Sunday, July 22, 2018

Mr Shoestring The Birdbrain

Mr Shoestring is in the grips of a powerful new obsession which has come completely out of the blue.  He is entirely taken up with the welfare of the birds which frequent (in ever increasing numbers) the garden at Shoestring Cottage.  It started out harmlessly enough with a bird feeder, but when that blew away in a storm he replaced it with another, larger double feeder and then found the original one as well, which he duly hung in place once more.  So far so good; but then he decided this wasn't sufficient.  Yesterday he nonchalantly told me he was "just popping along the road for some bird seed" and when he returned I was surprised to find he has bought 20kg of bird seed.


 To justify this he explained that it was in fact an economy measure and that it would work out cheaper in the long run.  Also he bought some "logs" for feeding the birds and he was very upset to find the birds completely ignored them, which necessitated moving them to various spots around the garden in the hopes that the birds would look more favourably upon these fresh offerings.  When this failed, rather than abandon that idea he set off and bought more logs, with a different flavour.  He spends a good deal of his time peering out the windows, muttering to himself "Eat birds, eat", and fretting that they will never come to his offerings.  I didn't like to point out to him this morning that whole flocks of them had left the back garden and were in the front garden, gorging themselves silly on things such as rosemary flowers and rose hips.  It would have been just too unkind.

I must commend Mrs Shoestring though for his tolerance in the home decorating area.  For many years I have gradually introduced more and more floral accents into the cottage, particularly the bedroom, with roses being my particular favourite.  Rosy jugs, pink depression glass china, rose prints on the walls, and finally the piece de resistance, a rose print which I unearthed on a particularly fruitful day's shopping with my sister.


(I like to remind myself that while I bought a rose print and a few op shop bits and pieces, she bought a beautiful Victorian dining table, four balloon back chairs and many trees for her garden, somehow it makes me feel better.)  This print is now hanging above the bed and not only did Mr Shoestring not bat an eyelid, he even hung it for me.  (This is because decades ago I used to hang things myself and he never liked the way I did it; apparently you have to tap all over the wall to find mysterious things called noggins before you can proceed, which seems downright silly to me, but I bow to his peculiar preference and let him hang things up these days.  It saves us from having a lot of unpleasant scenes.) 

One of the best things about this weekend at Shoestring Cottage (especially since the weather was complete rubbish once more), was that I finally finished this quilt.  I don't know how many years ago it was started (and it's best not to dwell on such depressing questions), but half way through I hit upon the idea, which seemed brilliant to me at the time, that rather than having it the same front and back, I could use different colours.  Terra cotta and green for the "winter" side of the quilt,


and yellow and green for the "summer" side. 
Mr Shoestring much prefers the terra cotta version, which was the originally planned one.


Of course this meant making a whole lot more pieces and set progress back by a long way, but it also made the quilt more interesting to complete.  Or that was the plan anyway.  Mr Peaceable Kingdom suggested to me that I should not only label my quilts with my name and year of completion, but the year of commencement, which was a very hard hearted and mean thing to say, I thought.  I'm congratulating myself that so far this year I have finished two quilts, which was the total for the whole of last year.  If I make four this year, who knows how many I will get through next year? 

We have had another winter art deco weekend in Napier and it was a wonderful one, possibly the best yet.  (I think perhaps I say this every time, but no matter.)  We attended the tea dance and the opening ball, also the radio play and a wonderful talk on hats.  This was very inspiring as we recently went on a weekend course where we learnt from a wonderful milliner the basics of hat making.  We were thrilled that The Dancing Queen could attend as well, so there was quite a bit of chatter and laughter and gossip as well as the hat making.  Our tutor was very friendly and wonderfully knowledgeable and we came away feeling much more confident and ready to create our own hats for future deco events.  It was absolutely blissikins.  While at winter Art Deco weekend we managed to catch up with the Southern Sisters and as ever were inspired by their wonderful costumes, especially the attention to detail with using the correct sewing techniques, fabrics and materials.  We met new art deco chums from as far afield as Sydney as well and as usual came away full of ideas for marvellous confections in the hat department and stunning costumes for next year.  We recently visited a shop in Auckland which sells Japanese imported antiques and memorabilia and were excited to find silk kimono which would be perfect for cutting up to use in making dresses, but so far have been afraid to take to them with scissors, it would seem to be a desecration. 

On the way to Deco we stopped at all the op shops and unearthed quite a bit of treasure.  I was particularly thrilled with this jug with a cross stitch design on it,


also a mother of pearl brooch (a bit bright to show up properly here)


and a diamante hair clip. 


 This pansy bowl of course is a favourite of course,


 and we also found a hat block and several bits of clothing to alter for summer deco.


I'm going to attempt to make a blue rayon two piece suit into something more deco with the addition of some pockets trimmed with embroidered finger napkins and a collar and sleeve alterations.  And mother of pearl buttons if I can find any in the right size. 

Mr Shoestring found an evening suit and cummerbund, plus a hat or two, so he was well pleased. 

Puddings aren't my forte and when I foolishly offered to take one to The Peaceable Kingdom this weekend it caused a bit of hasty rustling through my sparse collection of recipes at Shoestring Cottage.  I have made this pudding before and it always turns out successfully, though it is officially called a fruit cake it's excellent as a warm pudding in winter time as well.  I had no fresh fruits but used cherries, nectarines, pears and apricots for a mixture of colours and flavours and it came out very well.  Put the cherries on top so they aren't buried underneath the other fruits, and put the pears on first if using them, as they look rather anaemic and bland compared to the more colourful fruits such as nectarines and apricots.  .  I'll put the recipe on the side bar. 

Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Big Birthday - Or, Abandoning Oneself To One's Eccentricities





I've recently had a Big Birthday (60 glorious years, in fact), which turned into a bit of a fiesta rather than a one day only kind of event.  Mr Shoestring and my adorable offspring, friends and family treated me like royalty and I thoroughly enjoyed being spoilt rotten.  It's a shame it can't go on every day of the year, but I suppose in time the novelty would wear off.  Eventually.  Perhaps.  I decided to stop resisting temptation, and abandon myself to my eccentricities, and asked Mr Shoestring to give me an antique plaster Madonna which I had had my beady eyeball on for some time, and I'm thrilled with her.  She has a cloak of the perfect shade of blue I always envisaged, and though she is a little worn and chipped and the worse for wear, I think it only adds to her charm.


 After all, I could say the same about myself now that I have achieved such a venerable age.  I'm going to use her as a kind of shrine and have fresh flowers and maybe a scented candle and some incense beside her. 

My dear sister, The Equestrienne, gave me the perfect birthday present given my current craze for collecting things related to the Queen's visit.  It was this medal, and I'm not sure whether these were given out only to people who attended events during the royal visit, or whether any old Joe Bloggs could purchase them.  Regardless, it is a very definite symbol of one's attachment to Her Royal Highness.  I did think that my sister was a little unreasonable when she added the caveat that I was only allowed the gift if I wore the medal on all special occasions and outings though. 



Apart from the birthday celebrations, there has been fun and games in the garden.  For one thing, the plates to hang on the back wall have been accumulating and since it was my birthday Mr Shoestring obliged me by hanging a few more on the freshly painted calamine lotion pink wall.  (Perhaps this was where the super-eccentric phase started, it occurs to me.)


They are mainly smallish ones, since that size are the ones which tend to go for 50 cents in the op shop, but this weekend I decided to sacrifice some of the large, pretty ones which I had stashed away in the kitchen cupboards.  They aren't hanging yet, but when they are added to the ever-expanding collection I predict the effect will be pretty awe-inspiring.  Some may say overwhelming and OTT but that's just their opinion. 


Having decided to abandon myself to all my eccentric urges, now that I officially am an old lady and have a good excuse, I have been wallowing unashamedly in all things pink and frilly.  I bought a pair of the vase above and gave one to my equestrienne sister.  (As a punishment for her insisting that I wear my medal at all times, I should have given it to her on the understanding that she needed to attach it to the dashboard of her car and keep it always stocked with flowers, but it didn't occur to me at the time.)  I kept the other one for myself.  The china is fragile as tissue and it's remarkable that the vases have withstood the ravages of time. 


Also I've been loving these two confections.  


There are still some late roses blooming, astonishingly enough given the storms, wind and rain we have had recently.  The pink pleasure garden is looking good for the time of year, and some of the purple foliaged plants have almost become rampant. 


I'm wondering if I could strike some cuttings of this one simply by putting some stems in water.


The alstromerias are also still flowering - it has been wet and windy, but not at all cold.  

The most thrilling thing on the stitching front has been that I am finally approaching the end stages of the chicken quilt.  Madame Canuck helped me rip out the papers and a most satisfying task that was, though it did take an awfully long time.  That is the mark of a true friend, a person who will sit with you and labour over such a tedious but necessary undertaking!




I decided to use the edging technique I have tried once before, finishing off with hexies around the edge and then flipped back over the backing and stitched in place, so that none of the hexagons are lost through trimming.  Also it helps to use up all the "extras" which are invariably left over due to my inability to calculate the numbers required.  I like the look of this but it is awfully time consuming.  I have finished one side, three more to go and then I will be done.  Fortunately this time I haven't developed a hatred for the quilt and can even to look upon it fondly, which is just as well considering all the hours which have gone into its construction. 


It is very disappointing when a quilt has a backing fabric unsuitable to the theme or colours of the quilt, or at least I think so, and this one has the theme whole heartedly continued in the backing. 


We have a chicken all over fabric 


 Plus some chicken wire on the back of the quilt.  

Happy days, once this one is finished I can press on with the cup and saucer/floral themed quilt - strange to relate, it is a very pretty-pretty one and not at all Autumnal in its colourings, unlike the chicken one.  Woohoo, being an old lady isn't bad after all. 

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Pink Pleasure Garden and Other Miscellaneous Delights

After the fire which burnt down the house next door, the garden was a completely different beast.  (And beastly it was indeed for a time, with a lot of charcoal and broken glass from exploding windows, charred remains of treasured plants and so forth.)  Once things started to return to normal it was plain that the plants I had before were not all going to be suitable, because there was a lot more light and sunshine.  We worked around this and things gradually returned to a semblance of normal but somehow it just wasn't the same; my mojo wasn't working as far as the back garden went.  The back wall, which is very tall and was painted white, was beginning to look a bit scruffy where the paint was coming off and concrete showing through, and the idea came to me that it would look nice painted a calamine lotion pink.  (I know, not the usual thought which would spring to one's mind when contemplating a paint job for an outdoor wall, but there it was and I couldn't get the idea out of my mind.)  It seemed that Mr Shoestring, though remarkably understanding of my desire for all things floral and colourful, might balk at this idea, but he was only too happy to oblige and in the twinkling of an eye (or in a couple of hectic afternoons) the deed was done and the wall was pink.  It has been a resounding triumph and I am thrilled with the result.  The pale pink shade alters with the light and it very much complements (to my eye anyway) all the shades of green in the garden.

However, not happy to let things lie it came to me (in another blinding flash of inspiration) that it would look even more attractive if bedecked with all the pretty plates from op shops which I had lying around, after the big storms blew them out of trees and off trellis.  To go with the pink theme it seemed only logical to change the whole colour theme of the back garden.


 (Actually there wasn't a colour theme if I am truthful; I had started out wanting a white garden but none of the cuttings people gave me or cheap plants in markets ever seemed to be white and even the Japanese anemones, which I had hoped would have white flowers, had pink ones.)

 It seemed that a pink and purple garden with moody purple foliaged plants and lots of pink blossoms would be just the thing and so that is the new plan.  It shouldn't be too sugary, it needed quite a lot of purple and dark foliage to stop it being too chocolate box.  Things are coming along famously, though I have to admit to being rather sad about the canna lillies.  Their foliage is splendid and one of them even has purple foliage, but when the flowers bloom - bright orange, yellow and red - they will destroy the entire look of the garden.  It's a question of either ripping them all out (more easily said than done as I see they have seedlings coming up all through the lawn even), or trying to cut off the flower stems each season.  I am still pondering this question but in the meantime have planted a marvellous rose, Nahema.  This was difficult to source in high summer but there is a wonderful rose grower in the Waikato, Roach's Nursery, and the owner is the third generation of his family to run the nursery.  He was very helpful and sold me his last plant of the season.  As well as that I put in a pink Iceberg (a bit of a cliche I know, but a good doer and likely to be a survivor),

 and another one whose name I forget.  Also a pink mandevillea (I used to detest these but needs must when on a mission),

and I have heard tell of a wonderful climber called Pinkie which I am going to try to track down.  (One rose grower tried to tell me there was no such rose, but on consulting a rose tome it turns out that it does actually exist.  Hardy, disease resistant, scented, rarely without a blossom, sounds too good to be true!  I must possess one as soon as possible.)  At the markets I found some new irises and selected the ones which looked as though they would have the moody dark purple blossoms I was after, to stop the pink shades from being too sickly sweet.  And it was surprising how many purple foliaged plants were on offer, some of them already in the garden fortunately.





and even alstromerias with pink flowers.  

(The old garden staple alstromeria with orange flowers had to go, but Madame Canuck was only too happy to dig it out and cart it away to her garden where orange and yellow are welcome.  Sadly I see it is already fighting back and putting forth new shoots; let battle commence.)

Part of the joy and challenge of gardening (for me anyway) is the way things never turn out quite how you hoped/expected/planned.  A few years ago I planted a snail vine (Phaseolus) which I had high hopes for.  It languished and sulked for a long time but then must have decided that  it needed to take things into its own hands (or tendrils perhaps).  It has escaped from its allotted spot and clambered into a nearby tree, romping away in search of light no doubt and blossoming happily, more blooms this season than in all other seasons put together.  Plus which, I see it has seeded because a couple of new plants are coming up nearby.  I will try to place them in a more sympathetic location, having learned that they need more light than I understood.  The blossoms are such soft and pretty colours and the scent is good too.  Shame they are far away, high up in the tree top, so perfume not going to be appreciated. 




Apart from the frenzy in the garden we have had some wonderful finds at op shops recently.  Yesterday at the markets I was thrilled to find that the lady who has a lot of old green glass was keen to be rid of some of her smaller pieces and I swooped upon a green glass lemon squeezer, a semi-circular vase, and two little green glass jugs.



 (I am sure they would have been used for serving the mint sauce to go with the roast lamb which used to be such a ritual dish in this part of the world before we knew about cholesterol and the dangers of eating too much meat and so on and so forth.)  The Dancing Queen gave me a beautiful little green glass measuring jug and it would have been rude to make it languish alone in the kitchen without some of these for companionship.

Talking to my sister and telling her about the new Pink Pleasure Garden we thought it would be a wonderful idea to have a garden party there when it's established, complete with all the pretty old china we have amassed over the decades.  (She has a lot of very beautiful hand painted cup saucer and plate combos, so we could go absolutely bonkers on the floral theme for the table.)  Then she mentioned her set of teaspoons, recently discovered at the op shop, which I was very jealous of.  I have managed to find one or two, but not a set of six.  Mine are all different and through some judicious bargaining and swapping I have increased my selection.  For Home And Country they proudly declare.  I'm not sure if this is the motto of The Countrywomen's Institute, but it sounds as though it might be.

It goes splendidly with my small but growing collection of memorabilia from the Queen's visit and my sister so kindly gave me some additions to this collection. 

My sister also gave me the most charming was a brooch which when opened has a concertina of small pictures inside, so the patriotic wearer could keep Her Majesty close to her heart. Imagine a time when people felt so strongly about their monarch, and it was only a comparatively short time ago too. 



The other thing which came home from the op shop recently was this marvellous desk calendar, a souvenir of a trip to New York which somebody must have treasured and kept polished for decades.  It has little knobs to spin to alter the day and month, and a rectangular piece which flips over to alter the date.   

When you get to the end of the month it has very specific instructions on how to reset it for the next month. 

So interesting that people would go to all this trouble to keep track of the day and date.