Sunday, January 30, 2011

penultimate day of January

The sun returned today after nearly a week's absence. And with a mostly clear sky at its setting it's easier to tell how much daylight we have gained since the winter solstice. A lovely, reliable slow dance of the planet we call home.

We've also had milder temperatures the past couple days which seem to be prompting wildlife to shake off some of their winter lethargy. Squirrels have been playing connect the dots with the trees in the front yard. Some of the insects which sought shelter inside are moving about giving Dovey a new though somehow familiar distraction.
Several days last week there have been turkeys and pheasants feeding in the corn fields very near the farm house. The crows had been here in great numbers most of the winter, but after a plow went through the fields creating two wide swaths several feet wide exposing the corn stubble, a large group of wild turkeys came in search of the now exposed spills of the harvesters. After the turkeys left for the day I walked over to look at the field. Their footprints were everywhere, crossing and criss-crossing one another in beautiful patterns. Each print the size of my hand or larger. They were very big birds!

Unlike the lacey footprints just outside the back door left by sweet Juncos that love to dance across the back deck as if telling me in Junco code, thanks for breakfast!

Those wascaly wabbits who have been feasting on the shrubs close to the house have decided the seed spilled beneath the bird feeders is good grazing after dark and the potted mum on the back porch is delicious, absolutely delicious. Dovey can only sit on this side of the French doors and express her disapproval with chatters and lashing tail. Here you can see how the rabbits have decimated the two burning bushes just outside the bathroom window. Look closely and you can see other evidence of their lingering.

I've been valiantly fighting some kind of bug. I am never sick, and  I refuse to let it have its way with me. I've been meditating, deep breathing, drinking gallons of TAZO Zen tea, taking vitamin C, zinc, and echinacea. Today I lit the lavender oil candle Anne gave me for Christmas while I reclined on the two-sofa and finished Susan Wittig Albert's Together Alone: a Memoir of Marriage and Place. I have long enjoyed her China Bayles novels and her All About Thyme herbal newsletter. My Illinois library system did not have a single copy of her memoir. At the time I was still living there and was very put out that a large wealthy Chicago suburban system could be so remiss. Coming to the driftless region I've used the Winding Rivers library system quite a lot via Viroqua's McIntosh Public Library online catalog. And what do you know, they had a copy and it was in my hands within days of ordering it. I think books manage to come to you when you are ready to hear them. Susan's memoir is one of these. Being without my husband for long stretches at a time and living on the land I hope will be my home for the rest of my life, I was truly ready, now, to read it.

Snow is predicted overnight and into Tuesday. I'm glad. I do love the snow here. We go merrily about our work, eating well, loving what we see out any window. The roads are so well maintained we can easily run into town during the worst of winter. Some books I have on hold are in at the library so I may venture out tomorrow. We'll see. In the meantime, the sun has set and it's time to light the candles and put the leftover tortilla pie in the oven.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Marley's chains

In the midst of moving ahead with all the exciting projects for the farm, I've come to realize that there are many unfinished projects whispering, sometimes shouting "What about me?" Though I hesitate to say I made a new year's resolution to finish everything in 2011 that I've previously started, I do have a nearly painless plan to choose one item at a time and take it in hand in the evenings when Anne and I are watching a movie, especially one I don't need to pay too much attention to. (The nice thing about this plan is we can always go in reverse with the film and catch the bits either of us missed while concentrating on our handwork.) This morning I took the time to photograph two of the things I've finished in January and it struck me as I was preparing this entry that my unfinished projects are very much like Marley's chains, the things that weigh us down that we've brought upon ourselves.
So here are my January completions.
First, my grandmother's crocheted tablecloth. (Displayed for the photo shoot only, lying across my bed here at the farm.)

My father's mother bore 8 children. She died less than 2 weeks after her husband when I was 12. I remember her as quiet, serious, almost sad. I wish we had had conversations about things girls like to talk about. I was just one of her 24 grandchildren. She always pronounced my name incorrectly, calling me Sharilyn. Curiously that memory has become very precious to me.
When I was grown and with children of my own, for some reason 3 of her hand crocheted tablecloths came to be in my possession. I guess because I was the only one in the family who could crochet! Each was identical except for the trim color. Each was badly stained and full of holes where the crochet cotton had been damaged. I gently washed all three, painstakingly repaired them, and then gave the blue and purple ones to my sisters. I kept, used, and laundered the green one over and over. Needless to say, that lovely tablecloth was quickly becoming too fragile for everyday. The last time I washed it I put it away until I could repair it once again. I brought it with me to the farmhouse thinking it would be a lovely sight on a table here with a nice garden bouquet perhaps displayed in an enamelware pitcher or a glass oil lamp base. Maybe looking at all the garden catalogs of flower seeds was the catalyst. Maybe it's the quickly growing collection of embroidered handkerchiefs I've been finding at the local antique stores that has stirred my love of everything handmade from my childhood. It became my very first finished object in this new year. I wonder how many links on my ponderous chain were dissolved with this accomplishment?

And my second item!
Anne has been almost obsessed with finishing her current quilt. It is coming along absolutely beautifully. I have to give her credit for inspiring me to finish a miniature quilt top I started in a class I took at Quilters Destination. I had bought the pattern years ago hoping to learn the technique of paper piecing.
This video gives you an idea of the technique.

Patti's shop was offering a class and was using the exact pattern I already had (MH Designs #MH922, Floral Wreath.) I registered immediately! I fell in love with the technique. As I mentioned in my entry about my paper passion , the patterns work just as well for paper quilts. Wahoo!
Here is the now completed quilt top which measures only 15 inches square.

If you look closely at the block in the bottom left hand corner, the rectangular white on white print piece looks darker than the rest of the quilt. I removed the paper behind this piece.  I still have all the rest to remove, but I'll save that job for evening when I'm in front of the video screen. When all the paper is removed I'll decide how to quilt it. But all the piecing is done. I can't wait to do another mini quilt, and now I won't worry about all the UFOs still calling.
Because now, Marley, I'm already feeling so much lighter.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Yeowzah, chickens!!

While this long winter month is waning, I've been feeling a growing impatience for some forward motion on the business of the farm. I reminded myself that my goal is to embrace each day and not feel anxious or stressful. Every goal has "big steps and little n's," to quote All Creatures Great and Small.
We had already taken each of the catalogs we have here at the farm and marked them with what interests us.  Here is a picture of some of the catalogs with our notations.

I created a notebook organized loosely by type of vegetation. Then listed alphabetically each item (I am a former school librarian after all.) On the tomato pages (yes more than one page of tomato selections!) I listed each catalog name, the page number, the variety and cost per unit. We could then look over all of the tomatoes we were interested in, could see immediately who was selling what at what cost and be able to refer back to the catalogs easily for our final tomato choices. Now we have a lovely little notebook. Because it's a 3-ring binder and we're using simple college ruled 3 hole punched paper we can easily add or subtract whenever and not lose our organization.

The joys of decision making for plants are still ahead, however. What I worried about most was that the breeds of chickens we had hoped to order might go out of stock before we got around to ordering. With that fear in my head, yesterday I suggested to Anne that it was the time to decide and order our flock. Yeowzah! We are now expecting and our due date is roughly May 23.
Here is a picture from our Murray McMurray Hatchery catalog with 3 of our choices starred.

For the fun of it, we also ordered a few chocolate runner ducks. Won't they be a hoot!
Just taking this step has totally energized me. And so, why quit while you're on a roll? We decided to go out and measure the area where we want to establish our orchard. The snow was perfect for marking off perimeters with our boots. Then we measured. The plot we will start with is roughly 60 feet square. And so in we trooped to sit down with graph paper and our lists of fruit trees. The picture below is of our notebook and Anne's very temporary sketch of the orchard's square footage. Not to decide where within the space each would go, but to be sure there would eventually be enough space for each variety.

By the time we had completed that, it was dusk and time for dinner. Today we'll put in the tree order and begin dreaming about future juicy, tasty, lasting rewards. We're already thinking up names for all the girls that will be on the way. Let's see, Dulcinea, Billina, Rapunzel .....

Friday, January 21, 2011

two of the reasons I simply must live on the ridge

When we fell in love with the driftless area several years ago, we began to explore for a few days at a time. We discovered the perfect place to stay overnights, a bed and breakfast called Peachtree Farm Bed and Breakfast. This lovely old place is nestled in what we learned is called a coulee. Surrounded by ridges on nearly all sides, the sun, though visible on the tops of trees, is not "in your eyes" until it clears the summits, and shadows fall early in the day.
"Around the corner" from this sweet retreat is a shop/studio called Avalanche Looms. I had a conversation with Susan, the owner, regarding ridgetop vs valley property. Susan said you were either a ridge person or a valley person, and you had to know which in order to be happy on your land. She was a valley person. Her best friend a ridge gal. Susan shared that her daughter was 4 before she saw her first sunset. Imagine.
Well there was no question for me. It had to be ridgetop. Don't get me wrong. The valleys here are extraordinary in their beauty. We did look at several properties down in the valleys. If you want creeks or natural springs it's nearly a requirement to live in a low spot. I recognize the pull moving water has for me, however.....

The Old Moon or Wolf Moon, are names given to the full moon of January. Fortunately the sky was clear at moonrise this month. In December we missed the full moon and the eclipse because of cloud cover. I envy you if you were able to experience that! I usually have my eyes and camera on the western skyline in the late afternoon. Wednesday after a quiet and lovely sunset I set the timer on the stove to remind me to look east, knowing if I sat down to read before dinner the rising full moon could have been high in the sky before I realized it. Time moves quickly when you're into a good book.  So when the timer sounded I was startled at first. Then I looked out and what I saw took me outside onto the porch in a heartbeat.
I have a simple Canon 10X 10 megapixel digital camera. Zooming onto that Old Moon this is what I saw.

Then yesterday the sky, full of snow showers coming from quickly moving waves of clouds, produced this view outside the windows of our living room.

These simple gifts are mine daily. And I treasure them.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

For the love of paper

I can't resist pretty papers of any kind, can you?  Tissue paper, wrapping paper, interesting paper sacks from stores of every variety, hand made paper with flecks of fabric, tiny seeds, or flower petals, business cards, postcards, brochures. Ahhh.
Even plain white, mundane purpose paper is intriguing. I put myself through college working in a grocery store. The cash registers used large rolls of narrow white paper to print receipts. At the ends of these rolls there were always several feet of white after the splashes of hot pink that alerted the cashier that the roll of paper needed to be changed. I saved every one of these and used them as "ribbon" on packages. It became my trademark. Now I buy rolls of this paper at office supply stores. Imagine! They can be stamped, folded, punched, and so much more.

As a youngster I'd use whatever I had on hand to decorate brown paper sacks cut open and ironed to reduce the wrinkles. Since my grade school required that all books be covered for their protection from little hands,  I used grocery bags turned inside out (so the store logo wouldn't show) and delighted in my own designs. I was especially fond of using crayons to rub the images of heavily veined leaves onto the paper, or the interesting textures of a crocheted table cloth. I was often scolded for tearing the paper covers off of the crayons to do so. I thought I had invented rubbings until I got to college, took a few art classes, and learned that people have been doing rubbings forever. It was in college I also learned how to create screen prints, to cut wood blocks and rubber blocks and even to incise plastic surfaces, smear ink into the grooves and print the  design, a process called intaglio, though my efforts were better described as inked scratches. One of my classmates created the most amazing portraits just by affixing torn papers onto canvas with acrylic medium.

I fell in love with calligraphy, and began designing monograms in fonts I made up so the initials looked like some ornate filigree. I did our wedding invitations and the mass booklet. Anne and Phillip attended a very small, parochial school. I made monogrammed stationery for Anne's first grade teacher for Christmas. Her initials were Z H (her name was Zonna Heck.) I designed a fancy intertwining monogram and lettered each by hand. Unfortunately,  her gift and that of Phillip's preschool teacher got switched. Poor Mrs. Lindemann wondered for several days what religious symbol I had chosen to put on her stationery. She finally asked me about it and I was more than a little embarrassed by my mistake, though later we all had a good laugh over it.

About this same time I bought my first rubber stamp. Now this was fun!  And during one most memorable excursion to Cedarburg, Wisconsin I learned how to emboss with brass and tin stencils. The shop demonstrated embossing using a light box but suggested if I didn't have one, I could either use a window or use a lamp beneath a glass shelf. I tried the alternatives. Using a window was not easy as my arms would grow tired and the paper could easily slip out of alignment. And that technique only worked as long as it was light outside. I tried using a lamp on the floor and a glass shelf across my knees, but the bulb grew quickly too hot near my legs and I felt this was not something I should be doing with small children in the house. That Christmas I used the gift of money I received from my father-in-law to buy myself a light box. I still use that same light box today, with the same florescent bulb inside of it more than 25 years later. I can't begin to guess how many embossed cards have been made since the first one. I absolutely love the technique.
Stencils of paper or plastic are delightful fun.  Bopping the stencil brushes into ink and then over the paper or plastic stencils is both delightful and stress reducing. Birthday cards, Christmas cards, note cards, church bulletins, music program flyers, there was no limit .
Below are a couple examples of Christmas cards from years back, the left a stenciled Santa with a hand lettered message, and on the right a card lettered and drawn. Most of my other "relics" are filed away in a drawer in my city house. I surely wish I had them here with me now, mostly to serve as a reminder of the creative roads I've been traveling.

I was totally into stenciling notecards while the kids were in the lower grades. Anne and Phillip's third grade teacher told me she had saved every note I had sent her during the years she taught my kids, she enjoyed the hand made cards so much. That was a really lovely thing, not just that she did it but that she shared that with me.
Here are some examples of hand-cut paper stencils I was fond of using (love of all things floral runs strongly in my female line!) They still retain a hint of the linseed oil I used to saturate the paper before inking them the first time.

One rubber stamp led to another and one stencil to many, many more. My rubber stamp collection now fills the drawers of an antique oak library catalog I was fortunate to save from the middle school library where I was the library media specialist at the time that the automated catalog made the file drawer system obsolete.
My brass and tin stencils numbered over 240 at last count!

I have no idea how I started using Heat n Bond lite to adhere one paper to another. It is especially useful with fragile tissue papers. I made these cards and envelopes this week.

While attending a quilt show several years ago I discovered a technique called Iris Folding .  Unlike building a fabric quilt block from the inside out, a paper block is built from the outside in. Happily, you can use the same patterns for paper pieced quilt blocks and for iris folding blocks. This example is made with a heavier paper, which makes the card a little thick.
I recently had an inspiration, why not use origami papers for this technique?! It's very light and comes in beautiful prints. So naturally I had to buy some at one of our recent trips to Michaels.
Lately I've been experimenting with combining techniques, so my paper cards may also have rubber stamped images, embossing, even cut outs. Did I mention the lovely punches that are becoming so easy to find?? Note the bottom of this valentines card. The hearts themselves were punched from tissue paper ironed to Heat n Bond lite then ironed to note paper.

Now that I'm living out in the country most of the time, I'm not close to paper supply stores.   For me it's such a tactile thing,  seeing and touching these lovely items for myself before I buy them. But some of the places I like to shop, Paper Source , Archivers,  and Hollanders,  have lovely shops online. Guess I'll be learning to order sight unseen. It has worked well so far with fabrics!! Hello, UPS man.

Monday, January 10, 2011

a surprise nomination

Recently I received a Stylish Blogger Award from my daughter Anne, whose blog My Giant Strawberry serves as food for my soul. Thank you, Anne, for the award as well as your postings.
As a recipient of this award I am charged to mention here 7 things about myself.
Now I have been thinking on this and find it's not so easy. At first my list is way too short. Next it's ridiculously long and hard to narrow down. Oh well, here goes.

1. I  am married to the love of my life. We're nearing our 39th anniversary. We've known each other since we were 6, attending the same Catholic elementary school.  Though we dated off and on and also dated other people, by our senior year I knew he would be my future. Here we are in our son's inflatable boat just paddling along soaking up the sun. That year our kids surprised us at Ice Lake, but that's a story for another day.

2. Of all the blessings of my life, those which give me the most joy are my children. Jerome and I agreed that we would do everything possible for me to be a stay at home mom. And he was a hands on dad from the very beginning. We had no guidebook for child raising that would guarantee our kids would turn out fine. But nevertheless they turned out very fine indeed.

3 I love to grow things. It's just that simple. And the more the better. I do tend to fill an area when I plant.  Here is a narrow bed along one side of the patio at our city house. And of course the houseplants like to vacation out of doors so they get to feel the morning dew and taste the rain. Who wouldn't?

And here's a tiny pocket garden near the city house's front door. I was attempting to hide the gas meter! 

Inside is full of plants as well. And there's always room for one more. Here is one of the avocado pits that's currently growing on my farmhouse kitchen window sill.

4 I love the four seasons. When we were looking for our farm I never thought of any place other than the midwest. The year advances with precious gifts, each brief but beautiful beyond description.  Who would give up the first jonquil each spring, or the fragrance of lily of the valley, the chanting of cicadas or the tiny beams of fireflies, the satisfying crunch of leaves under foot, or the first snowflakes? A steady flow of grace day by day, season by season.

5. I love cats. In my lifetime I have had Moon, who was orange and white, not very cuddly,  and lived to be almost 19. Then there was little black Shadow who passed away after 20 lovely years. We wept when we buried her last April with snowflakes falling and the sun shining at the same time. Now it's Mya and Dovey who fill our lives with delight. We adopted them last May 1st and can't imagine our lives without them.

6. I am compelled to make things. It's not just that I like to. I really enjoy giving things I've made to people that I love. Here is an example. When my niece was getting married in Sept of 2009, I made her a set of stationery for her wedding shower and then had to make a box to put it into, and then of course she'd need a pen and stamps, and sealing wax and a seal and some rubber stamps for good measure. Here is the result. Sometimes I get carried away.

7. I'm a "glass half full" kind of girl. No matter how down I get, some life force grabs me by the collar and lifts me up. I've seen too many "glass half empty" people and know it's a blessing to think that "enough is as good as a feast. "
I am humbled by the honor, Anne, and feel rather cozy in the company of so many other blogs nominated. This blogging thing is really fun.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

the gift of the present

Growing up, my best friend's last name was Janus. So this name has meant much to me since I was 8 years old. Attending an all girls Catholic high school in the 60s meant I studied Latin. Of course I never really was encouraged to learn the juiciest information about the gods and goddesses we studied. We were protected girls after all. However, I did learn that January was named for the god Janus who had faces on the front and back of his head, giving him the singular ability of viewing where he had been and where he was going at the same time. I've always felt rather sorry for Janus. Poor fellow, did he ever see exactly where he was at any given time? January, this month of "last year I should have..." "this year I hope to..." distracts alarmingly from the now. We look back to the recent holiday memories and wish they hadn't flown. We look ahead to spring and yearn to smell the rich, moist soils of April. Our hearts looking past and future. Here at the beginning of 2011, can I once again promise myself to live in the moment, carpe diem, seize the day?  Can you? My new year's hope for all of us is to learn to open today as the present it is meant to be.