Monthly Archives: October 2013
Happy National Chocolate Day . . . A Giveaway!
National Chocolate Day?! Now that’s a holiday I can get on board with! In fact, I want to write a book because I have a title that I think will sell a million copies. I’m going to call it 50 Shades of Chocolate!
To celebrate National Chocolate Day, I’m going to give one of my North American readers a one-pound sampler of the chocolates from KerryCan. It’s not that I don’t love my blog friends from around the world—I just don’t like to think of what international mail would do to a delicate box of candy.
So, if you’re from the US or Canada and would like to enter the giveaway, all you need to do is leave a comment on this post. Tell me, in the comment, what your favorite chocolate candy is—do you like chocolate straight? Or do you go for the chocolate-covered caramels? Or chocolate with peanut butter? Or mint? Or something else? Let me know and I’ll assign you a number, based on order of comments. Then I’ll use a random number generator to come up with the winner.
Be sure to leave your comment within 72 hours of the time this post was made (5 a.m. Eastern Daylight Savings time in the U.S., on 10/28/13)! Good luck! (And if you don’t win, all of the candy is available in my shop!)
Goodnight, Sweet Geraniums . . .
I did one of my least favorite preparing-the-garden-for-winter chores this week. I cut back my geraniums and put them in the dark for the next 6 months.
The whole process of putting gardens to bed in the fall makes me sad. All those beautiful annuals, which gave so much all summer, go to the compost pile. The perennials, some still doing their best to produce flowers, get cut way back.
I’m not going to tell you how I talk to the plants as I cut them back and consign them to compost. It’s a little embarrassing. But it does make me feel better, to reassure them that they were wonderful.
The geraniums, for me, are the most difficult. They still look so completely fabulous, in the traditional red and this crazy-pretty salmon color.
The only thing that makes me feel better is that, with a little luck, some of these plants will survive the winter and be back, better than ever, next summer.
Most people who really garden know that geraniums can be over-wintered. When we lived in a house with a proper basement, I could count on the geraniums every year. I would just cut them back, including getting all the blooms off, and put them in the basement. It was cool in the basement, but not cold, and they got a little light, but not much. I could throw water on them if I thought they were excessively dry but, mostly, I just said “Hi” when I went down to do laundry. When spring started to come around, I’d start watering and give them more light, and all would be groovy.
But now I live in a house with only a completely lightless crawlspace beneath. It stays pretty warm, it stays pretty damp-ish, and it’s 100% pitch black. We don’t really go down there at all, all winter. I sure wouldn’t want to spend 6 hours down there, let alone 6 months!
When we first moved here and I realized I had no place to properly over-winter the geraniums, I decided I’d just stick them in the crawlspace and see what happened. I figured they would die but they were going to die anyway, if I left them outside. I was sad, of course, especially about the salmon ones because I’d had them for a few years at that point; we were old friends.
When the plants came out of the crawlspace that first May, it was a kind of horrifying sight. They were alive but looked undead, kind of the albino-vampire-zombie version of geraniums.
The stems were completely white and spindly, very leggy, like they were desperately trying to find some light, any light. I couldn’t imagine these pale pretenders ever looking alive again.
But we’d come this far together so I cut off the dead stuff and the really spindly stuff, I watered them and I put them in a warm, sunny spot.
And, slowly, the most amazing thing happened. The stalks became hot pink and little green leaves sprouted.
Then, they became gorgeous again.
I guess it’s not really all that amazing. We probably all have a story about nature bouncing back against all odds. But these geraniums, and their will to flourish, sort of symbolize what spring is all about to me.
So, in the fall, as I put the geraniums into their lightless prison, I think about spring. And I think about my own winter, hunkered down in my warm, cozy house, with the geraniums sleeping beneath me. I think about how we’ll all keep a low profile for the winter and reappear come spring, very pale, craving the sun, but ready to thrive!
Quilting Hands at Home: An Adirondack Quilt Show
A huge space, filled with of handmade quilts, on a brisk autumn day! When the biennial show of the Champlain Valley Quilters’ Guild of New York opened a couple of weeks ago, the colors inside the building rivaled those on the sugar maples outside. But the colors on the quilts will last long after the leaves have fallen!
I’ve said elsewhere that I think quilting is, just maybe, the quintessential expression of “loving hands at home.” It conjures images of regular people, using what they have on hand, to create a practical item that transcends the maker and the purpose. The time commitment in making a quilt is not undertaken lightly and the finished quilt envelops and warms the recipient, and brings beauty to any space. To see nearly 300 quilts and other textile projects on display is to see thousands of hours of work and love made tangible.
The photos sort of speak for themselves. Like every quilt show, this one was pure eye candy.
Many of the quilters had participated in a “mystery quilt” challenge, in which they were instructed to choose fabrics along certain guidelines and then follow instructions that were communicated periodically, so the beauty of each woman’s quilt (and, yes, they were all women—no men in this guild at all!) would be revealed slowly. These quilts were displayed together and the range of colors choices was fascinating!
Probably every quilt show has a regional angle or flavor. This one was no different. These quilters are based in the Adirondacks and Lake Champlain region of upstate New York so many of the quilt reflected the colors and subject matter of the area.
I am pretty bummed to say that I did not win the raffle quilt but I did pick up a copy of the Quilters’ Guild cookbook, which they compiled a few years ago. I love these community-based cookbooks for their old-fashioned, and often downright quirky, recipes.
This recipe book reflects the region just as the quilts themselves did. It has far more recipes for desserts and sweets than anything else, with an emphasis on apples and maple syrup, of course!
I’ll leave you with their “Recipe for Happiness This Year” (slightly edited to match my writing rules!)
Water, Meals, Plants, 3 Es, Books, Exercise, Family and Friends, Excess
Drink plenty of water. Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a beggar. Large meals earlier in the day are healthier for you. Eat more foods that grow as plants and eat less food that is manufactured in plants. Live with the 3 Es: energy, enthusiasm, and empathy. Read more books this year than you did last year. Take a 10-30 minute walk daily and, while you walk, smile. Realize no one is in charge of your happiness except you. Call your friends and family often. Each day, give something good to others and get rid of anything that isn’t useful, beautiful, or joyful.
Life Lessons from Linens: A Blog Series to Visit!
Hey, lovers of “hands at home,” all things vintage, and especially vintage linens! I want to direct you to a fun and interesting blog series that I think you’ll like.
Susan Nowell, the blogger behind My Place to Yours, has been doing a series this month called, “Life Lessons from Linens.” As she says, “This is a series of 31 posts dedicated to life lessons I’ve learned (or been reminded of) while working with vintage linens.” The lessons range from “We learn about Life when we look beyond ourselves” to “Look for the beauty in every season of life” to “’Imperfect’ is okay”.
The most recent post, “Figural Linens Told Me: People Matter,” is one of my favorites and, no, not just because Susan includes some of my cool linens in the post. When she writes, “When I see figural linens, I always wonder *who* the person was–both the person who designed and sewed the piece…and the person depicted in the design,” it makes me think of some of the posts I’ve written about the human touch, the people with the “loving hands at home.”
Check it out if you have the chance—the posts are very readable and include beautiful images of all kinds of vintage linens!
Evolution of a Sunset
I know the light changes in autumn; I can’t explain the whys and wherefores, but sunsets seem more glorious, too. The first of these photos was taken on October 10, 2013, at 5:28, and the last was taken at 6:40 the same evening. Other than slight cropping and straightening, so the horizon was actually horizontal, I didn’t edit them.
Have you taken a walk, in an area you thought was purely natural and untouched, only to find evidence of previous habitation? Where humans go, we leave our imprint. Very often that’s an unpleasant sight—candy wrappers or cigarette butts in an otherwise pristine landscape. But sometimes we come across a sign that humans lived here and sought to beautify their world.
If you find day lilies, a lilac bush, or an apple tree in a field, it’s a good sign that people once lived on that spot and tried to make it their own.
As I take walks in my rural setting, I love finding an old apple tree, heavy with fruit and surrounded by deadfall. I know it means that, at some point, someone planted that tree and encouraged it along, and the tree is still providing as best it can.
Some people hate the sight of deadfall. They see it as sad, because the people are gone and the tree is producing for no one. Or they see it as wasteful. I read a blog a couple of months ago, in which the author wrote, fairly indignantly, about how awful it was that fruit was allowed to sit on the ground and rot when it could feed hungry people.
But I don’t see deadfall as sad or wasteful. The tree is doing what it was designed to do and, even though the humans who planted it are gone, the fruit is feeding innumerable birds and animals, as well as re-feeding the very ground in which the tree grows. And it provides an unanticipated sense of community to any person who happens by, and recognizes the human hand behind the tree’s existence on that spot.
I love the poem “Unharvested” by Robert Frost. I don’t know if I love it because it expresses my feelings about these old trees or if my feelings about the trees derive from the poem. It’s not as well known as his other poem about apples, “After Apple Picking,” but it is a much more hopeful poem.
A scent of ripeness from over a wall.
And come to leave the routine road
And look for what had made me stall,
There sure enough was an apple tree
That had eased itself of its summer load,
And of all but its trivial foliage free,
Now breathed as light as a lady’s fan.
For there had been an apple fall
As complete as the apple had given man.
The ground was one circle of solid red.
May something go always unharvested!
May much stay out of our stated plan,
Apples or something forgotten and left,
So smelling their sweetness would be no theft.
As humans, we plant and we harvest. We monitor the seasons and try to account for every little thing. We become difficult to surprise or delight. The discovery of an unexpected deadfall, the sweetness in the air and the color on the ground, becomes our reminder that nature still has the ability to outwit us and surprise us, and to outlast us.
So, should we see it as deadfall, and a waste, or a lively, and uplifting, lesson about being open to the unplanned and nature’s ability to catch us off guard?
The Most Interesting . . .
He’s had 15 lives . . . and counting.
Curiosity can’t kill him. It only makes him stronger.
The sun sets at his behest.
He doesn’t always choose chicken but, when he does, he prefers it poached in white wine.
He’s the most interesting cat in the world.
The photo was taken by my brother-in-law of a stray cat who has since landed in a very fine home, befitting his status.
There are several ways to perform almost any act—an efficient, workable, artistic way and a careless, indifferent, sloppy way. Care and artistry are worth the trouble.― Helen Nearing
From my earliest memories, I can remember being urged to “take pains.” My paternal grandmother would say, “Kerry, you need to take pains to practice the piano” or “Take more pains with that embroidery.” I didn’t really understand this—did making something need to hurt?
As I grew older, I started to understand what it meant, really. I wanted to make things and I tended to rush, to get on to making the next thing. But my grandmother, and other family members and teachers, would tell me to slow down, do it well, take pains. It didn’t mean anything needed to hurt but I that I had to work against my impulse to rush, and that took control and self-discipline.
When I was studying jewelry making and metal smithing as an undergraduate, our teacher would assign grades based on both design and craftsmanship or, in other words, taking pains. I’ve never thought myself to be particularly creative, in terms of coming up with new designs or ideas. I could work to make my designs less predictable and derivative but other students had flashes of brilliance that escaped me.
But I could be the most painstaking. No file marks left on the metal for me! No globs of solder or poorly set stones.
Similarly, when I took up quiltmaking, I used time-tested, traditional patterns but learned to do the piecing and quilting by hand and tried to make the tiniest, most even stitches possible.
Now, none of this has come easy to me. I love marking things off my to-do list—finish the candy, put the binding on the quilt, post a blog entry, be productive. I need to fight my impulse to do things just to get them done. I cannot do quickly and do well; I know that about myself.
Taking pains, I think, is at the heart of craftsmanship. Thomas Carlyle said that, “Genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains” and, while I think there’s more to genius than being painstaking, taking pains is the part we really have control over.
This approach has served me well; what I lack in creative insight, I’ve found I can make up for in craftsmanship. I can pay attention to detail; I use a set of skills, which are available to all of us, but try to use them exceptionally well. I can take pains.
I’m not talking about perfection here. I am, after all, a human being and we are not meant for perfection. Tolstoy told us that, “If you look for perfection, you’ll never be content,” and contentment is very high on my list of achievable personal goals.
Rather, I’m saying that I work hard to do my best at the things that are meaningful to me and that I have control over. I want my work to reflect the human behind it but a human striving to do her best. And what I’ve realized is that we need to take pains with all kinds of human skills—writing, making, doing, thinking, and relating to others.
When I consider the people I admire most, they are the ones who take pains to be kind to others, to make relationships strong, to do their best work, whether that work is in the kitchen, the classroom, the boardroom, the workshop, the studio. These are the people who commit fully to whatever task they are engaged in and take pains to do it well.
I strive to be one of them.
The Awkwardness of Saying “No Thanks”
I received a huge compliment yesterday and am now going to take the risk of hurting the feelings of the person who paid me the compliment. Say what?!
Sarah, of CraftySorcha, nominated my blog for a Liebster Award. Wasn’t that generous and kind of her?
And I’m declining the nomination. Isn’t that callous and unkind of me?
I hope I can explain myself well enough so that both Sarah and you will understand.
It’s not that I’m not flattered. I love Sarah’s blog and have had great interactions with Sarah. The fact that she would think of me in the context of a blog award makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.
It’s not that I don’t want to answer her questions. While I consider myself an introvert, if you read my blog at all, you know that I’m willing to talk about myself. Her questions are interesting and thought-provoking, and not too personal at all.
It’s not that I can’t think of bloggers to nominate for the award. I follow many blogs avidly, both because I enjoy the content and because I have come to feel very friendly toward the authors. I’m actually kind of stunned at how much I enjoy reading the blogs of others, and how many great ones I’ve discovered in the three months since I started my own.
So, what exactly is my problem, that I don’t just graciously accept the nomination and pass it on?
The first reason relates to the business of nominating other bloggers. I can’t really figure out how many I would need to nominate because the Liebster rules seem to vary (see my next point). But, whether it’s 5 or 10 or 20, it isn’t enough. I don’t want to select a few writers/friends and leave others out. I follow blogs because I love them, a lot of them, and cannot feel comfortable choosing a few to name.
The second reason for declining the nomination is that I’ve had trouble nailing down the rules. Sarah helpfully included the rules as she understood them but, when I did a little further research, I found that the rules people follow when accepting and passing on the nomination vary widely.
How many bloggers would I need to nominate? Not clear. What if they’ve already received the award? Is that an issue? Who knows. There seems to be a stipulation that nominated bloggers have fewer than X number of followers but what is that number? Not clear (and how does one determine that anyway?). How many questions do I ask of nominated bloggers (if any)? Not sure.
It seems the Liebster rules are like that game we played as children, where we would line up and the first person would whisper a sentence into the ear of the next child, who would whisper it in the next ear, and so on down the line. The joke was always hearing how the sentence would morph, when passed from mouth to mouth.
All of that makes me uncomfortable, in part because, if I’m going to nominate others, as the award asks me to do, I would want to pass correct rules on to them, and I just don’t know where to find them.
The final reason is that the Liebster nomination both does, and does not, make me think of a chain letter. It is not completely pointless like a chain letter—it doesn’t threaten dire consequences for breaking the chain but rather pays a lovely compliment. But, like a chain letter, it does involve other people without asking their permission. By nominating other bloggers, I am speaking for their time, asking them to self-disclose in ways they may or may not wish to, and putting them in the position of passing the whole endeavor on to more people, etc., etc. And I’m just not really comfortable doing that.
The only harm that I can see coming from declining this nomination is that deserving bloggers may not receive the feel-good compliment that I did. I’m actually not too worried about that because a) I am confident that the blogs I love are well loved by others, and that the bloggers have been or certainly will be nominated for the award; and b) because I and others let them know, every time they post, that we appreciate their efforts and perspectives.
The other harm, I suppose, is that I could appear surly and ungrateful in Sarah’s eyes and yours. I hope my reasons for declining make sense to all of you so that, even if you disagree with my choice, you understand my reasons for making it.
Okay! Enough time spent on this! I’m going to get back to what I really enjoy doing—reading your blogs and enjoying every minute of it!