Thursday, April 20, 2017

Be Kind to Your Fine-feathered Friends

Garden scene with birdbath
Late spring afternoon in Annake's garden
Many years ago when I was in high school, we used to sing a silly song to the tune a rival school had chosen for its athletic “fight” song. It started like this:

“Be kind to your fine-feathered friends,
For a duck may be somebody's mother,
Who lives all alone in the swamp,
Where it's always dark and damp...”

or something to that effect. That silly song was on my mind this morning while I was looking for this year's “gift” from the birds.



End-of-season grapes left on the vine for the birds
End-of-season grapes left on the vine for the birds
We joined the National Wildlife Federation's backyard wildlife program several years ago. We provide cover, food supplies, and water year around. Since our backyard is of a modest size, most of the creatures that benefit are birds and small animals like toads. When I first moved to this area, there were very few species of birds. They had suffered from DDT poisoning. There was a later set-back when West Nile virus attacked the state. For the past several years, however, we have noticed at least one or two new species moving into our neighborhood, or migrating through it, every year. And they come bearing gifts! Each year we find at least one plant growing here that we didn't plant ourselves. Some are annuals, which grace us with their presence for a year and then are gone. But others take root and become permanent residents.


Oregon grape holly in bloom
Oregon grape holly in bloom




This beautiful Oregon holly grape started out as a tiny seedling,. Today it is as tall as I am and it takes at least four people to join hands around it, while staying out of its prickly leaves. Each year it produces balls of bright yellow flowers, followed by deep blue berries that help us feed the birds through the following winter.




Evergreen tree




This evergreen came along soon after the holly grape and stands beside it. The first couple of years the poor little thing was eaten nearly down to the ground by the deer. As its prickly neighbor grew bigger and broader, however, the deer learned to leave it alone. Now it is several feet taller than its protector.


Rose hips






Birds that like rose hips have provided us with several wild, or pasture, roses. One has made itself at home on the side of our small lean-to greenhouse. It produces fine new hips each autumn that we use as a source of Vitamin C.









But our prize gift has been this lovely cream-colored columbine. We have planted columbines in other places, but none have been this color or have had blossoms this large.

White columbine
Creamy white columbines

Crabapple blossoms
Crabapple blossoms

We share our fruit with the birds. They eat the fruits of this crabapple tree all winter long. The tree is old, but still produces these colorful blooms and many red fruits. A flock of cedar waxwings stops during their autumn migration to fill up on them.


Berries on the snoball bush
Berries on the snowball bush

The lively little bushtits stuff themselves with the fruits of our snowball bush. Like the evergreen, this plant had a difficult start because it was trampled the first couple of years. Now it is so big it seems to think it is a tree! We also leave some apples on the tree and grapes on the vine for the birds to feed on during the winter.

Red Delicious apples on the tree
Red Delicious apples on the tree

One of our neighbors keeps geese. On warm, sunny days they wander around the neighborhood, eating lots of insects, scaring the stray cats, and even keeping the deer away. J.D. got this photo of them marching down the middle of the street.

Local geese on the march
Geese on patrol

Did I find this year's gift? Not yet. But I will. I always do. I'll just keep looking. And I'll put out a string bag of yarn and dryer lint for nesting materials. So my message to all of you is to be kind to the birds and perhaps they will bring you presents, too.

Oh, you wanted a duck, too? Below is one I did in petit point when my eyes and hands were a bit younger.

Love the birds. (Yes, J.D., even the pigeons.)





Needlepoint of wood duck
"Mandarin Duck," available in our Etsy shop

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Monday, April 10, 2017

Early Spring Questions and Answers, 2017

Spring flowers in Annake's garden
Spring flowers in Annake's garden
I like your heart designs but I wouldn't want to do them just for Valentine's Day. What else do you suggest?

I'm glad you liked the hearts. One project I would recommend is memorializing weddings. In fact, if you are going to be a bridesmaid or a maid or matron of honor, and the date for the wedding has been set, you probably have time to make one of these as a thoughtful wedding gift. Depending on your skill, choose needlepoint canvas, monks' cloth, or Aida cloth. Choose a size that is appropriate for framing 8 inches x 10 inches or 9 inches x 12 inches are good choices. Make a border of small hearts top and bottom or all around the background.

Small needlework hearts for borders
Small needlework hearts for borders

Or place larger hearts in the four corners. Use a pattern like the one shown below as both a chart and a sample. Rotate the pattern 90 degrees for each of the following three corners. If you put four of these together, stitched in green, you get a lucky four-leaf clover. Three of them and a stem give you a shamrock for St. Patrick's Day.

Chart and sample of corner heart
Chart and sample of corner heart
Then embroider or needlepoint a large heart shape that is open in the center. You might like to download and use the chart from the post of January 30, 2017. Add additional rows of stitches outside and inside to get the size of heart that you need. In the center of the open heart, embroider a message like the following:

Mary Jones and John Smith
February 14, 2017

Tip: Write or print the names and dates on lined paper. Cover with a smooth piece of white tissue paper. Carefully trace your message on the tissue paper. Pin the tissue paper to your fabric, carefully centering it in the heart. Embroider over the letters and numbers. Then carefully tear the tissue paper away and discard it.

These embroideries can be as simple or as elaborate as you choose. You might take a clue from the wedding announcements, if they have been chosen, to familiarize yourself with the couple's style. A white or gold frame, simple enough not to distract one from the embroidery, would be appropriate.
 
Mothers of the bride and groom should also appreciate one of these. If you want something more elaborate, you might enlarge and use parts of the intertwined heart design (January 31, 2016).
Line drawing of interlaced hearts

My second choice would be a similar, but perhaps smaller, birth announcement. You might embroider a blue one for a baby boy and a pink one for a baby girl or do the whole thing in a rainbow of colors. Grandmothers would treasure such a gift. I was discussing this with a dear friend and she suggested that those of you who like to embroider on perforated paper might want to do something like this in a size that would fit into an envelope.

Blue heart outline embroidered on monk's cloth

For a larger project, you might embroider a family tree. You may want to start with a fairly large background so that the next generation's spouses and children can be added to the tree at a later date.
 
When you are making the four-way designs on paper, does it matter whether you fold the paper horizontally and vertically or if you fold it diagonally? Also, how would you apply this technique to some kind of needlework besides quilting. I don't quilt.

Let me answer your second question first. Let's explore a simple project that anyone can do with two pieces of felt, scissors, and fabric glue or a needle and thread. Remember our reverse applique (April 11, 2016 and June 24, 2016)? Once you have followed the simple directions from this post and have a four-way silhouette cut out of paper, pin your pattern to a square of felt, carefully centering the design. Cut it out with small, sharp scissors or an X-acto knife. Glue or stitch it to a square of felt in a contrasting color. Decorate it in any way you like. Frame it, make it into a wall hanging, a small pillow, or a decorative mat.

In answer to your first question, there is some difference between the two techniques. I used the “square” technique with my students because it was easier for them to grasp and execute. Here is the tulip pattern, modified to make it more nearly symmetrical, shown as cut on the square and then on the diagonal. It is necessary to shorten the tulip pattern to fit the diagonal fold.

Picture of the two patterns opened out, side by side
Picture of the two patterns opened out, side by side

Is it time for more recipes?

Any time is a good time for recipes. We have an extensive mint garden. Here are two popular mint recipes from the recipe sheets we give our customers.

Minted Melon Fruit Cocktails

1 cup white sugar                                                      1 cup water
3 tbsp chopped mint leaves          Juice of 1 lemon           Juice of 1 orange
1 cantaloupe or honeydew melon, scooped into balls or diced into cubes
Sprigs of whole mint leaves for garnish (optional)

Refrigerate the cut melon. Mix the orange and lemon juices together. Boil the sugar and water together for 5 minutes to make a good syrup. Keep it warm. Chop the mint. Pour the syrup over the chopped mint. Let the mint steep in the syrup until it cools completely. Strain the syrup and add it to the orange and lemon juices. Chill.

Divide the melon balls or cubes between 6 tall glasses. Pour the chilled syrup over the melon. Garnish each glass with sprigs of whole mint leaves if desired. Keep cold until serving. This works as both an appetizer before a meal or as a light dessert after a meal.

Two varieties of mint from Annake's garden
Two varieties of mint from Annake's garden

Lime-Mint Smoothie

1 cup fat-free vanilla frozen yogurt           ¼ cup fat-free or low-fat milk
¼ cup frozen limeade concentrate                 ¼ cup fresh mint leaves

Combine all four ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth. Serve immediately. Serves two. Delicious, cooling, and low-calorie.

Enjoy!





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