Bramble Journal” site on Facebook and begin an Instagram page for the Journal as well. I can do these much more quickly and frequently…and maybe not ramble on *too* much! It may not look as fancy as the blog did, but I’ll keep this site as well so that I may come over here when I can. In the meantime, please come join me over on Facebook and Instagram at “A Briar and Bramble Journal” (if you aren’t already)!

In the meantime, here are just a few images of the summer here on our little homestead on the coast of Maine. See you on the porch!

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!

Projects, People, and the Passage of Time…

Hello Friends…finally settling in to put up a few blog posts…I apologize for my lack of updates. I had unrealistic expectations this summer! I had hoped to be posting weekly- keeping up with the changes in the gardens, updating the project reports, and sharing recipes and decorating ideas as we hosted friends and family. This is honestly the first day in a month and a half that we have sat quietly. And that’s only because of a steady rain. We need it though…my husband and I (and even our pup) have been navigating a restless sea this summer. Each little wave crashing over us has been it’s own summer swell.

Some have been lovely…we have been able to open the door of Briar and Bramble to guests finally…and family and friends have filled the house with laughter and love. Some of our visitors came looking for quiet calm and a moment of peace in their hectic lives. Some came looking for adventure along the midcoast. Friendships and familial bonds were reaffirmed, and new friendships forged (Bramley bonded with all his visitors…both two and four legged!).

The gardens, porch, and patio have been constant comforts. They have hosted lobster dinners and cakes by candlelight, lazy breakfasts and board games, and they became the place to watch bumblebees, birds, chipmunks, and meteor showers. The phoebes fledged from their nest in the porch eaves, and for two weeks straight, we listened to the juvenile barred owls screech to each other in the night once we turned off the string lights and doused the lanterns.

I have found joy and solace in my gardens…coaxing then to grow, delighting in each new bloom, obsessively fiddling about in evenings ‘til dark…weeding, watering, deadheading, trimming, harvesting…I find it calms me after constant stressful days at work. My summer routine has been to come home, reflect on the day with my husband, cuddle Bramley, and then throw on my wellies and head out into the garden or the meadow.

Ah…the meadow. Many of you may be familiar with the struggle of the meadow project. It has slowly evolved from a jumble of felled timber, to overgrown brush, to stump field, to parched and barren dirt and weeds…to a wildflower meadow. But…that’s a story for another post.

So there has been much happiness this summer at Briar and Bramble. We are so thankful to have this sanctuary to call home and to share with those we hold dear. But I have a confession to make as well.

I’m tired.

I am blessed to be able to live in a beautiful home and to create my version of a life pulled from the pages of a magazine. But I will be honest…it is work. I wanted to give my guests (and myself and my husband) an experience…a perfect, peaceful, old fashioned New England summer vacation. (I sound frightfully like Clark Griswold…just wait til we hit Christmas season!) Hopefully, that’s what they had. But I have been a bit like that proverbial duck who looks placid on the surface while paddling furiously below the water line! I love being the hostess and custodian of our home (with my husband, of course!), but I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself to try to make everything beautiful. And our list of projects only gets longer, despite finishing many of the tasks we had set for ourselves. Add to this the daily stresses of the outside world, work, schedules, and unforeseen events such as a loss in the family, and well…I’m tired. So many of us come into the blogosphere to present a perfect picture. I can tell you that creating that and living it is wonderful and rewarding and one of my most treasured achievements, but it’s work! The rain, then, is a welcome respite and reason to sit and recharge.

And there is no place that I would rather be.

(I’ll follow this by a few additional brief posts showing some of our recent projects, the meadow, and a few final thoughts from recent days. Thanks for stopping by…)

Blooming at Briar and Bramble

Wishing you all a very happy June! It’s been very busy here…any time at home is spent working on projects or planting. There’s a new landscaped lawn we have been working on and a new potting bench area. My to-do list constantly gets longer rather than shorter, and even the extra hours of sunlight each day are not enough. But, I did want to start a (hopefully) regular posting of what is “Blooming at Briar and Bramble”. I hope that you enjoy the gardens as much as I do!

Busy as Bees…

Wishing you a good Sunday morning here from the porch of Briar and Bramble! There is birdsong in the air (and the distant traffic), the leaves are that almost fluorescent shade of yellow-green, and the clouds are thickening over the Bay and turning a shade of blue that mirrors the surface of the water. I have started my summer tradition of a lazy Sunday breakfast on the porch this morning, and thought it was about time that I give an update.

I’ve had several blog posts started in my mind…I just haven’t had time to actually compose them! Early spring is a busy time here…the weekends are spent working on the big projects that we have envisioned for the house and the property. Although we have several acres, when we first moved here in 2019, the cleared areas consisted of a tiny bit of front lawn, a patch of weeds and stony dirt behind the house, a front “field” of tree stumps, and a vast sea of poison ivy and Virginia Creeper. The house had been recently renovated when we found it, but had not been consistently lived in for years. So nature had taken over again. Or really, poison ivy had claimed it in a hostile land grab….

So, we seem to have started a yearly April and May tradition of pulling up vines and attempting to reclaim land. It’s not fun, but it’s absolutely worth it. (Despite the perpetual itchy rashes…we have tried multiple poison ivy relief products too. I don’t have any advertising deals on the blog site, so I can tell you in an unbiased manner that basically nothing works. My best advice is: try not to scratch. 🤷‍♀️

Anyway- this year, we had some professional help. We had the stumps removed and buried and the front field cleared. It was a massive relief to get this done. Last summer, we watched the stumps try to regrow, and a tangle of scrub brush seemed to come from thin air. It was disheartening to know that we couldn’t keep up with it ourselves. So….my dreams of a meadow are much closer to reality now….roughly an acre has been cleared, and we spread wildflower seed and Blue Seal Equigraze grass seed. There are patches of green just starting to emerge from the expanse of brown. We desperately need rain though. Our hose and best intentions can’t keep it watered.

A few other projects are also either completed, or are at the “hurry up and grow” phase- the front yard has been extended and planted with grass seed and lupine, a partially shaded culvert in the backyard has been cleaned of underbrush and planed with a partial shade wildflower seed mix, several more lilac bushes have been put in (thanks to a friend who needed to thin hers out), and we now have a wisteria arbor. (We foraged our woodlot for sturdy winter blow downs and built a rustic frame). Finally, the patio that we created last summer got a new burst of color…I repainted the chairs in a cheery sea foam green and our DIY screen door was put up. (The screen door will get its own post at some point. It was a discarded frame that we found along the side of the road. We had a lot of laughs…and a few groans…transforming it into a useable piece!)

This past week, I have spent every free moment visiting my favorite garden centers and planting the gardens. I’ve been impatiently monitoring the weather and the temperatures for weeks now- watching the perennial beds slowly come to life, and coaxing seed trays in the guest bedroom. (That’s another separate post…it will be all about good intentions and glossy internet articles vs what happens in real life…)

Writing this reminds me that I have new yard project to begin, a car to wash, weeds to pull, flowers to water, and a cake that needs decorating…life at Briar and Bramble can be as busy as a bee’s….but we still take Sunday mornings to enjoy it!

(Sorry for the unintended blogging break…thanks for reading…I’ll be posting more often in the summer as garden blooms unfurl, patio and porch lights twinkle in the evenings, and the sailboats dot the bay…🌸)

Old Apple Tree, We Wassail Thee…

This year, we added a new ritual and celebration to our holiday season at Briar and Bramble…we wassailed the apple trees.

This wasn’t exactly the Christmas carol interpretation of wassailing…or what people would describe as wassailing. To most (Americans, anyway), that vaguely means drinking a type of spiked punch that eventually loosens the tongue to drunken, off key caroling at holiday parties. Originating from the Anglo Saxon period, the term “wassailing” comes from the toast “Waes Hael”…a wish for good health. It became a common practice to visit neighbors and family, toasting their health and prosperity, in the holiday season. Caroling, gatherings, and celebrations followed with time, and the song “Here We Come, A-Wassailing (Caroling)” entered our holiday lexicon.

Apple (or orchard) wassailing is an ancient custom that was once most prevalent in the southern regions of England, such as Somerset and Devon. As with many old rituals, there is question surrounding its origins, age, interpretation, and even actual date. There appear to be two dates, depending on which tradition and calendar you prefer to favor- Twelfth Night/Day (January 6th), or “Old New Years” (January 17th). On either of those dates, tradition holds that revelers fill their mugs and glasses with apple wassail, grab their lanterns and torches, and proceed to find the oldest tree in the orchard. They offer the Apple Tree Man (the spirit of the orchard) a wassailing song, place a piece of bread soaked in cider at the base of the tree or in the branches, and pour cider onto the roots- ensuring the health of the trees and a good crop of fruit in the coming season.

I was intrigued by this, not only as a history buff and Anglophile, but also because we have taken the very tentative first steps into starting an orchard. I have always loved apple orchards and longed to have one of my own. There is just something about apple trees…their gnarled, wizened shape, the appealing and odd names of the heirloom varieties, the beauty of their flowers, the smell of the windfalls, the continuity of their growth with the history of the land…they have always just seemed magical to me. It may be that they feel like a tangible connection to history. I love the heirloom varieties and the thought that there are some trees (or grafts of trees) on old New England farmsteads whose origins date back as early as the 1700s.

We were thrilled to find a mature wild apple tree growing just outside the back of the house when we moved in. It has produced a fair amount of very small, yet surprisingly tasty fruits. We took a few specimens to the Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association (MOFGA) Apple Day, hoping to hear that it is a previously unknown example of a rare heirloom variety. We were told that it’s a wild tree, and thus a unique variety of its own. My husband and I think that it’s lovely that Briar and Bramble has its very own unique apple, but we still wanted to have some historical varieties.

So we’ve added four young saplings…the beginnings of our own little orchard. Each tree is a different variety, and most are heirloom- Northern Spy, Black Oxford, Liberty, and Hurlbut. We are learning as we go, with the help of resources such as MOFGA, family wisdom, and books. Judging by the nibbling that has occurred on the branch tips despite netting and caging, I think we probably need to focus more on exorcising the deer rather than appealing to tree spirits. However, since we are committed to a mostly organic and natural garden, and have essentially declared Briar and Bramble to be a wildlife refuge, we are left with the option of pouring cider on the roots of our trees by lantern light on a cold January night!

The Northern Spy on the porch before planting

Although there was a lot to occupy our attention on January 6th, we did manage to take a few minutes to turn to the past and continue the tradition of apple wassailing. We filled a bowl with cider and a slice of bread, topped our mugs with hard cider (a necessity for proper wassailing!), bundled into coats and boots, and tromped through the snow into the backyard to visit our old wild tree. I recited the wassail song and we toasted our trees and one another, wishing and hoping, like so many generations before us, for health, prosperity, and a bountiful crop in the year ahead.

Waes Hael!

One of many variations of the traditional apple wassailing songs from the 18th and 19th centuries, this particular song is from the Somerset region of England:

Apple tree, apple tree, we all come to wassail thee,
Bear this year and next year to bloom and to blow,
Hat fulls, cap fulls, three cornered sack fills,
Hip, Hip, Hip, hurrah,
Holler biys, holler hurrah.

(Source-Wikipedia)

A Wonder of White

As holiday break draws to a close, we received one last gift…snowfall. A quiet, contemplative snow…the type that makes the likes of Robert Frost pause in the wood to contemplate the passage of time and distance.

It’s the type of snow day unique and rare, especially in our modern times. One that you can pull around your shoulders, a blanket of white, and peek out from under…knowing that the day’s only request is that you look about the landscape it has created with a sense of wonder. There were no plans today…no need to be present in a particular place, but rather a chance to be present in this moment in time. No obligations to fulfill, no need to feel the frustration, disappointment, or fear that typically accompanies a snow day for the modern adult. No frantic thoughts of road conditions, grocery supplies, appointments postponed, or late arrivals. A rare chance to watch how delicately and slowly the flakes fall…capture the brief flashes of sunlight play on the tree branches…curl up next to a fire with a book…enjoy the holiday decorations before they are trundled away into boxes once again.

We decide to spend some time in the Parlor, my husband with a book, and I with a sleeping dog draped over my feet. It’s one of our favorite rooms in the house…it just feels old. We’ve encouraged that by making it our “antique” room, though it should really be called the “tag sale” room if we’re honest. It’s a mish-mash of chairs and trunks from neighboring attics, a collection of well worn and slightly mildewy books on Maine history and horses, a bouquet of dried flowers from our wedding, and prints on all the walls. Some of these are old (the hunt scene and landscape from a shop on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile), some slightly old (the Currier and Ives reprint of a racing yacht and the life sized fox scampering across the far wall), and the not-so-old reproductions of an elegant chap on horseback, and copy of the pre-Civil War map of own town. The room is still dressed for Christmas with greens on the mantle and a tree in the corner. The Parlor is the place that we come to when we want to escape our time.

It seems an especially fitting setting this afternoon as the snow filled day slides into a muffled dusk. It’s not lost on me how fortunate we are to be in Briar and Bramble in 2021 on a Saturday off from work. The inhabitants of 1823 likely also sat in this room on a snowy January afternoon, but without the warmth and comforts we are enjoying. It would have been brutally cold. The fireplace in this room, though beautiful, is also very small. We are not dependent on its heat, as our counterparts would have been. We have learned, however, how much work it is to heat an old home.

I’ve always been frugal on heating, as any of my friends will vocally and vociferously attest to. So is my husband. But even we were unpleasantly surprised last winter when the cold first settled in. That was the weekend we learned how to insulate. We wriggled into the back of one of the closets, through the cubby hole that revealed the attic space in the dormers. There was some insulation, but it was old and ratty. (Likely literally ratty, at some point.) We set to work, laying down what looked like layers of toxic cotton candy. My husband earned his handyman stripes that weekend. It helped, but it was still a long winter of wood stove feeding, blankets, and gallons of tea and coffee. This autumn, we called in the professionals…and I now understand the benefits of blown-in insulation.

I think often of what life was like here in 1823. The woodpile would be higher, the fire burning brighter and longer in the hearth, and woolen blankets thicker. I know that I am blessed to be able to just stop today and contemplate the beauty of the snow, safe in the knowledge that though the storm may continue outside, I will be in warmth and comfort inside. Though they would have had no place to go, our counterparts would have doubtlessly experienced anxiety and fear in the winter months. Many would be the miles (and chores) before they could sleep. Did they stop though, and look out over the frigid bay or at the wooded hill behind them, and feel the wonder of the white landscape? Did they share a sense of the delicate beauty of snow? I like to think so.