Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Moss Roses and Rogue Petunias

What with the garden and other necessary distractions, I have not spent much time on flowers this year.  Which is a shame, because I love flowers.  The year my husband and I were engaged, we both lived in Nashville Tennessee.  He lived in a well-kept but older condominium complex where all the units had olive green doors and were rather nondescript.  There was one door though that had a simple welcome mat and on either side of the mat was a terra cotta pot filled with red geraniums.  I never saw who lived behind the door, but I've never forgotten how that little touch made such a difference.

Having said that, I have to admit that I am not naturally like that person one bit, and I have to WORK at this kind of thinking.  And I have to REMEMBER to work at this kind of thinking:)  There's always lots of room for improvement, but I do have a few pretty flowers this year.

These petunias were originally planted in containers, but they went rogue and reseeded themselves directly in the bed itself, preferring to spread more freely across the ground.
You can just see them in the top right corner of this picture.  This is the left bed leading up to my front door.  The purple plants are Mexican purple heart, also known as purple wandering Jew (a very dependable plant -- it dies in the winter but always comes right back).   Lavender, sedum, and various sages are also in there.  In the front are vincas.  They are annuals but they can take the heat and will fill in the front edge.  They will (hopefully) last until the frost gets them.
 My house is on a corner so I have a gravel circular driveway in the front and on the side there is a concrete driveway going to the garage.  This walkway goes from the concrete driveway to a back entrance.  You can also see the propane tank, looking like a big egg in my backyard.  Anyway, this is the first year we've done anything at all with this bed.
We cleaned it out and put in various sages and a butterfly bush, and then I planted moss roses along the edges.  (Portulaca is the real name, but moss rose is easier to say and just sounds so nice :)
I like their thick spiky leaves and all the variety of colors. A purply-pink:
Apricot and yellow blossoms on the same plant:
And white with their cheerful yellow centers:
What nice faces they have!
Flowers surely are indicative of the extravagance of God -- such imagination and such beauty lavished upon the mere grass.  Their beauty is a visual reminder to me of Jesus' words in Matthew 6:30 --
"Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?"  KJV

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Chocolate Zucchini Bread

Last Sunday I needed to come up with a snack for youth group which was meeting at our house.  And I wanted to use up some of my zucchini.  Teenagers plus zucchini -- how to mix the two?  Add chocolate, that's always got to be good advice ;)  I found this recipe at Taste of Home.  I doubled it to make four loaves.  Look how pretty they are cooking in my oven:
After they were done, I set them on the counter to cool.
Four loaves may look like a lot, but I have to tell you that when I went to bed that night there was not a crumb left!
 I guess this recipe is a keeper.  I did substitute unsweetened applesauce for half the oil.  And next time I will cut the sugar by a third -- it was slightly too sweet for me, although I didn't hear any teenagers complain:)

Friday, May 25, 2012

First Harvests

 Our summer garden has started producing (we did enjoy lettuces earlier -- but it's too hot for them now), and we are having so much fun.  We have attempted a garden for the past four or five years, with little to show for it.   I'm not sure what changed this year, except we did have a good moist spring, and maybe five years of improving the soil helped.  I also think that gardening (like sewing, cooking, etc.) is one of those things that can only be learned by doing.  You can amass a lot of helpful information, but in the end there is no substitute for getting in there and getting your hands dirty.  Sometimes there are failures and sometimes successes, but you learn from them all.

This is the very first year we have been successful at growing potatoes, and digging them was like being on a treasure hunt.  My husband would gently use the hoe to open up the mounds and we were almost giddy to see potatoes down there under the dirt.
Here is our little potato harvest.  There was really only enough to fill a box the size that copy machine paper comes in, so we need to plant quite a few more potatoes next time, but we are still so happy -- and I'm so proud of my husband:)

Our onions were also ready to be harvested.  They are now curing on my metal patio table.  In a few days I will braid them and hang them in the garage.  The onions did lots better than last year but there is still room for improvement.
The ears of corn are filling out.  I am really looking forward to eating corn on the cob out of our own garden.  This is the first corn we've ever grown.
The silks look almost like a firework
We also have cucumbers, lima beans and green beans coming in.  But the vegetables that are the most abundant right now are the summer squash and zucchinis.
This is a small portion

I have been using all the zucchini recipes I can find, plus I've shredded 18 cups and put them in the freezer, and I've given away quite a bit, too.

It is a little tricky to get the hang of gardening in North Texas.  We really have two short growing seasons -- spring and fall.  The summer is too hot and dry to grow much.  The good thing is we will have a second chance to grow onions, potatoes, and lettuces.  We'll keep trying -- I know because my husband just got a new baby:

He got this slightly used rototiller for half the cost of a new one.  My long-suffering neighbor is probably relieved that we finally will quit borrowing his.  My husband has already used this to till up the potato and onion beds.  We're hoping to put sweet potatoes (and maybe peanuts) in there next week.

I hope you are enjoying growing things in your corner of the world!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Lovely Singer 301

Right now I am in the middle of two sewing projects:  one) a dress for me and two) a small autograph quilt for a sick classmate of my daughter's.  I wish I were the type of person who finishes one project before beginning another, but I am really short on THINKING time, and I need all my brainpower when I sew. I started the dress several weekends ago but have not had a chance to finish it.  The quilt was something I had been cogitating on -- my daughter and I thought it was a good idea, it's just that I have never done something exactly like this so I was not sure if I was biting off more than I could chew.  The verdict is still out on that.  Anyway, because I didn't want to totally dismantle my dress project, I decided to use a different sewing machine to piece the quilt.

I am using my Singer 301, a precursor to my singer 401.  It is a gear-driven straight-stitch only machine from the early 1950s.  It is also portable.  I love my 401 (blogged about here), but the idea of having a portable machine also appealed to me in the event I ever wanted to sew on a retreat or something (which so far I have not done).  I LOVE the look of a featherweight and seriously thought about getting one for my daughter (I didn't -- I got her a Kenmore 1030), but featherweights are highly prized and quite pricey around here.

The 301 appealed to me because it is a slant needle machine, so the feet (at least the straight-stitch ones) are interchangeable with my 401.  And the 301 is a full-size machine.  I trolled craigslist for awhile since that's where I found my 401.  But I also belong to some vintage sewing machine yahoo groups, and one day there was a post that someone in my area was GIVING AWAY a 301 if somebody would just go get it.  So I contacted the lady and ended up driving about 30 minutes to her house, where she had this lovely black 301 in a cherry cabinet.
It had once belonged to her aunt and had been well-taken care of, but she didn't have a place for it anymore and if I didn't take it, she was going to give it to the thrift shop.  Since she twisted my arm ;) I took the machine home.  I felt a little sheepish telling my husband about it.  I was pretty confident that he (or really anybody else I know except for a few of my internet friends) would not understand why I wanted another machine, but I thought "what would make me happy if I didn't have to worry about what other people thought?", and no money was involved, so I put away my false guilt and brought the machine home.

Like I say, she was well-taken care of and required a very minimal tune-up.  I did order a new electrical cord from Sew-Classic.  If you need vintage machine parts I can highly recommend Sew-Classic.  Also The Sew Box carries quite a variety of feet and other supplies.  In addition to supplies, both of these sites carry helpful information for vintage machine owners.

Here are some of the 301's features.  This is the throat-plate.  The feed dogs are slightly narrower than on a zigzag machine, which can be good for piecing with precise seam allowances. Last summer I made a dress for my daughter with lots of ribbon trim that had to be stitched close to the edge.  I did all that part on this machine and it worked beautifully.
The mirror image makes it hard to photograph
The carrying handle stores flat against the top except when you need it up, like here. The machine itself pops right out of the cabinet if you want to take it to class.
Here are some parts that came with her.  From left to right, a bobbin (this is NOT interchangeable with the 401 -- 301s and featherweights have the same bobbins), an edge stitch foot, a hemming foot, and a gathering foot.
You lift up here to get to the bobbin.
The bobbin case is vertical rather than horizontal, and the feed dogs can be lowered, both of which are supposed to aid in free motion quilting or embroidery.  I have yet to try either of those things, but at least now I've got what I need to do it.
Sorry about the blurriness
This is the stitch length selector and bobbin winder.
She didn't come with a manual, so I downloaded one in a PDF file and printed it off.
She is a very quiet machine with a very solid feel.  Sewing on her feels good.  And she's so pretty!
I know it's kind of geeky of me, but I feel very fortunate to have two great vintage machines like the 301 and 401. (My daughter's little Kenmore is great, too, but that's for another post).  I'm trying hard not to become a collector, although I do have to admit I also have a Singer 66 treadle.  But that belonged to my granny and will be a huge refurbishing project one of these days.  And if I see a featherweight in the wild that's in my pitiful price range, I won't pass it up.  (And if anyone else wants to geek out about their sewing machine or some other appliance, please do so.  It will make me feel better about myself:)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Hawk Saga Continues

The hawks are continuing to grow.  They have grown from babies to teenagers in just a week's time it seems.  They have been getting braver and will walk out on the branches a little way.

"What are you looking at?"
Their grownup feathers are coming in.....
although not all at the same rate.  This bird is still quite white.
The nest is getting smaller by the day.
Yesterday a combination of crowded nest plus maybe a little foolhardy bravery resulted in this little guy falling to the ground, which he was not too happy about.
He looked smaller on the ground than when he was up in the tree.  And you can see that it's too early for him to be flying -- all his good feathers are not in yet.
After consulting with some bird experts, my neighbor (who does know about the nest) took this little guy to a raptor center where they are equipped to take good care of him.  There was no way to put the bird back in the nest and the bird guy said that it was possible the other birds had pushed him out to start with, since he seemed a little smaller than the others.
They are red-shouldered hawks.  And we were wrong about the number of babies:  instead of three, there were four.  NOW there are three.  Yesterday evening the mama brought them a pretty good sized snake to eat.  I think she did notice that someone was missing, and in the wild that probably would have been the end of this little guy, but now he's being well taken care of.
Let's hope the rest of them make it out of the nest with no more drama.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Sauteed Green Beans

Summer with its fresh produce and farmers' markets is arriving.  Sometimes I need a little help knowing what to do with all that fresh produce.  Here's a little different take on cooking fresh green beans.  I had a variation of this at a friend's house several years ago and loved it.

Take your green beans, enough for each person eating to have some (my grandmother always called this a "mess" of green beans).  This recipe is better the day it's made, so don't plan on leftovers.
Snap the ends off and string them if necessary.
Wash the beans (rinse them in plain water).  Then coat the bottom of a skillet with olive oil.
I am a firm believer that adding garlic to almost every dish makes it better. Mince a clove or two of garlic and add it to the olive oil.
Turn the heat to medium.  Add your beans -- be careful if they are still wet because the water will splatter the oil.  Sprinkle generously with coarse salt and fresh ground pepper.
Saute them until they are done, stirring them around occasionally.  The skinnier beans will be almost burnt-looking.  Don't worry, that's a good thing.
They actually need to look a little more burnt that this
The beans end up having almost a nutty flavor.  They are very delicious this way and hard to "mess" up (pardon the pun). Try them......you'll like them :)  Serve them with your favorite summer meal and enjoy!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

More Hawk Nest Pics

When my husband went outside this morning to water the garden, he saw that mama hawk was in the nest  and he quickly ran inside for the camera.  

When they are all in the nest together, I really don't see how they fit.

Here's a closer look at the feathers.  The markings on the mama are beautiful.  You can see where the baby's adult feathers are coming in.  You can also get a good look at the mama's beak.

Another view.  The babies are not much smaller than the mama now.

Mama stays alert.

Back side of mama.  For some reason this photo turned out sharper than the others.

This is my favorite.  Don't you love the look on little sister's (or brother's) face?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Hawk Nest

Weeks ago we noticed that a pair of red-shouldered hawks had made a nest in the crook of a pine tree on the edge of my neighbor's yard.  This is directly across the road from our garage entrance -- the driveway on the side of our house that has a basketball hoop -- so it's easy for us to keep an eye on things.  There are lots of hawks around here, as well as owls, because there are lots of little animals for them to eat:  squirrels, rabbits, mice, snakes, lizards, etc.  Usually we see red-tailed hawks, which are very large.  Red-shouldered hawks are slightly smaller, but still on the large side.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago we became aware that the hawk babies had hatched because they were loudly peeping all the time.  Son Number Two was the one who discovered them first.  He climbed a tree and looked over and there they were!  There are three of them in the nest.  How they all fit without falling out I don't know because they are LARGE.  They are so cute (in a creepy bird way, those sharp beaks are a little ominous).  They still have their white fluffy baby feathers, although even in the past week the feathers appear to have gotten a little darker. If they see us outside they start peeping louder and peer over the edge to see what we are doing.  It's kind of like they are asking us "Don't you have something for us to eat?"

A little before it gets dark they lay their little heads down and go to sleep.  So sweet!  I don't know how they are going to learn to fly from so high up in that tree.  But we don't want to miss that so we're being vigilant about checking on them.

I have been unable to get a photo of all three at once.  I also would like to get a photo of the mama bird feeding them, but so far we have not had the camera ready at the right time.  I am having to use the zoom on my camera and I can't really tell what's on the picture until I download it and blow it up.  Anyway, here are some pictures of our hawk babies.

Here are some shots of two of them:

You can kind of see all three of them here:

I don't know if wildlife is particularly attracted to our family or we are just more aware of it (I don't know if my neighbor even realizes this hawk's nest is in his yard).  I do know that the natural world has been a blessing to us, almost like a balm to soothe the soul, if you'll pardon the cliche.  Somehow the stress and tensions of human relationships and everyday troubles is easier to bear once you've spent some time with baby hawks or listened to geese fly overhead or examined the underside of a gecko as it climbs your window.  It's a reminder that the world is far bigger and mysterious than our troubles. The God who created such interesting creatures and weather and plants and landscapes and skies is so gracious to let us be a part of it and glimpse a tiny bit of wonder.