About Cynthia Doll

Living in the woods of Northwest Montana I have plenty of inspiration for my stories. When I'm not writing I'm hiking with my four-legged kids, Cooper and Sara. Or I might be kayaking one of the many small lakes, or the big lake, the Flathead. And there's always yard work living in the trees. And I have a job, of course, but I'm lucky and get to work at home. It's taken me a long time to get to "my place" here in the woods, and I'm grateful for every needle I have to rake, every weed that needs pulled, and every deck that needs shoveled through the long winters - all of those chores giving me thinking time for my next story!

State of Wonder

As with a child, watch a puppy learn and explore and tilt her head with curiosity and it will give you, too, a new perspective.   I just got a tiny cocker spaniel puppy.  Her name is Coco Puff and she is, of course, the cutest puppy ever.   She has startling blue eyes that watch my every move. 

She watches my face carefully when I tickle her tummy, trying hard to understand.   Saying something in baby talk, like “tickle, tickle” causes her to take a double take – what a funny sound that is!

Also as with children, she keeps me on my toes, carefully watching she doesn’t get hurt in this giant world or eat something she shouldn’t.   Sleep is a challenge now for me, as are clean floors, but who could look at that face and not fall in love?  

Her short life has had lots of siblings and bigger dogs in it, a teenager and her parents, but I’m surprised at the sounds that amaze her.   She wonders about the sound of coffee brewing, maybe she hasn’t heard that before!  It makes funny gurgling sounds up on the counter.   I’m now enjoying that sound as much as the great smell! She’s taught me to pay attention to little things.   A vacuum is too scary to check out, best keep it at a distance, certainly too big to play with.   I agree with her on that one!  😊  Both the TV and the stereo are amazing noise makers.  She just stared at the TV when she realized it was one, due to a funny noise coming out of it, but the stereo speakers required much head cocking to try to fully hear and understand.  They both remain mysteries.

Coco’s big brother has very dangly ears.  Coop never thought about this before and has no clue why Coco would find them so much fun to yank on.  

Overall, he’s not happy with this new situation.  While there’s no sibling rivalry, Coop is bearing up as best he can but gives me lots of questioning looks.  I try to give him plenty of love and attention but sometimes it’s hard with Coco chewing on her wicker bed, one of my shoes, or investigating what she’s up to when it’s too quiet.  

Outside is a mysteries world that needs exploring and tasted.  I’m not sure how much time she spent outdoors in her first 8 weeks of life but I’m guessing not much.  Leaves and pine cones are fascinating.  That dry stick?  What a great chew toy!  She wonders about sounds in the sky – like the two ravens calling from the trees.  And the chirp of a squirrel, oh my!   Sometimes she sits by the back fence looking out over the big world down the back.  So much to wonder about and when can we go explore down there?

 It’s turned chilly now and I had my first fire of the season a couple weeks ago.   Truly something to enjoy and wonder about!

Accomplishments

Looking back it’s hard to believe I’ve been off for five months.  Hard to believe at this point I have to actually go back to work.  Except for not doing any writing (still brain dead) I accomplished everything on my list and can go back to work not regretting my use of this gift of time.   As I worked through my list other things were added, priorities changed, the weather interfered, my ambition wavered, and sometimes I had to just rest and recover from lots of hard work.

I finished several projects that have been ongoing, the oldest of which was a rock path along the fence, as a weed prevention and fire break.  Carrying buckets of rocks down around behind the house, on a hill, was not an exciting project but having it done almost brings me to tears!  My supervisor approved of my work.  I’ve included before and/or in progress pics and completed pics:

I finished a second gate and got it hung.  These gates are of no use whatsoever, I made them because I was given the wood and I think they’re cute 😊

I refinished a glider/swing I was given about four years ago, and, after much aggravation, it’s pretty and functional again!

I redid my rock waterfall, leaking somewhere, probably when rearranged by dogs looking for chipmunks hiding out in there.  It’s back now to making a lovely sound.  The birds love it and in no time at all a toad was escaping the summer heat in it!

Then there was the doghouse.  Ugh.  I had issues with the roof a couple years ago and have been thinking ever since how to fix it.  The smart thing to do would have been to fix the old roof but, no, I threw it away before I realized how challenging a new one would be.  It doesn’t look like much but, believe me, it was a learning experience and I like the look!

The worst of the projects, thankfully finished now, was staining the beams in the dormer I had added over the front door ten years ago.   It’s amazing how physical and challenging it was to be up on a ladder (two kinds actually, getting me to different heights and corners) between beams and reaching far and high without making a mess on me or anything else that stain could have dripped or slung on.  Blech.  But now it’s off my list!

I can go back to work now not stressing over a to-do list.  I’m sure by next summer I’ll have a list of chores to keep me busy but for now I can focus on the health and safety of me and my bus kids.  Wish me luck!

 

Looking Back, Wishing Forward

It seems like appropriate timing somehow that, during this reflective time in our lives, my younger brother used some of his free time to transfer our old home movies to DVDs and mailed them to my mom and siblings to enjoy during our seclusion.

I’m sure our home movies are typical.  There are four of us kids, so there were many birthday pictures, some with one of us sitting in the high chair with a yummy mommy-decorated cake or parties on the patio, with friends blowing noisemakers and wearing those pointy hats.  There were many gifts at many Christmases with us in our jammies, me in my pin-curled hair.  I clearly remember our pictures being taken, especially at Christmas.  The flood lights attached to the camera were more than efficient.  In some of the scenes we’re squinting into the camera, smiling none the less.  We were spoiled at Christmas and I have to wonder where all those toys ended up?  Dad’s train set was up and running around one Christmas tree, going round and round.  I’ve played with that myself fairly recently and know exactly where it is!  I easily get nostalgic.  Three of us kids wore banners for new years at very young ages, squinting at the photographer wondering what the heck was going on as we wore a sash and a cone hat.  We grew up in Phoenix.  We played in the irrigation water that flooded our back yard, it must have been weekly, and often times the four of us reminded me of those baby goat videos that are so popular now – kids running and jumping, bouncing and laughing from pure joy and energy.  We were introduced to snow up in Flagstaff, sledding and building snowmen, me in my red snow boots.  We played with the same sled dad played with growing up, wow!

My parents took turns with the camera, so there are lots of mom in pretty dresses, a young mother smiling and showing off her kids at holidays.

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Mom took her turn shooting, too, lots of pictures of us with our pets, bunnies and kitties.  We loved to pose them on their backs, little paws relaxed on their bellies as they dozed off.

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There are many of us playing on the swing set, dad pushing and guiding, always smiling.  He was so handsome dressed for church.  He’s been gone almost ten years now – I miss his hands.

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There are many scenes of extended family gatherings – grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, shot in Phoenix, Michigan and Kentucky.   There was always lots of food, kids running around and socializing.  There’s footage of trips to Disneyland, San Francisco and Knott’s Berry Farm.  I can’t imagine traveling with so many kids!

Some years seemed to have been skipped.  We went from little kids to young teens quickly, though my sister is a bit younger.  Activities changed, our back yard transformed, the swing set forgotten.  And then the movies stopped.

Years ago, this same brother put the original 8 mm film on tapes for us, so I’d seen our moving memories fairly recently, but this time, for some reason, the reminiscing resonated.  Maybe due to age, maybe because dad’s gone.  I’ve heard people wishing for it to be six months from now, a year from now, but we can’t be wishing life away.  I see myself in these home movies, remembering most of those captured moments, and now fifty plus years have gone by.  I’m at that age where I’m a little confused about how it happened, that I ended up here when just a few blinks ago I was growing up with my family.

It’s been fun taking this look back together, us kids spread out across the West.  Each of us probably remembers a scene or a piece of history differently but we did it together, all those years ago.  Maybe there will come a time when we can be together again, and pose for an iPhone video that will be added to the cherished memories.  It won’t be the same as vintage film, complete with flaws, over and under exposure, but it will continue the story!

 

Timeless Words

In this time of being up close and personal with our homes, I was doing some spring cleaning of my craft supplies and came across my grandmother’s notes that mom had saved for me.  Looking through them is interesting for a number of reasons.

20200406_104120She clearly didn’t want to waste paper with her thoughts so she gave a second use to something that she may not need or could get double use out of.  She made notes on business cards and pieces of old greetings cards.  And not grocery lists or other mundane info, but words that provided her comfort and inspiration.  Did she stop in the middle of a chore to make these notes or purposely sit down and write them out carefully in an evening?  I didn’t know my grandmother when I became an adult because I moved away, but was surprised when given these notes to find her a spiritual woman, though few of her notes are biblical quotes.  I don’t know what her sources were.   This is my favorite double-sided card:

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20200406_104233My grandfather did the same thing.  Some of his notes went in all directions on an envelope or scrap of paper.  Here’s one specifically to me, written on the back of a prayer card.

20200408_150527I don’t know if all people in their generation did this.  My grandparents were Kentucky farmers and I’m sure they conserved and made do, having lived through the depression and the uncertainties that go with farming.   What trials made them turn to comforting words to give them strength?  Crop failure?  A brutal winter?  Illness?  I know when my mom was a little girl the country went through a polio scare that lasted years.   At times during the 1940s and 1950s children had to be quarantined and could have required treatment with an iron lung or possibly died.  Could my grandmother’s notes date from that time?   I can’t imagine what parents went through then, as now, worrying about the health and well-being of their children.

It would make my grandmother smile to know that all these years later her words are still providing comfort, strength and a smile in hard times.   I will save her notes and pay them forward.

Creative Juices

I wish I knew the reason that creativity comes and goes.  Mostly mine has been gone lately, though I had a sustained inspiration when I saw a southwest/cabin décor throw on the back of a couch in a high-end tourist shop.  It just so happened that my next stop was to a craft supply/mountain man hangout type of store (so cool) and I saw this small deer hide that just screamed expensive throw 😊  so home it came.

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I pondered several weeks about a design, finding more inspiration and ideas in quilt patterns I like and also the self-imposed need to use up some of my current supplies.

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20200106_191158 (1) I played around with squares and beads and folded leather.  I measured and thought and measured several times more.  Hard to determine the center on an asymmetrical hide but away I went and started cutting.

Mostly I was pleased at my stick-to-itiveness.  I worked on this for over a month and only put it away once.  I also don’t seem to have a long attention span these days, but I didn’t get bored with it once.  Good for me!  😀

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I’m pleased with the result.  It’s simple and totally usable with a comfy fleece backing.   I can compete with high-end tourist décor any day…well, any day my creative juices are flowing 😉

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Reflections

This is certainly the moment in our history that is having the biggest impact on my life.  Most historical events during my lifetime happened somewhere else and to somebody else, and I only watched the news on TV or read about them in the paper.   Wars happened, leaders came and went, people flew into space, and economies collapsed.  No one I knew was greatly effected so neither was I.   Now my job is on hold.  Supplies are hard to get, even in my little, remote-feeling Montana town.  I’m glad to be home and secure for the moment with my well-stocked pantry and freezer.  It has certainly made me take stock, think about perspective, and count some blessings.

Look out your window right now – what do you see?  Are there trees leafing out?  Can you hear birds?  Sometimes I see turkeys and they make funny noises 😊

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Are you home, safe and warm with enough food to eat?  Do you have family close by, a pet to love?   Thankfully I have Coop!

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Or are you at a job that you’re grateful for?  Is there coffee there in the morning?  Do you have nice coworkers?  All these things, no matter how mundane or simple, are giant blessings.

Think about your bucket list – how many adventures have you marked off?  What fun things are left on it?  Are they doable?  Can you schedule at least one of them right now?   We need things to look forward to.  I’ve done everything on my bucket list.  I’ve been to Alaska and ridden a bike through a covered bridge in Vermont.   How lucky is that?  Thoughts of those things make me smile despite whatever turmoil is trying to put life on hold.   And there are still things to look forward to.  I have a new bucket list with things that may or may not happen but they’re something to work toward and hope for.  I want to go camping on a beach – totally doable and it’s fun to think about maybe doing that this summer.  Why not?

All of our days are numbered.  That’s not morbid, it’s a fact, so even when history-in-the-making wreaks havoc with life, don’t waste any of it!  Sit down and enjoy your favorite dessert, flip through a photo album and smile, or take a walk after dinner and be glad for all the sights and sounds that you’re able to see and hear.   Then take a nice hot shower.  Life is good 😀

“Every day may not be a Good day, But there is something Good in Every day.”  Alice Morse Earle

The Sweetest

“What good is warmth without cold to give it sweetness?”  So says John Steinbeck in Travels with Charley.  And he loved Montana!

I can appreciate the benefits of cold here in Montana.  I may think differently if I lived in Minnesota 😊.  Living in the woods, I spend a lot of time outside.  There is always a view to be enjoyed, wind in the pines to be heard, cones to pick up, firewood to chop or snow to shovel.  I have critters of all sorts visiting my property.  Except for the occasional feather or the deposit of digested berries, it’s only in winter that I can really see who comes and goes.

Deer are the most common.  They leave lots of signs, mostly chewed off shrubs, but in the winter they add a bit of artful creativity.  Sometimes their little hooves leave heart-shaped prints.

When I first moved here rabbits were everywhere, so many I might see several a day.  I went to great effort to make my garden rabbit proof.   We had an influx of fox one year and the rabbits disappeared.  Now, though I don’t see them, they are making a comeback.  I’d never know it if  it weren’t for their distinctive prints in the snow.

I love feeding the birds in the winter.  I get the typical juncos, nuthatches, and chickadees, and I’m also treated with visits from nutcrackers, jays and flickers.   They all leave me crystallized artwork that can last for days.

 

The local flocks of turkeys keep me entertained with their comical tromping around.

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Even the trees sprinkle their ideas on the white canvas.

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I’ve talked about trade offs before.  Since I have no choice in our weather, I may as well enjoy what I can of each season.   Sometimes it’s a trial, I know, but I’m in good company.  Steinbeck loved it here as well.  I’m sorry couldn’t meet him, we’d have had lots to talk about.  😊

“I’m in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana it is love. And it’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it.”

 

Home Fires

Can’t complain about a brutal winter with snow and icy roads this year in Montana.  Holy cow, except for a mean blast in October, we’ve had no winter to speak of.  The weekend before Christmas temps rose into the 50s.  This works fine for a school bus driver!  😊

I must say the snow makes things prettier.  Here’s my kitchen view with and without:

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Even a light dusting reveals traffic info, like the turkeys that pass through, so I don’t mind that at all.  It also reveals unidentified tracks that are fun to ponder – like maybe the foxes are back!

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Coop doesn’t care either way as long as the fire’s going.  I keep it stoked and he keeps toasty.  Nothing better than a happy dog.

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We’ve gone back to winter temps now, in the low 20s this morning with an ugly, low overcast.  Still no snow in sight.  Me and Coop are good at bundling up and making the most of it.  Our hard work and free exercise over the past eight months have paid off with plenty of wood to keep our home fires burning!

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One Man’s Junk…

…could be this girl’s treasure 😊  I’ve always liked repurposing used, worn out, or just old stuff.  I often get frustrated at this point in my life because my house is “done.”  The walls are full and faux painted, every nook and cranny filled, available floor space covered.  But once in a while a fun project presents itself that I can still try to work into my decor.

Coop and I went out for a leisurely kayak ride on “our” little lake and…

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We found junk!

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I couldn’t imagine initially what I was pulling out of the water, a mess of wire stuffed under a tree that was only accessible from the water.  Oh boy, a mangled bed frame!  There was a homestead years ago on the lake, so either it came from them or some low life who thought it was okay to dump their trash in the lake.  At any rate, I fished it out and was thrilled to take it home.

I also have a couple of bed springs from a bed frame sticking out of the dirt on a trail that runs through the hills behind the lake, just a corner poking up, something to surely ruin a tire.   I’ve had 3 of my dogs back in the woods on that trail so the springs I was able to pull off that little corner have sentimental value 😊.  And, yes, I’ve tried pulling up the whole frame but no luck…

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I use Pinterest for lots of ideas but still manage to come up with a few of my own.   I’ve been having fun putting other supposedly useless items to use with the springs, including insulators and other pieces of wrought iron (pieces of fence and old lamps that I’ve collected).

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So there it is – my latest effort to reuse junk.  I haven’t worked all of it into my home’s decor yet but it’s fun trying!

 

Color Pictures

I probably don’t need to say much or explain things regarding these pictures.  We all know that fall is the best!

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Trees start changing gradually, teasing us.

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Then almost overnight we’re immersed in colors that range from coral to gold, lemon to burnt orange.   Look out New England – you’ve got competition!

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It’s time for pumpkin patches with pumpkins and hay rides and hungry goats!

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And walks in the woods…

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Of course, there are tradeoffs – always tradeoffs.  All the lovely maples eventually drop their leaves…20191018_101801

Here’s my driveway before and after raking.

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We had supervision while we raked.  Well, I raked, Coop watched: (turkeys are at left center)

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And then comes burning.  So much to burn:

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And when it’s all done you treat yourself to another walk in the woods!!!

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