Saturday, February 28, 2015

Looking at Land

When Adam and I want a quick, free date, we go looking at land. (We used to walk around Lowe's. We've upgraded.) He finds a couple of spots in the county that are for sale, and we drive over to take a look. Sometimes they are drive-bys -- lots that are obviously a terrible choice. In our county, many land lots are in floody/marshy areas.
Today we walked over a lot for sale. As we approached the back of the lot, we noticed a boardwalk stretching away.
And what a boardwalk! It must've stretched straight out across the broad marsh for a quarter mile! It seemed fairly new, but was poorly maintained. Bushes and little trees were encroaching on the walkway and growing up between the boards.
But the view!
On both sides ~
Just stunning! I thought, "Wow! I could live at a place that had a daily walk like this!" I will add that the property had a "for sale" sign, and did NOT have a "no trespassing" sign.
The boardwalk finally ended in a creek with a boat dock (and another "for sale" sign, in case anybody on a boat was interested). We turned to walk back, and I took this shot of Adam. The boardwalk stretches all the way to the trees far in the distance.
Here's the dock and the creek. I imagine there's lovely bird life out here.
We realized later we had looked at the wrong piece of property, and this one was certainly not in our price range, or anywhere close to it! But what fun it was to discover such a place.  I can't say we are really shopping. At some point we may decide to buy a small lot. We dream of building a cob house someday. Have you ever heard of a cob house? It's one of our oldest building types -- earthen houses. In Europe there are many. In recent years, cob houses have become popular again because they are inexpensive and can be built by the home-owners. They're also very labor-intensive and take lots of time. But if you have energy and patience, you can have an interesting, unique home without a mortgage. That's worth considering. Here are a few examples, although our cob house would be simpler than these.
 You can make a two-story cob house, but we only want one story.
 Thatch is popular, but we don't want that either. Adam says a traditional roof is probably best in our situation. Cob houses must meet code, and they certainly can.
 Many cob houses display plenty of whimsy! The cob, which is a soft clay/sand/straw combination, can be formed artistically before it dries and hardens. This allows fun things to be done with the clay -- glass inserted, small shelves formed, small niches, and art, as you see above.
 This one has a grass roof.
And most cob houses have a warm, welcoming feel. The thick clay walls hold heat in winter and keep the house cooler in summer. Seating, bed frames, windows or mantles can all be formed in the cob as you build up.
Will this dream materialize? I don't know. Adam is enthusiastic, and we have been thinking about it for about a year. The process probably would not start for a few more years. What do you think about cob houses?

Friday, February 27, 2015

Teens and Driving

Anna and the Jaguar
Our children are now: 24, 22, 20 and 15 years old. We've done the driving thing.
Julia is 15 and old enough to have her driver's permit. Does she have it yet? No. Why? Well, because we're not highly motivated to make it happen. In other words, several times so far Adam has intended to get her signed up for the course and drive her over to the high school to jump through all the hoops, but he's forgotten. Oops.
Interestingly, Julia has forgotten too. Not that she doesn't want her permit; she does. But she doesn't long for it desperately enough for it to stay in the front of her mind so she remembers and pesters and begs and makes it happen.

And I wondered this morning ... why? Has our disinterest in the matter transferred to our children?

The three older children did proceed through driver's education courses, and two of them got their permits afterward. But they didn't do much driving. We almost exclusively used our van at the time, and we didn't want them driving that vehicle. If they wrecked it, we were in a terrible spot. We had an old Volvo they drove a little for practice, but eventually it died and we donated it.
One of two dead cars being hauled away by the NPR car donation folks
Maintaining insurance coverage on teenagers is expensive. If you can afford it, you're probably on the wealthier end of the spectrum, even if you don't consider yourself to be so. Maintaining a car, plus repairs and gas, plus insurance, is huge. We told our kids if they paid for their own insurance, we would let them drive our van. When we checked into the cost of insurance, that quickly settled the matter for them. In high school, none of them thought it was worth it, if they had to buy their own insurance.

Which tells you something. Perhaps driving is not this rite of passage that most of us baby-boomers think it is. Perhaps teenagers can be perfectly well-adjusted if they don't drive until sometime in college. Perhaps instead of it being foisted upon them, it's better to wait until they decide driving is a necessity for living, and they knuckle down and assess the cost against the convenience.

It's hard. We did send our Jaguar to college with Philip for a while, but that car was more of a headache and a menace than a help, I'm telling you! He was so happy to give it back to us and told us flatly that he never wanted to drive it again. A year or two later, he bought his own car, and now he's traded that in for a second car. He's on his own.
Philip's cheap little car, which actually served him quite well
She had it about a year before it died.
Anna bought a car, paid her insurance, and then a policeman rear-ended her and totaled the car. She got $4000 in the settlement. She looked at that cash, and considered the expense and inconvenience of another car, and opted to keep the cash. Catching rides and taking the train home are also inconvenient, but she wants to return to China after graduation. A car would be an undesirable burden and expense. She's saving her money for China.

Peter is currently looking for a car of his own as a junior in college. He's careful. He doesn't want to spend his cash on a lemon. He's been working hard, saving up.

All that to say, I think we inadvertently took a very wise path in our children's driving experience. We saved ourselves a lot of grief and expense, and they learned some rather important financial lessons. We weren't trying to be mean. That's the nice thing about being poor: when you say "No, we can't afford it," it's an answer that's hard to argue with.

The age of everybody-owns-a-car in our country is probably passing. I'm hopeful that some areas of the nation will have increased public transportation (trains, please!) in the near future. If you have upcoming teens, think outside the box of your own driving experience as you assess when they should drive. If you don't stress over it, perhaps they won't either.

Love Flowers

Last week I photographed my Valentine flowers from Adam before they faded.

I feel my icy winter heart thawing as I look at them.
I have a menagerie of plants by my kitchen window, sitting on a bench and resting on the dining table. They've done well this winter. And my nasturtiums are very happy indeed. They just want to be outdoors like the rest of us.
This is a lemon-scented plant I bought last fall.
Icy trees from a few days ago. Thankfully, all is melted now. Tomorrow will be cold (high of 38ยบ), but Sunday and following should warm up nicely. I'm so glad!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Snow Day Knitting

Yes, sunny Southern Oriental looks like this today:
Everything is cancelled in this kind of Southern weather, so we are indoors.
Julia did play with the puppies a little until Bo decided he did not appreciate snow in his face.

I'm sitting inside knitting (of course) and listening to my Pandora station, "Bossanova." If you're wondering what Bossanova music sounds like, give it a listen:

The knitting. Hmm. I was making a scarf with some luscious lavender variegated yarn from "Red Heart Soft." I love the look of solid knit -- you know, all knit on one side, all purl on the other. But when you make a scarf with that stitch (called Stockinette), it will invariably roll itself up along both edges and turn itself into a pool noodle. If you've ever had that experience, you know what I mean.
The expert knitting blogger at Techknitting addresses this dilemma thoroughly in several posts. I know I've looked at her three solutions before to solve this same problem on another project, but I didn't possess the adequate nerve to choose any one of them! This time, however, I knew I had to do something if I didn't want a pool-noodle-scarf :( I chose her option #2, "forming ribbing." Basically you intentionally drop stitches off your work, run them all the way down the scarf to nearly the bottom, and rework them back up the scarf with a crochet hook, changing the dropped stitches from purls to knits. That's what I did:
This was the back of the work, and it was all purling before. Every fourth row, I dropped a whole "column" -- basically like putting a run in your pantyhose all the way down! -- and reworked knits.
Meanwhile, the top of the work is secured by a stitch holder. You can see here where I've already reworked a few rows, and I'm on the last one.
This is the scary chaos that results when you drop a stitch! But never fear; your scarf will not fall apart in your hands.
You rework the column one stitch at a time using a crochet hook to reach through each stitch-loop, and snatch up the next stitch-yarn above it. I'm telling you -- an exercise like this will quickly teach you exactly how a stitch is constructed, and it will vastly improve your ability to spot trouble in your knitting and repair it.
If you look at your own knitting and feel rather like it's a foreign language you don't understand (even though you just made it!), a project like this will improve your language skills :) See the loop above? Below, you reach through and secure the next stitch -- the yarn pieces that are going straight across and need to be transformed back into real stitches again. (Sorry about the camera strap photobomb.)
Here's how it looks now that I've fixed it. It still looks like a knitted scarf, with just shadows of purl rows. But those rows of purl will keep the scarf flat when it's finished, especially after I give it a good wet blocking.
See the purl rows, hidden in between?
I have a long way to go on this scarf, and I'm glad I decided to fix this problem before I was at the end of it. Those dropped columns would have been much more laborious by then! As it is, I have to switch back and forth from knitting to purling as I go, but ... oh well! That's the life of a knitter!
Are you having snow days? Ours has just turned to a sleet and frozen rain day, heading into night.

Chasing Spring

Aren't we weary of winter this year? I am. So even though I loved that seashell banner I've had up there for so long, I'm changing.
I'm putting up a flower banner of some sort from now until it's warm enough to wear shorts. I've had it with cold, ice, rain, frigid blasts of arctic air in our southern seacoast town. I just turned around in my comfy chair, lifted the window curtain, and gazed out on snow. Snow! Sticking to the ground. Well, I shouldn't complain. It's pretty. But I'm done with winter in my mind. My nasturtiums are well up and quite happy in their window sill. I've bought seed packets of vegetables. I'm planning a beach trip with friends. We are chasing down spring whether she's ready to show her face or not!
So, in honor of the chase, here's a banner of Japanese magnolia blossoms from last spring. They warm the heart.

Monday, February 23, 2015

O My Darlin', Clementine!

This has to do with egg cups, I promise.
I was reading this book for the third time.
 It's a good book, very enjoyable. It lost some of its appeal this last time though, when I learned that Susan Loomis and her husband (the book is a bit of a romance, after all) later divorced, and she's now living in the cool medieval house by herself. Took the glow right off the story, if you know what I mean! Anyway ... we all know that some books are simply better than others. So midway through On Rue Tatin, I launched into this book, also for the third time:
 Ah, precious Clementine! Or, more accurately, I should say, "Ah! Delicious writer's voice of Samuel Chamberlain!" Because that's what I love about books -- the writer's voice with all its nuance and personality and smack and snark and vulnerability. Chamberlain is a delight to read, a natural on the ol' alphabetical keys.
I have two copies of Clementine, the newer one (above) I bought years ago, and the older copy (below) I found at a thrift store for pocket change. Couldn't resist. And somehow the older hardback seems more closely connected to the author and the time of the story (pre-WWII France). So I keep the older book on my bedside table. I keep the other copy among my cookbooks.
 Mr. Chamberlain, also an artist, did the drypoint pictures in the book, which are incredibly detailed and poignant, capturing the antique beauty of pre-war France.
 But many other "line illustrations" in the book, scattered here and there, were done by Henry Stahlhut. They are lively and funny. This is always how I think of the darling Clementine: chubby, utterly competent, cheerful, and in the Chamberlain family's eyes, "practically perfect in every way." She reigned in their kitchen and kept them all in gastronomic ecstasy for years. Note her halo and wings :)
 Thus (I'm winding my way around to the egg cup, you know), when I saw this egg cup in the antique mall the other day, I recognized her immediately. It's Clementine!
 Don't you think? With the floating apron and the grapes and squash around her skirt, and the laced-up bodice? Clementine will serve my soft-boiled eggs to me :)
 Here's the first cup we located at the store. It has birds singing in a window with musical notes ascending into the air.
 Both those cups are cute and kitschy. (Wow! I spelled that right on the first, hesitating try! Miracles still occur!)
Then I found this pair. I cannot resist little lavender-colored flowers on china. I first knew I had this weakness when I fell in love with some lilac-adorned dishes in Iowa belonging to an elderly friend. Sigh.
 These two are stamped as Bavarian, while the other two bear no stamp at all.
So Clementine has come to live in my kitchen, and I'm having regular, perfect soft-boiled eggs. Such little joys are important in life, even when life is hard or troublesome. Perhaps when life is especially hard or troublesome. Our world is in a state of chaos, violence, upheaval, just as Samuel Chamberlain's world was in 1940 Paris. However, he chose joy. We should too.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Treasure Trove

Today Adam and I dropped by a store I'd heard of from friends. They told me I might find an egg cup here.
It's in Bridgeton, about 30 minutes away for us, and on the way to New Bern, so we stopped on our way to "big town."
They have lovely stuff, and lots of it. China ~
Silver and silverplate ~
Cool antique items ~
Adam toodled around. I asked the owner if she had any egg cups, and within five minutes she had found me FOUR egg cups!
Here they are. All very reasonably priced. I'll show you more close up shots of them in another post. They're adorable, unique. I wasn't expecting to find four. But the one I have now is already chipped and probably not long for this world.
Kirkman's has loads and loads of wonderful things. They have about 40 vendors who have booths here and sell their antiques and collectibles. No junk here. Cool crocks, hat boxes, old books, just everything.
The store is clean and neat, and doesn't smell moldy and dusty like some antiquey stores.

Even beautiful old doorknobs.
I think this will be one of my go-to places to browse and window-shop. I can't really get much more "stuff" into my house; we don't have space. But I love to look :) And the scent of the store was appealing -- they must've had some neat candle burning somewhere. And the music was lovely, old '40s romantic tunes. And ceiling fans humming overhead. It was relaxing. If you're ever in the New Bern area, plan to visit Kirkman's -- it's worth it.