Category Archives: country living

A walk through the yard

After weeks of oppressive heat and no rain, we finally had a few storms blow through here earlier this week.  Not only did the yard and garden receive a beneficial watering, but the temperatures have dropped to actually pleasant for late August.  The windows are flung open and I can’t help but want to play outside.

Chicken in the Woods fungi. Such a beautiful color and shape. This is supposed to be edible but I’m not too fond of wild mushrooms.

This evening the dog and I took a walk around the yard to see what was going on.  The first thing to catch my eye was a spectacular Chicken of the Woods mushroom.  It grows in about the same place every year.  It’s supposed to be edible and is highly sought after, but I’m not much for wild fungi.

Garden sunflowers about a week ago. Some of these beauties were over twelve feet tall!

Sunflowers down after the big storm blew through here earlier this week.

This sunflower seed head is already being harvested by the little critters.

And here are two photos of my giant sunflowers.  One from a week ago.  And the other from a few days ago, after the storm knocked them down. Well, all is not wasted.  Apparently the critters are already feasting on the seeds.  Enough flowers are still standing for the hummingbirds and finches, too.

Wild Joe Pye weed is a perennial which grows throughout the Midwest. The butterflies love it and it’s supposed to have been valued for its medicinal properties by the pioneers.

Our yard is surrounded by fields and woods.  There are banks of Joe Pye weed and Jewel-weed.  So pretty for summer bouquets.

We planted this peach tree over thirty years ago. It blew over many years ago but has managed to survive and even provide some of the sweetest peaches I’ve ever eaten….if I can get to them before the animals do.

And here is an old survivor, a thirty year old peach tree which still produces.

Damage to cedar bench from wood bees (Carpenter bees), and the wood peckers who went after their larvae.

As a little sidebar, I am showing you the damage to the cedar benches we refinished a couple of years ago.  The wood bees (Carpenter bee), digs a hole into the wood and lays her eggs.  This only causes a little round hole but the inside is eaten out like a honeycomb which weakens the wood.  The real damage you see are from the pileated woodpeckers who are going after the larvae.  Gggggggggggrrrrrr.

The last lily of the season. I’ve drawn and painted this one many times.

Here is a photo of the last lily of the summer.  It is a beautiful peach color with a yellow interior.  I’m not sure what variety this is but I have painted it several times over the years.

Beautiful large hosta blooming in late August. Variety Plantaginea Aphrodite.

Finally, these large white hostas (Plantaginea Aphrodite) are just coming out.  They’re the last of my hostas to bloom in the garden.  They have large white bell-shaped flowers and a heavenly perfume.  I especially like the whorls of flowers.  They’re very hardy and need little care.

So, this is just a walk though my little corner of the world.  I hope that you have someplace where you can enjoy a bit of the outdoors, to reflect and just admire.

In every walk in nature, one receives far more than he seeks.

  John Muir

Thick Kale Soup with Smoked Sausage

Thick Kale Soup served with crusty multi-grain bread. Great any time of year.

We often think of soup as being a cold weather food but actually soup is great any time of year.  You can just go “shopping” in your fridge or garden and come up with a variety of tasty and healthy options.  After my recent post of my Corn Chowder recipe, I had a request for the Kale soup recipe.  So here goes.

This soup has been a family favorite for years and we’re likely to make it any time of year.  It is often a little thicker than soup (stewp?) but it is hardy any way you make it.

Ingredients:

·         3 tablespoons olive oil ·         1 large bunch of kale, deveined, chopped
·         1 pound smoked sausage, cut up ·         2 quarts chicken broth
·         1 large onion, chopped ·         2 cans white beans (northern, cannelloni )
·         4-8 cloves of garlic,diced ·         Cracked pepper
·         4 large potatoes, cubed ·         Salt to taste

 

Heat the olive oil in a 6 – 8 quart soup pot.  Add the chopped smoked sausage.  You can use any kind of smoked sausage – regular, light, turkey, or even Polish kielbasa. Stir and brown.

Add the chopped onion and stir until clear.  Add the minced garlic.  Keep stirring so they don’t burn.

Kale soup – Step 1. Brown the cut up sausage, add the onions and garlic.

Meanwhile, wash and strip the tough veins out of the kale.  Rough chop and add to the mixture, stirring until wilted.  Add the chicken broth and cover. Bring to simmer.

Step 2. Add the chopped kale and wilt in pan.

Wash and dice the potatoes.  Sometimes I leave the peel on just for added texture. Add to the pot after it comes to a slow boil.  Cover and bring back to simmer.

Step 3. Add the chicken broth, bring to simmer. Add the cubed potatoes and cover. Cook for 20 minutes.

When the potatoes are cooked (about 15-20 minutes), use an old fashioned potato masher and rough mash them in the pot.  This just helps the soup to thicken.

Then add the two cans of beans (drained).  Frankly, I just use whatever white beans I have available.  I’ve even added butter beans and it works fine.

Add the cracked pepper to taste.  You probably won’t need any salt as the sausage is pretty salty, but suit yourself.

Serve with crusty bread for a filling lunch or dinner.

Corn chowder

Sweet corn, bi-color. Peaches and cream variety.

It’s that time of year for those of us who grow gardens.  The produce is coming in and we have to scurry like squirrels to put it all away.  Fresh green beans and new potatoes.  Juicy sliced tomatoes or sweet cherry tomatoes popping in your mouth.  With the vagaries of the weather this summer – buckets of rain in June and the beginnings of a drought now – I feel lucky to be able to pluck anything at all from the garden.  But we always say that.  Some years it’s too many zucchinis.  This year, none.  I even had to replant the green beans. We can never quite predict what the bounty will be.

With all of these fresh veggies, we’re making soups -vegetable, minestrone, and fresh tomato.  Sometimes Thick Kale soup with smoked sausage. But this morning I picked the first batch of sweet corn.  I think this variety is peaches and cream and it’s so so good.  We’ll put most in the freezer but I made a triple batch of one of our favorite soups, Corn Chowder. I thought I’d share this family favorite recipe with you.  You can use canned corn but fresh is better.

Ingredients

·         ½ pound bacon cut up fine ·         2 cups milk
·         1 small onion, cut fine ·         3 tablespoons cornstarch
·         1 – 2 potatoes, cubed ·         1 ½ teaspoons salt
·         1 cup water or chicken broth (or both) ·         ¼ teaspoon fresh grated black pepper
·         1 ½ cups corn cut fresh off the cob (or canned) ·         Couple of dashes of garlic powder

In a large soup pot (6 -8 quarts or larger if you increase the recipe), saute bacon until soft and half cooked.  Drain the fat. Add chopped onion and stir. Cook until soft.  Add cubed potatoes and stir.  Partially cook (about 5 minutes).  Add water or broth, corn, spices and bring to low boil. Stir in milk.  Bring back to simmer.  Make a slurry of the cornstarch (mix it with a little water), then slowly pour in while stirring.  This will thicken the soup.  Simmer until potatoes are done, adding additional milk or broth to thin. Serves 6 -8.

That’s pretty much it.  You will want to double or triple this recipe because it is sooooo good.  Serve with fresh hearty bread or cornbread.

Mangia!

Summer garden

Giant tomato, Park Whopper My husband ate the entire tomato for lunch. Yummmm.

 

You haven’t heard me bragging about the garden this summer because, well, in a word, it’s been awful.  We usually plant a big garden (25 x 40) and a small spring garden which holds spring crops, such as, lettuce, spinach, kale, peas, etc.

Tomatoes ready for canning.

Everything was looking good before we went out west last month on vacation.  Although we enjoyed wonderful weather on our trip, apparently the Midwest received buckets of rain the entire time.  We returned to a garden full of weeds, at least, that which was not drowned.  I could watch them grow on the deer cam.

Multi-stemmed sunflowers just came out this week. They’re already being eyed by the goldfinches.

Red sunflower being strangled with a morning glory. The bees are loving this.

Then with a couple of weeks of extreme heat, there were some crops that we just gave up on.  The peas blew past, the kale, lettuce and spinach bolted.  The beans, corn, and squash in the big garden looked anemic.

New bean crop. The red line gives you an indication of location.

This past month we have spent hoeing and weeding, feeding and trimming.  Some things we’ve just given up on.  I planted new beans a couple of weeks ago and they’re up now, doing nicely.  The sweet corn has recovered but we’re trying to keep the varmints out of it until we can pick it.  The raccoons have already cleaned out the apple trees and devastated my seckle pear.

Swallowtail on some volunteer flowers.

Butterfly and zinnias

A bouquet of zinnias just for me. I love cut flowers in the garden.

The sunflowers are out, the butterflies are loving the zinnias, and we’ll still probably end up with way too many tomatoes.

Anyway, that’s life in the country.

Do plants move?

This is a follow-up to my post last Wednesday about some spring flowers.  As you can see, more flowers are blooming.

Red Trillium. This lovely wildflower just popped up next to my studio this year. This is the first time in three decades that we have seen this plant here and have no idea how it got there.

Today I had a surprise. As I was doing some mushroom hunting – right next to the house is the best place actually – I discovered this beautiful red trillium.  This is the first time that I’ve ever seen this trillium in this place.  Yes, up in the big woods which is half mile away, but never close to the house.

So my question is this, how did the flower get here?  Were the roots in the ground for decades?  Did some animal move it there?  Sometimes it’s easy to see how plants move from one place to another. (I’ll rant about the Russian Olives that the DNR planted over at the lake which is two miles away and which are now establishing themselves here, but that’s a story for another day.)

From one little patch of flowers, these delicate Virginia Bluebells have now established themselves all over. And I plan to move them into the woods very soon. They die back after blooming to totally disappear until next year.

Here are the Virginia bluebells.  When we moved here, there was only one small patch in front of the house, over fifty yards away. Now they spring up in the most unusual places.  This patch is behind the dog house.  However, they’re so beautiful with their pinky turning to sky blue flowers.  And they totally disappear after blooming until next year.

Columbine is a beautiful, delicate flower which self-propagates through prolific seed production.

These columbine are very prolific.  I planted one plant fifteen years ago.  They have now established in many areas.  Their seed pods practically explode but I really don’t mind these flowers as they are so pretty and delicate.

These beautiful old-stock lilacs were here when we arrived. They were probably shared from someone else’s garden, as we have since shared them with others. That is how old plants moved.

Finally, this is a beautiful old lilac.  I have a few bushes around the yard but have often dug up starts to replant elsewhere.  Today, I noticed one that I had my son plant along the road ten years ago is now blooming next to the mailbox. My son has some starts from the same bush at his home.

Not in bloom now is some golden sedum which has popped up in the most unusual places.  Or the jungle of forsythia bushes which are now also planted along the road. They’ll get a hard pruning when they finish blooming.

So, how do plants move?  Well, obviously humans have some influence, and birds dropping seeds.  But otherwise, I’d like to believe that it’s magic, maybe faeries or garden elves who are just having fun with us.  Hey, it could be true.

Afternoon Shadows – another painting beyond the photograph

Afternoon Shadows, acrylic, original painting, 14 x 18, contemporary impressionism, Kit Miracle

I thought I’d post another painting created from a photograph for my class. This photo was taken of our patio and arbor with the fire pit on sunny autumn afternoon.  I like outdoor scenes with a human element.  This will often include at least some kind of man-made item whether a building, fence post, road or path.  In this case, the setting gives the feeling of comfort and ease.  The chairs, the smoke from the fire, the dappled sun and shade all contribute to the atmosphere.  The turtle sandbox adds a touch of whimsy.

When using a photo as inspiration for a painting, it’s important to remember that it is a tool and a road map.  Take inspiration but don’t be afraid to change things.

Afternoon Shadows, detail 1. Click and enlarge the photos to see the brush strokes. Notice the background tree is just painted with a few strokes. And the smoke is just a glaze on top of the background. See the indication of the sun and shadows on the chair.

In this painting, I was trying to capture the feel of the afternoon sun. The smoke and fire indicates that there could be a chill in the air with a slight breeze.  The location and setting are inviting; it looks as if someone has just left the area.

Afternoon Shadows, detail 2. Zoom in on the vines and leaves to see just how loosely they were painted. The sandbox turtle adds a note of whimsy.

My style is not photo-realist but contemporary impressionist which works well for conveying the feeling of this scene.  The chairs beckon the viewer to sit in the sun or warm themselves by the fire.  Will a child come walking into the area to play in the sandbox? I love paintings that tell a story.

Afternoon shadows, detail 3. Zoom in on the posts and the background trees to see the brushstrokes.

As you can see by the detail images, I use loose strokes to indicate the branches and leaves.  From a distance, the painting appears to be much more detailed than it actually is.  It takes some practice and confidence to make just the right stroke to indicate a branch.  Or, if you make a mistake, just scrape it off and try again.

Afternoon Shadows, original photo. If you compare this photo to the painting, you can see areas that I have emphasized, changed or deemphasized.

Normally I would have painted a scene like this in plein air but I was busy that afternoon and only had time to capture the view with my camera.  That is one of the benefits of using photographs as inspiration.

Afternoon Shadows for sale

Peace is the beauty of life.  It is sunshine. It is the smile of a child, the love of a mother, the joy of a father, the togetherness of a family. It is the advancement of man, the victory of a just cause, the triumph of truth.  Menachem Begin

Spring cleanup

These cheery yellow crocuses are the first to bloom this year. They get extra warmth and shelter near this rock wall.

After what seems like weeks of rain, wind and generally yucky weather (yes, that is an actual meteorological description in the Midwest), we finally had a beautiful sunny and relatively warm day with temps in the 50s.  I couldn’t wait to get outside for a bit.  This is the time of year to clean up all the winter debris.  I know I raked those flower beds so where did all these leaves come from?

This is just a small portion of the area still covered by the chestnut seed hulls. I raked four wheelbarrow loads today and have as much again to rake tomorrow. They didn’t decompose much over the winter.

A big mess in the yard was our last chestnut which we cut down a week ago.  We had already cut down two companions previously.  The Chinese chestnut is a beautifully shaped tree with an umbrella-shaped top, large leaves, beautiful grayish bark and, of course, lots of chestnuts.  These trees were very prolific.  This would not normally be a problem as we have plenty of room – ninety acres, remember – and we have loads of other nut-bearing trees.  Oaks, walnuts, hickory, plus fruit trees.

Chestnut seed hulls remind me of spiny sea urchins. They are very painful to handle or step on. I only use leather gloves to work with them.

However, chestnuts have a seed hull which is very prickly, like a spiny sea urchin.  You can only handle them with leather gloves and they are very painful to step on.  They are also very prolific. When we cut down the first two chestnuts, we thought that we wouldn’t get any more seed pods without the pollinators.  That was a mistaken idea.  As you can see by the debris on the ground, there was still plenty to clean up.

I spent a couple of hours raking and gathered four wheelbarrow loads of hulls.  There is still as much again to do tomorrow.  What I couldn’t rake will eventually decompose but it will probably be a few years before anyone can go barefoot in that part of the yard.

Chestnut woodpile. All of this wood came from one tree.

Chestnut wood is beautiful with a grayish-green color and kind of stripey. It is also very dense and heavy.

It was a beautiful day.  The first crocuses were finally brave enough to pop out.  I even spotted a few spring beauties in bloom.  In about a month, they will carpet the lawn so it looks like snow.

One of my favorite wildflowers and early harbinger of spring. Spring beauties have a delicate pink stripe which can’t be seen in this photo. I’ll try for another shot later.

I sure was ready for lunch and a rest.  And our dog Mikey was ready, too.  Keeping me company and following me around was hard work.

You are like a chestnut burr, prickly outside, but silky-soft within, and a sweet kernel, if one can only get at it.  Love will make you show your heart someday, and then the rough burr will fall off.

Louisa May Alcott

Way the Wind Blows – a quiet painting

Way the Wind Blows, acrylic on wood panel, 8 x 10, original painting, Kit Miracle

With the nasty weather screaming through the Midwest the past couple of weeks, I’ve been surfing through old photos and files for subjects to paint.  I came across some images taken on a visit to New England to visit family.

This is a painting of the cupola on the 200 year old barn at my brother’s home in New England.  Made of red oak, the original timbers inside were marked with Roman numerals for assembly at some time in the past. I was attracted to the late afternoon sun as it caught the weather vane on top.  One wonders at the history this barn has seen in its long existence.  These old buildings always make me reflect on life as it was back then.

Although the subject of the painting is not one of the more complex that I’ve painted, I just enjoy the peace and calm of the scene.  Very plain.  Which just demonstrates that a one doesn’t need a lot going on in a scene to make compelling painting.

Painted on wood panel in a contemporary impressionist style, this small painting will fit in many spaces.

Way the Wind Blows, framed. Sometimes framing a painting makes all the difference.

When the wind is in the east,
It’s good for neither man nor beast.
When the wind is in the north,
The old folk should not venture forth.
When the wind is in the south,
It blows the bait in the fishes’ mouth.
When the wind is in the west,
It is of all the winds the best.

Link to painting on Etsy.  

Beeches – Painting Beyond the Photo

Beech Trees in Winter, snow scene, original painting, 16 x 20, Kit Miracle

Photographs are a wonderful tool for artists and have been used for well over a century.  I’m teaching a class on painting from photographs and wanted to create a demonstration of how a photo can best be used.

I would guess that most artists who paint in a realistic manner use photos at least some of the time.  I know that I have boxes of photos from years past when film was developed.  Now, with digital cameras and phones, we have thousands of images available to us.  Digital photos are also easy to use on a computer and crop or change as needed. I use an old laptop in my studio for this purpose.

For some reason, some artists seem to be ashamed of using photos but I consider them just another tool. I always paint still lifes from real life but might take some photos of flower bouquets to save for future reference.  And I love plein air painting so most of my landscapes are painted from life.  However, I take plenty travel photos for later use.  I also participate in life drawing studios which is great for building hand/eye coordination, but many figure paintings are from photos.  And it goes without saying that I only paint from my own photos; never from commercial or other pictures which could violate copyright laws.

Beeches, original photo. It was too wide for the format I planned to use so I cropped it to a more pleasing composition.

We haven’t had much snow here yet this winter but we had a couple of inches a few weeks ago.  I took the dog for a walk in the woods and the snow made the beeches really stand out.  Beech trees are native to this part of the country but we don’t have many on our property.  They make pretty good firewood and were chopped down long ago (before our time).  However, we’ve noticed a resurgence of beech trees since we moved here over thirty years ago.  They hold their leaves over the winter so the orangey color contrasts nicely with the snow.

Beeches cropped photo.

As you can,  my original photo was wider than the format I chose (16 x 20) so I cropped it to a more interesting composition.  I divided my canvas into thirds each way (nine squares) and drew directly on canvas with a brush loaded with a darkish color.  The canvas had been primed in red.

I usually start with the darks and then add the midtones and then the lights, starting at the top of the canvas.  As I was painting, I realized that the painting was a bit drab with the overcast sky and muted shadows.  Although the beech trees gave it some color, I want to put more oomph into it.

Therefore, I decided to make it a sunny day and added some sunlight streaking in from the right, with a brighter sky and some clouds behind the distant trees.  This defined the path through the woods much better.  I added some sunlight on a few of the trees to bring them out more.  Ah, it’s great to be an artist and to change the world to suit myself!

Beech Trees in Winter, detail 1. This is the road through the woods. I probably made the snow look deeper. And I’ve learned over time that white will often look brighter with a little yellow thrown in than just plain white. It certainly catches that sunlit feel.

Beech Trees in Winter, detail 2

Beech Trees in Winter, detail 3, notice the clouds in the blue sky behind the distant trees

The point here gets back to what I said at the beginning of the post.  A photograph is a tool.  It’s the artist’s job to use what we can, to add more or to change whatever we want.  I certainly think the sunlit painting has much more appeal than the original photo.  What do you think?

Dreaming of Rabbits

Dreaming of Rabbits. Border collie painting, 18 x 24. Acrylic on canvas. Contemporary impressionism. Kit Miracle

This is a rare quiet moment of my dog Mikey.  Anyone who has ever been owned by a border collie knows that they are power plants of energy, always ready for a walk, a ride or a new adventure.  Mikey spends much of his days chasing squirrels, birds, rabbits, anything that moves, really.  Here you see him in one of his other favorite pastimes.  He climbs up onto a patio chair and takes a nap, even if no one else is around.

Artists who paint in a realist fashion are always advised to paint what you know.  This is what I know.  Just a common, everyday scene.

Painted on canvas in a contemporary impressionist style. Check out the muted colors of the shadows and the impatiens flowers.  The lovely, soft colors are so easy to love.

Yes, for sale here:  KitMiracleArt.