Cool Blog

Just a quick post today, as it’s a full-torque sewing day for me. If I get my projects done, I’ll post photos later.
I stumbled across this great blog yesterday, if you’re a DIY type like me. Yeah, it’s not from a little home blogger, but from the king (He prefers “Dean”) of DIY himself, Bob Vila.

A Riddle

Q:What’s made out of scrap wood, sorts dirt from debris, and is an incredibly useful addition to your toolshed? Answer: A riddle.
Yup. That’s all folks. Ba-dam-ching!
It’s pretty simple to make: 4 pieces of scrap 2 x 3 or 2 x 4 stood on edge, eight screws to hold the two-bys together at the corners, a piece of rat wire sufficient to cover the bottom of the resulting square or rectangle, and a bunch of staples (the kind you drive in with a hammer) to hold the wire to the frame. You can make it whatever size you like: big enough to cover your wheelbarrow, small enough to use over a plant starting tray.

Real Friends and Imaginary Family

2x wr

So if you’ve been reading my blog, you know we’ve gone through a rough patch. Due to Ralph’s medical issues and the job market, we’ve moved twice in the past 3 years and became serial home buyers in the process. Just when it looked like the Oregon renters were about to buy the house, they called and said they’d bought…a different house. The North Carolina renters had fallen behind on their rent, but were constantly promising to catch up, and then failing to make promised payments. They just left, still owing some money, but at least they left the place spotless. (The only way to keep me from going after them for the rest of their debt. Whatever works.)

One bright spot: I’d been quilting and showing photos of my work to friends. They’re starting to buy wall hangings and crib quilts. I’m getting offers to show my work. Life is good, right?

Well, on Wednesday, my day off, I cut up a bunch of fabric and set up the machine. I only had a couple of pieces to go on the rainbow double wedding ring I’d promised a co-worker, and had gotten some interest in piecework-embellished tote bags from other co-workers. Two days to payday. I could knock them out.

Plugged in the machine, a trusty Pfaff my mother bought in 1963, old enough that all the internal parts are metal, not the cheaper plastic they use now. Flipped on the light. Put the pedal to the metal.

Bupkis. Nada. No sign of life from the motor. Life decided to mess with my head yet again and told me, “That light at the end of the tunnel? Train.”

That set off a spate of research and a trip to the nearest sew ‘n vac, about 15 miles away. Two weeks, the lady said. Two weeks without the means to complete my projects. Financial distress didn’t stop me from hitting the Hancock Fabrics in the same strip mall. (Yes, one can become addicted to fabric.) Picked up a half a yard of black and white print on sale and fat quarters of a gray calico with little red and orange stripes, just the thing for “Winter” in a series of seasonal quilts I have in mind. Then I did a little more research and got a cheapo Singer to tide me over the two weeks, planning to sell it on Craigslist when I got mine back. Ten bucks off if you open one of their credit cards! I bit.

The cashier was a very sweet elderly woman who had never learned to type. It took a while as she hunted and pecked her way through my eight-letter name and five letter address. Thank God I’m not named Kryszinskiopoulis.

Had my usual fantasies on the way home. This is embarrassing to admit, but since my daughter announced her engagement last year, I’ve been jonesing for a granddaughter. You must understand that their plan is to finish their educations, pay down student debt, and get their careers on a firm footing before replicating themselves, which I applaud. I have no desire to watch them stress financially while bringing a little one into the world, but as I walk through stores cute little outfits jump out at me. Books and toys accost me, screaming “Buy me! She will love me!” I see prints in the fabric store and think of cute little dresses.

Of course, Nathan is one of four brothers, no sisters, so the odds are against the whole granddaughter thing. But Ariel’s dad is one of four brothers, no sisters.

So there.

When she turns 5 or so, the age at which I started handing pins to my mother as she laid out patterns on cloth, my little Lily would start handing pins to me and go home with outfits. Maybe I’d even hang on to the machine (So cute! So little! So pink!) and give it to her.

Jebus. She, or more likely he, won’t even be born for 3 or 4 years and I’ve already named her without consulting either future parent. Talk about fantasy. But back to sewing. I set up my cute little sewing machine, which had a hilariously small foot pedal, like a toy version, and even had a skinny little toy-sized electrical cord, I put in the cloth and set the pedal to the metal.

Bupkis. Nada. It did click a couple of times, though. I looked closer. There was a switch on the front, labeled, “Low-Off-High” Of course! Flipped the switch to Low.

The damned thing took off sewing on its own. The foot pedal had no influence on it at all. Flipped the switch back, and of course it went too far, onto High, and just galloped across the fabric. Behold the stitch ripper!

I made a few attempts at seams, gaining a little control, but decided that giving my potential granddaughter a sewing machine that made the user want to drop the F-bomb every five minutes would not be an act of kindness, and might, in fact, destroy our entire imaginary relationship. I took it back to the store. That, of course, took two tries, since what I thought was the receipt was really the receipt for the credit card application.

Fortunately, there are friends and kindness in the world. I announced my need for a loaner sewing machine to my crit group, and Voila! Jason called his wife Lisa and she agreed to let me use hers.

It’s good to have friends.

ps–I reached for the phone to upload a picture of the double wedding ring wallhanging. No phone. Further, no wallet. Where had I left it?

Last used at the grocery store. Last seen in the shopping cart. I blazed out the door.

“Good evening,” said the cashier. “How are you doing tonight?”

“Not so well. Has anyone turned in a blue clutch purse?”

“And a phone in a blue case?”

Amazing. The wallet and phone had been turned in by two different people. I am so blessed. Despite what you may read in the headlines, there are so many good people in the world.

So sometimes the light is the end of the tunnel, after all.

The Founding Father of American Agriculture


Listening to my local NPR station on the way home last night, I was lucky to tune in to in interview with a gentleman from the State Ag Extension Office and Peter Hatch, the Director of Gardens and Grounds at Monticello. Rather than blather on about Jefferson’s importance, not only in writing the Declaration of Independence, serving as the first Secretary of State and third President, founding the University of Virginia, designing his own house, in addition to his influence on American agriculture, (Did the man ever sleep?) I’ll just refer you here:

Monticello is definitely on my bucket list.

Potato Experiment

One of the blogs I follow, and I wish I could remember which one, had a cool idea for maximizing potato yields in small spaces. She built round bins of wire, filled them with alternating layers of compost and straw, and planted potatoes in the compost. This would allow for four or five layers of potatoes in each bin. That reminded me of a couple of things.

The first was our compost bin, which happens to be round and made of left over 4 foot wire fencing. We’d put off turning it until we could find some pallets to make a new bin. After an entire spring during which I nagged my husband long-distance while he assured me that pallets were “everywhere,” he finally decided that it was time to turn the compost, at which point, pallets were nowhere to be found. Go figure. So we have a good-sized bin of cold, half-finished compost.

The other was my first compost bin, a pit, really, in my mother’s back yard. She lived on St Simon’s Island, Georgia, essentially a large sandbar barely above sea level. Rather than building a bin, I just dug a hole in the sand, and following the instructions in Peacock Manure and Marigolds acquired a bag of cocoa bean hulls and started layering them with kitchen scraps. (The lawn was so pathetic that grass clippings were not an option. I’m not even sure that we bothered to mow it.)

Mom, as usual, thought I was nuts, “on drugs,” or led astray yet again by “your little friends.”

Until the potato sprouted. It was a sweet potato, gone funky in the veggie drawer. I tossed it into the heap, expecting the bacteria to have its way with the poor thing.

Instead it grew luxuriously, producing the best sweet potatoes Mom had ever eaten.

Another day, another convert.

So there we were when my fellow blogger reminded me what to do with that bin. I planted 14 Yukon Gold potatoes around the edge, covering them with garden soil. It’s not the multi-layered maximized use of garden space of the original, but it is a way to turn non-garden into growing space. It seems to be working, as you can see from the photo below. I’ll keep you posted.


Better Late Than Never–Posting, that is….

kiss May 25

As you can see, I’ve been busy. That lovely lady and handsome fellow are my daughter Ariel and her new husband, Nathan, just married on Saturday.

We had First Fruits today: mesclun on our sandwiches at lunch and collards for dinner.


And although I’ve been a little too preoccupied to write, the garden has continued to grow. What a difference a month makes!

collard and broccoli sets         collards may 27

May 4                                                                      May 27

Small Scale Corn

Small Scale Corn

I never had much luck with corn. Planted a few rows, watched it grow, watched the little ears tassle out, then…bupkis. I finally found the secret.

Plant in blocks. Four rows with four plants in each row, all six inches apart. The problem, you see, is pollination. If you’re growing acres of the stuff, pollen is no problem. The air is thick with it. But with limited space, rows simply don’t cut it.

So figure out how long it will take your family to eat 32 ears of corn. (That’s right, they grow two to the stalk on most varieties.) Let’s say it will take 10 days. Plant a block every 10 days. Bigger family? You can eat 32 ears in 4 days, you say? No problem, plant a block every 4 days. Start at the north end of the garden so the older, bigger stalks don’t shade the newbies. Once you’ve harvested both ears off a stalk, toss it in the compost and follow up with a cool weather crop in that spot. They’ll appreciate the shade while the days are still hot.

Corn likes rich soil, thus the bury-the-fish-head trick Squanto taught the Pilgrims. If you’re like us, with semi-trained house pets who like to dig holes, then eat or roll in what they find in them, come directly indoors and either upchuck or roll on the carpet, respectively, forget that trick. There are alternatives. If you have a fish tank, rather than pouring that disgusting, evil, nasty, stinky perfect, nitrogen-rich, free fertilizer down the drain, rinse the filter fluff in a pail of warm water, dig 6 inch deep trenches where the corn will go, and pour the stuff in there. You can toss the used charcoal in the trench. It will decompose, but the fluff won’t. Do this at least 2 weeks ahead of planting to give the goop a chance to mellow.

Fill the trenches back in, though. Your dog may not be interested in fish poop, but flies think it’s yummy.

No fish tank? No problem. You can buy fish fertilizer at your local garden store, or use that compost you’ve been collecting.

Today’s Quilt

blue hen

Not quilted yet, but at least the borders are stitched on. I started this one over 30 years ago. I picked up a quilting magazine and saw an ad for a contest: State-themed quilt squares, 50 winners, one from each state. I was living in Delaware, so I did a Blue Hen, which you know, if you’ve ever attended a UD football game,  is really a rooster. Apparently  Delaware troops were better known for the valor of their fighting cocks than their actual fighting during the Revolutionary War.
The state had a grand total of one battle, The Battle of Cooch’s Bridge, a skirmish, really, where the colonials took potshots at British troops crossing the bridge. The bridge is still there, although rebuilt in concrete, and the Cooch family still lives in the big house next door, so far as I know.

Finally found the right fabric for the border and corner blocks. Never entered the contest. Maybe next year.

How Not to Sheet Compost: Learning by Doing

We had a bumper crop of leaves last Fall, courtesy of my brother in law. Nice! Organic matter! My husband dutifully hauled them, ran them over with the mower, and spread them on the garden, along with liberal applications of wood ash from the stove. It worked for us in Oregon, right?

Not so much. The Oregon leaves had grass clippings mixed in, providing nitrogen, plus, the soil there is denser and more acidic. (Plus Ralph had a 55-gallon fish tank then, and we regularly added the sludge to the compost bin. When I tested the soil before planting this Spring, I had a shock. pH, um, a little high, at 7.5. (Too much wood ash.) Phosphorus and potassium? Fabulous! Nitrogen? Zilch. Ouch. The decomposing leaves had sucked all the nitrogen out of the soil in the process of turning into nice garden dirt.

We remedied this with bagged cow manure, but still, it’s an expensive way to learn. The cheap way to fix this is a weak ammonia solution, but we decided to keep our organic cred.

How Do You Like Them Apples?

Here’s an interesting link from Mother Jones: Did you know that there were once hundreds of apple varieties grown in the US? What happened?

And is there an alternative? Of course there is!

Makes me wish I didn’t have a row of Cedar-Apple Rust-infected cedars along the back of my yard.
cedar apple rust
Talk about your alien life forms.