Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The last gardening day for a while

We're leaving for a two-week trip to Hawaii in five days. I've been working outside quite a bit. We got lots of gardening done today, a little knitting as well. The gardens are growing right along.
This is the vegetable garden. Corn, beans, and squash in the foreground, various salad greens in the background.
Here's the herb garden, to the left of the vegetable garden.
Rhubarb, parsley, strawberries, and a glimpse of the dahlia and black-eyed susan.

A better view of the dahlias and black-eyed Susans.
The petunias, now in full bloom.
Here's how the front looks. Think of it as a work in progress. The yarrow will stand up in time, the butterfly bush will multiply, the monarda and the liatrus will bloom.
Here's the front on the other side of the stairs. The monarda is really blooming over here, and the California poppies are just starting.
The hostas, newly mulched.
The shade garden. We have this lovely bed, next to the garage. It is very shady, very very shady, because of a giant Norway maple at the very back of the backyard. We used to try to grow flowers and vegetables here, before we took a look around and figured out what the real deal is back here. This looks magical to me.
Here's a closer view.
And here are close-ups of some plants that are flowering, mostly in the full-sun front.

If anyone knows what this last little flower is, I'd love to hear. It was a volunteer in our garden this year, and I'd like to encourage it.

Saturday, June 03, 2006


We spent last weekend outside, working in the garden, and got a lot of new plants in the ground. These projects look more 'in-progress' than most, of course, because they're plants, and they have to grow. With that in mind, meet the latest in a series of new living things around our house.

This is a challenging area, growing things-wise. It is shaded by our car port, and crowded by my neighbor's chain link fence, and the grass doesn't grow so well here. So I dug out the grass and (mostly) dandelions, and planted vinca, which should spread and fill in pretty quickly. I got five plants to fill in this area about six feet long, and they are already starting to spread a bit. I wonder if it will spread into my neighbor's yard? And if it will be hard for her to control? It's an experiment.

Here's an unwitting experiment. Did you ever try to keep plants alive through the winter in the compost heap? We did. My neighbor down the street dug out all his overgrown and rather elderly hostas, and put them out on the curb for the yard waste guys to take. But I got there first, thinking I would plant them. Except I didn't, and then they started to rot, and then it got too cold for me be interested in planting things anymore, so we tossed them in the compost bin and chalked it up to experience. This spring, they were growing and thriving in the compost, so we pulled them out again, and planted them this time. In the photo, you can see where they ivy that used to grow in this spot has taken the paint off our foundation. Gotta get to repairing that paint, but probably not this summer.

The hostas look a little scrawny now, but they'll grow. Hostas do really well here.

I know this because here's what the hostas I rescued from my friend's deer-infested garden last summer look like now. Last summer they were bitten down to nothing, but we put the roots in the ground and they have thrived. I particularly like the blue green ones. They look great, but I don't know what they're called.

Hostas seem pretty much invincible. And I like how they look, and they like shade, and I have lots and lots of shade. All of which makes them the perfect garden plant. So far I have three varieties.

I also love petunias, just love them. They are the one annual I am willing to spend money on. Our house was owned by the same lady for sixty years before we bought it, and she also liked petunias. She planted them along the south side of her house, and they came back every year. Must have been an old variety that reseeded itself really well. Last summer I supplemented the petunia bed with manure, and put in a few additional plants from the garden store, and they went crazy, just an amazing display of flowers along the side of the house. And then I mulched them, and I think that did them in. Not a single one came back this spring, very sad. So I got a bunch of plants from the garden store this year, and put them in last weekend. Here they are, looking not very exciting yet.

Yes, I know, that's an iris, not a petunia. The petunias are at the base, not yet blooming. I told you it wasn't very exciting yet.

We also planted bee balm (monarda) and lavender, and in spite of the heat last weekend, they did fairly well in the transplanting process. The monarda is looking better now, after a lot of rain.

This is in the area to the right of our front steps, where there used to be a giant overgrown shrub of some kind. Apparently the previous owners also grew rocks here. We took the shrubs down with a chain saw shortly after moving in, and dug the stumps out laboriously over the next two years. We're going to continue to live with the rocks for now. I've been hesitant to do a lot of planting here before the porch is complete, but I think I can step around a few plants as I sand and prime and paint.

In other news, I finished my sweater and have worn it several times.

I'm pleased with it. I did not intend for the sleeves to be bell shaped, but I really like it, and I'm working out another design that uses that element as well. The stitch count is exactly the same from the cuff to the sleeve, the belling is accomplished with the combination of knits and purls only.

And, very exciting indeed, Joe/Shellacboy put together another section of the porch. Now it's my turn to sand, prime, and paint, but not today. It's raining, so I'm knitting and reading. But here's a picture of the progress on the porch.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Trash to treasure #1

Elsie cringed when I brought home another piece of urban jetsam a few months back and I couldn't say I was surprised. Although it had nice form, the lamp was covered in thick bumpy dreck that kept the lamp's charms very hidden.

I was in the basement this weekend, just minding my own business, when this sideshow Elephant Lamp jumped out at me again.

We have a lot of love to go around at the Deluxe house. But we do have a few projects going and I shouldn't have started another. But I had an intuition - What if that alligatoring was shellac?

Shellac has been on my mind. I'm talking shellac to anybody who'll listen. Shellac is running for mayor of Deluxetown and shellac wants you to look into your heart and see if you are the kind of person you want to be and shellac laughs at all your old jokes. Elsie has been threatening to call me shellacboy and I cannot deny the name. Yes, you will be reading more about shellac in future posts.

I knew that If the alligatoring was shellac, I could simply wipe away that evil finish. I could wipe out evil, with an alcohol-soaked rag.

I did it and you can too.

Show and tell time!

Consider the original state of the lamp.

Note the pronounced bumps and darkness that envelops it.I understand why someone pitched it. It is a mess.

Here I have gently wiped the entire face a few times and then a small area with denatured alcohol for two or three minutes. Interesting!

Here's a look at a nearly finished face of the lamp base. After rubbing off the finish, I lightly sanded with 320 grit paper.

I really like it now. I'm glad it isn't in the landfill.

I wondered as I worked about the maker, some talented amateur I imagine. I wonder about the finishing disaster - did it happen slowly or soon after the piece was done?

The figuring of the veneer is quite charming and the workmanship is tasteful. What happened to the finish? When it all went wrong, was the lamp disowned and stuck in a corner out of shame?

It might not have happened this way, but I feel like I have unbroken a heart. And that is what I needed to feel today.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Our Time-Saving Appliances

Elsie and I both served honorably in the hellish kitchens of the late 20th c. and although we received minimal financial compensation, we maintain an interest in the tools and techniques of food preparation.

The way we make food for ourselves is influenced by our experience and we think it is good fun to make large quantities of food at high speeds with the benefit of hazardous machinery. We even enjoy the clean-up, mostly.

Our ideals guide us away from specialized devices, but ideals are terribly inconvenient in practice. I have made coffee in a saucepan and toast over an open flame, but I have grown to accept that I am a mere mortal, especially at 6 AM.

We do not have a vast assortment of curiosities, but we do have a few favorites. Below are ones that are mostly used on a daily basis.

The Tappan Deluxe

Oh baby, what a beauty. Where to start with this one? I often blow the tour right here. The Tappan has many quirks and qualities that appeal to me and I lose the sensitivity to my audience that is required of a gracious host.

The Tappan Deluxe came with the house and is the centerpiece of the vintage kitchen that caused Elsie and I to swoon our way into home ownership.

Without this stove, this blog might never have existed.

The Dualit

A legend in our time.

Back in the day we dreamed about the future. Our vision of the future included a Dualit toaster, a living fossil of machine age design that offers visual interest in many designer kitchens.

We suspected that we would be well on our way to retirement before we had the scratch for such a fancy wattage hog.

One day at Salvation Army, Elsie looked up and saw me coming closer and in my arms cradling a cherished new addition to our family. In matters of observation, chance indeed favors the prepared mind.

The Vesuviana

Back in service after a long time on the bench, the Vesuviana is an elegant piece of equipment, simple and functional.

Until this year, our Vesuviana never had the correct portafilter gasket. The inevitable results of incorrect gasketing of steam and finely ground coffee are remarkably untidy.

Finding correct gaskets ain't easy. I went to Coffee and Tea Ltd. and was treated very well.

The A-9

Ours came from a roadside benefit sale for a Boy Scout troop. I think I paid 4 dollars and replaced the brushes and that was about all it needed from me. It has a very sound design that produces superior results. The coffee is ground to a selected fineness without overheating.

I understand that reproduction models are available at a hefty price

The Breadboxes.

We veer dangerously close to collecting breadboxes. Cheaply made with chromed steel and naive optimism.

The [Now for sale! Contact us!] RYP Healthmaster juicer.

This resembles a dangerous device of late Victorian medical quackery but is actually a dangerous device of mid-century health-food quackery. On a rainy Fall morning I visited a tag sale the next block over. I gave the proprietor all the money in my pocket, 7 dollars, and took my prize home.

The Pantry

Is a pantry an architectural feature or a food-preparation tool? I prefer to remain agnostic on the question. A large and convenient pantry is another winning feature of our old kitchen, but it doesn't photograph well. It deserves a wood-block print or hand-painted lithograph. The spirit of the previous owner visits me here from time to time and I feel honored.

The kitchen - all this stuff - is a project in harmonizing values with the practical, I suppose. All I can say based on what we have done so far is that there is more to come and we will enjoy it.


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The knitting I'm doing

Elsie knits, Joe doesn't. The first project is a simple cotton sweater in stockinette and garter stitch, and a stitch I call broken rib, but is probably not really called that. It is basically a way for me to make a border stitch that lies flat that can be knitted in the round with a minimum of purling. Row 1 is knit, row 2 is k1p1, row 3 is knit, etc. I hate purling. Here's the sweater, my own design based on Elizabeth Zimmerman's percentage system.

This is my second attempt with this absolutely beautiful mercerized Egyptian cotton yarn Elsie's mom got at a yard sale. It's a vintage yarn, I believe, and incredibly smooth and strong. I even like the label.

I usually don't like knitting with cotton at all, because there's no give, but I enjoy this. The first sweater had a split hem like this one, but the split was in the front and back rather than at the sides, and I did this weird thing with a dropped stitch at the outside of the sleeves that seemed like a good idea at the time, but just didn't work. It was all just a little too fashion forward somehow, and a little too small to boot, so I frogged it and designed this one with more ease and a more predictable boat neck, drop shoulder, split hem design. It's not particularly creative, perhaps, but it is simple and it suits me. Here's where the sleeve will meet the shoulder.

For finishing, I have this idea that I got from a costume I saw in a TV movie version of Merlin, but I'm not sure I'm going through with it. Rather than sew the fronts and backs together (leaving room for my head, we presume) I'm thinking of leaving them open, and attaching them with a button and loop closure, at only one point on either side of my neck. We'll see how it looks as I get closer to the end.


I had a knitter's epiphany recently when I read on someone's blog that she kept ten knitting projects going at once. TEN. She actually kept a list in a column on the left hand side of her blog, and made sure she never went over a maximum of ten projects. Going at once. This, combined with a conversation I had with my mom's friend Tyson, who described her method of having two projects going at once (one with a chart for a quiet room at home, and one in plain knitting for meetings) convinced me to consider that it might be possible for me to work on more than one thing at a time. So I've also been working on a lace scarf with beads for my charming future sister-in-law.

I think it looks like seaweed. In a good way.

And it's almost done.

Next there's a vest I want to make from this book, and I'm going to learn tubular cast on for socks if it kills me.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Elsie and Joe get things done

Here's a recent project, now almost completed:

We got a bunch of free wool sweaters on our local freecycle, washed them in hot water and dried them (in a friend's dryer) on high. Then cut them apart in rectangles, and put them in a box for almost a year, where they collected dust and irked me. Then, one day, while vacuuming, it came to me, as if from beyond: USE THE EVEN FEED ATTACHMENT. We have old sewing machines, more than a few of them (a subject for another post) and one of our zig zag machines, an early 60s Singer, has a vintage even feed attachment, which serves the same purpose as a modern walking foot.

So I zigzagged them together with the edges butted up against each other. Used many many spools of thread from my stash (yes, I collect thread) so the colors vary over the course of the piece. I started using two different colors of thread, one on top and one on bottom, so the colors would blend.

You know how sometimes you imagine a project, and you have images in your mind about how it's going to turn out? And then sometimes, maybe even often, it turns out not as well as you were hoping? Well, this one came out much better than I was expecting. I love this blanket, just love it. Maybe even enough to finish it all the way sometime soon.

We're starting this blog so we can stop playing show and tell with our friends every time they come over. We want to keep a record of our many projects in various categories. Between the two of us, we knit, cook, sew, restore our old house, and garden, and most of the projects we plan to chronicle here will be from these categories. We also work and raise kids, but we'll try not to bore you with that.

What makes us different? We rarely buy new. We don't use a clothes dryer, and we don't use paper towels. We will spend more time (sometimes a lot more time) on a project if it means we can avoid spending money. A recent example: the tile in our shower needed to be regrouted, so we started pulling the tile off the wall, only to find that the wall behind it was rotten and also needed to be replaced. Got that done, but the old tiles are now caked with hard-to-remove adhesive. Rather than replace the tile, Joe is laboriously removing the gunk, tile by tile. It's been eight months since we took a shower in our bathroom. Good thing we like baths!