Sunday, March 20, 2016

Goodbye Winter! Hello Spring!

It's finally here - Spring!

The weather the last few weeks has been crazy - sunny one day, and like yesterday, loaded with a dreary attitude and rain.

But, today? Today is loaded with sunshine, although it's still quite cool. We had a freeze warning overnight, so I worried about these little rhubarb nodes that were just starting to peek through, and leaf out. The first picking (and, maybe the second as well) will go to a local winery for (what else?) wine. But, then? My mom's Rhubarb Upside-Down cake, Rhubarb Sauce, Strawberry-Rhubarb Preserves, Rhubarb Custard pie, Rhubarb in the freezer (and, maybe even a few midnight Rhubarb runs, much like those wrongly accused Zucchini drops) - it's a very versatile plant! If I decide to thin out the patch, I can even use the roots as a fiber dye for some amazing reds! And, did you know that the Rhubarb stalks can also be used as a stain remover? Truly!

I pick my Rhubarb all through the summer, until the leaves start yellowing, and it starts slowing down in growth. Many people will tell you that "You can't pick Rhubarb after July!" That's just not so. Like my Mom, when the blossoms start to appear, I just pull them off, and let the plants keep on doing what they do. As long as you don't let them go to seed, you'll have that 'Pie Plant' available all summer long.

I know, I know - the patch needs to be cleaned up. That's the plan for this coming week - hauling out the big, brown yard waste bags, and getting things in order - something that's gone undone for the last couple years. (No excuse other than being pre-occupied in the role as sole caregiver for my husband. No regrets.)

While I was poking around for more signs of this long-awaited season, I found what I look for each year. My neighbor's Snowdrops are almost finished blooming. They were early this year. Normally, they don't poke their heads up until about now, but they've been showing off since the first of the month.

The last of the blossoms are in the lower right-hand corner of the photo.

When the Snowdrops are in full bloom, I know that these little Scilla around my bird bath will be blooming soon. They're like a miniature Amaryllis, with their tiny, trumpet-like blossoms at the end of a tall (for them) stalk.

Of course, we can't forget the little Dwarf Irises, and Day Lilies, and Amaryllis.

I know they don't look like much now, but when even the lilacs are starting to show some green at the ends of the branches, it's a sure thing that warmer weather is not far behind.

I'm a little behind getting my seeds started, but considering it's still quite cool, I don't think it will be a problem. So, I get to start my canning and preserving a little later in the year - no problem. At this stage of the game, I'll do what I can when I can.

The canning season for me will start when the violets take over the back yard. Why? Because Violet Jelly, that's why! In case you didn't know, Violets are one of many edible flowers, and they make the most amazing shade of Amethyst colored jelly you'll ever see. My Mom made it, I make it, my daughter has made it - it's not a strong flavor, but more like a mild flavored honey. It's a specialty, but a fun one. So, don't destroy these little gems. Or, the Dandelions! No, don't do it! They make an amazing wine, but also great for making lotion bars and scrubs.

You should see those patches of Chives and Oregano - they're coming on strong, and will provide a good amount to dry and use during the winter months. And, the strawberries! My goodness, are they going wild! I even found some little fiddle heads where my Painted Ferns reside, so I'll be able to use them for things like these Cheese Plates, and platters, and buttons, and spinners' tools, and, and, and..... Hopefully, my Lavender will start coming back soon, too, so the blossom stalks can be used in the same way.

This website has some very valuable information on gardening, with recipes, and tons of other great information. (They're also on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.)

I will plant tomatoes, and potatoes - all in 5-gallon buckets that are easier for me to tend any more. Container gardening can really pay off with tons of produce, as long as they're taken care of. Lettuce and herbs in hanging pots? You betcha!! But, the Farmer's Markets also play a big role in my 'grocery shopping' - I'm not only getting the best and freshest produce, but I know where it's coming from, and supporting my local small businesses as well. It's all important.

Go dig in some dirt - make yourself a garden. You'll thank yourself for it - for many reasons.

Happy Spring, everyone!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Shipping Day!

Maintaining an online business has its advantages, such as being able to work from home, on one's own schedule, and even in your jammies if you wish. But, it also presents some interesting challenges – shipping being one of them.

Many online sellers prefer to purchase all their packing/shipping supplies new. Because I'm sort of a tightwad (as my mother used to say), and prefer to keep as much 'stuff' out of the landfill as possible, my packing methods combine both new supplies and others that are just a little bit 'out of the box'.

My new supplies are boxes and bubble mailers that can go first class, as well as bubble wrap and tissue. For Priority packages, I order boxes and mailers from the Post Office ( because most of them are free – and, they deliver them right to your door free of charge as well. (You do need to set up an account, but it's easy and there's no minimum order, unlike many other suppliers.) They also have a large variety of sizes.

Shipping day is always an adventure - especially when your packing materials are slightly unconventional. But, as one who prefers to recycle or re-use instead of tossing in the landfill, I take every opportunity to do just that. I want my customers to know that I take my job seriously, and appreciate their business. But, I also need to keep costs down, and do what I can for the environment. Some boxes I re-use if they're presentable, but I shy away from those static generating packing peanuts.

What goes inside often gets a huge chuckle. And, is appreciated by those who understand why I use what I use. Namely, those odd tins that are saved for me by friends and family.

This is how my shipping duties start - rounding up and making sure all those precious 'shipping containers' are sparkling clean.

You are correct, those are cookie and mint tins - they keep the small breakables safe in transit. The mint tins are the perfect size for most of the spinners' tools, buttons, stitch markers, some of my jewelry - anything small that needs to stay safe from breakage. The tall cookie tins are used for the orifice hooks - again, keeping them safe from damage.

That IS an egg carton off the left - I like to think of them as sorting trays. They're also good for spacers between the inner and outer boxes when double boxing larger items such as yarn bowls, mixing bowls, mugs, etc. But, let's get back to the littles. We'll go into the larger work another day.

Once each piece is safely encased in bubble wrap (one sheet of bubble wrap is used for each tin (cut apart into smaller pieces, of course, so that one quarter of the sheet cushions the contents, and one half is used to wrap the tin once it's been filled – the other quarter is cut in half again and rolled to cushion the wrapped tin inside the mailer), they go into their respective mailers - a bubble mailer for the flat tins, and a small box for the cookie tins.

The paper that surrounds the tin in the box? Don't go buying it – instead, head to your local newspaper and ask for roll ends. You may have to pay a dollar or two, or they may give it to you for no cost, depending on the paper (mine knows me, and calls me when they have a supply taking up room). But, it serves the purpose, saves more stuff from the landfill, and if you end up with more of the rolls than you know what to do with, the elementary school art teachers, and daycare providers will love you for sharing.

One layer in the bottom of the box, and another layer on top of the tin (or, whatever you need to ship).

And, there you have it – fiber dizzes and threaders, all packed safely in their bubble mailers, and orifice hooks in the box – sealed, labeled, and ready to head to the post office. Postage is purchased online for convenience (make sure you have a good, accurate scale) so that all the PO clerk has to do is scan, and drop the packages in the appropriate bins to start their journey to their respective destinations.

And, now, it's time for me to start my own packing and shipping for the day! But, before I do, there's a situation here that closely resembles this.....

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Almost Spring! That Means The Dreaded Spring-Cleaning!

Yes, it is almost spring! Even though our weather has been a bit strange this year, I'm confident that it will straighten out soon.

We've had snow the past few days - about an inch this morning when I got up and went out to take care of my studio kitties. I didn't shovel, though, because I figured it would melt off by the end of the day, just like it did earlier this week. And, I was right! It's gone for the most part already.

But, in spite of the weird weather, I've been graced with the presence of dozens of birds in my two backyard trees as well as all over the ground - cardinals, robins, cedar waxwings, chickadees, purple finches, and a few juncos. There have even been a couple of downy woodpeckers, and the occasional blue jay - all of these the best indicator of the better weather to come.

This was the best I could do for a photo - the sun was against me, but I did manage to catch a few cedar waxwings early morning:

I particularly enjoy the cardinals - it's said that when they show up, it's a visit from a loved one who has passed. Remembering the joy on my husband's face while sitting in the backyard, watching them, I have to believe they're a visit from him.

Watching these feathered visitors while working on updates makes the time go faster, and updates like these are slightly tedious. Tedious, because Spring Cleaning is in the works (at least as far as the shops are concerned...) Two of my shops have a coupon code just waiting to be used - SpringCleanUp - for 20% off purchases through 3/15/16. That would be and - I'm still adding a few odds and ends to both shops over the next few days, but if there's anything that strikes your fancy, don't wait. Once it's gone, it's gone.

You see, I'm in the process of re-engineering, refocusing, reworking what I do - not so much with the fibers, but with the clay. I'm headed back to stoneware and porcelain for a while, so the spinners' tools you see will be the last until at least the last couple months of the year.

Be well, everyone! Enjoy the day!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

A New Beginning

It's been a long time since I've written anything here – too long. Life has not been kind the last couple years, though, and has taken more of my time and energy than I care to admit.

I had considered just abandoning this blog, and starting a new one on another platform. But it would have meant giving up – I can no longer allow myself to do that. It's time to forge ahead and begin again – a new beginning.

I am a strong woman, but even strong women have their breaking points. I hit that breaking point with the loss of two wonderful men – my husband, and my big brother. And, now, another family member who has been diagnosed with Leukemia, which prompts my request for this favor – take a few moments to look at – it's a database for bone marrow donors.

Sadly, every 3 minutes another person is diagnosed with a blood cancer, but many of those suffering from those cancers have no match for a donor. So, please, if you would take a bit of time and get yourself entered into that database as a bone marrow donor, you could be the cure for someone – maybe not today or a year or two, and it may not be someone you love, but a complete stranger. But, if you're a match now or somewhere down the line, you could be a hero – you could save a life!

I'll leave you with that thought.

'Til next time.