Monday, February 20, 2017

Early Birds

We have been enjoying unseasonably warm temperatures for February.  Along with most of the country.  It is becoming more and more usual for us to get winters here in Western NY where you can spend a day or two sitting outside enjoying the sunshine.  What is not normal, is sitting on the patio on February 19th, watching blue birds fight over the bird house.  Two pairs.  I wouldn't expect to see them until May.  And now I want to build more bird houses.

Photo from June 2013
 Surprise #2 came this morning when on my way to work I spotted a small flock of robins.  They used to arrive mid-April.  The past two or three years they have been early, first appearing mid-March.  Mid-February is a record.  

I feel like I should plant peas or something!

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Chain Reactions - also referred to as "collecting"

Collections start with a chain reaction don't they?  You see something you like so you buy it and take it home because its so neat that you want to look at it some more.   And then you see another one that is exactly like the first, or just slightly different, and the novelty of that discovery leads to you buying that one too so you can take it home, set them side by side and look at them some more.  That's how I ended up with several hundred year old marshmallow cans. Of course there are those of us who collect still useful items and defend our collection with "but I use those".  Of course.  But how many can you use at one time?

Take for instance enamelware roasters.  Years ago I bought a small oval roaster for my kitchen collection.  I thought it would be nice to display in my 1920s Even-Heet oven.  I love the oval shape which is a bit different than the squarish, flat topped, rounded end roasters that look big and clunky and it was small so it wouldn't take up too much room in our little house.

I've used the oval roaster many times.  The double walled construction makes the best roast chicken ever.  I liked it so much that I thought I'd keep an eye out for a larger version so I could try roasting a turkey in it.  I still haven't found one because I haven't found one in the right color with a domed top (as opposed to flat) and  dimples (instead of rings).  I love these dimples.  This attention to detail, while it may sound a little obsessive, is the only thing that keeps a collection in check.  If I weren't so picky I would have too many pieces of enamelware.  Like more than 90.   Ahem.... so...

I have seen a few round roasters, and I thought they were kind of interesting.  I liked their proportions.  But I have a roaster.  If I needed another roaster, and that's a big if, it would be a large roaster.  And then I saw ~ dimples.

The two roasters will now have to share display space

And that's how I've ended up with so many enamelware pieces.  When I started out my intent was to fully accessorize my Hoosier cabinet, gas oven, and refrigerator.  I found an article in a 1933 Good Housekeeping Magazine which listed the inventory of a well equipped kitchen.

There is only one piece of enamelware in this ad.
The tea kettle on the stove.  It was all down hill from there.
So I started with the basics.  One tea kettle, one coffee pot, one milk pitcher...  And then I became what collectors call a "completist".  Which translates to "I have to have every variation they made".  That's not really possible with enamelware because of the very wide range of products.  But you can get most of the way there.

If you like Cream City Jello molds, you need both the round one and the oval one.

Cream City Jello Molds
Creamers?  Did you know some of them come with lids?  I didn't.  I love things with lids.  So I needed another creamer.

And while I'm at it, I decided I'd collect a whole bunch of creamers.

A small assortment of creamers
To go with my tea...

This tea kettle was the first or second piece I bought.
...and Coffee.

The tall coffee "bigguns" were harder to find.
Then I found two at once.

Large and small Preserving Kettles
An assortment of refrigerator dishes
And that's how a collection starts.  I collect several different things.  Old print blocks, playing cards, horse anchors, bits, trophies, chicken stuff, farm stuff etc.  But the enamelware is my favorite and at least its still useful, besides being decorative.  What sort of neat stuff do you all collect?

1936 apartment sized Frigidaire

Monday, January 30, 2017

Beer Growlers and Mush Mugs

That title got your attention didn't it?  No telling what I will get into during the long winter months between gardens. What the hey is a Beer Growler or a Mush Mug?  Well, one or the other of them might look like this:

Beer Growlers are containers used to transport your daily helping of beer home from the draft at the local tavern.  It makes sense really, that they should have two handles, not only to make the hand-off go smoothly, but you can clutch your beer growler in two hands so you don't spill as you totter home.  Mush Mugs are large mugs sometimes used to warm food (porridge comes to mind), but they don't sound like quite as much fun as a Beer Growler.

I bought this little collection mostly for the three nesting bowls with lids.  It is amazing really, after all these years, that all six pieces were still together.  Especially after 80-ish years.  They are very very well used.  Just think of how many times these have been washed (or as Tim observed after seeing their condition "not washed") in their lifetime.  Just imagine the recipes that were made.  These did not belong to anyone who had the money to replace their bowls every few years.  These look like they stuck it out for a lifetime.  I tried every cleaning method I know on them, Citric Acid, Iron-Out, Bar Keeper's Friend, and while I did get all of the rust and sticky gunk off of them, nothing is going to bring them back to a youthful luster.  This is as good as it gets.

So I bought the collection because of the bowls, but when I unwrapped the package, I instantly fell in love with the Growler.  If that is indeed what it is.  My reference books identify them as "either Biscuit Tin or Beer Growler" and I cannot find an example in any of my original sales pages of either item.  This one came without a lid, but I did have one unmatched lid floating about which had come on something it didn't even remotely fit.  However, it settled perfectly into the rim of the growler as if it were home again.

Now for those of you who have never heard of a beer growler, here is a little history and explanation on them.  This one really looks like just a really big mug, if you are into two fisted beer drinking in that volume, and I have seen very large straight sided mugs with single handles referred to as Mush Mugs, but I have absolutely no use for a Mush Mug.  So instead of thinking it could be a biscuit tin, or a very large mug, this will forever be known as The Growler.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Out of Hand

In my experience, January is the time when gardens are most likely to get out of hand.  Not June when the weeds grow faster than the vegetables or August when everything needs to be watered at once.  It's January.  Which is why it is best to make your future gardening plans in August when you have months of gardening under your belt and you might just be a bit more realistic about watering and pests and the size of the harvest.

So I make my detailed plan and if I want to alter it I save the "realistic" plan first so I can go back to it for a reality check.

All through the year I pin things I want or need so I don't forget that I need more earth staples and wire cloches and order more cucumber grids instead.  It also gives me a good reference to go back to files of previous years to see which varieties worked and where I got them.

Strawberry Blonde Marigold
Seed catalogs are flooding in.  I keep a stack by my bed to grow dreams on.  I begin marking varieties I've never heard of in catalogs I've never ordered from.  It takes time to consolidate into reasonable orders so you aren't ordering just one or two things from each supplier.  That's not postally efficient.

 You have to work the system.  For instance, Burpee is having a free shipping on $20 sale, so I ordered $20 of peas and beans knowing that when my order arrives it will have a coupon to use on a $50 order and then I and then I can get my pepper seeds and frivolous things like sunflowers.  And I try not to order Strawberry Blonde Marigolds just to see if they really look like that.  I don't need peach shades of marigolds.  I need yellow and orange ones... but the strawberry ones look so unique....

As the bitter winter wind blows outside my window and my garden beds sleep under mounds of soft snow, I flip through photos of warm, barefoot summer days with lush foliage and tidy rows and I lose all sense of perspective.

I think fondly of warm Saturday mornings with the sun on the rise and the dew fresh and clean on perfect leaves and I lose all control.

I remember picking bushels of fresh lettuce and baskets of peas and I dream of acres of plants and a harvest that will feed a small army.

I remember fondly the sweltering heat of summer and pickle day.

Pickle Day 2011
And these are the things that lead to over planning.  Before I know it I'm making lists of things like winter squash and fennel and artichokes.  None of which I eat or have room for.  I get wild ideas about growing enough pumpkins to line the length of the driveway or Indian corn or pop corn.  I begin to think it would be wise to have a medicinal herb garden.

The Jungle Garden 2008
Yes this is how gardens get out of hand.  It's January that does it.  It's probably best just to forget about gardening until March and then surprise yourself with the orderly lists you made last August.  And stay out of the seed catalogs!

Monday, December 26, 2016


Since the two comments I received on the Christmas decorating blog mentioned the Ball Jar Winterscapes, I thought I would share some of my inspiration from Pinterest.
Winter is not yet over, so we can still celebrate with winterscapes (I leave mine out for a month or two) and if you want to do something like this next year you have a whole year to collect the right kind of glassware to work with.  You may even find some great village decor (trees and lamp posts) on sale right now.

All shapes and sizes, upside down, right side up.

Big and Little



Lamp posts and animals

Mayonaise jars

Cookie Jars

I love this one!
Putz houses

Salt Shakers


Simple or Elaborate

Just a couple of tips to leave you with.  I used epsom salts for snow.  Collections of 3 similar jars look great.  Tie some ribbon or even just twine, around the neck of the jar.  Display them in front of a sunny window.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Longest Night of the Year

Tonight is the longest night of the year, the Winter Solstice, where we have to rely on the greenery and lights we've brought into the house to remind us that spring will come and we can get back to our favorite outdoor pursuit:  gardening.

I love decorating for Christmas.  When I get an area decorated to perfection, I take all kinds of photos and make a bunch of lists and notes so I can duplicate it exactly next year.  Well after a few years, that get's boring.  So every year I try do do something a little bit different but at the same time avoid having to buy all new decorations or giving up my old favorites.  They may stay in the attic a few years in a row but I'm not parting with them!  There is a lot of money invested there.  And you know the biggest bane of Christmas decorators? Unwanted artificial trees.  They're expensive to buy and impossible to get rid of!  Unless you want to throw a winter garage sale.

The Christmas Tree 2015
Straw and Burlap.  Paper poinsettias.  Bleached pine cones.
This year I've revamped my storage system.  Instead of storing by room, I'm storing by color and type so I don't have to pull from three boxes for every new idea.  I'm also ditching as many of the deep tubs as I can because three under the bed size boxes take up the same amount of room as one deep tub, but you don't have to dig through two layers of empty packaging to get to the spare bulbs hiding at the bottom.  Shallow boxes are also easier to move around.

The Christmas Tree 2016
Stage 1
This year the big change is the Christmas Tree.  Instead of gold tones and natural decorations of blown out eggs, bleached pine cones, burlap and straw snowflakes befitting a gardener, it turned out contemporary, deep red and glittery.  That was sort of a surprise and not what I had planned, but I went with it.  

My husband has been frustrated with these two nice artificial Christmas trees we have been storing for years.  Especially since one of them was just too large to fit in this little house anymore without completely removing at least one piece of furniture. However, his mother's skinny little apartment sized tree is easy to tuck into a corner.  So on Thanksgiving morning he came hauling the big box in from the garage along with all the red decorations that went on it and soon I was hunting through all of my decor looking for anything red.  Glass bead garlands, red jingle bells, berries and velvet poinsettias.

With a natural tree, the beauty of it is the tree itself, and it shouldn't be covered up with too many embellishments.  But artificial trees - those are for holding ornaments.  The current style is to cover the poor thing up so you can barely tell there is a tree in there.  It is just a cone shaped mound of festivity.  I sort of split the difference.  But there is not much room for any more decorations.

All of the ornaments are the same shade of red with gold accents. I began to enjoy the glitteriness of it and rummaged through attic boxes to add snowflakes and icicles. The cat was excited to have a bush to hide under here in the house in the middle of winter.   She misses going out to the garden and watching the birds and the bugs.

So I picked up some little cardinals to put on the tree which she, of course, didn't notice but which made me ridiculously happy.

One of my Cardinals
Of course there are some old standby arrangements that I'm not tired of yet.

Nabisco Cracker Box with
burlap poinsettias, vintage sleigh bells, RR Lantern

My kitchen plate rack always has cranberries and this year
 I added dried orange slices with star anise centers
Kitchen Centerpiece
A friend of ours gave Tim a Christmas village service station (because he collects vintage gas station stuff). I haven't put it out for a few years because I don't have a Christmas village so I had merely set it out on a sheet of cotton and I wasn't satisfied with that. So this year I created a base on a tray for it with a gravel drive and a retaining wall and sprinkled snow everywhere which just looks so much better.

Christmas village service station
Mason Jar winterscapes

Tin Steamers full of cinnamon pine cones

Side Porch
Well that's it.  That is my Christmas house tour.
 Merry Christmas from our home to yours.
Next week the mail contents will change from sale catalogs and greeting cards to seed catalogs!