Thursday, October 30, 2014

Where was I? Oh, right, the yard.

On the side of the house was grass, weeds, mud, moss and a cinderblock retaining wall dividing my side yard from my neighbor's. It was rainy when the HVAC person came out to check the unit, and I noticed he had to slog through the mud to get to it.  Well, this sounds like a job for Supergardener! What, too much?  'Cause I was kind of hoping for a cape and some snazzy new boots.
A path was in order.  This is the ONLY place in the yard I left black plastic down, because I am not intending to plant anything in it.  I put down flat fieldstone and some round marble stepping stones I found on the other side of the house and I'd quartered with a sledgehammer, and about ten bucks worth of river gravel.  I tested it out in the rain - you can get all the way to the HVAC without encountering a bit of dirt.
And then the usual tilling, cardboard, soil, mulch business on the rest of it. This will be my cutting garden for white and yellow flowers. Rudbeckia, sunflowers, white anemone, yellow daffodils, daisies. Those are the colors that go best in my dining room but I'm not a huge fan of yellow in a Southern landscape, especially in the hot summer. My compromise is to tuck them away on the side.

My neighbor has a trellis shielding his HVAC (sort of, the vine on it appears to be dead), so I borrowed that idea. I put up an iron trellis and planted an evergreen coral honeysuckle on one side and a blue clematis on the other, so the two can twine together. When it is well-established, it should screen the HVAC from the street year-round.
I also made a little extension of that upper bed with pinky muhly grass for a little visual divide between the yards. I know none of these beds look impressive yet, but give them a couple of years.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Can you be in love with a lawn mower?

Toward the end of the summer, I turned my old mower over to check the blade and jarred loose a cable. It was heavier and larger than I needed for this new small yard, so I decided to donate it and get a down-sized version. I still got a battery-powered one, because I love how easy they are to use and maintain. There is virtually no maintenance, in fact, other than charging the lithium battery and occasionally running a sharpener over the blade. When I opened the box to assemble it, though, I could not believe how tiny it was.
Seriously - that's my phone for comparison.  It has a very narrow cutting path, but who cares?  It's so lightweight it's like pushing one of those Fisher Price toy mowers around. Honestly, it's no more work than strolling back and forth in your yard.  Even on an upward slope, it is effortless.  You just push the button and start walking. Birds hunting worms in the yard don't even bother to keep much of a distance because it is just so quiet and fume-free. Which is a really nice thing here in a part of the country where it is still mowing season.
And when I'm done? I fold down the handle, flip it on its side to grab the indentation, and carry it to the shed. Bam!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"In violent times, you shouldn't have to sell your soul."

***Rant Warning***

After the events immediately following my birthday (which I may never want to talk about) and preceding the appearance of the bighorn sheep, I decided to set aside my distaste for the insanity of dating sites and give it another shot. I'll tell you up front that I lasted a week. Here's why:

I had a first date last night, with a guy whose screen name included the world "Genuine." Nice enough guy, friendly, seemed to be like-minded on a lot of issues. Not terribly appealing to me physically but that's not the most important thing to me. And he seemed a little older than his age of 53, but hey, people age differently. He'd chosen a nice restaurant in the Sunsphere with a beautiful view of the city, but showed up that chilly evening in shorts, black sneakers, and black socks. Channeling his inner Boca Raton retiree, I guess. But that's a quirk, and I can overlook quirks. I was dressed up. He didn't say anything about that, but some guys just aren't complimentary, so no big deal. We met at 6, so dinner time, right? I ordered a glass of cab and he said he'd have the same.  The restaurant was having a special on bottles and the waiter asked if we just wanted to get a bottle since we were drinking the same thing. My date looked at me and said, "Do you? I don't really drink that much." Well, what was I going to say? I'm obviously not going to have a second glass if he isn't. And then the waiter asked if we wanted some spring rolls while we decided (because every time he'd come around, my date would say "we" hadn't even looked at the menu yet, even though I had and knew what I wanted). He said okay, but a few minutes later said something to me that made it clear he thought the waiter was bringing bread. I told him he'd ordered spring rolls. He said, "Oh, did you want that? I can cancel it." I was hungry because it was dinner time, as I may have mentioned, and I said I liked spring rolls but it was up to him. When they arrived it was 3 spring rolls cut in half, so we each had 1 1/2 rolls. I finally told him he really needed to think about what he wanted so we could order. The conversation was going well, but it was dinner time and I was hungry! Have I said that already? He said, "I'm not really that hungry. Would you like to split something?" Well, no, dammit, I wouldn't. But when someone is buying you dinner, you can't really say that. So he picked crab cakes, and when it arrived, the waiter didn't split the order, which included a single piece of bread, he just brought an extra plate. I took one of the two crab cakes and about a third of the salad and then he said, "You want me to cut this bread in half? hahaha!" I didn't know how to respond (being faint with hunger at this point), so I just laughed.  And he ate the bread, even though he'd claimed not to be hungry. He told me he is semi-retired, whatever that means, and was a commodities broker, travels a lot, and had a 5000+ SF house, so I know the issue wasn't being unable to afford dinner. But I was trying not to be judgmental. Maybe he was having an off-day. And he walked me back to my car, which I appreciated.  And I have been, sadly, well-trained to be polite in those situations. So when he asked if I'd like to go hiking this weekend, I was said that would be nice. Even thogh I relaly didn't think it would.

When I got home I was still hungry and had some ice cream and another glass of wine. And started thinking about the evening. At one point during dinner I was telling him about sneaking over and weeding my 73-year-old neighbor's flower bed and he said, "I need you as a neighbor!" And I said, "You're not old enough for that deal!" He laughed and said, "I'll take that as a compliment." Which made me suddenly a little suspicious of his age. Why would someone just a year older than me say that? When he told me his mother is 95, I said, "Wow!" and he quickly responded, "She had me later in life, which was unusual back then." I'll say. And then, I commented on the restaurant's playlist of Tears for Fears, Flock of Seagulls, and the like, noting that it was music from our college years.  He looked momentarily confused, then agreed. So back at home, armed with his last name, a computer and a growing sense of unease, I did a little research. And discovered he'd shaved 5 years off his age. Fucking hell.

To add insult to injury, there was an email from the dating site waiting for me that read, "Hi there, You sound smart, fun, challenging, and happy. I'm a divorced physician who lives in [city redacted], but travel to [my city] often. I would like to talk sometime." I looked at his profile - he's 59, looking for women 43-55. Would I have been remotely interesting to him if I were 57? Or, God forbid, 60? No. That's when my head exploded.

After I'd collected and re-assembled my shattered skull, I deleted my profile and chalked it up as a failed experiment. So I ignored the follow-up message I got from last night's date until I could get home today to send this email:

"When I got home last night, I made myself something to eat and fired up the computer to answer a friend's email. But as I sat there, I could not shake the feeling that something was off. I told you I was computer savvy - I did a little checking online, and of course discovered that you are 58 instead of 53. It's not the age difference itself that was the most troubling to me. Although I was hoping to meet someone closer to my age, I've gone out with a couple of men who were more than a year or two older than me and several who were a good bit younger. It was knowing I'd been mislead. And the irony of your screen name given that deception does not escape me. In addition, when I believed that you were 53, your stated age range for women of 42 to 57 seemed reasonably enlightened. And now I know that in fact, it excludes any woman your age or older. That seems to be prevalent in the online dating world, but it is an attitude about women that is intolerable to me. I'm sure there are women who don't feel confidant enough about what they have to offer to insist on equality. I'm not one of them. You seem like a decent guy in other ways, and so I will just wish you well here and go back to meeting men off-line where age isn't the first criteria for a relationship."
"Shout, shout 
Let it all out 
These are things 
I can do without 
Come on 
I'm talking to you." (Tears for Fears)

Monday, October 20, 2014

And the lower front bed.

While the walkway to the house was being built, I covered the grass in black plastic to hasten its demise. I tilled it in as best I could to decrease how much of it survived without resorting to chemicals.
And then the cardboard layer, with the first level of fieldstone edging to hold it in place.
After I got all the liriope and shrubs in, I added soil and some more cardboard before mulching it. In the foreground is a dwarf crape myrtle, a plant I didn't know about until I saw one at the nursery where I'd stopped for something else. It called to me and I walked out with it.
At the other end, I added this flat pot and put in a variety of succulents, like creeping sedum, agave, hens and chicks and that tall mother of thousands.  See the little frog under it?  That's Survivor Frog. She was one of the few things that made it through the fire that burned down the house I helped build as a kid. Best of all, she carried the baby on her back with her to safety. Now the color of ash, she's a reminder to me of resilience.
I made a short path out to the yard. Like the upper bed, it has thyme tucked between the stones and ajuga on the sides. Out in the lawn itself, I've planted crocuses and grape hyacinths.
I also made a path to the spigot for the hose. That white rose bush was already here. Honestly, it's not my favorite color rose and I don't like thorny things in general. But it was healthy, so I dug out the hostas that were crowding its roots, removed the too-short trellis, and wrestled it into submission around a taller trellis. It was a formidable opponent and I bear battle scars. That's all I'm going to say about it.
Around all the lirope clumps, I have planted daffodils, tulips and snow glories. After they've finished blooming, their leaves can be tucked down and hidden by the liriope's foliage. In the middle are various low-growing, spreading perennials like dianthus and candytuft and a pair of dwarf buddleia which will fill in the space.
I already had three black pots, but wanted two more for the steps. But when I went to look, I decided they were just too expensive. And then on the clearance rack, I found pots of fading perennials, marked down to $5 each. I bought two of them, put the plants in the beds and used the pots on the porch. Double score! Three now have evergreens - the very top one a dwarf white azalea, the middle a little unidentified conifer, and the bottom a rosemary plant. The other two I'll put seasonal plants in. And yeah, that's a frog by the little pumpkin. Have you noticed I like frogs?
I finished up the fieldstone border wall this weekend. It's like piecing together a puzzle.
You can see the irregular swath of lawn left in the middle. I moved the old teak chairs from the deck out into the yard so there will be a place to sit. I'm assuming that I will have a chance to actually sit once in a while next spring.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Work in progress.

Let's start with the front, shall we?  This is the google photo, with its weird elongating perspective, of the house from 2012. It is basically as it looked when I bought it at the end of May.  As you can see, it had some azaleas at the upper far right, a bed around the dogwood on the right, and some stuff planted immediately in front of the house.  The rest was grass.
What I've changed so far.  My first goal was to reduce the area I have to mow. (And yes, I know - increase the area I have to weed.) Everything I've planted is small and spaced for its mature width so it looks spare now.
The upper bed is the first one I built, and I ended up revising it several times, moving the rock border into an increasingly serpentine shape. I never have been a fan of straight lines. This bed encompasses the original small bed around the dogwood. Parts of it are shaded by that tree and my neighbor's dogwood, and parts sunny, so I have planted accordingly. Shrubs, both evergreen and deciduous, and many, many perennials. My plan is to have things in bloom most of the year. In the first part of the bed, the center spot is awaiting a dwarf crabapple.
I put in a fieldstone path to the mailbox to avoid having to tromp through the mulch. In between the stones are red creeping thyme, which smells wonderful when you step on it. Dwarf mondo grass and ajuga on either side.
I planted a purple leaf sand cherry in this curve, and set a sentry frog beneath it. A neighbor who initially kept to herself stopped to tell me that every time she walks by and looks at that frog, it makes her smile. I weed out any stray grass that pops up, but the wild violets I leave. They make a decent groundcover and you can't beat their sweet little flowers in the spring. And when they bloom, so will the multitude of of bulbs I have planted beneath them.
I'm also working on a bee/bird/butterfly garden, with sedum, sage, Joe Pye weed, swamp milkweed and so on to bring in the beautiful flying things. I added a birdbath in the midst of it.
And a butterfly puddler, which allows butterflies to safely drink and collect nutrients from the sand. You can buy pricey versions of these on-line, but I just got a $3 plate with the requisite sloping sides and made one myself. I actually like it better than the ready-made ones.
I am not even sure what is in the original bed around the dogwood. Irises, ivy, ferns. And still blooming now, this spiderwort. I've added a number of shade loving plants and a couple of clematis to climb the dogwood's trunk. I have just a few more things to plant, but mostly it's time to wait and watch as it unfolds.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Sometimes, I pick the wrong book.

And, it keeps on raining. In the meantime, a book review. I took the Goodreads challenge and set 50 books as my goal for the year. Well, what with selling and buying a house, moving and the indoor and outdoor projects, I am behind. So I have been trying to plow through some books. I'd thought about taking a class at the UU church based on this book, but now I'm really glad I didn't.
My review:
I really hated this book, and I so wanted to like it since I am a spiritual but nontheistic person. First, I felt the author set up strawmen (in the guise of libertarians) to attack as enemies of anything good religion might have to offer. And then proceeded to offer up a list of "shoulds" for how atheists might incorporate aspects of religious traditions. Some made sense but some were wacky - like mimicking the relic-based local shrines for physical ailments by having "psychotherapeutic travel agencies" to match various types of mental illness with the appropriate destinations. Uh, sure. He'd already stated that "atheism is prone to seem coldly impatient with our neediness," which struck me as odd given that atheists are well-represented in my own field of clinical psychology, where impatience with neediness would be downright bizarre. But his bias was made clear when he later took a jab at the non-institutionalized/non-rule based nature of psychotherapy. Unlike the strict regimentation of Catholicism, "psychotherapy as currently practised lacks any consistency of setting or even any benchmarks for such apparently small yet critical details as the wording on the therapist's answering machine, his or her dress code and the appearance of the consulting room. Patients are left to endure a run of local quirks, from encounters with their therapists' pets or children to gurgling pipework and bric-a-brac furnishings." Yes, Mr. de Botton, that's because therapists are not robots and it's the relationship that's mutative. We don't expect our patients to be automatons and we don't cede our individuality because you have a need for people to have a dress code. Nor are we likely to jump on board with your soul-killing idea of a branded chain of psychotherapists. But where he really lost me? After describing a rather grotesque Medieval church ritual called "Feast of Fools," he proclaimed the modern translation: we "should" have a day every year where we have a big feast and then "copulate" freely with any and all, with no hard feelings from your spouse who is also out fucking around. I get it - he wants to be able to cheat on his partner annually without having to feel guilty about it. Well, there is a reason why it was called the Dark Ages and a reason why the Church gave up that practice. Look, I'm all for appreciating what is good about religion (when it's working) - contemplative practices, art, ritual, charity, community. But it's a false dichotomy to suggest that those things exist within religion and not among the nonreligious. And it also doesn't make sense to emulate the things that appeal to selfishness rather than selflessness. So Mr. de Botton, kindly step down from your self-appointed role as a pseudo-Pope handing down pronouncements and allow for autonomy and flexibility. Oh, and let go of the idea that it's a good thing for you to burn off your baser desires by periodically screwing around on your wife. That doesn't make you an innovative atheist, it makes you a prick.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Nothing is as sure as change.

So ... something inevitable happened, and even though I thought I was prepared, the way it played out still caught me off-guard. So I took a little time. Then Thursday as I was driving home from work, a big horn sheep stepped out onto the road up ahead, hesitated and went back into the brush for a moment, and then ran across the highway ahead of me.  [Note: this photo is obviously not my own and not the ram in question - I was too startled to take a picture.] Gorgeous creature the size of a buck and I have no idea where it came from - some farm that keeps exotic animals, maybe? We don't have them here at any rate. I texted both sons about it and older son's response was "A sign from the gods."

So I looked it up and found this about the appearance of it as a totem: "Bighorn sheep’s message is that of new beginnings. If you have this animal for your power ally, have confidence in your powers to land safely on your feet, in most circumstances. The spiral horn symbolizes your creativity, energy, and endurance. You can initiate new projects and have the strength to complete them. Defend your territory and test your strength, but do not lock horns just to prove your point. Think before you act. Stay in balance with your environment by hiking, walking, or climbing. Take a class to expand your mind and use your imagination to reach new heights of achievement. Seek new opportunities in your work and relationship areas. Now is a good time to make changes. You can accomplish a lot if you are prepared."

I don't actually believe in a serious way, but I like the lovely coincidence of a message I needed to hear.  So I've been doing exactly the things recommended, which I'll get to.
In the meantime, there was this to deal with.
And this - like opening a treasure box!
And also this. So much planting to do, in the midst of a rainy spell.
I love the names of some of the plants. The smaller one is dragonhead, the bolder-leafed one pigsqueak. There is quamash, hyssop, thundercloud sedum, Siberian squill, echevaria, catmint. I've been busy, and busy is good for me. And even though I'm able to put plants in the ground when it's raining, I can't take pictures, so updates will follow.