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Latest: Like driving a pitchfork into a wasps' nest

[The front beds are even more
bare]This is one of those "about time" projects. We've been removing and cutting back the over-grown shrubs since we moved in, and last year bit the bullet to have a crew out for a couple days to pull all sorts of things from the front yard. (They said they'd cut back the hedge along the road and the rhododendrons, but then wimped out with the excuse that everthing might die -- like I care.) Now Jake and I are planting new shrubs (shrubs bought with an eye to final height, and bloom time), and I'll be calling another tree service to trim everthing along the road, and remove a few things missed last year.

[We are ready to garden!]The last two years I've wanted to get into the garden and get any work done, but unless Jorj would watch Jake for an afternoon or an hour, it was very hard. Now Jake wants to plant seeds, or weed, or ride his tricycle or kick a ball, and can play for fifteen minutes without me -- long enough to get a plant in the ground or some weeds out. Jorj and Jake have had some Daddy time as I've dug out the pricker vines that colonized the front bed in the last two years.

The back beds are looking pretty good. I went a little crazy at Bowman's Hill Wildlife Preserve and bought native, shade-loving perennials. They're coming back as is a bleeding heart I'd thought I'd killed. The back beds should be filled out by Mother's Day.

I just need to get the front beds ready for M-Day.

The past two weekends we had the annual dumpster in the driveway. All the building debris from the kitchen went in, along with branches felled by storms, a dead wheelbarrow, and patio furniture that didn't survive the last eleven years.

[His great-grandmother would be proud
of both of us.]The remaining agenda includes mulching the beds, re-planting any seeds as needed, planting the perennials on order, possibly digging out some ivy and pachysandra, fertilizing, and buying a patio table so that we have somewhere to sit on M-Day. And water the hanging basket this year so that I don't kill it.

April 29: Mulch

Meh, half-mulch. You try to mulch and watch a toddler who thinks the giant hill off chipped holly and mountain laurel is his own private Everest. Jorj and I traded watching Jake and getting stuff done Saturday. All plans for finishing the mulching during Sunday's nap came to naught when we (probably) overstayed our welcome at Nate's first birthday party. I'll try to move a bucket or two to various naked beds every evening this week. This should co-incide with Jake's desire to ride his tricycle as often as possible, and to try to ride Mt. Mulch.

Some of the beds I mulched very lightly, because the lavender seeds we planted might be germinating. Or it's the usual weeds. I could spend hours every day yanking out maple and rose of sharon saplings; half an hour picking up the bags and cans thrown from car windows.

In the shot to the left, you see the front bed (opposite view of the first shot on this page) before mulching. The yew bushes from the older photo left last year (and made their own contrbution to Mt. Mulch). One of the privet bushes chopped down in 2003 before that shot has come back (those things do not die), and got a rough and severe trim a few weeks ago. The bulbs came up but have been dead-headed, the annual in the hanging pot nearly dried out (hey, the weather report was rain every day last week) but recovered in Friday's storm, and the Scotch broom shows signs of blooming by Memorial Day.

I have a fantasy of digging out the pachysandra before M-Day, but realistically the deadline will be Labor Day.

May 4: Planties!

(Jorj moved us to new servers, and I'm using vi, not vim, so bear with me.) The planties have arrived. Well, all but the peony. Tomorrow I will buy composted manure and peat moss (for that well-drained look), then furiously dig and plant while Jake naps. And then I will finish mulching.

These are shrubs for the front beds: mock orange, peony, lilac, rose (yes, what was I thinking?), clematis, and two things I don't remember, but have blue flowers and grow to 3 to 4 feet tall.

I was very careful with the plant heights (unlike the previous owner of the house). No more shrubs taller than my second storey; everything I bought is 8 feet or shorter, most under 4 feet. Everything blooms (white, blue or purple; Jake complained of the dearth of yellow flowers today, and no he did not say "dearth") because I paid a lot of money last year to have the big lumps of green removed.

Tonight I also ordered bulbs for fall planting, along with a dog's tooth violet. We had seen them in Greene Lane Park, and this was ... more civilized ... than stealing from the park.

Tomorrow I order a patio set that is not outrageously expensive, cheaply made, traditionally styled or likely to fall apart in our yard's entropy well. Tobi doesn't think the chairs look "comfy"; he can sit on the grass. (And you may think that is outrageously expensive, but wait until you've priced teak. Had a lead on Craigslist for a used table/chairs/umbrella, but we didn't move fast enough. Everything else is plastic or expensive, even used, and just not my style.)

And I did not kill the hanging basket. With some water, it was rejuvenated.

May 5: Planting!

Jake and I planted all but Jorj's fern (back yard, not on deadline), one of the smaller, blue-flowering shrubs (there's a stump in the way) and the peony (not arrived). We stared with a trip to wonderful Primex, which was packed by 10:30 (I thought we were "early") with everyone getting a jump on the first planting date (May 15, but I'm on deadline), and taking advantage of their "10% off to customers wearing hats" Kentucky Derby Day promotion. Jake always wears a hat. Anyhow, 30 pounds of fertilizers later, Jake was ready for a playground, then lunch, then a nap, and I could get started.

I spent two hours digging holes. Digging giant holes and amending them with compost, lime and dried manure. Digging holes and sawing out roots from the ancient shrubs removed last fall. Digging holes and finding small Kewpie dolls. Two hours digging holes. (Amazingly, I had compost. I haven't found a good composting spot. Compost piles are supposed to "cook". Mine just wilts and grows pumpkins.)

When he woke up, I was removing pachysandra (want some?). It was so thick, I could cut it (barely) with pruning shears and roll it up.

Then Jake and I got to put plants in the holes, move the dirt back into the holes (joy!), water the plants (more joy!), and clean up (less joy).

Tomorrow: mulch. And photos. I did take photos.

May 12: Wheelbarrows and lawnmowers

Jorj gave me my Mother's Day present early: a new wheelbarrow to replace the cheapo-Home Depot wheelbarrow that flatted out (don't carry more than 40 pounds in one of those) then rotted out, and finally made its way to the dumpster we rented this year. I'm very excited. The past weeks' mulching required carrying the mulch by the recycling-bin-ful across the yard — I'd practically worn a path in the front yard.

He and Jake bought the wheelbarrow while I was mowing the yard, planting the last of the mail-order perennials, and cleaning the house (starting with the kitchen, of course). Normally, Jorj mows the lawn, but I knew that was unlikely, and with Jake not napping today (!), it was also impossible. I managed to recover from the popped sparkplug, but eventually the thing just would not run cleanly, and sputtered and coughed along. Jorj tried to fix it, and wound up finishing the last bit by the driveway. The yard looks good, although we were the last to mow and the grass (weeds) were eight inches tall.

The new mock orange has bloomed, as has last year's Scotch broom. The Scotch broom is yellow, so Jake is happy.

May 31: The saga of the table and chairs

As you remember, I ordered the only remotely affordable patio table and chairs I'd ever liked from Smith and Hawken, plus a $75 cover so that it wouldn't fall apart in the next decade. The chairs would ship immediately, but the table was not expected to ship until June 22nd (now listed as August 24th on the web site). Although I'd wanted the table for Mother's Day, Steve's birthday at the latest, I could live with it arriving by July 4th.

Wednesday, May 16, I received notice that all three items had shipped. Great. I forsaw a long and tedious battle over a "shipped" table that never arrived. The items were coming Fed Ex Ground, but I couldn't track my order without creating an account at Smith and Hawken to get the FedEx tracking number. As Gena would say, bastards.

I wound up working from home the next Monday and Tuesday, and met Jorj at Target Wednesday and went out to dinner. Of course, when we returned home Wednesday, there was a note that they'd tried to deliver (at 6:30 p.m.! we would have been home!) two packages, one very large. No further instructions. Did I need to sign? Thursday night, the cover arrived, but no second box. I call. The truck with the very large second box had problems, and made no deliveries. Why both boxes were on the same truck Wednesday and not Thursday, I leave up to the reader. Friday, I find this in front of my door:

And this is what I found inside:

At first, I thought my glasses were crooked, that the parallelogram that the seat had become was merely an optical illusion. No dice. As you can see in the close up, the box took a whack hard enough to push at least that one chair nearly two inches out of true. Just looking at the box, one wonders whether the damage was from forklifts or baseball bats. Say what you want about how unsafe Philly is, but the box has been safer sitting on my front porch for the last week than in FedEx's possession.

Next day I arranged to return all four. Without unpacking (not likely as I was returning them), further damage couldn't be detected, but I wasn't taking that chance. With help from this web page that tells you how to get a human on the phone, I got a real person on the phone at Smith and Hawken (a very nice, very competent person), and arranged to send them back. He arranged to cross-ship the new chairs. A few days later, the old new, broken chairs moved from the entrance to the doorstep, where they've sat — safely — for a week and a half. Sigh.

The new new chairs arrived the afternoon we put the old new chairs out (so, yes, FedEx was here dropping off the new box, and ignoring the old), and the new chairs were significantly less damaged. Not undamaged; Jorj bent one of the chair legs back that was off kilter. The leg was off kilter enough to look fine when we unpacked, but not when one looked at it for a bit.

Friday, the table arrived. One month before the ship date (now into August). There was much joy. Saturday morning Jorj put it together, and Omi and Opa came for lunch. It was the best meal all year: Leberkäse from Rieker's, rye bread, salad. Jake was thrilled to see Omi and Opa, as always. Sunny but cool under the maples. After lunch we called Ernst and Heide.

Sunday morning we had breakfast on the patio; it was the second best meal of the year.

We buy so much stuff we think we need: stuff our friends have, stuff in glossy magazine articles, stuff in tv shows and movies. Stuff we think we should have to do the things we think we should do. Stuff we think will make the other stuff easier. Stuff that everyone seems to be buying. Stuff to replace other stuff. Stuff to make dreams come true. Lots and lots of stuff. As you know, I reached stuff saturation long ago, but I still want more stuff.

Some of the urge to stuff is sane, particularly when I'm staring at my closet and realize I have no short-sleeve shirts that are not cute little Halloween-themed things from Target or shirts from high school when I was "punk." Some is marketing manipulation, like when I'm standing in Target and why I had to stop buying home magazines. Some of it is fantasy, like wanting a "Professional" six-quart mixer, because I bake so much (once a week is not that much, ask my grandma). Some of it is nostalgia.

Last summer, with Buchmanns and in Oberensingen, we'd eaten nearly every meal outside (even in the rain). It was glorious. It was gemütlichkeit. I wanted that feeling again. The options were: fly to Germany with a toddler, buy a table to replace the one that disintegrated in the weather. As much as I want to spend the rest of my life popping in and out of Frankfurt International, buying a table seemed the better long-term solution. But did I want to spend the money? Was it worth spending that much money? Could I spend half the money and be just as happy? Could I spend a tenth of the money and still have a table in two years? Could I live with something funky? Could I live with something traditional? Could I live with the same thing that everyone else in America has bought?

I bit the bullet and found something that seemed outrageously expensive, but apparently isn't, is funky and not what anyone else I know has. I did try Craig's list, but couldn't find anything that wasn't what everyone else had, or what everyone else had ten years ago, or what everyone else had fifty years ago. And if I'm getting what everyone else has (or had), I wanted super cheap and weather proof. But why? All I really needed was a place to sit and eat. Would it make me that much happier to have something unusual? Salzers have the same benches they had thirty years ago. Buchmanns have white plastic (exactly what we had/have).

Well, yes. Having lived with rooms that resembled white boxes, I know I'm much happier with my dark red living room, green entrance and grey dining room. Jake's cobalt blue wall with yellow constellations (Tower of Pisa! pentagon!) has provided (literally) hours of interest. The next ten years won't be spent thinking, "when this patio set dies, I'll get what I really want."

Now I'll spend the summer breakfasting outside and grilling with friends, and will have no time to shop or even want to shop.


June 5: Chainsaw gardening

This is the scene that greeted me as I biked home. Looks like someone was gardening with a chainsaw ... and a bucket truck.

We had the rhododendrons cut in three feet and cut down to six feet. The privet hedge was cut down to two and a half feet. The yews around the patio (see photos from breakfast with the new table, above) are completely gone. Now comes raking the leaves I could never get to, cutting back the rhododendrons a bit more to shape them, and maybe shaping the privet too. I'm pretty happy; the rhodies and the privet were the big items that last year's contractor bailed out on doing. We've cut away so much that the previous owners had planted. Some of it's gone: all the bushes against the house, an evergreen growing into the phone lines, all but one yew, all but one rose of sharon, all the miscellaneous shrubs along the road. Some of it is (relatively) short: rhodies privet hedge, one shrub near the house (it was cut to the ground and returned).

It wasn't all good. I found an abandonded robin's nest in the rhodies. I knew birds were nesting, but I'd hoped it was much further back. Also, the back patio has NO sense of privacy, and I'm very unhappy about that, but plan to deal with it next year, or the year after.

More photos!

Photo in process from Jorj's cell phone.

June 13: Entropy

Tomorrow we're all staying home to visit Jake's new school, and we explained to him that we'll eat breakfast together, then play Go Fish, then visit the new school. His first question?

"We eat outside?"

So what if he's not sleeping through the night! He knows that breakfast at home in summertime means eating outside.

Two graduation parties this weekend, one to bake for. That leaves just Sunday morning to get some weeding done so that I can see my plants again. That should be very satisfying. And some trimming, because we can't have good lines of sight onto Church Road in both directions, can we? Good rain and sun have made the weeds and the last remaining rose of sharon very happy.

Otherwise, much the same: my peony hasn't yet arrived from White Flower Farm; Fed Ex hasn't picked up the damaged chairs; both power lawnmowers are still not working right (Jorj fixed one problem, and has found others); the field mice have had babies (we saw the babies Sunday when Jo-Ann and Elliot were here); the storms knocked some branches into the yard.

June 18: Maintenance

Had enough time to battle back the entropy this weekend, raking up the leaves under the now-gone yews, watering, and weeding the front beds. My shoulders are stiff and sun burnt, and it feels good.

We have purple martins living in the rhododendrons and volunteer tomato plants.

June 23: Wanna see my oozing sores?

Tuesday I took 15 minutes to trim back some brush that was blocking the line of sight to pull onto Church Road (in the other direction). I wore gloves! And short sleeves. I trimmed bushes and yanked out tall weeds, then started yanking down a vine growing up the untility pole, before noticing it had three leaves. Then I "rushed" Jake into the house (he was standing a few yards away from the road and me, eating a banana) and washed my arms. It seems washing with soap and water is not the correct treatment. Sigh. Anyhow, big blisters the next day. By Friday I had a couple of patches of raw skin on my right inner wrist, and bumps on my upper inner left bicep. Scott lent me his tube of Zanfel, which claims to bind with the urushiol and wash it away. Scott called it a miracle, and my skin does look better, but I'm still oozing all the time.

My gardening gloves are still unwashed, so I'd better get a preventative.

In other news, I discovered a seventh volunteer tomato plant, which will go to our neighbors, who lost all of their seedlings in a lack of water accident. They don't like to talk about it.

And more weeding.

Aug 11: Like stepping into a wasp's nest

Actually, it was more like driving a pitchfork into a wasps' nest in the mulch pile. Which is what I did.

So, instead of working in the garden, I sit here with four dollops of baking soda mixed with water and tell you how the garden grows.

I've made pesto from the basil, and grilled cheese with home-grown tomatoes, and sauted some chicken with the thyme. Every Saturday Jake and I fill the bird feeder, then watch the birds, squirrels and chipmunks all weekend. FedEx finally took the damaged chairs.

Jake helped me mulch one of the newly de-pacysandra'd beds last weekend. We erected his play house in the front yard, and he sat in it and drank a juice box and ate blueberries while I loaded the mulch. We'd dump it out and rake it together. Then he'd ride back to his house in the wheelbarrow. He wanted to help today, but with a trip to the barber and the need for lunch and a nap, I'd done all of it myself. Thank goodness.

After two stings under my shirt on my side and a sting on my arm, I realized what had happened, and ran into the house. When I got stung in the house on my hand, I looked down and saw three of the busters crawling up my shirt. I tore the shirt off in a frenzy, threw it, my glasses and my gardening hat on the ground, and jumped up and down on my shirt. Then I took a Benadryl. Then I booted my computer to Google "hornet first aid." (I'd not noticed the wasp waist, and thought they were hornets, until I later found the one that stung my hand crawling up the bay window.)

Don't miss other exciting homeowner adventures!

Gut it and go: kitchen renovation 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 ... | New Wall for the Kitchen 2003 | The Tour du Paint 2003 | Bitty Baby Blue | Stairs To Nowhere: An On-going Saga