Friday, April 18, 2014

Dogwood Winter? Redbud Winter? Blackberry Winter?

Whichever of the Southern late-Spring cold snaps fits in this case, it hit and we all groused.  But first, we reveled in the warmth.  A week ago, I headed downtown to sit in the shade, have a glass of cool white wine and people-watch.  At the table next to me, a group of 20-somethings chatted with each other and snarked about the poor souls who hadn't yet packed away their coats.  The ring leader laughed and exclaimed, "Ha! Look at that guy in the puffy vest! What's WRONG with him?"  As if it were a moral failing on his part. When the talk turned to their own clothes, I snickered a little at her story of defending the "romper" she said she was wearing.  I was sorely tempted to turn to her and explain that it is a far more egregious fashion sin for alleged adults to wear clothing designed for toddlers than clothing designed for cold weather.
With the temperatures climbing up into the 80's last weekend, I stopped on my way home from hiking and spent a happy half hour washing and vacuuming out my car.
And because it was just too pretty to be inside, I followed up the hike with an afternoon walk out at the lake.  According to my fitbit, I logged 21,538 steps that day and climbed the equivalent of 125 floors.
Which made relaxing on the porch that evening with a sandwich and a cold beer that much sweeter.
When I went into town for a walk Sunday, I knew the forecast was predicting a temperature drop the next night.  I even had the foresight to drape the budding azaleas and tender annuals in towels and sheets before I went to bed. But still, I didn't expect to find myself on Tuesday interrupting a patient's story by suddenly blurting out, "It's snowing!"  She turned to look out the window behind her and said, "Oh. My. God. It's APRIL!"  It's almost as though we forget every year that we get brief relapses into winter before summer is well and truly here.  Two chilly days later, and now we're out again in short sleeves and congratulating ourselves on temperatures being back in the 70's as they should be.  Because Southerners?  We're spoiled.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

It was mostly the Spring wildflowers we'd gone to see.

Among others, we saw sweet white trillium, just starting to bloom, on the hike.
The umbrella-like Mayapples have their tiny hidden fruits.
The delicate sharp-lobed hepatica.  I think.
Pennywort. I have no idea why it's called that.
Trillium luteum, or yellow trillium, with a lemony scent.
Bloodroot, which produces the tissue-destroying toxin sanguinarine.
Trout lilies.  The petals fold back as they bloom.
And the trout lily's shadow cousin, the anti-trout lily.
And the star of our hike, a hillside absolutely covered in stunning bluebells.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Hike to Whiteoak Sink

I met up with a hiking group yesterday to hike in the Smokies (which is generally referred to as simply "the Park" around here).  We were headed to Whiteoak Sink, a fenster, or geologic window from one layer of rock to another.  First up through farmland bordering the Park.
And down a long wooded trail to the sink.  I was told these partridge berries, the fruit of an evergreen groundcover, were edible so I tried a couple.  They were faintly sweet.  The man leading the hike described them as "trail nibbles."
Rainbow Waterfall disappears into a cave then becomes an underground creek that emerges at another waterfall.  Behind the water is a horizontal divide arch which we were told is part of the Great Smoky Mountain thrust fault line.
We passed a couple of bat caves on the hike.  One of them (not this one) had a barred entrance to keep people from entering.  The vast majority of Indiana Vats hibernate in just nine caves, so their home is protected.  It lived up to its name - Blowhole Cave - because when you stood in front of it a steady stream of 56-degree air hit you.  Which was pretty pleasant as the temperature was in the mid-70's even up in the mountains.
We hiked on for a while, past a couple of wild hog traps.  They've become a bit of a nuisance, as they are not native to the area but escaped from a private game preserve in the Nantahela's back in the 1940's.  Their rooting damages the wildflowers and other plants and there has been an ongoing effort to remove them from the Park.
This time of year the wildflowers are everywhere.  Sometimes, they appear as a blankeyt of color from a distance, like these wild phlox.
The deciduous trees have yet to fill in, so the rock formations are more visible than they will be later in the year.
At times, the trail was so covered with blowdown from recent storms that it took a serious effort to continue.  This for instance? Yep, that's a trail.  It involved climbing over tree trunks and through branches.
Finally we made our way back to the farmhouse and then down the long trail to the parking area.  In all we hiked about 9 miles, some of it fairly steep.  My fitbit tells me I climbed the equivalent of 125 floors.  Friendly people, gorgeous scenery, perfect weather and exercise that doesn't feel like exercise.  Gets my vote.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Women's group.

So I've joined a women's group.  There are twelve of us plus a facilitator, and we meet every other week for a year.  It's sort of about spirituality, but also just about community.  I thought it would be good for me to do something social that wasn't remotely related to dating.  On our last session we were sent out on a nature walk and told to bring back something from nature that spoke to us. I ended up collecting small flowers, both cultivated (forsythia, blossoms from some sort of fruit tree) and weeds (wild violets, dandelion) and binding them together with a grassy weed.
Everything went together on a table after we'd each talked about the meaning our particular offering had for us.  Mine had to do with bringing together the disparate parts of my life and my self, and valuing all those parts. We've met four times so far, each meeting focused on a different theme.  It's a nice group of women in a range of ages - the youngest in their late 20's, the oldest about 70.
Another meeting, we talked about the Celtic goddess Brigid, who was co-opted by the Catholic church as a saint.  Her symbol was a snake and one interpretation of the story of St. Patrick driving the snakes from Ireland is that it represents the Church driving away goddess worship in Ireland. During this get-together, we made St. Brigid's crosses, choosing the center piece ourselves.  Originally, the straw crosses were placed above doorway for protection.  I made mine carefully, wanting it to be perfect.  In the discussion that followed, someone (not me, I promise!) brought up the issue of clutter and trying to reduce the amount of stuff they owned.  I thought about how everyone always says I could be a professional organizer and how much easier it is to see other people's possessions without sentimentality.  And just like that, this object because clutter.  It had meaning, to be sure, but I didn't need it. A quick photo for the memory and it went into the get-rid of pile, without a backward glance.  Whenever I find myself in a new home, I suspect there will be an even more serious purge occurring.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The uglier side of living in a warm, humid area.

Bugs.  They love the same weather I do.  Mostly bugs don't bother me and I can co-exist with spiders and bees and such.  But I have grown to loathe the brown marmorated stinkbug.  Apparently they hitched a ride in shipping crates from either China or Japan and landed in Allentown, PA back in 1998. The little fuckers have been migrating outward from there and have become a real problem here the last few years.  Especially after a warm winter a couple of years ago allowed them to produce an extra couple of generations.  Even setting aside the fact that they are a terrible agricultural pest, I'd hate them for their smell.  It's like having many tiny skunks living in your house.   And they fly wildly around, sometimes crashing into or landing on you.  I've tried vacuuming them  up, but then they release their smell in the vacuum.  Now whenever I put in a new bag, I burn some paper and vacuum up the ashes to provide a little charcoal-like absorbant.  Flushing them wastes water and catching them in a plastic bag and tossing them in the trash creeps me out.
I have no mercy on the foul creatures.  As soon as I see them, they're on borrowed time.  After a dramatic increase with the warming weather, I got fed up.  I was collecting so many that I never got to sit down for more than a few minutes at a time - one would buzz by or my son would call out, "Mom!  There's another one on my leg!" One night there were about 50 of them. I had to do something. They seem to concentrate in the den, which is the warmest room in the house with windows on three sides, and outside door, and a chimney - all entry points.  I got on-line and started doing some research and then headed to the store to see which of the non-toxic solutions I might try.
Here's what I'm trying:  I've stuffed citrus-scented dryer sheets behind the wood stove fireplace insert, because I suspected they might be coming in through the chimney.  And I combined two other remedies - I've made a mix of water, clear dish detergent, and wintergreen ispropyl alcohol and I spray it around all the windows, the chimney and door.  And you know what?  Three days later I only have to dispose of a few a day.  Just two yesterday, in fact.  Who knew stinkbugs could be repelled by things that have a strong but significantly more pleasant smell than they do?

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Taking a break from all that work.

I'm tired of working on the house and tired of even talking about the house.  So I've spent the weekend mostly relaxing with my son (who is currently standing in the yard playing his fiddle).  I went for long walks both yesterday and today, an activity I'd let slide in favor of getting the house ready to go.  I've also done some cooking, watched a really good movie ("The Scapegoat," about a man who meets his doppelgänger), read a novel.
The only yard work I've done was uprooting a few dandelions. Mostly I've strolled around the yard thinking about whether I'll be able to harvest some of the bulbs of my favorite spring flowers.  Like these tulips, which started blooming a few days ago. And the pink-centered daffodils I posted earlier.  I'll leave most, but I'd also like to take a few with me since they are hard to find.
But mostly I'm just enjoying the increasingly green landscape and the sun shining through petals. It's such a wonderful time of year.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The push to get ready to list by April.

Over the last week and a half, I've spent every spare minute trying to finish off the projects in the house.  After I'd cleaned up the deck, the peeling iron railing became painfully obvious to me.  Along with the iron posts on the screened porch, the area under the deck, and the front steps.  I bought a wire brush attachment for the drill to get as much of the flaking paint as I could and then re-paint.  You probably have never heard anyone use the curse "stupid fucking curlicues," but you would have if you'd been there when I was working on the posts with curving metal parts.  But hours and hours later I was done.
How's that for neat?  Since I won't be planting herbs here this year, I removed all those pots and packed them away, just leaving a couple for basil and parsley.
See those curlicues  on the post in the corner?  Yeah, there were five of those posts to scrape and paint.  I repainted the furniture, too. Fortunately the hostas are coming up in the planter boxes to add a little life.  I think the screened porch is one of the nicest features. There are woods on two sides, a nice tile floor and hardwood ceiling. And I added a really cool fan out there when I moved in.
I also cleaned out the entire garage and basement.  It's not glamorous, but there is all kinds of space.  A hoarder would have a field day with this basement.  Around the corner there is a cement platform with even more storage and when I remodeled, I put all the old kitchen cabinets in the basement for yet more storage.  Through that doorway at the end,
is a room we call the game room.  Right now I have the bikes stashed in it.  But again, storage.
And then on into a bomb shelter.  The original owners in a fit of cold war paranoia built it. A cement ceiling, thick support beams, walls a couple of feet thick, running water, a sump pump, and a built in wall safe.  And bizarrely, a window.  Go figure. I guess you could watch the mushroom cloud from it.  I painted it to look cheerier and to take away some of the duck-and-cover feel to the barren gray room.  And storage possibilties?  Oh, yeah.
On to the living space of the house.  Here, the freshly de-cluttered den.  I removed the bookshelf behind the couch that held games and books and also took away the two spare dining room chairs that lived there so the path to the porch door is unobstructed.
Both bedrooms are now a neutral color instead of the greens the boys picked out when we moved in.  I left minimal art up - just enough to make it look spare but not empty.
Same color in this bedroom, which belongs to my younger son.  I can't clear it completely because he still has to live in it.
My room is also de-cluttered.  I took down the carved gourd mini lights I had strung along the ceiling.  I love them, but my taste is admittedly quirky.I'm told that the idea is for people to be able to walk in and envision their own things in the house.
The main bathroom can't be changed much.  But I did repaint it to make it a little fresher.  I'm hoping there will be folks out there who like the tiling I did.
There wasn't much to do in the kitchen except clean. This is a room I keep pretty decluttered anyway.
Except you see that empty space at the end where the chairs are?  I was reading an article about what conveys with a house which said that anything that might be in dispute - i.e., something which is not actually attached but might reasonably be assumed to go with the house - should be removed before anyone sees the house.  When I remodeled the kitchen, I also had a matching island built with a granite top.  I love that table - it's the perfect thing for working bread dough, phyllo pastry or making cheese.  So out it went.  I stashed the slab of granite under my son's bed (after dropping it on my thigh and leaving a great bruise) and have the table loaded in the car to take to storage.
And finally the living room and dining room.  I took out the book case behind the table and also stowed away a couple of chairs. And all the books not boxed up are on the one remaining bookshelf at the end of the living room.
I met with a realtor yesterday evening.  After touring the house he said it was "neat as a pin and in showable condition today."  No recommendations for changing anything.  So now I wait.