Monday, April 30, 2012

Garden News

rake and tulips

This past weekend, the weather was just about perfect.  Sunny, warm, and no wind.  Out in the garden, these tulips are blooming.  I planted them four autumns ago-when Amy was in the 6th grade. Her school held a fundraiser, and I picked out an assortment of bulbs.  Nothing ever came up, until now.  These tulips are so pretty with their ruffled edges and bright orange red color. The rake once belonged to my parents.  It’s one of my favorite garden decorations.

bottle garden

I was cleaning up my bottle garden and I was delighted to see that a tiny plant was growing inside the small green bottle.  It seems that Mother Nature improvised her own green house.  When it warms up a bit more, I’ll carefully remove the bottle and see just what kind of plant it is.


My free bowling ball is looking more comfortable in the role of garden ornament now.  In a few weeks, the surrounding plants will be tall enough to hide it, and I’ll be rolling it to a new location.  Now that it’s retired from the bowling alley, I wonder if it misses life in the fast lane? 


And finally, here I am in the rhubarb patch.  All the rain and sun lately has really made it grow.  A lot…

Hope you don’t mind a little Monday leg pulling! 

Have a great week, dear readers!

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Real Stars


Looking through an old wartime booklet I have from 1942 called Make and Mend for Victory, I was simply amazed, to put it mildly, by what women of that era did.

Sure, when wartime shortages hit, they used their scraps, or rehemmed a dress to give it new life, or darned a hole in a pair of socks-those were the easy ways to reuse and save.

But they did so much more, too. They really were clever, and resourceful in ways many of us wouldn’t dream of being today, and the one example that for me, stands out- partly because it so poignant-is that they took their absent husbands, fathers, sons and brothers shirts, pants and suits, and recut them to make new clothes for themselves and their children. 


Here are some pages from Make and Mend for Victory-and I apologize for the poor picture quality, but I didn’t want to compress this little booklet in the scanner-it is starting to fall apart.





Given the circumstances of that time, I’m sure there were tears on more than one occasion, too, as a beloved’s suit was repurposed to make clothing for another member of the family.

This is just one more reason I find that generation so inspiring!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Rhubarb Bread


I love quick breads, like banana bread, pumpkin bread, and apple bread.  They are fast and easy to make, and they are so good-especially when still warm from the oven.

This time of year, the favorite quick bread around my house is rhubarb bread-made with our very own rhubarb.

Amy and I picked the first rhubarb of the season this week, and whipped up this recipe.  If you are able to get some rhubarb this spring, I encourage you to try this recipe.


In order to make this bread, the rhubarb has to be cooked down into sauce first, but this is so easy to do.

I sliced the rhubarb into half inch pieces, totaling about 3 cups worth, added about a tablespoon of water and a third cup sugar and cooked it on medium heat for around 15 minutes or so, until the rhubarb had the consistency of apple sauce.

I remember having rhubarb sauce at my Great Aunt Olga’s house.  And I remember that I really loved it too, so  any sauce I don’t need for my bread will not go to waste.

And now, to make the bread:

Rhubarb Bread

1  1/4  cup flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1  teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4  teaspoon cloves

1 egg

3/4  cup brown sugar

1/4  cup oil

1  1/4  cup rhubarb sauce

Here’s what I do:  I mix the egg, brown sugar and oil together and beat well.  I then add the salt, baking soda, and cinnamon and cloves, beat some more, and then add the rhubarb sauce and beat that in.  Finally, I add the flour and mix until it’s well blended.

To prepare the 9 x 5 loaf pan, I line the bottom with a piece of waxed paper cut to the size of the bottom of the pan, and then I spray the pan with cooking spray.

Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Turn out onto a wire rack and cool.

Rhubarb bread, like any quick  bread can be dressed up with the addition of nuts, dried fruit or even chocolate chips.  One variation of this bread is to add walnuts, and I can’t mention walnuts without thinking of my dear grandma and her walnut tree.

Happy baking!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Full Circle

retro me

I was going through several boxes of photographs the other day, looking for a picture to use in another post, and I found this snapshot of myself, taken more than a few years ago.  Those sunglasses!

I remember how much I hated my hair at the time.  I always felt like I had an unruly octopus on my head.  And I also remember my attempts to tame my hair, with blow dryers and hairspray, short haircuts and wind tunnel tested gel.

Last fall, I decided to quit fighting my hair and embrace it for what it is.  I gave up all of my attempts to make it look like I thought it should look, and now, it pretty much looks like a slightly shorter version of my hair in the picture.  And I’m ok with that.

I’ve come full circle-learning to live with the very thing I hated in the beginning.  And not only live with, but love too.  That’s some octopus, after all.

I’m trying to apply the same strategy to my life.  I know when I was in my late 20’s, I started to dwell on certain personality traits that I did not like in myself and wished to change.  For instance, I’m fairly introverted, I’m not much of a risk taker, or a “mover and shaker,”  I don’t always speak up for myself when I should, and so on.  When I would compare myself to women who had those qualities that I lacked, I fell short, and the old self esteem would take a nose dive.

But I want to come full circle with myself, and I think I am finally getting there.  Embracing my quirks and learning to appreciate the qualities that make me, well, me. 

Embracing who we are-and our strengths and weaknesses, is something we all deserve to do.  I think part of the reason I’ve decided to try harder to appreciate myself is that I have a daughter who is now 16, and I don’t want her to ever feel that who she is isn’t good enough.

So, in conclusion to my little pep talk today, I ask you: Where are you in your journey?  I’m hoping for a lot of full circles.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Happy Earth Day

Amy's sky

I went out into my backyard early this morning, hoping to get a picture of some sparrows I’d spied from my kitchen window.   They were hopping around the remnants of last year’s garden, busy gathering bits of dried stalks and stems for their nest. Even though I sat quietly on a garden bench to get a closer look, the sparrows proved to be wary of me and would not return as long as they had me for an audience.

I was thinking about Earth Day, and how the image of an optimistic pair of birds planning for their future family seemed the perfect way to commemorate today.  The fact that they would not cooperate makes me happy in a way.  These birds were simply doing what birds do in the spring.  Carrying on with ensuring future generations of their species.  Not creating photo ops for me.

I know it sounds like an over simplification, but I want to think that there will always be birds building nests, and enough trees and clean open sky for them to exist in.  Yes, my family and I recycle. Walk or ride our bikes when possible.  We do what we can for the planet, and I’m sure the birds would be thanks us if they could.  But our yard and garden, without any deliberate planning on our part, has become a haven for not only various birds, but a host of insects too-and the occasional skunk or squirrel who happen to find it.   Reusable shopping bags are wonderful, but these creatures need a place to call home.


So today, instead of trying to get my bird picture, I will tend my garden.  While I’m working I will admire my rhubarb-now 3 feet tall, and also plant some burning bush seedlings that were set out in someone’s driveway-marked with that most beloved of words:



And that, my dear readers, will be the subject of a whole other post.

Happy Earth Day!


The picture of the burning bush was sourced from the net.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

In Print


It’s funny sometimes, how things work out.  As I mentioned in my Monday blog post, months ago I was contacted by an editor at The Old Farmer’s Almanac, asking permission to use my photo of a glass light shade in an upcoming spring garden publication.

When the early March release date arrived, I started looking for the magazine.  And I looked everywhere.  I even looked in Hawaii when we were there over spring break.  And nothing. I figured I was destined to never know if my picture had actually been included.

And then yesterday, my husband and I were at Safeway picking up a few items.  I was holding a gallon of milk and a dozen eggs.  And standing there, in the checkout line, I just happened to look to my left.  And just like that, there it was!

The conveyor belt was crowded with the items from the customer ahead of us, but I managed to make room for the milk and eggs,  take a copy of the magazine from it’s holder, and begin to search for my picture.  With each passing page, my heart started to sink.  I laughed it off.  Just because I was asked didn’t mean they would really use it, I told myself.  And then, on the last page of the article where I expected it to be, I saw it-my photo!

So thanks for bearing with me while I crow about this, but I was pretty excited! 

Anyone want my autograph?  (I am totally kidding!) 

Seriously, thanks for your offers to look for the magazine for me-I appreciate it!!  :)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Subtle Side of Barkcloth


When I think of barkcloth, I imagine bold design and color-lots and lots of color.

My friend Lisa from ZiBagz recently sent me a piece of barkcloth that is an example of the fabric’s softer side.  This Mid Century piece is really lovely, and immediately had me combing through my stash of lining fabric and buttons.  The bag above it what I came up with.

And speaking of Lisa, and her shop…

Her bags are amazing!  I can always appreciate and admire original and innovative design, and she has that down in spades.  She is also committed to using vintage and repurposed fabrics-what a great way to do something good for our planet!




I love her original watercolor paintings too…


I recommend you visit ZiBagz and take a look.

Thanks Lisa!!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Happy Monday!

grape hyacinth

My favorite flower is blooming! 

I could probably say that all flowers are my favorite flowers.  Every time I see a gorgeous blossom I’m struck speechless by the artistry of Mother Nature.  Incredible.

But the modest grape hyacinth holds a special place in my heart.  I have memories of admiring it as a child as I would wander around the gardens of grandmothers, aunts, and my own mom.  I’m always happy when these demure beauties appear.  They tell me that the rest of my garden is starting to awaken, and that the riot of color that summer days bring is not far off.

Here’s another picture of grape hyacinths-not taken by me, but some unknown photographer who must have had an appreciation for these flowers too.


Another sure sign that warmer weather is on the horizon are my rhubarb plants.

We returned from Hawaii on March 24th.  It was warm the next day, so Amy and I went outside and decided to see if the rhubarb was coming up yet.  It was, but barely peeking above the soil.

Here is the rhubarb now, just a few weeks later.  It now measures about a foot and a half tall!  Our oven is going to be busy soon baking rhubarb crisp and strawberry rhubarb pie!


Last Friday, after one of the longest dry spells I’ve ever had at finding second hand pay dirt, I found this pretty little piece of mid century chalkware.  I already collect chalkware fruit, but this is my first piece of floral chalkware.  I haven’t decided where to hang it yet because it would look nice in several rooms in my house.  What makes this chalkware such a lucky find is that it is in near mint condition, and the flowers are so colorful and pretty they are favorites of mine now too!


And finally today, I need your help.  Last fall, I was contacted by one of the editors at The Old Farmer’s Almanac asking my permission to use my photograph of a glass light shade  in their 2012 spring garden guide.  My problem is that I can’t find a copy of the magazine anywhere.  I don’t know if my picture was actually used or not, but I’m curious.  If any of you have a chance to look through a copy, could you please see if my picture is included?



Have a great week, dear readers!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Which Way?


I don’t have a very good sense of direction, and I don’t know my north from my south, so to speak. I think a good sense of direction is something a person either has or doesn’t have, and I don’t. Mine is so bad, that I even have a hard time figuring out the direction that the wind is blowing-even though we have a weathervane.

When I lived with my Grandmother, she would say something like “Valerie, would you go to the kitchen and get my cherry pitter from that north cupboard?” Huh? Off I’d go, searching every corner of her kitchen as quickly and silently as possible, hoping I’d hit pay dirt right off the bat.

My husband Stuart likes to tease me by saying that the town we live in is twice as big for me as it is for most other residents, because I often get turned around when we are out and about, and I think we are in a new part of the city.  And as far as reading a map goes, well lets just say that it doesn’t matter if it is upside down or right side up—I always get confused by the fact that north can be any direction I point the old Rand McNally.

A couple years ago I asked Stuart if he would make me one of those wooden direction signs shaped like an arrow, and with the word HAWAII carved into the surface. “Which direction would it point?” I asked, taking in some of the beautiful views from our yard. “That way.” he gestured-straight at the neighbor’s garage.

I may not have a very good sense of direction, but I DO have a great imagination!

What about you?  Is your sense of direction better than mine?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies


If you are ever suffering from a lack of chocolate in your diet, I strongly recommend these cookies-and believe me, I’ve been making these long enough to know what I’m talking about.  The required dosage is up to you. 


Chocolate Chip Cookies

Heat oven to 375.

Mix thoroughly in bowl:
1/3 c. soft shortening
1/3 c. butter
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar (packed)
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla

Stir together in another bowl:
1 1/2 c. Gold Medal flour
1/2 tsp. soda
1/2 tsp. salt

Mix these dry ingredients into the shortening mixture.

Thoroughly work in:
1/2 c. chopped walnuts (Walnuts are optional. You may double the amount of chocolate chips instead-it’s a perfectly good substitute!)
1 c. (6 oz. package) of chocolate chips

Drop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned but still soft. Cool on a wire rack. Makes 4-5 dozen cookies.

If you can, try to save a few cookies for the other members of your family.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Giving Back

night palms_thumb[1]

In 1901 Teddy Roosevelt said, “Walk softly and carry a big stick.” At least I thought that was what he said until I researched the quote this morning. As it turns out, the actual words Roosevelt used were “speak softly.”

What does this have to do with today’s post? Well, I was going to paraphrase Roosevelt’s quote a bit and say,

“Tread lightly and carry a big bag.”

Even if Roosevelt didn’t exactly say it, it sums up today’s post rather nicely.

I’ve been to Hawaii several times now. Seven times, to be exact. While I’ve always been aware that every year hundreds of thousands of people choose Hawaii as their vacation destination, I never really thought too much about the implications for the Islands in terms of the environmental impact this created. Last year when we went to Maui, we stopped by a little market to pick up a few things. The people ahead of us bought a bag of chips and a six pack of beer, and the clerk put their items into a large box. Not surprisingly, this amused the customers, but I was surprised at the passionate response by the clerk. She explained that Hawaii was literally being choked to death by all of the plastic bags that ended up in the water and in the landfill.

Those lightweight plastic grocery store bags are now banned, and this year, I saw a real effort by businesses to try to encourage people to reuse paper bags, or use reusable bags. However, I still saw tourists who were toting half a dozen of the heavier plastic boutique bags-one from each shop they had visited-and I cringed. There was a lot more to cringe about too-like the destruction of the coral reefs by too many snorkelers, and water scarcity due to high water usage, and so on.

I don’t want the tone of this post to be dire and depressing, but I realized I wanted to do something. As a tourist myself, I know I make an impact. It can’t be helped. But I want to give something back to the place on earth that I love like no other.


And so, I decided to make my first ever barkcloth reusable shopping bag, and donate the profits to the Nature Conservancy to aid their conservation efforts in Hawaii.



Hawaii has given me so much. Helping protect her is the least I can do.

Monday, April 2, 2012

High Flight


Coming back from Hawaii a week ago Saturday, I took the window seat for an hour or so, and I found myself riveted to the view beyond the small square of  glass. For as far as I could see there was nothing but the blue Pacific, the cottony clouds, and that sky.

Whenever I see an expanse of endless sky, this poem comes to mind.  It was written by 19 year old RAF Spitfire pilot John Gillespie Magee, Jr  in 1941, just a few months before he was killed in a mid air collision.

High Flight

 Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth

Of sun-split clouds, --and done a hundred things

You have not dreamed of --Wheeled and soared and swung

High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there

I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung

My eager craft through footless halls of air...

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue

I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace

Where never lark or even eagle flew --

And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod

The high untrespassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.


Here’s wishing all of you a wonderful and inspiring week!