A Suburban Chicken Tale

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It’s been almost four years since I first got chickens. I’ve learned much since then, many lessons that only come with experience. Just like with most anything in life, there’s ups and downs – which I found out first hand!

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The Most Wonderful Time of the Year – Summer Changes

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It’s my favorite time of the year, as spring morphs into summer! Connecticut winters are often harsh, but summers are really pretty, full of changes! We’ve been busy bees ourselves making changes- sprucing up, cleaning up, and even adding a new family member!

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Orchids, 101

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Spring’s here! I love warmer weather, wearing brighter clothes, and getting outside. I just got back from spring break in Texas, where things were so much greener than my area. (I’ll share pics)! While everything in New England isn’t yet in full bloom, I’m enjoying indoor blooms, including my favorite, orchids. Mother’s Day is this month – why not give Mom an orchid? While they have a reputation for being “difficult”, with a little care and know-how, orchids are a beautiful, easy and long-lasting houseplant.

I couldn’t wait to go to Texas with my daughter for spring break. Connecticut was damp and unusually cold for much of April. I was so thrilled to see my family! I also was looking forward to seeing green outside, and I wasn’t disappointed! The weather was beautiful. Everything was lush and blooming.

 

Enjoyin' blue skies, green grass and Poochie at my niece's lovely home!

Enjoyin’ blue skies, green grass and Poochie at my niece’s lovely home!

My brother's yard and patio is a beautiful oasis with desert rose...

My brother’s yard and patio is a beautiful oasis with desert rose…

And various species of cacti. The large cactus was transplanted from my dad's ranch.

…and various species of cacti. The large cactus was transplanted from my dad’s hill country ranch.

Nothing beats a Texas sunset!

Nothing beats a Texas sunset! We fed treats to the cows at a relative’s farm.

Check out this shrimp plant growing in my father’s yard. I wish it would grow in my zone!

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While things are starting to bloom, sometimes it seems like forever in Connecticut for things to green. Having houseplants is a must! My favorite orchid on my desk has just bloomed again, and about to bloom more flowers!

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Orchids are unique plants. They make up the largest plant family; in the wild there’s over 28,000 species of orchids, with 90% found in the tropics. Five varieties commonly sold are Spray orchids (Dendrobium), Dancing Ladies (Oncidium), Lady’s Slippers (Paphiopedilum) and Moth orchids (Phalaenopsis). When Moth orchids reach 6 to 7 years old, they bloom almost continually! In between blooms, orchids keep their shiny green leaves that I think are often overlooked as beautiful foliage adding color to a home.

Though this orchid is in between blooms, its foliage looks lovely!

Though this orchid is in between blooms, its foliage looks lovely!

Indoors, orchids love light, even warmth, and high humidity. Humidity’s bad for hair, but great for plants! Most homes are drier than the tropics, so misting with a spray bottle or using humidity trays can help houseplants by increasing the humidity around the plant. Place an orchid on a tray of pebbles or sea glass with a bit of water (add a few grains of activated charcoal to keep the water from turning sour). As the water evaporates, it surrounds the plant with humidity. Just make sure the pot and roots are not sitting in water, but rather on top of the stones.

I repurpose old plates for saucers under plants. When making a humidity tray, make sure the pot sits on top of stones or sea glass, and that the width is bigger than the plant, not just the pot. Evaporation needs to reach the leaves. Grouping plants also aids in humidity needs.

I repurpose old plates for saucers under plants. When making a humidity tray, make sure the pot sits on top of stones or sea glass, and that the width is bigger than the plant, not just the pot. Evaporation needs to reach the leaves. Grouping plants also aids in humidity needs.

Keeping plants in a humid room like a bathroom (as long as there is the right light) can aid humidity, too, but avoid placing orchids in a kitchen. Phalaenopsis are susceptible to ethylene gas emitted from foods like apples and bananas; the blossoms will turn black and drop all at once if too close to ripening fruit.

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As for light, orchids love light! Bright indirect light from a Southern facing window is best, but you can get away with less light with Lady Slipper and Moth varieties.

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Orchids aren’t potted in “soil”, but rather a “medium” of coarsely chopped bark and wood with small amounts of peat moss, perlite and vermiculite mixed in. This allows for quick drainage and air to surround the roots. You can purchase special orchid potting mix (that also works for Bromeliads) at most stores carrying gardening products. (I found mine at Lowes). The medium eventually decomposes, so repotting your orchids every two years is a good idea. Orchids grow “Monopodial” or “upright”, or grow “Sympodial”, creeping. You need to know this when repotting your orchid, and provide it with the right type of pot. It’s recommended to avoid dark-colored pots that can warm roots too quickly, but clay pots are okay…just watch your water. The only water not recommended for orchids is water that comes directly from a water softener. Since I have a well, I use distilled water.

IMG_2866When it comes to houseplants, what causes failure is a “one size fits all” mentality, especially with orchids. This is particularly true when watering. Some orchids have storage organs for water, and will need a rest period. Orchids prefer drying out a bit between waterings; the potting medium should feel dry before adding more water (usually 7 to 10 days, but it depends on your room’s climate and the size of the pot). Orchids probably won’t need water as often as your other houseplants.

Watch your water with orchids. Overwatering is a common cause of orchid death.

Watch your water with orchids. Overwatering is a common cause of orchid death.

There’s a method of watering orchids called the “Ice Method”, where you allow 3 or so ice cubes to melt on top of the medium each week. Research shows that this is not the best method for watering orchids.

As for feeding, I love the saying “Feed them weakly, weekly”! You can use houseplant food that is diluted to ¼ strength. I like easy, so I prefer to use a spray formulated for orchids, and have had wonderful results. Just don’t spray the flowers.

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Orchids are often called “rare” or are pricey in stores. They have both male and female parts fused into one organ, so to be pollinated the right insect must visit. Produced seeds are extremely tiny, and special fungi must be present to grow. Many orchids now are produced using newer methods like tissue culture, so prices aren’t what they used to be. IKEA has good, inexpensive prices on orchids, with a great selection of healthy, beautiful plants. I’ve found orchids at IKEA at half the cost of other places near me.

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Are you an orchid fan, too? Let me know, (or just say hello) in comments! Wishing everyone a Happy Mother’s Day! And be sure to read MaryJane’s article, “Easily Re-Bloom Your Supermarket Orchids,” in the latest issue of MaryJanesFarm, “Blue Moon,” June/July 2017. 

 

Until Next Time…Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

 

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Surprises!

 

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It’s April already?! How’d that happen?! In New England, Mother Nature’s running a wee bit late, with days that keep feeling more like February. As I write, I’m nursing yet another bad cold and cough (the weather isn’t helping). Life’s been a bit of a whirlwind lately at our house! I could certainly sit and rest a spell, so grab a cup of tea and let’s catch up! This past month has been full of surprises!

Speaking of surprises, “Melinda L.”, you are my winner for last month’s giveaway of the beautiful Prairie Pin Pouch clothespin holder. Enjoy! A big shout out of thanks to Julie Pruett for her beautiful work! Thanks to everyone who entered!

IMG_2048-001 In Connecticut, Mother Nature surprised us by dumping record breaking snow a few weeks ago, just as we were thinking spring was on the way. We all knew the storm was coming, but I think everyone was just a little surprised how much snow we got. My husband’s usually able to handle the driveway with his tractor and snow thrower, but it was no match for the sticks thrown by the wind. We are so thankful that the snow has finally melted from our driveway! On the plus side, the storm brought a surprise family day off!

 

Handsome hubby throwing snow

Handsome hubby throwing snow

 

My seeds for my veggie garden are started inside, but it will be awhile before the ground is warm enough to plant.

 

Don't you love the art on this early 1900's seed packet?

Don’t you love the art on this early 1900’s seed packet?

I’m very pleasantly surprised by the many wonderful reactions I got to the article on vintage sewing machines that I wrote in the current issue of MaryJanesFarm Magazine. I even made two new farmgirl friends because of it! You just never know where you’ll find a farmgirl! If you don’t have a subscription to MaryJanesFarm Magazine, you’re missing out…subscribe HERE!

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I surprised myself by saying “yes” to my daughter when she asked for yet another pet! Our daughter’s grown up in a multiple pet household. She loves animals with her whole heart, and like me, becomes a squealing puddle of mush at the sight of anything covered in fur. Currently, our family consists of one and a half dogs (a shepherd mx and a chihuahua), a cat, a bunny, three hermit crabs, and five chickens.

My idea of cute and cuddly...

My idea of cute and cuddly…

We’ve said to our daughter, “No more”. One day, she texted, “Mom, can I have a pet snake?” “You’re joking, right? Are you sick? Do you have a fever?!?” I thought something was wrong. It’s a long story, but a young, pet albino corn snake came up for adoption.

My husband’s also a huge animal lover, and nothing’s more heartwarming than my 6’3 hubby walking a five pound chihuahua. He is, however, TERRIFIED of snakes. He doesn’t even like earthworms (too “snake-like”).

My daughter, on the other hand, sees beauty in just about every creature. I love that about her. Her dad said he would give “Noodle” a three day trial. Snakes aren’t what I think of as a cute, cuddly pet. I respect (and fear certain) snakes, and value their place in the environment, but not so much in my home. My husband and I are both surprised, now several weeks later, at how fascinating and docile “Noodle” is. We find watching him interesting, and I have even been brave enough to hold him. I am surprised that I am even feeling a bit attached to him. (However, he’d better never get loose from his aquarium! My 14 year old daughter will have a very hard time paying the mortgage all by herself when my husband and I move out)!

When you're cold blooded and it's 20 degrees out...

When you’re cold blooded and it’s 20 degrees out…

From the time my daughter was born, she and I have been very close. All the while, people have said things like, “Just wait until she’s a teenager, you won’t be so close”. I disagree. I started to worry a few weeks ago, however. I felt like something was not right, but could not pinpoint what it was. Whenever I’d ask, Audrey would say “Nothing’s wrong, Mama”.

Last Sunday, my friend Andrea took me out for brunch for my birthday. When we came home, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. When I went into the kitchen, I was greeted by friends, jumping out from behind the kitchen island, screaming, “SURPRISE”!!! My closest friends and their daughters were there, all dressed like the 1940s!

"SURPRISE"! Was I ever!!!

“SURPRISE”! Was I ever!!!

There was food galore, beautiful flowers, and my handsome hubby dressed in a suit. My friend Erin bakes cakes as a hobby. She’s is so talented. She baked an awesome, beautiful “Rosie the Riveter” cake.

My friend Erin made this amazing cake! It was delicious, too.

My friend Erin made this amazing cake! It was delicious, too.

My friend Andrea even found 1940’s party favors for everyone: little music boxes shaped like horse drawn Cinderella carriages. Each one plays a different song, mine plays “Happy Birthday”.

Everyone at the party received a "Cinderella" music box candy holder/party favor from the 1940's . So adorable!

Everyone at the party received a “Cinderella” music box candy holder/party favor from the 1940’s . So adorable!

My friend Lisa is such a hoot! She wore her husband's grandfather's uniform from WWII.

My friend Lisa is such a hoot! She wore her husband’s grandfather’s uniform from WWII.

Lisa's husband, Ernie's grandfather, WWII, back row third from left. Photo courtesy Lisa Ruot

Lisa’s husband, Ernie’s grandfather, WWII, back row third from left. Photo courtesy Lisa Ruot

Two beautiful ladies, my friend Beth and her daughter Grace - 40's style!

Two beautiful ladies, my friend Beth and her daughter Grace – 40’s style!

My sweet, beautiful best friend and daughter, Audrey - my best gift ever!

My sweet, beautiful best friend and daughter, Audrey – my best gift ever!

Surprised does not describe it…FLABBERGASTED, SHOCKED, AMAZED! My daughter planned and executed the whole thing, down to the last detail. She rallied my friends, planned the menu and worked out all of the details. She was quite the hostess! What fourteen-year-old does that for their mom?!? I am feeling very lucky, very blessed, and very loved.

Sometimes, life surprises us when we least expect it. May your spring be filled with wonderful, happy surprises!

Until Next time…Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

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Laundry Room Re-Do and Giveaway!

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Some things in life are necessary, but not necessarily enjoyable. Laundry’s one, although I don’t mind it. It’s a more pleasant task since sprucing up the laundry room (without a major, expensive overhaul). Take a peek at my tips for making a laundry space more inviting, efficient, and  “farmgirl chic”!

Because our laundry room is off the main living area, we want it attractive, but having an organized, aesthetically-pleasing laundry area, no matter where it’s located, makes chore day better.

Panoramic of my laundry room

Panoramic of my laundry room

My family’s only three, but judging from our laundry, you’d think we’re an army! My husband’s  allergic to chemicals and starch used at commercial dry cleaners, so we wash and iron all his dress clothes for work. I’m the primary “laundry goddess” of the house. (We’ve suffered enough once-white-now-pink clothes from DD and DH doing washing, so I prefer doing it). My teen daughter helps with ironing, and puts folded laundry away.

Growing up, my parents’ washers and dryers were made to last! Nowadays, appliances don’t seem to survive a decade. My husband and I had our set repaired many times, and handy hubby also did repairs, but it was time for a new set since they became inefficient. After shopping around for the best deal, we splurged on my dream set- a front loading Merlot-colored washer and dryer with all the bells and whistles! I just adore the deep red, and decided to use it as my main accent color.

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Since we inexpensively added storage cabinets and a counter ourselves years ago, I opted out of storage pedestals. I’m short, so without pedestals the washer and dryer are the perfect height for folding.

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A wicker laundry basket (Goodwill, $5.00) looks better than plastic and is lighter for carrying. I re-purposed on-hand, matching place mats to protect the appliance tops.

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In the 80’s, wooden garbage cans were trendy. My dad built me one, but after 25 years, the paint looked worn and dirty, the cow cutout on front dated. Sentimental since Daddy made it, I removed the cow, cleaned the can, and spray-painted it to match the appliances, painting the tired brass hardware a  “hammered” look with paint I had on hand.

IMG_2045We have hampers upstairs, but a downstairs hamper’s handy for wet powder room towels and soiled kitchen linens. I bought a 1940’s “tole-ware” metal hamper at a tag sale for $10. Inside, I lined the bottom with a “puppy pad” to keep wet items from rusting the bottom. The top of the hamper’s decorated with a piece from my VSM collection: a 1950’s child’s size hand-crank. My mother was gifted one just like it when she was in elementary school, from a little boy with a crush on her. The toy iron was my daughter’s when she was little.

IMG_2019I’d wanted a wooden ironing board ever since I first saw MaryJane’s! I finally found one on a Facebook Tag Sale for $5.00! It’s solid and sturdy. When I went to pick it up, the original fabric was still there, looking new. “It’s about a hundred years old, I think. It was my mother’s and she never used it,” quipped the seller. I, on the other hand, use it all the time! It’s easy to set up and move, has a large work space and isn’t the least bit shaky. I chose red chambray to recover it.

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There’s a table top ironing board for touch-ups or small items. I recovered it using a fun vintage-print fabric. I sewed a matching cord-keeper bag for when my iron’s not in use.

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Various bottles and boxes with commercial labels look cluttered. I store homemade laundry detergent in a vintage biscuit jar. We also use a liquid store-bought earth-friendly detergent, depending on what’s washing. A galvanized beverage holder is easier to use than a clunky plastic detergent bottle. I found mine on clearance for $5.00 at Walmart because the lid was dented, which was easily fixed with a rubber mallet. Vintage flea-market-found demitasse cups measure out the perfect amount of detergent for my high-efficiency washer, while a saucer catches drips. I love to re-purpose old wooden soda crates. I cut a piece of plywood to fit the top for a flat surface, raising the liquid dispenser up for easy use.

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The windowless room is tiny, so I have to make the most of space. There’s no sink, so I use a large, antique enamelware basin, a bargain flea-market find for hand-washing or soaking.

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I splurged ($70) on my sturdy antique drying rack with its weathered iron and chippy red paint. If you can’t find a vintage one, Victorian Trading Co. sells a great reproduction.

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 IMG_2043I adore my pretty clothespin holder, handmade by farmgirl sister Julie Pruett. When the weather warms, I’ll use it on the clothesline,  (ahhh….sun-fresh linens!) but it graces indoors beautifully!

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Leave a comment below for a chance to win one of Julie’s creations – this adorable little spring-themed “ducky” embroidered clothespin bag, along with clothespins and a bar of soap for making your own detergent, is up for grabs, made especially for the Suburban Farmgirl blog giveaway! (I’ll announce the winner in the April blog)! Julie’s bags are well-made and great for all sorts of uses! To order, check out her many designs at Prairie Pin Pouch.

Decorative touches make a chore area “finished”.  A small vintage lamp (tag sale), an 1800’s antique sad iron, (Goodwill)  and a quick-drying colorful rag rug (Ikea) inexpensively tie everything together. I replaced tired mass-produced 90’s art with cute reproduction tin “laundry” ads found at a local “junk-tique” shop for $10 each (check eBay for similar items).

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This summer, we’ll add fresh paint, and install a tile floor ourselves (wish us luck)! Any chore is made easier with a tidy, inviting work space. No matter where your laundry area is, cut clutter, add a little warmth and whimsy, and laundry won’t be a dreary task.

******Remember to leave a comment to be entered in the giveaway drawing!*********

Until Next Time…Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

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Farmgirl Roadtrip: New York City and A Knitter’s Paradise

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Knitting to me is more than a “hobby”. It’s a lifestyle. I have knitted and crocheted for decades, teaching classes in the art for over ten years. I love all things “crafty”, but knitting’s more than your average craft. It’s a passion. Recently, I visited a place that is truly a “Knitter’s Heaven”! Head with me to the Big Apple…

Oh the potential of yarn!

Oh the potential of yarn!

I’ve taught knitting to everyone from age six to sixty-plus. I love that it’s universal – spanning age, location, taste, and time. One can make a quick project or work on something for years, keep it simple or make something fancy. Knitting keeps the hands busy and the mind relaxed. Knitting is “Zen” – it’s been proven that knitting is meditative, aids in keeping the mind sharp, reduces anxiety, and helps with circulation and arthritis. I always say it is my “yoga”.

From chihuahua sweaters...

From dog sweaters…

...kids clothes...

…kids clothes…

to felted hats...

…felted hats…

 

 

 

…”people” sweaters…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

to dishcloths! I love to knit it all!

to dishcloths! I love to knit it all!

My best friend started as one of my knitting students, and for the past several years has told me about “Vogue Knitting Live”, a huge event, occurring in nearby New York City in January. This was the first year I was able to go, and I couldn’t wait! We met very early on Saturday morning, and Andrea, Loretta, and I headed for the train out of Brewster, NY. Waiting for the metro to arrive, we chatted with some other ladies; we knew by their hand knit scarves, gloves and bags they must be headed the same place.

When you're in Grand Central Station, look up!

When you’re in Grand Central Station, look up!

I haven’t been to Grand Central Station in many years, but the experience is the same: it looks just out of a movie with bustling people from different walks of life all hurrying about. The building is bursting with amazing architecture. The high ceilings are works of art, the brass work framing everything, including the old radiators in the floor, is beautiful, the old clock…it is like a museum in itself!

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We then walked the few blocks down to the Marriott Hotel where the convention was taking place.

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Once through the doors, Vogue Knitting Live was like nothing I’ve ever seen. Several floors were dedicated to the event. While there were classes, we were there for one day, and only going to see the Marketplace (which you don’t even have to be a knitter to enjoy)!

We saw more yarn, needles, and project ideas than one could imagine! Hundreds of booths were filled to the top – brimming with creativity galore! From the latest trends to the most classic styles, there was something for everyone. I loved seeing all ages – from young hipsters to grandmothers in classic cardigans and pearls – all coming together with a single love – knitting. We met women (and men)  from all over  the world. Hello to the ladies from Delaware we ate lunch with!

We marveled at life-size 3D storybook characters created by Lion Brand Yarn – all knitted! This wasn’t just knitting – this was art. The creations were phenomenal!

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Yes, this is made from yarn!

Yes, this is made from yarn!

The artists work was unbelievable!

The knitted artwork was unbelievable!

One artist I met and adore is London Kaye. She herself is beautiful and graceful,  but her creations from yarn are AMAZING! She is a yarn-bombing street and commercial artist, who is just brilliant! Check out her work here.

Artist London Kaye and her amazing creations!

Artist London Kaye and her amazing creations!

We watched live runway fashion shows, checked out new trends, and, of course, bought yarn.

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Andrea fell in love with a dress she saw, and while she was trying it on, I found a yarn I had. to. have. There was a sample scarf nearby that was stunning! This yarn is different colors, textures and fibers all on one skein (that makes one scarf). It was also the most expensive skein of yarn I’ve ever purchased – my splurge. They only had one left , and a quick worry passed as I noticed one end looked a bit frayed.

Worry was right! At the winding station, my yarn tangled. The more we tried to fix it, the worst it got. The line behind me was growing longer by the minute, as I grew more nervous.  I have patience to fix almost any knitting project. I can repair or back-track anything, but when it comes to untangling a big ball of snarled yarn I can’t cope! There are those whose “zen” is untangling yarn, and can sit for hours fixing a web of messy snarls. I’d rather have my teeth drilled. I started to sweat. I started to panic. I might have been about to cry. Realizing we were not going anywhere with this yarn, we carefully stepped aside to try to wind it by hand – with the snarled skein wrapped about Andrea’s outstretched arms. Just as I was about to give up, a gentle voice behind me said, “Let me help”. A stranger swooped in…a “yarn angel” . She started winding and untangling.

My "yarn angel", Marisol

My “yarn angel”, Marisol

This sweet lady not only got the yarn past the worst snarls, but proceeded to wind the whole thing, taking close to an hour! Marisol, who learned to knit as a child in the Dominican Republic when Home Economics was required, picked up knitting and crocheting for the school credit because she didn’t like to cook! Years later, she still knits (as does her grown son who learned by watching his mom), and is in a knitting group that meets in Staten Island, where she often helps others with tangled yarn. “It’s relaxing”, she says. Marisol, THANK YOU for your random act of kindness! Marisol reminded me of the kindness of strangers, inspiring me to pass kindness on. Whenever I wear my scarf made from that yarn, I will think of you!

After a very long, very fun day, we ate the best Greek food I’ve ever had at Uncle Nick’s in Hell’s Kitchen, and headed for the train ride home, bags of goodies in tow. Vogue Knitting Live will be in Las Vegas this March. I can’t wait to go to New York’s event again. Check their website to find all about Vogue Knitting Live.

My biggest problem now is deciding what to finish and what to start! It is a knitter’s dilemma – so much yarn, so little time!

What’s on your needles?

 

Until Next Time…Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

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Out With the Old, In With the …Old!?

German post card, from 1910

German post card, from 1910

HAPPY NEW YEAR! It’s a clean slate. Out with the old, in with the new…wait! Some things are simply better “old”, or “vintage” (my favorite word). Here’s a look at some of my favorite things whose modern counterparts are not an improvement.

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As I write this, I’m drinking a seltzer from a chic little 50’s glass, listening to 1940’s tunes. (Is there any music better than Louis, Ella, or Billie)? Yes, there’s many modern conveniences I can’t imagine life without. Smartphones – I love streaming music, the ability to “Google” anything, anywhere instantly, or reaching my teen wherever she goes.

Recently, we were treated to a ride in our friends’ 1930 Ford Model-A! Almost all original, it was like a time machine! However, with its wooden frame and no seat belts, I realized how far we’ve come with technology, safety and comfort in automobiles. (Though classic cars from the 30’s to the 60’s can NOT be beat in style)!

What a thrill to ride in this beauty!

What a thrill to ride in this beauty!

Still, I  was “born in the wrong generation” for many reasons, and my adoration for vintage is also an appreciation for things well-made. Not everything “new” is “better”.

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She's only 5 inches tall and wide. I call her "Shirley Temple".

She’s only 5 inches tall and wide. I call her “Shirley Temple”.

At a fabric store recently, my daughter noticed new sewing machines, snubbing her nose at how flimsy they seem compared to vintage machines. I’ve already blogged on the virtues of VSMs (here and here), but this little cutie my husband got me not only sews, she’s also an example of a great vintage toy. The Singer-20 was made from 1910 – 1975. My “Sew-Handy” is from the fifties, with not a speck of plastic! Little girls (and adults, who used it as a “travel” machine) could chain-stitch on this sturdy hand-crank machine. Much of today’s toys are plastic, need batteries or a charge, and don’t allow a child to use much imagination.

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While I do love my modern vacuum, nothing beats the vintage carpet sweeper I bought for $10.00 at a tag sale. From 1957, the “Bissell Breeze Sweeper” came in my favorite color, red, and originally sold for $9.95. Pristine despite being almost sixty years old, it essentially was new. Belonging to the seller’s mother who wasn’t sure she’d ever used it, he was shocked someone would want to buy it! When I got it home, a little oil on the wheels was all it took to get it working. While my vacuum’s nice, the sweeper clears my throw rugs of debris without sucking/eating them, and makes quick touch ups easy. Metal (but lightweight), it’s charming enough to display.

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In a kitchen full of gadgets, sometimes blasts from the past are best. At an estate sale last fall looking for a VSM (surprise), I ran across a dusty little box. My heart sung when I realized it was a 1951 cookie press/decorator! At $4.00, I didn’t know if it was complete but didn’t care (it was – 15 shapes and a cookbook, to boot – yippee)! I had previously owned two “modern” versions, both plastic and one way more expensive. Both eventually broke. The box looks like it got a lot of use. I made Spritz at Christmas (last month, MaryJane posted this awesome recipe), and will use it all year to make appetizers, cream puffs and more. It probably got a lot of use back in the day, but even after using all holiday season, it still looks new, constructed of sturdy aluminum.

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Vintage Pyrex is popular among collectors. For years, I struggled to make my husband’s favorite cookie that called for using a double boiler. I’d do the double bowl method – not foolproof. I came across a Pyrex glass double boiler, on a Facebook tag sale for $5.00. It made my cookie recipe a delight instead of a chore, and I’m in love with this ingenious little piece of Americana. Own a double boiler, and you’ll be surprised how much you really do use it.

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I recently added a glass-pane antique door with a glass knob to my “sun room”. I love the antique charm in my modern home.

As a child, I used to love visiting my grandmother’s little cottage (the sweetest house, on a street named “Cottage”). Inside, I’d marvel at her beautiful doorknobs. Those sparkly glass knobs resembling giant diamonds are prettier than any modern hardware!

Photo courtesy of Colleen Hurley Marsan

Photo courtesy of Colleen Hurley Marsan

One of the most useful tools of the past is a common object, but sadly, it’s difficult to find a “new” one that accomplishes the job it’s made to do. I’ve had hand-held, electric, battery powered, inexpensive, fancy and pricey, but nothing compares to the pencil sharpeners of bygone days! When I was a kid, every classroom had a wall-mounted, hand-crank metal pencil sharpener. They were “old” back then, and I bet decades later those same pencil sharpeners are still working, making perfect pencil points! There’s no comparison to vintage here. I even bought a hand-crank, modern-made metal one. It looked like the ones of my childhood, but all it did was mash and eat our pencils like a crazed termite!

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One thing all vintage items have is charm. Some things don’t have to be old to be great, like my vintage-inspired cooler. We take it to the beach and use it in the car all summer. During the holidays it sat in the dining room with a red and white bow, stylishly holding seltzers at our Christmas party. More elegant than today’s plastic counterparts, the cute design harkens back to antique coolers, now highly-sought after and often very pricey. Even scratched or dented, they ooze charm.

That’s the thing about vintage and antique items from the past: they were made to last and be used, while being visually stylish at the same time.

While I’m looking ahead to a new year, I think I’ll still hold on to some of the past.

I’m looking forward to sharing another year with you all! Share with me some of your favorite “blasts from the past” in comments!

 

Until Next Time…Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

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A Suburban Farmgirl Dog Tale

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A dog’s love is unconditional. Always happy to see us, they don’t care about our outside, just what’s on the inside. Pets are “family”, and dogs are no exception. The holidays are a time of magic, love and giving. Dogs are our greatest teachers for that, with their selflessness and gift of pure love!

Last month marked my Suburban Farmgirl blogging anniversary. Having started in 2010, my first-ever blog was about Thanksgiving. Next was titled, “Our Other Child”, about Bonnie, our rescued “German-Shusky”, who forever changed our lives.

While all fur-babies are extra-special, sometimes, there’s one that’s different…an exceptional pup. That was our Bonnie. We adopted her from a shelter, where before we were her fur-ever family, she’d been first on a southern puppy mill farm, then adopted out here but inexplicably sent back (thankfully) to the shelter. Somewhere along the way, she’d been abused. One leg was always bowed. Our vet said it’d been previously broken and not set right. She was also deathly afraid of water, screaming uncontrollably if bathed. (We learned to bathe her away from a tub). Her past didn’t define her, and she grew to be a confident, happy girl. My husband first knew she was the dog for us from her online photo, with her goofy smile and giant pink ears.

She had us with those ears...

She had us with those ears…

Six months old, by the time we adopted her, she’d been in a crate for eight weeks. We’d arrived early, just as shelter volunteers were taking her out before our meeting. As we pulled in the parking lot, she was bouncing like Tigger! I panicked a bit at sight of the fluffy ball of energy, but right at meeting, our hearts connected. That first car ride, she calmly sat, like she knew we were going “home”. At the house, she became elated after sniffing our daughter’s toys, excited she’d have a child to play with! When my daughter came off the bus that day, Bonnie and Audrey were forever bonded, best friends.

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She always wanted to be with Audrey and her playmates.

She always wanted to be with Audrey and her playmates.

Bonnie was like a fur-covered human. A vet once referred to her as a “genius”, a label he reluctantly used, but he said he’d never met a dog like her. An intense stare in your eyes “usually means aggression with dogs”, but with “Bon Bon”, it wasn’t. “She’s reading the humans around her”, the vet marveled.

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Bonnie could communicate! She quickly learned (without human intervention) to ring the bell on our door to go out, a skill I’d given up on with our other pups. Once, when my daughter ignored the ringing and I was out of earshot, she pulled the bell off the door, dropped it at my feet, and puddled the floor as if to say, “I rang it. Told ya I had to go out”. Another time, I told her we were going on a walk. Before we could leave, the phone rang. As I chatted, Bonnie became impatient. She went upstairs and opened my closet. All of my shoes were stacked in boxes. I heard rumbling. Soon, Bonnie came down the stairs, my walking shoes in her mouth. She’d gone through the boxes to find the right pair!

Bonnie could answer “yes” or “no” to questions “like do you want a cookie,” or “do you need to go out?” For “yes”, she’d slam her front paws downward and bark. For “no”, she literally shook her head.

Bonnie only knew love from us, but for a while we could tell she had nightmares. She’d come to us and whimper, as if to tell us about some awful ordeal. Eventually, the nightmares stopped. If we were gone for long periods of time, she’d be so gleeful at our return, leaping in the air and howling. She truly loved us with her whole heart.

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Together, we walked many miles. She adored snow and sledding with my daughter. Bonnie knew what holidays were. Her birthday was the day before mine, and she LOVED having the birthday song sung to her and opening presents. At Christmas, she knew exactly which stocking was hers. She was unbelievably smart. She could also be stubborn and mischievous, and never learned to walk on a leash without pulling us like a sled. Bonnie had so much personality!

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Unfortunately, this fall, Bonnie became sick with very aggressive cancer. She held on as long as she could. Our vet office did all they could, but eventually (and quickly), Bonnie couldn’t fight anymore. Two days before Thanksgiving, our last morning together, she mustered all her strength and climbed into my lap on the sofa. She knew we were going to say goodbye, and she wanted to make sure I was okay. Before leaving for our appointment with the vet, our other dogs snuggled with us, both licking Bonnie’s face.

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Putting a dog down is just awful, but our vet couldn’t have made it nicer, with a peaceful, cozy room with a fireplace and fluffy rug. When Bonnie’s heart stopped, mine felt like it shattered. I will always carry her in my heart. I can’t imagine Heaven without our beloved pets!

What I hope I see at Heaven's gate someday...

“Hi! I missed you!” What I hope I see at Heaven’s gate someday…

I love all my furbabies immensely, but my connection with Bonnie was super-special. She “got” me.  My husband would say she was my “other soul mate”, my constant companion. I never liked dogs in my bed, but quickly lost that battle. She knew not to jump on the bed until the “dog sheet” was on, and for eight years, she slept on my feet. I’d often wake up cramped, Bonnie grasping my legs with her paws. What I wouldn’t give for one more sleepless night!

Bonnie at the end of the summer.       2008 - 1016

Bonnie at the end of the summer.
2008 – 2016

There’s a happy ending to this tail tale. A year ago at Christmas, we adopted a puppy, Scarlett. When we first brought Scarlett home, we feared Bonnie would be jealous, but the opposite happened. At first sight, she wagged her whole body in pure joy, as if to say, “You brought ME a puppy! You brought ME a puppy!” Bonnie adopted Scarlett as HER baby, constantly fretting over Scarlett. Bonnie was never happier. She was a great mom, and she raised a good baby.

Our latest addition to the family, last Christmas.

Our latest addition to the family, last Christmas.

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Scarlett’s now full grown, looking after little Pip, and acting as my shadow. She misses her dog mom, as do we, but she’s got us smiling and laughing with her adorable antics. She reminds me so much of Bonnie!

Scarlett and Audrey getting ready for Christmas!

Scarlett and Audrey getting ready for Christmas!

We are so thankful for our little fur-girl. It’s Scarlett’s first Christmas with us, and we can’t wait to show her a great holiday!

Wishing you all the Happiest of Holidays!

Until Next Time…Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

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Spinning A Good Yarn

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With November comes cool weather and all things warm and woolly! Among everything I love to do, knitting is high on my list. I’ve been teaching knitting and crochet classes for over a decade, and always have several projects going at any given time. I love everything about knitting: the anticipation of starting a new project, the way the needles sound together, the portability, the different items that can be made and the delicious yarn! A good yarn and its texture can make all the difference in a project.

As a child, at my aunt’s house, I would always wander into her front room where she had a large antique spinning wheel displayed. I’d never dare touch – (it was a thing of fairy tales!) but admired with awe!  I still think spinning wheels are stunning, but never really knew exactly how they create the intoxicating yarns that call out to us knitters until recently- when I was treated to “Spinning Wheel 101” by a very talented spinner and alpaca farmer.

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How many times have you said, “When I retire someday I want to live on a farm”? June and Henry Bissonnette are living that dream in Connecticut, having converted the property their home sits on into a beautiful farm where they live with their six alpacas, four cats, and a parrot. Henry, a fellow Master Gardener, and his wife June were not always alpaca farmers.

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In 2004, June was two years away from retirement when they went camping with relatives at Lake Champlain. Terrible weather forced them to cancel outdoor plans, so they went to a craft show at the Saratoga Racetrack. There they saw an Alpaca and Llama agility competition. June had never seen alpacas before and thought they were the cutest animals she’d ever seen. It was love at first sight, and June knew right then and there that she wanted to raise them someday.

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After that, June and Henry could not forget alpacas. June was a Senior Risk Analyst for GE Capital at the time, so for the next two years, the couple visited an alpaca farm in Ballston Spa, New York, and subscribed to Alpaca Magazine. The couple took free time to clear their property of brush, to plant pastures, put up fencing and gather supplies needed to be a working alpaca farm. In the fall of 2006, Lavender Creek Farm was born.

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Some of the alpaca's winning ribbons

Some of the alpaca’s winning ribbons

Henry and June started with three alpacas and currently have six that call Lavender Creek Farm home. They didn’t plan on that number, but have had babies born on their farm and adopted from friends who were downsizing.

Audrey enjoyed our visit, and loved feeding treats.

Audrey enjoyed our visit, and loved feeding treats.

What makes alpaca wool so special (and pricier in stores than other fibers) is that alpaca wool has fine “scales”. Scales hold fiber together. Alpaca has fewer scales than wool, so it has more of a feeling like fine cashmere. The final product of alpaca is a hollow fiber, lighter than wool, that is stain resistant and hypoallergenic. The firmness of a fiber is the micron count. The micron count of wool-bearing animals ranges from 21 – 30 microns. Cashmere has 12 microns, while alpacas having a count of 12 – 30. Juniper and Darcy, younger animals on the farm, have counts in the low 20’s, while Siobahn, an older alpaca has a count of around 30.

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June's spun alpaca yarn is  all natural, with no dyes

June’s spun alpaca yarn is all natural, with no dyes

To process their animals’ wool, they shear the “blanket” across the back. This is known as “firsts”, which is the best, finest and most uniform of fiber. It is then sent to a local mill for washing and carding and finally made into roving.  “Seconds” are made into rug yarn using alpaca-wrapped wool cord blended with wool to help shorter fibers hold together.

Seconds to be picked and spun

Seconds to be picked and spun

Rug yarn

Rug yarn

30 Pounds of roving to be spun being checked out by the "inspectors"

30 Pounds of roving to be spun being checked out by the “inspectors” – Photo courtesy of June Bissonnette

Now a talented spinner who knits, crochets and weaves, at first, June could crochet but did not know how to spin or knit. She called a local spinner who gave her a lesson. June ordered her first spinning wheel and has now been spinning for ten years.

Some of June's weaving

Some of June’s weaving

When you walk through the front door of their beautiful home, visitors notice two things: the couple’s adorable, pure-bred adopted Snowshoe Siamese kitties, and a big, stunning, wooden antique spinning wheel, known as a “Michel Cadorette”. Made in the 19th century by the well-known Canadian spinning wheel maker, this model is a single treadle. Spinning wheels were prolific in Canada in the 1800’s because all materials were spun in cottage industries. This model has tiny bobbins and spins fast, producing a very fine yarn.

The very beautiful Michel Cadorette antique spinning wheel

The very beautiful Michel Cadorette antique spinning wheel

Modern spinning wheels are not as large. Still beautiful, they take up much less room. June’s first wheel was an Ashford “Kiwi”, made in New Zealand. This is a good “starter” wheel. June says it “takes practice, practice, practice” to get the hang of spinning a good yarn. “You can take 100 lessons, but the way you really learn to spin is you practice.” The hardest thing to learn is consistency. Lumpy yarn becomes like “boucle”. The “Kiwi” is a basic wheel style called a “castle” because of the direction of the wheel. It takes up less space and is a double treadle.

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Treadling at a high speed results in a fine yarn, low speeds create thicker yarn.

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Thickness is also affected by how fast you treadle and how fast you “draft”, or feed the fiber into the wheel, and also by how much you draft. “Ratio” of a spinning wheel refers to how fast you can spin. First, you “spin” in one direction, next you “ply” it in another. A “lazy kate” is used to hold multiple bobbins while the yarn on them is wound off, twisting the fiber together so it becomes “2 ply”; it keeps spools or bobbins in place while spinning the yarn off of them. A “knotter” is used after the spool is full, making yarn into a skein.

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June's Lazy Kate sits with  various bobbins that go with her "Rose" spinning wheel.

June’s Lazy Kate sits with various bobbins that go with her “Rose” spinning wheel.

An antique knotter now used for display.

An antique skein winder now used as a display

June’s main spinning wheel is also made in New Zealand. Called a “Majacraft Rose”, it folds up and features 27 different ratio settings.

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June says spinning is relaxing, and after ten years can watch television and spin, as she spins now by “feel”. I find knitting to be relaxing, too. I always say it is “my yoga”. (I can’t do yoga. I can’t stop thinking of things like my grocery list, and I have never been that flexible no matter how hard I try. Last time I tried, I lost my balance and fell through drywall). So I knit. Now, when I hold that soft, hand-spun sumptuous ball of color, I will have a new appreciation for how it came to be.

 

Until Next Time…Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

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It’s Just “Sew” Vintage, Part II

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It was thrilling hearing how many people are vintage sewing machine enthusiasts! Thank you, everyone, who reached out! I’m excited to pass on more tips on vintage sewing machines, share how I’ve re-purposed vintage patterns, and announce the winner of the “September ‘Sew Cute’ Giveaway”!

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