Don’t play with the possum…and a Hot Patterns Joyful Top

This little guy is the reason I took my pics inside this morning. What a surprise – I haven’t seen a possum in my yard in probably 14 years. Weston is bordered on 3 sides by the Everglades and natural wetland preserves. So we do get visitors – deer, even an occasional black bear (strange to think of bears in such a hot climate, but Florida is full of them). Also snakes, alligators, iguanas, and, yes, possums.

A couple photos were about as brave as I felt. And he eventually trotted along to my neighbor’s yard. I really hope he finds a more suitable home somewhere else. He was very thin, and I imagine he finds himself in a difficult environment. Unfortunately my neighbor puts out bread (bread! horrible choice) for the ducks, so perhaps he has been hanging out over there. 

On to sewing. I can hardly believe that I made this pattern for the first time way back in February of 2015. In fact I made two – one in black cotton jersey, and a second one in white cotton/rayon jersey. 
BTW, this was a free download from Hot Patterns, but it’s not easy to find it now.  Here’s a link I came across this morning, no idea how long they will make it available.

I’ve worn my tops so much! The black one is just barely hanging in. It’s pretty faded, and it’s more of a PJ top now. And  I recently spilled coffee on the white one, which is my favorite. Sigh. Problem is, the stain will NOT come out. I’ve tried 3 different ways – Oxi Clean, Grandma’s Stain Remover, stain treatment stuff, everything short of bleach (which would probably eat the fabric or turn it yellow). Suggestions?

But all good reason enough to make a new one…

Pants – True Bias Hudson Pants, ITY jersey

The fabric – I love this rampant floral ITY knit, which I found on FabricsUniverse, a great little Etsy shop (not the ‘fancy’ fabric store in L.A). Originally I intended to use it for a maxi dress, to be worn to my grandson’s Grandparents Day program. Well – I did sew it up, and, wow, I was totally drowned by the print. But it is perfect for a top, and the dress gave me ample yardage.

My first post on the Joyful Top has lots of info on the many many changes I made to the original pattern. And I carried those over to this version as well.

E.g., I added 2″ to the front and back skirt (I’m 5’7″), lowered the back yoke by 1″ (the back yoke on the original pattern is incredibly high), and added elbow length sleeves.

And I used self-fabric binding on the neckline, rather than a narrow hem.

The big change for this version is the hemline, which I changed to have a true hi-lo look. The original pattern appears to be hi-lo, but in reality the difference between the front and back hems is only 1″.

On my previous versions, I evened out the hemline by lowering the front by 1″. But here I’ve lowered the back by about 4″.  Because I’m really smitten with hi-low hemlines this year.

ITY can be uncooperative when it comes to sewing details, and I’ve found that no two ITY fabrics are alike. IMHO, the trick is to start with lots of tests on scraps, on every machine that will be used, to get a feel for the fabric. Cuts down on frustration, wad, unwad, ‘get out the ripper’ time…

A couple sewing notes on this version:  My hems are very narrow, but they were pretty easy to do – I simply serged the edges and used 1/4″ Steam-a-Seam to help me turn and stitch them.

I treated the sleeve hems a little differently, because they’re right up there at eye-level – finish is important. I serged the edges, turned them up about 3/4″, basted them in place, and finished with two rows of topstitching. No Steam-a-seam needed here.

No way was I going to try for a narrow hem on the flounce. I have my loony moments, but this was not one of them 🙂 Jersey doesn’t run, so the flounce edges are unfinished.

This turned out to be a cute top. Pink is in, and I really enjoy wearing it.

Parting shot: Mr. Fish is now 2 weeks old. Gosh, he was so unwell when I brought him home (who wouldn’t be, having lived in a little plastic cup at the pet store). He spent most of his time lying on a leaf, not eating much at all. But two days ago, he woke up in fine fiddle and is doing great now, swimming around and enjoying himself. He’s very social – I just read that fish actually recognize faces. Cute boy…

It’s almost the weekend, I hope yours is nice and enjoyable. Ciao! Coco

Puttering around…

It’s a bright sunny day – the rain clouds are gathering for our afternoon showers, but right now it’s beautiful outside. And it’s Saturday. Even though I’m retired, weekends still have that ‘oh, it’s the weekend’ feeling.

This morning I visited the pet store and brought home a companion. Meet Henry Thomas Fish, Mr. Fish for short. Or Henry. He’s a crown-tail betta, and he seems very happy in his new digs. I love bettas, they’re very social and good pets 🙂

Henry’s bowl is actually the vase from my Mother’s Day orchid gift from David. Sweet son – he’s been gifting me with orchids for my birthday and Mother’s Day for years. And he gets me orchid plants, not the blossoms. This vase held two plants with about 30 blooms. Wowser.

And this morning I potted them. Under all that lovely composition in the vase, orchid plants from a florist are usually crammed into a plastic pot or bag, with their roots wrapped around and stuffed with sphagnum moss.  And they’ll be very wet, in the interest of maintaining the bloom, not the plant. But all that wetness will rot the plant pretty quickly.

So – out of the vase, and time for a clean and trim.

I pulled out all that wet moss and released the roots. Can you believe all of these roots were in that little plastic container?!

Next, I pruned all the dead/rotting roots.

And here’s this baby being potted…

My favorite orchid potting mix – it’s fir bark, charcoal, and coarse perlite (not those pesky perlite beads you see in potting soil). Although it can be used for almost all types of orchids, I use a mix without the perlite for anything outside. In a pinch, one could pick out the perlite! 

While I was at it, I re-potted my other two porch orchids, and now all of them are resting on the bench while they acclimate. 
These are phalaenopsis orchids, which do well in pots and love a north exposure, either inside or on a porch. They don’t grow well in the trees because they don’t like water in their crowns. In the wild, they actually grow with their leaves pointing down or sideways. A tough lesson – I lost a couple, thinking I could grow them outside with my vandas and cattleyas.
I also took on a little maintenance work in the loft this afternoon – I think of this as ‘call back’ sewing. I needed to run triple-zigzag stitching around the waistbands of 5 pairs of pull-on pants, to keep the elastic from rolling. And add buttons on the front so I stop putting them on backwards! 
Parting shot: Zebra butterflies roosting in the guava tree ahead of a rainstorm on Thursday. By the time the rain came, there were about fifty zebras in these low-hanging branches. Lovely and a little rare – they usually shelter higher up in the tree.
Bye for now! Coco

It’s a jungle out there…




Freak out! I was sitting on my porch with a cup of coffee earlier today, gazing across the garden – and noticed something strange about one of the plants near the porch door. It kind of looked like a leaf on this samosa euphorbia was rolled inwards. Upon inspection – the biggest, fattest, and most unusual caterpillar I’ve had in this garden!

This fella, apparently intent on eating the whole thing, is the larvae of  erinnyis ello – the Ello Sphinx Moth.

Fully mature, he has a wing span of 2 15/16 to 3 5/16 inches. I’ve seen only one sphinx moth in this garden, years ago and at night. I’m really careful not to put caterpillar host plants in my garden – they’re just too destructive. Nothing I have is a particular lure for this moth. However – this is Florida, he has lots to eat elsewhere in the neighborhood, and he found his way here. I inspected all my plants and found no siblings…and I’m thinking of pulling up my neighbor’s poinsettia plants one dark night. This moth loves them.

The black spot on his back is a fake eye that he flashes to intimidate predators such as myself.  With the eye and the markings on his head and back, he tries to look like a small cobra!

That’s my hand behind him. Big big bug.

So, back in the safety of the house, I’ve been working on a new knitting project – I’m making socks! The caterpillar might not intimidate me, but double point knitting needles sure do.  But so many people make such beautiful and funky socks. I need some.

A little research on Ravelry, and  I found ‘Marie’s Basic Sock Pattern’ – perfect for a beginner. And check it out! It’s so easy to please me…I like this awful yarn 🙂


I just don’t think this caterpillar has redeeming qualities, but I admit I enjoyed reading about him.


Ciao! Coco

Unexpected day with Mother Nature

Sunday morning, about 9:00, I was on YouTube, listening to Andrea Bocelli singing the Lord’s Prayer at the Pope’s mass in Washington. His voice is so beautiful. Luciano Pavarotti is my favorite tenor ever, but Bocelli is a very close second.

And I heard someone else singing in my backyard! It was Khalid, my handyman. When I went out to the back garden, he said he had noticed that my sabal palm (which is about 30′ high, happy, and growing) had a very large skirt of dead fronds, so he had come ’round back to trim them.

He pointed out the incredible dates on the Alexander palm behind the back fence, the picture above. Weston has loads of these palms along street medians, and this time of year they fruit with abandon. The city does trim these heavy fruit peduncles, so I was happy to get a pic before that happened.

He also cut about 200 pounds of peduncles off the Chinese fan palms in my front garden. The birds and squirrels love these fruits – they turn purple and soft. Good stuff. Last year, for the first time, I let those palms fruit without any trimming. And I (and probably my neighbors) ended up with hundreds of sprouted palms in the front beds. Hundreds! This year I left just a couple bunches, because I do like to feed the fauna.

I get very itchy when anyone is working around the house, so I wandered around and took some pics. There’s always something going on…

This little orchid finally bloomed! It was part of a very large specimen that has bloomed like crazy for years, all year long. But last summer I separated it into two baskets. It’s sister has bloomed ever since, this is the first time that this piece has bloomed since separation. I feel so much better now.

My other ever-blooming orchid put out 2 blooms a couple days ago, and they are both open now. This orchid is getting very large, but its basket is still intact. Eventually these orchid baskets rot out, and the orchids demand repotting…

Ok, here’s a newbie for me. We are in the middle of our rainy season, and I mean rain. Everyday downpour. And I always get mushrooms this time of year. But this year, I have a new mushroom! Crazy!

Mushrooms are one-day wonders, so I was really lucky to get this pic. These were about 3″ across, just beautiful. I did some research: they’re not poisonous, but are considered inedible, firbrous and stringy. But they were used by native Americans to treat various complaints, and there’s even some folklore around their meaning and significance. So, meet Geastrum saccatum, aka the rounded earthstar.

Interesting day, to be topped off by the harvest moon lunar eclipse. I gave some thought to whether I would go outside and take photos. I admit to being really intimidated by our mosquito population this rainy season. But what the hay – I put a citronella bracelet (really, they’re made by OFF) on each arm and went outside. The forecast was for clouds. What luck.

To stand outside and watch this happen is incredible. I took about 50 photos, but was distracted the whole time by just being there and experiencing the really obvious track of the eclipse.

I did go back out to see if the moon turned red – but no. And I tucked myself into a shower and bed.

The end of a very nice day – Coco

Rainy days, wet paint, and books…

This pic of Mr. Toad is from September a year ago – he’s still around, along will some new family… 

It’s early, cozy, dark (I usually get up somewhere between 4 and 6, my favorite hours), and I just read Theresa’s blog post on the joy of books read and listed to be read. And I’m with her. I love books, and I have strong feelings about having them in my house with me.

I have bookshelves all over my house. Travel journals, non-fiction, fiction, biographies, history, gardening, sewing, art, mathematics, science. Three versions of the Bible. A good atlas, various encyclopediasand dictionaries in 4 languages. Surrounded by books, and I feel so fortunate.

When I was approaching retirement, I thought a lot about living on a reduced and fixed income. Not being able to buy something just because I wanted it. Contemplating my exit strategy, I decided to build my library of books and films that I enjoy over and over again, while I had the flexibility to do it.

A ‘sport’ fern in a Chinese fan palm in the front garden

It took a while and was very enjoyable. Any favorites I had on my Nook, I bought for my library. Films – I got the complete Sopranos, Northern Exposure, and Seinfeld, and many movies I had on my DVR. And paid a bundle for a couple movies that are only in VHS format ( A New Leaf, with Walter Matthau and Elaine May, and The Tango Lesson, produced by and featuring Sally Potter and exquisite tango artists in Europe and Argentina). And I ordered The Coronation, narrated by Robert Powell – Queen Elizabeth’s coronation day. Beautiful old film content. I remember the day I ran home from kindergarten to watch this real princess story on our neighbor’s TV.

My most-read books…
The Shipping News
John le Carre, Paul Theroux, Patrick O’Brien, and Graham Greene.

Recently read – A Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry, and The Plantagenets, by Dan Jones,

Would you like a Chinese fan palm? The date nuts are germinating everywhere…

And reading now – In the Kingdom of Ice, The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette, by Hampton Sides, who also wrote Ghost Soldiers, and Stilwell and The American Experience in China 1911-45, by Barbara Tuchman. I just brought home my father’s collection of Winston Churchill’s books, and I’m reading Tuchman’s book, which was also in his library, as my prologue – it’s a fascinating viewpoint of the World Wars.

Other things happening here…it’s wet! We’re having the wettest rainy season I can remember in all my years in Florida. Rain every single day. Awesome thunder. My Livingstone Daisy, which is a succulent, is turning to slime. The snails are fat. Mushrooms are cropping up on the ground and on the palm trunks. The birds are so happy, they sing all day. Their world is one big bird bath!

Sprouted mahoganies…sometimes I pull them up by the handful.

Let’s not talk about mosquitoes. Or the ants that want to come in and park their umbrellas (unsuccessfully – I figured out ants a long time ago. Knock on wood).

When I came to Florida in 1978, my realtor told me, ‘Quit looking at the yard, look at the house. Everything grows in Florida”. So true!

This branch in the guava, a big one, was lopped a month ago. I had no idea it would regrow!
I’ve been chasing this philodendrum tripartitum off my coconut palm for years. Now I’ve decided to let it grow. I hope to get a vanilla orchid when I’m in Ft. Myers in October, to plant on the Washingtonia palm in the corner of the back garden. Sometimes the Edison House nursery has them for sale. They have beautiful, huge specimens growing on palms on the  property.

As long as I’m indoors, I got crazy and decided to do some painting. From yesterday…
Before – the foyer, Ralph Lauren French Quarter terracotta.
The color has gotten very pink over 14 years on the wall.

New! This ‘olive-khaki’ is ‘Collectible’, from the Behr Marquee collection.

Same paint on the base of the counter separating the living – kitchen areas. The color shows better with more light on it. This was previously French Quarter terracotta as well.

Today’s project (and then I will put away my brush for a while), the entryway to the garage. At least I got it prepped yesterday.

I’ve been writing for 2 hours! I need more coffee. 
Bye for now – Coco