Some stuff I got going in the garden. Starting Sunday, the bell and hot peppers, eggplants, and remaining tomatoes in greenhouse can all stay outside full time. Some of the tomatoes are already living outside. All that remains then is to sow some cucumber seed, and hopefully a pumpkin or two. And of course there are cosmos and marigold seedlings out there, and I have some basil to plant with the tomatoes.
It's been spring for most of the month. We're expecting a cold spell tonight through Monday, then it all sets off again, colors and scents and tastes. I'd say I can't wait, but I can...because I don't really need to. I have seedlings to mist and plans to reshape and a battle with squirrels, rabbits and deer to prepare for.
This past week, I made a quilt using techniques I learned last year when sitting in bed hand-sewing pieces together for a crazy quilt.
Every morning I got up ready to tackle a section of it after doing the usual early household tasks. On Monday, I chose ten fat quarters, trimmed them to exactly match each other, then cut each into four pieces, again matching them to each other instead of measuring. On Tuesday, I sewed them into nine blocks, and set the extra pieces aside for something else.
On Wednesday, I brought one of the blocks to Hancock Fabrics' senior citizen discount day to choose fabric for the back.
Then I cut nine pieces of batting and backing fabric to match, leaving plenty of extra to be taken up by sewing, and then I quilted lines down each of the nine blocks, doing three at a time on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Each day I sewed the three blocks to each other on the front, trimming away the extra batting, then folded the back seams together. I hand-stitched one set of back seams, but did the other two sets on the machine. That’ll come all right in the end.
Yesterday, I sewed the fronts of the three rows together and pinned the backs; egregious amount of pins. Then I needed a break from it. I think it’ll work best to hand sew the two long rows, and then I’ll go over the sections that are machine stitched, so it all matches. I might do that this evening. And then I’ll sew on some binding, another day this week after I buy or make some. In the end, it will be around 52x58 inches.
In between working on these sections, I rearranged my fabric remnants, yardage, scraps, and paint supplies, and took pictures of that as well, as personal encouragement and for the record, etc. There is also a large picnic basket filled with fabric and sheets from thrift stores to use as backing, lining, and more.
I liked making a quilt this “as you go” way, and mean to keep using it, so that I don’t have to navigate large projects through my little sewing machine and table space. Also, it was faster. However, I will leave even more room around the back for seam allowance another time, and I also want to try finishing the edges of each block, then sewing them together. That way, I won’t even need to add binding, which is something I don’t like. I prefer to make a “pillowcase” finish, then stitch around the edges for added durability. When I try this, I'll probably make more large blocks, maybe twelve 18x24 inch ones. Otherwise, they could be any size. A third option is to do it the way I do crazy quilts; make the blocks with only front and batting, stitch them all together, then add a solid back with the pillowcase method. I guess it'll depend on the design and my mood each time.
Soon I’ll get up each morning ready to tackle the garden and yard work, assuming bronchitis and etc. is in seasonal abeyance. But my next project in the meantime is a blue crazy quilted library bag. Stay tuned…
For the more linear-minded readers: I'm talking about two different things here, intermingled. I'm a person who enjoys a certain amount of data, and working numbers, etc., but I also enjoy feeling the soil beneath my bare feet, and watching for signs of renewed life each spring. Don't lose the forest for the trees.
There are now roughly seven weeks until the frost-free date I go by, April 20. But let me back up. When I moved to New Jersey after six years in Michigan, I was excited to be in zone 7. Some people said I wasn’t, as the USDA Hardiness Zones hadn’t yet been updated, and if a chart says something, well, the chart must be right forever. Chart bedamned; it was easy to tell right off the bat how things would be. This meant for me mainly that rosemary would live through a winter outside. Now the newer zone guide from 2012 calls the areas I lived in 7(a,) because no matter how you wish to view the world, it's all warmer than it was when the old data was used. To be honest, I already grew everything in Mid-Michigan as though it was zone 6, not 5, and other gardeners there did the same. You don't need a chart to tell you everything is growing for nearly seven months instead of less than six, and that some of the plants aren't dying under the winter snow.*
Now I’m back in zone 6. For refined delineations, just west of me, it’s 6b; the urban heat island of Cincinnati, similar to the areas I lived in NJ, except a little cooler in winter. Here a mile or two east, they call it 6a. This actually means little to me other than not expecting rosemary to last in the ground all winter, so I pot it and bring it in. It's very rarely below zero, but the cold we do get is sustained longer.* And most outdoor planting starts about two weeks later. My in-ground herbs perform the same each year, lasting much farther into the year than I’m told to expect, coming back earlier in the spring in the same manner, but I don’t plant tender annuals earlier because of that, for a couple reasons.
First, the soil is rarely ready to be worked until at least the second week of April. April is so agonizing! I stick a thermometer in the ground and watch the soil slooowwwwlllyy rise to above 50  degrees (today, the pots are at 42 [5.5] and the ground is 40 [4.5]) as it also slowly begins turning workable, for putting in carrots, chard, and green beans. This is significantly different from New Jersey, where the soil is very sandy, and warms much faster in spring, though it is not tillable much sooner. The heavier clay-infused soil here is slow to warm, and I grow so impatient waiting for it, I have taken to more and more container gardening each year. I can start a couple weeks earlier that way with some of the things I grow. But that method usually requires more water.
The other reason is that nights here definitely stay cooler for longer into spring, even when the days are very warm. Peppers, in particular, need warm nights in order to grow well. I have three sweet/bell pepper seedlings already going, and planted six from a hot pepper mix and two peperoncinis yesterday, so they might need time in the little plastic greenhouse before beginning life outside sometime in May.
So anyway. Soil temperature and arability, and night air temperatures are my true keys to starting out well in the garden. Based on previous years, I’ve marked my wall calendar with expected tasks I can get done through March and April, and am getting the greenhouse ready for interim housing.
But that’s all data-based stuff,* and what I’m really doing is watching for signs of renewed life outside. Lemon balm appears first, then parsley and mint. I’m hoping to have success with peas this year; never do seem to get many peas, but when the parsley rises, the planting of peas and onions will inaugurate my season of outside pleasures.
PS: Easter dinner in many places has traditionally featured lamb with peas and pearl onions, and mint sauce. Early potatoes with new parsley, perhaps. The tradition is because that’s the fresh stuff available right at the beginning of spring. It’s neat to think about, though I’ve tended to live in areas where an autumn-cured ham was the end of winter holiday tradition instead, on the table with the new stuff just appearing. Isn’t nature awesome?
Another PS: Sometimes I dream of living in zone 8. I’d breathe better in winter. But I’d have to give up the Cincy Symphony, Jungle Jim’s, and the awesome Mt. Washington St. Vincent de Paul for it. Would I be willing to? …well, yeah. Near water; I like the nature of people who are friends with the sea. But that's drifting back in time to another topic altogether.
*For people who want more details on USDA chart drawbacks: Snow insulates the ground and also helps soil renewal, so some very cold places actually have warmer and richer soil than you might imagine, and stuff grows marvelously there in summer. In some places, the temperature range is so extreme, what grows well can't be predicted by how things go in January. To name two drawbacks to a chart based on low annual temperatures.
Appurtenant to yesterday's blog post, here is how I have made sloppy joes.
This would feed eight people. I made this amount thinking of leftovers.*
2.5-2.75 lb ground round
1 medium onion (about a cup, small or fine dice)
1 yellow or red bell pepper, small or fine dice
15 oz unseasoned tomato sauce (not British tomato sauce, which is just ketchup.)
6 oz tomato paste
1/2 cup warm water
@3 tbs brown sugar
@1 tbs Kirkland Sweet Mesquite seasoning (a similar style of barbecue seasoning would do.)
@1 tbs chili powder.
—Brown meat with onions and peppers. Drain, saving liquid for soup or gravy, if you like.
—Stir in the paste, let it cook for a couple minutes, then use the paste can to add the warm water.
—Stir in the tomato sauce and seasonings. You can try adding less brown sugar; we thought this amount balanced things well in the end.
—Simmer at low heat with a lid on for 10-30 minutes, depending on the time you have.
—Add a little more seasoning after tasting, if you like, and stir well. You might like a little freshly-ground pepper.
—Serve on warmed or toasted buns. I like dill pickle slices on mine.
*Making a half recipe would take 1.3 lbs ground round, 8 oz tomato sauce, half everything else. You can use chuck or sirloin; the moisture content and total volume will be slightly different.
Seeds I started a few days ago are coming up nicely. Actually, one of the SS 100s (cherry tomatoes) took off like a rocket overnight, and already needs to be directly under a plant bulb. I wrote to a Master Gardener at the OSU extension office to ask a couple questions about this.
I have seeds arriving shortly from Jung, as well, and I plan to buy only one plant this year from a garden center; a Mr. Stripey or one of the pink Germans. Neither of these produce a whole lot of fruit, but I love them so.
Riches are relative, aren't they? Recently, a friend sent me enough embroidery floss to fatten my box again so that I will need no more through winter. In fact, I worked through the summer to gather clearance materials and thrift store goods enough to last all winter as well, and will need to buy nothing more than some machine thread and possibly some batting.
But sometimes I look at blogs and watch TV shows in which people have bulging-full cabinets full of fabrics of every description. I'm momentarily envious, then I remember that I have just what suits me; items all carefully chosen, all loved and ready to be sewn with joy. More than that would just confuse me.
As well, I ran across some old sewing baskets at eBay last night and thought about if I could buy a new one, and then I thought much better of it. What a dumb thing that would be to do. I adore collecting boxes and containers, but must not allow them to outstrip the space I have for them. And I have a great old sewing basket that was my mother's, anyway. So I cleaned it out last night and lined it with a favorite piece of fabric bought a few months ago, and then today I reorganized it all. Here, then, are photos of chaos managed by love. A wealth of color and potential creativity at my beck and call.
Yesterday I made a pretty good bag. This isn't a tutorial, but I'll share some aspects of how I made it and how it turned out. Eventually, I will be superior at interfacing and corners, then I can improve with visual details, as well.
I put together fourteen squares of Moda Modern Background Paper Newsprint, and then cut fabric from a larger piece to match.
I put the inside out newsprint bag into the other one, and sewed them together. This is where you can insert a tab for a button closure, or fasteners or hooks for a detachable strap, or the ends of straps themselves. You leave an opening at the top to invert the bags so they are now reversible, then sew across the top to close them.
I inserted my button loop while sewing the bags together, and then sewed a decorative stitch around the top, but inserted the little hooks for a strap (a thrift store necklace) afterwards. Also, I hand sewed trim to the outsides of the bags, and that should have been done first, however, it was kind of an afterthought.
And so here's how it looks all finished.
Mary came into the studio half covered in paint. Violet was there that afternoon, and she made cocoa for herself and Mary. They sat and talked awhile, as Jack was downstairs in the theatre, consulting with someone about lights.
Mary said, “I sometimes forget to change my clothes before I paint. At home, I just take off most of them, and paint in my underwear, but obviously I can’t do that at the shop. She grinned. “So at first I worried people would think I just never clean myself up, and then I decided they could see it as decoration, instead.”
Violet said, “That seems really satisfying to me. And if you’re wearing a blue top, but have a bit of emerald between your fingers or something, you’re actually pretty well coordinated.”
Mary said, “Exactly.” And they both smiled in contentment.
“Although,” Violet went on, “I expect there are people who do not actually cover themselves with the paint they are brushing onto a canvas…”
“Ah, but that’s just the thing,” Mary answered. “Most of the time, I don’t actually use brushes!”
She and Violet laughed again as Jack came in, and Mary said, “Yes, we were talking about you, in case you were wondering.” Then she whispered in a loud dramatic tone to Violet, “DON’T WORRY, I’LL NEVER TELL HIM YOU SAID THAT.”
Mary rarely shows a serious side to anyone but Kathy, her boss, and one or two close friends, and her children. Some people think she’s being serious at times when she’s having a laugh, which confuses her, but she’s mostly reconciled herself to it. She operates best under the banner of “quietly eccentric.”
Jack rolled his eyes. He asked Mary to sit on the stool he now had set up with a full microphone stand, and cautioned Violet to be silent. “None of your fussing around. Come over here and sit down, as a matter of fact.”
Violet obeyed with a smile, taking a seat on the luxurious Danish leather couch opposite the recording equipment.
Mary asked, “How many Danes were killed to upholster that couch?”
Jack answered, “Eleven, I believe.”
She grinned and said, “Okay, I’m ready when you are.”
“I heard this song the other day, which I had not heard in just years and years, and it’s been rolling through my head ever since. But my memories of it have come back slowly, like a stage at a time. I expect there’s more still, that I’ve forgotten and that might never come back.
“I tried so hard to be an ordinary kid. The fact is, I really was, but somehow never felt like other people saw me as one. I listened to the radio stations, wore the clothes, bought the teen fan magazines, went to the skating rink on Friday nights, and made sure Mom got the trendy snacks for my lunchbox at school. I collected Lip Smackers, gauze blouses, pukka shell necklaces, and toe socks. I watched the right TV shows. I don’t know, though, mostly I was alone. There weren’t a lot of other kids nearby, and maybe that made the difference. Maybe if I knew them at home, they’d have known me at school.
“It seemed to me that practically every kid in my class could have been a star athlete. They were all shiny and glossy and could run fast in their expensive tennis shoes. I felt dull and flat and slow by comparison. And I was really, really skinny. Strangely, this led people to believe that I, too, had athletic ability, but that was laughable. Every year we had a series of fitness tests we had to perform, and the only one I was really good at was sit-ups. For some reason, I could do an astounding number of sit-ups in a minute. But I was a slow runner, and could never climb the rope, and when I threw a softball to measure how far it would go, my gym teacher said “You throw like a fat girl, what’s wrong with you?”
Violet gasped. Jack stopped the recording. Mary nodded. “He was special, Mr. Repp was. I remember this very nice and talented girl in my class named Michelle. She was one of those girls who seemed perfect, but was also so kind and polite, you could never be jealous of her, just sort of happy that she was herself. And I remember that more than once, he picked her up and carried her around the gymnasium on his shoulders when we were in 4th grade. I have always wondered what she thought about that. He called her ‘Tiger,’ too.”
Violet said, “That sounds repulsive!”
Jack said, “Maybe he was actually her uncle, or something.”
Mary and Violet just stared at him. Violet said, “I have occasionally wondered how he ended up. Maybe he was just super clueless, like, to give him the benefit of the doubt, you know?”
Violet said, “Yes, but the fat girl thing. You can’t have been the only girl he insulted, besides which, just, ugh, I don’t know.”
“There was a fat girl in our class. Not like it is now, with so many people struggling. We all knew someone who was just built large, or who fought their weight, but it wasn’t common. Which probably made it extra hard. Shawna was in our class, and I wondered if she heard him and how she felt. It angered me so much. But I just couldn’t throw a ball very far. I could roll one! I was often kickball pitcher for both recess teams, because I was lousy, otherwise, and other kids wanted to kick and run the bases, anyway.”
Jack said, “Hey, you must have always been a good bowler!”
Mary answered, “Actually, I was awful. I was just awful at everything until I was about 19, and then I bloomed or whatever they always said I’d do.” She smiled happily.
Jack started recording again.
“So then I went to junior high, and we had a girl’s gym class, and I was terrible at all the sports, and the girls were shocked that I didn’t have a bra yet, so my aunt gave me one my cousin had outgrown, because she and my mom were utterly clueless about these things somehow, and it had red piping on it, so then they made fun of that. And all the girls got leather clogs with wooden heels, but when I went to get mine, they didn’t have the right size. Instead, I picked out a pair of stack-heeled loafers which were actually very sharp, but they weren’t clogs, you know, so they were wrong.” Mary sighed, but rolled her eyes with a smile.
“At that point, I started to figure a few things out. I took charge of my style, and also my fitness. I had a frustrating year barely passing all the gym tests, and so the next year, I started jogging with my dog, figuring I could get stronger that way. I wore what I liked, worked on being a little bit avant garde, and ignored the girls who seemed to need to judge me for that.” Mary looked over at Violet, who grinned and nodded. She knew that same experience very well, though in her case, it stemmed from very different reasons.
“In eighth grade, we had to take this fitness test in the fall and again in the spring. I didn’t do so well in the fall, taking over two and a half minutes to run a quarter mile, but I ran around with my dog all winter, and rode my bike everywhere, and then when it was much warmer out, I put on jogging shorts and took off up an old road past our elementary school, sometimes running three or four miles at a time, at what was a pretty serious pace for me. I had read in a magazine about how important it was to keep a good rhythm while you run, so I used to play songs in my head like a radio. The song “You” by Rita Coolidge had come out, and it might have sounded sad at the time, but for me, that song was about my dog, whose name was Monty Python. We’d gotten him two years earlier, thinking he’d be a good companion for my older brother, but he bonded with me, and stuck by my side for five years, until he was killed in an accident. At age two, he could have kept up with me, though, for as far as I could run.
“And so I’d run, to that disco beat or to another, doing intervals, though I didn’t know that’s what they were. Every time that song played when I wasn’t running, I’d see Monty and I, breezing along in the sunshine together. When I heard it the other day, I remembered that, all in a flash.” She stopped and closed her eyes just then. Violet and Jack watched her, as she shook her head and began again.
“When the spring fitness tests came, I was so excited. I just knew I’d do better, and I told my teacher, Mrs. Bryan, about how hard I’d been working at it. She told me she expected good things from me. Well, what do you know, I was running next to the girl from elementary school, Michelle, who was very fast. She ran that quarter mile in about a minute and a half, or a little less, and set a record. But I ran it in under two minutes! I’d shaved an entire minute off my fall performance. I was giddy with success. Mrs. Bryan said that if I’d worked as hard as I said I did, I should have done better. She was just like that, I guess, and I tried not to let her make me feel bad. And I did receive a good grade for my effort.”
Mary saw the looks on Violet and Jack’s faces, and said, “You guys, this is a happy story! It was a victory, and I owed it to my dog, for whom the song ‘You’ could have been written.”
She went on, “But here’s an epilogue for you. My senior year in high school I was at a different school, and we had to run a mile to pass our one mandatory year of gym. I’d chosen a fitness class, too, because it taught us how to work on a weight machine, and aerobic exercise, and lots of other things, without ever having to be on a team. I wore fun Flashdance- and Fame-style clothes, and was one of the best in the class, blazing through sit-ups, and running the mile in about eight minutes, which is not even a little bit fast, but pretty good alongside all these girls who were lazy and walked half of it, barely finishing in the maximum fifteen.
“Plus! This is why I paint. I was also always surrounded by all these people with loads of artistic talent, and I couldn’t even paint an owl on a rock for Mother’s Day in Girl Scouts. But it turns out, all the messes I made as a child, cutting and gluing and painting things that didn’t look like they were meant to really brought me a lot of joy. So I determined that when I grew up, I’d do something to help people enjoy whatever they love without judgment or grades, or competition. I teach people to bowl and to paint, and to grow tomatoes and peppers, and you do not have to be great at any of these things in order to take real pleasure from them. Maybe I’d have never known that if I hadn’t been so frustrated by how others perceived my efforts when I was a kid.”
“It’s been awhile since I thought all this through, I mean, nearly ten years, but I remember that whole weekend very well. As it turned out, it was the last time Kaitlyn and I spent any real time together. It was clear we were taking different paths. We did have a fun time, though, and what made it especially nice was seeing how well she now got along with her younger sister, who was about thirteen then. When we were younger, Kaitlyn tended to pick on her or ignore her, but Hannah had matured quite a lot, and was very smart. We included her most of the time we were at the house.
“The second night I was there, we were playing music and dancing around, pretending to be on one of those TV contests, and we were in Hannah’s room, because it was larger. We stood on the bed for a stage, and the other three; a friend of Hannah’s was there, were the judges. Hannah had posters on three walls of Justin Bieber, which was funny to me, because the other wall had a periodic table of elements and a whiteboard with math equations written on it. Hannah’s friend, Kylie, jumped up and down on the bed while she sang and sometimes she’d stop and make kissy faces at Justin. I remember her saying something funny like, ‘Hannah practices making out by kissing her posters.’”
“And I said, ‘Oh, Kaitlyn used to do that with her Puzzle Place puppet!’ I remember thinking she’d be mad at me for revealing that, but she just laughed and said that it came in handy for when she experienced the real thing. Kylie and Hannah talked about a boy they knew at school who would be a perfect kisser, and I reminded Kaitlyn about how much she wanted to kiss the boy who lived across the street. She said, ‘But you just always wanted impossible dates with movie stars, never anyone we’d actually know for real.’” Taylor paused and looked up at Lisa when she said that.
Lisa tilted her head and spoke after a few seconds. “It’s normal to want a fantasy boyfriend at that age, I mean, around thirteen or so. It’s a safe way to explore your desires until you’re ready for the real thing. And yes, to answer your question, some women do continue to fantasize about a celebrity even after they’ve grown up and experienced actual relationships. It can be a healthy outlet as long as it doesn’t supplant reality.”
Taylor replied, “I guess I can understand that. Back then, I just told Kaitlyn I wanted to save myself for someone special. Truthfully, I was scared of sex, I mean, it had this great power, I thought, that could take you over and change you. But the other girls, even Hannah and Kylie, all said they knew how they wanted their first time to be, and Kylie said she hoped she wasn’t still a virgin when she was as old as Kaitlyn and me.”
“I rarely even went out with boys, even in groups. I was convinced the only reason they could be interested in me was for sex, not for who I was or for fun and friendship. So that night, when the other girls asked me who I’d like to be with for my first time, I told them it had to be someone so amazing and special, no one else could compare. Kaitlyn said, ‘You really do want to save yourself for a movie star, don’t you?’ And Kylie yelled, ‘Or a singer! Like Justin Bieber! I’d let him be my first!’”
“So just to get them to stop hounding me about it, I said yes. I was going to save my virginity for Justin Bieber. And the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. He was just a little older than me. Of course I was going to move to the city after I graduated, and I’d have a great career, we’d run into each other at a party. Maybe I’d be just a little older than the typical virgin, but obviously I’d been putting my studies and plans for the future ahead of that, and he, a high-powered star, would completely understand. I decided I’d be trying to catch a cab in the pouring rain, and he’d offer me a ride in his limousine. We’d talk and find out we had so many things in common. And it would all happen from there.
"I made up my mind to it almost immediately, and then spent the next couple of years adding details and refinement to this plan. And then I kind of put it at the back of my mind, because I really was focused on my studies and plans for the future. And now here we are.” Taylor shrugged her shoulders. “That’s that.”
Lisa said, “I think you left out a great deal of middle, but we will have to take that up again on Thursday. Until then, I recommend you call George, or,” Lisa shook her head a little, “at least text him if that’s how your crowd communicates. But a phone call is better. Write down what you are going to say, if you need to.”
“But what on earth do I say to him? Thank you?” Taylor winced a little, waiting for the answer.
“I think the safest thing to do is apologize if he felt taken advantage of. And then you can go from there, based on his reply. You have a few more issues to sort out, though, so it would be wise to avoid a heavy vodka tonic session for awhile.” Lisa looked a bit stern and motherly as she spoke, but then she smiled, saying, “Once you figure out just what it is you really want from this, you’ll be ready to make the next sober move.”
Taylor sighed. “Thanks, Lisa. I’ll...think about calling him. Or I’ll text. And I’ll call Megan and tell her how much I enjoyed her engagement party...” she trailed off.
“Good. Emily Post would be proud. I’ll see you on Thursday.” Lisa waved Taylor off and sat down to type out her notes, laughing despite her attempt at professional objectivity. “Justin Bieber?”