Thursday, August 30, 2012

not pink

When I was 16, I started working part time in a grocery store. We used old fashioned NCR machines to wring up the sales, with rows of number keys that had to be hand entered one at a time. Those old machines could be hand cranked if the power went out, and it actually did a few times in the nearly 6 years I worked there. No such thing as scanners in those days. Cans and boxes were ink stamped with a price and everything else you had to just KNOW. Those machines used a wide paper roll to print the receipt item by item. Near the end of the paper roll there was a bright pink ink to warn you to change the roll as it was nearly empty. But after the bright pink ink there was always several feet of unmarked tape left on the roll. I took to saving those ends and using them as "ribbon" on packages. Now I actually buy adding machine tape rolls for my packages. They're so much fun to stamp or punch or fold into 3 dimensional shapes.

I love making presents but really love wrapping them. I often try to give a hint of what's inside. Here I used strips of the fabric I used for the baby britches laid over the adding machine tape. Then punched out little feet and held the bow together with a heart shaped brad. Of course, I had to emboss little feet on the card as well, which I put on the top of the package sans envelope as a further decoration.

I had lots of fun doing this wrapping job and Mia, the mother to be, was delighted. Nice when people take time to notice.
Oh, and she was happy she got a purple outfit. When she opened it she said, "Not pink!" with a broad grin.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

fleeting august

Earlier this month I posted about all the company I've been having here. Well, just the other morning I had company of a different sort.

This fellow and two of his friends stopped just outside the back door and though I took the pictures through the sewing room window, they knew they were being observed. He looked me right in the eye. And then as they so often do, they stepped across the septic mound and left the farm via the meadow walk path. They just love that path!

Very often over the past few weeks I've heard the coyotes calling at night. For some reason the rabbits that had been tripping over each other here all summer have suddenly become invisible. Are the coyotes the reason the rabbits seem to be gone??

On Monday morning of this week, I woke to this sight outside the upstairs sliders. There had been dense ground fog all night, the waxing moon shining brightly overhead. A beautiful sight in the dark hours. Just before the sun the deep mists persisted in every direction.

Despite the predictions of 90s for the next few days, I can tell that summer is losing her grip. Leaves are already drifting down, birds are disappearing, the mice are eager to get inside, and the apples are already deep red and falling by the dozens each day.

For the past several mornings after I bring the chickens their breakfast and let them out for the day it has been my routine to pick up all the windfall apples from the previous night. The nicest of these apples get put aside until my task is done. Then I bring them in to be pared, cored and cut into wedges for the freezer.  I experimented with this process late last fall and it worked so well that I promised myself to fill the freezer with apples for winter baking this season if the tree provided. Happily our majestic Cortland has managed to do a fine job despite the false start this spring and summer's heat and drought.
This morning I also put the finishing touches on a baby shower gift. In July I joined a local fiber arts guild. We meet twice monthly and each bring a handwork project. I've really enjoyed getting to know these women and have had the added pleasure of seeing some of their homes and gardens as most of the meetings take place in member's homes. Elin, who is a weaver, is a friend of Robin, my herbalist friend. Robin introduced me to Elin last September and she and I spent a bit of time together at the Driftless Area Art Fair later that day. We met again at Robin's farmer's market booth earlier this summer, and Elin invited me to join the guild. I'm delighted to be a part of them all now. And this fall I will be learning how to spin! I've always wanted to learn.
It is Elin's daughter, Mia, who is the expectant mother, and the baby is a girl. The fiber arts guild gals are all invited, so I can only imagine the beautiful handwork we'll see as each gift is revealed. We're having a luncheon at the Rooted Spoon in downtown Viroqua tomorrow. Should be fun.

At our guild meetings I had been crocheting this little sweater vest, or jumper as the British call it, and thought I might be able to finish it in time. I found a purple knit shirt that goes well. Then I got the idea to make a pair of britches to finish the ensemble. I have a few children's patterns, sizes 1/2 to 4. So as not to cut into the pattern and limit it to only one size,  I make a copy of the size I need using light weight nonfusible interfacing.

I found two print fabrics that work well together and made the pants reversible. The covered buttons on the jumper are made from the flower print. Baby shower gifts are often heavy on the little sizes so I hope having a little larger size outfit will be a good thing. You can't tell from my odd photo, but the pants are a size 1.
I think this month has been the longest and fullest since I've come here. And before August closes Jerome will be here to help me celebrate the second anniversary of this retirement endeavor and to help me usher in the sweet month of September. As if Mother Nature herself were aware of yesterday's anniversary, she gave me a gift. I was out checking on the chickens just before dinner and happened to look up just in time to see a rainbow across the eastern sky. I ran in, as much of a run as these legs allow, and grabbed the camera for a photo just as the rainbow gift was fading away. No matter, it was double and clear when I saw it, so a faded photo isn't important. It was a benediction on the day.

Before August closes, I must wish my dearest house mate, Dovey, a happy 3rd birthday. Alas, we do not know exactly what day in the month she was born, so every day in the month is Dovey day.

Dovey is the one who makes it all possible for me. Happy birthday, sweet girl. Thank you full, beautiful, bountiful, summery August.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Earlier this summer I received another invitation to participate in an international postcard swap. It's the 5th time it's been done, and would be my 3rd time as a swapper.
Not able to pass up an opportunity to get something in the post I jumped on board. Do you know how it feels to walk all the way to the road (well not THAT far really) to find an empty, echoing mailbox waiting, shades of Charlie Brown peering in and calling, "HELLO IN THERE!" ?
It's called a swap for a reason. Never mind that my sewing machine was being serviced. Never mind that my dance card was full, so to speak. The deadline was Monday Aug. 12. It was already the 19th.
So after I emailed my recipient with my apologies for tardiness, I sat down to put my ideas to work.
Theme: discover.
A bit of background. When I was a young mother I had the very good fortune to attend a church where Jerome was director of music. We had an unbelievable pastor whose background was in literature and who had taught at the University of Michigan. Can you imagine his homilies?? We had my husband and a music program that drew musicians to join the church eager to share their talents. A youth ministry that kids wanted to be a part of. There were education classes for adults each week, often amazing. We had several women's circles and study groups. Family and community events. And worship was unparalleled. A golden age.
I played in a recorder ensemble, a recorder trio, and a handbell group.
I belonged to a coterie of Jung study. Also a bible study with child care during the week that included women of every age. Oh, we discussed just about everything but the bible, actually. Marvelous. I was an active part of a women's circle whose agenda included serving communion, hosting a luncheon annually, organizing child care during worship, serving coffee after worship, contributing to the annual bazaar, visiting the homebound, etc.
There was one group I did not join, as it required much more time than a young mother in a master's degree program had time for. They called themselves the Nautilus group.
Many chambered, spiraling inward, a marvel of creation, the nautilus is a perfect metaphor.
At this time of my life I am striving to be still, look inward, discover myself. And so the nautilus was the obvious image for a postcard with the theme discover.

I chose a blue batik and stitched a simple white spiral through the surface material and a batting backing. Then using a micro pen lightly added a hint of the nautilus anatomy. Around the outer edge is lettered: "venture within and discover the heart and soul that reside at the center that is you." Then I used a rough, imperfect zigzag line, representing the chaos and imperfection of the world that presses around us, to join the front to a muslin backing which I addressed as I would an envelope. I used a rubber stamp image to represent the postage stamp.  In my haste I did not take a photo of this. Oh well.
I took it to the post office and mailed it to Helen in the UK and when I returned to the farm there in my mailbox was her postcard to me.

The front of the paper card has several of the inspirational notes that Helen likes to leave about for folks to find as explained below.

The back also explains her thoughts regarding the meaning of discover.

Here and there are a few threads Xed on the card in the colors of her embellishments.
Thank you Helen.

Monday, August 20, 2012


According to the Random House Webster's college dictionary
        august: inspiring reverence or admiration; of supreme dignity or grandeur; majestic.

As of today, the 20th of 31 days that mark her place in 2012, August has surpassed her reputation.
Since the beginning of the month I've had my friend and colleague Barb here for 4 days, my brother and his two children here for 2, Anne and Matthias for just over 63 hours, and Jerome for a bit more than 4 days. I've been to my fiber arts guild, the Wild West days parade,

farmers market twice, to the big cities for all day shopping, discovered a new garden center, New Era Nursery, visited out at my Amish friends' farm, had one of my beloved hens die unexpectedly, rearranged the remaining furniture here at the farmhouse now that Anne and Matthias have taken their lovely things back to Ohio, gotten my sewing machine back into my "studio", been to the library at least twice each week...

Then there's the garden.... Ah, the garden.

Our weather has suddenly gone from over 90 each day and no rain to speak of to highs in the 70s or low 80s, a spot of rain a couple of times each week, cool crisp nights, and light breezes. The bees have been delirious among my cucumber, squash, pumpkin and eggplant flowers especially. The hummingbirds are everywhere. The garden is positively vibrating.
And I've been trying to keep up.
Yesterday alone:
 another 8 pints of pickled beets,
frozen sweet corn,  absolutely delicious and not a blemish on any ear (the chickens love to peck at the cobs once the corn has been sliced off each ear, though it's a rare treat for them. Corn can pack on too much fat)
and an unexpected bounty.
While Anne was here she spotted the full heads of the shrubs growing along the destroyed barn at the edge of our meadow walk. She brought them to my attention and WHAM! I was hit upside the head by just how you can look and not see day after day.
Hippocrates called elderberries his pharmacy. My good friend Robin, the herbalist, makes an elderberry elixir which is marvelous for cough, cold, flu. And here it was just silently growing unassisted and unnoticed and being devoured by the scores of birds who call the old ravaged barn home. I donned my high boots, waded through tall grass and carefully around the detriits hidden there, and filled a brown paper bag with as many fruit clusters as I could reach. The bowl of berries shown above took me a good 90 minutes to remove from the stems.

Today's order of business is to do something with them.

Friday, August 17, 2012

full heart

It's been a long while since my last post. This is not the time to catch up nor rewind the many full days that have passed since then. I'm just taking a moment to say I'm ok.

The sun is now very clearly changing her orbit and I put the chickens to bed a bit earlier each day. When did this happen? I've once again fallen into the human condition of autopilot and walking with my eyes closed. Must do better.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


Last year we grew our cucumbers in large pots and there were enough to make a few pints of dill pickles. Anne made them and they were amazing.
With those garlicy dills in mind, this year I planted heaps of cucumbers so I could can lots of pints. Those little hills of seed have become a mini jungle, thick with flowers and the constant drone of bees working away. It seems I just turned my back for a moment and, well... Let's just say it will be a good year for pickles.
Sunday I picked enough for 8 pints, the comfortable limit of my enamelware waterbath canner. Anne sent me a link to the recipe she used, from Ashley English.

The recipe calls for 6 pounds of cucumbers. I had slightly more than that and so ate the largest in a salad. Mild, sweet, summer in a mouthful.
Next step, wash well, remove a slice off each end, cover with water and salt (the brine solution) and refrigerate over night.
The dried dill seed shown here is from our garden. I also used fresh dill greens, and not shown here peppercorns I purchased at the Spice House in Evanston, Illinois. It is a Malabar pepper called Tellicherry.

The next morning after draining and rinsing them well, I packed each jar with spears cut from 2 cukes, and then added the pickling liquid before processing. There was a scant half cup of liquid leftover, so the recipe is pretty much spot on in the amounts listed.
This morning I see there are enough coming on in the garden to make another batch in a day or two. The hardest part of the process will be waiting the couple of weeks for them to cure before opening a jar.

Monday, August 6, 2012

goodbye Ameilia

A difficult day. I'm still up at nearly half past midnight. My Rhode Island red hen, Amelia, died today totally unexpectedly. She was first out of the chicken house this morning as usual. She eagerly joined her flock at the apples and kale treats voicing her thanks.
A few hours later while working in the vegetable bed I heard a sound I've never heard before, a steady, continuous crying. Phoebie was desolate. When I entered their yard the others came very slowly to me, reluctantly. In the tall grass I found her. LadyHawk refused to leave the spot.

There was no obvious sign of distress or injury. Not a single insect on her body, no blood, no discharge, no reason. Just lifelessness. Utterly final and despite my dedication to her, beyond my control.

This evening there was a picture postcard sunset, like you'd see on greeting cards of sympathy. Despite the larger events of the day, the passing of this one sweet hen may seem insignificant. Not to me. She was my companion, my court jester, my lovely dark brown shell layer, a dear little soul. I'll miss her.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

taking time for a class

This afternoon I took a class at my local quilt shop. There were only two students and the teacher, Lorraine, who works and teaches at the shop regularly. She's a real sweetheart and very encouraging. I heard about the class last week when I stopped in for their end of July sale. Because my sewing machine is back in Illinois being cleaned, oiled, aligned, whatever, I didn't think I would be able to  participate. But the shop owner, Karen, graciously allowed me to use one of the shop machines. A bit like getting a free loaner when your car is being serviced, you're glad to have any vehicle even if it is a bit rough. I only had to sew one straight line and then zigzag for the rest of the project. Easy enough on a strange machine. However, the bulb was burned out so I had no illumination over the needle and the foot that was on it (the only one available) was not assisting me in the slightest.
Enough with the whining, it turned out kind of cute, even if it is a bit oddly shaped.

The process: wrap strips of fabric around a cotton clothesline. (You don't have to worry about frayed edges unless they're really bad.)

From my stash at home I chose two florals and a near solid. It's a great way to use up leftovers and pieces of fabric that make you wonder what you'd been thinking when you brought THEM home! The possibilities are endless and the funkier the print, the more surprising the results.
Lorraine is addicted and I can see why.
I can't wait to get my own machine home so I can whip up a few more.