Sunday, April 23, 2017

On the trail.

See those pink lines in the right lane? Our city has thirteen designated Dogwood Trails, which are open every April. One of them runs through our neighborhood. It also happens to run along one of our frequent walking routes.
Around the corner from us, one family has put in a labyrinth marked by stones which they keep open to the public. When we go by, we often take a few minutes to walk it. I really love that feeling of quietly centering down.
On our last visit, we were surprised to find our cat already there. Hodr got up from her perch on a nearby chair and walked with us. In her own way, of course, cutting straight through to the middle to demand attention.
The trails are timed to be open when the dogwood trees are in full bloom, and there is hardly a house on the trail that doesn't have at least one of the white- or pink-flowered trees.
The same goes for azaleas. I love the great variety of colors of azaleas.
This house has a wonderful mural painted on their shed. It's an actual door, but it looks like fairies might live there.
The pink guiding lines have arrows to keep drivers on the trail. When I first moved in a few years ago, I had trouble finding my way around the neighborhood because there is nothing remotely grid-like about it. The streets wind around and two roads can be parallel for a bit and then twist to become perpendicular and cross each other. It helped me to have the arrows to guide me back to my house.
Hey, what a cute Little Free Library right on the Dogwood Trail!
Our neighborhood trail is this year's featured trail. That means we've had even more April traffic than usual. Fortunately people are driving very slowly because they are busy looking at all the houses and yards.
We live in the sort of neighborhood where people play basketball, walk, ride their bikes, and hang out in the street chatting with each other. It really is a remarkably friendly place.
Most people who live along the trails take gardening/landscaping seriously. It helps that we have a landscape architect on the block who is always happy to field questions and give advice.
And many people I've talked with in the neighborhood are interested in gardening in a way that doesn't harm the earth, so you don't see a lot of people employing chemicals.
It's a joy to drive home down my street under the dappled shade of the big trees.
And hey, look at that cute little house on the trail... okay, that's mine. I felt a little badly that my yard is covered in straw while the clover is growing but it doesn't seem to stop all the cars and church buses from slowing down and taking pictures. My yard is more of a summer yard than a spring one, though. In a couple of months everything will be full and lush.
But spring is still the perfect time for sitting on the deck and having dinner. We grilled swordfish with tarragon butter and zucchini with balsamic vinegar. From the deck, all you can see is green all around. I love walking the trail but it's also good to be home.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Easter weekend.

With an unexpected Friday free, we decided to use the excuse to step out in the shoes we bought in Italy and go downtown for an Irish whiskey on a rooftop bar.
The weather was perfect all weekend long, and we stayed until it was starting to grow dark, and then had a glass of wine and some pita bread with crawdad dip at an outdoor cafe on the square.
We had he younger daughter only for the day on Saturday, so we went to the Botanical Gardens for the annual Earthfest. I used to take my kids to it when it was held at the World's Fair Park, including one memorable day when my younger son, then 9, took a Segway for a wild spin that had the Segway rep yelling and waving his arms as he chased him down. I still laugh when I think about that.
No Segways on loan today, but we did stop at some of the booths, including one that had monarch butterflies. We got to feel how their little hooked feet grasp your skin when they walk on it.
And the monarch caterpillars, who leave a little trail of silk on your hand. I was happy to be able to say that I already had all the monarch-friendly plants they were offering in my bee/butterfly gardens.
There was a free kid's environmental craft section and the younger daughter made paper from scraps, tie-dyed a handkerchief with water run-off from a bituminous coal mine, and dug in the compost to uncover red wriggler worms in a vermiculture set-up. Our favorite was the applesauce and taffy samples from an Appalachian exhibit.
We had a picnic under a shaded pavilion and watched the crowds The poor guy in the plastic bag tree looked miserably hot. Given the choice, I'd have gone with the ridiculous mushroom costume.
After lunch we sat and listened to this guitar and banjo duo for a while.
Then a quick look at the peonies in their gardens before heading home for ice cream in our own backyard.
After we'd taken the daughter back to her mother's house, we grilled swordfish steaks in tarrgon butter and yellow squash and zucchini in balsamic vinegar and had that with salads and white wine on the back deck. I didn't want to ever go inside.
Easter morning we had a small brunch on the sunporch before my husband headed off the work. And me? Well, I headed out to the yard to get my hands in the dirt again, of course.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday musings.

I've been completely preoccupied with yard work lately and have been spending every possible minute of these amazingly warm sunny days with my hands in the dirt instead of on my computer keyboard. So, until early next week when there is rain in the forecast, a few thoughts:
1) Why do radio DJs insist on saying, in a very upbeat way, "Happy Good Friday!" It's "good" as in holy, and meant to commemorate the torture and death of Jesus. I'm not part of the church any more, but I still find that misplaced cheer a little grating.
This flyer was up at my office building. Assuming they are saying the real reason for Easter is the resurrection of Christ, why celebrate it with an eggfest? Do they not understand the eggs (and the Easter bunny) are Pagan fertility symbols? Personally, I like that aspect of Easter as a spring merging of two very different religious traditions, but I suspect this church would not if they stopped for ten seconds to think about it.
3) Whether your celebration is a religious observance of the risen Lord, a spiritual reveling in the cycle of death and rebirth manifested in the warming soil and plants erupting into bloom all around you, or a purely secular focus on chocolate bunnies and marshmallow peeps, Silver Jesus and I wish you a very lovely Easter weekend!

Thursday, April 6, 2017


I've been a little pre-occupied with yard work lately and will take some pictures of blooming plants this weekend. In the meantime, some recent random photos from my phone:
Quite by chance, the younger daughter was sick with the flu on Friday, March 17th, and elected to stay at her mom's house for the night. We made an impromptu decision to get fish and chips downtown to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. We realized as we were sitting there that we've been at that very restaurant the last three St. Patrick's Days (last year with the younger son along) and decided that clearly this needs to be our tradition.
On the way to my office one morning, I stopped at a gas station and saw that next to me was a truck with one burial vault on its bed and another on a trailer behind it. Nothing much to say about that except it's a little creepy.
I saw this sticker on the back of an SUV and for the life of me couldn't decide whether the weird yellow hair on the elephant was a sign of admiration or was meant to mock Trump.
A neighbor asked me to be a sub in her bunco group. That's new for me, but she said if I could roll dice and count to six while drinking cocktails, I'd be fine. As instructed, I showed up with $5 and was handed a bourbon slush when I walked in.  The protocol in that group was that I had to choose beads from a bag and wear them and that whenever I got a bunco (three of a kind in whatever number we were trying for), I had to wear this ridiculous crown until the next bunco was scored. We stopped mid-way for a dinner and dessert break. In the end, I won $10 and had some silly fun in the process.
And lastly, in spite of the fish and chips on St. Patrick's Day and the brownies topped with two kinds of ice cream at the bunco party, we've actually made a serious effort to cut way back on carbs and processed foods. In particular, we're eating lots of fish, chicken, and veggies and have leafy greens with dinner every single night. Dessert, when we have it, is usually a single chocolate truffle. I found this modified version of the USDA's ChooseMyPlate image and thought it was as sensible and succinct a guideline as I could hope to find.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

So, I'd mentioned that we had looked for fabric while we were in Argentina...

In a shop in Ushuaia, we found a stack of fabric rectangles and bought two matching pieces with a print featuring guanacos in earth tones that go well with our living room. I hung them up side-by-side at home with the second one backwards so that the pattern is in reverse.
I sewed the edge down at the top, and attached clips to hang them from a curtain rod with jute-covered finials.
They now act as curtains which can be slid open to expose the television. (I didn't mean to get me in the photo.)
When I originally set up this living room, I had the television attached to the wall across from the big picture window in front. When it was sunny, there was a glare on the screen. And worse, it made the living room feel like a TV room, with almost all the seating facing it. Unless you were standing in the room or twisted around on the couch, you could not see out the window to the front yard. After Christmas, we took down the TV and moved it to the far wall and re-arranged the furniture and lighting to accommodate conversation rather than TV-watching.
With the new arrangement, the television screen is no longer the focal point of the room.  We can see the front yard and watch the world go by from the couch. And, as a happy byproduct, we have found ourselves turning the TV on less frequently.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Yard work!

With highs now in the 70's every day, it is time to be out in the yard as much as possible. And I had one of my crazy gardening woman projects in mind. The front yard, in spite of the seeding we did last fall, was awash in weeds. Some, like the wild violets, I'm happy to have. But the chickweed and bittercress were choking out everything as they spread in dense viney mats.
I had wondered if it might be helpful to start by tilling the yard and my husband said it was too bad we didn't have a rototiller. But we do! I'd bought an electric tiller when I moved in. He tilled the garden out back for me and then went down the street to ask our landscape architect friend if we should till before covering the grass. The friend said we should. Later, when it became clear that the dense clay in the front yard was much harder to work with than the heavily composted garden that I tilled a couple of years ago, my husband announced that the next time he had the idea of asking our friend for gardening advice, he'd walk down the street and then just come back and pretend he'd been advised not to bother.
We did not till the side yard because I was afraid we'd damage the roots of the enormous hemlocks that line up along the edge. This plan of mine involved lots of topsoil and lots of cardboard. Many, many car loads full, in fact.
Eventually, we'd laid cardboard over the entire yard, covered that with brown builder's paper, and then a thick layer of topsoil. This was painstaking work and involved moving the stacked field stone borders to tuck the cardboard and paper under the stones. Each night we'd go to bed with our backs aching. The yard proved irresistible to our cat, who rolled in the dirt and tore around in circles, stopping periodically to scratch a tree like a jungle cat.
Then we started the process again with the side yard. That red bucket contains clumps of wild violets I dug up to put back in the yard. I know - they are weeds. But I love them.
I got a couple of bales of straw to cover after we'd seeded. Hodr felt it made a fine perch from which to supervise my work.
As I was transporting some bags of compost to the back yard for another project, we had an incident. The metal connector for the front wheels had sheared off a year or so ago and the wheels finally snapped off. That little wagon served me well for about eight years, so I can't complain.
After all the yard was covered in cardboard and soil, it was time to seed. But not grass. I had decided to try an all-clover front yard. Mini clover, which is a tiny version of Dutch white clover. It's supposed to get no taller than 4 inches and should eliminate the need to mow. And clover adds nitrogen back to the soil, which will just make it healthier. The seeds are so tiny they need to be mixed with something. I used cornmeal.
I planted back some of the wild violets, and also planted some hepatica, Virginia bluebells, ferns and mondo grasses in the side yard. Then I scattered the clover seed, covered everything with straw and watered. We finished the project just in time - we have rain in the forecast starting late tonight and continuing off and on for the next four days. Sometime later in the summer, I am hoping I'll be able to post a photo of a nice clover-filled lawn.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Saturday and Sunday, February 25th and 26th: Homeward bound.

In the morning, we had breakfast at the Kaikén and then turned in our key before saying goodbye to Mate. I wished I could explain to him why we had to leave without him.
We stopped on our way out to look out over the Garibaldi Pass once once more.
One of the things I was most struck by is how few people we encountered in our time here. I know it is a remote place and difficult to get to, but it was just so incredibly beautiful in the Southern Andes.
And then it was back down into Ushuaia. Driving in Argentina (and probably all of South America) is pretty free-form, especially in cities. Lanes aren't really marked and people merge aggressively.  I have to give my husband props here for mastering it quickly. I drove once just for the experience, but otherwise I was happy to turn the driving over to him.
We picked up some coffees in town and sat by the bay for a while, watching the clouds moving across the sky over the harbor.
Dolphin gulls, petrels, albatrosses, and other shorebirds were everywhere.
Big cruise ships line up along the docks with new ones pulling in every day. I have to admit, I'm not a cruise person. I chafe at the restraints of the schedule and the crowds.
I tried many times to capture a petrel doing its walking-on-water trick, but that photo eluded me. They look unassuming, but are impressively big birds in flight.
Finally it was time to get to the rental car office and turn in our keys. We had to maneuver around this mysterious big bag of extra sidewalk on the sidewalk.
And walk around one last pack of wolves on our way to the taxi line.
Then we headed out of Ushuaia by taxi,  flew to Buenos Aires, and had an impossibly long bus ride from the domestic airport to the international one. Unfortunately my camera was packed away because the ride took us through slums that looked too broken-down to be believed. Buildings missing roofs or walls housed large families. We got to the airport too late to be allowed to buy wine in the duty-free shop. But we feared we might miss our flight completely, so we were glad just to get there.
We flew out of Buenos Aires after dark, for a long overnight flight to the States, then had a five hour layover in Atlanta. Another short flight, a shuttle to parking and then more than 24 hours after we left Ushuaia, we were back at our house. As we were heading home, I was already dreaming about where we might go in the coming years.