Monday, January 28, 2013

The Big Pour - And All The Little Paws

 Mr Shoestring was in a state of high anticipation on Friday night; he badly wanted to get to Shoestring Cottage and commence "the big pour" on his water feature.  All day he toiled in the heat on Saturday and was delighted with the result.  After the big pour Mr Shoestring sat back and admired the fruits of his labour


but much to his horror, the next morning he discovered that as well as the big pour there were also a lot of little paws - all over the base of his magnificent creation!  It didn't look like a gentle stroll, it seemed as if Basil or Frances (or possibly both of them and a whole group of feline friends) had taken up tap dancing.   

I suspect Florence, she may look innocent but she is concealing something

In between all this industrious creativity there was time for socialising as well.  Monsieur La Poste and Madame La Poste called in for a coffee.  (Monsiuer La Poste expressed his firm opinion that as deco devotees we should incorporate a representation of Freda Stark in our water feature.)  Then The Canucks arrived with all the fixings for delicious sangria, which we enjoyed in the shade under the old plum tree.  Mr Canuck was firmly of the opinion that a seal with a ball on its nose would be just the thing for us.

Sangria - nectar of the gods

That night my fellow goddess Mrs Peaceable came for dinner, and we enjoyed some bubbles (it was definitely the weekend for a pour).

She offered no advice as to the best statuary, but she did offer a piece of her water lily and the possibility of some fish from a kindly benefactor she knows!  Heaven.

While Mr Shoestring was beavering away outdoors on Monday I did my best to make progress on art deco costumes, but somehow the urge had left me.  I felt it was imperative that I should plant the cosmos seeds Madame La Poste had kindly brought me - after all, "fresh is best" with seed.

Mrs Peaceable had told me that she was going to start making her Christmas presents for next year immediately, and be prepared in good time.  What a good idea!  I thought I could make a start with one or two small things to begin with, so made a sachet stuffed with lavender, lemon verbena and rose geranium.

Also I had unearthed some old embroidered linen bags.  Very interesting!  Beautiful embroidery and so thoughtful that people would go to all this trouble.  I find satin stitch well nigh impossible and if I could stitch something like these I would be very proud - unbearably gloaty in fact.

But how strange to give someone a linen container for their pyjamas or linen and feel the need to name it.  I suppose it would prevent the all time gift horror situation.  "Thank you so much, I have always wanted one of these - what is it?"  Or did the embroiderers really worry that the recipient might stuff it full of kitchen utensils or shoes perhaps?  Odd, very odd.

So no more progress was made on art deco costumes this weekend but a very good time was had by all, and I shall post a recipe for sangria, that most delicious and fortifying of summertime drinks.

And speaking of delicious drinks, we had some El Transistor with Mrs Peaceable.  It was a very tasty Spanish white wine,  but the label was something I wish I could remove from the bottle and keep as a souvenir, what a lovely piece of artwork.  Can you see the transistor in the upper left hand corner?

I hope you have had a chance to relax and study a few dandelions this weekend - or the equivalent in contemplation, wherever you may be.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Birds - The Gardener's Mortal Enemies?

When Mr Shoestring had all that trouble with birds attacking the side mirrors on his car and leaving nasty deposits all over it, I tried to be sympathetic but in reality I was very indulgent to the birds.  After all I thought, they are the friends of the gardener and so enjoyable to watch as they go about their business.  Now I am not so sure.  Having spent all that time and effort on raising my own seedlings, nurturing and watering, transplanting and cosseting through the baby stages of their lives, I was horrified to discover that they had been ripped from the earth by the bird population.  At first I was inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt and tried to convince myself that it might have been the work of the cats.  However having made a serious study of the situation (not to mention replanting my precious seedlings several times in the space of an hour), I have to admit that it is the birds who are responsible for the carnage and destruction.  When I planted out the commelina seedlings I was hoping that they would not become an invasive menace as predicted by some garden commentators.  Now I shall just be thankful to see any of them reach maturity and flower so that I can witness the blossoms.  All that talk about birds being helpful in the garden is just a load of old rope and malarkey, they don’t seem to eat any slugs or snails, only the worms I am trying to encourage.  And as for the mess they can make of a flower bed in a short space of time, it has to be seen to be believed.  Earth, compost and seedlings randomly strewn all over the place, far and wide!  The last straw is when they come close by as you are feverishly trying to replant seedlings before it is too late.  They watch you with their horrid beady eyes in a very knowing fashion, as if to say, “Yes that’s right, you replant them – I shall be back again as soon as your back is turned and pull them out of the earth, just you wait.”  The honeymoon is over, drastic measures are called for.  Maybe some kind of frame over the soil, so that they can’t get their nasty pointy beaks close enough to do any damage.

We have a long weekend coming up and my avian adversaries will be surprised to find their peaceful existence disturbed by Mr Shoestring with his concrete mixer and me with my arsenal of bird scaring devices.  Let battle commence!

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Comfort Of Favourite Tools

This weekend while gardening I fell to thinking about the affection we develop for all the little devices we use every day, and the odd way in which we come to develop our favourites.  (Don’t you find gardening is a wonderful opportunity for contemplation, some extremely important concepts and ideas must have been developed during gardening sessions, I feel convinced of it.)  Now, Mr Shoestring is a great believer in having the right tool for a job.  (I suspect this is partly because he has a fondness for all things mechanical, electrical and gadget-y, hence the desire to buy water blasters, line trimmers, flame throwers which kill weeds, and other works of the devil which are not strictly necessary in a house the size of a dolls’ house with a garden resembling a pocket handkerchief, but I could be wrong; it has been known.) 

Getting back to the matter of favourite tools, this is my favourite trowel.  

It is starting to wear thin around the edges, the paint has come off and still I seek it out whenever I feel a gardening session coming on.  You can probably deduce that it was never a particularly expensive trowel and I suspect it may have been purchased from a $2 shop.  However, I will eschew all other trowels in favour of this one.  The weight, the length and shape of the blade all seem perfect to me.  Because Mr Shoestring is so keen on good design and the correct tool for the job he has often pointed out to me fiendishly expensive stainless steel trowels and suggested purchasing one.  (Though he would not stoop so low as to give me one as a Christmas or birthday present, he values his life too much.)  But I just know everything about my own Precious is perfect for the task at hand.  It will be a very sad day when we are finally parted, even now if it is mislaid in the garden (which happens several times every weekend) I feel slightly anxious and can’t rest until we are united.  Perhaps the handle should be painted a neon hue but I suspect even that wouldn’t stop the periodic separations.  This is just one of the prices we must pay for True Trowel Love. 

Talking to others you find the same story everywhere.  The Dancing Queen tells of the gravy spoon which has become something of an heirloom in her family.  It is worn away on one side from decades (probably almost a century now) of stirring gravy in the pan, and I suspect part of the charm of the venerable spoon is the fact that it brings to mind all the memorable family parties and meals from the past when the spoon was pressed into service.   

As for stitching tools, when quilting I will develop a fondness for a particular needle and even if it becomes bent I accommodate its odd ways and seek it out for every quilting session, until it is lost or broken.  Then what an unhappy time ensues as the search commences for a replacement – all too long, short, thick, thin or just plain wrong!  Then there are the favourite thimbles, quick-unpicks and especially scissors which we feel we must have on hand.  Where would we be without them all? 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Fountain - One Day It Will Be A Real Thing

Mr Shoestring toiled away creating his new water feature this weekend.  First of all he enlisted the help of some strong young men who happened to be across the road to help him stand the water tank on its side, then he rolled into the back garden.  Then the fun really started.  The skillsaw was pressed into service (its motor burnt out eventually and another one had to be purchased), the merciless sun beat down and the concrete dust swirled around all over the place.  But Mr Shoestring was blithely unconcerned and blissfully happy with progress, which is the main thing.  After all, he is the one who can picture in his head what the end result will be.  He is the work in progress.

Last weekend the concrete base was created

After cutting the concrete tank in half it is placed in position and wooden framing is made which will  bring the semicircle forward from the wall and make the pond longer.  (You can see graffiti left by taggers on the left hand side of the concrete.)

The left over half will make a cover above the back part of the pool - in the photo above the position is marked out with plywood

Mr Shoestring is very pleased with progress and looking forward to the concrete pour, and I have to say I admire the way he persevered in the scorching sun this weekend.  He is even making predictions regarding fish, water lilies, and other aquatic plants.  This has to be a good sign, it means he is confident of eventual success.  

I on the other hand retired to my sewing room and created a new dress for art deco weekend.  Upon completion of the garment though, it was horrifying to observe that a new layer of adipose tissue seemed to have encased my entire body and the end result was not at all what I had hoped.  I had been planning to create another dress using the same pattern, but came to the painful conclusion that had I gone ahead with this plan (using black velvet fabric), I would have resembled nothing so much as a very well fed sealion, sleek and shiny and in prime sealion condition.  Eventually I sighed a sad sigh, flung aside the fabric and turned my attention to the headdresses instead.  (Surely my head would not have become similarly corpulent?)  I have to say the end result of the headdress session is much more satisfying.  Here is Esme, kindly modelling for me

If I can still still squeeze myself into my black and silver ball dress, this should look very effective.

This might do the trick when teamed with velvet rose bedecked evening coat.  (Also body will be concealed by evening coat, excellent.)

After these endeavours there was still time to stitch away on the cantaloupe canvas which was unearthed during sewing room renovations.  It seemed there was still a lot of work to be done to complete it, but lo and behold it was finished this weekend.  This has to be a record, finishing two canvases in two weekends.  To be honest though, this cantaloupe has been a work in progress for a very long time and it is only finished now because of the resolution to finish projects and use up all those donated wools.  

To be transformed into a cushion for the gypsy room, using an old green velvet curtain as backing fabric. 
Now that this project is off its frame it is permissible to commence the next one, excellent.  

This week at a picnic we had one of those nostalgic feasts which takes you back to past times.  We had a delicious pan bagna, something we haven't enjoyed for ages.  It is ideal food for summer picnics, because you can make it ahead of time and take it along to your favoured al fresco spot and the juices will have been absorbing and making it all the more delicious while you are travelling.  Heartily recommended, give it a try if you haven't already experienced its delights!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Happy Days At Shoestring

This weekend Mr Shoestring and I went off to the monthly markets where so many treasures are to be found (and resisted).  I couldn’t believe my luck when I spied these two green glass vases, the round vase has a green glass top to hold flowers in place.  I have never seen one quite like this before.  The Dancing Queen will be jealous, bwa ha ha ha!

Looking down on the top of the vase you can see the clever arrangement for holding flowers in place

Then there was this more usual looking cone shaped one, which will look fetching with the other green glass treasures in the sewing room. 

This little plate was begging to be taken off the stall where it was languishing and now it has joined the other saucers on a piece of trellis in the garden.  Isn’t the bird pretty?  

Looking somewhat startled, or is it waving its wing in farewell to some unseen companion?  Hard to tell really.

The detail and the colours make it special. 

This mirrored picture will join the others in the gypsy room.  Actually there isn’t much space on the walls there now and this had better be the last one to find its way home.  (How often have I said this recently?  No more, no more.)

From the man who sells plants I bought two new hydrangeas.  They are such obliging plants, they seem to need no attention and though they used to seem rather dreary and only come in a few varieties, there has been an explosion of new breeds in recent times and the garden at Shoestring is in danger of being taken over by them.  Look at the interesting shape of the florets, and the colours are so subtle and soft.
This one is called Romance

This one was unnamed

After planting them in the garden at Shoestring it occurred to me that if there is such a thing as a hydrangarium/hydrangoretum, then we are in danger of having one.  These baby hydrangeas are going to grow into very large ones and there isn’t much space at SC to begin with.  Perhaps a vigorous annual cutback will keep them in check, but I doubt it.  One of the best things about them is that there are variegated varieties so that even when they are not in flower, there is still be benefit of variegated leaves, something nobody surely could object to.    
Interesting variegations which include shades of yellow

As an interesting aside, the man who sold them to me cautioned me against propagating them, he bought them from a licensed seller and apparently there is some kind of legal protection forbidding buyers from reproducing them.  This is good in theory but I have to say that it would be very difficult to enforce.  When I plant them I might remember for a year or two which ones are protected in this way, but after a time and with a garden full of different varieties of hydrangeas it is likely to slip one’s mind.  Gardeners in general are very generous and like the idea of giving cuttings to all and sundry in the belief that it beautifies the world!  So I am not sure how successful these kind of restrictions are in the long term. 

Now you will be rather tired of an endless succession of lily photos but just look at these beauties!  I promise there will be no more now.   I located the identification tags from the bulbs so I can confidently assert that the names are as listed.  Sometimes I astonish myself with my organisational skills7!  (And sometimes, not so much.)  

 This one is called Starfighter (I feel sure a more fitting name could have been found.  Does it look as though it is about to engage in combat?  Or even capable of such a thing?)
 Dizzy - I kid you not, this lily is called Dizzy!
This one is Exotica

Mr Shoestring was very happy with the purchase of a damaged concrete water trough this weekend.  (Cost of $65.)  It is circular and the plan is that when cut in half it will yield two semi-circular pieces, one to make a fountain and the other to make a sort of arch above the fountain.  It has long been my dream to have my very own fountain and maybe even some water lilies and fish.  Preparations have commenced and Mr Shoestring toiled away in the blazing hot sun preparing the place for the fountain.  He hit a bit of a snag when he unearthed this large root,

which took a very long time to loosen and remove from the soil.  You will be very much surprised, but I suspect he uttered one or two uncouth phrases in the process.  I kept well away at this point, observing from the safety of the kitchen window.  The water tank weighs over 230kg and it hasn’t been delivered yet.  Mr Shoestring plans that we shall move it from the front of the house to the back garden, where the fountain is to be located, next weekend.  I am rather dreading this already but somehow it must be accomplished.  There may be more cross words during the process but no doubt it will be done eventually.  Possibly it is too late now to commence a weight lifting programme in order to be up to the task and Mr Shoestring can be somewhat critical of feeble efforts with heavy objects.  I shall give you a full report and just hope that I don't disappoint him.  

One of the best things this weekend was that I finally completed the pansy needlepoint.  The colours aren't quite right in this photo, the background green is a more yellow green but on the whole it isn't too bad.

Now it is ready to be turned into a cushion, probably for the "new" sewing room.  Having a brain wave (yes it does occasionally happen), I thought how pretty it would be to have the pansies cushion with the new round pansy vase nearby, full of pansies of course.  Or would that be pansy overkill?  A bit too try hard and naff?

Now that the pansies are complete I am allowed to start another canvas.  I don't know whether I mentioned that I was on a search for natural coloured tapestry canvas for a long time, because the pale brown colour looks much better than the white canvas, which is rather bright and shows through the stitching rather.  In an op shop Mr Shoestring located an entire roll of the stuff at a bargain price, so I may well be stitching away until I die without ever using it all up.  I have had an enormous supply of surplus tapestry wools donated to me so the challenge is to use them all up - it is astonishing how far they go, so far I have made no discernible inroad into them.  It is going to be dreary when I get near the end of the stash, if I am not careful I shall be left with all the shades I don't much like and probably a lot of dull colours, browns and greys.  

The Empire Book Of Favourite Songs


Last week my mum presented Mr Shoestring with this old song book, which she suggested he could cut up and paper walls with.  It is full of old imperialist and traditional airs, and I can remember singing some of them at school.  We didn’t think overly hard about the lyrics of the songs in our school singing sessions and some of them are rather questionable by today’s standards.  But it did give us a sense of enjoyment and pleasure in singing.  

As a family we used to sing a lot as we drove around in the car.  We were a family of three sisters and in between slapping each other and squabbling over who got the horrible position of having to sit in the middle of the back seat (the "window" seats were always the favourites), we had a lot of singing sessions.  In fact as soon as we got into the car we seemed to begin singing and our songs included roundelays and harmonies.

 I can’t say that any of us were great singers, but it helped to pass the time and we enjoyed ourselves. 

When my own children were young I would try in vain to get them to sing, but they always seemed embarrassed and said their voices were terrible, which wasn't the point from my perspective, but they would not be moved.  I figured most people can enjoy singing but there I was wrong.  For instance, Mr Shoestring tells me that he was a foundation member of one school and because the roll was so small all pupils had to be members of the school choir – except Mr Shoestring and two other boys.  The leader of the choir told them to mouth the words to the songs, but on no account to utter a sound!  Apparently their voices were so flat as to be a positive hindrance rather than a help in the choir.  Poor things, wouldn’t that scar you for life?  Perhaps our children inherited Mr Shoestring’s fear of singing after hearing this, who knows.  Whatever the reason, singing has died out in our family except as a strange private idiosyncrasy, which is a pity.  I suspect it is the same for many families, perhaps we need to attempt a revival but there would be strong resistance from the non-singers among us.  

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Summer Pleasures

The obliging Johnny Jump Ups are still flowering their little hearts out

Time to hang the fairy lanterns and slap on the mosquito repellent for long evenings in the garden
And fill all the buckets with hydrangeas for impromptu flower arrangements
The summer break is a good time to catch up with old and not so old dear friends.  On New Year’s Day (after a riotous party the night before where alarmed onlookers were treated to a vigorous swing dancing demonstration), Lord and Lady Raglan’s magnificent hospitality left us feeling as though we didn’t need to eat for a week or so afterwards.  (Possibly this was in part due to the fact that Lord and Lady Raglan and Los Valentinos were engaged in vigorous activity, sailing and kayaking and other such exhausting pastimes while Mr Shoestring and myself chose to loll around in the sun reading.)  A couple of days later there was a get together The Dancing Queen and her King, sitting outside in the twilight at Shoestring Cottage eating and drinking and making merry.  Another evening  we soaked up the last rays of the dying sunshine on the newly created deck at The Peaceable Kingdom while we watched the rabbits and sheep frolic round together.  These happy reunions are the things which make the summer holidays so special.  
Last weekend Madame La Poste called in, weighed down with treasures. That lady has an unerring instinct as to what will elicit cries of delight and also she gladly volunteers the information that the colours which appeal to me often don't do anything for her, hence the addition to my treasure trove of this adorable pansy doyley
The colours are a bit "autumnal" for Madame La Poste, who prefers a brighter "spring" palette - how fortunate for me.  And look at those wonderful mother of pearl buttons, too large and luscious to use really.
The colours on this embroidered hand towel were perfect for Madame La Poste, but fortunately she had a pair and was generous enough to donate one to me.  
This little Scotty will make a wonderful charm on a charm bracelet.  You can't see it (because of my poor photagraphy skills), but he has a twinkling little eye, just like a real Scotty.  
The festive season is all very well of course, but there is that rather bilious and overindulged feeling which creeps up on one after the holiday season.  Resolutions about exercising more and eating and drinking less come to the forefront of one’s mind (if only for a brief moment).  I have posted a delicious recipe for a refreshing soup this week, it is full of chilli and ginger which are reputed to have good properties in these situations (good for digestion and .  Do try it, though it is healthy it really is very moreish too – so much so that poor Mr Shoestring only had a very meagre portion when I cooked some up last weekend.  If you are not yet in the right frame of mind for a detox and are still battling your way through the last of the ham, there is a recipe for using that up too.  With the addition of some asparagus (last of the season probably) you will at least be getting some of your veges.  The asparagus season is so short, we need to make the most of it. 

Stores of seeds running dangerously low, send for reinforcements!
The seed raising obsession continues unabated, the indigo bean vines are still the favourite.  I think I already showed you their fascinating purple veined leaves but I couldn't resist another shot.  The ones I planted out are already rampaging away up their supports, if they really do have purple flowers and edible purple pods I shall be in bean heaven.  

These are commelinas and they promise to become invasive according to comments from other gardeners but for now they are very well behaved and demure, only time will tell if they become thuggish and start a campaign for garden domination.  They look innocuous at the moment though, don't they?  

The "thornless" blackberries have turned out to be a bit of a fizzer.  Though they start off in a very promising way with lots of fattening fruit, the birds seem to know the perfect time to pluck the succulent fruit and I come out for harvesting only to find the fruit gone but the little stems marking the spot where they were growing just the evening before.  Something must be done!  But what?
While I was installing all my treasures in the "new" sewing room I came across this miniature room which I made from a box years ago and still hope to eventually complete.  When I put it together I imagined it was inhabited by a shop girl who lived above the shop, and led a happy if somewhat isolated existence in her yellow room.  (What a coincidence, just about identical shade to the new sewing room.)  She obviously liked things to be tickety boo, she has her ironing board set up and the iron at the ready at all times.  But hold on, what's going on here?  I can see her little leather trunk, her pretty green parasol and a pair of cream shoes just to the left of the trunk.  Whose are those larger black men's shoes under the end of the bed I wonder?  I must have been wrong about her all along, she is obviously a more adventurous miss than it seemed.   People constantly surprise us!