Saturday, July 29, 2023

Summer Favorites


     I struggle with the joys and pitfalls of summer gardening. As the summer heat builds, the garden becomes less joy and more burden for me. But, it only takes the first tomato pie of the season to brighten my spirits and make that whole garden worth the trouble. A tomato pie may not be to everyone's taste. I think it's the best thing ever and it is, by far, my favorite summer dish. I feel a special bond with my friend, Eleanor, when we can gush about our love for tomato pie together. I also recall our daughter, Chelsea, making a delicious tomato pie for us when we were visiting her family in New Hampshire. Now that's spreading the love!

     Thin slices of tomatoes are layered with sauteed onions and fresh herbs on a pie crust. A mixture of cheeses and mayonnaise are dolloped on the top to melt and brown as the pie bakes. My favorite recipe for tomato pie is from Southern Living Magazine and can be found here: Old Fashioned Tomato Pie 

     Another summer favorite of mine is this Fresh Fruit Trifle.  It is super easy to make because it uses a Sara Lee frozen pound cake. It presents beautifully if you have a trifle bowl. I make this multiple times throughout the summer whenever we have guests and it's too hot to bake dessert. It's also wonderful as leftovers for breakfast. ; )



Saturday, July 15, 2023

Archeology of the Future


     The other day Daughter #3 asked me what I would do for a career if I could do anything in a do-over. My love for history and discovering things brought a romanticized image of an Archeologist to mind. I quickly dismissed this as impractical. Instead I answered, "I would be a professional metal detectorist." and we both laughed.

     Today, I was looking for a document that I buried on my computer years ago. I recalled having saved it and so began my deep dive into 'saved documents' on my laptop. It only took me one fat minute to get sidetracked. I began opening folders under all sorts of labels. Deeper and deeper I dove into photos from 2009, 2011, 2012. I clicked on old school reports the girls wrote, music saved on MP3's, photos of our good old dog, Gunner, photos of old boyfriends, click, close, click, close, on and on. I thought it was time to delete some this useless school stuff and other frivolous items. It crossed my mind to make a project of cleaning this all up, here and now. I could free up all kinds of space on my laptop if I deleted stuff. Suddenly I felt that I was in way over my head. This job was much bigger than the time I had available in this moment. I needed to focus and look for the document I originally came here for. I closed all the screens and scolded myself for being ridiculous. The document I wanted was nowhere to be found. I probably purged it during a previous spell similar to today's experience. 

     I sat for a moment and felt the weight and burden of all these saved tidbits of the past. I thought, "What will our children do with all this shit on my laptop after I am gone?" Then I realized, this is the buried archeological treasure of the future! Light years from now, archeologists will no longer sift through dirt and sand looking for bones and telltale signs of human culture. They will search and sift through laptop data, mapping the customs and lifestyles of humanity via our saved documents. The thought compels me to decide, should I save or delete? I have gotten myself into dangerous thought territory here and it's time to go back to freezing green beans. I will have to look somewhere other than my laptop for my freezing and canning information. I think I should just bury the whole laptop and let someone else deal with it a long time from now.

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

The Garden of Goals and Dreams

     I was feeling encouraged by the breezy, beautiful day and I was so happy to be feeling better that I thought it was time to get back out into the garden. We had five days of soaking rain last week. The sound of rain pattering on the windows was a soothing sound while I was sick but, I knew it also meant the weeds would be overgrown by the time it stopped. 
     We call this garden bed shown above, "The Step Bed" because it is thirteen steps made from landscape timbers and gravel that go up the little hill at the back of our house. Steve installed the steps years ago. I planted spreading greenery and creeping varieties of plants to fill in the beds on either side of the steps. It was a lot of area to cover so I thought that large spreading shrubs would get the job done. Over time, those shrubs have overtaken most of the flowers that were there and now its one overgrown tumble. Our son-in-law replaced five rotting steps for us last year signaling the fact that this garden needed a little attention. I had been eying this project since spring but the ground had been so dry and hard that it was impossible to dig or pull anything up. With the past week of rain, the timing was perfect to tackle the clean up. 
     Normally this job would have taken me a day to accomplish. Today I got about one third done and had to stop. I was winded and red-faced and light headed every time I stood up. It was frustrating to want to do a task but not have my body cooperate. It was so beautiful outside and I love to dig in the dirt that I really wanted to stay at it. I got some water and sat in the shade of a tree thinking I just needed a little rest. The breeze at the top of the little hill was instantly cooling and it was glorious to sit and look down the valley from this raised up spot. I glanced to the left and gazed at the tool shed and perennial bed. Everything was in full bloom and from this vantage point it looked really pretty. I knew there were weeds to be pulled over there as well but I brushed that thought aside. I gave myself permission to just sit and enjoy. 
     I pondered all we have accomplished over the past twenty years here. This land was an empty, five acre field when we bought it. We have always felt thankful to God for giving us the ability to own this land for a spell. It is home and we have worked hard to bring beauty to it. It is a gift to even have the ability to do the work. As I cooled down and relaxed in the shade I realized it was time to call it a day. I made an appointment with myself to come back out here early Thursday morning to get dirty again. The garden isn't going anywhere and the weeds...they got enough scolding for one day.


Saturday, June 24, 2023

Covid Round Two

      Hello again you evil fiend. I had hoped you would stay well away from us. Just when life was settling in to a nice summer routine, my husband and I were taken down with our second bout of Covid. We first had it in the beginning of the pandemic, two and a half years ago. This time around, it is a variant of the original virus and is reported to be not as deadly. I can testify that, for me, it is still a very miserable thing to have. We caught it locally at a small, unassuming meeting that Steve attended. He came down with it first. Although he mostly stayed up on the second floor of our home while he was sick, I soon caught it too. Anyway, the good news is that after one week we are much improved and we get to continue on our way in life. I hope for everyone to stay well. Covid is still out there and, as we know, it's not going away. Steve and I take every precaution that is reasonable yet we still catch this virus. I know some people who have never caught it and I would love to know the secrets of their immune system.

     I was able to stitch and read during the first couple of days of illness and this buoyed my spirits. I had a small stack of used books that I bought at the Bedford Library a couple of months ago. I like to have a reserve pile of books to use for traveling or for when I just like holding a real paper book. I enjoyed both of these stories immensely. "My Italian Bulldozer" is a very simple story about a writer who publishes books on food and wine. He travels to a little Italian village to finish writing a book. The story transported me away to Italy, to the sights and sounds of a tiny village and life in a far away place.

     Equally amusing and pleasurable to read is this old story of "Greyfriar's Bobby". (Some may remember Disney making a movie of this story back in the 1960's.) It is a sweet, amusing story of a little dog that is dedicated to his owner, an old shepherd who sadly dies. The little dog is adopted by all the village folk, old and young, and the story tells of his escapades. It is written using a lot of Scottish dialect but once I encountered the phrases over several pages, my brain clicked into it and I was able to carry on in amusement. The story takes place in the mid to late 1800's which made it even more interesting to me.

A few stitches a day might see this finished by the end of summer. It is done using one thread of floss over one thread of 40 count linen so it's an eye-crosser for sure.  

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Garden Inspiration


Garden shed at Airbnb in Abingdon

    Last month we took a weekend getaway to an Airbnb in Abingdon, Virginia. The two story "Carriage House", as it was called, sat behind the owner's historic house on Main Street. It was beautifully decorated, comfortable, and clean. It was also within walking distance to the head of the Virginia Creeper Trail and to several downtown restaurants and businesses which made it an ideal place to stay. The beautiful gardens surrounding the carriage house and the main house were a pleasant surprise and we found ourselves spending most of our time outdoors on the private patio. We learned from the owner their garden was to be on the Abingdon garden tour in two weeks time. It was a lovely, whimsical garden with wandering paths. We found benches placed in out of the way places and a gentle creek along the back edge of the yard. It was both well tended and accidental at the same time. For example, each planter was strategically placed but it was filled with a plant that looked a little wild like it had shown up all o its own. The wall fountain, a modern addition, looked like it had been there for ages. A small tool shed was built completely out of white paint chipped windows and an old wheelbarrow stood nearby overflowing with hens and chicks. It was easy to imagine this place in the French countryside somewhere and that we were much farther from home than merely an hour and a half drive.

Potting bench at Airbnb in Abingdon  
   The biggest takeaway I got from this trip was the desire to go home and get into my garden and play in it. Margie's garden inspired me with new ideas like putting my hens and chicks in adorable little pots! I found myself saying, "Why didn't I think of that?!" when I saw a pepper plant in a pot with little petunias planted around it or a bed containing flower combinations I never would have thought to place together. It was timely that I had not yet planted my own garden so many of these ideas I could incorporate without spending any extra money. It was all the same type of stuff I would normally plant but somehow different. I did make one splurge and that was to buy a lovely cement planter that I call "Dancing Angels". One of the antique shops in Abingdon had a wonderful assortment of heavy cement planters and bird baths out behind the shop and that is where we picked up this planter. It will be eons before this planter ever wears out and it makes me smile every time I look at it. I also found some plants at a little health food co-op in downtown Abingdon that we walked past. I was excited to find two things I have wanted to plant for along time- a rhubarb plant and a fig tree.
     Gardening in general is never a cheap hobby but it is an extremely creative outlet and it pays back big in satisfaction over the long run. You definitely have to step back and look at it with a long eye, never becoming too discouraged with an annual failure. A tree or perennial might become diseased and die but you plant something else in its place and move on. It simply opens up new possibilities. If cucumbers won't grow in your soil, plant beets instead. Or, you could spend a gazillion dollars on good soil and grow the cucumbers; it's your garden so you can do whatever you want! I try not to calculate the true cost of my home grown tomatoes because it really makes no rational sense at all. Steve is not a gardener but he will dig a hole if I ask or put up electric wire around the vegetable garden for me. He does not always understand why I do the things I do, like pull up half the yarrow I put in just the year before (It's invasive.) or ask him if we can please (!) pull up the half dead bush because I can't stand to look at it one minute more. (We compromised and I pruned it way back.) I find that I have gained more pleasure from my garden this year than I have in quite a while. This is partially due to better health but the rest of it is to do with inspiration. A garden is also a source for healing, comfort, and respite. A garden, and nature in general, is a balm to the nervous system. It is worth its weight in gold for the calming effect it gives just by sitting in its beauty and taking a few deep breaths. I did not expect to find garden inspiration at our Abingdon getaway but I am happy for the way Margie shared her garden with us and for her son's lovely Airbnb. 
     I picked a few of my flowers today and placed them on the blanket chest in my bedroom just for me to enjoy. If I calculated the cost, they are probably my one hundred and fifty dollar flowers in a jelly jar. They are worth every penny for the joy they give me when I walk into the room.

The following are a few photos from our garden so far this year. I hope you are inspired! : )

Yarrow, miniature baby's breath, bee balm and annuals in the pot.

Steve built our shed and the raised beds years ago. A crab apple tree provides shade for white and pink astilbe, fern, hellebore, and two varieties of coral bells

A Carolina Jessamine grows up the pergola. The red plum tree on the right is only about twenty years old but it is reaching the end of its life span. I will be sad will be sad to let this tree go because it gives lovely shade in the afternoon.

Dancing Angels planter with double pink impatiens.

I copied Margie's pepper plant with flowers idea. I chose red flowers to reflect the heat of the cayenne pepper plant in there.

I found this wall planter for a bargain $10 at a Rutland, Vermont antique shop last week. It's new, but what a deal! I just planted it two days ago and I can't wait for the plants to fill out and spill over the top.

I lined most of our beds with salvaged bricks from a smokehouse that was demolished years ago on the property next door.

The garden paying us back in lettuce. The gathering basket was a gift from our daughter for my birthday a few years ago.

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Northward Ho!


     We are back on Lake George in the beautiful Adirondack Mountains this week. The northern most part of the lake and mountains have a wildness about them that I love. The lake is shrouded in low clouds combined with a smoky haze from Canadian wildfires. The landscape looks prehistoric and mysterious this way. 

     I took my coffee down to the dock early this morning. The same mother duck with her six ducklings that I saw yesterday came paddling by. She gave them time to explore the rocks and then led them away. I gave them a smile of appreciation for their visit. A little while later, a beautiful blue heron landed on the dock. We held our breath in wonderment as it paused briefly, then took up wing and glided up and away. And then a flock of Canada geese came swooping down in V formation. As they landed, their legs unfolded to slow their landing on the water. They stayed in a group and paddled up the lake. We observe only a small bit of shore on this thirty-two mile long lake while we are here. I can only imagine the wildlife that visits its shores every day. 

     There is a lot we could see and do while we are here. There are boat rides, an entire village on the south end of the lake, forts and historical sites, outlet shopping, and souvenir shops. But mostly we do nothing. We sit and watch the changing surface of the water. We make plans and then scrap them because we are happier to do nothing. A good book solves any boredom issues and we talk about coming back next year. So much can happen in a year but it’s always nice to dream and plan. 


Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Exploring Patterns and Designers in Rug Hooking

      Our local rug hooking guild continues to grow much faster than we expected. A lot of this is thanks to our founder, Eleanor, who invites every woman she meets to become a hooker. Many come to visit our monthly guild meeting to see what it's all about and quite a few stay on and pick up the craft. Eleanor and I formed the group in 2019 with the thought that if twelve people showed up, we would deem it a success. We began with twenty and have more than double that number on our roster today. We call ourselves, "Blue Ridge Ruggers" and we are a happy, very creative bunch. 

     This year, we arranged our first teacher workshop. We brought in Cammie Bruce for a three day workshop and she was marvelous! Most teachers have to limit their class size so we used a lottery to choose which twenty members would to attend. Cammie is a dynamic, talented designer who works so well with students. She brought many of her patterns and a huge inventory of wool to stoke our creativity. I personally began working on one of Cammie's patterns called, "Grandma's Blue Pot". She helped me color plan the rug and it is my current work in progress. It is my first rug of Cammie's and in her primitive style of soft, medium value wools. The workshop was a great success. This was an encouragement for me to continue bringing more teachers to our group.

     Nearby, at Smith Mountain Lake, another local hooker has begun arranging teacher workshop retreats. Last fall she brought in Karen Whidden for a three day retreat at the 4H camp on the lake. I was happy to attend and brought a Trisha Travis pattern designed in the style of a vintage postcard. Tricia is also a new designer for me to hook and I enjoyed working on this pattern a lot. Our teacher, Karen, was very helpful with tips and comments although I had color planned this rug myself in keeping with the original design.

     Another new designer I met last year is named Katie Kriner. She published a book titled, "Rug Hooking With Wool Strips" that contains twenty patterns for enlarging. Her style is more contemporary and I find that her designs work well in my home. She has a brick and mortar shop in Pennsylvania called, "The Bee and the Bear" as well as an Etsy shop under the same name. I made her "Six Flowers" rug and an adorable pillow called, "Bird in Foliage". Both patterns were from her book. The wool used in both rugs were also from her shop and were all hand dyed by Katie and her team. I have them pictured in the room in which they were placed. I love antiques and old things, but I don't style my home in the primitive style. So, these rug styles have found a good place in my home. 

     I have a few more finished projects in rugs and cross stitch that I will post another time. Each one gives me much joy to create and some very lovely people to create with.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Still Learning About Everything


    Nothing much has changed around here. I am still hooking, stitching, sewing, gardening, reading, cooking, loving, fussing, etc., etc. There is still much to learn about everything. I took the time to be still last week and I learned some things and worked out some troubles. It was a wonderful thing and it felt really good to have benefited so greatly just by sitting idly on the porch, staring at the field. 
     This silent adventure started when I took out a piece of crewel work I began working on about thirty-eight years ago. The best that I can recall, I bought it around the time our first daughter was born. The piece was almost completely stitched except for a few bits here and there. I must have gotten too busy to finish it (ya think?!) and tucked it away. I decided I would finish it now for our granddaughter. I took it out to the screen porch and settled in for an afternoon of stitching. Steve was away so I had no need to cook dinner nor anywhere to go. Time was of no concern, the weather was perfectly mild and the only sounds I heard were the birds singing. A memory from childhood slowly came forward as I stitched and listened to the birds. I was nine years old, sitting on the back porch of my childhood home. Like today, I was listening to the birds singing while I stitched an embroidery onto a dresser scarf. The joy of summer vacation stretched before me like an eternity that day. I had no cares other than thoughts of swimming, playing, eating good summer time foods, and sleeping with the windows wide open to the sound of crickets at night. And, there would be no school for two and a half, whole months! In an effort to ward off any boredom that might occur during the long summer that year, my mother taught my sister and me how to embroider. She took us to the five-and-dime to choose a dresser scarf stamped with a design in blue ink and to pick out embroidery floss. I still recall the excitement of making those choices and the prospect that I would be creating something beautiful. Mom taught us the basic running stitch, the chain stitch, the lazy daisy, and the French knot. She told us that she had spent her childhood summers embroidering on her back porch with her sisters. I imagined my mother and my aunts as little girls doing the same thing as my sister and I, only a long time ago when the world was in black and white. We spent many days that long, hot summer stitching on the porch. I sat for hours on the floor with my back leaning against an old sofa, stitching away. I was so pleased when my first scarf was finished that I asked to buy another. We put those dresser scarves to good use, too. Once they were completed, they alternately graced our bedroom dresser throughout our childhood.
    It was a good memory; one that has stayed with me for days now. My thoughts while I was stitching were almost as carefree as my nine year old self's would have been way back during that summer in 1968. But this day, I paused from stitching and stared out into the field for a while. My mind was working something out. (Which, by the way, happens when you keep your hands idly busy like stitching, knitting, or pulling weeds.) It was something big and important between my mother and me and I slowly and gently realized that it didn't matter anymore. It should have never mattered. I took a moment to tell my mom in Heaven that it didn't matter anymore. She probably realized it herself already, being in Heaven with God and all. But I thought she should hear it from me. So, all is well and I am once again back on that summer filled porch in upstate New York stitching away the afternoon. I can imagine mom is singing in the kitchen and I'm pretty sure there will be something good for dinner. And for now, I have not a care in the world.
     I still have two of those dresser scarves I crudely embroidered some fifty-five years ago.They were well used and are still well loved.