Sunday, November 13, 2005

The pleasure of stacking wood...

From a giant, willy-nilly pile dumped by the wood dealer to this. Not only do I get my exercise shlepping it behind the house but as order appears I am filled with pleasure. I like finding the rarer pieces of golden birch, white birch and beech....their barks are so beautiful; the sour smell of oak; judging how dry a piece is as I heft it...feeling like a lottery winner if most of the wood feels light.

Many simple victories in one task. Order out of chaos. Preparing for the future. Piling stuff up that doesn't fall down. It doesn't get better than this.

Shopping At the Dump

Transfer station, actually. I love shopping at the transfer station's "trade shack". Here are some very popular finds that amuse my students.

This silly thing makes a high pitched wogga-wogga-wogga sound when you shake it. I find it a fine accompaniment to slide shows where it can emphasize points in my narrative....or give a rousing lizard cheer for someone who has made a good comment.

This is the "heads or tails machine". It is one of three banks I found and fixed that no longer had the bank part. The delivery system fascinates kids as they watch their lunch money get carried through the gears and fall out the top.

This mechanism shoots out the velcro tipped tongue...need I say more?

Metal sculptures from India? Whatever they are, children find them interesting and examine them under our big magnifying glass.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Physalis alkekengi is a thug

Last weekend my husband and I went to Kent, CT to the CT Antique Machinery Association show. It is a pleasant ride on a nice day and the show is always fun...even when you don't find anything you are looking for to buy. The association is putting a great deal of volunteer time and money into buildings to house their awesome collection of things that go whirrr, thump, putt-putt, and clank. And I don't want to slight those things that go hiss, toot and clickety-clack! In addition they now have a fascinatingly eccentric museum of minerals of Connecticut and our brick making heritage.

For those of you who prefer plants to machines, you might want to go to Bartholomew's Cobble which is on the way to Kent if you are coming from Stock bridge MA. Look it up on the web to see why. Speaking of plants, the reason I started writing this morning was to show you a picture of what I did buy that day. You can see them hanging by the oars (part of my bow facing oar collection).

Commonly called Chinese Lantern plant, the photo shows Physalis alkekengi, which is a perennial herb of the nightshade family, Solanaceae. It is native to southeastern Europe and Asia. Go to to read about our native species of Physalis.

For gardeners:
I checked out the name of the Chinese Lantern before I wrote this morning and found this scary story in the Garden Web forum. We have all had some sort of experience with what I call thug plants (mine was with Oriental Bittersweet which I was told was not invasive, with a native helianthus, with pachysandra, with...)

"Last fall around this very time I planted about 30 Chinese Lantern seedlings in a bed on my front lawn. The bed is edged with a good quality black edging about 4-5" deep and with a heavy rim. This year the lanterns matured and I have dried them but due to a warning by a fellow "Garden Webber" I dug down under the soil to see what was going on and the Chinese Lanterns had spread runner roots all over my entire bed (10' x 8') in a woven mat type scenario. I was devastated! The runners are even going into my lawn and heading for my neighbor's lawn as well. I've yanked out all the plants and have, not once, but THREE TIMES turned the soil and removed runners anywhere from 3-8 feet long. This plant is a nightmare. Not even one full year in the ground and only bloomed once but it has taken over 80 square feet of my property (maybe more). The runners that I can't get at have entwined themselves under my tree and shrub roots. I will turn the soil one more time and attempt to take out as much as I can but this has been excruciatingly labor intensive as I'm doing the turning with my hands instead of a shovel that can break the roots apart and create all new plants. After that I will just leave it and when sprouts come up in the spring I will paint roundup onto the leaves to hopefully kill the rest of the roots systemically. If I ever grow this plant again it will be IN POTS ON MY DECK where it can't go crazy like this. At any rate, I want to tell the people who warned me about these plants a BIG THANK YOU for telling me to get them out of my front bed. I can't even imagine what the situation would have been like another year down the road. Impossible, I'm sure. So if you are thinking of planting Chinese Lanterns in one of your beds, re-think it as this plant seems to be good for nothing but crafts and erosion control when planted in the ground. I did dry the lanterns I got this year before ripping out the plants and roots and they will dry nicely for some autumn decoration but that's it for me, for now, for a while....


southern Ontario, CANADA"

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Vole War

My war on voles, part 1.

This picture is of holes and collapsed tunnels that have ruined my garden. The voles hollow out under the plant so it has no soil for the roots or they eat the tubers, roots and bulbs. They sucked down my Hakone Grass like linguini...grass blades, roots and all! I go around like a crazy lady poking a stick into the garden to find their tunnels and tramp them down. I have begun to research how to chase them from my land! Fall is prime trapping season I have read. I am starting to tap into all those trapping tricks I read about in countless "We Lived in the Wilderness" books....I even boiled a trap to get rid of the human scent. (Caught a cricket that night!!!) is the enemy. Specimen kindly supplied by visiting cat who hunts in my yard as his yard is much to tidy. I was so sincere in my complements to him I was allowed to pet him for the first time.

Notice the nasty little bulb gnawing incisors!

Just want to point out the short little vole tail.

Coming sooner or later, my probably useless attempts to trap them...

Woodstock Fair postscript is the photo of the jewelry a friend has been reminding me to post!

And, while I am here, this collection of hot peppers was purchased at our local farmer's market by my husband. We don't use them in our cooking usually but he said they were just too nifty to ignore!

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Fair game!

Sorry...I couldn't resist that title. I have just been reading Michael Quinion's World Wide Words list which puts me into word play mood.

Labor Day weekend was a big deal here in Woodstock as the 4 day Woodstock Fair is set up then. This was its 145th year. Neighbor Shirley had opened a Pandora's box for me a couple weeks before by saying, "Emma, you should enter this photo in the fair!". I had photographed Gordon's chickens this summer and Photoshoped it to look like a watercolor.

Shirley and her husband, Gordon, regularly walk away with a zillion blue ribbons for their entries in the vegetable and baking groups. She gave me this big fat book which describes all the classes and groups for entries....there are hundreds!!! This is Shirl's 2005 winning cranberry bread entry. I think she will share the recipe if you ask.

Then I noticed that you get MONEY if you win. 8 bucks for first, and then 6 and 4. Cool, thought I, maybe I can earn enough to cover our entry tickets! And then I noticed the Fair Themed Mobile Contest. Winner got 75 smackeroos...and that REALLY got my attention. (By the end of the summer teachers, in general, are thinking like this.) So here is the story of my mobile.

First, let me show you why I love the fair. I am addicted to the matched produce competitions.

I love the way they look....the contrast of the color against the white paper plate or whitewashed boards, the symmetry, the repetition.

I love the thought of folks all over town hoarding their tomatoes or eggs or string beans, making daily size and color judgments, looking for the perfect set.

(Kids...can you see why I ended up an art teacher? :-)

Anyway, the mobile seemed like an easy thing for me to make. I signed up to enter three! You are allowed three in any one class. I also entered 2 pieces of my odd jewelry I had laying around. One is a very realistic monarch butterfly caterpillar eating a milkweed leaf. The other is titled "Fisherman's Dream" as it is a weird fish with a realistic hand coming out of its throat which grabs at the fishing line that hangs it around your neck. I also entered the chicken photo and a tractor photomontage.

Then school started.

The fair was getting closer and I didn't have any time to make mobiles!! The pressure was on. It wasn't as much fun thinking about mobiles. Finally I made the time to go down into the cellar and do it...

I had a great time making the animals.

My best is the ram.

The cow isn't bad but there is something wrong with her nose.
( John Singer Sargent, the 19th century artist, said, “A portrait is a painting in which there is something wrong with the nose.")

The pig is OK...the rabbit is passable...the turkey is what his name implies. There is something cool on the turkey you can't see though; his waddle is hot glue slurps.

Determined to use only stuff I had already, I made the armature from hammered dulcimer strings. It wasn't quite heavy enough so there is some triangulating to stiffen the contraption and allow longer extensions. The feature I am most fond of is the ability of all parts to slide up and down on the central column. Everything is held in place by tension once you position it wherever you like. A scrap of heavy metal hanging at the bottom adds the rigidity to the central wire.

To bring this story to a close (I'm tired of doing it) the flexibility and liveliness of the moble was it's downfall. Jack took it over to the fairgrounds while I was at work. The turkey jiggled off (who else but the turkey!?) and the receivers were nervous nellies, mortally (and correctly I should add) afraid of damaging anyone's precious creation. So my husband decided they couldn't handle the stress of taking in this work and I should do it later that day when I got home. But I was too wiped out by a day in a super-heated school...and didn't.

Wish I had.

Maybe next year there will be a mobile competition. I'm ready!

One last photo to end on a word play....

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Dry wells and biscuits

The end of summer is always crazy with the start of a new school year but this year is "special". Construction at my main school assignment is nutty enough...but then my well went dry.

The following is a How-to on biscuit making with the minimum of mess.

First, line something with a plastic bag. A quart pyrex cup fits perfectly.

Add two cups of flour. Don't worry if the cup is exactly doesn't matter.

Next add the 3 teaspoons of baking powder and whatever salt you like. I use 1/4 teaspoon (actually a big pinch) but a regular recipe is more. Fluff everything together with your hand.

Add about a 1/4 cup of olive oil...the kind marked for baking that has no olive taste. Fill the cup with milk (I use Silk soy milk). Mix BRIEFLY and splash in more milk if too stiff. (Dust in more flour if you go too far the other way...relax...with enough jam anything tastes great!) I used my pastry tool for this part as I figured hands take more water to clean than the tool (which I can take to work and wash!)

Take the bag out of the cup, give it a few prods and kneads to be sure there aren't any dry corners hiding in there.
Use a soup spoon to grab small egg sized blobs and put them on an oiled baking pan.
I use muffin tins as it makes the biscuit exactly the same size as my breakfast vegie-sausage and it looks cute :-)

Bake about 18 minutes at 400 degrees and dump on a rack to cool. I place mine in the frig for a day or less so they slice really well, cut them in half, reassemble, and freeze all in one big bag. I thaw one a day as my sausage cooks each morning.

Did you notice that painted board behind the biscuits? My mother painted that when I was in second grade. I was (and still am) so impressed! Back then we lived in the county. My town had a crossroads with a general store in an old farmhouse, an old hotel that still had a carriage shed attached with ancient circus posters pasted on the inside walls, an empty corner and the church. Houses, maybe 5 or 6, were strung down the roads in each direction. That was it. Well, there wasn't much for adults to do around there but the women of the neighborhood all went somewhere (after my bedtime) one day a week to learn how to do decorative painting! Mom had a practice board, a black board you would try a fancy brush stroke on and then rub it away with a rag dampened with turpentine. I adore the smell of turps to this day. We only lived in the country for two or so years before moving back to a city and apartment life again. As a child I always thought of that time as my "real life" and my brick apartment living as sort of a spell I had been placed under. It brings tears to my eyes thinking of the apple tree with its horizontal branch low to the ground which was my horse.....

Monday, July 25, 2005

kitchen flashback

My plumbing project had several people wondering about the rest of the kitchen project. It is far from done, but this is it to date.

Above was partly through getting the plumbing unhooked and the sink and dishwasher out.

By 6 PM the trusty Sawz-all had sliced up that nasty orange top because I couldn't get the darn thing out any other way that I could handle!

I love tearing stuff out. This is what was left by 8:30. The roundy thing is what is inside those corner cupboards that have a pivoting shelf system.

This used to be floor to ceiling magazine library. I took out the shelves on the bottom to get ready for the new sink cabinet.

I really enjoy the one piece stainless top. I can make a mess and it cleans up instantly.

Next....I figure if I cut a hole in the wall of the kitchen into a closet in the den I could put the frig into it and use the space where the frig is for a prep bench. (to be continued)

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Author, author!

Another little box from my Gram included a complete pack of Authors. The game is sort of like Go Fish I am told. I felt like an uneducated yahoo as I scanned the cards...who are some of these old white guys?!! Here are some that I knew.

It got me thinking about who played the game besides my grandmother. Regular people I assume....not just trivia fiends or english majors. It was a game you played with 2 to 5 other people so obviously the subset of folks who play card games and would like Authors had to be fairly large or no one would be able to find anyone else to play with! Did people care more about authors then, or care about learning about more authors? This was a very popular game! Maybe parents bought it hoping to sneak a little extra learning into the kids? Maybe as the prohibition on playing games on Sunday eroded a game with some redeeming qualities seemed like a good compromise?

Looked it up on Google to see what surfaced and it turns out the game still exists (I hadn't a it popular?) and it has many variations. One set is "Women Authors". Another similar game is "Notable Black Women In American History Card Game".
Times change and games with them!

Go to if you are curious about the modern variations.

A picture of an old set made Parker Brothers, Salem, Massachusetts (US) in 1897 is at

My set also says copyrighted 1897 but was made by the Cincinatti Game Co. successors to the Fireside Game Co.

BBC 4 and me

I absolutely love BBC radio 4.

I commute a total of two hours a day and if I didn't have something to listen to I'd blow my brains out! To be able to listen to interesting people talk about everything from nanotubes to slime mold during this time is my idea of heaven. I capture the audio as a mp3 using WireTap (super program) and burn it to what I call "BBC Potpourris" on CDs.

For anyone who is a gardener, or likes listening to gardners, I'd say for you to try Gardner's Question Time.
Open Country is very cool if you like to arm chair travel around Great Britain...and Excess Baggage takes you all over. All of the above are in tbe BBC's "Factual" category. Under "Science" there are many to pick from...try The Material World. Unexpected topics delightfully delved into include the following...

"Saving Bagpuss

A recent BBC poll voted Bagpuss the nation's favourite BBC children's TV show of all time.

The saggy old cloth cat is 30 years old and taking part in Southampton University’s Puppet Research Project.

By analysing Bagpuss using infrared spectrometry, researchers are trying to stop him becoming more bag than puss.

On this week’s Material World, Quentin Cooper talks to his creator Peter Firmin and textile conservation expert Dinah Eastop."

It can't get better than this :-)

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Mod cons!!!!

I am so happy! I now have running water in the kitchen after months of running up and downstairs to the basement to wash dishes. Last winter, when my husband went on a trip, I tore out the kitchen which I had hated since we bought the house. It was bright orange formica and reddish brown was like living in a rotting pumpkin! I figured climbing the stairs is good for me...while living with an aesthetic annoyance probably shortens my life. (Besides, I love tearing stuff up.)

Then I discovered Ikea. (Music, please...)

I love Ikea. I have been trying to get friends to go there so I could go back more often (so far, no takers...sigh). I wasn't allowed to tarry in the children's husband could see the writing on the I haven't been able to explore there yet! We found a kitchen we really like...we bought it..and my sweetie-pie assembled it for me.

But a sink without drains or water is still not quite "the thing". Spring break gave me the time to plumb in the then I could bring up buckets of hot water and do the dishes upstairs. It was so cool. Advancements in technology are truly appreciated when they are on this basic level. I pulled a hose from the garden in through the lavatory window, sawed a hole in the wall over the sink and..voila!..cold, running water. I even bought hose rated for potable water supplies. I felt I had it made!

Summer is here, and with it the time to deal with water like a grown-up should. And I did..sort of. And here it is.
(Music should swell here and fade out....)

Saturday, July 16, 2005

...more treasures...

Both of these collections are inherited from my mother. I grew up in the sort of house where drawers were crammed with the oddest stuff which was too good to throw out... even if no one had a clue what it was, and if they did, what one might need it for. Every jug, vase and decorative box hid a collection like the dice. It was a snoopy child's paradise.

I love them dearly. They are lumps of amber trapping who my mother was.