Merry Christmas Friends and Happy Holidays to you and yours!
Buddy and I have been plugging away here on the farm, tending to daily duties and quietly watching the seasons change through the wavy windows of our beloved farmhouse and from the soggy fields underfoot.
I’d have to say (ironically) that I haven’t had much to say as of late. I think sometimes the world funnels so much information our way, seemingly from a firehose of images, texts, tweets, articles and videos, that I find stillness and quiet a nice respite during the days of shortened light. Sometimes our lives call for reflection and listening and for me it seems that time is present. All is well, all is bright. I’m just sticking close to home in my head and heart.
I wish you all a very Happy New Year and to thank you for checking in. I feel most blessed to have people, family, and friends in my life who warm my heart and share their love with me at every turn. May I always return that gift in the minutes, hours, days and years to come.
I’d like to leave you with a little slideshow of photos from the farm. Yep Buddy and me mugging for the camera and sharing some of the fruits of our labor and smiles of our days. It was a fine year and we look forward to new discoveries, friends, and moments in 2019.
One of the benefits of sporting a roadmap of wrinkles, carting around a bone bag of stiff joints, and having a fond memory of a thick head of hair, is knowing that along the way I may have grown a brain—and a more empathetic brain at that. And while the physical features and physiologies of youth are nice, I’ve come to believe it’s the awareness of the soul, the kindness, the selfless deed, and generous nature that will in the end keep me (keep us) young. My body may go south, but the heart and head can still hasten me forward (as long as I remember where I put my truck keys and how to shift the gears).
This past year has been especially illuminating and also challenging. I’m aging, my siblings are aging, my mom is aging. And though life goes on, the gentle and not-so-gentle reminders of mortality become more prescient each year.
This year my mother sustained a fall, and through sheer pluck and hard work, she has made remarkable strides toward her recovery and well-being. It has not been easy. But we have to laugh, for when we tell her she’s amazing, she grows quiet and moves onto the next subject as if never hearing a word we’ve said. While my mom is not one to talk about herself nor does she wish to be fussed over, I am especially grateful for two things: her spirit and the devotion of her friends and neighbors.
I live a coast away, and knowing that an angel brigade helps my mom is a comforting balm for the soul. I’ve been to see her and have another trip planned, but because my siblings and I can’t be there all the time, the people who are there readily in her daily life are the true unsung heroes of my heart. They say it’s nothing and that they’re happy to do it, but I’m here to tell you it’s very much something.
I’d like to thank (and give a big written-word hug to) the everyday heroes who help, who check in, who show up when a friend is in need, especially when lack of mobility or access apply. The ride to the doctor’s appointment or church, the picking up of groceries, and the visitations are indeed heroic actions that elevate and comfort the treasured souls in our lives. Selfless actions may go unmentioned, but their uplifting, life-affirming impact speaks volumes. May my gratitude always be evident and forthcoming for you everyday heroes, bettering lives you likely have no idea you’re touching, and always in a meaningful, generous, profound and quiet way.
My favorite season (I say that about the other three, too) is now greeting me with darkness when I roll out of bed around 5 am. The light of summer’s pendulum is stealing away minutes each day, and I am resigned to sip coffee on the porch in the dark or in my captain’s chair at the kitchen table, and respond to my rooster’s bracing crow with a more gentlemanly rejoinder of “Good morning Clive, I trust you slept well?” (Yes, my rooster’s name is Clive; he’s British.)
I wish not to dance through a laundry list of how busy I’ve been this summer (everyone’s busy), but rather just share some of the surprises and delights of these balmy days—the picture postcards of what makes summer special to me from harvesting fruit (from trees I’ve babied all year), to taking a break on the hammock with my favorite wingman Buddy, to surprising a friend with a slice of pie. It’s been a summer of out-of-town visitors and casual dropins, quick cooling dips in the Puget Sound, and dry conditions of which I’ve never seen the likes. As Mother Nature ushers away the remaining days of satisfying warmth and gilded light, I thank her for the memories I’ll tuck away, and the images I’ll revisit on my chilly mornings and drizzly days of winter.
Checking in With My Master and Commander
Buddy follows the sun. Lucky for him (and me), my old farmhouse boasts four porches, each perfectly position to offer sun, shade or a dapple of each. He starts on the east porch, warms up with direct rays on the fir floorboards, then retires to the bathroom’s cold tile when his breathing reaches the decibel level of a cement mixer. Once cool, he relocates to the nearest, most promising sunny patch and goes in for the Buddy splay, a canine contortionist’s way of finding comfort in the resting form of a spatchedcocked chicken. In the photo above, Buddy is blocking the back porch doorway, extorting butt rubs and ear scratches for passage, and below, he’s relishing the cool concrete of Snapdragon Cafe’s floor.
In the Orchard
My orchard trees seem to grow at a glacial pace, perhaps because the trees are planted in glacial silt deposited an ice age ago or perhaps because their roots are the preferred snack of an epic vole population. Add to that my need to hand water, and I’m happy to get any fruit at all. The good news is each year the harvests do get better and better.
I’ve planted new peach trees (Snow Queen, Polly, Peregrine) in the greenhouse for a kinder, gentler weather experience, and it seems to be paying off. Nanaimo peach, a reliable producer, is the only curl-leaf-resistant variety tough enough to withstand eight months of rain. The peaches are sweet as can be, more so than another popular variety around here: Frost peach.
I grow dahlias under the protection of a high tunnel hoop house, basically a quonset-hut-shaped structure covered in plastic to protect the tender tubers and showstopper flowers. I am horrible with their names, but good with taking snapshots of these beauties.
Taking a Dip!
I overheat pretty easily, so most warm days I schedule a high-tide visit to a local beach. Dockton Park is my first choice as the long narrow harbor warms up quite nicely (a toasty 65° F) with each incoming tide. Point Heyer (sandy KVI Beach) is another lovely choice, but the water temps remain a bracing 56° because of currents and water depth.
I make a lot of pies in the summer, and peach pie is my penultimate pastry prize. It is unequivocally my favorite pie. I’ll let the photos do the talking, or lip smacking as the case may be.
Thanks for dropping by, and I hope your summer was one of fond memories and a little down time to read a good book, or enjoy a stroll on the beach.
I recently discovered Victoria sponge cake thanks the PBS program The Great British Baking Show, where Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood serve up tasty challenges to a group of lovely home cooks and amateur bakers. The show is quite sweet as are the recipes, and the contestants a wonderful mix and colorful palette of Britain today.
“Sponge” is an indispensable word in the show’s lexicon. Every judgement seems chased by the line, “Oh, lovely Spooooooonge” or “Scrumptious sponge” which describes the rich, tender, buttery cake before them. I find myself walking around the farm spouting off “Sphooonge, spaaaaooooonge, spongggggge’ in my best (or is that worst) British accent. I can no longer bake anything without chiming in about its sponge whether it has one or not.
There is one recipe as iconically British as Apple Pie is to the American table: Victoria sponge cake. In the original recipe, jam and whipped cream are used, sandwiched between and oozing out of a two-layer cake. Quite the showstopper, but for my version, I wanted to bump up the freshness and richness of the cake by adding island-grown raspberries and cream-cheese-laden whipped cream, respectively. I must say these upgrades to the “spooooonge” elevated an already great dessert. Here’s the recipe:
This time of year, my morning ritual usually includes several cups of coffee, the reliable warmth of Buddy (my bulldog) laying at or on my feet under the kitchen table, and a walkabout to greet the day, the garden, greenhouse, chickens and orchard. Some days I meander, other days I peruse my weedy kingdom from the porch and quickly move onto the tasks, chores, duties and dalliances of the day.
A few days ago I was heading down to the orchard to check out fruit-set on my apple trees and to do a little watering. Buddy was unmoved (on so many levels) and chose to stay put and guard his bed and food bowl in the house. As I made my way to the water spigot, I dodged brambles, tall grass, and cottonwood saplings that had taken over the pathway in a few short weeks. I think Prince Phillip may have had an easier time finding Sleeping Beauty through a maze of thorns, than I did locating and accessing a mere orchard faucet. If only my apple trees grew as quickly.
Heading back to the orchard, I spied two reddish orbs poking up through an overgrown thicket. Upon closer inspection, I was amazed to find an abandoned potted rose bush fighting its way skyward through the blackberry canes, bracken ferns and lush undergrowth. I said, “Well, hello old friend. What a pleasant surprise.”
About seven years ago, I kept my potted treasures behind the deer fence in this area. Apparently I left an old garden rose behind when I moved things up to my greenhouse. And not just any old garden rose, but my friend Karin’s favorite rose, which she had originally planted near the house in an area unfortunately favored by grazing deer. She selected this rose for its pure rose fragrance, adding “A rose should really smell like a rose.” And this one did; so lush a fragrance it reminded me of hugging my grandmother and being enveloped in the warmth of her embrace and the rose scent of perfume and dusting powder.
In trying to protect this precious old rose, I had unwittingly abandoned it. The poor little tangle of twigs survived six or seven years without supplemental water in a plastic pot choked with weedy interlopers. The plucky little plant’s roots must have escaped the pot via drainage holes, which likely saved it. For now I will take cuttings, clear the area, keep it watered, and wait for the shrub to go dormant in the fall before moving it to a better place.
I’m not sure what cultivar the rose is, but I have two guesses, based on bloom, scent, color and thorniness: Mme Isaac Pereire or Rose de Rescht. What matters most to me is that this lovely souvenir of my friend, the former lady of the house, survives and even thrives in the wilds of a neglected swale. In taking time to smell the roses, this rose, I revisit a friend and am given a second chance to cultivate her memory and bring back her rose to her beloved gardens.
If you have a guess as to what rose it may be, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.
What’s grand and glorious about the Pacific Northwest could not happen without the presence of rain, lots of rain—rain that sneaks in on a wind’s whisper or commands attention as a charging front headed toward the coast. Either way, I’ve grown to love the rain in all its forms. Whether sprinkles, mist, deluge or drizzle, there is still a comforting and hypnotic beauty during the region’s 9-month sodden sentence (as seen below in my chicken yard netting). Then again, by the end of winter, my mood is challenged daily by a combination of dark days and unrelenting rain.
Truth be told, I love sunshine, too. But on occasion, too many sunny days can faze me as an uncommon and unexpected anomaly that leaves me anxious and burning the candle at both ends. Every minute of dreamy blue-sky weather must be appropriately apportioned to the tasks at hand. It’s a nice problem to have.
And then one April day it happens, the sun finally makes an appearance on the westside of the house, for just enough time for me to smile on the reality that the pendulum is swinging back toward a more equitable amount light.
I used to think of myself as more of a summer/autumn guy—eager for long days, deep shade and buckets of flowers on my tables. Now I welcome spring in a new way, one that took a decade of living in this house to appreciate. The slow process of putting one’s stamp on a place reveals itself in surprising ways and for me that has been my need to plant spring bulbs and flowers throughout my property.
There was never a grand plan to have my garden show off the riches of spring, but time unveiled such intention in my action. Every fall I’d plant a smattering of bulbs and flowers as a ritual of putting the garden to bed for the winter. (Deer-proof daffodils and narcissus played heavily in the rotation.) Each spring I’d be surprised and delighted by what a little effort in autumn could provide. And even better, sometimes nature would step in with her own devices, and paint a swale or meadow with the ease of a artist’s brushstroke (as seen in my back-porch bluebells). I never argue with Mother Nature; she seems to know what she’s doing (with the exception of brambles, nettles, knotweed, English ivy, moss and Scot’s broom, said the bitter gardener).
I’d like to share some of the beauty with you; it’s wild and fraught with interlopers of the aforementioned ilk: weeds and brambles, but that just reminds me of who’s really in control of this palette and canvas. I may think I have the upper hand in this collaboration, but spring just smiles and presses on.
The title Bulldog Confidential may be misleading, because nothing about my bulldog Buddy is hush-hush. He is a larger than life presence who lives and loves with his heart on his sleeve, make that paw. What you see is what you get. When Buddy’s sad, he’s the Pagliacci of pooches. When he’s happy, Robin Williams seems subdued by comparison. When he’s pondering a situation, he has the focus and determination of Steve Jobs. When he’s decided upon his approach to a situation, Buddy channels the unwavering ethos of Churchill (resemblance notwithstanding). When Buddy sleeps, the term hibernation comes to mind.
When Buddy loves you, he does so unconditionally, more as a response then a consideration. He makes Pepe Le Pew look like an amateur. And when he demands a butt rub or belly scratch, all bets are off to saying “no” so multitasking ensues with one hand on the laptop and one hand on said tuchus (like now, as I type).
Buddy treats various inanimate objects as sentient beings. Every night, he plods up a flight of stairs to present me with a gift as cherished and beloved to him as a bone wrapped in bacon, sprinkled with cheese and basted in butter. My boots are his favorite tribute, though it’s a tough ascent when the toes or boot shaft get caught on every tread. When all my footwear has risen to a pile of soleful love on the landing, Buddy turns to his dog dish, not as a mere food vessel but as his second most revered treasure and objet d’art. When he climbs the stairs with stainless saucer locked in his jaws, it clips every riser, and the house awakens to a musical sampling of bangs, clangs, and pings usually reserved for fledgling marimba bands. It would not be a normal day at my house if I did not have to search for matching pairs of shoes, boots, slippers or flip flops should I wish to leave the house clad in footwear.
Buddy also likes to see eye-to-eye. No, I really mean eye-to-eye, pupil-to-pupil, so we are at the same elevation head-to-head. Buddy likes to watch me work from the vantage point of the kitchen table. He lifts his heft onto a captains chair with a lower rung, turns around to face the table and completes his ascent. He then sidles up to my laptop screen, dutifully surveying the grounds through a bay of windows only to pause, turn and half mask the screen by peering over it with a very moist muzzle. (Out come the screen wipes.) Some of my friends are mortified that he hangs out on my kitchen table, but others just laugh over it. Me, well I’m a total patsy and enjoy his editorial skills and good company. Needless to say, bipeds in the house dine on the dogless perch known as the dining-room table. My kitchen table has been relegated to a more appropriate use, that of a workspace.
As a watchdog, Buddy is more like a visiting dignitary or governor. Based on where I’m working—the greenhouse, orchard or front field—Buddy holds court either on the back stoop, roundabout, or front porch. He tends to his duty as if knighted by the queen, extracting a ear-scratch or butt-rub toll from each visitor as a proper and diplomatic introduction. If you ignore him, he will bark with an incredulous whimper that in dog talk is undeniably translated as “Did you not see me? Do you have no manners?”
When I first adopted Buddy, I had to convince him of one thing if our relationship was going to work; that the hammock was not a suspended chew toy. My other bulldogs, Maggie, Buddy and Gracie, took to the hammock like Popeye to spinach, but Buddy thought it was the fabric form of tetherball. I would splay out on the hammock for my well-deserved break and Buddy would go full-on bombastic, not understanding that this swinging cot was a tool for relaxation. He would growl, attack and tug on the hammock relentlessly. I have to say, with a modicum of training and treat bribery, Buddy came to realize the hammock was more about repose than roughhousing and rumble. We are now at one with hammocks and swaying.
All in all my two years with Buddy have been the best, and for clarification he is my landlord. Hopefully he won’t raise my rent or kick me out should the butt rubs stop or the treats go missing. As a sidekick, he’s very patient with me, knowing with a little time, a few whimpers and a couple barks, I can be trained.
I started writing my blog about ten years ago at the prodding of my former boss and current friend, Nicholas. He would chide me regularly, “When are you going to start writing your blog?” One cold March day in 2008, I sat at my kitchen table, dispensed a shrug and answered to myself, “Perhaps, now.”
The nature and purpose of a blog can certainly reveal itself as a sticky wicket. Do I want to promulgate a fairy tale, an over-the-top perfect life, or do I wish to connect and share some honest moments, a couple laughs, and a few snapshots of beauty in the everyday (which would include multiple images of beefy bulldogs, pies and flowers, no doubt). Hopefully, it’s evident that the latter option was my obvious choice.
Over the years, I’ve come to recognize and avoid blogs that seem to make me feel bad about myself, where each entry is an amalgamation of accomplishments shy of curing cancer, building a suspension bridge, and hosting a UN delegation for brunch. Some days I just want to get one thing done—just one thing. I want to look back on the last 24 hours and say, “I put in a good day.” That has been my goal with Tall Clover Farm both online and off. Some days there are road blocks and roundabouts, but never rumble strips of doubt that I made the right decision about leaving the city and relocating on Vashon.
Though in the last year, I’ve slowed down a bit. My get-up-and-go, kind of got-up-and-went. And managing and working a rural property weighs heavily on shoulders as they age. For the first time in my life, I’ve felt a little geezerly. Granted, my mind is that of an anxious 28-year-old, but my body is quick to chime in, “not so fast.” My voluntarily long day is fueled by a brief nap, or a coffee break or checking in with a friend who undoubtedly rues the day I finally acquired a cellphone.
In essence, I have gone from hare to tortoise, but if the parable proves anything, slow-and-steady is the way to win the race, which in my case includes just finishing the race without regard to how I placed.
Things do take longer now, as much in execution as in actually getting started. Pondering plays a big part of my new reality. For instance, it’s taken me about six months to consider repairing a plumbing problem in my old farmhouse. I quit using my upstairs bathroom and opted to trundle down stairs nightly to use the guest bathroom rather than to address the issue before me, under me and around me: leaky pipes.
I am now in the middle of opening up walls and ceilings, and repairing that plumbing problem, one brought on by a rodent that chewed rigid drain pipes with the ease of shaving milk chocolate. And now that the pipes have been replaced, the reattached vintage toilet has decided it’s not happy with the new arrangement. Time for a new flusher!
So I guess what I’m saying is, I’m still here, happy, and plugging away (toilets notwithstanding), and I’m still loving my life at Tall Clover Farm. And while my blog posts may be less frequent, I have confidence that I will get back to my regularly scheduled writing, eventually. And besides, I’ll try to spare you from the minutia or regularity of my day: i.e., Buddy farted at 8, 10, 2 and 4; I weeded for 6 minutes; cursed a nettle patch; picked out a paint chip; and had a tuna melt for lunch (riveting stuff).
When the day seems worth sharing, I will do my best to put pen to paper, or in this case, finger to keypad. So for now, time marches on with me bringing up the rear, and I do my best to put in a good day. And please know that the connections I’ve made here are indeed one of the best parts of that good day.
The day I met Sam and Dom, I was incurably smitten. Call it a twinkle or spark with a bit of fairy dust and star alignment thrown in, our initial neighborly encounter caught me by surprise and captured my heart.
We struck up a conversation while I was gardening and they were walking by. Minutes into our shared laughs and easy introductions, I had an inkling—make that very strong understanding—that we would become good friends. Fifteen years later, tea leaves and a crystal ball could not have foreseen a more accurate memoir of my first impression.
I’ve never quite met another couple like Sam and Dom, which for clarification is a good thing. It’s as if a happy couple escaped the pages of a book and brought their love story to life just four doors down from me.
Of the many things I love about this wholehearted duo, their love tops my list; and how they love their daughters is a close second. Over the years, Sam would share her latest Dom-designed Valentine, birthday and anniversary cards, and every year I would be gobsmacked over how clever and fun and wonderful they each were. So this year I asked my friends if I could share their love story with you through the joy of their art, humor and friendship.
I’ll let Dom explain,
Tom, Here are a few cards. These were never meant for public viewing, I just loved Sam’s reaction every time I would give her one; she would laugh for a good few minutes and they meant a lot to her. Then social media became a thing and she just loved sharing the joy. I was a bit embarrassed about people seeing them, until a friend described them as a clear declaration of love and adoration for Sam. None of us feel like movie stars in day to day life, but people like Sam should – and I want her to know that.
Valentine’s Day and Anniversary Cards
Mother’s Day and Birthday Cards
Fast forward to now…
Sam and Dom sittin’ in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G.
First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage.
I don’t hide my love of bulldogs. I gush, dote, kowtow, and cater to the charismatic clowns and heart melters wherever and whenever they cross my path (or back in for a butt rub, as the case may be). In my house that can be minute-to-minute. My mother shared that I was drawn to this lovable breed at an early age. As a toddler, I was infatuated with “Sister” the bulldog next door. Apparently her substantial mass, reluctance to move, and good nature made for the perfect combo of playmate and jungle gym.
Decades later, I still hold the bulldog in high esteem, just shy of calling the breed a deity. I’ve owned four, wait, make that four bulldogs have owned me: Maggie, Boz, Gracie and Buddy. More accurately, I rescued them and they rescued me. I have served at their pleasure and had my buttons pushed to accommodate most if not all of their whims, grunts, whines and standoffs.
If pets are any indication, it’s probably a good thing that I never had children; they would have ridden roughshod over me. “Dad, can we have cake for breakfast? Pretty please.” little Harper implored. “Well, I guess so; there are eggs and milk in it.”
While Boz and Gracie have graced the pages of this blog, Buddy is the new kid on the block and it’s time you got to know him. And what better way to do that then with photos of the top dog “in action” at Tall Clover Farm.
So long from Buddy and Tom, and here’s to good friends, whether two-legged or four-legged, feathered or furred.