Sunday 29 June 2014

Garden Update and Travelling

I have a little gardening update for you.  The beans are growing really well and have started their trek up the trellis.  I am pleased with eight or nine of the pumpkin plants; they have developed a number of good sized leaves and have grown larger.  Some little bug almost devastated the tomato plants but it looks like three or four will survive.  I have them caged quite hopefully that they will need it later on.  My row of beets is coming along nicely. As in every year, I wish I knew more about growing vegetables.
 The sunflowers and morning glories are about a foot tall and growing very well.  The transplanted geraniums had me worried because though they were very lush and green, there wasn't a bud in sight.  This week a number have appeared so I think I will see flowers again.  All the marigolds, butterfly flowers, sweet williams, pansies and various daisies  I sprouted in the greenhouse are growing well. The hostas have taken hold in all their various locations.  The ivies I brought in doors last year for the winter and are now on a trellis at the front of the house, had a bit of a rough go for the first several weeks.  Now though they are sprouting new leaves and brightening up, so maybe will do fine. 
I am leaving on a trip to visit my parents.  They are in their eighties now so my time with them is feeling more precious.  Happily, both their great-grandsons will be with me also, so it will be quite the treat for them all to see each other.  I won't be writing while away...

Hope your garden is growing and your fingers are busy...take care of you.

Saturday 28 June 2014

Like Sugarplums, More Dancing Projects

Summer is usually my 'finishing school' time when I take myself in hand to get projects finished and put away.  I think I came by this habit from my decades as a teacher and summer being my days away from the job so I could give the time to any of my stitching projects not finished during the winter.
I had to put away my most recent crochet project through no fault of my own.  Remember those circle in a square granny squares?  Michaels ran out of the particular yarn I was using and I had to wait three weeks for them to restock.  Luckily for me they did and I was able to buy four more balls to finish up this particular project.
 I am also almost done a wall hanging with embroidery and patchwork quilting and I will show you that when it is finished.  I am doing some hand quilting which, while slow, is enjoyable.  I got a little hung up on that project too because I began the quilting and decided I didn't like the particular batting I was using; it was much too heavy for a hanging and also, it was hard to poke a needle through.  I had to do the dreaded 'unsewing' and now have switched to a loftier, lighter batting and liking this much more. 
I still have pillowcases I want to embroider as gifts.  I'm still finishing all the bits and bobs on my Gardener's Alphabet.  I almost bought more wool while I was at Michael's the other day.  It was a Lion's Brand called 'Amazing' and it was very fine, mohairish, with the most beautiful dark variegated colours.  I was ever so tempted but managed to tear myself away after giving it a good fingering.
Like the Christmas sugarplums, I always have so many projects dancing in my head.

Thursday 26 June 2014

A Wildlife Show

About once a month I have a late night drive home after babysitting grandson so daughter can work an evening shift.  Last night was one of those times.  It had rained heavily most of the afternoon and evening but luckily, it was mostly dry by the time of my drive.  It was a pitch black night and because of construction on my usual route, I had to take another long country road home.  The sky was completely starless and the trees in the headlights loomed shapeless and haunting.  Not another car on the road and the farm houses few and far between, I was thankful to live in the age of cell phones.  But what I couldn't get over were how many creatures were out and about.  Perhaps their roaming for food got delayed because of the rain but I saw more four legged critters on that one drive than all my drives on my own route put together. 
A mother raccoon and three babies started off my show and I know there were three because they crossed the road in single file in front of me.  (Raccoons are identifiable because they have that funny hunched look about their backs when running.)  A young rabbit hopped away from my lights next, then another one and another!  There were so many cats and kittens skulking around the side of the road and in the ditches, I lost count. My car lights caught several sets of eyes that indicated something taller, maybe deer.   Oh yes, and all the while, frogs were doing their daredevil leaping across the pavement; apparently frogs like to move around on rainy summer nights.  I kept trying to avoid them so it slowed down my drive considerably and I can't be sure I  still didn't unintentionally end some little amphibian life.
Always so happy to see the lights of home, even after such a great late night show. 

Wednesday 25 June 2014

Cheeky Chipmunks

Rex checking out the smells under the feeder.

I refilled the feeder with sunflower seeds one day last week.  Later that day, I was sitting in the living room and I could hear a different kind of sound, a metallic creak I'd not heard before.  After a bit, I realized the sound was coming from the bird feeder.  I watched it for awhile and got to see what was making the noise.  Two chipmunks were taking turns raiding the seeds.  They had figured out how to jump from the branch of the tree onto the feeder roof and because the roof is lifted to refill the feeder, it was making a noise each time they landed on it.  In no time, busy as proverbial beavers, they had the feeder emptied.  I've read that chipmunks will store more food than they can eat in their lifetime if there is a food source available and I know these little guys are more than well fed around here.  These seeds were just going into storage in one of their underground tunnels.
Hubby had the answer to this problem; he remembered he had such a thing as protectors for bird feeders up in the barn loft.  This large metal roof you can make out in the photo atop the feeder has worked like a charm.  Mr. and Mrs. Chipmunk can't get directly at the feeder and are back to scavenging on the ground like they always did and the seeds are saved for the birds.  Just so they wouldn't feel too badly, I've been putting a few more peanuts under the tree for them which they love.   

Tuesday 24 June 2014

For Our New Little Angel Mug

This little mug was one of my finds at the second hand store.  It was interesting to me as it had an unmistakeable vintage look, what with the porcelain crackle and wear and tear on the gold trim.  The name on the bottom reads Napco china, original hand painted followed by a number.  It is decorated with pink roses and around the top is the phrase For Our New Little Angel in gold.  It is a sturdy little thing with no cracks or chips.  I looked around on the internet for information and found out that Napco was a china company in Cleveland, U.S. and for a decade or so also imported much Japanese pottery, china and the like.  Many of the company's figurines resemble Hummels and they produced quite a lot of product in their time.  The companion mug to mine is almost identical, just a different flower and the phrase reads For Our New Little Shaver.  I found one of those on ebay selling for $28.99 with a ten dollar shipping fee.  I finally found a mug like mine on a U.K. site selling for $4.99 with a whopping shipping fee of $17.75 (probably where that seller makes their money).  Anyway, I am using mine as a toothbrush holder presently.  I'm thinking the original intent was for the child to use this mug herself, but it is really a little heavy for a tiny tot to hoist.  It is sweet and I'm glad I bought it; the 99 cents was well worth it.

Monday 23 June 2014

Nature... Heaven Under Our Feet

"Heaven is under our feet, as well as over our heads."

Weather permitting, I do my little work-out outside.  I watch the tops of the trees and the birds flitting about as I do my jumping jacks and my little run around the property.  Today I thought about how nature is all encompassing here in this setting.  Before my eyes opened this morning, I could hear the bird calls and just lie there listening hard trying to distinguish which was which.  For I do seem to have it in me the need to name and identify.
Yes, nature flows around this house.  It is saturated in bird sounds, poured on by rain, warmed by the sun, shadowed by all the tall trees swaying this way and that, the grass and tall flowers hugging its sides. Other than the front lawn and back bit too, the land is as it was more or less since pioneer days.  The farmed areas are on the left past the swampy stream.  I like how I can walk through woods that have not been interfered with, where nature has been allowed to have her way with all the bloomings and dyings of the growing things. As haphazard as it all looks I  know there is an intrinsic  harmony there, a rite of passage for each item.  All in its own time, its own manner of seeding and springing to life and then withering and returning to the soil.  I  wish I  had that sense of harmony in me; I know there are lessons there, calm and peace that understanding can give.  I know I'm feeling more my connectedness to nature with living in this place, so I keep trying...

Close Up of Pretty Sunspots

Sunday 22 June 2014

Not a Housey Person

I am reading Rachel Joyce's book Perfect and one of the characters  makes the comment, " I am not a very housey sort of person".  I think it is a great line and one that applies to many of us living in the country, especially now that summer is upon us.  I am feeling the pull of the outdoors on  these days when the sun is making dappling shadows of the trees and all I can hear are the various bird songs each wanting to be identified.  I believe in it too; I mean, I think it holds therapeutic value to feel the sun on your body and breathe the fresh air for longer bouts than just running to your car.
This is when it is especially great to have dogs.  They are always watching and hopeful for a walk, and how mean would it be to ignore their sad, begging faces. So yet again, their antics work and I reinforce the watching and hoping they spend so much of their time doing, by leaving my chair and hitting the trail with them. Their joy at being out and about is contagious.  I can't help but feel lifted too and all the newly opened flowers I spy are just a bonus.    

Saturday 21 June 2014

Cross Stitch Masquerading as Doilies

I do actually finish projects too.  I don't think I have shown you these two cross stitch pieces I worked together about five years ago now.  The patterns are from the book called Elegance- Exquisite Doily Patterns Charted for Cross Stitch compiled in 1984 by Annette Bradshaw and Gwyn Franson.  These two ladies collaborated on a number of cross stitch pattern books back in the eighties and nineties.  This particular one appealed to me because I love the look of doilies, tatted work and lace in general.  I think I bought the book from and I'm not sure if it is still available or not. 

This is the pattern called Star of Hope and I added the extension option the designers had included.  Worked on navy blue fabric with a slightly variegated light blue floss, I'm not sure I could as happily complete this these days.  I remember well having to unsew a portion of one of the star's points to correct the counting, but it was forgiving of minor inaccuracies.

This is the pattern called Soutache with the extension completed as well.  It was worked with aurifil thread, the red that reminds me of Christmas stitching, on white aida cloth.  I don't remember making any major boo boos, but don't look too closely.
I remember where I was when I completed these projects.  It was during June while I was on holidays in Newfoundland, a very happy visit with my parents.  My mother was making an afghan using the afghan stitch worked with that funny extra long crochet hook.  She was quite happy about learning this new way of crocheting from a friend of hers.  We worked side by side late each afternoon and evening at our respective projects, sipping our cups of tea. 

Friday 20 June 2014

Bachelor Buttons and Eckhart Tolle's Book

Growing up we always called these pretty flowers Bachelor Buttons.  Now I  know they are named Oxeye Daisies. Whatever their name, we have an abundance of these throughout the fields and they are so pretty.  I understand the farmers do not like them though; if the cows eat them, it gives the milk an unpleasant taste.
 Every day now new wildflowers come into bloom.  Meanwhile, the marigolds, butterfly flowers, pansies, and daisies that I planted are growing but no buds yet.
I just returned to an old book for inspiration.  I borrowed Eckhart Tolle's  A New Earth Awakening to Your Life's Purpose from the library.  I remember when it was published and seeing this author on Oprah.  I also tried to read the book before but found it too hard for my little brain at that time, and I'm not kidding about that; I find philosophy hard to read and understand and this book is just that.  It is written in a simplistic, easy to read manner, but don't let that fool you, the meaning is deep.  My frame of mind seemed to be more receptive to the messages in the book this time round.  I made some notes to help me clarify what the words meant and I am trying to do a couple of the exercises he believes will help increase your level of consciousness and understanding.  I do believe in the power of concentrating on your breath, in and out, to slow thoughts and relax a busy brain. I try to do that any time I have my blood pressure taken during my check-ups and I always have good readings, so far.  I don't know, who knows, maybe it will help somehow.   

Thursday 19 June 2014

It's A Small World, The World of Petit Point

When I lived and worked in the far north,  I had a friend who worked only in petit point, a kind of needlepoint, though actually quite different.   I don't know if you have ever seen such pieces; the stitches are minute with yarn or floss worked over one thread of a canvas or cloth.  The resulting pictures formed have the detail and clarity of photographs.  She would often have people think her pieces were photos.  She loved working on dogs and was especially skilled at stitching eyes that looked alive and real.  I bought a kit to try my hand at petit point but didn't finish it.  It had dark colours on a dark canvas, unfortunately, and I found it really hard on my eyes to tell where to lay the stitches. I have a lot of admiration for those talented people who can persevere to finish what amounts to tiny masterpieces with needle and thread.
I credit this friend with starting my interest in needlepoint (which is so often the way).  Up to that time, I was basically unfamiliar with that branch of stitching.  For a time in my life I worked a lot of regular needlepoint kits.  They usually had a picture painted on the canvas and I just had to fill it in with tapestry yarn using continental stitch. I worked several kits from Laura Ashley that were of florals (naturally) and quite pretty.  I remember the relaxation I felt working my simple stitches in the evenings after a stressed or busy day.
There is a wonderful site online that is well worth checking out if you are interested in needlepoint.  The teacher has provided videos of how to make the stitches, plus several free patterns with instructions to make your own pictures. It is well organized and easy to navigate.
If you are interested in checking out petit point, there are several good sites for that as well.  A woman who is well known in the field for many decades now is Jean McIntosh.  Her web site is and her many kits and canvases are available to purchase online.  Her florals and birds are wonderful and I like checking it out for inspiration.  Another great site linked to Jean's is and several other artists' works are featured, also wonderful, some amazingly detailed.

What a wonderful world it is, the world of fabric, needle and thread meeting!

Wednesday 18 June 2014

Creative Cross Stitch

Cross stitch is one of the needlearts I still enjoy very much.  I see the word spelled several different ways...some venture into the three s's in a row and write it as crossstitch, others use the hyphen as on the cover of this book; I prefer to write it as two separate words just for simplicity's sake.  But no matter how you spell it it is a great form of needlework providing the opportunity to create the most amazing representations on fabric with thread.
I have spent a lot of time searching online trying to find cross stitch patterns and designs that are a little different and appealing to me. Here is a book by a lady I found during one of those searches.  While I am a little familiar with North American designers of cross stitch patterns, I am unaware of European artists who work in this field.  That is why I was so happy to come across Gerda Bengtsson of the Danish Handcraft Guild.  This book, Cross-Stitch Patterns in Color published originally in Danish in 1974 features her designs with full colour photographs of each finished picture.  The first section  includes different kinds of wild growing roses, the second contains designs of changing seasons and what people do during them, and the third is a 'flowering plants' section with various plants viewed through windows.  All are sweet and charming designs and all can be adapted to any number of projects. I am working on a pattern called "April Showers" above and I plan on doing three in a row.  I bought this book at the Book Depository a couple of years ago and I really like it.  Because of the 'counting' aspect to cross stitch I can only do this during the day when I can avail of the natural light.  But I can remember the days when I could work through the evening unconcerned about the light, even in a basement t.v. room where the light couldn't have been good.  Yes, yet another thing that has changed....

Tuesday 17 June 2014

Musing about Kim Novak

I read about a woman who after a certain age, could not look at herself in the mirror without crying.  I imagine a couple of things about this scenario.  She must have been beautiful all her life and older age must be ruining that beauty (in her eyes).  Perhaps aging is harder on the beautiful people; letting go of all the glory of beautiful skin, hair and body must be hard.  I guess there are no guarantees about how each of us ages,either.  Just because you are beautiful does not mean you will age well and we all know people who are not aging well at all so it is a real phenomena.
What got me started on this topic was seeing Kim Novak at the Oscars.  I remember her well from her youthful glory days.  Then she was a slim blonde beauty with a sweet face and look all her own.  She was much touted for her looks and she wore clothes to accentuate her beautiful body.  I did not recognize her on the 2014 red carpet, but then, I haven't seen her in several decades.  But even so, her look was a surprise.  Obvious plastic surgery and a middle-aged body completely obscured the movie star woman of my memory.  I felt sorry for her for this reason.  I can't imagine how hard it must be to be in a job where you have to look no older than 20 all your life.  It would be hard for a 40 year old to do that, let alone a 60 year old.  Life is hard enough and just coping with all the things we can control is a challenge at times; imagine trying to manage and change what we can't control.  Being human means fraility with age, and there is no stopping that. 

Monday 16 June 2014

Block For Winter in Summer

Rain for three days made a skinny river of our little creek.  I worried about my morning glory and sunflower plants, at three or four inches tall they could be vulnerable to heaps of water raining down on them several times a day for several days.  But no, they stayed strong, uncowed and proudly as perky as before which I was happy to see.  However, some small insect is having its way with the morning glory leaves; they are being chewed here and there but the sunflower leaves are untouched.  I guess in nature, everything is food for something else at some point.  There is no getting around that idea, as much as I don't want to acknowledge it. 

It is a large one as well and it includes the W and the X.  I did take the time to get a few close-ups of this wonderful design.

As you can see I still have a few finishing touches to do...some French knots here and there. 
I'm not sure if you tell from the photo but the snow on the branches is worked in chain stitch which does give them a rather snowy look; some people have used buttons for the red berries and added some holly leaves to give it a more Christmasy look. 

Sunday 15 June 2014

Remembering Chintz in My Happy Memory

Another Second Hand Store Find

You just never know what you will find when trolling the aisles of a second hand shop.  I am always alert to the odd little item that might be useful or pretty to add to my tiny collection.  Pictured above is one such item I found recently.  It is a little jam jar or possibly a sugar holder made by Royal Stafford of England.  I have looked through lots of Royal Stafford online trying to pin down the exact name of this luck.  They produced hundreds of patterns throughout the decades.  The closest I came to finding this particular pattern was with a teacup and saucer set offered on ebay but the seller identified it only as Royal Stafford Pink Chintz.  And it is a very pretty pink chintz with what looks like four pansies painted on the top sweet.  I was pleased to find it is in mint condition with not a chip or crack.  I have no idea its worth but I paid $1.99.  I'm not sure what I will use it for but I just had to have it.  Enough said.
At one point in my life I was very fond of chintz and had many items, pillows, curtains, china featuring all kinds of patterns.  I also liked and wore skirts made by Laura Ashley that often were reminiscent of chintz with many lovely colourful, floral designs.  In fact a couple of those became pillow covers when I out wore them. I wore them despite the jokes about looking like you're matching your sofa.   I remember I kept a journal of patterns and colours that I found in magazines to research and sometimes add to my hoard.  All of these things are lost forever in reality, though they, like everything we experience, are able to live on in happy memory.  

Saturday 14 June 2014

Angela Lawrence's Needleturn Applique

One of my goals is to improve my ability to applique.  I love the technique and the last project I worked on I remember being impressed with how fast it could be finished using this method. My problem was in keeping my stitches to a tiny, consistent size yet be strong enough to really hold the fabrics together.  Of course, it takes practice to gain real proficiency in such fine handwork.  I imagine all the seamstresses of old were able to easily achieve such tightness in their stitching in order for the clothes they sewed to be used and worn, which they were.  I can picture a shirt I would sew with my present capabilities...a sleeve would be letting go before the wearer made it through the door. 
In light of this, I am always on the lookout for a good instructional book on applique.  Many assume you already have a set of skills and present projects, though interesting, too intricate or 'artsy' for my level of ability.  I think you can tell from the photo that this book is bright and colourful and in fact, you would be right.  I found this book on a list recommended  in one my needlework magazines and was lucky enough to get it at the library.  Needleturn Applique by Angela Lawrence is published by the same folks that put out the Knitbook I told you about before...Landauer Publishing
There are step by step instructions to show how to prepare all your fabric shapes- various ways of making templates, transferring these to your cloth and then of course, lots of clear photos on how to work the applique stitch itself.  This was the section I was most interested in.  Included as well are full size patterns for completing nine projects and any of these can be used alone or mixed and matched to create your own unique designs. 
Angela also provides a list of web sites for inspiration, ideas, and obtaining the tools and materials she recommends in this book.  Her own web site is
This is another book that is a good resource and I am thinking about buying a copy to add to my tiny needlework library.

Friday 13 June 2014

There Will Be Flies

"Do what you can, summer will have its flies."

                                Ralph Waldo Emerson

I was a little surprised to think the esteemed scholar concerned himself with flies.  Some people are  thought of differently; I picture him sitting in a leather wing-back chair, sipping cognac and wearing tweed waiting for the next great thought to drop into his brain.  Swatting flies and whining about them is not how I  picture him, even if this thought of  his is so prettily expressed.
Yes, we are thigh-deep in flies right now.  You name them and we have them.  Hubby is supposing their increased numbers have to do with the long wet spring and he is claiming, in true farmer style, that it is the worst he has ever seen them.  I, with my womens' memory powers, know he said the exact same thing last year.
 The mosquitoes are the worse for they have the ability to bite with or without accompanying sound effects.  You don't want them in the bedroom at night for that is when their minuscule noise gets amplified somehow and you find yourself balancing precariously in places trying to swat the offender.  At home we appropriately call them 'nippers', but there they seem to have a season, a few weeks and then mostly disappear.  Here, with a swampy area to the right and a creek to the left of us, their season is basically all of summer.
Not long after the mosquitoes first appear come the deer fly.  They are not as plentiful as nippers, but their bite can cause more problems.  One summer, I was sporting a large bump on one cheek (think Angelina Jolie's cheek bone in Maleficent) thanks to a deer fly bite.  Luckily I didn't feel ill or have an adverse reaction, but the bump lingered and I worried it would spoil my natural beauty, ha, ha.  Again, at home, we have another name for them...stouts.  Apparently you would have to live in Iceland to entirely avoid these critters.
In between, there are the black flies which are small and menacing in their own way.  They bite people too.  There are warnings in the paper and on signs around about ticks.  I always wear slacks and my high rubber boots when I walk our trail to protect from a tick latching on.  We check the dogs' ears daily and usually find a couple during the season.
I am loathe to wear bug repellent with deet but sadly, that is the only thing around we have found that truly works.  I have doused myself in vanilla, lavender essence, lemon juice, worn Bounce dryer sheets, anything of a more natural nature that claims to ward off the flies, but none of these things work well.  I will say these things repel the odd fly but not enough for the kind of swarms I'm talking about that I encounter on my walks in the woods. 
I've never thought of having one of those special hats with the netting attached...but this just might be the year of the bee-keeper hat fashion for me. 

Thursday 12 June 2014

Clothing This Body Woes

I just went through my summer things to see what else I might need.  I well remember the days when I didn't need too many hot summer day items; but now living in southern Ontario a summer wardrobe gets lots of use.  We just had four or five days straight of sunny and sometimes scorching hot weather.  I, somewhat reluctantly, ventured out to shop for a few new duds.  I have a big complaint about shopping at my age.  The stores that provide clothes I would actually wear are getting fewer and farther in between.  Maybe (mistakenly) but I don't feel quite ready for the senior style women's clothes but maybe I need to get myself used to that idea.  I noticed when I was looking around a number of things that bothered me.  Here are a few of my pet peeves I noted from that excursion :-

#1 Sleeves on cardigans that are too narrow.  I don't know who has these skinny upper arms, certainly no body in my age group.  Not that I have those bat wing arms because I don't, but I can't wear a sweater if it feels too tight around the upper arm/shoulder area, and so many great sweaters I tried had this basic flaw.

#2 Scoop necklines that are too low.  I like the idea of a nice neckline but so many are just that tad too low for comfort, for me anyway.

#3 Zippers on blouses or tops. Also buckles on clothes in places where they are not functional.

#4 Fake or no pockets.  I love real pockets.

#5 All these different waist heights...pants all seem to have different levels these days...some sit at the waist, some below, some far below.  It's confusing to me and I certainly don't want pants falling off my derriere.   

 While I'm at it I'll add another pet peeve, this one about boots.  High winter boots where the calf area is too tight.  I always have to try on boots to make sure I can manage to get them over my calves...and again I don't think I have unusually thick ones, but maybe....
And  still another one...why women's clothes are so much more expensive than men's.   A man can be so much better dressed for the same amount of money; that seems unfair to me. 
 I am surprised that so many stores still cater to the teens and young people.  One of the sales ladies at the mall told me the majority of stores in any mall are focused on the 17 to 34 year olds.  That seems to leave out a lot of the population that still need to be clothed!

Wednesday 11 June 2014

Needle, Thread and Fabric Meeting

"I cannot count my day complete til needle, thread and fabric meet."

Are you familiar with this very old and quaint saying, so old no one is credited with actually saying it.  I looked around before using it and couldn't find a name to attach.  I like it though and feel it is very much me.  Just as my reading helps me cope with so many of life's ups and downs, so too does having something to keep my hands busy.  I always look forward to the moment when I can pick up whatever is the latest project.  And for me the pleasure is in the doing, the process, not necessarily the finished product.  (Sometimes I wish I did have more of the latter in me!)

Here is Block U and V, another of the smaller blocks.  I wish now I had deepened the purple on these violets.  I stitched this at a time when it was the dead of winter.  I wonder how different it would look if I had had that lovely carpet of dog violets to inspire me.  I think the colours would have been improved.  There is nothing like the real thing as a model.  

Tuesday 10 June 2014

Landauer's Knitbook

Brought to us by the editors at Landauer, the Knit Book is a great resource for the beginning knitter.  It begins at a very basic level explaining various kinds of wool and needles and other supplies needed for knitting.  It continues on to showing the basic stitches and five projects that can be completed with just this entry level knowledge of knitting.  Another section introduces stitches that provide texture in the finished project and also includes the patterns for five projects that can be completed with these stitches.  The final part of the book deals with knitting on specialty needles, circular and double-pointed.  There are seven projects outlined that you can knit using these needles.
This is a great book to use as a knitting resource if you are basically a beginner knitter like me.  It contains lots of pictures, the instructions are clearly written, and I really like the projects they have chosen to include.  In particular, I love a poncho pattern that you knit as a rectangle, then cleverly join to form a circle.  There is another shawl pattern that looks easy enough for me to tackle as well as several scarf patterns that look intricate but have surprisingly easy instructions.
The book includes blank pages for note-taking , a number of vinyl zipper bags for storing yarn samples or materials, and an instructional DVD.  I borrowed this copy from the library but now I will be looking to buy my own copy on-line to keep as a resource.

Monday 9 June 2014

Lilacs and Rose Breasted Grosbeaks

First Bouquet From the Garden

Lilacs are very common here in the country.  Just about every farm house has a tree or two sprouting their blooms this time of year.  There are three on this property and everyone oohs and aahs over the deep violet one.  Its blooms are such striking shades of rosy purples and it stands out in the middle of a field of wild grass. I've noticed though that it is sparser in the number of blossoms it produces.  The two paler flowering lilacs are always quite loaded down but not the violet one.   All smell heavenly.

I'm happy to share this photo with you.  It is the male and female rose breasted grosbeaks visiting one of the front feeders in early evening.  They came as a pair regularly for over a week and now are taking turns coming for very quick visits.  I hope that means they have their brood laid and are taking turns sitting.  I deliberately changed from the niger seed back to sunflower after looking it up and finding out they prefer the sunflower seeds.  Anything to help another little bird family get by. 
With rising temperatures, I have filled the bird bath and the robins have been the first to take a dip.  I will try to catch them in the act and hopefully get a photo to share with you.

Hope everything is blooming and chirping wherever you are!

Sunday 8 June 2014

Sunlight Dish Detergent and Consciously Incompetent

One of my roommates in university used Sunlight dish detergent to shampoo her hair and also as soap for shaving her legs.  She was quite insistent that it left her hair shinier and healthier than regular hair shampoos.  That roommate did have wonderful hair, so for awhile I used it too.  I didn't notice the positive results that she seemed to get; I'm thinking she was blessed with great hair and it wouldn't have mattered much what she used on it.
 I thought of this when I was reading a magazine lately and came across the suggestion to use hair conditioner as soap for shaving.  The writer claimed it leaves the skin smoother and in better condition than any of the specially formulated shaving creams do.  It would also involve saving money as hair conditioners can be picked up quite cheaply as well as it would mean having one less product hanging about in the bathroom.  I am going to give that a try too though I don't seem to have a need for this as much as I used to.  One of the positives of growing grows slower in some areas of the body, but, on a negative, suddenly sprouts in other spots. Not complaining, just telling is all.
In that same magazine, Real Simple, March 2014 issue, I read a wonderful article by Ann Leary about being consciously incompetent.  This resonated with me because I realized there are few things in my life I would label myself consciously competent at.  I think I am stuck at the incompetent thinking stage with a lot of things I try to do.  You know the old saw about jack of all trades and master of none.  But that does not stop me from trying.  I do seem to want to keep learning and like the author, add to my skill set, even though I am very aware of my own limitations.  Time is no longer an excuse for stopping something when I know I'm still incompetent though I've given it a pretty good try.  Now that I'm retired I can't use that.   

Saturday 7 June 2014

Vintage Robin Hood and Carnation Cook Books

What a find these were!  They belonged to hubby's mother and were left in one of the boxes in the basement.  Well used but still intact, they are the kind of family cookbooks where you can tell what  the favourite recipes were by the smears and smudges on certain pages.  I just love that.  How appropriate for the era that the Carnation one has filet crochet featured as the background.  Both were published in 1947 and according to her inscriptions, my mother-in-law got one in 1948 and the other in 1949.  The Carnation Cook Book by Mary Blake features sections called "Child Feeding" and "Invalid Feeding" in addition to the usual food divisions.  I have used numerous recipes from this little book including the fudge, custard, jelly roll and certain sauces; in fact, I don't see anything particularly old-fashioned about it and all the ingredients are, as one would expect, readily available and basic.  You won't be needing a kitchen pantry stocked with quinoa or asiago cheese and the fanciest the sugar gets is calling for brown.
 The Robin Hood Prize Winning Recipes cook book with recipes selected by Rita Martin is a real winner, too.  All the bread, pie, cake, torte, pudding and cookie recipes are basic, home-made fare and are a great resource for any baker.  Rita writes in her introduction that if your friend borrows this book you must make her cross her heart and hope to die that she'll return it.  How sweet is that!  Certainly speaks to a different, more naive era.
Both of these books are available from  The Robin Hood spiral bound edition, which is what I have, is now a collectible and worth about $90 (though I'm sure for that kind of money it would have to be in much better condition than mine); a paperback edition sells for about ten dollars.  The Carnation book is also available for about ten dollars and as a collectible it is worth $20.  Both books, though compiled many decades ago, are great additions to any home cook book library, I think.   

Friday 6 June 2014

It's All About Me or You

One of my colleagues rushed up to me in the hallway and said, oh I know how it looks now but give it a week and I will look more like myself.  I think I looked kind of blank because she continued to tell me she had just gotten a hair cut during lunch break and it felt shorter than usual to her.  I frankly had not noticed anything different about her hair.  But I rushed to assure her it and she looked fine.
Another time I was eating in a mall food court; I was living alone for a few months away from family working out a term of study leave.  I'd just gotten my weekly well I remember this...New York fries and a large diet coke.  I turned with my tray, someone zipped in front of me, the tray shook and my food landed on the floor.  I immediately bent to pick it up and take it to the garbage bin, all the while cheeks burning with embarrassment. I then furtively glanced around thinking at that point that all eyes in the food court would be on me.  Not so, in fact, I could see only one fellow that seemed  to be watching me and he gave me a little smile as if to say hey that's too bad.  Everyone else were minding their own business talking and eating. With being assured that I was not a laughing stock, I proceeded to line up and get my food all over again, sit and eat it, while feeling the redness slowly ebb from my face.  I guess nothing was going to get between me and my fries.
I've just read that both these stories make for good examples of what psychologists call the "spotlight effect".  This begins with the fact that we are the center of our own little universes and we assume everyone else is also as wrapped up in us and our actions as we are.  We therefore greatly exaggerate in our minds how much people are watching and noticing what we are doing. In fact, for the most part, the opposite is true. 
This phenomena has been confirmed in many research studies and I guess it makes sense.  No one is thinking about me as much as I am myself. 

Thursday 5 June 2014

Linda Spalding's The Purchase

What Was On My Night Table

 Another book I had placed a hold on at the library and had forgotten about by the time it was 'my turn' to get it... this is The Purchase by Linda Spalding and it appeared on the Governor General's Awards for Fiction, 2012 list.  Linda Spalding is a wonderful writer and this book is another testimony to her very capable writing abilities.
 It tells the story of the trials and tribulations of a young Quaker, Daniel, who takes his family deep into 18th century Virginia to begin homesteading.  He inadvertently trades his favourite horse for an 8 year old boy who is black (the "purchase").  Daniel is mortified this has come about as it is against his moral and religious teachings to be a part of the slavery movement.  He tends to blame the fact of this purchase for the numerous problems that befall him and his family as they go about trying to make a life for themselves in the wilderness.
I did not get a good sense of any of the characters in this book.  I have since read them described as 'faint' and I would agree with this.  Right to the end, I did not have a good fix on each of them.   In particular, I found Daniel to be a weak character and as often happens in these 'frontier' or 'pioneer' novels, the women are the real backbone of the family.  They seemed to have the necessary backbone to take care of things, were decisive and had the strength of their convictions, something Daniel was lacking.  They birthed and raised children, learned to farm, became skillful at all sorts of crafts and fed the family all against the brutality of certain neighbours and harshness of  life in the wilderness itself.
 For me Daniel was an interesting character at the start of the novel but then he faded; I was irritated by his longing for his horse while seemingly not to be as caring about his own sons.  The book handled slavery in a way we have read before, with scenes and instances of  incomprehensible brutality.
This book has received many accolades and has been described as 'powerful'.  I did not find it so; however, I thought it was a good read and enjoyed most of it right to the end.    

Wednesday 4 June 2014

Dame's Rocket and Furry Children

Dame's Rocket

 It took some researching before I was able to find the name of this plant and I hope I have it correct.  It is tall, leaves alternating, flowers are flat with four petals, and form themselves into an umbrella shape at the top of the plant.  The flowers are that unnameable colour between purple/lilac and violet. I'm thinking this is a wild flower called Dame's Rocket.  Apparently it is quite a renegade because all you read about it is negative; usually its picture is accompanied by dire warnings from the botanists to never let this grow in your garden.  It is one of those invasive species who if given half a chance will take over.  We have several thin clumps of it around the house and so far, it just looks pretty.  I've been pleased to see the butterflies and bees seem to like it too.  Pass any farmer's field and you  notice the sides bordered by an abundance of Dame's Rocket; it makes a pretty purplish show. I wonder will it try to creep into the corn rows which are starting to get high now, btw.
  Lately it hasn't been too hot.  We get to open the windows. Opening all the windows to achieve a cross breeze is so important when you live with two big dogs.  The air can (and does) smell so doggy; I don't complain (too much) because our dogs mean so much to us.
  Did you hear the Pope warned people to not make children of their dogs and cats because in the process they might forget to actually have children?  I wonder what the figures on that are.

 Dogs and cats make such wonderful companions there's no denying.  I know we dearly love our furry fellows.  Just take a look at how much I love them.  And when the vet saw them last month she gave me a lecture on not 'loving' them so much.  In my defense, I don't give them a lot of treats and I think it should be factored in that they are getting older and not running quite as much as they used to.  After cutting back just a little, I notice Murphy is already starting to get her 'middle' back. 

Monday 2 June 2014

Enough Smiling and Head-Nodding

The spreading wild columbine, in shaded areas a flimsy carpet of bronzy reds

 I've told you I had a career that spanned four decades.  It involved a number of staffs as well as  working with the public in general.  Like many jobs, mine came with its share of obligatory dinners, meetings, and social gatherings.  I'd never in my life acquired the necessary backbone to refuse any of these...someone might feel hurt.  Who?  Who are these people?  I wonder about it all now.  I know I had adopted the 'go along to get along' credo early in my life; in fact, it was and is part of my basic make-up.  Though I often heard women say they were loners, I know I really was one. I often felt socially inept, certainly never one of the crowd and to tell you the truth I didn't mind being on the outside watching. However, when having to mingle, if you could have seen me at those times you would have winced at how awkward I was probably looking.  At least that's how I was feeling.  No matter how amused I was, I always would rather have been home.
Yes, I feel like during those years of my life, I had enough smiling and head-nodding to last a lifetime.  The cumulative effect of those feelings was that when I retired I promised myself I would not put myself in any social situations again that I did not want.  I've heard of lots of women who feel like this...age gives their feelings a legitimacy, validates their unwillingness to put up with whatever it is that they feel they've had to go along with to get by.

 Of course to write this down makes it seem more dramatic somehow than it really all was, which is so often the case. 

Sunday 1 June 2014

The Opening Up of Summer

I've been standing  at the living room window for ten minutes catching up with the number of birds around the front lawn.  Yesterday I filled the cement bird bath and immediately any number of birds are drinking from it; no one appears to need a bath as yet though.  It seems not long ago I was lamenting the frozen, barren earth and now, like a giant earthly switch flipped, it has all changed.  The leaves have opened, the grass has sprung up as green as ever, and the birds, bees and butterflies are all winging their way through the air over the very spots that had been dead to the world a very short while ago.  How does it all do that?
Our neighbour, the farmer, is spending long hours on his plow these days; I catch glimpses of him roaming up and down the field to the right of us. Sometimes I can hear the whine of one machine or another.  He must at the end of the day look at the miles of perfectly straight lines and feel great satisfaction.  It makes me think about how the earth gets planted and then replanted over and over and still manages to grow more.  I'm in awe of that. 
I've had this Carlyle quote in my notebook for a few years; this year it finally seems very appropriate.

Long stormy spring-time

wet, contentious April,

winter chilling the lap of very May,

but at length the season of summer does come.

                                 Thomas Carlyle