Sunday, July 16, 2017

fun in a box

 This exciting box arrived yesterday. It was expected.

Usually I open packages right away, but yesterday was a tough day, physically. Instead of thinking my exciting package would turn the day around, it seemed more likely that the difficult day would dull the joy of the package. So I waited til today.

 A week ago I decided to augment my set of Staedtler watercolor pencils. I had to choose a different brand, so that I could order from Open Stock and choose each color individually. I've been very happy with the Staedtlers, so I hope these Faber-Castells work well with them.

 The individual labels peeled off easily, which is very nice. The last time I bought pencils from an art supply store, the labels were not only thoroughly stuck on but also wrapped in tape, right around the entire pencil - talk about overkill. Nothing gets those labels off, and it's a nuisance when trying to sharpen the pencils.

Staedtlers on bottom, Faber-Castells on top.
(And in case an eagle-eyed reader notices it, there is one Caran d'Ache pencil, also. I bought that one last year when I was really craving Payne's Grey.)

Today I began working on an ink drawing with watercolor.
Here's the ink:

And here's the beginning of the watercolor:

If it comes out well, I'll post another picture.

If you've never used watercolor pencils, I encourage you to give them a try. Here's a close-up look:

So. Much. Fun.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

brief gardening update

Some of the candy roaster squash seeds that were planted one week ago have sprouted in the Very Raised Bed!

And I'm hoping this is a top-setting onion, often called an Egyptian Walking Onion. I was late getting the sets planted because I didn't want them to rot. I'm hoping to get these established this year, and have an ongoing supply of onion-y, shallot-y, chive-y goodness forever and ever.

I am finding the milkweed flowers quite remarkable. Some have already faded, so I am spending time looking at them closely each day. I think if you left-click on my images, they open in a separate gallery window at a larger size...might be worth a look.

During a break in the rain yesterday, I went out and pulled weeds from the steep bank garden for a couple of hour-long sessions. It was soggy work amongst the wet foliage, but some progress was made and the goats enjoyed the harvest of bittersweet, wild grapevine, and mock orange. I had to stop and walk back up to the house to get online for a few minutes, to check the toxicity of the mock orange (Philadelphus). The only risk I could find was that the seeds might be poisonous to some animals. So I broke off all the tips of branches with seed pods, before carrying the rest to the goats.

The black raspberries are ripening! Usually there are only a few ripe at one time and - just as with my precious blueberries - I eat them on the spot. This time I was able to pick a little cupful and put them aside for a supper of berries and yogurt. Yum.

I hope you are having a wonderful weekend!
Anything special planned?

Saturday, July 8, 2017

one more charge

I try hard every year to grow as much of my own organic vegetable supply as possible. It is literally a hard row to hoe, and my success rate is never going to result in Piper's picture on the cover of a magazine, sitting proudly beside a picturesque basket of vegetables. But good food is important, and growing it is important to me, and I try.

This year, every gardener I know is in the same situation: say the word "garden" and we sigh and shake our heads. The more demonstrative among us throw our hands into the air while sighing and shaking our heads.

It's been driving me a little bit batty that between May and June's rainy days, only one planting of pole beans had gone in. Nothing more. Even the beans aren't growing well, but have been hanging on.

Meanwhile, here's the rest of the garden:

This riotous jungle obscured even the rows that my Occasional Helper had rough-dug back in May. I knew that if I couldn't reclaim at least those rows and take the stones out and get something planted right away, I might be buying all my vegetables for the next year. So on my task list this past week - when the forecast included three days in a row with a less than 50% chance of rain - was this:

Item 1: Veg Garden. One more charge. Rescue or surrender.

As we surveyed the situation while standing knee-deep in a sea of green, my Occasional Helper said, "Well, a weed-whacker could do it." This had not occurred to me. I know nothing about motorized weed-whacking. And as I was pondering this exciting news, he added, "I have a weed-whacker."

We quickly identified exclusion zones:
the pole beans, a large patch of violets and a small clump of milkweed.

Let the whacking commence!

I began raking up the greenery while it was still fresh, and carrying it up to the herd, although it seemed unlikely they would eat such a mixed slaw. Goats, as long-time Comptonia readers know, are very particular about their food.

And sure enough, although all the goats investigated their salads, not one just reached in for mouthfuls, as a horse or cow might. They nosed it all carefully, then pulled out individual stems or leaves. Much was left uneaten and quickly wilting, so after lugging a couple of big totes up from the garden to the barn paddocks, I decided to leave the rest in place as mulch. I moved on to another task while the whacking continued.

And then, all was quiet.

I walked back down the slope and saw this:

Readers, if I work hard and stick to short-season vegetables, I might just have a garden this year. In with a chance, I call it. And while I was in the garden musing about how rarely in life we have the chance to press the Reset button, my Occasional Helper was up by the house, weed-whacking the Very Raised Bed. And then a little path by the goat barn where I get soaked first thing every morning, walking through wet vegetation. Weed whackers! Who knew? My Occasional Helper, that's who.

So, that was Thursday afternoon.

By Friday morning I had planted:
Suyo cucumbers.
Egyptian onions.
Candy roaster squash.

It has already rained twice in less than two days since those seeds were planted. In fact, it's raining right now. But hopefully enough to help seeds germinate; not enough to wash them away or rot them.

And the forecast looks fair for Sunday and Monday,
so I will try to get more seeds in the ground.

Here's hoping!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

almost independence day

Yesterday was a remarkably pleasant day. "Remarkable" because the weather since Winter has been nearly unrelentingly rough: rain, rain, rain, sweltering heat, rain, rain. I don't recall an actual Spring. Mud season went on for months instead of weeks; I wore rubber boots everywhere, every day. I think there has been an occasional day or maybe two without rain, but seriously: very wet months.

By comparison, yesterday - the 4th of July - was a "normal" July day and therefore a splendid relief. When morning chores were done I packed a lunch and treats and my nifty new fold-up sketching chair, and took Piper to the pond.

I wore the walking shoes I bought in April specifically for walks with Piper. There have been few walks in the (very wet) woods lately, and those few were in rubber boots. Yesterday was only the second time I've worn the special Piper-walking shoes! They have very deep cushioning, which I hope will make it possible to walk farther/longer.

Me: "Piper, these shoes are REALLY a gift for YOU!"

 Piper: "You spoil me."

We've missed a lot in the woods this year.
Piper draws my attention to the fact that the mayflower bloomed without us:

The trillium likewise.

Also lady-slippers and oh, so many other things.

A good reminder to me that we can never count on seeing something "next time," and it is important to notice and appreciate things here and now.

Here and now is pretty good.

We spent two hours in the woods, with no one else in the area which meant Piper could be off-lead and roaming in loops around me then returning for treats and a general catch-up. A frog, you say? A heron?!
It was a good time.
And when we walked back out, Piper was ready to go home and have a little nap - the sign of a perfect walk.

In what is beginning to sound like a genuine spending spree - fancy walking shoes, a lightweight backpacking chair, what next? - I finally found a replacement for my Little Green SportsWagon; formally retired after years of faithful and valued service.

It took ages to find something affordable with: good ground clearance, enclosed cargo space, enough head (and horn) room for big goats, and a reputation for reliability.

I looked at many, many pickup trucks, but ultimately decided Ms. Piper deserves a little more in the way of comfort. In fact, one COULD say this 2004 Toyota Highlander was REALLY a gift for Piper.

"Now this makes sense. I like it.
But you can keep those weird shoes."

Friday, June 23, 2017


Piper and I managed to get out in the woods today for the first time in ages.

"Who's a happy girl, then?"

"Piper is!"


Sunday, June 11, 2017

sunday morning haiku

Like leaping a stream
with one landing point, mid-way.
The bed, my belly. Oof.

Good morning, Moxie!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

nearly wordless wednesday

After four (or was it forty?) more days of this:

the sun came out at noon today!
Despite the mud, all the goats were basking on the Upper West Side.
They looked so happy, soaking up the sunshine.
I could almost hear a collective sigh of relief.

My afternoon was spent on errands,
all centered geographically around the distant feed store.

Because guess who will be returning tomorrow?
My Occasional Helper!

Another sigh of relief, this time just from me :)

Saturday, June 3, 2017

saturday snaps

Look - it's sunshine!

The air is not grey!
Colors are rich and deep again!

The rain actually stopped Thursday, but the ground was saturated - every footstep left a deep print in mud. Although I'd optimistically planned to plant something - anything! finally! - that day, it was still far too wet.

Even when all the vegetation is dripping wet, Moxie and Della choose to come outside with me. Actually, they aren't really coming "with" me; they would be happy to be running in and out at will, all day long. But I am very concerned about hawks, so if the cats are outside, Piper or I must be out there too. And since Piper takes one good look around and then heads for her secret spot under the porch, her role as hawk-deterrent is negligible. So that just leaves me.

Here they are, my little jungle cats:

Fortunately, yesterday was again not-raining, and the soil had begun to dry a bit. I was finally able to plant two rows of pole beans. Hallelujah!
It looks like one row in this picture, but there is a little aisle between the two sections. The end of the second row is where you see the yellow bucket, which is full of rocks.

All that lush greenery between the garden rows looks pretty good to the goats, who poke their noses through the fence when I'm working. Every time I straighten up, I pull handfuls of greens to share out.

The goats tend to keep moving, though. Rain or shine, the mosquitoes are absolutely horrendous. Despite frequent applications of non-toxic repellent sprays, the goats are covered in itchy bites and so am I. LeShodu, who hates both the bugs and the sprays, spends more time in the barns and less time out browsing than some of the other goats. So today when I came up from the garden, I brought LeShodu a whole hatful of fresh alfalfa, picked seconds before, just for her.

It's the little things, isn't it, Shodu?
Dear readers, I hope you are all having a lovely weekend, and if you are hiding from mosquitoes or anything else, I hope someone will bring you a hatful of fresh alfalfa.
Or, you know, something equivalent.

Friday, June 2, 2017


I'm actively adding something positive to June, by participating in #growjune on twitter. It's a monthly art challenge; people try to post a new piece each day, with either a certain theme (like #growjune) or in a particular medium (like #paintSeptember). Running a hashtag search instantly displays everything that has been posted each day. The results are varied and interesting!

It's just a fun way for people at any level to share work and encourage each other. If you feel like jumping in, let me know!

I may not manage to post something every day in #growjune - but I will try. It's very satisfying to look back and see seven or twelve or twenty-five pieces in a month.

Would you like to see my first effort for #growjune 2017? It's this ink and watercolor sketch of a section of Solomon's Plume. And that's my actual thumb at the bottom, not a super-realistic painting of my thumb ;)


Saturday, May 27, 2017

saying it with flowers

Thank you for your comments on the previous post - I'm happy to report that it was perfectly lovely - I've never been to a nicer wedding! I had an excellent time, as did the friends I travelled with, and, as far as I could tell, everyone else at the event.

The week since has gotten away from me a bit, but all is well, the animals are fine, and enough about me, wouldn't you like to see some flowers?

rhododendron and birch, at the wedding reception

Since last Saturday, we've had a series of mizzling drizzling raw rainy days. And nights. The paddocks are soggy and the black flies and mosquitoes are having a field day biting all of us warm-blooded creatures. (Actually they do that rain or shine, drat the wretched things.)

In the midst of all this rain, the sun has occasionally appeared
to dazzle us with it's sudden exuberance!

Look! The Amsonia is budding:

An iris that struggled last year is blooming for the first time:

And do you have wild geranium where you live?
This is Geranium maculatum - a hardy little native...

whose cheery flowers are popping up everywhere:

Finally (for today's post), the always-elegant columbine.
They grew thigh-high seemingly overnight,
and I'm so grateful the rain hasn't destroyed all the delicate blossoms:

Just a little postcard from the land of wet flowers :)