Category Archives: the house

The Spirit of Anna Wickline Knight

First, a brief history of the Wicklines:

Johann Georg Wickline was born, just before 1700, in Alsace or the Black Forest of Germany. He immigrated to Philadelphia, by way of Rotterdam, arriving on the Palatine German brig John in October of 1736 and married Anna Christina Rietenauer, also of Alsace, in 1741 in Berks County, PA. We can tell that Johann Georg was literate, because he signed his oath to the American government with his signature, not an X mark. All of the Wicklines in America are descended from Johann Georg, my line through his son Jacob George, born 1750 in Montgomery County, PA, and Jacob’s wife Maria Catharine Spahr of Berks County, PA.

Jacob and Maria moved their family south to Sweet Springs, Virginia, right on the border between present-day Virginia and southern West Virginia, where the Wickline family stayed until the late 19th century, when Anna Mazuria Wickline moved to central West Virginia and married William Clinton Knight of Braxton County.


Though she is not a grandmother to either one of us, my mom and I both call her “Grandma Knight.” She’s my grandmother’s grandmother, my mother’s great-grandmother, and my great-great-grandmother. And she was a West-Virginia-hills-country homestead-woman, who shot her own meat, chopped her own firewood (and probably called it “fahrwood”), quilted, gardened, and boasted a canning cellar that was apparently quite a delight to visit. Her whole front yard-patch was nothing but a flower garden. She must have been the embodiment of the old saying about “idle hands,” because I’ve never once heard of her sitting idly. And I could probably deduce that my pricklyness is an Annie Wickline trait, diluted by a couple of generations and tempered extensively by a recent injection of Avery good humor.

If there’s one really great thing about knowing the oral history of both sides of your family, it’s that you can recognize when you honestly come by certain traits in yourself. It’s the old nature versus nurture argument, but as a small-time genealogist that’s half the romance of digging up these old stories — not just figuring out whence a dimpled chin or prominent nose, but personality traits or interests shared with long-gone, unmet ancestors. And sometime last summer, I became possessed by the spirit of Grandma Knight, or at least her DNA. The desire to plant something, and make a mark on my tiny landscape, became an undeniable itch. I finally got Jim to build first one and then a second raised bed, I put in berry bushes and flowers, started planning fall bulbs,* and got Jim to rip out most of our lovely-but-blah box hedges and call in a landscaper for new stone edging and perennial summer and fall bloomers. I honed home-canning skills and plotted out a year of grander canning designs. I tried to figure out where (and how) to start a small vegetable garden. I bought a share in a friend’s farm CSA, and started to research summer fruit and veggie CSAs.

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And then the freezer died

Last year for Valentine’s Day, I got a 6.9 cubic foot upright freezer for the basement. What a romantic gift, right? Luckily I had to go down this morning to get some frozen spinach, because I discovered that the freezer had ceased to run. The veggies were all slightly squishy, even though the meat still seemed to be mostly frozen. Jim thinks it was more thawed out than after we had lost power after Nemo, which tells me that the freezer has been defunct for three days at least. I’m really, really lucky I needed to get something out. We were able to rescue most of the items, but had to give up some of them. After I’d made some sacrifices, Jim was able to fit everything remaining in the upstairs freezer, but not one more thing will fit and I have to be really careful opening the freezer door in case some ice cream comes flying out at me.

We are also so lucky that we had bought a 2-year protection plan, so the cost of the freezer is completely put toward a new model. We up-bought to another manufacturer and a larger 13.7 cubic foot model with a few more bells and whistles, so we’ve got to make some room in the basement before the delivery comes, about 6 inches more room, but the peace of mind is worth it. I could have gotten the exact same freezer again, but after it just died on us after barely 53 weeks? Why put myself through that? And the new one will hold EVEN MORE bulk meats and homemade casseroles. And it has shelves in the door, an inside light, auto-defrost, and an alarm that goes off if the temperature goes higher than a preset temp, so if this happens AGAIN, which it better hadn’t, we’ll know sooner! Huzzah!

So while Jim was painting the nursery, I was at the store trying to get the best deal on a freezer. In the end, we got a lot accomplished. Teamwork.

And at least this happened NOW, and not in April, May, or June, right? Sometimes I get lucky.

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Autumn in New England

It looks like this weekend might turn out to be a good one for planting my fall bulbs. One piece of common wisdom says to plant when the daily temperature is in the 60s consistently, and the 10-day forecast currently has every day in the mid 60s, with one day that might be 70. I think I’m safe. The landscaper is theoretically coming this Friday to do the bit by the driveway with nice cobbles, and once that is cleaned up I can split the Monster Hosta and start bulb planting. I’m hoping that Sunday won’t be rainy, because I don’t want to be planting in a cold rain. I can’t wait for spring, to see whether my 40 grape hyacinths come up.

So, I made shortbread for the first time. It was deliriously good. It involved cardamom, a non-traditional shortbread spice, but it contributed a warmth of flavor that was perfectly fitting for an autumn cookie. I was pretty afraid of shortbread, thinking it would be a finicky dough, but then I made a biscuit-type dough for apple dumplings and those turned out pretty good, and I wasn’t as afraid of shortbread anymore. The next thing I might want to try is my own English muffins, or crumpets. I found a recipe that makes them seem easy, as long as you have English muffin rings. So I just need to find those. I found them on the King Arthur Flour website. ❤ KAF.

Also, as you guessed from the previous paragraph, I made apple dumplings. They still need perfecting, but it was another America’s Test Kitchen recipe, so most of the bumps were already smoothed out for me. ❤ ATK.

Maybe the sun is trying to come out today? It’s hard to tell. Happy Autumn, folks. Bake something that smells fabulous & have a warming beverage.

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Trust me to not get around to my “spring” cleaning until the first of September. Today’s been a very invigorating and productive day — hopefully an auspicious start to the month. You might think it’s boring — I think it’s been a revelation.

Got up, walked a brisk 3.5 miles.

Took down the summer wreath, put up the autumn wreath. Even though it’s technically still summer, it’s September — don’t judge me.

Emptied the dishwasher.

Embarked on a crusade to ready the guest bedroom for the miniature armada of houseguests on schedule for this month:

  • Excavate the bed (it tends to be a staging/working area for me most of the year)
  • Put new sheets on bed, flip the bedcover
  • Excavate a little bit of additional space in closet and dresser by weeding out clothes that no longer have any hope of fitting me

I have also been doing endless laundry today, particularly bed linens, since I bought 4 new sets on sale at Kohl’s this week. I think the fourth set of sheets is in the washer now. I hope to get through at least one more before the end of the day. I am also weeding out decade-old sheets that have faded or lost their charm, and plan to donate them to the deserving kiddoes at BraveHeart Pit Bull Rescue. I’ll wait while you click on the link. Aren’t they some sweet faces, right?

Indulgent trip to nearby The Fresh Market for trimmings for my dinner-party-of-one dinner: heirloom tomatoes, baked potato salad, fresh berries, Cape Cod Creamery “Sandy Neck Snickers.” Dinner is going to be an heirloom tomato and mayo sandwich on toasted multigrain bread, with potato salad and berries on the side, after I spend some time spreading compost on the saddest of the blueberry bushes. Which I have told myself I will do at 6 o’clock, after the worst part of the day has passed. Follow that up with Snickers ice cream and the first episode of the new Doctor Who on BBCA at 9, and I don’t mind that Jim went to a work-person barbecue while I stayed home and did chores.

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Creativity Takes a Hit

Unfortunately, the month of June done got away from me. We got back from Pennsylvania and it was the beginning of June; now it is the 27th and I keep asking myself, “Where has the month gone?” My creative juices dried up in all the hectic hustle and bustle, except for one area: the garden. The little plot of earth in my backyard, and my plans for it, have kept me occupied and hopeful. When I needed a quick break from work, I’d find myself out in the yard for a half hour or so, ripping out weeds or vines, or running off to get something at Lowe’s to put in an empty pot just so I could say There, I did something good today.

Even when it was nearly 100 degrees, and I coaxed my brave little delphinium along. There’s one shoot left that might, just might bloom, but it doesn’t look too happy right now. I just couldn’t keep it moist enough. I’ve taken off as much of the dead stuff as I dared, and left the better-looking leaves, and one spire of buds. Here’s hoping.

I spent two days plotting out a bulb map, picking Double Lilacs and Princess Irenes and Ruby Giant crocuses and Mr Fokker anemone, and gladioli, and wondering what spring would bring.

Jim started pulling some of the front bushes out. Apparently, our boxwoods have been here since at least the 1930s. One of our neighbors wholeheartedly encouraged us to take them out, so the bushes on that side of the house have led the exodus. Something tells me that the bushes abutting the other neighbor will be let be, for now. “They’ve been there forever,” he says. We’ll put in hostas, or mounding annuals, or a fast growing ground cover. Something visually low, and physically low maintenance.

And then, a great sad thing caught up to us, to our little family of close-knit friendships. I lost a week just keeping the gears running at work, keeping food in the house, keeping Jim in suits and ties, talking everyone else off of emotional ledges, and letting my mind wander in between. I slept badly. I had strange dreams. When no one else wore makeup because tears would make it run, I deliberately put on eyeliner and mascara so I’d have a reason to not cry, to stay strong because that’s what was needed. If one person kept putting one foot in front of the other, it was going to have to be me who led the way. The heat wave kept my mind firmly in the present: Must water the delphinium before it gets too hot.

I’m not feeling creative so much as I’m feeling tired, spent, wrung out. I’m looking forward to my next chance to get out in the sun and get my hands dirty, and get back in to the swing of things.

Hint: Bluegold, Toro, Earliblue.

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Hurricane Preparedness: The Come On Irene Edition

So, just about this time last year, I wrote a post on preparing for Hurricane Earl, which decided to fall apart well before reaching us and was not much more than a thunderstorm when it arrived in New England. I started preparing for Irene mentally on Tuesday night and physically on Wednesday morning, with a trip to the local Target for storm supplies. Everyone else in the store was shopping for sugary cereals and back-to-school supplies, and I felt almost furtive sneaking through the store and filling my cart with toilet paper, cans of soup, packaged non-perishables, and a cartload of gallons of water. I felt like I was preparing for an apocalypse that only I knew was coming. In reality, I was just a few days ahead of the rush. For which I am terribly thankful!

Let’s look at last year’s hurricane preparedness list and add a few updates for this year. This list can also be used for winter storm preparedness, so I think it’s convenient as a reminder for myself as well as a memory-jogger for anyone else preparing to batten down the hatches for a big storm.

  • Milk, eggs, bread. The milk and eggs will quickly cease to be useful if the power goes out for more than a little while, but the bread can be put to good use  in peanut butter & jelly sandwiches. This is more of a precaution in case utilities are intact but the roads are impassable, and you can hold a French toast party to pass the time.
  • Toilet paper. You’ll be sad if you run out. I actually was running out — down to the last two rolls! — so it was time to buy anyway. I always buy the largest package I can manhandle, so my last TP shopping trip was this past May.
  • Canned soups and stews. We have a gas grill with a gas side burner, so I know I can cook anything that I would normally be cooking on the stove, I just have to do it outside. If we lose power for a few days, I can still make canned soups and packaged skillet meals and feel human. Yay skippy! I didn’t even get boring soups — I got some New England Clam Chowder, some Maryland-style Crab, and chicken with dumplings.
  • Instant coffee. No one’s ever mentioned instant coffee to me in conjunction with storm preparedness, but it makes no end of sense to have a small jar on hand. As long as you have good hot water running or the ability to boil it (aforementioned gas grill burner), you can get some sort of coffee-like substance in to your system, which for many, including most Greater Boston twentysomethings such as myself, is imperative. I still have the same jar of Folgers crystals from last summer, like a talisman.
  • Shelf-stable cans of tuna salad, chicken salad, and crackers. It isn’t awesome, you won’t feel stuffed after eating it, but it’s food, and it will carry you through in a pinch if you run out of peanut butter.
  • Anything that can be grilled. Even if we lose power, we’ve got a grill and two fresh canisters of gas, so we can have steaks or barbequed chicken or grilled vegetables or whatever. As part of your storm preparation, check to see whether it’s time to get a new tank for the grill!
  • Bottled water: Two surprise instances of losing potable water to the house last spring have led me to be absolutely nuts about having enough water stored away in the basement to keep a Roman legion on its feet. Emergency management officials recommend having 1 gallon of water per adult per day on hand. For example, ten days of water for two people is twenty gallons, plus water for infants and pets. We currently have 13 gallons in our dining-room/staging-area.
  • Speaking of pets, you’ve probably got enough canned food and/or kibble on hand to get by, but just in case your kibble bin is looking low, consider stocking up early! Amy has plenty of noms in her kibble bin and we just recently bought a new bag with a coupon. We also have lots of treats for her.
  • And speaking of infants, diapers and jars of baby food should be a part of your staple grocery lists already, but having extra on hand in case of an emergency never hurt anyone; they’ll be used up eventually.
  • Batteries for radios, flashlights, and camping lanterns. It didn’t even cross my mind until Friday morning, and I had to do serious hunting to find a large package of D batteries.
  • A medical kit. I don’t think about this so much because both Jim & I are somewhat accident prone, so we keep a large selection of latex-free bandages and a fresh tube of antibacterial ointment in a plastic bin in the bathroom closet that’s designated as the “medical kit,” but storm prep is a good time to check that kit and make sure nothing needs to be replaced or refreshed. A reusable wrap we’ve always had came in handy this morning when I lost my footing in the shower and my elbow came down hard on a window casing. As long as I don’t bend it past 80-100 degrees, it feels okay, but there’s  a very pretty bruise forming.Hurricane Irene injuries at Isle of Skye: 1. 😦

Other things to think about:

  • Try to trim back any tree branches that may have been damaged during other summer storms, or that are simply too close to your home. This can protect both your home and your neighbors’ homes, as well as your vehicles. I noticed that about the time it became clear Irene would be menacing us, all our neighbors got out and mowed and cleaned up the gardens. Jim says it was because they realized it would be their last chances before the yards got saturated with water. Jim also took the time Friday evening to trim our front hedges, which needed the trimming anyway, but did you know that trimming trees and bushes actually makes them more wind-resistant? It makes sense, so there you go. And it makes your house look nicer to boot.
  • Bring any window air conditioning units in if you can! We took out the leaky, older unit in the guest bedroom (won’t be in use for another week anyway) and the newer unit in my office at the back of the house, the room most subject to the winds and driving rains. We left the unit in the front bedroom window, on the sheltered side of the house, and the behemoth in the downstairs window.
  • Secure anything outdoors or bring it inside, if possible. Lawn furniture, lawn ornaments, sheds and outbuildings, tools, toys, trash and recycling barrels, plants, bird feeders, anything loose: batten it down or bring it in. We put as much as we could in the shed Jim and my dad built this spring, and then Jim battened the shed down with ties and other securities. That thing isn’t going anywhere. The grill is tied to the deck as well, in case the predicted tropical storm or hurricane force gusts would be strong enough to push it around.
  • If you have a pool, do what you can to secure and protect it. Leave the cover off as it could be damaged by high winds or flying vegetation and debris. Secure pool and patio furniture.
  • Bring flags in off the front of your house. The pole could snap right off the house, potentially damaging your siding, and at worst be picked up by the wind and tossed through a window.
  • We also took the screens out of the big gallery windows on the front porch. We had to make two from scratch this spring and repair one, and they were big and a pain in the gears. I will cheerfully replace any other screen that gets a tear from a flying pebble or twig — but I drew the line at those ones. With the glass panes shut the front porch is enclosed, and the screens are safely stacked inside.

Those last few points are less pertinent when preparing for winter storms, since the wind in those storms is usually secondary to the amount of snow that’s expected to come down. Up until just this morning, Irene could have reached us as a Category 1 hurricane, but luckily it degraded to a tropical storm even before reaching New York City. Still, tropical storm winds are sustained winds up to 60 mph with gusting winds higher, and when the ground has been saturated by driving rain sustained winds are nothing to shake a stick at (literally). As I write I am watching trees on a nearby property bend in the wind like licorice ropes. If they stay upright through today I’ll be shocked.

Luckily, our section of the coast is in a deep, protected bay, and winds and even waves may be less intense here than along coastal areas fronting the ocean (such as Nantasket, which is across the bay from us and protects us from the brunt of major storms). The storm surge along the outer coasts is still a threat, and will remain so through tonight’s (unfortunately astronomically) high tide, but our bay is a bit more protected, thankfully, and some emergency repairs have recently been done on our local sea wall. However, after the downpours of March 2010 when our basement flooded at the high tides, we’ve become paranoid about our basement. Thursday night Jim worked hard to get the basement cleaned and items placed well off the floor. On Saturday morning, very early, we took ourselves to our local DPW yard to pickup an allotment of FREE SANDBAGS that were being distributed to coastal residents. We couldn’t get enough to sandbag every doorway and basement window, so we decided to fill the doorway to the back part of the basement, which I call the cellar part, where the water entered the last time there was flooding. Jim has plugged the offending hole with some silicone-concrete mix that came in a tube gun, but sandbagging too wouldn’t hurt. Then, yesterday afternoon, Jim was at the local home improvement box store and found a device that, when it detects moisture, emits a piercing tone to alert you to flooding. I think he placed that in the basement in a low spot just beyond where he sandbagged. He also got one for our friends in Rhode Island, so much closer to the brunt of the storm and the storm surge.

  • Cell phones, flashlights. Although the cell phones will stop being useful about 12 hours after the power goes out. Make sure you have fresh batteries for the flashlights on hand as well.
  • A back-up generator. Normally I’d say this is going overboard, but in some instances it could be imperative. Friends of ours have a sump pump in their basement which is overactive on normal days, and any prolonged loss of power would naturally result in a flooded basement for them. A small generator will keep that pump going and, hopefully, their basement dry no matter what happens.
  • A hand-crank radio. Mostly this is useful in areas of the country affected by tornados, because real-time tracking is essential to survival. In our area of the country and in the situations we find ourself in, the hand radio becomes a simple lifeline to the world and source of entertainment if the power goes out. Because these are so darn useful, we picked up a combination hand-crank/solar powered AM/FM radio with 7 NOAA weatherband stations AND cell phone charging outlet.
  • Check with your local DPW — if you live near a water feature, they too may be providing residents with free sandbags. We figure if we get an allotment every time they’re offered, eventually we’ll have enough to sandbag the whole house. All we had to do was show a driver’s license with our local address, and our allotment of 10 sandbags was free and loaded in to the back of Jim’s SUV by two hard-working, good-natured men at the DPW.

And finally:

  • Books! I will gleefully batten down in my little beach cottage as long as there is a pile of literature to hand. Preferably something dreary that plays on the isolation you will feel while burrowed away. I am working through a biography of Abigail Adams right now and have my usual stack of murder mysteries nearby. I almost went out and got Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, knowing what a classic of the genre it is, but when I got to the bookstore and started looking at it it just wasn’t catching my imagination. Abigail and Death at Sandringham House were at home and calling my name pretty loudly, so I left without buying anything.
Irene and her winds are here. I was saddened to see the destruction experienced by our friends and neighbors in the Delmarva area, particularly beautiful Lewes and Ocean City (I assume the beach at Cape Henlopen has experienced some fierce erosion in this storm), and down in to Assateague, and I’m equally glad to have heard from acquaintances in NYC this morning that all is well, given the circumstances. Some friends in Long Island I haven’t heard from yet, so I’m hoping they’ll pop up on Facebook and let us know they’re alright before too long. It’s 2 PM and we even still have power — I think we might even survive the day.

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July 3rd-4th Round-Up

July 3rd is a big deal in our neighborhood.

It starts on July 2nd, Illumination Night, when neighbors can enter a contest for the most patriotically decorated home on the Neck. I decorate, usually on the last day of June or first day of July, and I’m still picking up speed. Last year I had fairy lights and bunting in the porch windows, this year I have fairy lights, bunting, and a swag for the front door. Next year I’ll accumulate even more.

The town of Weymouth, at the mouth of our bay, does a big fireworks display on the 3rd, and they launch from a barge on the bay, so those of us on the bay side of the peninsula get a personal fireworks display. About a week in advance, someone starts building a bonfire on the beach — last year’s centerpiece was half of a boat, this year it was a telephone pole — and all the neighbors add wood to the pile. During the day, there’s a family fun day for the kids with bouncy houses, a dj, face painting, sand castle building contests, a dunk tank, and a little kids’ bicycle decorating workshop with parade. This ends around 3 PM and that’s when people start barbecues and cookouts, and it is almost required of one to go around, socialize with the neighbors, nurse a cold drink, and sample the food. We ourselves had a small barbecue this year, a very small family style cookout, then trouped down to the bayside drive for the bonfire and fireworks display. And let me tell you, it is a ZOO down there. This year was a lot calmer, and I think the borderline inclement weather kept people away. People come from off the Neck even, there are cops everywhere, lots of teenagers (we call them FUYAs — Fine Upstanding Young Americans), rowdiness, and some arrests. I make a point of setting up my lawn chairs at our friends’ house — she’s a nurse at the hospital where Jim works, he’s a city policeman, they have a long-haired dachshund who’s Amy’s BFF. If I am at the place where all the beat cops are taking their breaks, I’m in a pretty safe spot. After the fireworks spectacular and HUGE bonfire, the motorcycle police contingent herds everyone away from the beach and the neighborhood gets quiet, and it’s just the neighbors again.

This year, it looked like it might rain. Jim and I got a tent to eat under in the backyard, and we made a cover for the back deck so he could grill in peace. We asked the neighbors, who’ve lived here since the 1940s, what would happen if it rained so bad they cancelled the festivities. “It’s never rained that hard,” they said. “There was that one year, but they just doused it with gasoline and set it off. Someone’s roof caught on fire. That’s why they always station the fire engine down at the corner of our street and the bay road.”

OH. Ok. Good to know.

After the non-“Neckahs” left, and our own guests had departed, we packed up a couple of cold seltzers and went next door to socialize. The corner our house is on is a pretty social one because most of the houses are all owned by one family, mother and sons and in-laws, and another son is just on the next street. We stayed up late and talked about dogs and allergies and how the neighborhood used to be. Then I got too tired and went home to bed, and Jim went to our neighbors on the other side, who host a party well in to the night for the motorcycle cops who are just getting off duty.

On the 4th, we were going to a friend’s pool party and outdoor potluck grillfest in the Ocean State, so I had to get up and make a potato salad, Jim had to take the tent and deck cover down, and we had to pack for a pool party with a pup in tow. I packed up everything left over from the party on the 3rd as well — veggies, broccoli salad, cheese. Amy loves the house in RI. She isn’t a fan of the pool, but she likes the big yard and the little kids. And all the adult people too. They’re ok. She discovered that her favorite Little Girl has a Three Year Old Boy Cousin. “MOM!” she says to me. (She always speaks in capitals.) “WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME THREE YEAR OLD BOYS WERE SO AWESOME?! I LOVE THIS KID! HE’S KIND OF OBLIVIOUS TO ME BUT HE’S MY HEIGHT AND LIKES BROCCOLI!” We didn’t get home til 10 PM or so, but the party was still going at our neighbors’. He has a big(ger) bash on the 4th with bands and enormous slabs of meat grilled on a rotating spit, and they block off the street and everyone in the neighborhood goes by the party. And it continues well in to the night, and they have fireworks. But we were far too tired to go by. We watched the Boston fireworks on CBS (and could hear them over the water — weird) and went to bed.

So yesterday was the 5th. You’d think the festivities would be over, but the neighbor still had food to cook up so there was an impromptu Leftovers Party. I took over the leftover potato salad from the day before to contribute to the spread. He cooked up endless loads of teriyaki chicken wings on the barbecue and we socialized some more. I still had potato salad leftover at the time we were leaving, but I convinced the person who said he liked it most to just let me fill a plate for him with what I had left. One fewer leftover in my fridge is a win.

Today is the 6th. I am totally socialized out. I never want to have another party ever again (I’ll change my mind in a month). Amy is dead tired (she didn’t nap for three days) and she thought yesterday was Monday. She was quite put out that I had to go to work. I had to explain three day weekends to her when I got back home. But I suppose it’s worth it to connect with your neighbors and celebrate the fact that it’s summer, and you can lounge around outdoors, and we live in a beautiful land.

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