Saturday, February 26, 2011

"It's a good thing!"

This morning at first light the thermometer registered an ungenerous 4 degrees.  This afternoon the snowflakes are falling without choreography from even a murmur of a breeze and I have a strong impression of being inside of a very large snow globe. The photo below, taken from the living room west window, is of the koi pond just outside of the fenced front yard. It's been snowing like this since mid morning.

Unlike last weekend's wet ice and brisk winds, which interrupted our power and led to the lighting of countless candles throughout the house (lovely!) this snow is soft and light and will be easy to remove, but later.  For now it's cozy being inside with Anne and Dovey and the laundry tumbling dry and brownies filling the farm house with a sweet aroma.
After visiting Anne's Ohio garden on her blog this week, and realizing that in 2 days time we turn the calendar to March, my thoughts have drifted to my own city garden. I've been studying which of my lovelies will be hardy enough for this zone 4 climate and thinking where they can find room to settle in on the ridge. I try very hard not to be impatient. We will celebrate 35 years in our city house this August and much, much about the pocket sized garden there has changed under our stewardship. Except for the location of the house and fencing, every other bit of the 50 X 100 foot property bears witness to my evolution as a gardener.
My parents always grew vegetables, a few fruit trees and flowers. I was "trained" to identify and clear away weeds by the time I was 7. My father was the world's biggest tomato fan and the first thing he said to me when I met him in the ambulance the day of his heart attack was "I know I can count on you to water the tomatoes." So you could say I've had dirt under my nails and green stains on my fingers  as long as I can remember.
No matter how bad you feel, the garden brings balm and promise. On a very snowy day near the end of February, I can use some of this balm.

I planted this crab apple tree when Phillip was about 10. It was a twig when it went in the ground. I knew nothing about crab apple varieties, only that I wanted a pretty flowering tree in our front yard. Since then I've learned about scab resistant varieties, but this one unfortunately needs biweekly spraying from early May til mid July. Since we have years invested in this tree it would be wasteful to replace it just because it's inconvenient to keep healthy. I have Jerome to thank for tackling that job. While trimming the very last bit of this tree last July 10, the ladder shifted beneath him and his right ankle was broken and dislocated in two places, requiring surgery and weeks of recovery and rehab.

Because the rabbit population has gotten out of control, and because every one of those long-eared, nose twitching monsters has spread the word, my garden is THE place to hang out. Most of my edibles have been grown in pots for years to disourage nibblers of the cottontail type. Unfortunately, raised pots won't hold all the produce we hope to grow here.


Many of the plants in the city garden have been nurtured there for years. Will they want to be moved? Shouldn't many of them stay behind for whoever next comes to love this little city garden? Many are from dear friends, some no longer living and so that much more dear to me. What of them?

The white peony below is from root stock that was originally in my grandmother's garden. It went from hers to my Uncle Henry's, to my mom's and then to mine. It is one old friend that will surely have to be brought along to the farm.

I also love to tuck flowers into baskets and pots wherever there is a little bit of room. And nearly all of my houseplants  take vacations out in the garden.

Well for this snowy day it's been lovely to look back. What surprises are in store for us here? Will we find  spring bulbs, early summer perennials? Wild things in the meadow and along the roadside? How will our stewardship contribute to the landscape for us and our new community to enjoy? What lessons will we learn farming here? And what garden centers here have we yet to discover and explore! Wahoo, what fun is ahead. 
Guess I've forgotten the snow globe for a while. And as Martha often says,  "It's a good thing."

Friday, February 25, 2011

uneven days

Have you ever driven on the highway and been behind a car whose driver uses the accelerator as if it were an expression pedal on a piano? Speed up, slow down, speed up, slow down. That pretty much sums up my energy levels these days. This morning we have a sunrise for a change, and maybe it's been the lack of sunshine that limits my energy, for sunny mornings do coincide with a nice burst of "Let's get to it!"

Yesterday I was in the middle of a really good back stretch when "Ugh!" I felt my back go into spasms. If you've ever had a leg cramp, think about it tugging on both sides of your backbone, from the middle of your back to just below the waist. That was a first for me: a wake-up call to get back to a daily dose of my strengthening stretches. It's some better this morning, thankfully, but scary. Another case of my knowing what I should be doing and not making it a routine part of my day. My own worst enemy.
But this morning, despite the back thing, I'm eager to get going. Isn't it a blessing that "Joy cometh in the morning?"
I had so much fun with the little crocheted "sweater" that I had to do another. This time I chose not to put any sleeves on, made 3 button "holes" instead of the 2 the pattern called for, and added cross stitched covered buttons. Looking at it this morning I think it's cute. (Yesterday, in my pain and funk mood I wasn't so sure I liked it.)

Now I need to find some cute duckie print for a dress and/or pants to go with it. I've got a couple adorable "bootie" and shoe patterns to try. And a few new patterns for little people clothes. When Anne and Phillip were small, I made lots of their clothes. I'd forgotten how much fun it is to sew and detail clothes for kids. Now with the next generation coming on in my family I can discover it all over again.

Anne and I plan to go to Onalaska next Wednesday to shop at Hancock fabrics (senior discount days!) Perhaps I'll find some cute prints there.
Two days ago I shook off my inertia and practiced a bit of free motion quilting. Boy am I bad at that! I did do a little machine quilting with my walking foot on a small quilted project and enjoyed that quite a bit. Maybe I'm ready to finish my paper pieced pillow top now. And then some of my pieced quilt tops???
I'm beginning to plan the stitched postcard I'll be making for an exchange that I impulsively joined when I saw it on Anne's blog. I'll be getting my swap pal emailed to me by the beginning of March. If you're interested, the pretty heart button on the right column of my blog has a link to it.
And yesterday I mailed my package of half square triangles to the delivery point in Katy, Texas. Sometimes I've wondered if I was born at the right time, having such deep love of all things hand made and home grown. Funny how the world seems to be rediscovering all of these things right now! And I can say that though I'm now living in a rural area rather than the close, urban environment I've known all my life, I don't in any way feel isolated. The technology of the day has brought the world to my sewing room, and so many opportunities to make new friends. Yesterday I walked along Covent Garden with Simone. At Christmas I visited the Basilica of Notre-Dame in Montreal with Judy. I spend time in Anne's garden in Ohio whenever I want. And though my blog was begun as a log for me and a window into my daily life for my sweetie in the city to share, I hope it can also be a portal for those who come across it on their virtual journeys. You are always welcome.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

"somewhere in my youth, or childhood I must have done something good"

Recently, Anne and I watched The Sound of Music. Hard to believe that movie came out in 1965. It was fun to see it again. We laughed and cried and I felt really good after seeing it. Two things have remained with me. First, the tunes. Poor Anne had to put up with my spontaneously singing one or another of the songs for days afterwards. Sometimes embarrassingly loudly, and with total enthusiasm.
But I was particularly struck by the lyrics I quoted as today's blog title.  Somehow this line resonated with me. I often wake up astonished, for these days of my life are totally lovely. Yes I work hard, but this kind of work is not like work used to be. Each day begins calmly with beauty out every window. My "studio" contains a multitude of projects that I'm eager to explore. These few acres hold promise of all I'm able to dream for it. I'm daily exposed to the imagination, creativity, and growth of a young woman I both love and admire.
Being around young, vibrant women is so energizing! Alison was here a few weeks ago, and then this past weekend Jenny, accomplished, well educated, funny, fun, and totally beautiful women I've had the incredible good fortune to be able to watch grow up alongside my daughter. Why am I so blessed? "Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could. So somewhere in my youth, or childhood, I must have done something good."

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

My true valentine

About an hour ago I had to kiss Jerome goodbye for another extended separation. He drove out here to the farm on Sunday after playing his church service, arriving in time for a splendid sunset. Anne, he, and I had a wonderful but all too brief 43 hours together. He brought us our favorite Valentines candy from Trader Joes, Lovey Gummy Tummies, and a bouquet of flowers. Trader Joes has the most beautiful flowers! While he was here we played a few rounds of Quiddler and Scattergories, ate marvelously both at home (thanks Anne) and out. Lunch yesterday at Ole and Lena's in Westby and dinner last night at the Driftless Cafe. OHHH, so good. We got both the farm girls' cars washed, long overdue. That was our first trip to an in town car wash and as Jerome said, "It was worth it just for the entertainment value." There's one step in the wash cycle that uses 3 pastel colors of foam! We visited a couple of our favorite antiques shops and I once again found a few things I couldn't do without: a solid oak picture frame that I'll use to frame one of our ancestors' photos for my planned family gallery, an oak framed mirror (the 3rd in a growing collection of oak framed mirrors purchased locally) and this antique brass nut cracker with carved handles. That was a steal for $5.00.

To help remember this visit, Jerome asked Anne to take some pictures of us, my favorite one is below.

Fortunately,  I have 2 trips to our city house planned for March, so this separation won't be as long as the last one, but it's still excruciating to say goodbye.

I've made progress on the two big projects in my studio. Today I finished the baby top I was crocheting! Over the years since I was 12 I've made more afghans than I can remember, hats, purses, doilies, flowers, scarves, pillows, baby blankets,  but never clothes from a pattern. I used a book from the public library called Sweet Baby Crochet.  I had some doubts about my ability to understand the instructions when I first started out, but Anne was very encouraging. Here are the photos I took of the work in progress and of the finished piece.

My camera doesn't always capture the colors accurately, but  the last photo's color is true. I used 2 antique buttons that I bought at a wonderful antique shop in LaCrosse for the closure. I had to borrow the correct crochet hook size from Anne (I can't believe I didn't have an E hook in my collection.) So that makes this little top, something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue. A little bit of deja vu considering the mom of the little girl this is intended for was just a bride 18 months ago! I had such fun making it that I'm going to do another right away. This time I've decided to make 3 button holes instead of just the 2 the pattern calls for. I guess you might say I'm hooked.

The other project is of course the Sisterhood of the Traveling Triangles Exchange. I completed all of the units I'm sending for the exchange (420!!) and 2 additional sets to be donated to the Australian quilters who've been facing devastation by the floods there.

I have labeled all of them and they are now ready for packaging. (15 stacks of 28.)

As soon as my mailing envelopes arrive from the post office I can mail them off to Texas where they will await sorting until the due date April 1st. I won't be receiving my exchange package until after that, but I'll have lots of fun imagining and planning the project(s) til then.

This past Sunday was the 6 month anniversary of our closing on the farm. Much has happened here since that stormy Friday the 13th last August when Jerome could only get around with the help of crutches and an iron will and we spent that first night on an inflatable mattress on the living room floor with little more than a lamp, a card table and an electric fan. Since that day Jerome's ankle has healed, the world has revolved half way around its annual orbit, and I've grown to love this farm, deeply. And if it's possible, to love him more deeply still. Thank you Sweetheart-O-Mine.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


A couple weeks ago I took a leap and joined a group of quilters through The Quilt Show who were organizing a half square triangle exchange, called the Sisterhood of the Traveling Triangles Exchange, open to anyone on the globe. The guidelines were posted, and an episode of The Quilt Show featuring Edyta Sitar of Laundry Basket Quilts, was aired free for a limited time (their programs are usually by subscription only) and I saw just how doable this would be. When I noticed the exchange announcement, the deadline for committing was only 2 days away. No time to dither, it was time to jump in and swim. Splash, I jumped in the deep end. (I think I will order Edyta's book, Friendship Triangles for my personal library.)

Since then I have purchased the paper guides for sewing quick sets (that's them above) and already have completed 14 sheets of them, that's 392 squares!
Lay your contrasting fabrics right sides together and pin the guide to the back of the lighter fabric. Sew on the dashed guidelines, then cut on the solid lines.

Each pair is perfect in size and shape, each having a dark side and a light side. Here are 6 stacks of 28 half square triangles all cut and waiting. These sets are stacked with the darker side facing the camera. The paper is still attached to the lighter side, waiting for me to attach a label identifying my screen name, city, state and country, so the recipients will know their origin. The triangles I receive will all be identified as well. Somehow then I can include some of that info in or on the quilt(s) I choose to design with them.

I'm still trying to decide how many total I'll send. All participants will each receive as many in return for those sent, and they will be from people all over the US and abroad. My enthusiasm has grown, and my confidence. Most of the sets have come from my fabric stash. Only a few sets from fabric I purchased just for the exchange, from Olive Juice Quilts in Onalaska and from River Road Quilt Shop in LaCrosse.
My first set, my trial run, I did with fabrics I plan to keep and use on the border of a star quilt I have in progress. I pressed the squares open today and laid them out in various designs to get an idea of the variety of ways they can be used.

Imagine receiving a few hundred of these, all amazing colors and prints. What fun.

Each evening after dinner and a round of Quiddler, we settle beneath our afghans for a movie and our hand work, usually crochet. In this lovely manner the winter is slipping away. Though it was 10 below when Dovey woke me for breakfast this morning, the skies were mostly clear all day, and winter seemed more lovely than in recent years. I did go out and run my errands, mailing Valentines and picking up library materials, buying seed, peanuts and suet for the birds and a few staples for our pantry. But even managing getting things to the car and into the house in the cold was enjoyable. Am I just totally in love with my new surroundings? You bet. Last night we had a phenomenon known as a sun pillar at sunset.

Today Anne spotted a pair of bald eagles flying over the farm house. Beautiful.
The days are getting longer and by this weekend we will see temperatures near 40 and next week even warmer. Before you know it we'll be breaking ground for the orchard and planting peas and radishes. Til then I'll enjoy the cozy evenings we've been sharing and be glad for them.
I'll also feel very glad for the organizers of the triangle exchange, for their brilliant idea, their hard work on the behalf of all 516 participants, for creative quilters everywhere.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


Overshadowed today by the activities of a particular furry critter who is said to dislike his shadow so much that the mere sight of it causes him to sequester himself for several wintry weeks,  it may be forgotten that  this day has import for reasons of celebration, shadows or no. Today is Candlemas, a "cross quarter" day that is a marker half way between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. It is the day the Catholic church blesses the candles that will be used throughout the church year.
Those exquisite harbingers of spring, Snowdrops,  are also known as Candlemas Bells. Hope abounding. Here on the farm we are waiting to see what bulbs will come from the ground now covered in deep snow, this being our first winter and spring. If there are no snowdrops, rest assured I will be planting some. Little else can cheer quite like the sight of the first flowers of the new year.
Happily we have our own little harbingers of spring inside on our kitchen window sill.

In past years I took the trouble to plant hyacinth bulbs in bulb pots and tried to find them the perfect place in the house to chill in the dark for several weeks. The best place at my city house turned out to be the refrigerator. I've read that some people keep their old frig in the basement just for this purpose!  One year I had set my bulbs in their little bag inside of a brown paper bag in the back of the frig and forgot about them. When I discovered them pushed way to the back just about this time of year,  (must have been some cleaning blitz) I thought I had blown it. With nothing to lose I tried setting them on water in bulb vases and wouldn't you know, they bloomed just fine. Now I purposely tuck a bag of bulbs in the back of the frig in late autumn and take them out one a week to have continuous bloom February into March. The sweet little lady here was actually on the closeout bin right after Halloween with 5 identical sisters.
Next to her on the sill are some of the last of our paperwhites for the winter. They have been lovely, and so long lasting. They really seem to prefer the cool window ledge.

Crowded in among all these are my pussy willow cuttings. Happily they are sprouting now, and should be ready to be potted up for eventual planting in the ground here. Their "mother" is a lovely bush in my city garden whose origin is an example of life's marvelous serendipity.

My very good friend Barb, a former teaching colleague and my intrepid garden center shopping buddy, is my partner every year at the Chicagoland Flower and Garden Show. One year, several years ago now, I bought a bundle of pussy willow branches about 4 1/2  feet long from a vender at the show. I carried them from the show, on an extremely windy day in Chicago, from Navy Pier into the city for lunch. Not an easy task as this Saturday was Chicago's  St. Patrick's Day parade. Well a few eyebrows were raised when I whisked into the restaurant willows in hand. From there we walked (struggled) even farther to the Art Institute. Barb had tickets for us to see a major exhibition. I had to check my pussy willows into the cloak room! I would venture to guess that may have been a first. They eventually made it back to my city house, and eventually grew into a marvelously full shrub, which I delight in trimming each year for many creative uses. Here is one of the results from her offerings to me last year.

And now for the serendipity. Those original pussy willow branches came from Soldier's Grove, Wisconsin, a town only 15 minutes from the farm! The pussy willows have come home.
Whatever you find yourself doing today, shoveling out from what Chicago newscasters are calling snowmageddon, eating popcorn and watching Groundhog Day, or reading your favorite blogs, a mug of tea at hand, celebrate that we are half way from the darkest night of the year to the first day of spring. The days are getting longer, yes, but light a few candles tonight and think warm thoughts on the days ahead.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

matters of the heart

Happy 1st of February. As we turned the calendar in the farm house kitchen this morning, we noticed how many of February's days are marked with some type of remembrance/celebration. Anne and I agree we'll happily observe them all. Especially regarding hearts.

 Speaking of hearts...
Our husbands live along the great lakes, Michigan and Erie, and are expecting the snow event of the century. In Chicago the hype is huge, with new vocabulary like snowpocalypse, and SnOprah. Here in the driftless area we just calmly deal with the weather, several inches of new snow overnight swirled into drifts no human hand could duplicate, the wind keeping us company, getting our attention by ringing our deck bells or rattling the few screens we didn't remove last fall. Because of my diminished capacity, Anne is doing all the snow removal, having cleared the top deck and now down to the front porch and brick walk. The walk is a challenge with drifts to her knees and brisk winds. The walk nearly always refills when the wind is from the north like today. I'm standing by with the tea kettle and soup pot at the ready.
I marvel at the cleverness of the Juncos as they excavate the snow beneath the feeders to find the morsels the new snow has buried. They look just like miniature chickens scratching. The results being deep bowls of snow with seeds exposed at the bottom. I've grown so fond of their company.

Yesterday my half square triangle papers arrived from Laundry Basket Quilts. Just by chance I caught the tail end of an appeal for participants in a triangle exchange being promoted on The Quilt Show website. I am now part of an international half square triangle exchange! Since all of the shared units will be identified by country of origin, I will know where all of those I receive have come from. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Triangles Exchange involves 615 people. And all possible via the web. I promise to share this adventure every step of the way, down to the finished quilt I make with the international pieces I receive. The papers are a quick, precise method of producing the units quickly in groups of 28. There are 25 papers in the package I bought and though I originally committed to far fewer total units, LOTS of participants have decided to send in more than they originally thought. Once all are received (the deadline is April 1) they will be sorted and distributed. I will get back as many as I send. I wish I felt well enough to go fabric shopping right now! Guess I'll have to be patient. Ugh. In the meantime I can practice using the papers on fabric I already have on hand. Since I want to make a pillow of the mini wreath quilt I just finished, I thought perhaps half square triangles made from the fabrics in the quilt would be fun.

Back to matters of the heart...

It's Woman's Heart Health Month. And on its first day I've made a promise to myself to place ME at the top of my to do list. To love myself enough to focus on my heart all month long. My mother had congestive heart failure. Her mother died due to complications of heart disease. I must take my heart into my own hands. The heart, the fourth chakra, the gate between the physical self and the spiritual self. A powerful center of being. Much to think about while attempting to put aside my feelings of uselessness during this snow event and my current ill health, while resting as per Anne's orders. Did it take getting sick to get my attention??? Interesting concept, and not a new one. I sincerely hope I won't have to repeat it any time soon.
Be well, anyone who reads this. Keep your mind on your heartstrings.