Friday, December 23, 2011

Admitting the Problem

Hi. My name is Kim and I'm an addict.

They say the first step to recovery is to acknowledge the problem. Well, consider it acknowledged.

In my defense, one of my best friends is a total enabler. She's not exactly my supplier, but did call me up and let me know where to find it. Even offering to put down a deposit for me and drive me to pick it up.  I have no willpower and was unable to resist. See? It's not completely my fault. Really.

The funny thing is, I don't feel bad about it. Isn't there supposed to be some kind of guilt, or remorse? Concern for what my family is going through? I have none. Just that endorphin rush which, I suppose, is part of the addiction.

My substance of choice is cast iron, and in this case, a wooden cabinet and treadle.

Yes, I did it. Another machine. I swear, this one is my last. (I know, that's what I said after the featherweight, but this time I REALLY mean it)

How could I resist? A 1904 Singer 66 treadle machine with Egyptian Lotus design on it- stunning! Mary found it tucked in a corner of a musty smelling antique shop, a bit dusty and in need of a good cleaning. Still working, according to the shop owner, it had belonged to a 92 year old woman who had just died. Clearly, it has seen a lot of use, and at some point was converted to electric with a motor and light.

After heaving it into the back of the car and getting it home the stripping began. I wish I had taken a 'before' photo but I was in such a hurry to clean her up I didn't think of it. The ironwork base and treadle were quite rusty but cleaned up fairly well with a liberal spray of WD-40. The cabinet was in decent condition but definitely needed stripping. Have I mentioned how much I love my hand-held sander? It was fairly quick work and I was able to get the top and large drawer sanded down to bare wood and stained all in one afternoon.  I need to do the 4 side storage drawers but they shouldn't take too long.

I removed the machine from the cabinet and will clean and oil, and wax it. The decals are in fairly good condition for their age. After a few days of oiling the exterior I'll use some nice caranuba wax on it to give it a shine and protect the finish.

The shop owner gave me the name of a man in Salem who used to work for singer who is a good source for antique machine parts. The machine will need a new belt for both the motor and treadle as well as a rubber ring for the bobbin-winding mechanism but otherwise seems to be in good working order.  I can't wait to finish the cabinet and take her for a test sew!  

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Mouse in the House

Sometimes life has a way of delivering exactly what you need, even if you are a cat.

One morning this week when I came down to make coffee, I noticed all 3 of the kitties in the kitchen. Unusual, but I didn't think too much of it, making a beeline for the coffee maker. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Gomer  lurch awkwardly across the room. Oh no, I thought, is he having a seizure or something? Lo and behold, he was after a mouse, which he then paraded proudly around the room, carrying in his mouth. Oh lordy!

He carried it into the living room and put it down, presumably to further enjoy the chase. The mouse ran directly under the couch. It must have been quite a sight, the 3 felines and myself all peering under the couch from different angles.

Mr Mouse made a dash for it and within seconds Gomer had him in his mouth, doing the victory lap, only to set him down again.  More chasing ensued. You'd never have guessed Gomer was 16, the years fell away as he did what cats love to do best. Gracie and Millie seemed willing to take a back seat and let Gomer have his moment in the sun. They enjoyed the chase but deferred to him.

Finally I was able to corral the little creature in a plastic cup. He was definitely befuddled and terrified but I didn't see any wounds on him. I brought him outside where he took a second to get his bearings and then ran off under a pile of leaves. I hope he survived and wasn't any worse for the wear. And that he learned his lesson to stay out of our house!

For the rest of the day Gomer seemed to be on a kitty high, reliving his eventful morning. Maybe it's the medication, or the mouse encounter, or both; whatever it is his appetite is  better and he's definitely more active. Who knew a little thing like a mouse could be such good medicine for an old codger?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Merry Christmas to Me

Ever since I became aware of their existence I've always admired and had a secret longing for the Singer Featherweight. Years ago when I was taking a quilting class a fellow student had one and the teacher ooooh'd and aaaah'd over it.  The class immediately gathered around and was given a rundown as to why these machines are so coveted amongst quilters and machine enthusiasts.

They are small, weighing in at only 11 lbs and fit easily into a carrying case. Having been made before the age of "everything is plastic" they're all metal (except for the drive belt) and require very little maintenance. Because the machine is so simple, they are easy to repair; there were quite a few produced from the 30's to the 60's so parts are readily available. In addition to being sturdy little workhorses, they are very pretty, with their shiny black enamel surfaces and gold lettering and scrollwork. Their value is determined not by their ability to sew, but by the condition of the enamel and gold paint.

I happened to be browsing ebay when a Featherweight in what looked to be very good condition appeared, which was reasonably priced. Because these machines are highly desirable and collectible, they can be quite expensive. I closed my eyes and put in a bid once I realized that the location was a mere hour and a half from our house. I decided to leave it to the fates and not bid or check again until the next morning.

Lo and behold, I won the auction! Buyers remorse immediately set in and I was sure it would be in much worse condition than I expected or that there was some major mechanical problem with the machine. Expectations lowered, I arranged to pick it up over the weekend.

I was relieved and delighted to find that it was indeed in very good condition and after a bit of fiddling with the bobbin and upper thread  tensions it sews perfectly, like the day it was made. The motor truly purrs. The machine needed a bit of cleaning and there was some old tape residue on the platform, but once that was removed and a coat of wax applied, it  looks beautiful. There are a few scratches in the paint, as you'd expect from a 60+ year old machine that has been used, but the scrollwork and lettering are in great shape. The provided manual gives detailed instructions on oiling the moving parts and where to grease the gears. I love that it's possible to provide my own maintenance for the machine. If well taken care of, it should be running smoothly for another 60 years.

In order to take it for a test run, I finished sewing the Christmas gift for my mother-in-law on it. Amazing!  Does this mean I'm not going to use my gorgeous, computerized, state-of-the-art modern machine? Heck no! I love my Janome which still runs perfectly after  7 years. There are certain advantages to modern technology and I love working with it. Though it is portable, it's very heavy and not something I'd want to lug around, if not for the weight then out of fear that I'd upset some of the computerized parts with too much jostling.

I have no problem rationalizing this frivolous purchase. I didn't need another, since I have a terrific sewing machine that has never given me a day of trouble (along with 2 other antique Singers.....hmmmm, do I have a problem?)  I will eventually downsize and sell the other Singer machines, but for now I'm just so excited to have a little piece of coveted quilting history.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Unexpected Gift

I've been lucky enough to live with some of the best cats one could ever imagine. After adopting the first, Miss Kitty, who was only with us for 5 years due to a mysterious cardiac condition, we were blessed with Charlotte and Benji. Then along came Gomer- an "unplanned adoption" whom Wilson and I shamelessly guilted Joe into agreeing to. I can't speak for Joe but I know I've never regretted the manipulation, even for a moment.

Initially he was so sick from an upper respiratory infection (something not uncommon in shelter cats) in addition to his "man surgery" we were quite concerned. Several trips to the vet for exams and fluids along with the antibiotics finally paid off; after 10 days of sequestration Gomer was finally ready to come out and meet the rest of the family. Once he was up and about there was quite a bit of sniffing underneath the door by Benji and Charlotte so they had exchanged scented messages, but no face-to-face meetings because we didn't want to infect Charlotte and Benji with whatever illness Gomer had.

Introductions went very well and Gomer assimilated into the family without any trouble. True to his ginger color, he was affable and affectionate. He and Benji hit it off and enjoyed playing outside and snuggling together inside. After hearing many disaster stories of attempts to add a new cat to households over the years I'm amazed that he was accepted so well, but am grateful there wasn't even a hiss or a swat.

This all happened back in 1995, when Wilson was in kindergarten. Over the years  Gomer accompanied us on walks to school (along with Benji and sometimes Charlotte- all 3 of our  cats were very dog-like) and enjoyed playing in the yard but always came in at night to sleep with Wilson. He's had his mishaps over the years, including a nasty row with Whitey Bulger one summer (though Benji's left ear took the brunt of those battles) as well as a mysterious bite at the base of his tail, which we always suspected Benji of, but could never prove. Despite fiercely defending his territory he never was anything but sweet and loving to us.

Now he remains the last one of our Original Three, not surprising since he was the younger than Benji and Charlotte by a few years. He's 16 by the vet's estimation, no small feat for an in-and-outdoor cat. These days, he spends most of his time indoors curled up in his favorite bed. His once voracious appetite has dwindled to picking at his food and several trips to the vet over the past 6 months have showed continued weight loss. Sadly, the vet thinks he has lymphoma, which is causing the weight loss, since most other diagnoses have been ruled out. We won't definitively confirm the suspicion since we wouldn't opt for treatment at his age, which would consist of chemotherapy. The plan is to keep him as happy and comfortable as possible for his remaining time.

At his age, I suppose every day is a gift, but as his family we nevertheless delude ourselves into thinking he'll be with us always.  Now that we know for sure he won't be, and that his days are numbered, instead of dwelling on the fact that he is dying, I'm finding myself being more aware of his presence and enjoying the time we have with him. Each opportunity to curl up on the couch with him, scratch his chin or give him a gentle brushing is savored.  He's adjusted to (though doesn't enjoy) the twice a day Prednisolone pills because he knows a tasty meal will follow. The drug has seemed to stimulate his appetite and he's eating better. I confess to letting him have his fill of chicken every time I cook it.

I do feel very sad at the thought of losing our long-time family member, but surprisingly it has also given me the gift of appreciating the time at hand even more. I'm thankful we've had Gomer in our family to enrich our lives in more ways than it's possible to count, and for his important reminder in his last days to remain present in the moment and not to dwell on what is in the future. Thank you, Biggin.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

What a Lucky Person I Am

As I was leaving the hospital after the last of 3 medical appointments I've had this week I felt a huge wave of gratitude wash over me. It wasn't the weather- cold and pouring rain; nor the traffic which was stop and go all the way home. It might have been the chicken dinner that was waiting for us which cooked in the crock pot while I was out, but I'm fairly certain it was the fact that I have such awesome doctors.

Cardiology was first on Monday. They were a tad concerned because my blood pressure was on the low side, something that was the norm until the past 18 months. I was instructed to lower my blood pressure medication if I had dizziness or if my BP is consistently below 100 systolic. Otherwise, they are very pleased with how I am doing and encouraged me to keep up with the exercise and yoga.

Next I went to the CF clinic. Amazingly, my PFTs weren't down as much as I thought they might be, which was great news. My physician thought that there might be some residual systemic inflammatory response after my root canal/extraction adventure and that made a lot of sense. In addition, it's allergy season for me on top of the fact that I have let myself get run down over the past several weeks. Ten days of Levoquin and a month of inhaled antibiotic with more rest and exercise. I left with my instructions feeling a huge sense of relief that I wouldn't need intravenous antibiotics. Whew!

The third, and final, appointment was with my PH doctor. He'd like to try me on a once a day anti-PH medication instead of the 3xday pills that I'm currently on. Popping an extra couple pills three times a day isn't a big deal in the scheme of things, but the fact of the matter is that it's a challenge for me to remember that mid-day dose. Taking the pills with meals doesn't help me much because I often eat 4-5 times a day and don't stick to a 3-meal a day schedule. I did  buy a medication alarm which helps tremendously, as long as I'm within earshot.

So, one dose per day with the same (or possibly better) effects will be a huge plus. The down side is that there can be more side effects, but thankfully they are short-lived for the most part. I've had some muscle/joint aches on the increased dose but as predicted they did resolve within 2 weeks. There isn't any official data on how this medication works compared to my current one, but both the doctor and nurse thought that people tended to notice more benefit and did better on it. Sign me up! It will take several weeks to get insurance approval and receive the medication from my mail order pharmacy, but at least things are underway and I should have it by mid-November.

The doctor mentioned that there are several more CF patients who have been referred to him in the past 6 months, confirming his suspicion that this type of PH is indeed linked somehow to CF. This is an area that will need to be explored and studied and is certainly an area of CF medicine which will be expanding in the future as the population ages.

My feeling of extreme gratitude on the drive home was because my doctors (all 3 of them!) and I were able to figure out what was going on and - the best part- are able to treat it. Yes, I still need oxygen for strenuous activity, but for routine things and just strolling around I'm able to get by without it.  If not for this dream team of doctors and their (and my) persistence I might have continued to decline and nobody would have thought it extraordinary- after all CF and shortness of breath in a 46 year old- not a huge shocker.  I know there have been patients who came before me who never had an explanation for a sudden decline. I am incredibly thankful to have been given my life back and to have an answer to my sudden change in health. I am very lucky indeed.

Cold Cream Recipe

Yet another home made recipe I want to hang on to and I know if I put it here I'll easily be able to put my hands on it when I want it. Not that I'll need to make it again for quite some time, mind you, but it's always good to keep it in a safe place.

Rose Water Cold Cream

0.5 oz stearic acid
0.5 oz palm oil
4 oz. sweet almond oil
rose hydrosol (rosewater)

Melt hard the oils and combine with almond oil and rose hydrosol. Stick blend until combined, allow to cool and pour into jar. Great for removing makeup!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Cleaning House

Fall seems a great time to make changes in life. I think the Jewish calendar is definitely on to something with this being their New Year. There's something intuitive about nature and the gardens closing up shop, setting in for the winter months of hibernation. Spring brings freshness and renewal, but fall is a time for clearing out and paring down.

Mother nature assisted us this past week, whether we wanted it or not, by surprising us with a 5.5" rain storm - all in a matter of 3 hours. The sump pump we have in our basement was incapable of keeping up and we accumulated 9" of water in our basement and garage, a first in the 20 years we have been in this house. Sure, there's been an inch of water after a huge snow melt or week of rain, but it was really bizarre to see things actually floating around when I descended the basement stairs.

 I should have known something was wrong even before I went down there; Gracie was head-butting my leg while I was washing up in the upstairs bathroom, something she never does. Both she and Millie were quite perturbed at all the water, so much that one of their litter boxes was afloat.

We were very fortunate that the sump was able to remove most of the water within a few hours; the rest was able to be mopped up with towels wrung into a bucket and emptied outside. Fans and the dehumidifier took care of the dampness over the next few days. Amazingly we didn't lose any major appliances- the washer/drier/furnace all worked after the water receded. The things we lost were just things we were storing - mostly because we could - some old doors, screens, carpeting and the like, all of which was tossed on trash day.

Will we miss any of it? I doubt it. None of it was being used and we probably would have gotten rid of it years ago had we not had the storage space in the basement. There may come a time in the future when we'll say: "oh, too bad we don't have such-and-such, it would have come in handy right now" but it really isn't a practical way to live life, hanging on to things "just in case". Maybe this was Mother Nature's way of reminding us that it's better to let things go and not hang on to stuff for which we have no need at the present moment.

The basement does look a lot better without all the junk laying around and it's nice to be a bit less cluttered. In the next couple weeks I'm hoping to do more work down there, getting rid of things we don't use (unless they are things Wilson will need when he sets up house) and donating them. That way, if and when we have another reminder from Mother Nature we'll already be prepared.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

To Market, to Market

The day couldn't have been any more beautiful; when we arrived at 7:30 the air was chilly but it soon warmed up with the sun on our backs and by noon we were perspiring. The weathermen had predicted 80 but it was difficult to believe when the previous day had been only 60.

This was the first farmer's market we had ever attended and it was a lot of fun. The traffic seemed a bit lighter than usual but it may have been because we were tucked over in a corner next to the tennis courts. We were, however, placed between a highly successful bakery (the aromas were intoxicating!) and a jam/preserve-maker. We bought a sticky bun and a loaf of olive bread from the bakery, both of which were amazing.

Sales were sporadic but good-enough, and it was fun to see some friends stop by. All in all, a good (but tiring) four hours. I'm looking forward to the next one in 2 weeks! Off to make some more soap......

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Last Piece to the Puzzle

During the painting process we ended up shifting some of the furniture around, which left a space next to the fireplace. I knew exactly, in my mind, what size/style of chair I wanted to put there, but it was a matter of waiting for the right situation to come along.

Then, a post on Craigslist: free chair, the next town over. I quickly replied and somehow managed to shove it into the trunk of my little hatchback. Eventually, it will get new upholstery, but for now, it's exactly what I was looking for!

Finally we have enough seating in our living room to have company. C'mon over!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Chair Part Two

The next step after removing all the old upholstery and batting was to replace the underpinning fabric. I decided to encase all the padding in unbleached muslin in order to hold everything in place. The cushions were then stapled back on the chair, and on the seat base, they had to be hand sewn with a fish-hook like needle. 

Then for the fun part: cutting out the new fabric! I chose this linen because it tied the color of the walls and rug together well. 

The back has been covered here and the base is being sewn together and applied.

Everything finished but the cushion. Turns out I saved the most difficult piece for last. After several attempts at a zipper it's finally finished- thank goodness the zipper is in the back, where nobody can see it!

I wonder what my grandmother would think of her chair now? 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Chair Affair

Anyone familiar with the children's story If You Give a Mouse a Cookie will understand why, now that the living room has been painted, it is necessary to change the curtains, artwork and also the upholstery on my grandmother's chair. Once one thing changes it's like a domino effect; everything else looks drab and dull in comparison and on it goes. The curtains were easy and I'm sure we have enough pictures around the house that we can shuffle them around and find some that complement our new decor.

My grandmother's chair was the biggest hurdle. Not wanting to pay several hundred dollars (or wait a month) to have a professional re-upholster it, I decided to give it a try. From what I'd read it's a pain in the neck but with a little elbow grease, some sewing skills and ingenuity along with a screwdriver, staple gun and new fabric shouldn't be something I can't can't handle.

First, the undressing of the chair frame:

Cushion removed to show the base of the chair.
Gracie getting one last scratch on the old fabric.

Evidence of a few other scratches, but nobody was willing to claim responsibility. We won't be having any more of that on the new chair, girls!

*insert striptease music here*

I wanted to take a lot of photos during the removal process so I'd remember in what order to put things back together. I had to be careful taking off the old upholstery so I didn't rip it because I was going to use pieces as templates from which to cut the new fabric.

The demolition only took one afternoon. There were about 10,000 tacks holding all the batting and fabric in place, but finally they were all out. Now the fun begins!

Monday, September 12, 2011

What Would You Do?

A friend of my parents was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. A perfectly healthy guy, only in his early 50s. Then suddenly this diagnosis, with a grim prognosis. There is a new treatment which can be life-extending. Who wouldn't want to buy more time in light of being given a death sentence?

Although it's not something I dwell on, the events of the past 18 months as well as having lost several close friends has made me think. What would I do? Would I grasp at that straw, no matter how fragile, to have more time? Or simply enjoy what time was there, to the fullest extent? My theoretical mind tells me I'd prefer not quantity, but quality. Extension of life comes with its drawbacks: procedures, treatments and many unpleasant complications. Is that life? Does the act of simply drawing breath, regardless of negative side effects, make it all worthwhile? At this point it's easy to say "no, I wouldn't want to live longer if I was suffering" but as my friend Paul would say "there are no atheists in a foxhole". I don't think it's possible to truly know what you would do until you are in that situation.

So rather than dwell on the "what ifs" why not think about how I would like to spend my life if given, say, 6 months to live. Exotic travel? Doing all the things I've saved for 'someday', throwing caution to the wind? Buying a boat, sailing off into the sunset? Drawing up a bucket list and crossing things off?

After quite a bit of soul-searching I came to the conclusion that I am already living the life I would lead if I knew my time was very limited. I'd enjoy being at my home. Spend time with Joe, eating good food, cooking, taking walks, enjoying a movie. Spending an afternoon with Wilson. Quality time with friends, one-on-one, with the ability to talk, listen and laugh. Tending the garden, taking care of the house, hanging out the laundry. Being able to take a moment to notice the sunlight on the dewy grass or to watch a goldfinch delicately eating seeds from the echinacea.

This is life. These are the little moments that make it up and the things that make me happy and fulfilled. Of course, they are different for everybody and each person must figure out what makes them happy. I'll always want to learn and try new things but if I was to be hit by that proverbial bus tomorrow I don't believe I'd have any regrets for things I haven't done. And that, I believe, is a life very well lived indeed.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Labor of Love

In my empty-nest-burst-of-painting-enthusiasm this year I've painted only 2 closet interiors in the 14 days since Wilson moved back to school. 'Til now. We have tackled the largest, most daunting project to date: the living room. Wallpaper with at least 2 coats of paint on it. Not quite the Everest of painting projects, but certainly our biggest one yet.

Surprisingly, the wallpaper, even though painted at least twice, came off pretty easily. What was left behind was a turquoise-colored wall with lots of holes, some badly patched, some not at all. First on the list was to patch the holes and spackle the uneven spots. Then, paint the ceiling, do a bit of hole-filling on the oak trim, sand and urethane. Next comes sanding the walls, priming them and finally, painting. About a weeks worth of work with both of us laboring on it.

One end of the room is taken up entirely by oak bookshelves and the fireplace; no painting needed there, only a bit of light sanding and urethane.

I painted the radiators a few weeks ago while I was doing the trim in the closets. The wall has a few paint samples in addition to a lot of pockmarks from all the spackling.

Today Joe will be sanding the walls one last time. Tomorrow: priming and then the final 2 coats of paint. Once this is completed, a quick coat of fresh paint in the kitchen and the entire house will be finished. What on earth will I do then?

Gracie and Millie will be very happy to have things put back together.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Feline Assistant

Anyone who has ever lived with a cat knows that they have minds of their own and don't take orders well. Gracie, who will jump off the couch from a deep sleep when a human dares to sit next to her, loves to keep me company while I'm trying to sew. No sooner do I get the quilt spread out and the machine ready than she is in position, preparing to flop down on it when the moment is right. Her expression says it all: "don't even think about moving me".
Of course, I reinforce this behavior by NOT moving her.

How can I when she is so darned cute? I hope the recipients of this baby quilt don't mind a little fur on it. Gracie likes to add a little something to a gift; she's thoughtful like that.

Friday, September 2, 2011

By Any Other Name

The weather has finally turned cooler for a stretch with crystal clear nights and warm sunny days. If I was in charge of heaven I'd arrange for this climate- cool enough so that the nights are chilly but the days only need a light tshirt and shorts.

Even the garden seems relieved to be rid of the hot, humid weather; the rose has produced a single, red, perfect blossom as if thanking mother nature for the reprieve. Even Irene couldn't discourage this bloom, which is all the sweeter for it being the only one.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Survival of the Fittest

Even though there was a 4 day heat wave this past week the garden looks remarkably unaffected. The flower beds only get watered with whatever mother nature provides but the containers and vegetables are watered just about daily with saved water from the rain barrels. The containers on the porch are doing especially well.
Petunias and sweet potato vine:

Goldenrod, hosta flower and red day lilies on the south side of the house.
Pale yellow day lily. It's taken this plant several years to finally bloom and it's been worth the wait.
Peach-colored fancy day lily.
Deep red day lily planted by the previous owner of our house. Love the unusual red color.

Purple coneflowers. The bees and goldfinches love these.
Queen Anne's lace. My grandmother used to pick this and once showed me how, if the stem is placed in water colored with food coloring, the flower would turn that color.
Orange and yellow day lily from my friend Cynthia.
Back garden along the fence: Black-eyed Susans, gayfeather, phlox and bee balm.

The garden has evolved quite a bit over the past 20 years. If a plant doesn't do well under the conditions provided I don't force it. New additions are watered for the first year and then left to survive pretty much on their own. This way, I know whatever is there is tough enough to weather a hot, dry year without any pampering, which cuts down on the amount of water we use. This is the 2nd year I haven't needed to turn on the hoses!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Acid Trip

In my quest to find all-natural cleaners for every purpose in the house I have come across a new and effective weapon. Citric acid! I've been using vinegar and baking soda to clean the bathrooms for about a year and for the most part, find either or both of these clean very well, with one exception: the glass shower door. Everything else sparkles but there is a dull white film on the door, no matter how much I scrub.

I accidentally came across some information online while searching for something else that said citric acid is an excellent cleaner for hard water stains. I was intrigued! Apparently one can purchase it in the grocery store in Australia, but I didn't have any luck locating any here so bit the bullet and ordered some online.

The information I had found recommended using a 10% solution for cleaning hard water stains, but I've since read that 6% will do the trick. Why use any more than is necessary? I put it to the test last night after mixing up a spray bottle with distilled water and the citric acid granules. Because it is an acid I did wear gloves for the measuring and mixing. Once diluted, I sprayed the shower door and gave it a good scrub. Voila! Finally a sparkly clean shower door.

Citric acid is used in foods and beverages as a preservative and/or flavoring to add tartness. It's environmentally benign so I feel good about using it when I need to without the worry that I'm putting something potentially toxic down the drain or into the bathroom air when I spray it.

Here's my recipe so I won't lose it:

Citric acid cleaner

60g citric acid granules
1L distilled water

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Comfrey Salve and Cuticle Cream

I'm going to record these two recipes in order to have them written down. I'm forever losing the scraps of paper that I jot things down on and I hope this will get around that little problem.

Comfrey is supposed to be excellent for minor skin abrasions and muscle aches. Since I seem to always have at least one scratch or cut at any given time I thought it might be a good ointment to try to make. I infused some olive oil with 0.3 oz of dried comfrey leaves for 3 days. After straining the comfrey out I mixed 60g of the oil with 6g of beeswax and heated it until the beeswax melted. It's a pretty pale green color now that it's hardened and the perfect consistency for applying. It absorbs quickly, though is a little bit oily feeling. *Note: I've been told by a trusted friend that applying comfrey-infused oil to cuts can result in infection by trapping bacteria underneath. Good to know!

I came across this cuticle cream recipe online and wanted to make some up. I've tried Burt's Bees cuticle cream and love it, so I hope this will be close. My hands are always a mess, thanks to gardening (without gloves) and soapmaking (again, without gloves!). Hopefully they'll look a bit better with this cream.

15g beeswax
4g stearic acid
30g shea butter
20g olive oil
25g jojoba oil
15g avocado oil
1-2g fragrance (1g rosemary 1g peppermint EOs)
1g suttocide preservative.

Everything was heated in the microwave and stirred until melted. I'll update with how these new additions to the medicine cabinet work. *Edited to increase the amount of beeswax- the cream was a bit less firm than I like so I added an additional 10g of beeswax to the original 5g.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Special Gift

Since I removed the wallpaper and painted our bathroom walls several years ago the spot to the right of the sink has remained unadorned. I've tried various pictures and pieces of art but have never found a piece that looked as though it belonged there. Preferring not to force it, I decided to wait until the right thing presented itself. I knew that I'd know it when I saw it.

Then one day, a box arrived from Pittsburgh, which contained a pastel done by a dear friend who had recently died. Her best friend kindly framed it up and sent it along as a remembrance of her. Immediately upon unwrapping the gift I knew exactly where I would put it: the empty spot on the bathroom wall. I did try it in other places, just to be sure, but knew that would be where it would hang.

Whether or not you believe in fate, I honestly believe that there was some kind of cosmic plan that had me reserve this particular spot for Sandy's picture. True, it would have been very easy to switch it out had another piece been hanging there, but it is all the more special and noticeable because the wall had been bare before her art arrived.

Saturday, July 9, 2011


A patient person I'm not.

Well, actually it's strange; sometimes I can be very patient - for example with certain situations or people I'm able to keep my feelings in check and wait for a situation to play out. I quilt and knit, both endeavors which require some degree of patience. I can sit and wait for an hour in a doctor's waiting room with barely a grumble. Yet, when it comes to growing vegetables I'm sorely tempted to peek beneath the soil to see how things are getting along.

Oh, I know that's the worst thing you can do when something is growing. This isn't a rational impatience! Plants need to be left on their own, undisturbed, to do their own thing and produce their fruit. Intellectually, I know this is true. But somehow I have the most difficult time resisting the urge to dig around - just a little bit - to see if there truly are any bulbs or tubers forming.

Clearly, this is something I need to work on, so the next logical step is for me to formulate a coping mechanism. (After all, that's how I am able to sit in a doctor's waiting room for nearly an hour - I have a plan for how to deal with that situation and bring a book or some knitting!)

I decided today, as I was itching to tug on a set of onion leaves, that I'd dig up one of the potato plants to satisfy my curiosity. Hopefully that will tide me over until the underground crops are ready to be harvested. The potato had flowered (which is when the tubers have started to form) so I knew there had to be something under all that soil. I tugged and the plants came out with little difficulty.

Not having much experience with potatoes I didn't know whether this was a good or bad sign. Maybe there are no potatoes growing, which is why the plant came up with so little protest? Or perhaps they are ready for harvesting and that is why the plant was easy to remove? Only one way to find out: don the gloves and start digging.

Way, way down below the soil level my fingers touched something smooth and round: a potato! From one square foot I removed a total of 6 small Yukon Gold potatoes. So exciting! We're going to eat them this evening with our pulled pork sandwiches.

Now that my curiosity has been satisfied I can leave the rest of the underground vegetables alone to grow and hopefully produce more crops. I need to trust that mother nature will do her thing, but I still can't seem to get over the fact that it seems like magic when I pull something out of our garden to put on the dinner table.

Monday, July 4, 2011

How to be European

Sitting outdoors under a sun-umbrella, sipping a small glass of chianti and eating a delicious impromptu meal of pasta, cheese and arugula on Saturday afternoon we decided that we felt entirely European. Maybe it was the wine talking, but it felt decadent to be enjoying something so much that we didn't even plan. It was then and there that we decided it would be a good thing to try to do something European each and every day.

Perhaps we should define "European"- at the time we were indulging in a simple pleasure- lunch outdoors with friends- so for our purposes we decided that it would be a special moment incorporated into our day.

Each person's definition may differ slightly. My goal is to make more effort to be spontaneous. (Does it count if you are planning to be spontaneous? hmmmmm...... sounds like an oxymoron to me) Slow down. Enjoy things more by being present, even for tasks I don't particularly enjoy. Bring fresh flowers in each day. Grow and prepare my own foods as much as possible. Purchase less. Streamline. Hostess more. Stop trying to fix other people's problems.

Whoa! I'm getting away from myself here, that's quite a list. All worthy goals and things I would like to work towards, but for now I'll start by incorporating a special moment into each day, even if it's just taking a minute to cut a few flowers and bring them in. Gotta start somewhere, right?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Today's Your Birthday

I suppose the older you get it naturally follows that the calendar fills up with anniversary dates: someone's birthday, an anniversary of their death or how long it has been since you've lived in a particular place. Although the yearly markers can be painful or bittersweet, it is evidence of a life well lived, or so I hope.

It seems that each month now has several sad anniversaries in it. Today would have been Sandy's 30th birthday - something most people take for granted. It seems so unfair to have such a talented and special person not even make it that far. It definitely gives credence to the saying "only the good die young".

I don't know whether there is any awareness after death; I'd like to think so and know that Sandy would be honored by her memorial service tomorrow. Her closest friends, some food, drink and a tribute to who she really was - no religious mumbo-jumbo, no church service. Friends, shared memories and camaraderie. The important things.

Happy Birthday to you, Sandy, wherever you are. Thanks for being such an inspiration and good friend. You are greatly missed.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Wouldn't it be really cool to be a bee and see that pink speckled landing strip leading up to the pollen you will collect?

I love the folklore that Foxgloves got their name because the flowers are the right size to slip onto foxes' paws, allowing them to creep silently up to their prey.

Peonies made heavier by the rain.

Garlic! Potatoes. Green lettuce. Broccoli. Something keeps eating my carrot seedlings. >:(

False indigo. This has to be one of my favorite colors of all time.

An exquisite pink and yellow peony.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Peony Time

The peonies are extremely happy this year and are putting on a spectacular show.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Garden - Week of May 16

The garden changes dramatically from week to week, it seems impossibly lush after all the rain we've had. If this is an indication of how the summer will go, the eggplants and peppers are not going to be very happy campers, but everything else will flourish.

Solomon Seal - you'd never believe how sweet these tiny flowers smell. The entire side of the house has this sweet, delicate fragrance. It took me a while to figure out where it was coming from.

Bleeding Heart and epimedium leaves.

Camassia bulbs.

Pink Lilacs.

Side kitchen steps.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Food for Thought

I heard this saying the other evening and wanted to write it down somewhere that I wouldn't lose it. This seemed like the best place.

"When you are born, you cry and everyone rejoices; when you die everyone cries and you rejoice."

It seemed appropriate that today my acupuncturist told me she is 9 weeks pregnant. And thus, continues the cycle of life. I'm thrilled beyond words for her - and me- now I get to make a baby quilt!!!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Good Grief, Charlie Brown

Psychologically speaking, grief is a purely selfish emotion; it's all about "me", one's ego and what the loss means to that part of our psyche. I remember learning that in one of my college psychology classes, the professor spending quite a bit of time on the subject. To my 20-year-old mind, it made perfect sense - in a theoretical way. I knew nothing of loss at the time, even being fortunate enough to still have all 4 of my grandparents.

Of course it's all about us! It is a very uncommon person, if there is indeed anyone at all, who isn't thinking of themselves- consciously or subconsciously- when they grieve. It may be masked as "oh but he/she was so young", "she suffered so", "what about his family", but in each and every one of those cases it's our psyche projecting what this person's death means to him or her. We put ourselves in the deceased's shoes, or the family's shoes. None of this is conscious. Something that this person provided to us - to our ego- is lost. Naturally we are sad, an important part of our life is gone. But the root cause of sadness is the loss of what this person did for us, for our ego.

It sounds pretty awful when put in those terms and this is just one explanation of grief from a psychological standpoint. Other philosophies have their rationales- Eastern ways of thinking might explain it by blaming our "attachment" to the person, when in reality everything and everyone is impermanent and attachments only bring pain and suffering.

It's not that difficult to understand these ideas in intellectual terms but the raw, gut-aching feeling of grief is very real. Oftentimes our bodies have physical reactions to profound grief; nausea, lack of appetite, insomnia, depression, irritability, restlessness. The mind and body are inextricably connected. Animals have been noted to grieve the death of a mate by exhibiting the same symptoms that humans do.

Grief serves a cultural purpose as well as a psychological one and is our way of healing. There are many rituals to give the hands and mind something to "do", to keep one in motion. Services to be planned and and attended; small and large tasks occupy the most difficult first few days and weeks. Does one ever get accustomed to the loss? Surely it changes over time, but there is always that hole in the heart, in the ego, and the person.

Grief is not rational. Understanding the root causes does not make it go away. Being able to say goodbye to the person does not magically give one a "get out of grief free" card. It's a gauntlet that must always be walked and there is no feeling better - not the correct word, perhaps 'at peace' with the loss is more appropriate- until the process is experienced. It's never completed but is an initial stone in the pond that creates ripples throughout the rest of a person's life. Sometimes large, sometimes small, but always there.

I know you lived your life well, Sandy, and were at peace with your death. You had and gave the gift of knowing it approached and were able to say goodbye, to receive others' goodbyes. I truly believe your soul had completed its purpose and you were ready. That doesn't mean I'm not going to miss you, my ego be damned, and there will always be a place in my heart for you and the others who have gone before and those who will go after. Deep peace to you, my friend. That's the best I can wish for.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day

This is the new garden statue Joe gave me for Mother's Day - he's already at home in a shady corner where I can admire him each time I walk by.