Wednesday, January 2, 2019

A recap blog of 2018

Wow. I didn't blog at all in 2018. I guess the times are changing. It's odd because I miss writing, but I often find myself struggling to muster the energy and focus that it takes to put together a well-written blog or article. Clearly, I am not alone, as many blogs (and magazines) are trending in the same direction as MPF. A never-ending to do list, an infant and toddler at home, homestead chores and about a million projects have slowed my roll a bit this year. Who knows, maybe I will pick it back up in 2019, but I'm not going to call it a resolution just yet. Maybe I should shift to shorter posts that don't take as long to write. The problem is that I am detail-oriented person, so I have a hard time leaving out the little stuff. Regardless, I have decided to throw together a recap post of 2018, and it will be fairly long and picture heavy. Both in the outdoors and at home, I had an amazing year filled with ups, downs, and many lessons learned. I hope you enjoy reading about it as much as I enjoyed living it. Cheers to everyone this New Year's Day.

  Sunset out the back door
In January, we finally finished renovations on the house and moved in. It took almost a year to clean the place out, do some demolition work, and make a bunch of upgrades and aesthetic changes throughout the house. Think 70's green shag carpet, white walls with dark trim in every room, fake brick linoleum, salmon-colored Formica countertops, faux yellow burlap uppers, and many, many more changes. The pictures below show the kitchen a couple weeks after we started demolition and a few weeks before it was completely finished. The upstairs is still a work in progress, but the downstairs is looking great. People always tend to migrate to the kitchen. However, I think the wood stove has become the center of the home.

 A shot of the kitchen about two weeks after we started demo. We had removed the old appliances, faux beams, and some other things when this photo was taken.

 A photo of the new kitchen a couple weeks before we completed all the finishing work

 The wood stove, DIY gate, and stone surround

In February, we found out that the baby on the way was a girl. We were thrilled! On June 7th, Petra Charlise made her appearance. My wife was a champ as she suffered through a long labor. Now, we have a chubby, happy little 7-month old who is absolutely amazing, albeit not the greatest sleeper.

It's a girl!

The arrival of baby Petra

 Our first family selfie

 A Thanksgiving selfie that Cullen didn't want to be part of. Petra is wearing a dress MM made that also included a top layer (not pictured).

Cullen has taken being a big brother in stride. He is becoming more affectionate toward Petra and slowly turning into stereotypical love-hate sibling. In other news, he LOVES cows, horses, dinosaurs, tractors, heavy equipment, and pretty much all things outdoors.

 Cullen and grandpa Jerry on the tractor and the bulldozer in the background doing some barnyard work
 Some seat time after watching daddy and grandpa mow, ted, and rake hay all afternoon

 Daddy, you missed a spot with the tedder

 Feeding the cows and horse some special treats
 His first visit with a dairy cow in PA (who really wanted to give kisses)

 When your favorite toy comes to life

The little man also absolutely loves his grandparents. He is one active little dude, and they keep a smile on his face. He also discovered the magic of running through bubbles this past summer. Enough said.

An early spring visit with my parents - 1, 2, 3 swing

 A spring visit to Ashfield Lake with grandma

Crazy kid meets bubble blaster

It was a long winter. We didn't have local open water until the third week of April, and I finally got to wet a line a couple weeks later. Thankfully, the fish had their feed bags on, and targeting deep points and rocky areas led to a couple dozen fish, with a number of 18"-19" largemouths and smallmouths.

A chunky bass I caught on a deep point on a modified Ned rig

A smallie that ate a Strike King Rage Grub on a rocky shoreline

I also added to the fleet in April and picked up a Wilderness Systems Commander 140. I've been eyeing one for a couple years and wanted to grab one before they become impossible to find since they are discontinued. I cannot wait to take Cullen out with me in it. I did learn to be careful if you are going to take a boat that sticks out this far on the Taconic Parkway in New York. We ran into a grumpy cop who scolded us onto a different highway, although I'm not entirely convinced his reasoning was correct.

 The WS Commander 140 ready to head back to MA

Shortly after, turkey season started. I had never really turkey hunted before, at least not more than a day or two here and there, and never on my own. I spent a lot of time practicing with different calls and prepping for the season. In the first week, I feel like I learned 5-6 new things each time I got out. Then, on the first Saturday of the season, I called in and harvested my first bird. He was a jake, but he was a trophy to me. I did a traditional roast turkey wrapped in bacon and made a few quarts of stock and soup with the bones. I'm not sure what it is, but the wild turkey noodle soup has such a unique and delicious taste - amazing! I also had a beautiful Tom come within about 10 yards. Unfortunately the angle was really awkward, and rather than spinning and shooting at the same time, I waited to see if he would eventually give me a clean shot without moving. He never did, but man was that exciting.

My first ever turkey

Cullen was still asleep when I got back with the bird. Now he is up super early most days.

Delicious roasted wild turkey that later turned into turkey sandwiches and soup

A backyard toast to a fine turkey season, including a close encounter with a gorgeous Tom that didn't quite work out. Berkshire Mountain Distillers bourbon in the glass.

We also decided to expand the garden this year out to about 3000 square feet if we include the blueberry patch, plus we built and hung new gates. We did a lot of the typical staples for us - a variety of tomatoes, sweet potatoes, Kennebec potatoes, tomatillos, hot peppers, strawberries, green beans, squash, cauliflower, broccoli, melons, herbs, and some other things I am forgetting. I also built two raised beds for the house that were easy to access for a pregnant woman. They were a hit, and better yet, effective.

The new and improved garden, our little dirt devil, and the first asparagus of the year

Everyone putting in some sweat to get the garden planted

 Starting to look green

One of the raised beds I made this year for herbs, peppers, and cherry tomatoes

Over the course of the next few months, we worked extremely hard to can, preserve, and freeze as much bounty as possible. By the fall, I had to put up shelves in the basement to create a little pseudo-root cellar. It has been extremely worth it to have home-grown fruits and vegetables at our fingertips this winter. We did some foraging of berries and mushrooms this year too.

A small sampling of the many things we canned and preserved this year

A Saturday haul from the garden and berry patch

 A nice chicken of the woods find

I didn't get to fish a ton this year, but the trips I had were very successful. One day was a brutal post-spawn morning with bluebird skies and no wind. It made the bite tough, and a lot of fish weren't committing. Finally, I put together a pattern fishing a jig in deep, isolated grass patches and ended up landing 8 bass in the final hour of the day. On another trip to a local lake that has traditionally be tough for me to figure out, I caught around 20 bass fishing deep weed edges, with a few fish in the 18"-20" range.

Another BBB Fighting Frog fish pushing 20"

I'm not the best jig fisherman, but I got a lot more confident in jig fishing this year

On another trip, I headed to catch some trout early one morning at a local lake. Reports from a number of other anglers were of skunks, but I was lucky enough to land about 20 on spoons and jerkbaits. Cullen gobbled up the fresh rainbow trout fillets.

Rainbow trout from the WS ATAK 140

One of the last trips I took this year was with two friends to Salem, MA, to chase stripers. The tides weren't ideal, and the fishing was generally tough, but we landed some fish and had a lot of fun. After the trip, I headed home to attend the wedding of a close friend then grabbed the family and traveled to the RI coast for a week.

Lots of striped fish and fun in Salem, MA

 Family RI beach selfie

I even got a quick trip in this year when in NC for work. I met up with two of my favorite Durham County residents for a river float. We caught a lot of fish and had a lot more laughs.

A river double with my buddy Gary in the background

The three amigos

I did spend a lot of time on the tractor this year and got to tackle some new mechanical problems. Cullen LOVES helping us with the hay - from the field in the summer to the barnyard in the winter.

Cullen enjoying having the cows pastured out back

Taking the tractor another round

 Feeding the cows a deformed bale while fixing the baler

Cullen helping us get loaded up and enjoying the view

 His favorite - Daisy the horse

Taking a ride and feeding hay in the skid steer

I ran trail cameras in a couple different areas starting in late July. I probably should have gotten them out sooner, but life had other plans, as usual. I have a love-hate relationship with game cameras. It is easy to rely too much on them instead of going with your gut or reading the sign, but they were definitely a huge help in the early season through mid-November. This year, the mast crops were extremely poor, and the area I prefer to hunt was essentially devoid of beech nuts. I had to change camera locations a few times, then in mid- to late September, I finally found a couple really reliable spots. I was felling great, so I let the cameras roll for the final three weeks before the start of the season without checking them. As I eventually found out, that was a mistake, because the pattern that seemed so solid had changed, and over three weeks on three cameras, I had two pictures of deer - both does.

 Don't you hate it when your shadow hits a potential shooting lane

A trail cam photo during the rut of the buck I later harvested in shotgun season

I ended up scrambling for much of the start of archery season before finally honing in on a couple active areas not long before the rut. However, my brother in-law Jason arrowed a gorgeous 8 pointer on the opening day of the season. I had some deer in range but never saw a deer with antlers with bow in hand. In this part of the state, doe tags are tough to draw (19% chance), but we do get two buck tags. On the first day of shotgun season, my luck changed, and I harvested a gorgeous 9-point buck.

Jason's beautiful 8 pointer

My 9 pointer with the new Savage 220

As usual, we processed the buck ourselves. I didn't hunt as much after that, but my wife, father-in law, and I got out most Saturdays. We all saw bucks and had a few close calls, but nothing quite fell into place. On the last Saturday of the muzzleloader season, my chance at tagging out finally came. I had two bucks, an 8 pointer and a smaller buck, come within about 10-15 yards of my spot along a brook. However, the hammer on my muzzeloader would not lock into firing position. Frustrated, I eventually had to come back to the house and take the gun apart to fix the issue. That was the last deer I saw before the end of the season. I was really having a tough time processing the encounter and missing my first ever chance to tag out, but for whatever reason, it wasn't meant to be.

This year I realized how much I love hunting the big woods. It isn't quite as wide open here as it is further north in Maine and other various parts of New England, but I realized that my heart lies in exploring the woods, even if I know that isn't the most likely way to harvest a deer in most cases. Just before Christmas, I finished the Euro mount of my buck to hang above the stove.

 My DIY Euro mount and stockings my mom made (Petra's is in progress)

I also have to brag on my wife a little before I wrap up this blog. She decided this fall that she wanted to start sewing. She had never done it before, but within a few weeks, she was churning out gorgeous horses and even dresses for Petra. She blows my mind with her devotion to our kids and effort that she puts in to keep this family running.

Two of the amazing horses MM has made

Now, it is back to cutting logs, splitting wood, doing some land maintenance, and crossing some projects off the list. My favorite workout partners are now Husqvarna and Fiskars. Those Scandinavians can really bring the heat. Sorry - dad joke.

Increasing my knowledge of small engine repair with some hands-on trial and error

Jerry and I cutting some firewood

I also got to tackle a bunch of fun projects around the house and on the farm, including hanging gates, restacking stone walls, running fence, driving posts, building a headboard, and doing some floating shelves, among other things.

 The floating shelf I made for the TV. Almost a year later, it still needs some finishing work for the cords.
 The massive barn wood coat rack I made for the mud room. MM deemed it Pinterest worthy!

 One of the many stone walls not too far from home. I restacked some of this one this fall.

 The cows playing peak-a-boo (or peak-a-moo) before a late-season snow storm

In looking back through photos to include in this blog, I realized what an incredible year it was. I feel like this post only scratches the surface of everything that happened, and of course, there were a lot of tough moments that made all the good stuff all the more worth it. Thanks for reading, and happy New Year!

On some days, there is nothing as striking as the greys of a New England winter - even if simply viewed out the back door