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My Pandemic Tree

On March 16, 2020, the governor of our state issued orders to help curb the Corona-19 virus. In compliance with those orders and in the interest of the well-being of our staff and customers, I closed the brick and mortar portion of our business and went strictly to online sales. This was also two months to the day since my husband passed away.

I took a walk around my yard that day, noticing the signs of the rebirth of spring. It was a beautiful, sunny day. The hellebores were in full bloom, daffodil buds were beginning to open, and it was a good time to reflect on what was going on around me.






As I was walking up the steps to my kitchen door, a plant, right under the bay window and near the bird feeder, caught the corner of my eye. It looked like a large weed. I went back down the steps prepared to pull it up and stopped myself. If it was a weed, it was a rather more important weed. The stem was quite strong and the leaves quite large. It was about 10 inches high. We feed the birds shelled sunflower seeds and I wondered if one of those seeds had sprouted. I decided not to pull it up and see what would happen.


Young tree


The plant proceeded to grow at least a foot every three weeks. By mid-June it was four feet tall.  I still thought it might be a sunflower and what a nice treat that would be for the birds once it flowered. Also, about that same time, I spotted this newly born fawn camouflaged amongst my pachysandra. I sent the photo to my grandchildren and my daughter wrote back “It won’t be so cute when it is big enough to start eating your perennials.”



On July 16, exactly four months from when I first saw the plant, it was now taller than me and halfway up my bay window. I now determined for sure that it was definitely not a sunflower. I made up my mind that it had to be Jack’s Bean Stalk, reaching up to the clouds.



Also, the fawn was now definitely big enough to enjoy my plants.



By August 16th the “bean stalk” was almost up to the gutters and the leaves were so huge some of them were as much as 25” across.



I decided to get serious and see what on earth it was. I followed my granddaughter’s advice. “Just ask Google. Google knows everything.” And sure enough, according to Wikipedia:

“Paulownia tomentosa, common names princess tree, empress tree, or foxglove-tree, is a deciduous tree in the family Paulowniaceae, native to central and western China. Wikipedia”.

The tree been used for centuries for medicinal, ornamental and timber uses. It was imported to Europe in the mid 1800’s and shortly thereafter introduced to the Eastern United States.

In April or May the tree sends out beautiful purple foxglove-like fragrant flowers.

I did a little sleuthing and discovered that a neighboring farm has for years been planting the trees as a crop. I guess one of the birds at my feeder also visited the farm and brought a seed to plant in my garden.

By September 16, it was reaching towards the chimney and by October 16 it was literally at the chimney.



Now, the middle of November, my pandemic tree is rather sad looking, having dropped all its leaves. It is as though it is crying for all those lost in this “lost year.”

Paulownia Pandemic tree will be moving soon to a location where the fast-growing roots won’t destroy the foundation of our house and where it will have plenty of room to grow to its eventual height of 50-70 feet.



As I watch it go into its dormancy stage, it brings me hope that this “lost year” will be in the past and that when my tree awakens in the early spring, the world will also begin a rebirth and that we will get our lives back to some kind of normalcy in 2021.

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Never Too Old for a New Experience

I sat down this morning to write a blog about another of the projects I designed using my new mini-stripe fabric…the Route 7 Table Runner.  The pattern is a free download and features five different colorways. It is interesting to note that all the strips, including the ones with the mini-stripe are all exactly the same width. The illusion because of the stripe just makes it seem more complex and narrower.



However, just as I sat down, the tree service people arrived.  They were going to do some pruning of some large trees and the removal of a dead one.



Now, I have to backtrack. I spent a couple of hours yesterday picking cherries. Last year a late frost zapped the blossoms on our trees and we had no cherries. This year we have literally thousands. Several years ago when we planted the four small cherry trees, it was so easy to pick the fruit. I had no idea, though, that they would grow so tall. Now, the only cherries I can reach are the ones on the lower branches.

So when I looked out the window this morning as tree service trucks were arriving I spied the bucket truck. I had to do some quick talking, but they finally agreed that they would let me “borrow” their bucket. It was actually kind of fun and I was able to get into the heart of the tree and get all those luscious cherries.  I picked on only one side of one tree and had more than 35 pounds of cherries!





The only difficulty I had was getting in and out of the bucket.

I’ll be spending the rest of my day pitting, freezing, making jam and looking for other ways to use the cherries. One of my favorites is to make blueberry/cherry pie. The blueberries are so sweet that less sugar is used. The flavor of the cherries still comes through and you only have to pit half as many cherries!



I like to make several pie fillings and freeze them for use later. I line a pie pan with foil or Saran Wrap, put the pie filling directly into the lined pan and freeze it. Once it is frozen I wrap it up and slip it into a freezer bag. When I want to make a pie all I have to do is make a crust, insert the frozen pie filling into the crust and bake!

Blueberry Cherry Pie Recipe

Pastry for two-crust pie 9” pie
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
2 cups fresh blueberries
2 cups fresh, pitted cherries
2 Tablespoons butter or margarine
Heat oven to 425° and prepare pastry.

Mix flour and sugar. In a separate bowl, mix berries and cherries together and sprinkle the flour/sugar mixture over fruit. Mix gently. Put fruit mixture in pastry lined pie pan, dot with butter and add the top crust.  Cut slits in the top. Cover the edge of the crust with a 2 or 3 inch wide piece of aluminum foil.

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes. Remove the aluminum foil for the last 15 minutes of baking.

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Nepal, the Himalayas and…Jicama?

I am traveling this week and wrote part of this blog before I left.  I e-mailed my staff this morning to tell them that Nepal is just as wonderful today as it was 48 years ago when I first came.

I arrived early for the tour with two friends, Sandi and Carole, and we took a side trip to Pokhara. Sandi Goldman is a wonderful photographer and I will be sharing some of her pictures with you throughout the trip. The Himalayas are spectacular and our hotel has a magnificent view.


View from Nepal Hotel


What could be better than sitting on top of the world, watching the sunrise…and keeping tabs on the Washington Nationals’ playoff game? Well, actually, it would have been better if the Nats had managed to win the game against the Dodgers.


Nepal sunrise
Watching the sunrise over the Annapurna range in Pokhara, Nepal, and keeping track of the baseball playoffs.


Napal and the Nats



If you are a follower of my blog you know that I often write about my garden. The only vegetables left for harvesting are peppers, a few cucumbers, some early fall lettuce, beets and my new favorite, jicama. I have eaten jicama in salads and love it, but never used it myself and didn’t even know what it looked like. But I saw some seeds in a catalog, ordered them and planted them. The package said they would mature in 150 days. I actually forgot about them. They are a root vegetable. When I finally dug one out a week or so ago I was shocked at the size. I never imagined they were so large. But what to do with it? Since I had had it in salads, I decided to make my own version of “Garden Salad”.


Photo by Gary Stevens
Photo by Gary Stevens


I cut one of the beets into slivers, added a sliced cucumber, a cut up red bell pepper, and sliced jicama. To my garden mix, I added a sliced Honey Crisp apple and some sliced hearts of palm. I mixed those all up and added two tablespoons of my favorite store-bought dressing, “Brianna’s Poppy Seed Dressing.” I tossed everything together and let it marinate for about an hour and at the last minute tossed in a little Romaine lettuce from the garden. It was so delicious. You should give it a try for a different salad.

Here is a link to a great article on jicama. Give jicama a try. You’ll love it.

Oops, I forgot the sweet potatoes. Maybe I should have found them sooner.



Jinny with Sweet Potato


Big Sweet Potato
Ever see a 14 inch sweet potato? Here it is.


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The Not-So-Lazy Days of Summer

It is hard to believe it is almost the middle of August. I stay close to home this time of year to tend the garden, harvest the produce and catch up on projects.

Always during this time I am designing and making our quilt for the annual shop hop in our area, “Quilter’s Quest”. Each of the 10 shops designs a quilt based on fabric swatches that are collected during the Quest. Participants can pick up the free patterns at each of the stores.


2016 Quilters' Quest Colors
2016 Quilters’ Quest Colors


I’m piecing our quilt by hand, although it is very conducive to machine piecing as all of the seams are straight lines with no set-in parts. I get most of my work done while watching the Washington Nationals baseball games. I finally finished all the blocks and am giving you a sneak preview here. I’ll have the top finished soon.


Partial Blocks


We had our shop hop meeting at the Studio this week and we are gearing up for this special event. In case you want to leave the driving to us, all shops still have space available on their buses including two buses from the Studio.

The Quest newsletter goes out the middle of each month from now through November. Be sure to sign up for it for the latest information and to get the free patterns for our Quest Mystery Quilt. Here are the first two blocks.


Quest Mystery Blocks


The patterns are only available through the newsletter. Shops have fabric kits for the fabrics they are using in their version of the mystery quilt. You can sign up for the Quest newsletter here.

The vegetable garden is consuming quite a bit of my time. I have never had so many cucumbers. I am constantly begging people to take some. I take them to the shop and when a customer comes in I tell them “Congratulations! You have just won a door prize.” I was not able to get to the garden last Friday and, by skipping just that one day, some of the cucumbers and zucchini got out of hand. I loaded up bags and took them as well as tomatoes and basil to the shop.


BIG Veggies


My favorite cucumber is a Japanese variety called Palace King. No matter how large they get, they still stay crispy and taste fantastic. The one in the photo is by far the biggest I have had. It measured 23”! The zucchini is 22”.

So, what do you do with all of that zucchini? One of my employees took one home and made delicious zucchini bread. I asked for the recipe. I hardly ever do a recipe exactly how it is given so I altered it a bit. I am on a self-imposed low cholesterol diet. I would rather regulate my cholesterol with diet instead of pills. So for this recipe I used 6 egg whites instead of 3 whole eggs. I used a half cup less sugar (and substituted brown sugar for the white).  I thought cranberries would be a nice addition. I always like to sprinkle lemon/sugar zest on the top of the batter before baking so I included that as well. I served this at the Quest meeting the other day and everyone wanted the recipe, so I am giving it here for you as well.

Happy summer!


No Cholesterol, Low Fat Zucchini Bread

Makes 2 loaves


  • Butter and flour for preparing baking pans
  • 3 cups unbleached flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 3½ cups grated zucchini (you can use as little as 2 cups and as much as 4)
  • 6 egg whites (After doing a price comparison on eggs vs. egg whites in a carton, I found that for $2.99 I could get a dozen eggs. For the same amount of egg whites I could get from that dozen it was more than twice the price. So I’d rather discard the yolks or save and microwave them to add to the dog food.)
  • ½ cup applesauce
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 ¾ cup brown sugar
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ cups coarsely chopped pecans
  • 1 ½ cups dried cranberries
  • 3 Tablespoons Smart Balance (similar to margarine)
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar
  • grated rind of 1 large lemon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter and lightly flour two 8”x4” loaf pans.

1. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg. Stir gently to combine.

2. Shred zucchini, lightly packing it down as you measure it.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer beat egg whites, applesauce, oil, sugar and vanilla extract. Mix very well. (You don’t want to over beat quick breads after the soda and baking powder are added, but since this is just the liquid part, and especially with the egg whites I think it helped to add air to the batter.)

4. Slowly add the dry ingredients (about ⅓ at a time) mixing as you go – then beat well to fully combine.

5. With a rubber scraper or wooden spoon, stir the shredded zucchini, cranberries and nuts into the batter and mix well.

6. Pour half of the batter into each prepared pan.

7. Melt the Smart Balance and brush on the top of each loaf.

8. Mix the sugar and grated lemon rind together and sprinkle on top of each loaf.

9. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. (The bake time will vary depending on how much shredded zucchini you add to the batter.)

Remove from the pans and cool on wire racks.

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Summer Stuff

We are in the middle of the Row by Row summer long shop hop. It has been such fun to meet the people from places far and wide who are participating. We had been anxiously anticipating a winner of the finished quilt made up of this years’ rows and were surprised that it was taking so long. But on Saturday we finally had a winner. Sheila Cooke of Burke, Virginia came in with her quilt that will hold lots of memories for her. She collected rows while she and her son drove to Colorado to visit her daughter and her quilt includes rows from Virginia, Maryland, Ohio and Colorado.


row by row winner

Speaking of shop hops, all of the shops involved in the Maryland/Virginia Quilters’ Quest shop hop have been busily preparing for our event in November. At our last meeting we traded fabric squares that participants will collect from each shop and now we are all designing and sewing our individual quilts that contain those fabrics. Everyone who comes to the Quest during our 10-day marathon will receive a free pattern for that shop’s quilt.




I have planned the design for our quilt and cut it out and have started sewing. On Sunday, I planned my day out. First I would go for a walk, read the paper and cut more pieces for our Quest quilt. Then while I watched the afternoon Washington Nationals baseball game I was going to sew some of the pieces together. After that, my plan was to make bread and butter pickles.

Well, the baseball game went into 18 innings. I kept sewing and sewing and sewing until almost all the pieces I cut were sewn. By the time the game was over it was time for dinner and there was no time to make pickles.


Sewing Accomplished


Early Monday morning I went to the garden to pick the cucumbers and was overwhelmed! The cucumbers liked the weekend rain we had and had virtually increased tenfold from what I had seen on Friday.  Fortunately, my onions were ready to harvest so I could use those for the pickles as well.






I spent Monday making not just one batch of pickles but several, and I gave out cucumbers to friends and neighbors. By the way, the recipe I use is one that came from my mother-in-law and is an old Farm Journal recipe from the 1930’s. See below if you want to try. They are delicious!



Bread and Butter Pickles
4 quarts thinly sliced pickling cucumbers (if I don’t have enough I use the long English style)
2 quarts thinly sliced onions
1/2 cup canning salt (I use kosher when I can’t find the canning)
1 quart 5% acid strength vinegar
4 cups sugar
2 tbsp. mustard seeds
1 tbsp. celery seeds
1 tbsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground turmeric
1/2 tsp. white pepper
Layer cucumber slices and salt in large pottery crock or bowl. Cover with ice cubes and let stand in refrigerator for three hours. Drain well.
Combine vinegar, sugar, mustard seed, celery seed, ginger, turmeric and pepper in large kettle and bring to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes. Add cucumbers and onions and bring back to a full boil.
Pack into 8 sterilized pint jars, filling to within 1/4″ of the top. Wipe rims and add lids.
Process in boiling water bath for 15 minutes.
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What Creature Is It?

Sometimes I just have to share with you some of what goes on in my life. Right now my vegetable garden is flourishing and for several weeks we have been harvesting the early vegetables…small tomatoes are forming, corn is about three feet high and new potatoes greet our dinner table almost every night.




Along with the garden come the creatures that enjoy the warm months as well. The gold fish in our little pond made it through the cold winter and are growing by leaps and bounds. Some will even come and eat food right from my fingers. The male gold finches have shed their dull winter feathers and replaced them with bright gold. Fireflies are out and baby fawns stick close to their mothers.


Groundhog- 2


All of this I see every year. But I saw something the other day that I have never seen before. My quirky dog, Luke, who likes to play with anything that moves (balls, frogs, snakes, squirrels, you name it) was frantically barking at something in the tree. I walked closer and did a double take. Was that a bear cub? It was chubby, very furry, had arms wrapped around the trunk of the tree and was holding on for dear life. I realized it was not a bear, so what was it? I got Luke in the house and watched as the creature backed down and lumbered towards its hole under the barn. Of course, as soon as I saw his head I realized it was a ground hog. That was something new for me. I never knew groundhogs could or would climb trees.


Groundhog- 3


I did a quick search on the internet and discovered that “Groundhogs can easily climb trees to get away from predators.” So, if you wonder what odd thing is in your tree, you might just have a groundhog!


Groundhog- 4


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Oh Deer Me!

HostasWell, this isn’t about quilts. It is about gardening. It is that time of year when I look at my vegetable garden and see the kale, spinach, lettuce and onions coming along. I also look with optimism at my flower gardens. I see the beginnings of the hostas and perennials and think that maybe just maybe this year the deer will leave them alone.

I have tried all sorts of remedies to keep the deer away from my plants. I don’t have to worry about the vegetable garden because it is fenced, but everything else is fair game. Two years ago I got Luke, a new yellow lab.  He seemed to be quite the hunter and I was greatly encouraged when he would chase the deer out of our yard. However, that fun didn’t last long. Now all the deer are his buddies and they hang out together.

Malorganite (an organic fertilizer) works really well as a repellent. It is granular and can be sprinkled around the plants that the deer like to eat. The deer don’t like the smell and stay away. The problem is that both Luke and my other lab, Gus, love the smell and like to eat it, so I can’t use it anymore.

Deer1Last year, I tried a remedy that I read about and put Bounce dryer sheets all around. The deer really stayed away, but the problem was that the sheets have to be replaced periodically and I missed my window of opportunity when one morning I awoke and all the hostas were gone. I had become too lax and hadn’t replaced the Bounce sheets soon enough.

A couple of months from now I hope all my plants will be flourishing…….I’m trying something new!

Deer2This year I’m trying a concoction of Bounty fabric softener mixed with ammonia. I’m spraying a little of this around the plants day and night. I’m also putting the Bounce sheets around. So far, so good, but it is really too soon to tell. I’ll keep you posted because I’m sure I’m not the only one with this problem.

Do you have a remedy to keep deer away from your plants? If so, I’d love to hear about it.