Blossoms, Snow, and Custom Envelopes

Late this week, I noticed some of the daffodils doing face plants in the dirt. They are optimistic, tough little flowers and can withstand the cold. But I think they may have heard about the snow.

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Ooooh Noooo. It was so nice a few days ago…

These crab apple blossoms have not heard yet and are at a stage where the snow will not be helpful.

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Blossoms. Leaves too. Aaiiieee….

The latest forecast I’ve heard is for a nor’easter up the coast dumping either 2-5 inches or 10-13 depending on storm track. I don’t mind; it’s kind of exciting. And given the lateness of the year, the snow won’t be around long. Nor will the blossoms and buds that were tricked by 70 degree weather in February. I haven’t thought much about the storm, since I will probably just hunker down and enjoy it. What I did think about today was getting construction paper to make envelopes.

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It was fun matching paper colors with the different colors on the cards. Each one had a perfect match somewhere.

A while back, Pauline, the Contented Crafter announced the availability of hand made cards. I bought two kinds, one set for me and one set, called Carnaby Street, for my mother, whose birthday was Saturday.

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My technique varied somewhat from Pauline’s web site instructions for custom envelopes.

The cards come without envelopes because once those are added in, the postal rate on the cards shoots way up. Pauline educated us in a blog about how to make made to measure envelopes, so I thought I would do that.

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Aren’t these cards gorgeous? They contain the whole universe.

The thing is, once I got the cards, I realized the envelope they came in was the perfect template. I just traced it on the construction paper, cut, folded and glued. My mother is thrilled with her cards, which I sent with envelopes I had on hand. And I’m thrilled with my cards and the opportunity to match them up with colored construction paper and create custom envelopes.

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Four cards, four envelopes, and a great deal of satisfaction.

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Winter and Spring Tussle

Yesterday I opened the blinds to a beautiful winter day. After letting myself absorb the clear sky and the brightness of it all, my first thought was Dumbarton Oaks. There is nothing like a trip to the fabled garden to make me feel all is right with the world.

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I could tell some snowdrops came out earlier than others, depending on their position. These were fresh.

T.S. Eliot talks about midwinter spring in the Four Quartets. It may be that was what we were experiencing in the last two weeks before the latest cold front blew in. More likely something else, but the poem, Little Gidding, talks about light blazing on a branch and certainly I saw that yesterday.

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I’m not sure what kind of pears these are, but every fall they have lovely fruit.

There had been a smash up between winter and spring, as though winter rose furious from a near knock out punch. The magnolias got the worst of it, but from a distance the frosted blossoms look like exotic buds of some sort.

The grass, unmolested by the sudden cold, looked very like summer. In this view, with no deciduous trees, it’s hard to believe it’s not June.

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Early March? June?

Before we get too far into the ecstasies of Dumbarton Oaks, you may remember that a couple blogs ago, Jan of The Snail of Happiness offered me a custom made pussy hat. At the time, I thought I probably wouldn’t be wearing it until next year, but hat weather arrived at the same time the hat did, from a different direction. Perhaps the cold and the hat had arranged a rendezvous. I certainly gave it to them yesterday.  Does it go with my coat and jacket or what?

I went through the garden out of my usual order and it provided some surprises, views from angles I don’t often see. It was looking for the snowdrops that took me off route and then I had to spend some time with two–I think–flowering quince. Those of you in the know can correct me if I’m wrong. They were so stunning, I walked up to them without getting a photo of the big picture. They were magical.

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There were two of these breathtaking bushes and they mesmerized me.

There was other magic, of course. In the forsythia walk.

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This path has one moment of glory all year.

In the cherry tree alley.

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This was the only crowded place in the garden.

In the naturalized lawn full of crocuses, snowdrops, daffodils and little blue flowers.

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There was coming magic on cherry hill where the yoshino cherry trees are.

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These often blossom before the ones in the Tidal Basin because they are sheltered.

They had some fat buds, undamaged by the cold, that will be out in the next week or so if it gets warmer.

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Buds!! Unmolested by frost!

Up above, I could see the petals of cherry blossoms drifting east in the chill breeze.

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See the guy looking in? Everyone did that before walking under the blossoms.

There was also evidence of winter repairs.

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New wood…

And around the corner from the repaired bench, more magic.

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I have written about the art installations at Dumbarton Oaks before. This one was something, with sounds of a quartet coming from each of the chairs, like a conversation. Of course, when you sit in one of the chairs you insert yourself into the sound, actually feeling it at times. Is it any wonder I love this place?

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In any season it blazes with beauty.

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Posted in Community, Local Pleasures, Other People's Gardens | Tagged , , , , | 42 Comments

Ready, Set, Hands in the Dirt!!

It has been in the upper 60’s and mid-70’s for about two weeks. As I mentioned last week, I did some planting in the small Plot Against Hunger garden and my own, in hopes that the seeds will have an early start. This week, Jane, who created beds in the large outside Plot, called a work party.

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Here she is giving Ilka a tutorial on digging up a hard-packed bed.

Jane had tested the soil in this plot and while it had good pH and a nice mix of nutrients, it was oddly devoid of nitrogen. She bought bags of chicken manure to remedy that problem.

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Chicken manure, which is full of nitrogen, is a ‘hot’ fertilizer. We mixed it in with the weeded, dug beds and will let it commingle before planting.

She also brought two friends who are gardeners, Paul and Ilka, who helped us dig up the hard-packed beds and dig in the chicken manure. Many hands make light work.

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Paul took on that very long bed and double dug it. It’s beautiful, loose, dark soil now.

Jane has plans for the garden that include kale, tomatoes, peas, beets, carrots, and assorted other early crops. I’m not sure yet what her plan for summer is. She’ll probably put in some seeds this week.

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Mulching the kale seedlings, which got a nice dose of rain after we left.

Once we finished digging in the chicken manure (boy does that stuff stink) and planting the kale seedlings, we mulched the paths of the garden. It’s my hope that if the utility folks come tromping around in there again this year, they’ll stay on the paths and not be so destructive. Between them and the fencers, it was pretty much week after week of destruction last year.

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We were mighty darn pleased with ourselves when we left. We’ll get at the flower borders later.

But this year will be better. At least we have hope that it will. And that’s enough to keep any gardener going.

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We threw some compost on the small garden before we left. Look at those daffodils! They weren’t blooming last week…

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Sowing Seed, Sewing Felt

We’ve had the most delightful unseasonal weather for the President’s Day weekend. I took advantage of it to spend some time in the garden both days.

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Lucky for me, my garlic plants were growing snug under some oak leaves all winter.

I was pleased to see that the garlic I planted last fall and thought had not come up, was thriving and at a very good stage for late February. The blue kale, on the other hand, was full of whitefly, so I removed it in short order. I was also pleased to see that the cutting celery had reseeded itself and come back.

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Spinach seeds under the chicken wire, beets and scallions under the small tent, and carrots under the row cover. Turnips are in between the chicken wire and the tent. I haven’t cleaned up beyond the row cover.

I took a gamble that we might continue to have weather not much colder than the low forties and decided to plant some early crops. They are under shelters not necessarily to keep them warm, but to keep rabbits away from the tender shoots if they come up.

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I dare the rabbits to get at these pea shoots!!!!

Last fall I was so disgusted, I didn’t do much in the way of planting for salad greens or root vegetables. I did have some nice greens through fall and up to now, including flat-leaf parsley and lettuce in the cold frame.

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I should have planted these turnips in August, so I didn’t get to eat them this winter, but I’ll have them quite early this spring.

Yesterday I spent a few pleasurable hours in the small Plot Against Hunger garden. I weeded it and planted peas, lettuce, carrots and turnips for early crops. We’ll see if the rabbits get into it. Sometimes they’re oblivious to this garden, perhaps because they have to hop into it.

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The stick structure is for the peas to climb. Hope springs eternal.

I turned over management of the large Plot garden that is outside the fence to my fabulous volunteer Jane, whom you’ve seen in other posts. Because of the extensive damage done by utility work in the garden last year, she decided to delineate paths and beds for planting. So far it’s looking fabulous. Sometimes putting another head to work on a problem provides the perfect solution.

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This is why you talk with other people! I’d never have dealt with the utility worker incursions this way. Brava!!

I’ve also been sewing sea creatures, in the form of baby sea turtles and sand dollars. I just cut the turtles freehand, but thought better of that once I’d pinned them together, plopped one on the copier in pieces, and–voila!–had a pattern to use again.

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Here’s the start of it…

The turtles are going to my little great nephews, who were in town late this week with their father. The sand dollars will be wending their way soon to Jan at Snail of Happiness, who kindly offered to make me a pussy hat that wasn’t pink.  I think I’m making out like a bandit on the deal.

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Posted in Community, Crafts, Local Food | Tagged , , | 39 Comments

Reading and Crafts in Winter’s Dark

I haven’t written since early January because I’ve been struggling with the gloom and anxiety resulting from last fall’s election. I gave myself some space over the inaugural weekend, figuring I’d write the next weekend. But that came after a week of ill-advised executive orders that culminated in one resulting in the deportation of people with permanent residency and others who had waited years and endured much to come here.

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I started sewing again. This is the Lonely Dollop. Yes, it’s a pile of poo and reflects my mood for the past few weeks.

As a result, it has seemed somehow inappropriate to write about crafts, baking and gardening in the face of ominous attacks on the Constitution, civil rights, and democracy. As someone trained as a historian, I know the dangers of ignoring incursions into checks and balances. Still, while remaining alert citizens, we need some joy in daily life.

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A colleague said if she were an animal, she would be a turtle, so I made her this little creature, getting away from the poo theme.

I have been sewing and reading and, yes, have ordered some seeds for the garden. I’m not ready to look forward to the gardening season yet, but I’ve been out there, trimming roses and getting lettuces out of the cold frame.

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First I had ideas about turtles, then fish came into the mix.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading, some of it escapist and some of it not. I read Arlie Russell Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land and Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman. I also read Today Will Be Different, by Maria Semple. Currently, I’m reading Michael Chabon’s Moonglow.

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Then more turtles and more fish. Pauline, do you recognize that orange tulle?

Hochschild is a sociologist you may know from her book a few year’s ago about parents, called The Second Shift. She was interested in the working class voters who always seem to vote against their self interest by voting conservative. She went to Louisiana and lived there for five years, getting to know people and listening.

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I added starfish (Johanna, do you recognize the starfish?) and a scallop shell and sand dollars.

It’s a book whose stories are hard to read: a family whose bayou has been poisoned and most of whose members have died of cancer; a man who worked for a company that dumped chemicals into the bayou, who was fired when he needed to go on disability, and who helped the local Tea Party candidate plant signs along the road; people who can’t fish their local waters or eat what they catch. They are hard-working people who want to make it on their own. Hochschild’s book makes three points. We all need to break through the empathy wall when talking to people whose opinions we disagree with or don’t understand. The people she was writing about have been working a long time and standing in line for the American dream. They feel as though someone keeps getting put in ahead of them. The third thing is emotional. They feel judged and misunderstood by liberals and welcomed into community by conservatives. It’s a book well worth reading for anyone who wants to understand the resurgence of political conservatism, and its lessons may apply in more than the US.

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I had to pull out a sand dollar from a Nova Scotia vacation to see what the pattern on the shell was.

I didn’t read Go Set a Watchman when it came out because there was such hullabaloo surrounding it. There were all sorts of reviews speculating whether it was the book Lee wanted to write rather than To Kill a Mockingbird. And then there was the general hysteria about Atticus Finch being a racist rather than the saintly lawyer of Mockingbird.

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I’m feeling pretty competent with the turtles at this point.

Watchman is a good book in its own right. It is a story about not being able to go home again. Jean Louise Finch (Scout) has been living in New York City for a number of years, coming home to the south periodically to find the social expectations stifling and that she has very little in common with her contemporaries.

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This is the entire mobile, with a little sparkle from Pauline’s dangler as a backdrop. It’s going to go to a couple little boys, Kieran and Ari, for their bedroom at their grandmother’s house.

On the particular visit in the book, she runs smack into the wall that many young people do at some point: how in the world did I grow up here, absorbing all the ideals of my life and come to such diametrically opposed ideas to those of the people I love? It’s a shock. It’s a shock for Jean Louise, much less any reader who can’t hold a complex view of Atticus. It also has one of the clearest, briefest explanations of the southern viewpoint on civil rights I’ve read anywhere–which, even though written in the 1950’s still has currency today (now remember the Hochschild book). It’s well-written and it’s a tight story of the sort that leaves you with things to think about.

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It’s out in paper now!

Today Will be Different, I’m not going to review at length. Semple writes about characters with some trauma in their background, but this one didn’t convince me and I didn’t much like her. It was disappointing because I liked her previous novel, Where’d You Go, Bernadette? so much. It may be that someone else has read the new book and related better to it. If so, please write a review!  And thanks to those of you who checked in on me in my dry spell.  It’s really nice to be part of such a community.

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I think this sea turtle pattern will offer quite a few possibilities…

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Finishing Up the Old

There’s something nice about starting anew with a new year. I have always enjoyed New Year’s Eve, whether having people in to celebrate, going out, or spending a quiet, reflective evening. This year I spent a decidedly quiet evening.

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Here it is: the infamous, unfinished table runner…

On my trip out to Illinois before Christmas, a passenger directly behind me coughed through the whole flight, sometimes in paroxysms. Needless to say, by my return trip, I knew I was coming down with something…similar.

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I loved making little designs for the center circles. They face different ways so that something is upright no matter where you sit!

While not down for the count, I did not want to spread the evil virus, so I stayed home both New Year’s Eve and Day and worked on my table runner! Those of you who have followed my blog for a while may remember my winter of crafting various things in felt. The table runner was one of those.

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Woo hoo! Signed, sealed, delivered.

It was based on an old sewing craft that resulted in “penny” or coin rugs, place mats, chair covers and other things. I liked the examples I saw and the fact they used blanket stitch to be decorative, so I set about cutting and sewing the circles, which was fun, and designing some trees and flowers and sewing those into the circles as well.

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The trouble came when I had pinned the circles onto their backing and they could no longer be manipulated during the course of sewing. I started life left handed, and being flexible, became ambidextrous. I bat, golf, and wield a tennis racket in my right hand. I also use right handed scissors. I write, eat and prefer to pick up glasses with my left hand, which is more dextrous than my right. Sometimes I don’t know which hand to use until the first one I try doesn’t work. This happens when I open jars. With which hand? Who knows? I’d have to try to open a jar.

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When I first learned the blanket stitch, I had to translate the instructions, which are always right handed. I didn’t realize this until I was sewing in entirely the wrong direction for my left hand. Once reversed, things went swimmingly. But not being able to turn the circle seemed tough, so eventually, I put the project away unfinished.

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It is self-backed and stitched up at either end.

Late last year, I brought it out and put it on the table, thinking seeing the project might spur me to finish it. So, sitting down with a wicked cold (three boxes of tissues in two days) I pondered the circles. The first couple I sewed while they were flat on the table top, turning the fabric when things got difficult. Then, without thinking (as is often the case with my crazy handedness) I switched hands from left to right. It worked like a dream.

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I started at twelve o’clock with the left hand and switched to the right just about where the needle is in the photo.

So it’s nice to report that the table runner is finished, all but for some work with the backing. I like the way it looks on my table and am glad that the decks are now cleared for some new projects this year.  Of course, the seed catalogues have started coming, but I’ll look at those next month…

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Top view. It’s already collected a bit of candle wax…

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The Constant Reader, Remodel or Not

I have weather whiplash. We had ice Saturday morning. Today it was in the 50’s. Now the wind is blowing a front through, and undoubtedly the temperature will drop again!

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Yesterday morning, I could have used a version of this in the ice.

Some of you may know that I am in the midst of kitchen remodel. Yesterday, I had an appointment with an appliance distributor to pick out appliances. And I did. In an hour and a quarter, I got a range, a refrigerator, a microwave that doubles as a convection oven (who knew?) and a disposal. I stayed on the budget in my head, but went a bit over the one I had written on paper. Now I need to pick out flooring and a kitchen faucet. That doesn’t seem too onerous.

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Now this is the perfect position…bring on the books!

In the past few months, I have been doing a lot of comfort reading, defined in this case as all the Tommy and Tuppence mysteries by Agatha Christie. I don’t think I ever read them. They are very cozy, with evil people vanquished. Finally I felt up to breaking out of comfort reading and bought a copy of Cathleen Schine’s They May Not Mean To, but They Do. Those of you familiar with Philip Larkin will know that particular line. I have only read one other book of Schine’s and I liked it a great deal. It was called Finn and Lady and told the story of a young boy orphaned and taken into the care of his sophisticated (he thinks at the time) older step sister. It’s worth a read, and so is They May Not Mean To, but They Do.

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I am not a fan of coming of age novels. Something about them irritates me. They May Not Mean To, but They Do is a coming of old age novel. It is not a fast read. The plot moves at a stately pace, so that you get to know all the characters well and you also get a little humor in the grim, familiar situation. This book is about all the ways children of elderly parents get it right and badly wrong; about the worry, the anxiety, and the misunderstandings; and about the way a person still in charge of her life can move on in spite of all the well-meant interference. It is a crisp, incisive novel full of empathy and wit.

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After that, I turned to the blogosphere’s own Laurie Graves of Notes from the Hinterland. She has written Maya and the Book of Everything and it’s a wild ride. This one does not move at a stately pace, but whirls you along through time (and, dare I say, space) with magic books of knowledge. This is a young adult novel and it takes on issues of knowledge, truth, facts, and the responsibility to use them wisely for the good of the world. There is a hint that it may be the first in a series. I’m beginning to understand all those adults who were reading the Harry Potter books. Write on, Laurie!

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Picked green before the last frost and ripened. Slightly better than store bought…

Other than reading, I have tried to use some of the food I had from the garden. I made pumpkin and white bean soup yesterday, and today, I roasted the last of my tomatoes.  At the end of the season, I had so many green tomatoes. Yeah, you can fry them once or twice, make chutney or pickles with them, but I wasn’t keen on any of that, so I set them in a cool place and waited for them to ripen. I had to monitor them, as some were determined to rot first. In the end I had a few to roast with some oregano, olive oil and pesto. They’ll be nice accents in winter rice dishes and stews.

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Not much juice in them, but roasted they have some good flavor.

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