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Friday, June 27, 2008


Last summer I planted a red currant bush. We always had a row of them at the Adirondack house. I think that they were originally planted by my grandfather when the house was new, circa 1920. My grandmother and, later, Aunt Lucy, always made little jars of currant jelly. It was a big production, as I recall, involving a muslin "jelly bag" contraption. I'm sure all the paraphernelia is still there. And the recipe - most likely from Fannie Farmer.

So now, with no effort whatsoever from me, other than sticking it in the ground in the back of some other shrubs, I have my first crop. A bare two cups, as it turns out - so not enough for jelly.

But what? Currants are a northern crop - more common in places like Scandinavia than Provence. So off the radar, so to speak, from mainstream recipe sources. But a quick google led me to this tempting photo. Since I also have a productive rhubarb plant this idea seems worth exploring.

Can you even see the currants? What I ended up doing was freezing them in a plastic container, planning to use them by the decorative spoonful in compotes such as this. Besides the rhubarb, there are some Alpine strawberries in there (also from the garden, though I am losing out to the birds on this one), and some regular strawberries from the farmers' market. Very tasty. Very satisfying.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


All this rain we've been having (pretty much every day, it seems) has brought with it a bumper crop of weeds. Once again, "showing up" is proving to be the answer. Getting out there and pullling what I can, usually early in the morning, is at least keeping them at bay.

I went the extra mile in the new shrub border next to the deck. One step up from the "newspaper trick" is the "corrugated cardboard trick". I can get plenty of ready-to-recycle (already flattened) cartons from behind the liquor store. Spreading them around, like mulch, in thick layers, to be covered with "real" mulch once it's well wetted down, is making quick work of that area.

Sad to say, some of the weeds are of my own making. Why did I ever think it was a good idea to try morning glories? Pretty, yes, but apparently once you have them you have them forever, and they twine themselves around everything they encounter, and not so charmingly, either. "Strangle" is a word that comes to mind. Now is their sprouting time, and, thanks to the birds, they are finding new and clever places to hide themselves. I found one just this morning coming up under a garbage can in the asphalt driveway.

I am similarly responsible for the gooseneck loosestrife, black-eyed susans, and the yarrow, all of which seemed like good ideas at the time. Ack!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Showing up

You have to assume that things I've blogged about in the past as regular occurrences are ongoing. Puzzles. Bridge. Cooking. Reading. Yawn.

But it's been a while since I've mentioned the figure drawing. It continues on a twice monthly basis. Last night was the most recent session. I had to swap for an afternoon bridge session, so I arrived a bit tired and unprepared. Still, I think it was Woody Allen who made the quip about 95% of life being about "just showing up". By just showing up, I'm realizing I've churned out quite a number of drawings, and am beginning to get my sea legs again.

These are a mixture of very quick gesture studies (1-2 min) and some slightly longer ones - mostly in the 15-20 min range.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Newspapers and firewood

Bear with me. Soon gardening season will be over and we'll be on to other things. This is about the ongoing lawn reduction program. The huge hostas and three small hollies that I moved from the plateau to the "hosta border extension" (what should I call this new place?) appear to have survived. So I had to figure out a way to get rid of all the grass in the leftover spaces.

I decided to go with the newspaper trick, which I've had good success with in the past. It happened to be recycling day today. I was stuck at home, waiting for four new tires to be attached to my car. The recycling bins at the high school (right across the street) were brimming to overflow with New York Timeses and Wall Street Journals (suspiciously unread-looking, for the most part). I took as much as I could carry in four trips, and spread them thickly around the hostas and the redbud, working with the hose to keep them dripping wet.
Sun and wind are the dual enemies of the newspaper trick. Once the papers dry, there is nothing to prevent them from flying all over the place. I had a few rocks, for starters. But I needed more. Lawn staples? A possibility.

That's when I thought of the neighbors' woodpile - a virtual termite farm that has been there forever, and was only inches away from the site in question. The "logs" worked perfectly to anchor the papers! And as I began to remove the logs, one by one, it was apparent that there was going to be lots of leaf mold and compost available in the same general vicinity.

Sorry - getting dark and I realized I didn't have a good "after" photo. I'll add some bagged mulch to finish it all off, but it won't take much. Success! So much so, that I went off to buy a few boxwoods to start the lawn reduction program, "front yard version".

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


The oppressive heat is gone. A brief but powerful storm - perhaps another "microburst" such as we experienced on another June day (was it two or three years ago?) - hit last night around 9:30 PM. By the time I got home from bridge - a little past ten - the streets were littered with tree debris and the power was out. Sirens and flashing lights went on for another hour or so. Then all was quiet, and blissfully cool. I sat out on the deck for a while and enjoyed the peace and the darkness.

My little portable generator enabled me to plug things in at random: a reading light, a fan... The power on my block came back at about six a.m. Others, I'm hearing, will have to wait - possibly until Friday.

And here's what our town looks like this morning. The worst of it seems to be within a block or two of H and D's house, which came through unscathed.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Heat watch and pool

Temperatures are in the nineties and schools are closing for "heat days" (maybe some leeway to do so because of there having been no snow days?). A single rotating columnar fan is keeping me comfortable so far.

Summer can be oppressive here. But this year I'm ready for it. Nobody is more surprised than I am, but - get this: I joined a swim club!

Ever hear of a sand-bottomed pool? I hadn't. This place, in a pretty town just 17 miles southwest of here, is like a lake at one end with a sandy beach and shallow water, and like a pool otherwise, with "edges" and a deep end with diving apparatus. It's huge - so that there's an entire separate area for swimming laps, and for teenagers to play things like water basketball. It's surrounded by huge trees and provides plenty of lawn chairs so you can sit comfortably in the shade on either grass or sand (no concrete anywhere to speak of). It's a friendly, low-key, family-type place - nothing fancy. Just the spot for me to take a book, or a sketchpad and stay cool during the dog days.

I can't believe I had never heard of this place; surely it's been around forever, and the girls would have loved it had we been members when they were growing up. (We always took day trips to the shore - still a viable option, of course.) Well - too late for regrets! They can come now as my guests.

Part of the appeal for me, admittedly, is the super bargain membership rate for "seniors" - almost cheaper than staying home, especially when pitting the cost of gas against the cost of running the AC. It's kind of in the same league as the two dollar train fare to the city.

I grew up with access to a pool, and remember becoming bored with it after a while. It was something we took for granted. So, we'll see how it goes. But right now I like the idea of being able to say to myself, "I think I'll go to the pool today...."

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Another tour

It seems as if I've posted about a lot of house and garden tours; the main tour I make it a point not to miss is the Van Vleck, which has just taken place. This year's gardens were, for the most part, high-end professional endeavors, and, as such, they lacked "soul" (in my opinion).

Still, there was much to notice and admire. Plenty of details to record. Cute bird feeders! How did they make those holes, I wonder?

Here's a mature pair of shadbush (serviceberry, or amelanchier) trees. I have three of them, and only one of them actually could be mistaken for a "tree" so far. I always try to be aware of what my plants are going to look like in years to come. Even, so, I'm frequently startled.

The main event at this stop: the formal rose gardens. Each boxwood-edged bed contains a different, carefully named and dated variety of hybrid tea rose. This garden has been virtually unchanged for years. Not a do-it-yourself thing.
I thought of H&D's house here. This designer's solution to the "jagged" shape of the rear of the house was to resolve the geometry by plopping a huge square dining pavillion right in the middle of the yard, doing away with pretty much all the grass. The far corners of the yard are occupied by a large square pond with waterfall (almost de rigeur in these situations) and a round seating area.

The garden that drew the most comment was this one. Densely planted with a complex assortment of carefully chosen plants.

The best part of this same property was the "Zen garden" - reclaimed from a formerly neglected sloping side yard. The paving pattern was done using pieces of square wooden posts, laid upright and surrounded by gravel.

Throughout the garden we keep finding other examples of the square posts. Here, for example, they are used as a stair detail, and combined with stone to form a different kind of surface.

Birdhouses appear throughout the garden, all different, all simply mounted on the same square posts. Great look!

Even the small table here has been made by combining four larger posts, with the feet made by cutting them at an angle. The poured concrete slab was another example of over-the-top detail; there are tiny "pit" marks over the surface made by blasting with some kind of grit at just the precise moment.
Do those chairs look comfy to you? Hmmmm.

Monday, June 02, 2008


Just recently realized that Martha Stewart has a blog. Well, why not?

Martha and I go way back. She's a year younger than I am. In 1962 I was a "guest editor" at Mademoiselle magazine. Think Sylvia Plath, Betsey Johnson.... it was my "Devil Wears Prada" moment, so to speak. For Martha, those were the modeling years. So the August 1962 issue that I "guest-edited" (I was the "features" editor) is peppered with fashion-y ads featuring Martha. For 35 years now I've lived just a few miles away from her childhood "Elm Place" house in Nutley, NJ.

We've never met. But I've always felt connected to Martha, somehow. So I will read her blog.