Monday, April 30, 2012

Monday Flowers

In a normal year, April 30 would be the middle of spring, but this year it's late spring. Likewise, I'm a bit late to Jane's flower party — nothing unusual there, however.

The lilacs have been blooming since Easter, and I was a little worried that that would mean no lilacs in May, but my neighbor's fragrant blooms reaching over the fence are mostly still looking lovely, though showing their age; so, yes, I believe there's time for one more lilac bouquet.

The purple ones I paired with the one fernleaf peony that's almost ready to open, and a couple of crabapple stems, discretely cut from the tree we just planted last spring, and which is blooming quite abundantly for its first spring in the ground, as you can see.
 And the white ones were arching over a rogue amur maple volunteer, so I thought, why not? And white is such a good color to set off this little blue glass vintage pitcher I just picked up at an estate sale on Friday. The company name is Rainbow, but so far I haven't been able to find out much about it, except that somebody is selling an identical one for $18 and I bought this for $3. Don't you love it when that happens?

That's Julia to the left of the white lilacs, btw. She came from the estate sale that was held at this house right before we closed on the purchase. I named her for the lady of the house before me.

As for flowers on the house, the pansies outside the kitchen window are sure enjoying this cool weather.

That's all for now, though I just might gather a dandelion bouquet later in the week — I've got a bountiful supply. What would you pair dandelions with in an arrangement?

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Fun and Games, 1930s Style

More estate sale fun. A bachelor who died at age 85 had hung onto all sorts of items that had once belonged to his parents. The scattered collection of items in this small house was diverse and fascinating. I'm just going to show you the games for now.

The people who work for these estate sale companies also have a clear interest in and enjoyment of these old things. I don't know how they manage to avoid buying up all the best stuff themselves! There must be rules about that. For me, it would be a challenging and counterproductive job (I would end up spending more than I earned).

I was looking for games first, because I like to use the pieces in the mini toy collections I package in small tins and sell in my Etsy shop under the imaginative title Stuff! (Yeah, I didn't exactly use a focus group for that one, can you tell?)

I have often thought that it would be great to find a used Monopoly game some day, because few things have more little kid appeal than the fanciful game tokens used in Monopoly.

And, whaddya know, there was a Monopoly game — a very old one, possibly from the 1930s, with wooden houses! Apart from that, the game appears to have changed little, if at all. The board, the game tokens, the money and the Chance and Community Chest cards all look pretty much the same.

But then I saw another game I had never heard of before, Easy Money, and when I opened the box I was struck at how the little houses looked like Monopoly houses.

Easy Money game tokens and houses
As it turns out, Easy Money was introduced in 1935 by Milton Bradley, right after Parker Brothers came out with Monopoly, and there's no question that it was intended to grab some market share from the popular game the company's rival had introduced.

Give-or -Take cards instead of Community  Chest & Chance
According to World of Monopoly, Both Milton Bradley and the Parker Brothers originally turned down Monopoly when the game's inventor approached them in 1934, but then Parker Brothers got smart and changed their mind. They secured a patent on Monopoly by the end of 1935 and forced Milton Bradley to make some changes to its copycat game. The one I have is the 1936 revised edition.

The board is so colorful and delightfully graphic that we will probably mount it on the wall in the basement TV room like a poster.

Easy Money is no longer around, although the game went through many revisions and modernizations right up into the 1970s. One of the women working the sale said she remembered playing Easy Money as a kid.
Easy Money wooden dice and houses

The play money for this game is smaller than Monopoly money, at 1.5" x 3"
You can read more about the history of the two games, and about Milton Bradley, who was also a supporter of the kindergarten movement in the Progressive era, at these sites:
World of Monopoly
Reference for Business (Company History Index)
The Play & Playground Encyclopedia

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


You know those curly willow branches you can buy in bundles for floral arrangements and pots? I really like those, and I thought it would be nice to grow my own, which would be easy enough, since they root readily when you stick them in the dirt.

But willows can grow up to be monstrosities, so I am experimenting—I put them in a half-whiskey-barrel planter last summer, and set it next to the house and air conditioner, on the south side, in a space that isn't really well-suited for much else anyway. I figured that if they didn't make it through the winter grown in a container like this, I was none the worse off, since I had bought the twigs for the previous winter's front step arrangement, and so wasn't investing money in a plant of marginal hardiness only to risk seeing it perish in a Minnesota winter.

Last winter didn't really qualify as a Minnesota winter, it was more like Seattle, or something. So of course the willow cuttings came through just fine.

They've sprouted a lot of small, delicate stems so far, which look lovely in a vase with some daffodils. It remains to be seen if I'll get any larger, showier specimens from it, but I'm rather liking it so far, anyway. If it simply fills the barrel with curly willow stems, that will be all right with me, too.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Stacking stones

There's something irresistible about stacking stones one atop the other, isn't there? I spotted the above cairn in a front garden recently, shortly after noticing this series of cairns just a block away:

This mini cairn sits on my patio table, and must be reassembled frequently. I've added one more small stone since taking this photo, which sits below the topmost stone now.

And this one, with a spiral shell on top, I assembled a few years ago when staying at the family lake home up north. I turned this photo into a note card.

Part of the appeal for me is the sturdy permanence of the stones in contrast with the fragile balancing act involved in the stacking of them.

And I just like how they look.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Playing apothecary

Not surprisingly, my lavender plants came through the unusually mild winter very nicely. Today I moved them to a sunnier spot, one that was just lawn last summer; but after sitting through the fall and winter under layers of newspaper and a covering of woodchips, the turf was beginning to break down nicely, so I dug four holes and placed the lavender plants in them. It's supposed to rain again tonight. Perfect.

I had a nice quantity of lavender buds from last year, sitting in a jar all winter, and I was pleased to discover that when I started to mash them with my mortar and pestle, they still had plenty of lovely fragrance.

The buds don't quite get ground into a powder this way, their texture kind of reminds me of rubbed sage. Soft like that. I added them to a mixture of cornstarch and baking soda to make my own body powder, something I've been meaning to do for some time now. I'm happy to report that it turned out fine and has a lovely fragrance.

Here's the recipe:
1 1/2 cups cornstarch
1/2 cup baking soda
1–2 Tblsp lavender buds, ground as finely as you can

Mix it all together, and you're done. And just in time—it was surprisingly warm and humid when I was working in the garden today, moving those lavender plants, but I didn't work long or hard enough to get truly sweaty and dirty, just a little moist.  So a freshening up with a bit of my newly made powder was just the thing.

This little shaker holds about a third of the total, the rest is in a pint jar, ready for refilling. I tied a few more lavender buds inside a bit of cheesecloth and placed it in the jar to infuse the powder, because I wasn't sure I had ground up enough of them. I might try just doing it that way next time anyway. Or buy a spice mill for easier grinding. Although there is something satisfying about working with the old mortar and pestle, like a medieval apothecary.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Three Little Birds

Sweet little bud vases from Catherine Reese, a potter in San Francisco whose Etsy shop is full of charm. These are just 2 inches high, perfect for dandelions and violets plucked from the lawn. But they also look lovely standing empty, don't they?

Happy Easter!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Flowers Out of the House and into the Window Basket

I missed the flowers in the house tour last month, for reasons that I can no longer remember, but now that I'm getting a few flowers going outside of the house, I'm feeling some floral momentum. And these primrose yellow primulas are certainly worth a bit of celebration! I bought them back in February as houseplants to provide a bright spot in the drabby midst of winter and did not expect them to have much left to show for themselves come spring, and yet they are still blooming! One of the plants had, in fact, finished, then recently started again, the other has been a continuous bloomer. I don't recall them ever lasting this long.

I had set one, pot and all, in the front step urn amid the willow and dogwood twigs from my winter display, just to add a spot of color until I could get around to planting it up proper. That's on the west side of the house, and its leaves got a bit burned, so, since it has been blooming happily in a north window for several weeks now, I planted it in the kitchen window basket, which is on the north side.

There are two windows, and so two baskets. One now has the two primulas, some English ivy, rooted from cuttings from last year's basket, and a chive plant in the center. The other has pansies and ivy and the Muehlenbeckia, or wire vine, which I bring in every fall and then try desperately to keep the cats from devouring. I barely succeeded again this year, but now that it's safely outdoors, it should thrive once again. It has sweet little round leaves on wiry stems. I'll share a picture when it recovers a bit from its winter ordeal.

The urn doesn't look like much yet, but the pansies should start putting out more blossoms once their roots have nestled in. Also in the urn: the Dutch white clover that I had grown indoors for St. Patrick's Day. I figured, why not? I think it's sweet, and I thought it would fill in around everything and be like a little green-and-white carpet.

Some of the willow and dogwood branches are sprouting leaves, kind of a fun bonus from having them in moist sand for so long. After I took everything out and replaced the sand with soil, I re-planted the more attractive of the twigs, and noticed that the dogwood stem even has flower buds on it. What fun!

I've been meaning to plant these two spots for some time, and feeling as if I am a bit late to the garden party. But then I remember that planting anything outdoors so early in April is indeed unusual in Minnesota!