Into the Garden, Spring 2014

Selfie with my trusty John Deere Gator

Selfie with my trusty John Deere Gator

Our cold Midwest spring is offering mid-50-degree days. I braved the chill on April Fools’ Day to go outside and begin picking up sticks and mulching the garden beds. But first, I gave the Gator a bath. A layer of fine dust covered my little garden vehicle, the consequences of wintering in the garage. Knowing I have this handy tool makes hard work in the garden so much easier.

The pine, fir, rose hip branches and holly that filled my planters on the front porch and barn entrance were taken out and used as mulch behind the peony bushes. These bushes are about a foot from the back fence. A heavy layer of mulch keeps weeds in check. Instead of buying a lot of wood chips, I use what I have to save money in the garden. Mulch keeps my weeding at a bare minimum.

Our one remaining River Birch in the front yard is a messy tree but I love using the reddish branches in arrangements and to make birch twig wreaths. Now is an ideal time to cut tender branches as they are filled with interesting flower buds that add a lot of character to the wreaths. In spring, however, the ground is littered with dry broken branches. Instead of burning them, I break them up in smaller pieces and use them as mulch in the container bed. They will eventually break down and add to the richness of the soil while keeping down weeds. That’s the kind of repurposing I love–handy and free.

Lawn just beginning to "green up"

Lawn just beginning to “green up”

For the next two days, chilly spring rain is in the forecast. The blush of green in the grass will quickly turn into an emerald carpet almost overnight. The dormant garden beds in the background are ready to be turned and amended with compost for spring planting. AND SO IT BEGINS…

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Adventures in Needle Felting

I already possess a bag of washed wool straight from the sheep…why not try needle felting. Scoring an inexpensive starter kit at Michael’s–with the 40% off one item coupon–was a major motivator. Now I owned two felting needles and a small block of plastic foam for my felting mat. I also bought a small amount of black wool for an accent color. My first project? Since I am a lover of all things “sheep,” why not try a wool lamb. After all, it is the Easter season.

Lamb supplies

Lamb supplies

My materials above are: the model lamb, plain wool, colored wool for details, needle felting needle and mat. Finding a picture or form to use as a model is key. I used a tiny little farm lamb with defined angles and a sweet face.

I began by forming an oblong ball and piercing it over and over again on the mat compacting it into felt. As it became smaller, I kept adding layers until it was the right size–larger than my model. My toy lamb is far too small for a novice. This is what it looked like with the body and 4 legs.

Headless Lamb Body

Headless Lamb Body

It wasn’t too late at this point to turn it into a polar bear, but I forged on. The legs must be heavily compacted to hold the body upright. Just keep punching.

After forming a tail and flat pointed ears and punching them onto the body, here is what the lamb looks like. I also added black for hooves and eyes and a touch of red for her mouth. Punching into the body to define muscles and knee joints on the legs adds a lot of realism. I may also bring up the knap on her body to make her look more fleecy.

Needle Felted Lamb in Easter Basket

Needle Felted Lamb in Easter Basket

Now I’m working on an Easter duck. Someone suggested using a cookie cutter for the body form. Using the cookie cutter below, I ended up with a rubber ducky duck. Too cute! I forgot to tell you…make the basic forms from bulk plain wool then just add a surface color for a natural, mottled look. Mixing colors also adds a realistic touch, like adding shading to an oil painting.

Happy Duckling!

Happy Duckling!

Yes, I do have needle pricks on my fingers. It is easy to get carried away and forget to watch where I am punching. Ouch. Ouch. But I’m getting better. Needle felting is very rewarding, for beginners and masters of the art.

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A SURE SIGN OF SPRING–CHICK TIME!

Chicks--So much more than marshmallow...

Chicks–So much more than marshmallow…


The banner posted at the entrance of BIG R read “Chick Time!” The familiar sound of peeping chicks greeted us as we entered the store. I followed the sound to a fenced area filled with large tub brooders with warming lights. Chicks in colors of buff, red, brown and traditional yellow were pecking, eating, drinking, and generally running around inside. A sign said “press red button for help selecting chicks.”

For a few fleeting moments I told myself I need to raise chickens. My grandfather owned Riverview Hatchery in Pekin, Illinois and I have fond memories of visiting the warehouse in the spring to see the hundreds of baby chicks in the brooder. Grandpa would pluck one out and place it gently in our hands to hold for a minute. My mother attempted to raise chickens for profit at our country home but it proved to be more work and expense than they bargained for. Back yard chickens, however, are making a comeback.

What about 3 or 4…just enough to provide fresh eggs for the two of us? It sounds idyllic but my husband has a strong aversion to chickens. He remarked, “Oh they look cute and fluffy yellow now. But then they scratch and roll around in the dirt and peck you when you claim their eggs.” I gather his experiences on his grandparents’ farm were not positive. Still, hearing the high-pitched peeps of young chicks reminds me of spring and it is just around the corner.

Backyard Chickens

Backyard Chickens

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For Posterity

Selfie at 65...

Selfie at 65…

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Snapshots Of Home

Coffee + Cookie = Winter Survival

Coffee + Cookie = Winter Survival

Chocolate Chip Cookie in the Sun Room

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Christening Gown

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Family Pictures on the Mantle

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Grandmother’s Morton Pottery Dog Vase

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Dried Rose Wreath & McCoy and Morton Pitcher Collection

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Family Pictures on Book Shelves

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Gracie/Canada Goose Print

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Vintage Camisole, Cottage Print and Lavender Sachet’

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Vintage Sheepskin Lamb & 1852-Boston Language of Flowers Book “Flora’s Lexicon”

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A Cozy Cottage Dinner

HAM & BEANS SOUP WITH FRESHLY BAKED BOULE' BREAD

HAM & BEANS SOUP WITH FRESHLY BAKED BOULE’ BREAD

Hot and hearty simple meals were a staple in country living and extremely satisfying. In challenging economic times, my advice to young women would be to learn how to cook from scratch, learn how to garden, and have your spiritual house in order so that when tough times come, you know how to live by faith. My grandmother survived and thrived in the Great Depression using those simple principles.

A good cook is one who can make rice and beans taste delicious. A good cook can create a lovely meal from basic ingredients from the freezer or pantry. A good cook can whip up fresh bread from simple ingredients like flour, salt, water, yeast, and a little olive oil. A small bag of Great Northern White Beans, frozen left-over ham from Christmas plus seasonings from the pantry result in a pot of Country Ham and Beans that will warm us up all week.

COUNTRY HAM & BEANS
Soak a 1 lb. bag of Great Northern dried beans overnight in cold water in the refrigerator. Drain and rinse. Place soaked beans in a large stock pot and cover two to three times level of beans with fresh water. Add one large chopped onion, 2 large cloves chopped garlic, 2 tsp. ginger, 2 tsp. dry mustard, 1 large bay leaf, 1/2 tsp. black pepper or 6-8 peppercorns, 2 dashes dried thyme, and 1/2 to 1 pound ham or 1 package country style pork ribs, cut into chunks. Add 2 tb. concentrated paste chicken base or to taste. I find an excellent chicken base at GFS or specialty food stores. Check the label to make sure “chicken” is first on the ingredient list rather than salt.

Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer or low boil and cook until beans are tender. For a creamier dish, break up beans. Taste to adjust seasonings. At this stage, I sometimes add more chicken stock or onion/garlic powder to taste.

STOCK UP FOR GOOD EATING
I like to keep jars of good quality beef and chicken stock in my pantry. Even if I am low on fresh meat, these concentrated paste stocks add rich meat flavor to rice, beans, gravy, casseroles, pasta…everything. It is also an economical way to cook as the stocks go a long way and make inexpensive basics taste great. Just add the herbs and spices for your dish of choice. Here are a few seasonings I use for dishes:

Italian: oregano or marjoram, basil, bay, onion and garlic

Mexican: Chilies, cumin, chili powder, onion and garlic, herbs as preferred, cinnamon

Mediterranean: Greek Seasoning [one of my favorites for so many things], oregano, thyme, olive oil/olives, lemon

Indian: Curry Powder–1 tsp. cumin, 1 tsp. coriander, 1 tsp. turmeric, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 1/4 tsp. clove, 1 tsp. cardamom, 1 tsp. onion pwd., cayenne as preferred

Thai: coconut milk, fish sauce, teriyaki sauce, soy sauce, red curry paste

Japanese: soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, lemon grass, sesame oil

For more cottage basics, visit my Board at Pinterest called “The Frugal Cottage Life.” The recipe for Boule’ is also on this site.

THE FIRST SLICE OF WARM BREAD SLATHERED WITH BUTTER BELONGS TO THE BAKER!

THE FIRST SLICE OF WARM BREAD SLATHERED WITH BUTTER BELONGS TO THE BAKER!

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Roses in Winter Valentine Wreath

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Assemble:
A wire wreath form
Dried Roses
Spanish Moss
Fillers such as Baby’s Breath and Cockscomb Celosia
Dried Rose Hips and Crab Apples

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Wrap the wreath form with the Spanish moss and tack in place with hot glue.

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Glue dried roses onto form and fill in with celosia and berries. Top dress with Baby’s Breath. Insert a wire hook in the back for hanging.

The roses were the last autumn blooms on my husband’s Daybreak rose bush. They have been hanging in our country kitchen drying, just waiting for me to use them in a variety of projects. This year it is a romantic dried rose wreath for Valentine’s Day–Roses in Winter!

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