Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Giving Thanks

Well, It's almost Thanksgiving and I'm thinking about what my Grandmothers would have been thankful for and what I should be as well. It's fairly easy to pull up all of the old standbys - family, friends, a big, fat turkey on the table. And I am definately thankful for all of them. But how about fine-tuning it a little bit.
My grandma Flora moved around a lot. My father said that she could make a home in a packing crate if she needed to. I'm sure she was thankful for every Thanksgiving that found a solid roof over her head. She would have been thankful for all of her grandchildren who she loved dearly. She would have been thankful for the fragrance of the autumn oaks outside and the M&Ms she had stashed under the towels in the linen closet (she was diabetic and hid her candy).
My grandma Ruth would have been thankful for the farm we lived on and the abundance that came from it. That farm fed her and my grandfather, my whole family, and assorted aunts and uncles, cousins and friends. I'm sure she was thankful for her son, her only child, and the 4 grandchildren he gave her. She would have been thankful that the lilacs bloomed every spring just outside the back bedroom window and she would be thankful that on a cold February morning, perhaps on her birthday (February 9th) she would be able to find the first violet blooming under the maple tree that sheltered her house. She would be thankful for Saturday Popcorn Night and Sunday Pancake Breakfast with the grandkids.
So what am I thankful for? I'm thankful that although my home isn't big by anyone's standards, it's big enough for my son and two of his friends to live here as they get their feet under them in this horrible economy. I'm thankful that my daughter was finally able get her own home. I'm thankful that I only have one chemo session left and then I can get on with my life again. I'm thankful that I can be a shoulder for friends who are going through a rough road with elderly parents who are dying, and I'm thankful that I can make a tiny differance for the better in anyone's life if I just stay positive and give more than I take. And finally, I'm thankful for the stormy Winter outside, because without it, I wouldn't enjoy the Spring nearly as much.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Two years ago I went to visit my Sister-in-Law in Los Angeles and also had the privilege of spending time with her grand kids (my niece's children). I instantly fell in love with both of these kids. Drew was around 8 at the time and Sasha was 5 or 6. I wanted to connect with them and be a great auntie, but as I talked to them, I couldn't find a lot in common. They both liked sports. Sasha played soccer, Drew was into basketball. I knew nothing about either. But I had brought along a birdhouse kit for each of them and I helped them build them and then they painted them. And they really enjoyed it. I heard later that they had hung the birdhouses and had families raised in them. What a gratifying project. While I was there I also helped them build a skateboard ramp. I think they were a little amazed that I knew how to use a screwdriver.

Drew with his birdhouse.

Sasha had to really scrape the bottle of her paint jar to get enough green paint for her birdhouse.

So I had connected with them on the subject of birds. (That Christmas, I sent them an Audubon book on Bird Identification).
But I still wanted to connect on a deeper level. I found a way to do that on my last day there. We were taking a walk and Drew found a piece of quartz on the side of the road. We got to talking about rocks and I found that he was very interested in them. I am also a rock and gem collector and so when I got home, I sent him a nice assortment of stones and sent Sasha some color and activity books. This went on for a while - sending care packages of stones and books, until one day I got a terse e-mail from Sasha saying simply "I like rocks too!". So now they both get stones and I've sent them some stone identification books. I'm always picking their brains to see what else we have in common that I can build on. I like to think that I have made an impact of sorts in their lives. I am very nature oriented and I wanted to give them a little bit of that side of me. And I feel like I have.
I encourage all of you to find some young people and do what you can to impart your grandmother wisdom to them. In this day and age, it's a very important commodity.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Decorating From The Dollar Store

'Tis the season to be pinching pennies and with the economy in the toilet, we need to be frugal more than ever. Our Grandmothers were always clever about saving a dime here and there and I know they would have loved the dollar store. There are a number of them out there. Some are better than others. We have one here (in Oregon) called "The Dollar Tree", and it's wonderful. Check yours out and don't forget the thrift stores. Look for components that can be taken apart and reassembled into something new and wonderful.

The ribbon for this basket, and the basket itself were the only expense. The cones were found on a hiking trip, the greens were cut from the garden. The basket was from an import store ($5) and the ribbon was from the Dollar Store.

The candycanes, the poppies, the red sparkly are all from the dollar store. The bucket was from a craft store ($7).

The poppies are a great find. Most flowers from dollar stores are a bit cheesy, but you can find some keepers if you dig. I bought all the poppies they had because they looked so cool and the color was definately Christmas. You can get ribbon at the Dollar Store, but often there isn't much on a spool. You may be better off buying it at a craft store or try to get it from a floral distributor. Always check how much ribbon is on a spool before buying.

This is one of my favorite finds. The baby stockings were in a pack of 3 for a dollar. I also found the tiny closepins there. A bit of ribbon brought it all together.

Poofy tulle bows with oversized jingle bells give the tree some sparkle. All elements were from the dollar store and then wired together.

This tree topper is an Allium schubertii that we dried from the garden, painted white and sprayed with glass glitter. Bulbs for this wonderful allium can be bought at garden centers in the fall.

These snowflakes are Dollar Store finds. They usually have lots of them in differant sizes. The smaller ones are usually 3 or more to a package. Hang them around your tree from the ceiling, or in a window.

This simple little tree was decorated with red balls from the dollar store and ribbon from the craft store. Don't throw the ribbon away after the holidays. It can be ironed and reused each year.

A friend found these sugar cones when she was camping. A little ribbon and we had instant window decorations.

These red vases and the silver garland inside of them are dollar store finds.

Little pinecones found under a tree in the garden were spray painted gold and wired onto tulle.

The Teddybear Tree is decorated almost entirely from the dollar store. The Teddy Bears, the Candy Canes (big and small, the red balls...all from the dollar store. The red stars and the little chair were thrift shop finds and the ribbon was bought at a surplus sale.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

How to Appreciate a Gloomy Day

Quail tracks in the snow

Rime on Roses - photo by Greg Smith

My Father's Mother was named Viola Ruth. She went by her middle name, but I always loved the fact that she was named after a flower. Ruth was an optimist and taught me to look on the bright side of things. However, here in the Pacific Northwest, winter can be pretty gloomy and depressing. I dreaded winter each year until I decided to make the best of it and look at it in another light, just as Grandma would have. In my every day world, I have several ways of coping.
*Gray skies remind me of a gray velvet dress that my sister bought me when I was in high school (I had my senior picture taken in that dress). I LOVED that dress.
*Fog is now mist, which carries a magical quality with it.
*I never appreciate a fire in the fireplace so much as when I am cold and wet from a foray outside.
*Rainy days are baking days.
*In the summer, I feel like I should be outdoors as much as possible. In the winter, I can stay inside and do arts and crafts without guilt.
* Most of the really fun holidays (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine's Day) happen in the winter.

In the Garden, there are many ways of enjoying winter as well.
*Plants with colored bark are brilliant in the winter sun.
*Mosses are green velvet.
*You can see the structure of the garden without distraction.
*Every winter blossom is a gift.
*Rime (heavy frost) on plants is pure magic.

Some ways to enjoy the winter garden more are:
*Feed the birds and get to know the different varieties you have at your feeder.
*Go for a walk in the garden with a magnifying glass and look at all the different mosses and lichens.
*Plant winter-fragrant plants like sarcococca and daphne so you can enjoy their intense perfume on a cold day.
*Plant winter-blooming plants like witch hazels, snowdrops and early narcissus.
Winter is now one of my favorite seasons, simply because I listened to my grandmother and looked on the bright side.

The Veil

Paul and Flora Zurfluh

Martin and Katherine Magelky

I was going through some of my old family photos last week and came across the wedding photos of my Grandma Flora and her mother, Katherine. I had never noticed before, but they are both wearing the same veil. Neither had a traditional wedding dress. Katherine's was a rather severe black dress. Flora's was a flapper number with crocheted pockets. But they both had the veil that reached to the floor.
I wonder where that veil is now. There were many children, grandchildren and great grandchildren that it could have gone to. Those that live in the Midwest are strangers to me. I guess I will have to make do with the photos and wear the floor length veil in my dreams.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Wine and Wreaths
My favorite fall picture is this display of grapes and elderberries. Although these are both ornamentals (Vitis purpurea and Sambucus 'Black Beauty'), you can also grow edible grapes and elderberries. Nearly as pretty, and definately more tasty. Sambucus cearulea, the blue elderberry, grows wild in the mountains of Oregon, but I've seen them for sale in the nurseries as well. They make exceptional jam and wine.
The grapes pictures here have very little taste, but are often added to wine grapes to give the wine a deep red color.
Later in the winter, after the leaves have all dropped and we're sure the sap is down, we cut the grapevines and twist them round themselves to make grapevine wreaths. We also use hops to make wreaths. These should be cut in the early fall before the rains start mold growing on them. Dry them off for a few days and them twist into wreaths. They smell heavenly and make a great fall decoration. Hop vines can also stripped of all foliage and flowers for a sparser wreath and honeysuckle vine also makes a great wreath. Experiment.

I love to grow my own pumpkins and we often incorporate them into the flower beds at the resort. My favorite (although it's really a squash, not a pumpkin) is called "Red Warty Thing". I think I like it as much for the name as for it's character.
When my kids were little, we used to grow a pumpkin patch in the back of our yard. The kids would sell the pumpkins to the neighbors at Halloween and that's how they made their Christmas money.
A fun activity for kids is to scratch their name into the flesh of the pumpkin when it is small. As the pumpkin grows, the name will grow with it and the kids will end up with personalized pumpkins.


Scarecrow Sentry
My friend, Janice helped me make this scarecrow. It has a wooden frame with wing nut-hinged arms so it can be posed ,to a degree, The head is a styrofoam wig stand covered in burlap. Hair is raffia hot-glued to the hat. We dressed him up in farmer clothes and placed him on sentry duty to protect the gourds, squash, hops and corn in the cart. With his hands on his hips, he doesn't take any sass.
If you don't feel the urge to create your own scarecrow, there are many for sale now in craft stores. I bought a kid-sized scarecrow which was actually a crow dressed up like a farmer, and placed it in the Children's Garden at the Resort where he invites all of his friends in to feed on the last of the strawberries.

Fall Color
The Grandmothers loved Autumn and we would drive as a family up into the Cascade Mountains to watch the colors change. We would often bring back big armfuls of Vine Maple leaves to diplay in oversized vases in the family room.
Warm dry days and cold, crisp nights will give you the best color. If it starts raining too soon in the fall, the colors will be dulled.
Autumn is an ideal time to plant trees and shrubs and if you go to the nurseries now, you can find plants with spectacular fall interest such as coloered foliage or bright berries. Many of the berry plants will hang onto their fruit long into the winter. Viburnums, especially are great plants because the birds won't eat the berries until February, when they really need a foodsource. Ths means you get to see the berries longer and you are helping your local bird population survive the winter.


Franklinia Alatamaha

I'm fairly certain that neither of my grandmothers ever saw this tree, but I know they would have loved it. The Franklinia tree is named after Benjamin Franklin by John and William Bartram, who found this tree growing on the riverbank of the Altamaha River in Georgia. Sadly, none of these trees can be found in the wild anymore and the only surviving trees are now in cultivation.
I love it because it blooms late, oftern when the foliage has already changed to this burnished red.