27 December 2009

possibly the best christmas present ever?

B outdid himself this year: a hooded sweatshirt to class up my weeding this spring (the dahlia is “Little Beeswings,” one of my favorites).

26 December 2009

behold that star!

Background: Seven years ago I recorded a Christmas/winter CD with Kiitos, a vocal quartet that a few singer friends and I formed in the late 1990s. I designed the cover using a star that I found in a book of “church art” that B used in service leaflets at his job.

When we acquired a house with a big red barn, I more or less immediately thought Hey, wouldn’t that star look amazing on the side of the barn? but it wasn’t until this December that I got my act together enough to actually do it. I began by talking with a construction-oriented friend about the logistics of assembling an 8x8-foot panel and attaching it to the side of the barn (I had something very complicated in mind, and he suggested simply screwing two 4x8-foot sheets of plywood to the barn doors: brilliant). Then I called the lumber store, had the plywood delivered (another revelation from my friend: I imagined I would need to borrow a truck and drive to Glens Falls to buy it, but he assured me that someone from the Agway in Salem would be happy to deliver two large sheets to Pleasant Hill for a seven-dollar delivery charge; imagine that!), enlarged the star on my computer and printed it out on about 100 sheets of paper, spent a Saturday tracing the design onto the plywood and painting it, spent a few hours the next Saturday attaching the star to the barn doors with B’s help, and then bought a floodlight to illuminate it in the evenings.

If I do say so myself, I think it’s pretty spectacular. Here are some photographs of the whole process. Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!

Every star, no matter how large or small, begins with a plan. I enlarged our star 1,250 percent and printed it out on a stack of paper (each rectangle is a sheet of paper).
Now to tape the pages together.
More taping.
We had to clear out the dining room so that I could lay the two pieces of 4x8-foot CD exterior-grade plywood on the floor. I stapled the assembled star onto this panel so that it wouldn’t move around as I traced it.
I used a Phillips-head screwdriver and a hammer to trace the outline of the star. After I removed the staples with a pair of pliers, I connected the indentations I had made with a pencil. For the record, this is the largest connect-the-dots drawing I’ve ever completed!
All dots are now connected.
Painting took most of an Advent Saturday afternoon and evening. First I painted the background barn red. (You’ll notice I didn’t prime the plywood; I considered this only after I had already begun painting: Oh well.)
Then I filled in the white. Next year I’ll put a second coat on. This year B and I wanted to just get it finished and hung.
Phew! All complete! The next Saturday, B and I hung it on the side of the barn. It took a little doing (accompanied by some colorful language), but we did it.
Completed star during the day. It’s visible from the road and from our kitchen and bedroom windows (B finds it quite meditative).
And here's the star at dusk illuminated by a white spotlight. At first we tried a blue floodlight, but for some reason it washed out all the detail so that from the road the star looked like a bluish blob. (If anyone can explain why this would be, I would be very grateful.)
Behold that star!

25 December 2009

christmas carol

Bethlehem Down
poem by Bruce Blunt; music by Peter Warlock

“When he is King we will give him the Kings' gifts,
Myrrh for its sweetness, and gold for a crown,
Beautiful robes,” said the young girl to Joseph,
Fair with her first-born on Bethlehem Down.

Bethlehem Down is full of the starlight,
Winds for the spices, and stars for the gold,
Mary for sleep, and for lullaby music
Songs of a shepherd by Bethlehem fold.

When he is King they will clothe him in grave-sheets,
Myrrh for embalming, and wood for a crown,
He that lies now in the white arms of Mary
Sleeping so lightly on Bethlehem Down.

Here he has peace and a short while for dreaming,
Close huddled oxen to keep him from cold,
Mary for love, and for lullaby music
Songs of a shepherd by Bethlehem fold.

21 November 2009

edge of new garden

Two views of the edge that I’ve dug. I may get the rest turned over before the ground freezes so that it can settle through the winter.

Or I may not.

Funny how digging this outline is making me look at the rest of the yard differently now.

vegetable garden put to bed

That feels so very good: A last weeding; thick layer of chopped leaves topping off each box; a little screening to hold it in place all nice and snug.

We left the brussels sprout stalks (they’ve provided some convenient forage for the deer, I guess; can you tell?) because we like the way they look this time of year.

The garlic cloves I planted are sprouting; I noticed this while I was spreading the leaves. This is good, I guess. Nice healthy garlic. And now that they’re covered over with a little insulation, they can have a nice winter’s nap.

Why am I anthropomorphizing garlic?

cranberry salad from thelma’s treasures

From a great little cookbook B and I picked up a few years back at a bookstore in Harrodsburg, Kentucky. B’s mom called this evening to get the recipe for an early Thanksgiving dinner at her church tomorrow afternoon. Yum!

6 ounces cream cheese
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sugar
1 pound cranberry sauce
1 (9 ounce) can crushed pineapple
1/2 cup pecans
2 cups Cool Whip

Mix together all of the ingredients and let sit overnight. Put the salad into containers and freeze it indefinitely.

12 November 2009

sisyphean: “endless and unavailing, as labor or a task”

Didn’t he do sort of this kind of thing, too?

Happy leaf gathering 2009!

11 November 2009

2009 header images

Just for the fun of it: a catalog of the header images I've used on the blog this year. There may be a few more lurking somewhere; I will add them as I find them. Suzann told me yesterday that she enjoyed seeing them change through the months (I honestly thought I was the only one who even noticed that I switched them out!).

View of winter sky through icy crabapple branches, January.

House, prayer shack, chicken coop and garage from the vegetable garden, January.
B walking the cowpath from the hay barn, January.
Blue hour near the garage, early February.Prayer shack from the lilac thicket, March.Early spring pansy on the fire escape, New York City, April.Hellebores at St. John's in the Village Episcopal Church, New York City, April.Species tulips and grape hyacinths on West 11th Street, New York City, April.Spring in Abingdon Square Park, New York City, April.Crabapples in bloom on Pleasant Hill, May.Lilac leaves with blue sky beyond, taken from the hammock, May.Pea plants for June!Hosta leaves in the lilac thicket, July.Helenium for Mama Helen, August.Sunrise across the road, August.Mid-October sunrise across the road.Happy Halloween from a spooky house on a hill.Larches goldening across the road, November.

10 November 2009

a beginning

When we moved into our first largish apartment in New York City, B and I arranged all of our furniture in much the same way we had placed it in the smaller apartments we’d lived in elsewhere in the city. The sofa was two feet from the coffee table, which was two feet from the easy chair, and so on and so forth.

After about a year in the larger apartment, we realized we could relax the space between our various pieces of furniture. In fact, we could snug something up against one wall if we wanted to, and then put a table or shelf against the other and have some space to walk between them.

We’re feeling much the same way about the gardens up at the house. I dug the outline of the new bed yesterday. It extends the old bed at the south side of the house into the bed we put in around a portion of the patio a few years ago. The new outline is expansive; it is larger and more encompassing as it embraces about two-thirds of the patio; I really have to walk around it. As such, it’s very different than what we’ve been working with for the past few years.

I can’t wait for B to see it. I think he’ll have the same response I have: Whew! Now I can breathe!

09 November 2009

indian summer

We are in the midst of a last few days of gentle, warm weather before winter arrives: a real Indian summer. The sky last night was full of stars, and the moon over the creek across the road was a half-lit mellow gold. This morning the sun ever-so-politely melted the frost off the grass. There isn’t a cloud in the sky . . . or a bird at the feeder, for that matter. Where are they? Maybe they’ve found a comfortable perch where they can take in this gauzy, fragile warmth.

I finished raking down by the road yesterday afternoon and gave the side and back lawns their last mowing of the season, more for neatening than necessity. I am planning today to dig the outline of the new flower bed so that I can put away the hose that marks its edge.

Dale the dog split his dewclaw this weekend and has been worrying it no end, so I arranged to take a vacation day and have made an appointment for him to see the veterinarian this morning. She will, I hope, provide him with a little relief. Poor dawg.

I woke up singing the first line of the old standard “Indian Summer”: “Summer, you old Indian summer . . .” which, really, is all I want to sing, because the rest of the song is about love lost. But surely there’s a poem that speaks to the way I feel today. Cue Google.

Indian Summer
by Emily Dickinson

These are the days when birds come back,
A very few, a bird or two,
To take a backward look.

These are the days when skies put on
The old, old sophistries of June,—
A blue and gold mistake.

Oh, fraud that cannot cheat the bee,
Almost thy plausibility
Induces my belief,

Till ranks of seeds their witness bear,
And softly through the altered air
Hurries a timid leaf!

Oh, sacrament of summer days,
Oh, last communion in the haze,
Permit a child to join,

Thy sacred emblems to partake,
Thy consecrated bread to break,
Taste thine immortal wine!

26 October 2009

ruh-roh: i’m already thinking about next spring

Surely I will ease off for the winter, but maybe not.

I was hanging around over at Blithewold the other day and noticed a single dahlia with petals that look like the dawn sky. I think it’s exquisite, and you can see it on this post (collage at the bottom of the post; upper left photo: Dahlia “Florinoor.” I couldn’t find it on a Google search of my own, so I asked Kris where she got it, and she pointed me toward Corralitos Gardens, which I think just may become one of my favorite Web sites come next spring.

On the next post, Kris posted a photograph of tiger eyes staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina “Bailtiger” Tiger Eyes), another plant I think I will have to have next year.

B and I want to visit Blithewold! There’s some beautiful stuff going on over in that Rhode Island garden for sure!


This is one of the many weeds that came in with the truckload of compost we bought from a local dairy farmer last year. It’s beautiful, I think, in a weird, witchy way. I have no idea what it is.

Happy Hallowe’ed!

gathering leaves

Wish I’d gotten a picture this weekend of the unusual harvest I accumulated on Sunday afternoon after the rain stopped: A cow barn full of leaves! Maybe next weekend.

I raked about seven tarps’ worth from the lawn between the house and barn. More to do, too, to the south of the house. I may venture up into the woods and grab even more. Scott, the man who mows for us, has offered to drop off his leaf shredder on Saturday so that I can make quick work of my harvest. Scott tells me the machine shreds and then bags the leaves that I will then save for mulch à la Sydney Eddison once the ground freezes.

Robert Frost seems to have a poem for everything. I think he may have been hanging out with me for a while on Sunday afternoon, long enough to hear me curse out the tarp that kept flying away on the October wind.

Gathering Leaves
Robert Frost

Spades take up leaves
No better than spoons,
And bags full of leaves
Are light as balloons.

I make a great noise
Of rustling all day
Like rabbit and deer
Running away.

But the mountains I raise
Elude my embrace,
Flowing over my arms
And into my face.

I may load and unload
Again and again
Till I fill the whole shed,
And what have I then?

Next to nothing for weight,
And since they grew duller
From contact with earth,
Next to nothing for color.

Next to nothing for use.
But a crop is a crop,
And who’s to say where
The harvest shall stop?

20 October 2009

october shadows

Top to bottom, all taken 10 October 2009: Miscanthus and Buddleia outlined on the side of the house; cornfield half-mowed on Joe Bean Road; sugar maples with the late afternoon sun behind them a little farther along the same road.

17 October 2009

before i forget . . .

Planted some small bulbs today, all labeled:
  • 10 Allium moly "Jeannine" by the front door, to the right as you look out from the house.
  • 10 Allium sphaerocephalon in the left part of the lilac thicket, probably nearer than they should be to the Dicentra.
  • 10 Bellevalia pycnantha front and center in the lilac thicket, in front of the astilbe and midway between the Japanese anemones and the Jacob's ladder.
  • 10 Ornithogalum nutans to the left of the garlic chives off the patio.
  • 10 Puschkinia scilloides var. libanotica to the left of the front door, right in the lawn.
  • 10 Scilla bifolia "Rosea" between one of our newer lilacs and the daylily bed by the driveway.
Fingers crossed.

garlic planted

How wonderful to spend an autumn afternoon planting things. As I was placing 72 cloves of garlic in one half of one of our 4'x4' boxes in the vegetable garden, B said, "There isn't a better or more clichéd example of death and resurrection than putting a seed in the ground, is there?" And, really, when you think about it, putting a little kernel of something into the cold ground with the expectation that it will sprout in the spring is pretty awesome.

South to north, two rows apiece of six cloves per row, for a total of 12 rows of garlic, here's what takes up half of the left middle box in our vegetable garden:
  • Shantung Purple
  • Susanville
  • Polish White
  • Corsican Red
  • Inchelium Red
  • Lorz Italian
These are all softneck garlic, which means they'll store well (is that correct?)

Our first attempt at garlic!

16 October 2009

b(rrrrrr)other! weather!

Here's hoping the dahlia tubers haven't frozen this week while they've been sitting in the ground. It's cold here in the city and colder upstate.

The tubers are supposed to cure for a week in the garden after the killing frost. I was planning on digging them this weekend. Surely the ground hasn't frozen yet, right?

14 October 2009

killing frost 2009

Duly noted: Sunday evening (or Monday morning, more like; 11–12 October) we had a killing frost. I'm glad I got into the garden and took those last photographs on Saturday, because all the flowers are now gone, baby, gone.

This means the our frost-free growing season in 2009 ran from the first week of June (we had frost the week after Memorial Day that nipped a bunch of tomato plants in the vegetable garden) until mid-October, a total of about 19 weeks (or 133 days). I always think that our growing season is so short, but that's almost five months! Not bad.

This coming weekend I'll dig the dahlia tubers and store them in the basement over the winter.

A little advice from the Old House Gardens Web site on storing dahlias:
If you want to save tubers for replanting the next spring, after the tops have been “blackened” by frost, wait a week or so for the tubers to harden and fully mature in the ground. The soil will generally protect them from freezing. Then cut the stalks off a few inches above ground level. You’ll find that the tubers you planted in early summer will have increased into much larger clumps, so be careful when digging – start at least a foot away from the stalks. Tag each clump with its name, wash off all soil, and allow it to dry upside down in a cool, dry place for a day or two, no more.

Divide the clumps with a sturdy knife in fall or spring. Be sure a piece of the “crown”—the thickened area where the stem meets the tuber—remains attached to every clump, because the eyes (often more visible in fall) are located there. You may want to dust cuts with a fungicide such as garden sulfur. At the least allow cuts to air dry for a full day before storage.

Store in plastic grocery bags, in plastic garbage bags inside boxes, or in covered plastic storage boxes to help keep the tubers from dehydrating. Pack in coarse vermiculite, peat moss, wood-shavings, or something similar. Store in a cool, dry, dark place, ideally at 40–45º F. Check every now and then. Allow excess moisture to escape (look for condensation) or sprinkle some water on tubers if they seem to be shriveling.

Or here’s an easy way recommended by Marian and Bernard Mandella and Richard Peters in the Bulletin of the American Dahlia Society, September 2001. “Tear off a sheet of plastic wrap 20 or more inches long and lay it flat on a level surface. Place a [divided, dusted, and dried] tuber on one end and roll the plastic wrap over one complete turn. Lay another alongside and roll again. Be certain that no tuber is touching another…. You may wrap up to five tubers or so per package, but in the last 5-7 inches, fold over the side portions of the plastic wrap and continue to roll to completion. Fasten with a piece of masking tape that is labeled with the cultivar’s name. . . . There is essentially no loss from shriveling or drying.”

Some of our customers who grow dahlias in pots just bring them inside and let them dry out and over-winter right in their pots. Others grow them in 5-gallon or even 1-gallon black plastic nursery pots that they bury in the garden and then dig up and store in the basement through winter. You may want to experiment with these extra-easy storage methods, too!
As for me, I'll most likely bury the tubers in peat moss in a Rubbermaid tote that I will store in the basement (ah, the blessing of a dirt-floor basement; cool winter storage!).

10 October 2009

october portraits

Top to bottom: Zinnia "Big Red"; Geranium "Rozanne"; Dahlia "Kaiser Wilhelm"; Dahlia "Clair de Lune"; Dahlia "Andries Orange"; Aster "September Ruby"; Anemone tomentosa "Robustissima"; Anemone "Honorine Jobert."