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The catalogs are coming! October 1, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, wit and wisdom.
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What a tempting and terrible time to be a gardener and food lover. Silence Dogood here. It’s that time of year, the time for fall planting, the time leading up to Christmas, the time when garden and food catalogs start filling our mailboxes and e-mail.

White Flower Farm. Logee’s. Horticulture Color Blends. Gethsemani Farms. Cowgirl Creamery. Peony’s Envy. Rare Find Nursery. Yow!!! When I see those gorgeous bulbs, peonies, and shrubs, when I see and read about the flavor of all those fabulous cheeses, well… I just want everything. And I know it’s urgent to plant things as early in fall as possible to give them time to put down a good root system before winter, not to mention that many cheeses are seasonal and sell out quickly. The heat is on! Can you relate?

I’ve always thought it was a cruel trick of fate that spring-flowering bulbs typically need to be planted in autumn. After all, you’re not exactly focused on daffodils and the like when the air is bright and crisp and you’re trying to find pumpkins and mums for fall decorating and enjoying the gorgeous fall leaf display. But worse still, all your own bulbs are long dormant, and you’re all too likely to chop into them while trying to add new bulbs. It’s not fair!!!

Still, I can’t help looking at daffodils and pastel tulip mixes and the like in White Flower Farm’s fall bulb catalog and drooling helplessly, like our black German shepherd, Shiloh, when I’m eating a cheese stick and she desperately wants a piece. (Don’t worry, she always gets the last bite.) I’m dying to order container edibles from Logee’s, like the ‘Day’ avocado and the variegated vanilla orchid (source of vanilla beans). Peonies are my favorite flowers. And checking out the gorgeous, colorful displays of foliage and berries on the shrubs in my area this time of year turns me a brilliant spring green. Why aren’t we growing those?!!

Then, with today’s mail, came the most dreadful blow (at least, as far as our bank account is concerned) of all: White Flower Farm’s Christmas catalog. It’s the first of October, for mercy’s sake, yet here it was, with everything I love in a single catalog.

There were the amaryllis, tempting me with stunning new varieties. I’ll admit, I normally can’t bear the beautiful paperwhites because I find the fragrance overwhelming (where others smell heaven, I smell underlying decay, as with Madonna lilies). But WFF was featuring some yellow-flowered types, and I was very tempted to try them and see if they’re less overpowering. And of course, there was an incredibly alluring assortment of fresh wreaths, table-toppers, door swags, and the like.

But what really killed me was that they’d added artisanal New England cheese assortments (and local maple syrup and artisanal honeys) to their catalog, even the best-looking homemade caramel I’d ever seen. Not to mention luscious citrus, a great assortment including blood oranges, ruby grapefruit, honeybell tangerines, Meyer lemons, and Cara Cara oranges.

Ow! They say the Devil’s in the details, but I think he must be lurking in those photographs and descriptions. My birthday’s coming up. Maybe I’ll just ask our friend Ben for one of each…

‘Til next time,



‘Tis the season to be tempted. November 11, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Our Tasmanian blogging friend Fran (http://theroadtoserendipity.wordpress.com/) reminded me that conspicuous consumption had become the order of the day aound the holidays, and that it behooved us to try to celebrate in a manner befitting the meaning of the season. I hate it that now, the day after Hallowe’en, it’s become the norm for stores to put out the Christmas stuff and completely override Harvest Home and its major festival Thanksgiving, with its dual themes of abundance and gratitude.

But there’s one aspect of the hype and hoopla that I love: The gorgeous gift catalogs our friend Ben and I receive every year around this time. I love to see the food and cooking equipment, the jewelry, the ornaments, the household items (from homespun to sumptuous), the crafts, the museum catalogs with their exquisite cards, the plants and garden supplies, the cookbooks, the travel books—pretty much everything. And of course, I want all this luscious stuff for myself.

Need I say, the holiday season is expensive enough without spending additional money on yourself. So how can you let yourself enjoy the endless temptations of the season without succumbing to them? With catalogs, it’s easy, since it’s not as easy to actually shop as it is in a store or online. I’ve developed a two-step process that allows me to indulge myself while keeping my credit card safely in my purse.

I find catalogs to be perfect bedtime reading: They appeal to the senses while demanding nothing from the mind. This allows me to relax with a tempting catalog and savor every photo and description while keeping my mind from revving (if I start thinking immediately before bed, I often don’t sleep for hours). Then, in the morning, I put the catalog away. And promptly forget about it. I’ve had my fun, indulged in my fantasies, and protected my feeble checking account. Try it, I think you’ll like it!

               ‘Til next time,


Curbing Christmas consumption. December 1, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Buying gifts for other people is one thing. But the aspect of Christmas I most dread is the huge temptation to buy things for myself.

Here’s how it always goes: Let’s say that, like me, you love Christmas ornaments. Now, you already have more lovingly chosen ornaments, family heirlooms, and etc. than you can ever display. You tell yourself, come on, it’s Christmas, so you can buy yourself one new ornament. Then you go shopping. It seems like everywhere you go, at least 50 ornaments are screaming “Buy me! Buy me!” Handmade ornaments. Vintage ornaments. Temptation is everywhere.

Okay, you think, I’ll avoid temptation by limiting my outings as much as possible. But then the Christmas catalogues come piling in the door. Not only are they full of wonderful ornaments, but they virtually explode with gorgeous trees, wreaths, and—my other unfortunate weakness—really stunning Christmas cards.

The two worst offenders in this category are the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Chicago Art Institute catalogues. From cards with exquisite Fra Angelico and Giotto angels to breathtaking photographs to delightful cutouts and whimsical creations, these catalogues offer up the creme de la creme of cards, and I always want at least 20 different boxes from each catalogue. And did I mention catalogues with real glass snow globes, old-time toys, colorful Christmas stockings, and delicious Christmas confections?

Fortunately, I’ve discovered a way to make this particular temptation work for me. I understand that it’s looking at these wonderfully creative expressions of Christmas that cheers me up and puts me in the holiday spirit, not necessarily owning them. So I have a folder labeled “Christmas Ideas.” Every time I see a page in a Christmas catalogue or magazine with something I love on it, I tear it out and put it in the folder. Each season, it’s enormous fun to open the folder and revisit the wonderful delights inside, while, of course, adding new ones.

Why “Christmas Ideas,” you ask? Well, who’s to say that one year I won’t unearth my box of tiny white starfish and sand dollars and make my own “White Christmas” wreath with them, rather than ordering one from a catalogue? And sometimes, you can get a great idea from a catalogue and adapt it to your own decor.

This year, I saw that L.L. Bean was offering a live “tabletop tree” with the ornaments attached to ribbons hanging from a bow at the top of the tree. Since hanging ornaments directly on a small live tree like a Norfolk Island pine or, mercy on us, one of those rosemary topiaries that always seem to be everywhere at Christmas, can potentially damage the plant, this struck me as a brilliant solution. And why not extend it to attaching ornaments to ribbons and stringing them on the mantel, on a chandelier, around a door, or on a banister? It seems like a great way to get to display more of your small ornaments while minimizing the risk of breakage from, say, a cat swiping one off its hook.

My “Christmas Ideas” folder has brought me great enjoyment and really helped curb that “I love this and have to buy it or I won’t remember it” impulse. And guess what? I have a second folder labeled “Christmas Gifts.”

The “Christmas Gifts” folder is designed to foil that other dreaded syndrome, the “one for you and two for me” gift-buying orgy. When I see something in one of those catalogues or magazines I’d just love to have, again, I tear it out and put it in the folder. If I see that I’ve put the same item in the folder for the past several years, I’m likely to give that page to our friend Ben (assuming the item is reasonable) as a subtle hint. Otherwise, I just enjoy my virtual Christmas shopping spree!

I can see expanding the idea so that each family member has his or her own “Christmas Gifts” folder. (As long as they clearly understand that this is a playlist, not a shopping list for you or Santa!) Each season, you could all look through everyone’s folders and get ideas for gifts you know would be appreciated.

These tactics are especially helpful in houses like ours where money is tight and space is limited. Just yesterday, I saw a bumper sticker that said “Question Consumption.” What a good idea! A few simple Christmas folders is a great way to start.

            ‘Til next time,


Catalog season. October 2, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Oh, dear. It’s that time of year. Silence Dogood here, ready and willing to confess one of my greatest weaknesses: holiday-season catalogs. I love reading favorite catalogs to relax at night before falling asleep. And the pre-Christmas season brings a wealth of them to the door here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home our friend Ben and I share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA.

There are the old-time catalogs, from The Vermont Country Store and Lehman’s, full of wooden toys, lotions and potions from the 1800s, candies from the early 1900s, lanterns and woodstoves and warm, woolly nighties. There are the food catalogs, from Gethsemane Farms, featuring the monks’ fabulous fudge, cheese, and fruitcake, from Green Mountain Coffee, and from Pittman & Davis, with their citrus, pecans, and Southern specialties.

Then there are the garden catalogs with their fall specialties, from White Flower Farm and all the bulb companies. There are the wildlife-friendly catalogs, from Duncraft and The National Wildlife Federation. There are specialty catalogs, from Keepsake Quilting, from The Southwest Indian Foundation, featuring Native American crafts and products, from Heifer International, from The Way to Emmaus, from Acorn (that’s the PBS catalog, not the radical organization), and from The Williamsburg Foundation. There are the cooking catalogs, from King Arthur Flour and Gooseberry Patch. There are the special Christmas issues from Plow & Hearth and L.L. Bean and Orvis. And of course, this barely scratches the surface.

I love looking at all these catalogs and fantasizing about what I’d order if my budget and space were unlimited. It’s fun and soothing to enjoy thoughts of all the treats and old-time Christmas traditions and handmade objects I could get. And, though I rarely proceed from fantasy to an actual order, OFB and I do buy many Christmas gifts for our families from catalogs we love and trust, since we’ve previously bought items from them for ourselves.

The “oh, dear” part comes in when I realize that, yet again, I’ve ordered about $5,000 worth of products from a single catalog in my mind. A huge new braided rug for our living room floor to replace the one our black German shepherd Shiloh chewed up. Insulated curtains for the living room windows and sliding deck door. Bazillion new kitchen gadgets. Another woodstove, more bookcases, a hand-operated well pump and clothes washer in case the power goes out, more self-sufficiency books, new cookbooks, a make-your-own laundry detergent kit, a composting toilet.

I guess it’s a blessing that I don’t have the money or the space. I think I’ll order a handmade wooden backscratcher from Lehman’s for OFB for Christmas; I know we’ll both appreciate it. Maybe OFB will order me a pair of fleece-lined slippers, since my toenails have poked through the current pair. And of course we’ll order gifts from Gethsemane for our grateful families as we do every year. Maybe we’ll finally order something for family, friends or each other from The Southwest Indian Foundation catalog (everything in it is so tempting, and proceeds go to an extremely worthy cause).

I still wish I could afford to order more. But I enjoy the catalogs as fantasies, anyway, and for me they’re an important part of the buildup to Christmas. I read them, and I put them in our magazine rack so they’re close at hand. That way, I can tell myself that they’re there in case I decide to order something. All those delightful things—such as the marvelous Christmas cards in the Smithsonian, Chicago Museum of Art, and National Wildlife Federation catalogs—are just waiting for me.

And when another year passes without my ordering so much as a box of cards or a box of bulbs from any of them, I still feel the magic. I still hope they remember us and send us a holiday catalog next year. Those holiday catalogs are the catalyst that puts me in the holiday mood, a mood I sustain from Harvest Home in early fall through Thanksgiving and Christmas. More solid reminders of the holidays will come as the months pass from fall into winter. But meanwhile, bless you, purveyors of dreams and memories. I love you.

                ‘Til next time,