Monday, September 28, 2009

the pros and cons of getting out of the house

The summer is over. Granted, it's a beautiful day today, the birds are singing, and last night I saw another firefly. Two of them, in fact, one on each side of the lawn. I've never known them to linger so long.

Still, the summer is over. I can tell in the bug sound in the woods, where locusts have given way to crickets. I can tell in the trees, where a shimmer of red and yellow hide among the green leaves and hint at the explosion of colour to come. I can tell in the breeze, where a chill is on the air, even if I don't yet feel it on my skin. I taste it, somehow.

Tomorrow is my first day of class, so of course I've been dreaming of classrooms and teachers and lost lessons and waking up in the middle of the night to lie there, sleepless. Around me, a slowly-accumulating clutter has begun to irritate me. The picture frame that houses the couple shot of a couple that is no more. A slowly growing stash of knit baby clothes. A chemo cap knit for the wife of a friend whose cancer has killed her hopes of a baby. Another knitting project, almost finished, but with a mistake that will require ripping out the left front shoulder before I can resume. As it's a summer top, I doubt I'll be able to wear it this year, but if I don't finish it now, picking it up again next summer will require major study to figure out just how I put it together! Best to finish it now. . . . There's a stack of clothes to go to the thrift shop, and a silk kimono I bought years ago and thought I might finally start to wear. It's a small step to the clothes-to-go pile, but I doubt it will make it. Then, of course, papers and books. A wedding invitation, and a copy of Nana's remember-when's for her memorial service.
I remember Nana always thought the same dragonfly came back every year to skim the pool. "Look! He's back!" she'd cray, and then warn: "He'll sew up your lips if you're not careful."
I don't know why it's so, but going to work outside of the house is likely to result in a reduction of clutter. For one thing, less time to pull out things, get started, and then move on to something else. For another, order in one area of life tends to spill over into others.

Time for a little order.

Friday, September 25, 2009

identifying the problem

Some of my favorite clothes were found in thrift shops ("Charity shops," for my Irish friends). I love thrift shops, and they seem to love me, based on the amazing number of wonderful finds that have come to live in my closet and take turns going out with me on excursions, draped over my body.

There are not usually a lot of things in my size, but what is there is usually choice. . . . I've often wondered why someone would be getting rid of some of the things I've found, and have started to conclude that perhaps it no longer fits. Thank God I've stayed somewhat trim in this land of large and getting-larger people!

Anyway, that was my conclusion when I snagged a gorgeous red and black houndstooth plaid that looked brand new a few weeks ago at my favorite hospital thrift shop. (Hospital thrifts shops, by the way, are notorious for great clothes - all those doctor's wives. . . .) Granted, it was a petite (and I almost didn't even try it on - but that fabric!) still, the waistband was snug even on me, who normally wears sizes smaller than the stated "10". Well, that's what needle and thread are for - as buttons are easily moveable. The pleated skirt fit fine otherwise, and I got it for a dollar.

I've worn it several times, now. Ironed, it could go to the office, but it's also washable flannel, so I've worn it around the Greenwood, and wiped dirty hands on it, and gathered the last of the tomatoes in it, scooped up in front, the way Nana tells me she used to gather chicks in her apron.

Today dawned overcast and chilly with rain. I found myself resistant to wearing the red flannel skirt, though, and couldn't quite tell why. I thought about it, and realized I'd avoided wearing it several times already, so I put it on purposefully to see if I couldn't find out why. I found out pretty quickly. It's scratchy around the waistband! In five minutes I was irritable. Hmmm. Maybe it's not just a function of moving the button. The skirt is just uncomfortable. That might be the reason the former owner never wore it and eventually got rid of it.

Fellow former lawyer turned writer Gretchen Rubin writes a blog called The Happiness Project (book out in December), and one of her happiness commandments is "Identify the problem." She's right: it's amazing what you can solve once you've identified the problem!

I took the skirt off. Inside the waistband, sewn on with some sort of nylon thread that sticks out and into your skin, was the label. Well, that's what seam rippers are [also] for: trying to take brand labels off clothing without making a hole. Sorry, Eddie Bauer! If you can't afix a label that doesn't make me irritable and chafe my skin, it's coming off! Either the skirt, or the label.

It appears the first owner took the skirt off - and eventually got rid of it.

I just got rid of the label.

Monday, September 21, 2009

in which the studio is opened . . . and closed again

Luther has a blue spot on his left forearm. Right, as you're looking at him.

"A bruise?" I thought, involuntarily, before I collected my thoughts.

"A sunspot." I'd been peering out the french doors into a courtyard made brilliant by the early morning sun and then looked down at Luther, who was regally crouched at my feet in his best stone lion pose, mistress and hound in the wave-farewell-to-the-king ritual. Sunspot - do you know, those purpleish spots you see before your eyes when you glance away from a brightly lit object? - but this spot was stationary, not darting about with my eyes.

Oh. I remember. I guess it did leave a mark.

No, Luther does not have a bruise. I'm the one who gets bruises from him - bruises we can see, anyway - I guess Luther might get bruises underneath his fur from his own wild antics. . . . But this was not a bruise.

Yesterday, the sky was crisp and clear and achingly blue. The weekly visit to the king-mum had been accomplished and we celebrated with a glass of wine and an inspection of the garden before settling down at a small table in dappled shade. I had thrown open the studio to air it out and with renewed intentions to really get working in there! I've taken Cindy's advice and divided the space into 4 different zones of influence. Five, if you count the little four-poster bed, but I don't.

Walking in, there's art on the near left, gardening on the far, and music on the near right, with textiles and sewing beyond. The four-poster shares space with music, but gets involved in all the other spaces too, except perhaps for gardening. I like to recline. . . . but it's also handy for laying out new quilt designs, or for viewing new pictures, and yes, for gardening too, as I try to make sense of a workable plan for a garden next year. This year's garden had its moments, but there's no getting around it: I have to tackle the mess the builder left in the one reliably sunny spot I'd always planned for the garden. The soil there is multi-colored, white in some spots, yellow in others, and some cement gray. With rain, black sludge forms, followed by algae that starts bright green, but then rusts out. Several species of die-hard weeds and grasses have managed to set up modest colonies here and there. Well, if I've learned anything this year, it's to do the preparation work before you bring in plants. I now have a whole fall and long winter to do grueling preparations. The four-poster will figure heavily in the planning stages.

I digress.

That's what usually happens when I go into the studio. On any given day, I can fall into any number of transportations, be it flights of colour, line, sound. . . . texture. . . . word. Yesterday, it was still all about the garden, though, and the king and I discussed the prospects of the boxwood, given the unusually heavy rains in late summer, and wondered about the crape myrtles, only one of which has flowered, so far, fitfully.

Luther was being suspiciously quiet. That usually means he's up to no good. The one thing that is reliably capable of sending me into a rage is the sight of his having dug out and then shaken to death a plant I've been coaxing along in these inhospitable soils right around the house. I've got a small start on some ground cover on the far side of the studio which he's had his eye on, so I finally got up. As I walked around the studio, he was standing out in the middle of the worst of the toxic flats, just looking at me. I checked all the new plantings - all looked untouched - and I looked back at Luther. He looked guilty, but I didn't know what of.

"C'mon boy. You come over here and lie down with us and stay out of trouble!" He came over, and I guided him with my hands back towards our table. As I reached for my wine again, I noticed I had blue all over my hands.

"What in the world?!"

"He's probably gotten himself a pen out of the studio." the king said. Right. That sounded right, only I couldn't find it. The blue washed off readily, however, so maybe it wasn't ink. I returned to the table. One thing about Luther that I have learned to appreciate is that he is not usually secretive about his depredations. If he knows he's not supposed to get into something (or has serious doubts) he will usually drag the thing into view, drop it, and then stand there looking at you. If you don't say anything - or are not paying attention - he will proceed with the shredding. He is ignored at your peril.

As we sat at table, Luther disappeared again and then reappeared, this time in the front pasture, carrying something small and white.

"Drop it!" I yelled, and he complied, but started the beginnings of the conquered-foe-celebration dance, which involves lunges, stompings, snappings, and shaking the thing before throwing it into the air with rapid fire castenets-like snapping and then the final shredding.

"Leave it!" I warned, and moved towards him. He snapped at the object and flung it into the air, but then backed away. Great. It was one of my tubes of paint. Well, that explains the blue, doesn't it? I picked up the tube and closed up the studio. Then I scouted around until I found a blotch of blue on the earth where Luther had been standing earlier and scooped up the disemboweled tube for a decent burial.

Like the garden, I have a lot of preparation work to do in the studio before it'll be safe for anything else to flourish in that space. . . .

Meanwhile, poor Luther has been put out of the doghouse, which we'd taken to calling the studio, given his love of lounging there on his big-boy bed. I only hope that we don't see any more blue today, in other applications. The blue of the sky is, of course, always an exception.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

garden recap

To summarize, there's the failed garden, the tomato garden and the water garden. [ a tale of three gardens]

The failed garden produced a lot of weeds, prolific carrot, beet and radish tops, a goodly amount of smallish tomatoes with no taste, and some pretty - but stunted - red chard.

Steve came over the other day to help me shut it down. Here, by the way, is a visual depiction of why the garden failed. Yes, the failed garden is in the dark place - who knew the sun would be just to the right of where we put the garden?!

But before we shut it down completely, we dug out the languishing gladioli and peony and tried to remember where we'd put the potatoes.

"Do you think there will actually BE any potatoes?" I asked, "The greens died back quite a while ago. . . ."

Steve replied, ever confident. "We just have to find them." Much digging ensued. Yes, Luther liked that part, and entered into the game with vim and much vigor. Ha! Lookee here!! A potato. Whaddya know?! All right, so there weren't that many of them, but what fun to find them! Here's the full haul. Really, you could stop laughing now. . . .

In other garden news, the tomato garden is now rather spindly, yellowing and browning, but there are still several Long Tom tomatoes on the vine, so I'll leave it standing until those ripen. Those were the favorite this year, by the way. Bright red all the way through, almost solid flesh, very few seeds and, according to the king, delicious.

The water garden has had its ups and downs - growth and water level-wise. We've had a LOT of rain! The Fairy Tale aubergine did not do well there - and I finally transplanted them into a container in the courtyard where I hope I can control the water and the bugs that reduce its leaves to a tracery. I secured some seeds from the few which did grow, and which I will plant early [in containers!] next year. We may get some more aubergines this year, however, if the new flowers on the recovering plants are any indication.

After a full growing season, I now count myself well able to distinguish between a newly germinated bean vine and the weed version that looks almost identical, but grows twice as fast, strangling everything in sight, before putting out little white flowers and no beans. I don't think I can describe the difference to you, it's really more a general feeling I now get of malevolence from the weed versions. Of course, over a day or two you can see the growth spurt, which is also a dead giveaway.

Speaking of growth spurts, note to self: One Thomas Jefferson vine (the so-called Hyacinth Bean, now rumored to be toxic?!) is MORE than enough to adorn just about any trellis, wall or other structure. Ten was overkill. . . . It lures you into complacency, however, by a very slow start. It germinates only once the soil is good and warm, and then puts out the initial leaves and then. . . . just sits there. For weeks - nothing. You plant more. By now, of course, the sun has warmed the soil and they germinate a bit more rapidly, put out the initial leaves, and. . . . sit.

OK, maybe one or two more. . . .

Same story.

Suddenly, they all erupt. They're pretty things - look at these flowers! The bean pods are just forming, and not quite visible. I have to resolve whether or not they're edible. I'm hearing conflicting reports. Typical, the one thing I should have PLENTY OF might be toxic. Figures.

Anyway, here, you can't see the wall they've engulfed. I'm also a little worried about the 'Hummingbird Vine' I planted along with them. That's the feathery fern-type foliage you can see in the foreground. And that's just from one seed. One teeney, tiny seed. Oh how I hope they don't produce more seeds. . . . But back to the water garden: the beans are finally doing well, now in the cooler weather. Further note to self: green beans are hard to spot next to green leaves and vines. (keep looking at the picture and see how many you can find! There's more than you think) Unfortunately, I planted only the Scarlet Runner beans in the water garden - next year, I'm sticking with the Purple Podded Pole bean. . . . They're beautiful, and a whole lot easier to see! Oh, and they turn green when you cook 'em, so not to worry that eating purple beans might put you off. . . . [I think I'd like them purple, but, like I said, they turn green when cooked. Sorry!]

I gave up on the failed garden tomatoes I'd planted from seed (Cour di Bue Italian heirlooms) and threw some seeds in the water garden. The first tomato is finally almost ripe! One good thing about lots of water is that you don't see skin splits on the fruit. Apparently that's a result of "uneven" watering. . . . The tomato garden suffered from "uneven watering" - as split skins testified!

Here, you see that the arugula is also flourishing in the cooler weather. We may actually get a salad out of that! The red chard looks ok. . . . not exactly like what you see in the grocery store. Ah - but here - basil! Oh, my, basil. . . . It's almost 4 feet tall and very, very healthy! Yep. Planted from seed. A 'Genovese' strain. Very flavorful! I'll collect seeds from that.

Next on the agenda, replacing the crap-for-soil Tom builder used instead of real dirt in the area I told him [over and over and over again] would be the garden. There's just no getting around it. Nothing will grow there otherwise! And there's not a whole lot of sun in the areas that still have pristine soil.

Ah well. I've got all fall and winter to work at it. Who needs a gym membership when you have a shovel, pickaxe, wheelbarrow and rock and hardened clay slime to excavate and haul away?! The worst part is that the soil here was just perfect. Rich and not a rock to be found. Certainly no clay. Lot of roots, though! It is a forest. . . .

Friday, September 4, 2009

a quiet sit down. . . .

The bench outside - the one I look at every morning and evening and sit on much less frequently (unfortunately) - has made a U.K. appearance.

Writer Sarah Salway's delightful little bench of a site, A Quiet Sit Down features benches from all over. Quirky benches, gorgeous benches, startling benches, intriguing benches. . . .

And now the greenwood bench, from my favorite place in the whole world.

I'll be back in a minute.*

*"It only takes a minute to spend a couple of hours."
(from Captain Jim in Lucy Maude Montgomery's Anne's House of Dreams)