The House is Dead – Long live the Farm!

Cedar in a hard hat
I spent three days with Dad putting shingles on the house last year, when we had no idea how little time it had left.

It was a house. I have walked out of many doors without a second glance backward. It was my family’s home for more than two decades, an old farmhouse with more problems than most women would have put up with. It was a home, and it came tumbling down. I listened to my father telling one of the men about it, while I was picking blueberries from bushes I planted a few years ago. The last time I will be able to do that, I believe.

Dad explained the history first, as he always does.

“It was part of the old Moses Farm. The big house was over there,” he gestures to the West. I know this without seeing him, I have heard it so many times. “This was the aunt’s house,” he goes on.

It was a dairy farm, back then. There was a big barn out behind the house, but it had been gone, burned down, for forty years when we moved in. The foundation was covered in weeds, but off to one side is where the horseradish grew best. There was a truck garden, too, that earned the spinsters money, and that is where our greenhouse and garden were now located as well.

The dairy farm, and an old New England custom, is what brought the house down, a hundred and fifty years after it was so carefully constructed right over an active spring. The spring kept the milk fresh and sweet until it was sent to market. There was a dumbwaiter in the floor where the big tin cans could be lowered into the cellar and put in the cold water. Also, in winter it was a source of water when the shallow hand-dug well froze over. It had been long filled in and rarely bubbled up when I lived there, but we always had a damp, if not wet, basement, because of it. The stone foundation and dirt floor of the old part of the house meant that the sills and beams would eventually rot.

When I came to the house as a teen I didn’t worry about that. I was more concerned with the fields, forest, and streams outside. I would lay up in my attic bedroom, which sweltered in the summer and froze in winter, reading and listening to my radio. Later, coming back to the house as an adult, I learned more about the house’s faults. It had been renovated in the sixties, by someone with no money and less sense. The wiring we uncovered as we replaced walls was terrifying. Often three-foot chunks of salvaged wire, it was simply taped together. We had a dead short in the kitchen that led to the breaker box spitting arcs of blue electrical discharge. Dad came home, I told him what it was doing, and he said, “nah, can’t be.” He walked downstairs, and I watched from the top as he threw the breaker back on – and jumped back a little when it arced.

There were memories in every inch of that place. My third daughter was born there, upstairs, with the midwife running late and the baby coming early. The midwife made it just in time. My son came home from the hospital at a day old to that house. My first two daughters were both toddlers when we moved back in with Dad, and don’t remember any other home. It wasn’t a big house, and we were often cramped, but it was happy. The kids played inside and out. I canned, cooked, ran a business, and tried to mother best I could.

Cedar Sanderson
Homework at the Kitchen Table

The kitchen was the heart of the home. Every bit as big as the living room, it was dominated by a heavy table in the center, and that was where we gathered. Guests came and sat and drank coffee (or smaller ones, milk and juice) and talked, while I got together the meal. If you had been at that table more than once, you weren’t a guest, you were family, and you were welcome to pitch in and help. I always appreciated the conversation of someone I didn’t get to see often enough, while I worked. I taught all four of my children to cook in that kitchen, even my son, from the time they were old enough to stand on a milk crate to reach the counters, and hand me things to help.

The last few years at the farm my bedroom was just off the kitchen, and it was also my office. Because we had shut off cable, the only place to watch a show was on my computer. We didn’t watch a lot of television or movies, but when we did so, everyone piled on my bed to be able to see the monitor. I’d sit with my back to the wall, and a pile of kids around me, on my legs… Dad would come sit on the edge, or in my office chair, and it was messy, but fun.

I moved away in the spring. At first we thought it was a temporary move, but then my Dad knew he needed to be able to offer his parents a place to stay, as they were no longer able to be on their own. When the house was examined for repair, the true damage to the sills became evident. We had known for years that part of the Eastern sill was shot. The man who sold us the house had camouflaged it with two-by-twelve board, and because a home inspection was not done before purchase, this went unseen. What we didn’t know was how far the rot had spread, up even into the support beams. The house was dying.

Farm House
Strangely emotional at the sight of it all in a heap.

I came back in the late summer to visit, and watch the house come down. I arrived too late to see the initial collapse, but they had just brought it down when I pulled into the drive. The chimney still stood, amazingly enough. We had been expecting that, built without a proper foundation, to come down almost since we moved in. Swarms of wasps darted around the heap of the broken house. They had been nesting in the attic and walls for more than a hundred generations, one summer to the next, and now they had lost a home, as well. I stood and watched as the excavator bit into the bones of the house, cracking the brittle wood with abandon, and lifting piles into waiting dumpsters.

It was just a house. I grew up a military brat, moving more times than I can remember as a child. Houses came and went. This one was a little different, as difficult as it was to live in at times, it was my home, and my children’s, and the memories will always be with us. The moisture in my eyes was just from the dust of the old wood and plaster. It certainly wasn’t me crying over a house.

Cedar's farm story
The kids stand where the living room used to be.
Also blogged over at 
I will not be posting any longer here at the farm blog, this is the swan song for my time as a farmwife. Maybe I will have my own place in years to come! 

Spring Harvest

I went out yesterday and gathered in some green harvest…


Fresh from the bed, first asparagus of the season


Greenhouse produce

Dad’s Pac Choi is huge!

The Pac Choi won’t last much longer, as temps in the greenhouse near 100 every day. Dad rolled up the sidewalls yesterday, but the lettuce and greens will bolt within a week, I’d guess. Frost-free date for NH is officially June 1, but we could risk planting out sooner than that, especially peas, whcih don’t mind cold feet. Not sure how the peas he planted in the greenhouse will cope with the heat, though!

And we will have strawberries within a week… I saw ripening ones in the greenhouse while I was picking. Yum!



We’ve been asked how we are weathering all the snow, and we’re happy to say all is well. Starts are coming along nicely, the greenhouse is standing in spite of all the snow, and somewhere under the new snow, there are little green daffodil shoots! 


The Other Blog

cedar in Tilton

My daughter took this of me, and everyone seems to like it.

It occurs to me that when I comment or otherwise chime in on other’s blogs these days, there may be some confusion when you check me out and find a farm blog (or these days, slice of life family blog). I also write, and that blog is here: My name really is Cedar, that’s not a pseudonym. OK, that’s the faq’s, Ma’am…

Education and the Farm

Here on the Farm we have not been homeschooling the children in the new sense of the word. That is, not sending them to public schools, but teaching them wholly at home, as I was, and my sisters with me. We have, however, and will always, teach the children at home. We encourage them to read, help (but do not do) with their homework, provide copious art supplies, and more.

This last weekend they got to go down in the woods with Grandpa, gather sticks, and have their dinner over a campfire. This coming weekend they will help with cleaning out and planting in the greenhouse, learning about some edible wild plants as we go. There are weeds in the greenhouse, and some of them make yummy stir-fry!

Yesterday I read a blog post by Sarah Hoyt, over at her blog, and then last night a friend emailed me the 8th grade final exam from 1895… so I had to share both. I’m so exasperated with what public education has become, and I believe that the best way to make the roaches scatter and be able to clean a dirty house up, is to have enough light. So, I am shining the light on the subject.

This is what Bill Taylor sent me:

“Remember when grandparents and great-grandparents only had an 8th grade education? Well, could any of us have passed the 8th grade in 1895? This is the eighth-grade final exam from 1895 in Salina, Kansas. It was taken from the original document on file at the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society and Library in Salina, and reprinted by the Salina Journal.




8th Grade Final Exam: Salina , KS – 1895 

Grammar (Time, one hour)

1. Give nine rules for the use of capital letters.

2. Name the parts of speech and define those that have no modifications.

3. Define verse, stanza and paragraph

4. What are the principal parts of a verb? Give principal parts of ‘lie,”play,’ and ‘run.’

5. Define case; illustrate each case.

6 What is punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of punctuation.

7 – 10. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.


Arithmetic (Time,1 hour 15 minutes)

1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.

2. A wagon box is 2 ft. Deep, 10 feet long, and 3 ft. Wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?

3. If a load of wheat weighs 3,942 lbs., what is it worth at 50cts/bushel, deducting 1,050 lbs. For tare?

4. District No 33 has a valuation of $35,000.. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?

5. Find the cost of 6,720 lbs. Coal at $6.00 per ton.

6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 percent.

7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft.. Long at $20 per metre?

8. Find bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.

9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance of which is 640 rods?

10. Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt


U.S. History (Time, 45 minutes)

1. Give the epochs into which U.S. History is divided

2. Give an account of the discovery of   America by Columbus

3. Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.

4. Show the territorial growth of the United States

5. Tell what you can of the history of Kansas

6. Describe three of the most prominent battles of the Rebellion.

7. Who were the following: Morse, Whitney, Fulton , Bell , Lincoln , Penn, and Howe?

8. Name events connected with the following dates: 1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, 1865.


Orthography (Time, one hour) 

[Do we even know what this is??]

1. What is meant by the following: alphabet, phonetic, orthography, etymology, syllabication

2. What are elementary sounds? How classified?

3. What are the following, and give examples of each: trigraph, subvocals, diphthong, cognate letters, linguals

4. Give four substitutes for caret ‘u.’ (HUH?)

5. Give two rules for spelling words with final ‘e.’ Name two exceptions under each rule.

6. Give two uses of silent letters in spelling. Illustrate each.

7. Define the following prefixes and use in connection with a word: bi, dis-mis, pre, semi, post, non, inter, mono, sup.

8. Mark diacritically and divide into syllables the following, and name the sign that indicates the sound: card, ball, mercy, sir, odd, cell, rise, blood, fare, last.

9. Use the following correctly in sentences: cite, site, sight, fane, fain, feign, vane , vain, vein, raze, raise, rays.

10. Write 10 words frequently mispronounced and indicate pronunciation by use of diacritical marks

and by syllabication.


Geography (Time, one hour)

1 What is climate? Upon what does climate depend?

2. How do you account for the extremes of climate in Kansas ?

3. Of what use are rivers? Of what use is the ocean?

4. Describe the mountains of North America

5. Name and describe the following: Monrovia , Odessa , Denver , Manitoba , Hecla , Yukon , St. Helena, Juan Fernandez, Aspinwall and Orinoco

6. Name and locate the principal trade centers of the U.S. Name all the republics of Europe and give the capital of each..

8. Why is the Atlantic Coast colder than the Pacific in the same latitude?

9. Describe the process by which the water of the ocean returns to the sources of rivers.

10. Describe the movements of the earth. Give the inclination of the earth.

Notice that the exam took FIVE HOURS to complete.

Gives the saying ‘he only had an 8th grade education’ a whole new meaning, doesn’t it?

Bear Kicking

Bear Munchies… Dad's honeybees.

Bear Munchies… Dad’s honeybees.

Bears have a curiosity bump. I went for a walk early one morning, and took the camera with me to take pictures of dewy cobwebs. All the way at the back of the pasture I found a patch of lovely ones, and was bent over taking pictures when I heard a rustling in the brush. I immediately thought “Oh, Dad’s moose!”

See, Dad had been sleeping out in his tent for a week, and the day before this had awakened to a moose crashing through the brush in the ravine below his tent. He’d crept to the edge and watched the south end of the moose proceeding north up the creek. So it was a natural assumption on my part to think that this large crashing in the brush was also a moose.

I swung the camera up and took a shot from the hip, flash and all. The flash was my undoing. I might have gotten away with it, but Mr. Bruin saw that light and stood up to see what the light was over the brush. At this point I realized that he was bigger than I, and although not known to attack humans often, I am not going to trust a bear further than I could throw it. Dad got away with kicking one in the…um. Well, you know. But that one was a yearling, a lot smaller than he, not a big ol’ bruin looking at little ol’ me.

So I went. Toward the house, wishing that I were a sprinter, not an endurance runner (and that a decade ago!) I am pretty sure he went in the other direction, but I wasn’t really looking. All I know is that he didn’t follow me home!

Talk about adrenaline to start your morning – that was a little too much. Coming back to Dad’s bear, the yearling, I just have to tell that story along with mine. Dad keeps bees, and even with an electric fence, the bears just can’t resist all those delicious grubs and sweet honey. One warm summer night, Dad heard a ruckus through his open window.

He knew just what that noise was. I was awakened by the sound of his feet thundering down the stairs. I ran out of my room to see my mother in her nightgown, carrying a pistol and a handful of cartridges. Dad told us later what had happened.

Once he got out to the garden and could see by the moonlight that there was indeed a bear in his hives, he’d stopped briefly. Unarmed, wearing only his briefs and wellingtons, he then charged at the bear. He’d decided, in that split moment, that if he could be bigger than the yearling who was plundering his hives, he could scare it off.

The bear, oblivious, his head as far in a hive box as it would go up to his shoulders, munched on. Dad kept coming. The bear’s first clue was a size 12 foot, encased in rubber garden boot, making violent contact with his north end. He pulled his head out and ran, squalling like a baby, toward the edge of the garden. After a few jumps he stopped and looked back to see what had hit him.

Dad told us later: “he just had this look, like ‘What did I do?” All injured innocence aside, Dad raised his hands up over his head and roared like a bull. This did the trick, and the bear made for the woods, possibly leaving behind what bears are said to do in the woods.

My mother and I arrived in time to see the bear high-tailing it in the moonlight. Mom had grabbed the wrong cartridges, and was feeding .357’s into a .44 and wondering why they were falling out as fast as she put them into the revolver. So the bear escaped with only his dignity injured, and Dad earned the nickname Bear Kicker, which he will never live down.

Childhood Memories

To begin with, I was a military brat from the tender age of four days. We rarely lived anywhere for a full year until the year I was ten, when Dad left the military, and we moved to Alaska. Added to that my parents’ preference for rural life and I don’t remember living in a traditional neighborhood. The summer I was eight, we moved into a mobile home on a lot surrounded by grass fields in the Willamette Valley.

The first settlers in Oregon’s great valley wrote home to their relatives scraping a living on rocky New England farms. “If you put a dead stick in the ground, in a week it will sprout leaves. Within a year, it will bear fruit.” Our place near the wildlife refuge was living testament to their words. Once a thriving farm, it was co-opted by the military in World War II for a training base. By the time I was exploring it at age nine, it had been abandoned for forty years. Fruit trees hung over the cracked asphalt roads, and I could stay out all day feasting from them and never need to go home for a meal.

The house wasn’t much to look at. I realized in thinking about it that I have very few recollections of it. It was a blue double-wide with a little addition and a porch. When we first moved in, Dad was working on the boiler when we heard a shout. Running outside, my sister, mother and I found him getting his .22 rifle. He returned to the exterior door of the boiler room and fired the rifle into it repeatedly. We stood and watched in horrified fascination as he reached in and pulled out a dead rat. As large as a small house cat, when he held it up by the tail it broke off. He’d shot it in the tail.

Inside, I remember the bookshelves at the end of the hall. I worked my way through all the children’s books and then on into my parent’s collection of Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour. I had the top bunk, my middle sister the bottom bunk, and our handicapped baby sister her own tiny room. In the living room a large aquarium stood across from the couch. I kept it stocked with tadpoles and interesting water bugs.


My world was elsewhere. In the mild Oregon weather, I spent my days, and a few nights outside. Sometimes my little sister tagged along, but mostly it was me, my puppy, and a baby goat. Happy Jack lived to please me, a golden retriever and cocker spaniel cross who was soft, blonde, and obedient. The baby goat was a constant of my childhood, as we kept milk goats for my mother. I often bottle fed them, so they all thought I was their mommy and would follow me anywhere.

Late in the summer after the seed was harvested from the grass, they would burn the fields. Usually, my mother kept me in the house when this happened, but when the field between our house and the wildlife refuge was burned, I had gone out early in the morning and didn’t know it was burning. I was headed toward home, smelling smoke and thinking nothing of it at that time of year, when I got to the edge of the field.

I hadn’t seen it until I was right on it, as the path cut through a patch of thick forest before opening into the field. It looked like a scene from Dante’s Inferno (which I had recently read). Orange and red leaping flames, black smoke that almost obscured the house from where I stood.

Jack hid behind me. I could feel his quivering body pressing into my calves. The baby goat pricked her ears forward and would have kept going into the fire had I not picked her up. I was over a quarter of a mile from my house, and could see no safe way of getting home. I knew my mother would be worried, and I needed to get the animals home safe. I didn’t know which was worse, Jack’s terror, or the kid’s fearlessness.

I retreated up the forest path. It opened up into a field, the end of the path dominated by a tall tree capped in a hawk’s nest. Off to the left was a small creek, and that led back toward my house. Carrying the little goat, who objected to walking in water, I waded up it until I came to a break in the massive blackberry hedges that bounded the railroad tracks. We couldn’t get through those safely until we found a thin spot, so I kept working my way along towards north and home.

It seemed to take forever, until I got to a place where Jack could wriggle through the thorns and I could follow him onto the tracks. I stood there, panting and triumphant. There was no vibration in the tracks, so no train coming. I’d gotten us safely around the fire, as the house was just down the tracks a little way.

We arrived home wet, muddy, sooty, and for once Mom didn’t care. Jack and I went in the tub, the kid went in her pen, and we all slept well that night. I was left with an enduring sense of self-confidence, having learned that sometimes the direct way isn’t the best way, and if you keep looking, you will find a way to your goal.

Night Creatures: Tracks, Spiders, and Bats

The following was written for a library program where the participants were ranging in age from babies to 4th grade. I wanted to present it here with some pictures I’ve taken over the years. Enjoy, and pass it on to kids you know… Perhaps they will take the time to read some morning stories of the night before!

Tracks, Spiders, and Bats: Night Creatures

Wild Turkeys are a frequent sight in Sanbornton in the evening or early morning.

How can you tell what was stirring in the night, while you were fast asleep in your bed? Most of you have never stayed up past nightfall outside, and even if you did, in the dark how would you see what was happening? Night creatures have special adaptations to help them get around in the dark, to find food, avoid predators, and keep track of their families. Most animals and insects see better in the night than we do. Bats don’t use their eyes to get around – they use their ears.

Deer come to take a drink from a pond or a brook at night, leaving their tracks for you to find.

But in the morning when you get out of bed and put on your clothes and shoes to talk an early walk, you can find signs of what happened out there last night. In the dew you might find a darker line, where a larger animal like a deer or a moose walked through the grass and rubbed against foliage, knocking the silvery dew off and leaving a trace of their passage. In a muddy place, near a pond or brook, you may find the tracks of nocturnal prowlers. Once you learn to identify the tracks, you will be able to read interesting stories in mud and snow written by animals hunting and playing.

Bobcats roam the New Hampshire night. Elusive wild cats are rarely seen except by their tracks.


Raccons still need a drink in winter, this is a trail made by one on his way too and from the brook for water.

In the dewy grass of your yard, or a field, you will find the silvery webs of spiders, spun nightly by the industrious arthropods. Spiders don’t all spin webs, but those who do have many different designs they make to capture their prey and provide shelter for themselves. Spiders are helpful creatures, keeping the insect populations down so you can play outside without too many biting pests, and grow plants in your garden. Spiders don’t bite until they feel threatened, so watch with your eyes, but don’t touch.

The Garden Spider, Argiope species, weaves a beautiful orb web.


The wolf spider is a great hunter of the night, but does not make a web.

One animal you won’t find traces of is the bat… Bats don’t walk on land, they soar through the pitch black night, using high-pitched noises to locate prey and avoid obstacles. Bats eat their weight in insects every night, helping keep the mosquito population down. Their echolocation enables them to bounce noise off an object, then interpret the echo, being able to identify shapes and decide what they want to eat, and what to fly around.

This poor bat got trapped in our living room… by the webs on him, I’d say he came down our chimney. We pushed him out gently with a broom and a net. You must never touch a wild animal, as they may bite and carry diseases.

Visit  NH Fish and Game for a track identification card.

Wildflowers in June

One of my favorite things to do is to take a walk in June, camera in hand and a child or two with me. I take pictures, they frolic, and we usually wind up at the brook dabbling our toes in the water. Yesterday was a perfect day for this. Bright blue sky overhead, green everywhere, and flowers scenting the air. Rosa multiflora is a miserable weed, but oh, does it smell good. Like roses dipped in honey, the thick, sweet perfume fills a June afternoon.

Heiracium pratense – Yellow Hawkweed


Vicia cracca – Blue Vetch


Dragonfly on Sensitive Fern


Veronica officinalis – Common Speedwell


A hoverfly perches on Blackberry blossoms. The little fly looks like a bee, but it’s a fake out… it has no sting.


Potentilla recta – Rough-fruited Cinquefoil. Named for the hairy stems and seedpods, and the five-fingered leaves, this plant is a common sight on poor soil.


Female mosquito, doing her thing and getting a protein drink. For something so individually fragile (look at those legs!) they do so much damage.

The Wasp Apologia

An unknown to me species of wasp on Goldenrod.

In defense of the humble wasp, so hated and feared by most humans, I put forth the following argument: the wasp is better than the mosquito.

Every spring our old farmhouse is invaded by gentle brown paper wasps. They hibernate in the walls and roof through the winter, and a few become confused and make their way into the house, rather than outdoors, where they meant to emerge. I usually do kill them, because the children panic and make unappealing noises. But in the 20 years the family has been living here, there have been no cases of unprovoked brown paper wasp stings. We did have one summer when very aggressive Yellow Jackets came indoors and stung everyone at least once, so we kill those on sight.

As a scary sight, the yellow jacket is right up there for inducing screaming and running.

Wasps are interesting, intelligent (relative to an insect, mind you) little creatures. Most important to us, they are voracious insectivores. No doubt you were thinking that the wasp, like the honeybee, lived on nectar and pollen. While they do to some extent, as well as fruits and anything sweet they can find, small insects like mosquitoes form a large part of their diet.

Feared for their sting, most species won’t use it unless provoked by a swat. Our little brown invaders usually just fly into windows and stare disconsolately out at the unreachable fresh air. Last summer I picked berries in company with hungry little wasps that looked like tiny, fuzzy yellow jackets, and who moved aside with the gentle nudge of a fingertip. Generally, wasps will leave you alone if you leave them alone, and it can be argued that they are good to have around. Mosquitoes carry disease, wasps don’t.

A wasp on the fingertip of my cleaning glove.

I’m not attempting proper identification of my wasp species, partly because I can’t. There are so many species of wasps, and they interbreed prolifically, that it’s almost impossible to be certain. Here in New Hampshire, we have several common ones.

  • Yellow Jackets, the bully of the wasp world
  • Brown Paper Wasps, the gentle ones
  • Bald-Faced Hornets, the giant wasps
  • Spider-Killers, the most fearsome predator I’ve ever watched in action.

Spider-Killers are well worth observing if you are lucky enough to have them in your area. Gorgeous creatures, metallic blue-black and with a long wasp waist, they even look lethal. When you realize that they hunt, paralyze, and then feed the still-living spiders to their larvae, you will respect them as well. Watching them fly nape of the earth, looking for all the world like a military helicopter on maneuvers is a fun thing to do on a warm summer day.

This is a honeybee, not a wasp. Their venom is also different, and a bee dies after one sting.

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