Monday, May 28, 2012

After a lovely, much-needed visit to college pals in Omaha last week (what a fabulous place to live!), I returned yesterday to host a surprise baby “sprinkle.” It certainly wasn’t a shower: no edible turds, no due date games, nary a word about bottles or diapers or strollers. Instead, it was just the women I’ve come to know through our weekly stitching group gathered for a quiet celebration of a friend’s upcoming delivery.

I’ve wanted to write about my stitching group all year. I’ve thought about surreptitiously photographing the gang, but subtlety is not my strong suit and I suspect this gang might shy away from the camera. Mostly, I’ve wanted to photograph all of the fabulous things that get made each week and each month over the course of the year. For this occasion, I invited each of us to make a little something for our expectant member. I wish I had taken pictures of all of the fabulous treats she received: reversible pants with beautiful hand-dyed indigo, felted teething rings with a lovely wooden handle, a plant-dyed (in about nine shades!) soft toy that was stunning, and a little striped cardigan that I whipped up from my stash.
I clumsily (again, subtlety not my thing) got our guest of honor to reveal her favorite kind of cake a couple weeks ago. She was unhesitating: flourless chocolate cake and anything lavender. I had no experience with either, but I snipped a few lavender sprigs from another member's garden and infused the cream before chilling it. After reading countless flourless cake recipes, I went with a smittenkitchen recommendation of this one. Everyone raved about it, so unless they were lying, it will be my recipe of choice from here on out. It's really a small miracle that cake. And of course, I needed some babies for it:

J and I woke up a bit early and made three grainy, hearty salads. I should post the recipes, but save for one from my bible (Supernatural Everyday), everything else was from J's head. We did a chickpea, carrot, radish one on local greens, a not so potato potato salad, and a quinoa and lots of fresh herbs salad. Another member made a loaf of fresh bread and brought lemonade. It was a tasty spread for a surprise Memorial Day-not-so-baby-baby-sprinkle (and I had an excuse to use my beloved cake plate!).

Monday, May 21, 2012

In bloom May

I've been wanting to record our early summer blooms, especially because this is the first real year of my garden and I want to keep track of what works and what doesn't. Foxglove, planted in the fall, seem happy in Kentucky and I was feeling particularly proud of these guys (I have three) until I went on the garden tour and realized that my foxglove are the wimpiest in town. I'm hoping, though, that they magically multiply before next spring. They started to bloom in late April and are just about done now.

We inherited both of these with the house. The modest top guy is bronze fennel (surrounded by some unknown variegated ground cover). My friend Katie gave me more of the fennel, so I'm not sure which is hers and which was here to begin with. It smells wonderful and I can imagine that if disentangled from its captors, it could be quite beautiful on its own. The day lilies were everywhere when we moved in, front and back. I dug up half a dozen huge clusters in the front and gave them to a friend in March. In retrospect, I probably should have transplanted them to the back. But I was feeling generous and she was in need. J and I agree that day lilies look terrific for about a week once a year and like spindly crap the rest of the time. The back is largely neglected and so these have gotten a stay of execution for at least another year. 

Last fall Molly and I transplanted two or three enormous grasses from the side yard to the back (photo to come). We broke the two clumps into six and they're thriving, but last weekend I added this purple veronica between them (because they were 50% off at Lowe's and added some much-needed cheer to the grass). I'm worried that they won't get enough sun back there, but we'll see.
There are also two big pots in the back that my Mom and I put together when she was here in April. Unfortunately, I can't remember any of the names of these annuals, save for the racist "china town" (the two red spikes in the back). We bought all of the annuals from an Amish family in Crab Orchard, Kentucky. And I may or may not have gotten us lost trying to get there... 

I've spent most of my time thinking about the narrow front beds. They're about two and a half feet wide and totally flat. It's hard to get many floral conversations happening in such a narrow space, especially if you incline toward the overgrown cottage look. This year I'm just trying out things, knowing that I'll move a lot at the end of the season. I have two varieties of bell flowers (middle photo), one purple and one very, very light lavender, a few nasturtium from the college plant sale, and deep pink yarrow. I also have a yellow and white section with daisies, tansy, feverfew, and tickseed, but those aren't yet in bloom.
Mom and I also bought (thanks Mom!) two knock-out roses. These bloom and bloom and bloom. They may lack the character of older, more fragrant varieties, but I'm sold on their ability to produce constantly. In between the roses are two squat butterfly bushes that are also in bloom but which I don't have a good photo.

There are also a bunch of random orphans that I've thrown in willy-nilly. I love yellow yarrow and I wanted to pair it with the daisies, but I couldn't fit them together. Instead, I found this shorter orange zinnia at the farmer's market. I like the grouping, but it doesn't work as well with my neighboring pink roses. So the yarrow may move after the season is up.

There's a nice little cluster under the mailbox: cat mint, rosemary, butter and eggs (photo to come), and a bit of gooseneck lysimachia. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012


I wish that I were one of those professors who loved academic writing. I wish that I felt renewed by its challenges and I wish that I eagerly anticipated vacations when I could devote myself wholly to it. Instead, I feel tremendous anxiety when a vacation is approaching because I know that I’ll need to turn back to my writing and that makes me queasy. So this week, faced with the unsavory challenge of turning a 23,000-word chapter into an 8,000-word article for an edited volume, I have returned to my robust program of self-bribery.

In this week’s iteration, I’m allowing myself one washer worth of winding for every half an hour that I spend on this article. And so this necklace develops bit by bit. My sister decided on gray and red for her wedding, colors that work well for elegant cheer.  And slated to wear a gray bridesmaid frock, I decided to add bit of color around the neck.

 A trip to Lowe's and $1.33 later, I ended up with a small pouch of washers. I had a bunch of embroidery floss—the $.40 variety—and some superglue. I had seen a picture of something similar online, but I couldn't seem to remember where and so much of this is trial and error. I've realized that I'm not a great winder and that it's frustratingly difficult to get the connections just right.

 I still haven't figured out the mechanics of adding this to a chain of some sorts. I'm thinking that I'll add a couple of jump rings to the ends and then go to Lexington's bead shop and buy a sterling chain and clasp. I'm worried that it might look too crafty for a wedding, but we'll see once its done and I can model it here. 

Okay, my time is up. It's back to the article.

Sunday, May 13, 2012


There are great things about being a professor in the middle of Kentucky: May, June, July, most of August, few distractions, no urban attractions, and the time to enjoy slow afternoons in the field. The mosquitoes haven't yet arrived and the humidity has remained at bay. The students are gone and our quiet town has become downright sleepy. We're settling into the pace of summer (yes, early May is summer in these parts!). J is writing a lot. I'm resting a lot. I know that I have much to do: three more new classes to plan and two articles to massively revise. But first, I'm taking a breather.

I'm reading crappy novels in bed. I'm berry-picking. I'm garden touring. I'm stitching. I'm cooking. I'm jogging and breathing and generally enjoying my poorly paying but richly relaxing summer holiday.

And it's only week two!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Coming out

I’m like a 22 year-old gymnast trying to stage a comeback just before the Olympics. I can’t really compete with the 15 year-old pixies whose bodies remain lean and limber. But I’m trying to come out of retirement for one more moment of glory. And I’ve been thinking about just what event—which competition—merited a comeback to this space. Everything seemed just shy of enough.
Like that rainy day in March when the miraculous happened: a self-peeling banana showed up in my fruit bowl. It was so unexpected, so delightful that I contemplated it as the object of my return. But then I thought, "A banana, really?" After five months of silence a banana seemed hardly to suffice. It lacked personal interest and what really could I say about this miracle of fruit (other than I was too freaked out to actually eat it)?

The same problem plagued my other March miracle. I woke one morning to find the "weeds" that I had been pulling all last summer had transformed themselves into rosy bleeding hearts. I tried to write about this, but kept recurring to cheesy lines about hearts that never die. I couldn't help but writing cliches and so I gave up before I posted.

But in April there was a much anticipated reunion of our canine lovers, a sure thing to get me back to blogging. For several months we prepared Homer for Lucy's visit. Every time he was naughty, we threatened him with the notion that Lucy would have to stay at home. And yet, she arrived--with her humans in tow--and Homer had 72 glorious hours of romping, humping (Homer is, needless to say, always a bottom), squirrel-chasing, and co-sleeping. But even this somehow lacked the compelling visual interest to get me back here.

And then there was a whole lot of quick making, but taken one project at a time, I couldn't justify ending retirement for so paltry an offer. The world is a fertile place these days and I found myself scrambling at the last minute(s) to finish these:

The quick making, though, seemed to zap all of my energy (not to mention the three new classes, the housework, the reading, the annual spring blues). I wanted to come out of retirement with a glorious culinary feat, but J and I have lived on beans, tacos, and mediocre avocados for several months now.

So here's the rub: no one project, no single event, no stunning read is enough to get me back here when I've been gone so long. My only hope is that by checking in more often, I won't need the Olympics to compel my return. Instead, I'll again find the prosaic enough to get me here...and hopefully keep me.