Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Stuff! Or a treasure box by any other name

When my kids were school age and I was looking for ways to practice basic math operations, I modified the rules for scoring rummy, counting each card at face value, with Jack=11, Queen=12, and King=13, so that we got lots of adding practice. But when it came to learning multiplication, I was stumped. I tried to think of an alternative way of scoring some familiar game and came up blank, so I made up my own game using dice and dubbed it Roll 100 (making the goal to get a score close to 100 through a combination of multiplication and addition).

The current version of my dice game.

Some years later, when I started getting into crafting, I thought I'd have a go at selling these games, putting them in assorted repurposed candy tins and setting them out on a table at the first Barton School Arts from the Heart craft fair one winter.

They sold reasonably well, but they attracted the most attention from kids too young to do the math. It was apparent that the colorful dice in a small tin held a certain allure apart from whatever function I had intended for them. I recall one mom buying one for her preschooler after he could not be persuaded to select something more age appropriate.

Which led me to the idea to put an assortment of dice and random objects in little tins for small children to do whatever they like with them. Not sure what to name my new product, I recalled a coloring book that artist Tom Cassidy made for his son, which he named Yikes! Stuff Everywhere; and so named my little tin of objects Stuff!

I see them as a kind of loose assemblage for kids, a random assortment of kid-pleasing objects, like buttons and old keys, game tokens and flat marbles. I looked for things to put in the Stuff! tins at estate sales and garage sales, and then started adding some new items, like tiny rubber animals made by Safari Ltd.

I enjoy collecting these various small items for the tins, it gives me an excuse to do something I am inclined to do anyway.


Creating original collages for the lids of the tins is the obviously arty part of the process, but so is the selecting of items to put in them; and fitting as many as I can while still making it possible to close the lid involves some creativity as well as spatial skills.

Some people ask me about the boxes and their purpose, although most don't need to be told; they understand them intuitively. So, while I sometimes struggle to "explain" them to folks who don't really get the concept, I have also discovered that the ones who do get it offer helpful descriptions I could use, calling them treasure boxes, for example.

A treasure box full of stuff everywhere. That pretty much sums it up.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

How to get the proofreading done

Latte and a scone at Parka

When there is proofreading to be done, and it's a few hours of reading, which I really can't do all in one sitting, I find the best approach is to pack it up and head out on my bicycle to a coffee shop.

After a couple of hours' worth of reading, I get back on the bike and head to a different coffee shop.

One time while doing my proofreading at one of these neighborhood spots, one of my friends who is a freelance writer told me how, many years ago, she would take her work to the bowling alley and have a cup of coffee there. It was the only spot open on a Monday when the local bakery was closed. She did not go there for the coffee.

I am pleased to have better options these days.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

It's Show Time!

Stuff! A random collection of small toys for kids.

Arty Didact (that's me) and other clever crafters will be selling handmade goods at the following events:

Nokomis Urban Craft Fair
Nokomis Community Center
2401 E. Minnehaha Parkway, Mpls. 55417
Saturday, Nov. 2, 9 a.m.–3 p.m.

Barton Open School Handmade Arts from the Heart
Barton school gym
4237 Colfax Ave. S., Mpls. 55409
Saturday, Nov. 9, 10 a.m.–3 p.m.

Book Arts Festival
Minnesota Center for Book Arts
1011 Washington Ave. S., Mpls. 55415
Saturday, Nov. 16, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
(I won't have Stuff! sets or bottlecaps at this one.)

HandmadeMN Fall Market
Ballentine VFW Post No. 246
2916 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls. 55408
Saturday, Nov. 23, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.

Women's Art Festival
Midtown YWCA
2121 E. Lake St., Mpls. 55407
Saturday, Dec. 14, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.

A coptic stitch journal with beads in the spine
At the shows, I'll bring handbound journals, prints of my artwork (including tiny prints inside bottlecaps), book plates, mini chapbooks, calendars, cards, games, and quirky collections of small toys in little tins for kids.

Felted wool needle cases like this one are available from ArtyDidact on Etsy
Other items, such as needle cases, little purses and some artwork, will be available only through my Etsy shop. If you live in Minneapolis/St. Paul and wish to pick up your order instead of having it mailed, just use the contact option on Etsy to let me know and we'll make the arrangements (and, of course, I'll refund your shipping charges).

This post with the links to all the above craft shows is also available over in the righthand column under  Various Things, should you want to find it again sometime later.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Somebody Else's Chickens

Today was the Twin Cities Coop Tour. A self-guided tour of homes, a couple of businesses and a school in the city and suburbs that have chickens. I was intrigued; I printed out the map and marked a few nearby addresses to consider visiting.

Craig said, "I've seen a chicken before."

I said that I'd like to see some chickens, but that I wasn't feeling ambitious and didn't want to have to drive anywhere.

So we rode our bicycles to visit one spot on the tour, the one nearest us, by Lake Nokomis.

This is Mike, and his hens all have names, but I don't remember what they are. They just got their chickens this spring.

I asked why they keep chickens. For the eggs, he said, and because we wanted our daughters to have the experience.

He then explained that they have a 4-year-old attending preschool at the Dodge Nature Center, which has chickens, and one of the teachers there asked Mike and his wife, Britt, if they had chickens. They were surprised by the question.

The teacher explained that the little girl was so completely at ease with the chickens, confidently plucking the eggs out from under them and picking them up, that she figured they must be a familiar thing at home.  Britt wondered aloud, "People keep chickens?"

A week or so later, as Mike tells it, Britt said again, "People keep chickens?" But this time her tone sounded more intrigued than taken aback.

"Next thing I knew," he said, "I was building a coop."

These are winter hardy chickens, he explained. They can stay outside year round. In fact, the heat is a bigger concern for them than the cold. Their coop and adjoining run are situated under the shade of a large tree, and, as you can perhaps see, has vines clambering over it to provide even more shade.

The coop itself is above ground so that there's room under for the chickens to seek shelter from the rain and find dry ground at all times.

I asked if they let the chickens roam in the garden. I had always figured that for a gardener, keeping chickens meant free fertilizer and bug patrol. But they also eat plants, and will eat all of them if allowed to roam freely, so they're only allowed in the garden some of the time, Mike explained.

And, for the record: No, I don't want to keep chickens. But I'd love it if one of my neighbors did, so I could visit them.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Linear geometry

Our backyard and the alley behind our house are criss-crossed with power lines, like buntings missing their flags, connecting poles to houses and other poles, linking our house to other houses and garages and the new apartment building on the corner and across streets and more alleys, sometimes departing from their alley routes and running alongside residential streets, where too-tall trees have been pruned ungracefully to accommodate their relentless progress, which eventually connect the houses on my block to a cluster of wires and structures looking like something out of a futuristic model city surrounded by a tall chain link fence on Hiawatha Avenue.

From there, bundles of wires and cables travel high above Hiawatha, which is one of our major thoroughfares known also as Highway 55, past grain elevators still in use and new construction in process where other grain elevators used to be, alongside railroad tracks that are only used for a few weeks in the spring and fall, stretching to downtown and then on out of the city to the nuclear power plant in Monticello, as well as a wind farm somewhere on a prairie in the western part of the state, although that last bit may be only wishful thinking on my part.

We sometimes sit on our backyard patio on summer evenings looking east, watching clouds turn pink in the evening beyond those criss-crossing lines.

My drawing of the hapless power pole canister, before it exploded
At our previous home, there was a large rusty-looking tin can attached to the power pole, with wires and coils and pipes sticking out from it here and there. It often became a focal point of our evening conversations over a bottle of wine as we speculated about its contents and function. Sometimes we imagined it to be a Rube Goldberg device powered by squirrels. Sometimes we wondered if it could be a nuclear reactor in miniature.

Then one July day the thing blew itself up with a loud POP!, allowing nothing more than a curlicue of smoke to escape, leaving it with a jaunty-looking topknot of twisted, blackened wires. It was soon replaced with a shiny new cylinder, with no interruption in power to our home in the interim. This did nothing to diminish its mystery in our minds.

I like the power lines and the poles with their mysterious numbers and other markings. I appreciate their linear geometry, the contrast of these structures and lines with the soft amorphous forms of the clouds and the mottled green expanse of the maple tree that towers over our neighbor's backyard and the alley; the way the birds perch on them as though that is the very reason they were erected.

They provide a visual reminder of our connection to points near and far, the relationship of the built to the natural landscape. Even as we sit in our own backyard.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Night sounds of late summer

The crickets are back.

For most of the summer, I have not been hearing crickets in the night and I wondered why. I think of their persistent chirping as one of the sounds of summer nights.

Now, after about two weeks of very hot weather, I'm hearing cicadas in the afternoon and crickets after dark. Perhaps our long cool stretch from mid July to late August kept the crickets quiet?

When I tested this question via a Google search, I found several sites that offer a formula for calculating the temperature by counting the number of cricket chirps in a period of time — such as this Library of Congress page — and a few others stating that cool temperatures do indeed suppress chirping.

But what I had forgotten is that it is typical for crickets to start chirping in mid August. That's simply how long it takes for the insects to mature to the chirping stage, which is when they are ready to mate.

One rather poignant blogger describes it as "That sweet, sad sound of summer's end."

And after a long stretch of sweltering weather, I'm pleased that I can finally open my windows and hear the crickets.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Repurposing colorful postcards

We're looking forward to the LoLa art crawl this weekend at our house. It's a self-guided tour of artists in the greater Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis and this is my third year participating — for the first two years I was stationed at a local business, so this is the first year I'm going to be at my own house, with fellow artist and friend Brian Western of Western Art Glass holding court in the living room while I turn the dining room into my personal art gallery.

I was going to set Brian up in the front porch, because I thought his art glass fish and leaves would look swell dangling in our lovely new windows. But the weather forecast says we're going to be seeing temps above 90 again this weekend, and the porch can get pretty darned uncomfortable when the temperature soars, even with those energy-efficient windows (there's no vent out there, for one thing).

So hubby took compassion on dear Brian and invited him into the living room, despite his earlier declaration that he wanted the living room to sit and read the Sunday paper. (That was in response to my suggestion that we invite a third artist to share the space.) Despite Brian's misgivings that hubby might be inclined to hang out in his underwear on a Sunday morning, he accepted the offer to be inside with the air conditioning.

I suggested to hubby that he get a pair of silk pajamas and a smoking jacket, but then he'd have to take up smoking, which we don't allow in the house. So I think he'll be in his usual attire: shorts and a T-shirt.

But the house is getting dressed up for the occasion, at least.

And now that I've cut LoLa postcards into fish to hang in the door (in lieu of Brian's fish in the window, as I had originally anticipated), and taped another batch of them to a string as LoLa prayer flags, I'm finding myself thinking about other uses for leftover LoLa postcards.

LoLa artist Anita White makes them into puppets.

I might make them into notebooks. Hmmm.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Epistle of a Bitter Neighbor

I think that every block must have its bitter neighbor, which can take the form of the charming curmudgeon, if you get along with them, or the recalcitrant grump, whom nobody gets along with. I wonder which sort the folks at Third Street Brewery were thinking of when they named their black IPA Bitter Neighbor?

I like the box so much that I persuaded my husband to give it a try. I'm sure that I sampled it too, but now I don't remember if I liked it. Liking a beer, for me, means that I'm happy to drink a half pint and then I'm done.

But having secured the box, I repurposed it into a journal, assembled and sewn in the secret Belgian style, my new favorite bookbinding method. Hubby suggested that I really should give this, or one like it, to the folks who bought our old house, which sits across the street from a truly bitter neighbor of the latter variety. I laughed at the reminder, but I have to admit, it often wasn't so funny living within the orbit of this man's relentless unhappiness.

It began soon after we moved in and Mike came over to introduce himself and immediately set about letting us know what a bad neighborhood we had just moved into. Having just relocated from a neighborhood with an active gang problem, the memory of an armed man cutting through our front yard as I looked out the window still fresh in my mind, I thought, Yeah, right. Like you even know what a bad neighborhood is.

As it turned out, the only thing bad about our new neighborhood was Mike. While our previous block had an active and friendly block club (men with guns will inspire that), we discovered that our new neighbors didn't want to form a block club because nobody wanted to attend a meeting where Mike was present.

His unrelenting complaints about everybody else on the block got tedious pretty fast, and soon he was directing his complaints against us. Our dog barked too much, our yard was too untidy, we neglected our dog, etc. etc. One morning, as we were madly trying to get our kids dressed, fed and out the door to catch the school bus, the dog was barking and the phone was ringing and I was ignoring both to focus on the task at hand.

When everything settled down, I checked to see if we had a voice mail message, and there was Mike not only complaining about the dog, but also assuming that we had an answering machine and caller ID (we had neither) and so were deliberately ignoring him and deliberately letting the dog bark just to annoy him. I might add that Mike did not have children, but I bet you guessed that already.

But the nadir of our encounters with Mike came early one spring, after one of those ephemeral wet snowfalls that melt within a day. I don't recall what triggered it, but he stuffed a letter into our mailbox that was one long litany of complaints, including the accusation that we were bad citizens (yes, he used that term) because we didn't shovel our sidewalk. While it was true that we had allowed this most recent snowfall to melt on its own, we had, in fact, been shoveling by hand the 300 feet of sidewalk that wrapped around our large corner lot quite promptly all winter, often before he was out with his snowblower to clear his 40-foot long stretch.

His letter went on at some length about the poor schoolchildren suffering with wet feet because of the puddles they encountered on our sidewalk on their way to school.

In fact, the entire letter was as ridiculous as that, but it caught me at a difficult moment (hormones, children, dealing with a high-maintenence dog, and so forth), that it upset me terribly and my husband made a point of burning it in the fireplace.

I later came to regret that, wishing I had set it aside until my emotions subsided and I could see it for what it really was—comically absurd. If I had it now I would publish it, perhaps with the title The Epistle of a Bitter Neighbor.
Find my Bitter Neighbor journal and other journals from repurposed packaging in the journal section of my Etsy shop.

Monday, July 8, 2013

What were they thinking?

The previous owners of our house, Harry and Julia, had a thing for placing bricks in the ground.

Not those solid landscaping bricks that can make very charming edging, patios, and pathways -- regular building bricks with holes in them.

Nor did they submerge them on their sides to hide the holes; they placed them so that the holes were facing up.

So, naturally, plants planted themselves in the holes. Like grass, weeds, and these ferns.

Along the north side of the garage, which is one of the first areas that we completely relandscaped, they not only placed dozens of these bricks, but then they planted hostas all in a row alongside the bricks, which, when placed on top of the ground with their holes exposed, make really excellent slug habitat. The bricks were not only full of slugs, but you can probably imagine what the hostas looked like.

I can't help but wonder, what were they thinking?

We've been repurposing the bricks in various ways, such as defining the edge between the rain garden and a perennial border. Even though the holes are partially exposed here, we haven't had any slugs move in, probably because there are no hostas to feast on, and the slimy little critters would have to crawl across the open rocks to get to the holes, and we have a whole family of hungry robins hanging out, just waiting for them to do that.

Lately I've been digging out a row of ferns on the north side of the house and replanting them in a shady garden bed in the front, where they should form a pretty backdrop and obscure the plain gray concrete foundation blocks.

But sometimes the ferns and the bricks are hopelessly entangled, and there's no solution but to slice off the ferns and toss them in the compost.

In other instances, the bricks are already cracked and easily split apart, leaving an ogee-like impression of root mass.

We're reusing the bricks in various places around the yard, laying them in the ground sideways on a base of sand, with the holes (mostly) submerged, in combination with salvaged patio blocks and chunks of concrete. And when we run out of found bricks, I will probably go out and buy some more in order to edge more of the gardens with them, because I have a thing for bricks, too.

But I'm going to get the kind without holes.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Because We Just Gotta Have an Afternoon Patio and a Morning Patio

This is the corner of our backyard that used to be Julia's garden, but which was a mess of weeds, raspberries and flowers by the time we bought the house. Little by little, I've been moving the various flowers to different parts of the yard, and some of the raspberries to the kitchen garden near the alley, then digging out the weeds.

That corner also had a small patio, which our neighbors have told us was where Julia's husband, Harry, used to like to sit. Apparently Julia didn't really use it after Harry died. That patio was too small and too sunny in the afternoon for us, so we took those blocks, plus some other materials salvaged from elsewhere in the yard, to make a patio on the east side of the house, which gets shade by three in the afternoon.

But that patio is too bright and sometimes too hot in the morning, when it would be lovely to take tea and the newspaper outside, so we decided we needed a second, morning patio, and realized that the best spot for that was on the west side of the garage—Harry's old patio spot. We figured that a second patio would also allow space for a fire bowl, which doesn't really fit on the first patio because we have a dining table and chairs there. The whole backyard is shady by about 6:30 in the evening, so either spot is pleasant in the evening.

But since it's Sunday and we both want to have a leisurely breakfast and read the paper for a bit before beginning any ambitious projects, by the time we started working on this shady-in-the-morning patio, it was in full sun.

So this is how my husband relaxes on his day off.

After leveling the soil and spreading 15 bags of sand, Craig placed a big honkin' heavy square hunk of cement, which had been sitting by the alley, at a strategic point, which will be where the fire bowl sits.

Then I say, Hey, how about edging that with some bricks? Because I'm full of good ideas like that.

The bricks are a mismatch of some we found here and there in the yard and a few our neighbor was discarding, including this one stamped Purington Paver, which looks kinda like an artifact to me, so I make sure to place it so the inscription will show. (The little square gap will be filled with pebbles or a small plant, I haven't decided yet.)

Over the past couple of weeks, Craig has carted about three dozen or so rectangular patio blocks from the house of a friend who didn't want them anymore; we also collected a few discarded blocks from our neighbor. So we started arranging them in a sort of herringbone pattern. (Yes: "we"; I did help, I'm just not in any of the pictures because I was taking them.) Then, at this point, I say, I think it all needs to be moved about a foot or so to the left. Because I'm helpful that way.

It's just that we needed a little more space between the fire bowl and the chairs; and it did soon occur to us that we could just move the big square far enough over to insert another row of the rectangles, rather than move all of them.

It's about four in the afternoon when Craig puts the finishing touches on the new patio, and sits down to take a little break.

But as it's still sunny there, he soon came over to the "old" patio (constructed two years ago) to join me in the shade. Tomorrow morning he'll head off to work and I'll be in charge of trying out the "morning" patio. It's another way in which I'm helpful.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


The wren first appeared in our backyard a couple of weeks ago, announcing his presence with what the Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes as a “rush-and-jumble song.” I was delighted to see him checking out the small bird house near the patio, then became alarmed when he headed over to the slightly larger one by the kitchen garden, because I thought the chickadees were still using it.

Wrens are known to be real estate hogs, stuffing many houses with twigs to form “dummy nests” so that other birds can’t use them; they sometimes go even further than that and actively eliminate the competiton. According to Cornell, wrens are sometimes the main reason for nest failure of bluebirds and chickadees, as well as some other species, which is why many birders don’t like them. So I was worried that the little fellow was going to do harm to the chickadee chicks.

I scurried over to shoo him away, saying, “You get away from there! That’s the chickadee house! You use the other house!”

“You’re talking to a bird,” said my husband from his seat on the patio.

The wren scuttled onto a perch in our neighbor Sue’s lilac bush, and I noticed that she had a bird house next to her garage also. Aha!  No wonder our yard is a magnet for the little speculator.

I didn’t hear any peeps coming from the chickadee house, so I decided to inspect it to see if the chicks were okay (a well-designed bird house will be easy to open so you can keep an eye on its inhabitants). What I found was a clearly abandoned nest. I then remembered seeing chickadees in the lilacs about a week ago, fluttering their wings like fledglings, but as they looked identical to the adults (not scruffy like robins) and I did not see them on the ground, I hadn’t put two and two together.

So I apologized to the wren, and he was soon happily stuffing twigs into both of our bird houses and, I suspect, Sue’s as well.

“In spring, the male establishes a small breeding territory by singing from exposed perches and putting stick foundations in prospective nest holes,” wrote Donald and Lillian Stokes in their Field Guide to Birds.

After several days of this, there was suddenly a noticeable absense of the wren’s musical bravado in the morning. Had his mate selected some other house down the block? If so, I was indeed sorry. They may be bad birds, but they’re voracious insectivores, and as a gardener first and bird watcher by extension, I would dearly love to have a family of wrens on pest patrol in my garden.

Then one morning I heard not only his by-now familiar burbling call, but a whole lot of chittering. I looked out the window to see two wrens engaged in a lively discussion as one perched on a nearby branch while the other went in and out of each of the houses.

It was fun to see this “songful tour of inspection,” as described by Christopher Leahy in The Birdwatcher’s Companion, after which the female chooses a nest and finishes it. And she’s a clever bird in setting up housekeeping, for she is known to stash a few spider egg sacs in the nest so that the spiders will devour any parasites that may infest the chicks, say the folks at Cornell.

I’m having a hard time telling which house she chose, as they appear to be dallying about both houses still. They are very active little birds, and the sexes look alike, so I find myself wondering if there is, indeed, only one female. According to Leahy, the name wren, which comes from the Anglo Saxons, has a traditional second meaning of one who is lascivious, possibly because of the polygamy of male wrens.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A June Evening in the Garden

A late June evening and the solstice less than a week away and surely these are the very best days of summer, especially the very best long, lingering evenings. Finally there is enough shade on my east-facing backyard to capture the subtle details of the Henry Hudson rose; I know I've posted photos of this one already, but the yellow stamen at the center always seem to get lost in the bright light of day, so here is a better view of it by the evening light.

So far it is looking exquisitely healthy, and it is a disease-resistant rose, but I think it is later in the summer that the toll of excessive rain and whatever critters the wind blows in will be the test of that. Having it so near the patio encourages me to check it regularly for signs of problems. So far, so good. I did bury a bit of alfalfa meal and organic fertilizer in its planting hole last summer when I brought it home, and I bought it from a nursery that doesn't use pesticides (Sam Kedem's in Hastings), so it got off to a good start at least. I also planted it in a open airy spot with morning sun, all necessities for roses so that the dew and rain will dry off their leaves quickly and reduce the risk of mildew.

Meanwhile, the other rose, a very tough and vigorous and downright exuberant specimen, Rosa glauca, is going to town and loving its breezy spot with lots of sun. I think I need to get a tuteur for it, though, it's a bit all over the place. I bought it in the fall of 2011, and it is arching over the garden fence and reaching for the top of the clothes pole already. Here I'm only showing you a glimpse of one branch coming in from the right because it's hard to capture its charms and give a sense of its true size all at once. The individual flowers are small (about 1.5 inches across), single and pink. The leaves have a bluish cast to them (hence the species name, "glauca"). I chose it both for its aesthetic charms and wildlife value. It gets showy red-orange hips in fall, and the birds and butterflies are supposed to like it.

To the left above is a "blue muffin" viburnum. It will get clusters of blue berries that the birds can eat later in the summer, and the leaves turn a nice burgundy color in fall. The kitschy birdbath is one I salvaged from an alley not far from me.

My other backyard birdbath is a large one near the patio, just outside the window of my home office, and I'll often hear splashing sounds, then look out the window to see a robin enjoying a bath. I surrounded it with lady's mantle because the fuzzy leaves hold onto droplets of water like shiny beads.

It sits under the crabapple tree, which is an attractive staging spot for birds before imbibing, like this gold finch that paid a visit as I was sitting on the patio this evening.

The gold finches don't hop into the water like the robins do, perhaps because it's a bit deep for them, but this bright little fellow will lean down to get a drink of water, after a good deal of cheerful tweeting to let us know he's coming in for a landing. Unfortunately, my camera wanted to focus on some weeds in the background, so you just get an impression of his wonderful color as he paused briefly, took a sip, and then flitted away before I could try for a second photo.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Another Harvest of Little Blue Flowers, as Henry Hudson Looks On

I'm happy to announce that summer has finally arrived in Minneapolis. A friend recently posted on Facebook an overheard comment that pretty much sums it up for all of us: "Looks like summer finally got the memo."

Although the patio, on the east side of the house, is a little too sunny in the morning, there is a little period from about 9:30 to 10 or so when the huge maple tree across the alley casts a bit of dappled shade just where we need it, so we took our tea and the Sunday paper out to sit on the patio for a bit.

The Henry Hudson rose that we planted next to the patio last summer seems quite happy with its morning sun, though.

Once the patio was back in full sun again, we took advantage of the brief morning shade in one of the sunniest parts of our yard, just west of the garage, to do a little digging and transplanting. It's the previous owner's former perennial garden, which had become a raspberry thicket by the time we bought the house, so we've been having at it from time to time, replanting some of the raspberries to a different spot and discovering what else has been growing there under the thorny canes, besides dandelions and tall lawn grasses, that is.

Among the gems hidden amongst the raspberries was this dictamnus (aka gas plant) that I transplanted a couple of weeks ago. As you can see, it has taken happily to its new home.

Craig digs, I transplant. We have to do this side by side because Craig will go at the job with abandon if I'm not there to say, "Stop! Those are daffodils! And those are grape hyacinths!" (To be fair, the strappy leaves do look a lot like grass by this time.) So, dig and replant was the theme of the morning. I've been trying to do most of my transplanting during the week when he's at work, but last week I was too busy with other things and he was anxious to get on with the job of clearing this area out so we can replant it in some sort of orderly fashion.

There are some pretty blue flowers that I forget the name of (I figured it out last summer, but I'm not sure where I wrote it down; some sort of verbena or vervain, I think). I transplanted a few clumps, but much of it is overgrown, falling open at the center, and the lower leaves are looking spotted and unhealthy, so I am only transplanting the separate stands here and there that are smaller and healthier. However, I hate to throw the pretty blue flowers in the compost, so I harvested nearly all the stems from the big clump and brought them inside for a bouquet.

I also hated to toss the confetti of little flowers that fell on the counter top while I was trimming the stems, so I gathered them into a small bowl and placed it on the table to be ready to catch some of the others that fall. It's not the best florists' flower, for all of its flower-shedding tendencies, but I sure like that riot of little blue blossoms.