Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Lavender Wand Tutorial

The lavender is blooming now and I thought I'd share how to make lavender wands. I like to put them in drawers, or amongst the linens, or give them as gifts.

First you select an odd number of long, straight stems. Make sure the flowers haven't been rained on or sprinkled lately. I have 19 stems here. Then you strip off the leaves and any little buds and you lay them out to wilt for about an hour because you want the stems to bend without breaking.

Then you go get your ribbon. I keep mine in this CUTE little silverware caddy that I picked up at a yard sale for $1. It's just perfect for the rolls of ribbon, some scissors, discarded buds, and the finished wands. Select ribbon that is 1/8" to 1/4" wide. I've made them with tiny ribbon and it takes forever. The 3/16" seems about perfect.

Gather the stems together and tie them tightly with the ribbon just below the flowers. Use a square knot and leave a tail about 12" long. Just leave the other end connected to the roll.

Now turn it upside down and start bending the stems down over the flowers. As I was doing this one, I counted and I had 20 stems. Dang! I just cut one off and poked the flower down into the others. I try to make a neat circle of stems at the top, but it doesn't always look perfect.

Now find the long end of the ribbon; the one connected to the roll. Pull it out between two stems and start weaving it over and under the stems. I work from left to right and hold the wand in my left hand. The first go-round will be confusing because the stems you go under will tend to wander around and abandon their positions, but just keep a firm grip on the wand with your left hand and things should be ok. The tail of the ribbon should stay inside the stems with the flowers.

Here's what it looks like after going around twice. The ribbon should be pushed up and pulled tight as you go. At this point I'll start pulling tighter so it comes together better. Just keep going around and around, keeping the ribbon flat and maintaining the over-under pattern.

Here's what it looks like about half way done.

As the bulk of the flowers lessens, the stems tend to curve in and make it difficult to find the proper stem to go under. I use my thumbs to pick it up, then hold it up with my left thumb, and pull the ribbon down and under with my right hand.

When the stems are tight against each other and there are no more flowers to encase, cut the ribbon off the roll leaving about 8". Find the tail; it should be about the same length. Wrap the two ends twice around the stems going in opposite directions. Then tie another square knot and a bow. Trim the ends evenly and it's done. And all those little buds that fell off when you were working? Just gather them up and save them like I do for sachets.

I do hope you try this and enjoy making them as much as I do. I takes about an hour to complete one, but it's wonderfully relaxing, weaving in and out and smelling the lavender here Amongst The Oaks.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


Teen2 and I have been working on a costume for FanimeCon for months. It's Princess Agitha from the Legend of Zelda. Agitha sends Link out to collect golden bugs for her, and in return she gives him Rupees. So her costume is all about bugs and all girly. Quite a change for Teen2, as she is usually not girly.

She made all the jewelry from Sculpy clay. She made the wings with fabric, wire and felt pens. She trimmed her long hair and made the bangs which attached to her headband. She ordered rubber ears online and painted them to match her skintone. A lot of the characters had pointy ears, in fact, I've never seen so many pointy rubber ears in my life!

It turned out quite nice and she was the only Princess Agitha there. We saw many amazing costumes and she got to meet her hero; Pikmin Link! It was a good day out.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Mr. & Mrs. Phoebe

Remember my new neighbors, Mr. & Mrs. Phoebe? I bought them this house warming gift at a yard sale for only $10. I thought they needed a closer water source and they do seem to enjoy it. Then around April 15th I couldn't resist any longer and I took this blurry photo of their nest. How exciting! Five eggs.

About 2weeks ago I noticed tiny egg shells on my front porch, so I thought maybe the baby phoebes had hatched. I sneaked out with the ladder and mirror again and I could see four little mouths waiting for a snack. Over the past weeks we have observed the parents sticking close, tending to their little family.

They usually perch on these plant brackets on either side of the front entry.

Sometimes we will see them in the bird bath.
Sometimes we see them picking bugs off the house, or swooping low over the lawn to catch bugs.

And sometimes they even sit together on a bracket bragging about how cute and smart their children are.
And you know, they're right! Their kids are pretty cute even though they're bald.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Elderflower Cordial

It's been hot, hot, hot here lately. I'm looking out on my fried roses right now wondering what happened to spring. Usually it doesn't get this hot until July, but I hear we have some cooler weather headed our way. Thank goodness!

This heat reminds me of the summer of 2006 when we were in Cornwall and Devon. They were suffering through a hot spell and their gardens were wilted just like mine is now. One day after visiting Eden Center and sweating our way through the bio domes, I returned to the cousins' home "wrung out". Dear Ann knew just what I needed: an elderflower cordial. I'd never even heard of one, but I took her advice and it was wonderful.

So after cutting all that wood the other day, I found my treasured bottle that Ann had given me and had one. It was just as wonderful as I'd remembered. Cold and refreshing on the top, slightly sweet in the middle, and deliciously tasty and aromatic at the end. "Ideal to quench the thirst after a hard day's work." Thanks Ann, and Chuck too. Now if I can just find an online source, I'll be a happy little woodcutter.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Fun Amongst The Oaks

I'm telling you, it's nothing but fun here Amongst The Oaks. Friday night whilst eating dinner, we heard an ominous ripping sound and looked out the kitchen window just in time to see a large branch falling from our neighbor's oak tree. It landed in our driveway with a crunch and a thud as we stared at each other wide eyed. We ran out to discover that it had glanced off their roof and the fence, bounced off Teen2's window sill and wall, and luckily caused little damage. But it was almost dark and too late to do anything about it.

Saturday morning I got out there with loppers and a pruning saw and started to clean up the mess. The Lord of the Manor had shoulder surgery not long ago and isn't really supposed to do heavy work yet. We don't have a chain saw at home and we couldn't get out of the driveway because of the mess, so what else could we do?

So I worked and worked with my little saw, and we ended up with all this fire wood. We can use it to cook chickens next summer. And if you believe shouldn't! Actually we dragged the two largest logs back to the patio and the Lord of the Manor drove down to the shop and got a power saw to cut them up.

Here's the damage. This dent on the window sill and some scrapes on the wall.
And this cracked area on the stucco down by the foundation.
And here's the stub left on the tree. The branch was about 9" across. These valley oaks sometimes drop limbs in the fall when they are heavy with acorns, or in the summer if they are over-watered, but we've never seen one fall in May on an un-irrigated tree. I hope this is a fluke.

Well that's all the crazy news from here *literally* Amongst The Oaks.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

What's Blooming

Since my front garden is much sunnier than my back garden, that's where I have most of my flowers. Here is a view of the front border; carnations, bellflowers, roses, valerian.

In the shady beds by the house I have peonies.

Here is another rose by the sidewalk. Its name is Passionate Kisses. Isn't it a beauty?

I also have lots of bell flowers.

And today I discovered the first fuchsias.

One of my favorite things about gardening is scented flowers. I try to have something scented blooming all year round. My May-June scented plant is Star Jasmine. We have a long wall of it along the driveway and it perfumes the whole garden here Amongst The Oaks.

Friday, May 16, 2008

How to Spin a Chicken

Someone asked about cooking in our outdoor fireplace and I promised to show how we cook chickens. First we build a big fire with hardwood. Then we clean the chickens and stuff them with lemons, salt, pepper, sage and rosemary. We grow those in our garden so they are always available and fresh. Then we truss the chickens and leave about three feet of twine at their feet. Salt and pepper them real good at this point.

The Lord of the Manor made a quickie steel framework that sits on the hearth. We tie the twine to that and sit it on the hearth. Since the chickens drip a lot during cooking we always put an old pan underneath them.

Then we just sit out there socializing and spinning the chickens every few minutes. If you wind them up good they spin for quite a while. We cook them this way for one and a half hours. This is what they look like when they're done. They are so yummy with their crispy skin and herb flavoring. I kind of feel like a pioneer woman cooking this way.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


I've been reading Michael Pollan's book In Defense of Food. Here is his basic premise: Eat humble (non-processed) foods without additives or preservatives. Eat mainly vegetables. And not too much.
He also says we shouldn't eat anything with more than five ingredients and we shouldn't eat food with ingredients we can't pronounce. Hmmmm. That pretty well eliminates this bread I've been eating for 30 years.

Because it's got more than five ingredients and has some I can't pronounce.

So whilst shopping with these ideas floating through my head I picked up some whole wheat flour and yeast. Way back in the dark ages when we lived on our boat and couldn't get good bread I used to make our bread. I remembered that it wasn't difficult but just required a little baby sitting. I dug around in the recipe box and actually found my old recipe card.

So I whipped up a batch and set it to rise.

Wow, look at that! I guess I kind of forgot to check on it. But no big deal, I just punched it down, divided it into three loaves, kneaded and shaped two loaves and plopped them into the pans.

Then I took one loaf and stretched it out flat, covered it with cinnamon and brown sugar and rolled it up before putting it in the pan.

After another rising and baking look what we ended up with. I'd almost forgotten how much fun it is to make bread. Now, does it have five, six, or seven ingredients? I know you have to count whole wheat flour, salt and oil, but do you count the honey and molasses as one or two, and do you count the yeast and water?

However you count it, I'm sure it's better for us than the other stuff. And it's delicious too.