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Christmas Elves Were Busy

We recently decided to renovate our basement den to be used a more of a sewing room (and a potting shed, and a secondary living room, and an auxiliary pantry, and Boomer’s mudroom; it’s going to be a mega-multi-purpose room!) so I decided for Christmas, I’d give Boomer and Schnookie sewing boxes so they could have a second set of sewing tools downstairs. I picked out a cute blue paisley number for Boomer, and found a really cute vintage basket on Etsy for Schnookie. I loaded them up as best I could with sewing doodads (I went on three separate trips searching for needle threaders but had no luck, and was going to get scissors, but both of them went and impulse-bought new Ginghers just before Thanksgiving, those jerks!). They were missing one element though… Something handmade!

Pincushions

I made pincushions! I snuck around on my comp days and whipped these puppies up in total secrecy. (Well, sort of. I ordered roving from Jo-Anns and Boomer brought the box in from the mail. She reported to Schnookie that I’d ordered a box of air, so Schnookie figured out I was making pincushions. I have no doubt that she thought I was being all cool and fancy and making awesome felt pincushions. She was wrong. Heh.)

I made Boomer’s out of “Charlevoix”, by Minick & Simpson:

I knew Boomer loves the red, white, and blue look, so I picked one of my favorite florals from that line and paired it with a bold red stripe. I picked little stars and stripes for the backing, and actually (for once) was careful to cut the stripes nice and straight. I used a white button to finish it off. Happy stitching, Boomer!

For Schnookie’s, I tried to find fabrics that looked a little vintage-y to match the feel of her sewing box:

I can’t remember what these fabrics are, but we picked the ones for the front up in Dallas. I liked the unusual mustardy color, and picked a button that looked as close as I could find to the right tone. I didn’t have anything that matched really well for the backing, so I picked something in Schnookie’s favorite color, green. About a week after I finished this up, she announced she wanted to start making a scrappy quilt using lots of greens. I was so sure she’s pull the dandelions out of the stash and be all, “Why is there a five-inch hole in this cut?!” Happy stitching, Schnookie!

As for me, I was the lucky recipient of a stack of absolutely awesome fabric:

Christmas Fabric

(Sorry, this picture seemed like it was in better focus when I took it. Oh well.)

I love some many of the funky Japanese prints you see all over, but I’ve been too chicken to buy any, figuring it’s all heavier weight canvasy stuff. Good think Schnookie surprised me with a bunch on Christmas, because I’ve discovered some of it is, in fact, perfect for hand-piecing! This gorgeous stack includes: really cute Scandinavian-style Kokka prints, including an adorable pink-and-brown cheater cloth and one with sparkly elephants and camels; a stunning vintage-button print; some Eleanor Grosch whales (to use in my AMNH quilt); one of my favorite prints from 2010 — the Kokka Trefle carnival print; and two Alexander Henry June Bug bird prints that I’m just completely over the moon for. Thank you SO much, Schnookie! I think 2011 is going to be a phenomenal quilting year!

{Posted by Pookie}

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Using A Muffin Tin To Change Our Lives

So the other day I was poking around the New York Times online, killing time, and for some reason, I decided to check out an article in the food section about Thanksgiving side dish recipes. I already knew what I wanted to make for Thanksgiving, so it wasn’t even like I thought I was open to new ideas. But it must have been fate. Because what I found there rocked my world:

They suggested baking stuffing in muffin tins.

Stuffins

I am never not going to bake my Thanksgiving/Christmas stuffing in muffin tins. NEVER. You get perfect little serving sizes of stuffing encased completely in crunchy edges, and they’re just tailor-made for snacking on as cold leftovers. All I did was put a little dab of butter on the top of each stuffing muffin, gently poured a tablespoon of turkey stock over each (per the NYT suggestion, and chicken broth would work fine here), and then baked for about 45 minutes at 350. I think they would have been crustier if I’d baked them for a shorter time in a 375-degree oven, and I’ll be finding out how that works in just a few weeks. The highlight of Christmas foodstuffs at Maple Hoo has always been the mimosas, but this year I think the stuffing muffins (or “stuffins”, as we ended up calling them after finishing off a bottle of champagne) might be the king of the holiday menu.

[Posted by Schnookie]

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How Does the Garden Grow Now?

July of 2009 is now finally in the rear-view mirror, never to show its ugly, rainy face ever again, thank goodness! So how does the garden look now that it’s August? Pretty darn awesome!

Before The Rain, The Garden

In our last garden update we were excited for potato flowers and garlic scapes. In the 6 weeks since, the garlic and potatoes have been entirely harvested with much success! There appear to be no signs on blight on the potatoes, and the garlic vareities we chose this year are all delicious.

Turkey Burger Deluxe

What beats a side dish of homegrown potatoes and farm share green beans? The garlic is also there, hiding (alongside the volunteer cilantro) in the turkey burger.

The garlic and potato beds are now planted with their secondary crops — beans, carrots and beets. Keep your fingers crossed for the beets and carrots, as we used mushroom compost to replenish the soil levels instead of our tried and true leaf compost. So far the mushroom stuff doesn’t seem as good at draining the inches and inches of rain we’re still getting. As for the beans, we took the Square Foot Gardening approach and plunked down nine plants to a square foot. The bed is a riot of big green bean leaves; I can’t imagine there’s room for all of them in there!

July 18 2009

We’ve taken to calling the “Painted Pony” beans “Lightning Pony” beans because they sprouted from nothing to having leaves overnight after a big summer storm.

When all is said and done this summer will surely be remembered as the Summer We Couldn’t Stop Worrying About Stupid Effing Late Blight. So far — knocks heartily on wood — we think we’ve been spared, and as a result the tomatoes are coming along swimmingly. Our CSA pointed out in their newsletter that they’ve managed to fend of Late Blight partially because the farm itself is isolated from other farms thanks to being surrounded by woods. We’re wondering if we’re benefiting from the same effect. The only neighbors growing tomatoes got theirs from us, and Maple Hoo is also surrounded by protected wooded areas. Normally we’d be all over encouraging all our neighbors to turn their front lawns into veggie paradises, but now we’re thinking we like the street the way it is! Heh.

Morning Tomatoes

The Ramapos are taking their sweet time turning red, but there are zillions on the plants.

Moretons Ripening

The Moretons may not have lived up to their “Fourth of July Tomato” nickname, but as of the last week or so, they’re ripening up a furious pace.

Morning Denuded Tomatoes

The Black Plums had some kind of bacterial problem and we had to cut off pretty much everything that wasn’t a tomato, but we’re hoping they’ll shake it off and get back in the game.

Usually at this time of year, the onions would be entirely harvested, chopped, and in the freezer by now, but thanks to all the rain, the Yellow of Parma onions didn’t start bulbing until very recently. Instead, they’ve been putting all their energy in growing the most ridiculous leaves. The Australian Browns, on the other hand, did exactly what they were meant to do, and have been taken up. They’re phenomenally delicious — once again, all the fretting over starting onions from seed was totally worth it.

Giant Onion

Hey onion, did you ever consider growing… say… an onion?!

So far, though, the big success in this year’s version of The Maple Hoo Garden, is the peppers. (We fully put forth there’s still time for the Ramapos to take over the top dog spot.) After last year’s pepper debacle, I set my expectations low. Very, very low. Which makes what happened last night even sweeter! After a long, productive day of stitching and watching a marathon of “Diagnosis: Murder” (yes, you heard me!), we ordered delivery pizza — sausage and mushroom on one pie, sausage and onions on another. While waiting for dinner to arrive, Schnookie sauteed up our first two harvested peppers. One was a Tolli’s Sweet Italian pepper. It’s not kidding about the sweet; it tasted like candy! The other was a super-spicy Aci Sivri, a long, green Turkish hot pepper (it mellowed a lot after cooking).

Tolli's: The Reddening

We’ve been watching this pepper like hawks, waiting for it to turn completely red. We could wait no more.

August 1 2009

I’m not going to lie — my main motivation for suggesting we plant these was because they seemed very photogenic!

Holy cow, Gentle Reader. Holy. Cow. Putting your own freshly harvested, homegrown heirloom peppers on your delivery pizza? Is mind-blowingly, earth-shatteringly, groin-grabbingly delicious. After her first bite of the be-peppered pizza, Schnookie declared we’re going to plant only peppers next year. Heh. Seriously, we cannot recommend this practice more. Run right out, plant yourself some Tolli’s Sweet and Aci Sivris, and then 80-100 days later, order yourself some pizza. You won’t regret it!

So there you have it. The garden is once again humming along. This afternoon, I read another one of those blog posts that pops up all the time on the interwebs about how much money you save by growing your own veggies, and the inevitable quibbling began about factoring in time, and labor, and blah blah blah. Here’s what I have say to that: you cannot put a price on a slice of delicious NJ pizza topped with peppers plucked from the garden that evening.

Now if only it would stop raining!

August 2 2009

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25 Days Of Maple Hoo Christmas: Day 23

Ahh, Bucilla. The cornerstone of all our Christmas aesthetic. Where would we be without their felt-and-sequin ornaments? All of our childhood memories of decorating Christmas trees revolve around hanging up the ones that Boomer stitched either before we were born or while we were still young. Our memories of our tween years’ Christmases revolve around raiding the boxes of old Bucilla kits stockpiled in the attic and following in Boomer’s footsteps to make our own ornaments. I don’t even have the words to describe the swirl of happy nostalgia that comes with running my fingers over the little glass beads that hold the sequins in place, or the way colored Christmas lights reflect off the metallic sequins with their overlaying beads, or thinking about carefully following the lines printed on the felt as I stabbed through with those sharp, sharp needles as I sat cross-legged on the shag carpet in my 12-year-old self’s bedroom while making the ornaments in July. Nope, Bucilla ornaments are where it starts and ends for us. They are the alpha and omega of a Maple Hoo Christmas.

Tin Man

They still make Bucilla ornament kits, of course, but they’re not old school. They beads are color-coordinated to the sequins, instead of all of them being either clear or black. The designs are less theme-y, and are instead things like Christmas mice, or elves, or — heaven forbid — licensed Mikey Mouses. *Shudder* No, the Bucilla we believe in is all about a story set, like this Tin Woodsman who goes with a Wizard of Oz theme, or the Little Red Riding Hood and Big Bad Wolf that the two of us stitched ourselves. Most of the ornaments we have left are missing their compatriots, or maybe never had them, but isn’t that the way a Christmas tree is supposed to be? Covered with figures that make up just about a quarter of what should have been a matching set?

Of course, not all of them are well-known characters. One orphaned ornament that’s been around as long as we have is this reindeer:

Reindeer

As long as he’s smiling at us with that jaunty green bow and not a single other member of his team in sight, we know it’s truly Maple Hoo Christmas.

Post by Schnookie

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Voyage To The Center Of The Stash

A few months ago we decided it was high time we take a spin out to Mesa, AZ to visit our stitching friends at the Attic Needlework shop (and swing by some of our old Scottsdale haunts, like The Roaring Fork and the dessert counter at AJ’s grocery store). We haven’t been since 2005, and that’s just a long time to go without replenishing the stitching stash. Well, replenishing in person, rather. It’s one thing to sit at home on the computer picking out charts and ordering kits of thread. It’s another entirely to spend hours with friends pulling fibers and linens, changing one shade of “very dark chestnut brown” for another.

Knowing that I had three days to spend surrounded by the extraordinary materials the Attic has to offer, I decided it was time I gathered my stash together for some assessment and some much needed organization. In the heady days just before we moved into Maple Hoo, I had some grand, grand plans for the (mostly) finished basement room. I figured we’d line the walls with bookcases and then put a long table in the center; the bookcases could hold charts and threads and linen, and the table in the middle could be used as a work-surface for laying out and organizing projects. What I forgot to factor in was Boomer’s inclination towards clutter. Now, really, I’m not much better, but still, I was a little dismayed when, after about three days of living here, this was what that room looked like:

Boomer’s collection of cross-stitch, needlepoint, knitting, and quilting projects exploded in a picture-perfect display of entropy at its worst. Still, knowing how much Boomer does for me, and knowing that the stash room was well tucked away from any outsider’s eyes (well, until I publish it online for all to see), I staked out a few small areas for my stuff. The framed pieces were tucked on and near the table in the rear of the room. My thread collection and some older charts were tucked away in a big rolling ArtBin, while in-progress pieces were contained in a big plastic tub tucked under the table.

Everything that didn’t fit in those two places — i.e. dozens of charts, charts with threads, charts with linen, threads and linen with no charts — was stuffed, in no particular order, into four drawers in the armoire at the back of the room.

If I wanted to look for a new project to work, I had to stumble through Boomer’s piles of stuff (oddly, she knows exactly where every thing in that room is. We used to challenge her to find specific books in the waist-deep piles she had in her previous house and it never took more than five minutes for her to retrieve them) dig through jumbles of disorderly charts and kits, hoping I’d find what I was looking for. It was a disaster. Boomer attempted to introduce some order by bringing home towers of plastic drawers perfect for threads:

This solution? Waaaay to fussy for me. Organizing that many little drawers is too reminiscent of taking the dreaded cataloging class in graduate school. I needed something different. Something easier. Something more flexible, more organized, and most of all, more fun-office-supply-y. Enter some funky binders, lots of sheet protectors, many index cards, and a few hours of getting down and dirty with my collection of projects.

My idea (well, actually Schnookie’s idea) was to put all of the charts into binders for easy browsing, organized into WIPs, charts with all the materials, and charts without materials. Index cards tucked into the sleeves record what various materials are already in place and which need procuring before the project can be started. The threads and linens were all tucked into smaller bags, again with index cards recording the corresponding chart and notes about materials. All the smaller bags were then tucked away in the plastic bin, with my WIPs laid carefully on top, and then the binders were placed on the built-in bookcases in the living room.

Not only do I not need to stumble around the basement to ooh and aah over my charts, they’re now conveniently located right behind the couch for easy access! No more digging through drawers! No more wondering where those old Prairie Schooler santas are! No more wondering if I’ve already ordered that Moira Blackburn sampler about how there are three things that never come back (that chart has been purchased at least three times between all the stitchers of Maple Hoo)!

I have to admit I was thrilled to discover that, when collected all in one place, I could carry my entire stash from the basement to the living room in one trip. That surely means I have free reign to go nuts at the Attic, right? Full disclosure: I’ve already ordered two more binders. One is for overflow; the current binders are pretty close to being too full. The second is so that I can gather all the seasonal charts together. When I’m desperate to whip up a piece for Spring or Winter? I’ll be able to flit over to the Seasonal Binder and away I’ll go!

Like the nerd that I am, I couldn’t be satisfied with just organizing all my projects into binders and baggies. I also had to put together a spreadsheet while doing it so I could keep a catalog of the stash contents. My original thought was “Ooh, I can cross stuff off the spreadsheet when I finish it!” After the peals of hysterical laughter subsided, I instead decided it would be a nice way to make sure I didn’t buy duplicate charts. Anyway, when the spreadsheet was complete, I was able to crunch some numbers.

Works in Progress, aka Things I Intend To Finish At Some Point: 5

UFOs, aka Unfinished Objects That Will Probably Never Get Finished: 3

Charts with Threads and Linen: 14

Charts with Linen but No Threads: 4

Charts with Threads but No Linen: 7

Charts with No Threads or Linen: 48

Total Projects: 81

Random Pieces of Linen Not Earmarked for Specific Projects: 14

And now, because I’m a big nerd, here’s a full list of the contents of my stash, now perfectly ordered and waiting to be put to good use!

WIP
SDW, Scarlet Letter
Manchester, Carriage House
True Wisdom, Exampler Dames Design
Berlin Woolwork, Needle’s Prayse
Shores of Hawk Run Hollow (aka MFB by the Sea), Carriage House Samplings

UFOs
Light Your Way, Blackbird Designs
Christmas Sampler, Scarlet Letter
Deers Among Wood, SARL Designs

LINEN AND THREADS
Harvest Time, Prairie Schooler
Woodland Santas, Prairie Schooler
Santas Workshop, Prairie Schoole
Prairie Birds, Prairie Schooler
Winter Samplers, Prairie Scholer
Limited Edition Santas 2005, 2007, 2008, Prairie Schooler
Quaker Study, Carriage House Samplings
Circling Alphabets, Scarlet Letter/Hester’s Sister
Garland Fair, Blackbird Designs
Town and Country Sampler, Brenda Keyes
Peaceful Paradise, Midsummer Nights Designs
We Gather Together, Blue Ribbon Designs
Marakech, Kay Montclare
Elizabeth Muir Sampler, EGA
In the Bulb, The Workbasket

CHART AND LINEN
Just Hatched, Prairie Schooler
Farm Fresh, Prairie Schooler
We Will Adore Him, Homespun Elegance

THREADS
Marianna Lignani Anno 1825, Essamplaire
Maria Spence, Essamplaire
Sarah Brignell 1769, Scarlet Letter
The Contented Mind Sampler, Brenda Keyes
Friendship Gathering (spot sampler), Birds of a Feather
Colonial Harbor, By the Bay Needleart
Meadow Hills, By the Bay Needleart

CHART ONLY
With My Needle, Blackbird Designs Loose Feathers
My Gift To You, Blackbird Designs Loose Feathers
Sweetheart Sampler, Blackbird Designs Loose Feathers
Trix or Treat Book, Blackbird Designs
Just Hatched, Prairie Schooler
Farm Fresh, Prairie Schooler
Barnyard Christmas, Prairie Schooler
Home For Christmas, Prairie Schooler
Songs of the Season, Prairie Schooler
Santa Collection 88-91, Prairie Schooler
Santa Collection 96-99, Prairie Schooler
Santas and Snowmen, Prairie Schooler
December, Prairie Schooler
When Witches Go Riding, Prairie Schooler
Hornbook Revisited, Carriage House Samplings
One Sheep, Carriage House Samplings
Meeting House Hill, Carriage House Samplings
Oliver & Friends, Carriage House Samplings
Sally’s Feather Tree, Carriage House Samplings
Plymouth Sampler, Brenda Keyes
Heaven Is My Hope, Scarlet Letter
Four Seasons Sampler, Scarlet Letter
Sarah Wilson, Scarlet Letter
JCS 1707, Scarlet Letter
Betsy Manchester, Scarlet Letter
Hornbook Bestiary, Scarlet Letter
Peaceable Kingdom, Goode Huswife
Beehive Sampler, Moira Blackburn
Strawberry House Sampler, Moira Blackburn
Pains of Love, Moira Blackburn
Peace Hall, Moira Blackburn
Three Things, Moira Blackburn
St. Hippolyte, Long Dog
Joie de Vivre, Long Dog
The Daisy, Long Dog
Wisdom, Long Dog
All Things, Long Dog
All Things II, Long Dog
Bertha Massiet
Berry Patch Rabbit, Cedar Hill
19th Century Birds, Hands to Work
Autumn Hill, By the Bay Needleart
Live Each Day, PLC Samplers
Welcome, Brightneedle
There’s No Place Like Home, Drawn Thread
Snow, Bent Creek
Gobble, Bent Creek
Cinnamon Stick Santa XVIII, Homespun Elegance
Cinnamon Stick Santa XVII, Homespun Elegance

LINEN
28ct R&R Kansas City Blend
28 ct R&R Dk. Cappuccino
40 ct Lakeside Sienna Night
40 ct Lakeside Blue Moon Java
40 ct. Lakeside Autumn Gold
36 ct Lakeside V. Examplar
36 ct Lakeside V. Autumn Gold
36 ct Lakeside V. Misty Rain
36 ct Lakeside Remembrance Rose
36 ct Lakeside Meadow Rue
36 ct Birds of a Feather Sparrow
28 ct. Lakeside Pearled Barley
36 ct. Colorscapes Cherub
40 ct Newcastle Heritage
36 ct [Unknown] Creme Brule

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The Great Tomato Transplanting

The traditional time for planting one’s tomatoes around here is after Mother’s Day. But we like to thumb our nose at tradition and we’re overeager to get our garden going, so after studying the ten-day forecasts, we decided the temperatures weren’t going to get below 50 degrees again after this weekend and gave the tomato transplanting the green light. Our wee baby tomato seedlings have become towering giants of strength and are totally busting out of the cold frame. They’re also busting out of their little peat pots:

The time has come for them to get into the garden beds and get growing!

Benny the bunny showed up to observe the proceedings as we worked some bone meal into the soil where the tomatoes were going, and then dug some nice, deep holes.

Stay out of the garden, you little bastard!

We try to be as ignorant as possible about gardening in general, perhaps hoping to catch some of that beginner’s luck we scored our first summer as gentlewoman farmers, but one tip we couldn’t avoid learning was to help your tomatoes overcome their naturally shallow root structures. The idea is that if you bury your leggy seedlings up to their leaves, they’ll develop roots all along the buried part of their stalks. Another, probably better way to do this is to dig a trench and essentially plant your seedling sideways, but we can’t be bothered with fancy stuff like that. Just digging a deep hole and dropping the seedling, peat pot and all, into it was intense enough for us:

We decided to get tomato ladders this year instead of using cages or building tomato teepees or whatever.

Our crops this year will include five San Marzanos and four Black Plums, scattered in a few of the beds, and also in two barrel planters we moved around from the deck into the garden.

The little guys made it through their first few nights with no seeming ill effect, but one of the San Marzanos is looking troublingly diseased. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that being in its permanent home in the sunshine and Springtime warmth will nurse it back to health.

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