front steps

We continue to plug away at projects at Firefly Cottage! We’re trying to focus on the ones that we need external help with, which includes repair to some bricks on the exterior of the house. There was some spalling on the upper section of the chimney, as well as some not-well-sealed-anymore spots at the chimney cap. Those are all fixed now, hooray! We also had our mason work on the front steps, which were in need of some patching, some mortar repair, and a big thing of replacing the pad on the front steps.

Roof in progress at Firefly Cottage

I stupidly forgot to take a photo before they got started, but you can kind of see in this photo from last year that the central pad was pitted and cracked and sunken in some areas, so it needed to be replaced.

Front steps repair work

Here’s the front steps with the main pad removed.

Front steps repair work

And here it is with new concrete! It looks so much better, and it a lot safer for walking on. It also contains a lot more structure than it used to – the rebar on the original installation was pretty wimpy and minimal, so it should be more durable over the next 75 years than it was in the past 75.

Front steps repair work

We also had some patching on the steps for bricks that were spalling. The type of bricks we have aren’t easy to find, so replacing them wasn’t really an option. With a little weathering, these will blend right in. I’m really pleased to have this all fixed! Now that the outside of the chimney is fixed, we need to get the insides cleaned and make sure the flues are in good repair (even though we aren’t planning to use the fireplaces for fires due to my allergies, we want to know that they’re safe and operational). This type of project is really not very glamorous, but it makes up for it in peace of mind!

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review: The Flower Workshop

The Flower Workshop

The Flower Workshop: Lessons in Arranging Blooms, Branches, Fruits, and Foraged Materials by Ariella Chezar with Julie Michaels

I am admittedly inexperienced in the art of arranging flowers. I’ve grown tons of them but mostly admired them in their natural state, still attached to the plants they grew on. I’m interested in the idea of cutting flowers and arranging them, though, as I’m not much for house plants and it would be nice to bring a little nature in, even if for short periods of time.

Chezar approaches flower arranging as an art and encourages the reader to do the same, looking at their arrangements as they might a painting. She starts with the basics including a number of techniques that newbs like me will appreciate, and then moves on to different types of arrangements, such as blossoms grouped by tone, using branches, using fruits and berries, and specific methods for creating handheld bouquets. She finishes up with a guide to flowers by season, so it’s easy to see what might be blooming at the same time.

This book contains a wealth of information but is also beautiful to look at. The photos are gorgeous and I am a sucker for images of flowers, so this one is a win for me even if I didn’t learn anything (which I totally did).

Full disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from Blogging for Books

jumble gems

Last week, I mentioned that we hit up some sales as part of the Maple Syrup Festival. I finally snapped some photos of the goodies I picked up!

Jumble sale haul

This lovely wool scarf looks like it’s never been worn. It’s a bit late in the season to wear it this year, but I’m sure I’ll enjoy it next winter.

This tiny wooden mouse is actually from the craft show sale at the festival – it’s the tiniest little thing! Perfect for Blythe. I found the little sewing basket at the jumble sale. It is also perfect scale for Blythe – I love the little drop spindle and knitting needles as well as the yarn. So cute!

Next is a bag of tiny autumn leaves, which are also in scale for Blythe. Finally, there’s a Kelly set that includes a pair of shoes and a dress.

Jumble sale Kelly set

The shoes fit Middie, though they’re slightly tight. They’re also not as thick/as high quality as most of the Kelly shoes I’ve seen before. The dress is great for a petite, though! I also picked up a small obelisk-style trellis for the garden. One of my friends who was with me at the festival asked, “do you usually find this many miniature things?” and I had to say that I definitely do not! I feel like it’s unusual for me to find even one thing, let alone several. The other miracle moment was that K found an object he’s been looking for for some time. The weekend before, we went to a few garage sales and he remarked to me that he wished he could find an old TMNT play set that would make a good back drop for photographing many of his figures. Just one week later at this festival, he actually found one! They are not that common, so this was really a stroke of luck. It’s not quite as unlikely as me finding a Blythe at a sale (I *wish*!!), but not far off! I’m excited to do more sale-ing this summer and hopefully our luck will continue.

soil and toil

This weekend we took out one of the planters in the back yard.

planting bed in back yard

It had a number of issues, including a hosta that was WAY too big for it and the fact that it didn’t get enough sun and was always sort of mildewy on the pavers (gross!). So we decided that it was time for it to move along. I transplanted the hosta to a shady spot on the other side of the fence and also transplanted the Speedwell that was in here to the other backyard planter which gets more sun. I did not transplant any of the maple seedlings or weed tree starts that were hanging out.

Corner bed removed, grass seeded

K seeded this area once we were done clearing it out. We really don’t necessarily want MORE grass, but in the back yard it makes sense as the dogs run around back here. I need to buy more clover seed to mix in back here.

Some soil in the raised bed

Some of the soil from the planter we took out went into my raised bed along with 10 bags of soil I purchased. I need to get a bit more, but hadn’t wanted to over-buy and wasn’t sure how much we’d get out of that planter.

Some soil in the raised bed

It doesn’t need a ton more, but I’d like to bring the soil level up to within an inch or so of the edge, so a bit more is needed. Getting there!

yard progress

Friday morning I picked up four fruit trees that I had ordered through the Isabella Conservation District‘s annual tree sale:
– Methley plum
– Blake’s Pride pear
– Harrow Sweet pear
– Canadian Harmony peach

I was super excited to get these – the conservation district offers them at a really affordable price, and this means we’ll have that much more fresh fruit to enjoy (I hope!). They also only sell varieties that should do well in this climate. The trees spent the day and night in our garage – for bareroot trees a cool place out of the sun is usually a safe space to keep them if you only need to do so for a short time before planting.

Saturday morning we got out bright and early and started digging holes! We are also having some repairs to the outside of our home done, and the masons were out on the scaffolding working on the chimney while we were out planting. It’s nice to be getting so many things accomplished!

First off, we started with this Harrow Sweet Pear tree:

Harrow Sweet Pear Tree

Harrow Sweet Pears are supposed to be more productive than some other varieties, and the fruit should be slightly sweeter than, say, a Bartlett. The skin is less tasty than some other varieties, but I have an aversion to the texture of pear peel anyway, so I’ll for sure be peeling them regardless. This variety is supposed to be resistant to fire blight as well. It stores well and is recommended for baking, cooking, canning and freezing, so I’m excited about it!

Then we planted a Blake’s Pride Pear not too far away (so they can easily pollinate):

Blake's Pride Pear Tree

This pear is also supposed to be productive and is recommended for fresh eating, canning, and baking. It’s also resistant to fire blight and should ripen in September, about a month before the Harrow Sweet Pears. It is known for being juicy and having a smooth, buttery texture.

A little bit further toward the front of the yard, we planted this Canadian Harmony Peach tree:

Canadian Harmony Peach Tree

This peach should produce in mid to late August and is supposed to have a pleasing texture. The fruit are known to be on the larger side and should keep well. It is recommended for cooking, baking, canning, and freezing.

Finally, we planted this Methley Plum tree out front:

Methley Plum Tree

This fruit should ripen even earlier, somewhere from May to July. It is juicy, mildly sweet, and is good for fresh eating as well as making jelly. It should also be a good producer, though it will probably be a few growing seasons before we get a solid crop. The label that came on it says Italian Prune, but I’m not sure what the difference is between that and a Methley Plum. Anyone know more about this?

Sunday we tackled another big project: cutting back the lilacs. I had thought to do this last year but then wimped out. Both of these shrubs had been left to grow to enormous size – easily 20′ or more, and had a ton of dead limbs and a lot of insect damage. Here’s the bigger one last year near the end of May:

Lilac toward the back of the property

As you can see, there was quite a number of suckers and new growth underneath, but those bits didn’t get much if any sunshine so they didn’t really have a chance. I decided that the big limbs would have to go in the interest of encouraging the plant to be a manageable-sized shrub again.

Lilac toward the front of the property

This one, which is closer to the front of the yard, is smaller, but was still gigantically tall. It had an even higher percentage of not-good limbs.

The city is coming through to chip brush during this week and next, so we figured it was time to just rip the band-aid off and cut these down (since we knew it would generate quite a bit of chip-able material). It’s so difficult to do this sort of thing just when new green leaves are appearing, but it had to be done! If nothing else I wanted to get rid of the dead wood home that was hosting so many destructive insects.

Cut to a few hours later after lots of work with the bow saw and sawzall:

Lilacs cut back so they can become shrubs again

and

Lilacs cut back so they can become shrubs again

and

Fruits of our labor: lots of branches to be chipped

Lots of work! We were definitely feeling our muscles after that! It’s a good ache, though, knowing that we accomplished a lot. We also noticed on Sunday that there were already tiny buds emerging on three of the fruit trees we planted just the day before (the plum came just as one trunk – no limbs – so it did not)! All the water we gave them combined with the glorious sun on Saturday must have agreed with them. The Burning Bush and apple trees are also budding and leafing out. Yay! We also noticed that there are Grape Hyacinth ALL OVER and that we have some tulips that are almost ready to bloom (more pics on flickr). I’m excited to be finding things that are already established.

I also noticed this growing by the garage:

Probably a weed?

It’s so robust I assume it must be a weed – anyone recognize it?

The last bit of yard work we did was to hang up two new mason bee houses (a steal at Aldi!):

Mason bee house

Mason bee house

They’re so cute! I don’t know that I love the cord that they came with for hanging, but for now it’s easy so I’ll go with it. Hopefully they will provide homes for some pollinators!

review: Simply Calligraphy

Simply Calligraphy

Simply Calligraphy: A Beginner’s Guide to Elegant Lettering by Judy Detrick

This compact guide to calligraphy is perfect for someone who wants to learn one style – in this case, italic. You could use this to write anything you’d need to include in correspondence, invitations, place cards, and so forth (provided you’re using the English alphabet and Arabic numerals). The instruction starts with the easiest-to-achieve letters first, and groups the subsequent letters according to the required techniques. Likewise, it begins with lowercase letters and then moves to uppercase. A little additional instruction is provided regarding flourishes – surely a necessity for one wanting to learn calligraphy. Examples of additional alphabets are included at the end, though instructions for these are not provided here. For anyone wanting basic instruction on how to write in calligraphy, this would be an ideal choice.

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books

raised bed garden plan

It’s almost time to plant seeds for my raised bed garden! I’m really excited to be able to grow things to eat again. I have missed having my own-grown fresh veg!

These are the veg/edible seeds I have in my stash right now:
Bean ‘Blue Lake 274’
Cabbage ‘Early Golden Acre’
Carrot ‘Danvers Half Long’
Carrot ‘Scarlet Nantes’
Cauliflower ‘Snowball x’
Cucumber ‘Marketmore’
Lettuce ‘Iceberg’
Pumpkin ‘Connecticut Field’
Romaine lettuce ‘Parris Island Cos’
Spinach ‘Bloomsdale long standing’
Squash ‘Blue Magic F1’
Squash ‘Yugoslavian Fingers’
Sweet pepper ‘Marconi’
Winter squash ‘Waltham butternut’

I’m not feeling compelled to grow EVERYTHING – I’d rather be a little choosier with what I plant and not overwhelm myself. I’ve definitely overdone it before! I’m also not starting anything indoors this year. My seed-starting set-up still lives with my sistrah, and I’m not sure where I’d put it if I brought it back (the basement is still a bit of a disaster area after our whole waterproofing thing) so I’m not getting into that this year at least. I know a lot of gardeners get frustrated with direct sowing because things take longer, but I have done it that way before and I’m fine with it.

So the varieties I am planning to actually plant this year are:
Bean ‘Blue Lake 274’
Cabbage ‘Early Golden Acre’
Carrot ‘Danvers Half Long’
Carrot ‘Scarlet Nantes’
Cauliflower ‘Snowball x’
Cucumber ‘Marketmore’
Lettuce ‘Iceberg’
Pumpkin ‘Connecticut Field’
Romaine lettuce ‘Parris Island Cos’
Spinach ‘Bloomsdale long standing’
Sweet pepper ‘Marconi’

I may put in some Winter squash ‘Waltham butternut’ later on – it’s fine to summer sow this variety so I can always put it in a little later. I also have a few varieties of Marigold seeds which I’ll likely plant along the border of the raised bed.

raised bed plan photo raised bed 2016-04-21_zpsdky1lh3s.png

I think this is a pretty reasonable plan! I’m going to try to give the cucumbers and pumpkins tons of room to grow, but also train them vertically with some metal supports. They both like to grow vigorously in my experience and will take over whatever space you give them! I also have some metal trellises in storage at my sistrah’s, which I need to get back in order to support the bush beans. I’m going to try to plant in succession for the lettuce and spinach, and see how long I can keep them going before it gets too hot and they want to bolt. Hopefully I can get a few harvests – I can never have enough salad greens in the summertime!

So this is my plan. What are you growing in your veg garden this year? I still need to figure out a plan for herbs – anyone have a brilliant setup that you love?

2016 Shepherd Maple Syrup Festival Quilt Show

Saturday we spent most of the day over in Shepherd at the Maple Syrup Festival. It was a friend’s birthday on Friday, so we treated the day as a celebration for her as well!

There are a lot of activities going on in Shepherd every year during this festival. We walked all around the village – the weather was glorious! It was sunny but not too warm and with a nice cool breeze.

Of course one of my favorite events was the Festival of Quilts. I was pretty disappointed that they apparently lost my registration information so none of my information was listed (except my name, misspelled, boo!) for my feature quilt, Modern Venus:

Shepherd Maple Syrup Festival Quilt Show 2016

My Fall Frolic challenge quilt was also on display and several people mentioned to me that they liked it, so that was cool:

Shepherd Maple Syrup Festival Quilt Show 2016

I also enjoyed this feature quilt by Sharon Jarczynski:

Shepherd Maple Syrup Festival Quilt Show 2016

Most of the other quilts on display were family heirlooms or quilts that were created from published patterns/kits, so I was pleased to see another representational quilt.

We also enjoyed the pancake and sausage dinner, bingo, the craft show, the classic car show, the carnival, yard and jumble sales, and of course the petting zoo, where we met this adorbs goat:

Met this goat at the maple syrup festival today. A++

It was a lovely day!

blooms a’bloomin’

Spring is finally feeling like spring at Firefly Cottage. Earlier this week it actually got up into the 80s, which is ridiculous for April, but after so many repeated bouts of snow, I’ll take it.

Two lonely daffs by the garage

It’s fun to see what is coming up. We’ve been in the house less than a year (just!) so we didn’t really see the early spring bloomers last year. These daffodils are outside the garage. They’re kind of lonely by themselves there, so I may move them or add more.

These hyacinth blooming out front smell delicious #FireflyCottage

This little bit of Hyacinth is out front. There are only a few plants (I suspect that there used to be more but we lost some through various construction projects and possibly to bulb-loving critters) but they are so lovely! It’s funny, I love the scent of Hyacinth, but it also reminds me SO STRONGLY of the nasal spray (for allergies) that I used many years ago and that K uses now. The sense memory is so strong!

Something small and purple is beginning to bloom #FireflyCottage

In the back planter, something tiny and purple is blossoming. These blooms are so small, each blossom is maybe the size of a dime. They’re so pretty, though!

I’m also figuring out what seeds I can start planting soon! I’m using MyFolia to track my seed stash and plantings – it’s been a couple of years so I’m looking forward to using some of the new features. I have several more fruit trees coming from the conservation district: Methley plum, Blakes Pride pear, Harrow Sweet pear, and Canadian Harmony peach. There’s also a dwarf cherry heading my way courtesy of my sistrah, but I’m not sure yet when I’ll get that.

Firefly Cottage 2016-03-30

You can see where these will go in the plan above (I’m not for sure that they’ll go with the exact labeling in this image, which I made before I knew which varieties I’d be getting – but the placement will be the same). Now I need to figure out what seeds I have that I could get in the ground pretty soon. Complicating this slightly is that we’re having the front and side walkways replaced and that horseshoe path added, so everything is going to be torn up pretty soon. The trees are all far enough away from the sidewalk work that I don’t need to worry about them, but I don’t want to plant any seeds that might get lost in the construction shuffle.

Since it will probably be a little bit before the construction gets started and then is finished, I may wait to see how it all looks and then plant whatever I can at that point. I don’t want to do a bunch of work and then end up wishing I hadn’t! In the meantime I can work on my raised bed edibles garden plan.