IN WHICH I ATTEMPT TO GARDEN AGAIN
Once more it’s time for this household’s annual blood sacrifice to our garden demons. Aided by a pal with infinite patience, I made a foray to a nursery/garden center to buy candidate perennials for our front mulch garden, and shrubs for along our northern shady side of my neighbor’s stockade fence.
And in doing so, I inadvertently added to our already growing collection of poisonous and poison-associated plants. First, for along the fence I bought four elderberry bushes. Anyone who has seen or read Arsenic and Old Lace knows the reference. The Resident Male will help me plant them over the weekend. Here they are in the garden center, innocently ignorant of their coming fate at my hands:
For the much garden my plan is to scatter specimen perennials across it, with taller ones in back, and infill the spaces between the survivors with additional plants in future years. This area faces east and gets morning sun, but quickly goes to shade for the bulk of the day, eclipsed by the house’s shadow. Here’s this year’s rogue’s gallery:
Top left – An aconite, also known as wolfsbane and monks hood. One of the poison players. It is supposed to top out at about four feet (about 122 cm), and sport tall blue flower spikes.
Top center – A strange mounding hosta variant with thin, curly crimped leaf edges. Too weird to pass up. He’s only going to be about 6 inches tall, and is in the front. Hostas are poisonous to dogs and cats.
Top right – a brunerra. Apparently we already had another variety of brunerra, a survivor of last year’s plantings. It has tiny star shaped blue flowers just beginning to open. Not sure what color flowers this one will have, but he is a much larger leafed variety, or will be when he’s mature. He’s in the middle area, and will be about 12 inches tall (about 30.5 cm) . Blissfully non-toxic.
Bottom left – A Heuchera, aka Coral Bells. I am also not sure what color flowers this one will have but it doesn’t matter. I got it because of the dramatic foliage. He will be about 16 inches tall (about 41 cm), bigger than the brunerra and is further back in the plot. Also non-toxic.
Bottom right – An astilbe. A BIG astilbe. This one will have purplish pink flowers, and grow to about 2 feet tall (61 cm). He’s in the back near the aconite. Not poisonous.
I moved a resilient peony that survived our decimation of the fence plot late last summer. He’s also in this garden in the hope he makes it. Big floppy white flowers with a pinkish tinge. He’s in a tomato cage in towards the rear.
These denizens join my small ground-hugging brunerra and my hellebore from last year. Sadly the blooms on the hellebore appear to have been knocked around in the recent windstorm, and their stem is snapped, but the foliage is growing nicely. And of course hellebore is infamously poisonous to humans and pets.
The backdrop to this garden with its mix of toxic and non-toxic residents? Why, a glorious Mountain Laurel of course. Itself on the lethal list. By the end of May it will look like this.
And the family photo – all the boys tucked into the bed.
EVERYTHING’S IN MOTION, NOTHING IS FINISHED
Where have I been? What have I been up to?
Long time readers here know when posts go few and far between, I’m very busy. But what’s up?
Several things, in fact.
The basement rehab project continues, after a month delay to ensure all asbestos was properly removed. The team is now up to rebuilding the walls, and roughing in the fixtures for the half bath:
At left is what will be our pantry/storage alcove. Eventually the freezer now in the furnace room will go here, along with freestanding shelving. In the center is what will become a tiny but fully functional half-bath. And at right is the view down the length of what was the basement bonus room and my office and needlework library, but will become our TV room/exercise area. That heavy brick bit is the foundation for the two fireplaces above. It was awkwardly paneled in before, and the alcove next to it was one of those oh-so-common tacky 1960s-era home bars. I had repurposed the bar shelving as my library. Sadly the partially and strangely painted brick will be much easier to repaint than it would be to strip, so we’ll probably be doing that, but we won’t be enclosing it.
I find myself knitting less and stitching more lately, but that doesn’t mean I’ve given up knitting entirely. I started a new pair of “briefcase socks” even though I am no longer going to work or carrying a briefcase. But they are handy to have to work on between other projects, and for relaxing on the beach when it’s too windy to haul out the stitching:
Standard toe-up construction but a bit less fine than my usual socks. This pair is only 80 stitches around on US 00s. I’m using a standard wool/nylon sock yarn using a set of 5 DPNs. The toe is the maligned figure-8 toe (fiddly but I prefer it) followed by a dead plain stockinette foot. I find a low-texture foot more comfortable in the shoe than one with patterning, so I don’t begin the fancy part until after the short-rowed heel is finished. Toe up works out fine for me because if I did that fancy ankle part first I’d never slog through the ultra-boring foot. All of my free sock patterns use this style of construction and are very easy to adapt to two-circs, but feel free to swap in any other toe you favor.
I’ve been working on T2CM – combing through and readying it for final pub. No ETA yet, but I’ve done a ton on it, removing both written and drafted typos, correcting bits to coincide with research developments, and the like.
And in stitching… Well… RUN FOR THE HILLS! IT’S COMING!!
It’s driving me nuts that I can’t do more than tease. But soon…
Back story: I fell in with a crowd of Enablers who egged me on to design a massive band sampler for a free communal stitch-along. It’s not a historical piece. not by a long shot. Instead it’s a celebration of fandoms and nerdy/geeky culture in general – done in an inclusive spirit, to unite many communities in our common joy. The project will premiere in the sponsoring Facebook group, and be echoed here on two-week delay. We’ll be posting advance info on suggested supplies by the end of June/beginning of July, and the component strips will be released periodically starting in early/mid August. And who knows. I couldn’t cover EVERY fandom in one project. If folk find fun in this project there may be crowd calls for inspiration to do follow-ons, so even if I’ve not included your particular darling in the first set, future stand-alone strips or even whole projects may happen, too.
Some movement here at String Central, but not as much as I would have liked.
First, on the Great Basement Rehab, we are in hiatus. This being an old house, of course they found asbestos. Which we expected. Not friable, immediately dangerous asbestos, but materials that would be of hazard to the crew doing demolition. Most notably, in the adhesive that sticks down the floor tiles in the old sewing/craft room, and in some intact cladding around various pipes. Some of those pipes may be moved, and others will be less bulky to encapsulate if the cladding were absent. So it all goes. Unfortunately due to demand, the earliest the asbestos remediation team can deal with us will be the last week of May, so for the past week or so until then, nothing will be accomplished.
Except cleaning. The demo team was able to do quite a bit of wall removal down there. Some of the walls were old lath and plaster, which make a TON of dust. In spite of taping over the door to the basement with a plastic airlock, a ton got upstairs, all the way in fact to the second floor. It infiltrated through various holes in the floor around the pipe penetrations of the hot water radiator heating system, in between floorboard expansion voids, through the seams between mop boards (baseboards) and floors, and through the required vent to bring extra air to the kitchen (a code mandate for the gas stove/high capacity exhaust vent in the kitchen).
It took four moppings to remove that stuff from the bare wood and tile floors, and many vacuumings to see the original color of the rugs again. I’m still cleaning/washing every other surface and soft item – behind furniture, inside the kitchen drawers and cabinets, linens in the linen closet, behind books. Even the formerly clean socks in my sock drawer will benefit from a no-heat air tumble in the dryer. Right now I am concentrating on high traffic/high touch and food-prep areas. When construction resumes there will be more dust, so there is no point in going nuclear on what’s there now only to do it again in June/July.
To illustrate the dust that accumulated in just two hours, I moved this cork trivet from the place I had put it earlier that morning.
Yes, that’s a collection of little plastic bulls from Sangre de Toro Rioja wine bottles. An everyday plonk enjoyed here as a sentimental favorite, often enough over the years to have accumulated a herd.
On the stitching front, I’m well into the second side of the small tote bag project.
Here it is mounted on my sit-upon hoop. You can see that the bottom of the bag is just a fabric fold – no square box bottom. When I picked out the side seams of the evenweave there was no join at the bottom. However the lining will need a bottom seam. Prior to my surgery, the side seams of the lining only extended halfway down, and its bottom was unsewn – in a futile attempt to make stitching on the evenweave outside easier.
The design is yet another one from T2CM, but this one is original, loosely based on historical aesthetic, but with no point source or specific inspiration that’s been adapted. It’s a slightly eccentric framing interlace (the bits framing the tumbling lilies are just a bit taller than they are wide), I’ve worked it before, also with stairstep voiding, but done monochrome, with a different directional treatment, and without the concentric rings in the inner circles:
Note that last time I also used single ply for the fill and two plies for the interlace, but in the older bit the flowers were also done in one ply.
I’m about a third finished with this side. The rest is just “wash/rinse/repeat.” The next challenge on this piece will be the re-seaming. I will finish the lining on the sewing machine, but I intend on working some kind of decorative seam treatment on the evenweave outside layer. What it will be is as yet undecided.
GOODBYE, 1960s DUNGEON!
At long last, the basement rehab project kicks off tomorrow.
We have lots of room down there, but we haven’t done much to it beyond replacing the rotted-out windows since we moved here about 16 years ago. The kids had a rec-room/TV room down there. The ugly 1960s bar was repurposed as my needlework and knitting library, with books on all of its shelves. My desk was in the opposite corner of the room next to the bulkhead exit. And we used the former summer kitchen as the craft and sewing room, where projects could happen without occupation of the dining room table. However, we made do with the peeling paneling, the dampness, the loose/cracked floor tiles, scuttlebugs and the occasional mini-flood, and the precarious dropped ceiling. BUT NO MORE!
Here are the official before-pix, courtesy of The Resident Male.
And here’s the current layout and the plan, both in approximate proportion, but not dimensioned. Current on the left, plan on the right.
The utility room and the former coal cellar (now our wine room), both in black, are not going to be touched. And we are only changing the wall layout to enlarge the toilet-in-a-closet into a bona fide half bath, with a hand washing sink. The stairs will be rebuilt somewhat along with its railing.
The office/family room on the left will remain one large room, but the existing dismal bar will be ripped out and the entire area will be repurposed into an exercise area and a family room type area with a TV. The black shape that intrudes into it is the foundation for the two fireplace hearths on the first floor. That will stay. The walls in this room will be a wood-alike wainscoting to chair rail level, with wallboard above, probably in two shades of pale grey. Flooring throughout will be vinyl plank, in a darker grey. The door will also migrate a bit from its current location, just because it’s not very convenient right now.
The strange waste area behind the stairs (in green) will become an open pantry, with shelving. The freezer currently in the utility area will be moved there, too.
The craft room will lose its two non-functional sinks, and gain a working tub sink. There will still be plenty of room in there for my layout table, and for some storage units along the wall to hold my stitching and knitting supplies. The beadboard walls in here will be kept, but repainted. We’ll also lose the hideous and crumbling dropped ceiling. I’m not sure what replaces ceilings everywhere, but it will NOT be those.
Lighting will be updated throughout, as will the heat in the family room/exercise area (the craft room wasn’t heated before and I never noticed the lack). The bulkhead to the outside will be replaced. Its exterior wood hatchway is decades old, possibly as old as the house, and is thoroughly rotted out. A nice, weather/water-tight hatch would be a great benefit.
Where will my needlework library (the former tenant of the bar shelving) and my desk go? Upstairs to one of the kids’ bedrooms. A minor benefit of being an empty nester is the sheepish colonization of the former in-house territory of the now independent Client States.
I am so looking forward to having a clean, dry, and bright space to enjoy down there!
Now to await tomorrow’s delivery of the dumpster, and commencement of demolition! I will post updates as we go along. Be prepared to share our surprises. There is no such thing as updating a 110 year old house without unwelcome surprises…
Yes, it’s true. I have reached the Age of Post-Employment.
After decades of proposal management for high tech companies, I’ve packed it in. No more deadlines. No more herding cats. I could go on listing the things I will not miss, but it would quickly turn into a rant. What I will miss are the in-the-trenches comradery; the energy and off the wall ideas of all the mad inventors; seeing technologies evolve in real time; and the thrill of visiting, viewing, or reading about the final projects that came from the bids on which I have worked.
Still, I’m happy to walk away from it, noting that the average span of tenure in proposal pursuit is something under 5 years. Very few people make it a lifelong career as I did. And even fewer can boast that they survived ulcer-free, and never missed a deadline in 41 years.
To celebrate my new freedom, The Resident Male, a specialist in surprise rather than programmed gift-giving, has presented me with a Wonderous Treasure Box: a tabletop jewelry armoire, shown here on the dining room sideboard, but destined for my dresser.
The drawers are fitted out with small compartments, both sides open up to reveal hooks for necklaces and bracelets, and the top hinges up with a mirror on the inside, and another storage bin beneath. I will add some canvas inserts to the side door inside panels, so I have mesh on which to hang hook-style earrings. The wood and build of this piece are magnificent. I adore it, and have showered him with copious thanks.
What will I do with myself besides organizing my slovenly dresser and precariously piled bling-midden? Well, there’s plenty going on here, and I will be in the thick of it.
We are at the cusp of a major basement renovation project, with the goal of updating a smelly, always-damp, slightly moldy cavern of 1960s vintage cheap paneling and suspended ceiling tiles into a comfortable, clean and usable space. This includes the area where my desk sat, the kids’ old TV area (including a ramshackle home bar, repurposed into shelving for my needlework library); the craft/sewing room; a strange “leftover” alcove at the back of the house; and what can be described as a bathroom only in the most generous terms (right now it’s just closet hiding a fitfully inoperative toilet and a population of house spiders).
The goal is to make a great room with a comfortable TV/sitting area at one end, that can also be used as guest space,plus an exercise area at the other end; a true half-bath with a sink and working fixtures; a functional storage/pantry alcove to house our freezer; and a craft/sewing room with actual useful and accessible storage and organization space. My office area and needlework library will go upstairs to one of the spawns’ former bedrooms, now that those are no longer tenanted year-round. Demolition should be beginning on the project by the end of April.
In addition to that, there are all my own projects. I can (gasp) STITCH DURING THE DAYTIME on a weekday! A strange concept for sure, and one I am still getting used to. It still feels wrong, like ducking out of class, or skipping an appointment – but I suspect that feeling will eventually pass.
One problem I have to solve is with Big Green. Remember that worn area I noted a few posts ago? When I unmounted the thing to try to capture the ground above the abrasion, it gave way before I put any stress on it – falling to pieces and making an enormous hole. The hole is beneath the “keeper bar” that holds the fabric in the frame’s roller, and is clearly seen here. I’ve flipped the thing – this is the right side, but it’s on the frame with the rollers on top rather than behind, in an effort to make the largest possible area accessible for stitching.
See that narrow border that’s part of the [grapes, hops, berries] strip? I have just enough room to complete it below, with about an inch left over. Obviously when I go to finish this piece I will need to trim it out with a border strip of fabric, and do it hanging scroll style. But that’s in the future. Right now the problem is that I don’t have enough room in the frame to stitch that narrow bit. Once I am done with the main body of the current panel I will have to take the sampler off the big frame and figure out how best to work on it in my sit-upon hoop frame – how to avoid abrasion and distortion of the established stitching as I relocate the hoop, and how not to stress the already-fragile threads of the weave itself. I may even end up having to work in hand, something I dread doing.
And yes – I brought this on myself, both for letting the piece languish so long and suffer such abuse that it weakened in the first place, and for choosing an overly wide and ambitious border to finish. I should have picked my second choice, one that was about an inch less tall. Live and learn…
Oh. Folk will also be happy to hear that I’m diving back into T2CM – updating some of the blurbs to synch with scholarship that has evolved since I started the project (museums have revisited the dating and provenance of many of their fragments in the past 15 years); and with nothing to stop me, I hope to have it buffed, re-proofed, and ready for publication later this year.
BUNNY-HOUNDS AND PELICANS
Last week’s columns and plume flowers strip was a quick one. Not the least because it was in plain old cross stitch. I am pleased with the darker-but-not-overwhelming density. And as you can see, I’m on to the next one, featuring the hounds and pelicans, yet another design that will be in the ever-forthcoming T2CM:
I am looking forward to unrolling this piece when this new strip is done, to see how much more real estate I have to cover, and to make plans for how dark or light those strips will need to be. Then I get to go hunting for what to stitch next.
This week’s strip is an interesting one on a couple of fronts. First, in terms of history, it has a specific point of origin – in 16th century Sweden; not Germany or Italy or any of the other countries better known for linear embroidery at that time. It’s in the Swedish History Museum, Inventory number 19600.
The museum citation says that the piece is from a chapel in Uppland, Östervåla; stitched in red silk on white linen. It also includes the matching vertical border which I haven’t graphed yet, plus a sweet row of heart-shaped cartouches bearing heraldry, the frames of which are also on my futures list. I haven’t stumbled across another piece of linear stitching in this style from this region/time, so it’s a bit of a mystery. How prevalent was it? Was this type of work limited to church linen? Did it appear also on clothing? Obviously more research is needed. If you know of any other pieces in this family, please let me know.
Now on to iconography. While this piece has non-secular origins and was part of a chapel’s furnishings, its religious symbolism is not as direct as most church hangings. No martyrs. No pascal lambs, sacred hearts, or other standard symbols. Just pelicans and hounds. Even slightly misshapen, the quadrupeds are identifiable as coursing/sight hounds of some type. They are collared and belted, slim waisted and long legged, with floppy ears and pointy muzzles. Dogs, especially hunting hounds would have been seen as symbols of fidelity, determination, and loyalty. Pelicans are a bit more esoteric. Here they are shown “vulning” – piercing their breasts with their beaks, in order to feed their young with drops of blood. This was a standard bit of common folk legend at the time – along with the belief that worms spontaneously generated from the soil, and hedgehogs carried berries home to snack on later, impaled on their quills. Obviously the imagery was associated with self-sacrifice, devotion, and parental care.
Therefore, we have a cloth covered with symbols of devotion, loyalty, and self-sacrifice – something that would have special meaning in the religious setting. The background for this may be Sweden’s departure from the Catholic church in the late 1520s. Perhaps this rather humble, non-demonstrative bit of stitching (no gold, no gems, no saints) with its generic paean to virtues fits into the schism between Catholicism and Sweden’s developing Lutheran-based faith.
I admit I knew the pelican story courtesy of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). It’s no secret that I’ve been involved with it deeply in the past, and continue to have many friends active in the organization today. The highest SCA award for service is the Pelican, and its badge is a pelican vulning. This highly respected honor recognizes those vital individuals whose labor, largely voluntary, is the fuel that keeps the organization running. If you ever attend an event and see someone with a brooch or pendant with a pelican, know that the person you have met is Very Important, and widely respected by their peers. My sampler will have pelicans on it, but I am not a member of that order, nor do I intend to display it in an SCA context. I could wear a badge with a laurel wreath, but that’s another story for another time.
Finally, I announce that we have embarked onto another Great Home Improvement Journey. This time it’s the basement. I will post before/during/after pix, but right now I am still packing up and stowing my needlework library, office area, and craft room. The chaos is palpable. Here are a few of my stitching and knitting books. I’ve already had reason to refer to them, but have had to sit on my hands and just contemplate my wall of boxes. Work on the basement proper should begin by April. Until then, it’s lift, sort, box, and stack for me.
AFTERMATH OF A WINDY DAY
Yesterday was windy. Really, really windy. My neighborhood was hit by several amazingly strong downbursts that felled more than several trees. While a big chunk of the two trees in the corner of our lot fell victim, we were lucky in that there were no injuries, nor was there any major damage to any houses or cars. Note that the wind was SO loud when this happened we did not hear the crash. I felt a tremor through the floor, and went to look out of the window, having no clue as to the cause. This is what I saw:
Yes, my neighbor’s empty shed was dented a bit, and the rather iffy fence between our properties took some additional damage, but for such a large pile of downed wood, we came off quite lightly.
Today the tree crew is here. They are removing the debris, and trimming up the larger of the two maples involved in an effort to preserve it. Sadly, the slightly smaller (but still quite large) maple in front of the corner tree is too shredded to save. It’s only got two remaining tufts in its crown – not enough to keep it going. So, compromised as it is, it’s coming down today, in a deliberate rather than wind-wild bit of destruction.
First – how to remove half-a-tree, splayed across two properties, and precariously balanced?
This aeronaut descended on the boom crane, affixed the lift straps to the main segment, and up they went. Once the limb was off the ground and over a safe spot, he lowered himself down by rope, and the crane lifted the thing up and over my neighbor’s house to dangle in their front yard.
Then the ground crew cut the “fingers” off the suspended “hand” and fed them into the chipper/disposal truck. In the mean time, other guys in the back yard hauled the smaller stuff away.
After this debris was cleared, it was time to prune back the shattered limb of the larger maple, and to remove the smaller one (seen next to the hard-hatted fellow in the photo above).
The result. One sadly halved corner tree, and one stump.
It’s going to be a lot sunnier in our yard from now on. And that corner now cries out for a large shrub of some type – preferably with nice, dense leaves, for privacy. I also suspect that negotiation with the neighbor to the side will lead to the elimination or replacement of the falling fence. There’s also that stump to deal with…
Oh. And to prove that progress indoors is happening, too – here’s the latest on my Lucus Orthai Ta sampler, that will bear my dancing skeletons edging:
I’m just beginning the L, having finished UCU. On the second line TH and part of the A are complete. You can also spy a tiny bit of the innermost band of the edging above the UC. It’s mirrored at the centerpoint – its rightmost edge in the snippet worked so far. More on that as the piece grows, but first I have to complete the letters in cross stitch. Like finishing up a dreaded dish for dinner, before getting dessert.
DINING ROOM, FINALLY!
At long last – after 14+ years of living with wallpaper curling off the walls, we have finally gotten the dining room put together. The delay was mostly caused by the need to address functional/structural issues of the house before we could get to aesthetics. So now with the kitchen done and all of the deep infrastructure problems put to bed (and with luck, staying there) we have had a chance to play.
Here’s the Before – dismal 1960s-era beige with wheat ears wallpaper, falling off the plaster in great, crumbling strips:
And here’s the after – re-papered, and with the furniture returned to the room, and the replacement, smaller sideboard happily ensconced.
In time Newer Sideboard will mellow to the same color as the rest of the furniture in the room.
The wallpaper is from Spoonflower, a play on a William Morris style print, by artist Amy Vail. Installation was by Buckets & Boards.
I think the paper truly makes the room!
THE DREADED GREEN SPOT
It’s the end of an era here at String Central. The sadly mangled, diseased, and ant-ridden street tree, a Norway Maple, in front of our house has been taken.
Here you see him before, in his final sickly days, already bearing The Dreaded Green Spot from the town arborist, marking him for terminal harvest.
When we moved in Tree was already teetering in health, with an extensive ant colony and other ailments. We did the best we could by him, and for a while at least, he did look a bit fuller and happier. But while we were out of the country in India, the utility company did some really horrible pruning, topping him and leaving the severed main trunk to rot. Although squirrels made their home in the resulting hollow, from that time Tree declined. Quickly.
Here’s today’s result, pix from Elder Daughter, who was on the spot (so to speak):
While it’s sad to lose the shade, we really haven’t had any in a couple of years. Plus Tree was dropping branches, and wobbled with a strong push – not a safe state in which to be.
With luck next year the town will remove the stump, and we will be able to file our request for Son of Tree.
A HECTIC WEEKEND, WITH MORE TO COME
We’re in the final glide path to high school graduation here, plus birthdays. We spent the weekend cleaning and gardening like crazy – and there’s still a ton to do.
That means removing a frosting of construction dust from every surface of the house; unpacking and placing the remaining kitchen goods (sorting out stuff to save for future spawn-apartments, or for charitable donation); washing all the floors; replacing the rugs stowed away from the chaos; waking up the garden from winter doldrums; building the new bean trellis out of last year’s giant grass canes; planting the beans; attacking the colonizing blanket of unwelcome weeds in the flower beds; staking the peonies; scrubbing down the bathrooms (similarly affected by construction dust); and generally putting everything to order. We didn’t finish, but we put a huge dent in it all. That means no time spent on detailed photography of the new orderly and in-service kitchen, and precious little time on needlework or knitting (although I did finish the last of my stack of Birthday (and Un-Birthday) socks in time). Plus the normal weekend regimen of cleaning and cooking for the ensuing week. I am now exhausted just tallying it all up.
Here is what I can report photographically.
The kitchen works! This is old news already – The Resident Male making short ribs last weekend:
Younger Daughter and The Denizen got all decked out for the Senior Prom. The went with a herd of friends, and had a great time.
And we had an amazing joint birthday cake – home-baked, of course, courtesy of Younger Daughter. She used the America’s Test Kitchen Salted Caramel Chocolate Cake recipe in her first trial run of the new ovens. Oh, so good!