Sunday, November 30, 2014

More reasons to be thankful.

Another thing I like about fall is that the colors mirror those of my house. One last weekend to enjoy them, before we launch into Advent and wintry decorations. My younger son went to visit his brother for Thanksgiving and a good friend invited me to join her family. I wish I'd gotten a photo of that spread - everything on the table was delicious and the family welcoming and friendly.
I made a small exception to my usual Black Friday no-shopping policy and ran out in the morning to buy my Christmas tree. I've only found one place in town that ever has a few white pines amongst the ubiquitous firs and I wanted to make sure I got one. I found a beautiful tree still dotted with pine cones. I chatted with the man who helped me wrap and load the tree and we talked about the gorgeous weather and spending time with people who matter to you. He said every Thanksgiving is good in his eyes. I drove home feeling glad I'd had that conversation and blissing out on the rich pine scent filling my car.
My sister and brother-in-law came up later that day for the weekend. I made a huge slab of salmon with herb cheese stuffing and several sides because I wanted to test out some recipes: caramelized brussels sprouts with lemon, asparagus with feta and a balsamic glaze, baby carrots slow-roasted on coffee beans and puff pastry spirals with spinach, capers, parmesan and lox. Let me just say: Mmmm. The next night I made a big pot of chicken vegetable chili-ish and blue buttermilk cornbread.
The visit was mainly so we could drive up to Lexington together to see our father. He was happy to have lunch with us and was surprised when he heard our ages. Time is a flexible thing with Alzheimer's. He recovered, though, and said, "You look good!" There is a noticeable decline since I saw him last. He is in a wheelchair now and struggled to remove the knife and fork from the napkin the restaurant had wrapped it in. When he finally just gave up and sat looking at his plate, I took the bundle and got the utensils sorted out for him, and was sad to see how little he ate.  He confused my two youngest sisters when we asked about them, and I know it won't be long before he has trouble remembering who we are. But for now he was happy to have us there. When my BIL told him he'd had a nice conversation with my younger son who is studying to be a mechanical engineer, my father perked up and said, "I was a mechanical engineer!" I hope that important part of his identity is one of the last memories to go for him. Dad has stage IV prostate cancer but, because of his dementia, is not aware of either the cancer or how little time he has left. The amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles that choke his brain make him live in a very moment-by-moment way. The formerly scarred and angry man appears to be perfectly at peace and grateful for small pleasures. And in turn, I am grateful for that gift hidden in a brutal disease. The man at the Christmas tree store was right - there is so much in this world to be thankful for. Sometimes, it's just a matter of looking for the blessings.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

An incomplete list for today.

My remarkable sons
Wonderful friends
Pretty good health
My cozy little house
Anticipating a visit from family
Work I enjoy most of the time
That dark chocolate, red wine and hot coffee are now health foods
My trusty, battered Prius
Being invited to share the holiday dinner with a dear friend's family
The ability to immerse myself in a book
The scent of evergreens
Reminders of places I've traveled
A warm bubble bath
The promise of spring

Sunday, November 23, 2014

"Time doth flit; oh, shit." (Dorothy Parker)

I always loved this photo, because in many ways the roles should have been reversed. The little devil in this picture was more steady and eager to please, the angelic one more mischief-filled. When they were young, time-outs were the consequence of choice. As a toddler, my older son would cry during his minute or two of isolation, and then when asked if he knew why he was in time out for hitting me, he would say tearfully, "Rule no hitting." In contrast, my younger son would sit in the time out singing gleefully, "I feel! I feel! I feel like a morning star!" I would have to duck around the corner so he wouldn't see me laughing.

I found a journal I'd started a little more than a year after this picture, when the kids were 6 and 3. It was only a few pages long, but included this bit about an upcoming school dance:
[My older son] has been practicing his moves for the dance.  He told me in alarm this afternoon, "You have to dance with someone!"  I acknowledged that this was the case and he said darkly, "I hope it's not wedding dancing."

And later, this:
He spotted a New Yorker cartoon with an abstract Picaso-esque room filled with women's torsos and said in surprise, "There are nipples! and breasts! and front private parts! Women's private bumpy parts!"

This same kid is now living with his girlfriend and planning a life with her after they graduate in May. I called him Friday to wish him a happy birthday, and talked about how 21 years ago, we lay awake that first night staring at each other. I distinctly remember that powerful feeling of recognition that I had looking at his serious face. I'd have known him anywhere.

And the cherub? The journal has this: 
Then he took a tumble down a steep hill, after refusing my hand.  Sort of slid on his back, bonking his head lightly. This traumatized him to the point, apparently, of renouncing books forever ("I never want any more books!"), stating that Sawyer Bear, who was with us during the walk, would now have the same name as his own, demanding to be carried and insisting that we go home where I would install him on the couch with his pillow and blanket, bring him chocolate caramel milk and let him watch "the video with Joshua on the potty." I complied.

He didn't stick to his anti-book proclamation, however, and went on to become the first 1st grader at his school to rack up 100 Accelerated Reader points. This was partially due to reading, on his own, the first three Harry Potter books that year. When I saw him this weekend, he came in after his chemistry lab final and then said he'd like to stop in on his way to visit his brother Wednesday and asked, "Might there be cake?" Well, of course - how often do you turn 18?

My Thanksgiving birthday boys are now birthday men, and I couldn't be happier with them.  The last bit of that aborted journal is a recounting of this argument, which I did my best not to get dragged into, between my older and younger sons when they were supposed to be going to sleep:

YS: "Dreams come from your head and your mind."
OS: "Dreams come from your heart."
YS: "No actually, dreams come from your head."
OS: "Heart!"
YS: "Head!"
OS: "Heart!"
YS: "Head!"
OS: "Heart!"
YS: "Head!"
OS: "Mom, tell him."
Me: "You're both right."
OS: "I know, the pictures come from your heart but the story comes 
         from your head.  Oh, WHY did we have to tie?"
YS: "Mommy, tell me the truth."
Me: "I think they are both involved."
YS: "The pictures are in your heart [brother], and the words are 
         in your mind."
OS: "You are SO right!  That's what I was saying."

My dreams do indeed come from my heart and my mind. And in this case, also from my womb.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Last bed, I promise.

This photo of the back of the house was from the pictures when the house was for sale. The little door leads to the crawlspace and the white fence adjoins my neighbor's fence.
I was going to leave it alone, but I have this tiller and a weird amount of energy.
The idea started when I found that wooden walk board, used with scaffolding, under the house. Meant to be a trellis, obviously. I have a Sweet Autumn clematis at it's base, which should have loads of fragrant white flowers. I was out of cardboard, so I had to add a section at a time as I acquired more.
In all the front beds, I used the original two truckloads of hardwood mulch. But for this back bed, I bought bags of pine bark mulch because I didn't need a whole truckload worth. And it was easier to transport to the back yard by the bag.
I just bought some cement pavers since there were just two small paths I needed to make and I was running out of the other flat stones. The first is a path to the water spigot. More transplanted hostas are in the corner, along with some ferns (most of them still hidden, just planted as tubers).
The other path goes to the crawlspace door. In the corner shaded by the huge oak are an azalea and rhododendron. I have various bulbs in the bed as well.
The "after." I don't plan to do other mulched beds in the back, but at least this one, once the plants fill in, will look a little less barren.

Friday, November 14, 2014

I'll slap a coat of paint on anything.

When I moved in, the backyard had a broken cement birdbath with a little statue in it. Not. My. Style. Out it went. But the one I bought to replace it, while beautiful, was lighter-weight and less stable.
I took a sledge hammer to the cement bowl of the old birdbath to brace the base of the new one. And then spray-painted it brown to make it look like dirt and then transplanted some ivy around it. It's funny to me to watch birds splashing around next to the ceramic frog.
I also found a rusting wheelbarrow under the house and decided I had the perfect use for it. But first, paint.  After drilling drain holes in the bottom, I painted the floor of it with red rustoleum to keep the rust at bay, and covered the white handles and wheels with bronze paint.
Planted in it are two of my favorite plants which are both wickedly invasive. In the spring and summer, there will be purple flowers on the vinca and lovely light pink Mexican evening primrose. And both will be safely contained in the wheelbarrow instead of taking over my yard.
I got these two pots to go with the larger one. Blueberry bushes are in two of them, and the empty one in the photo now holds a raspberry bush. I found a couple of pots the right size on sale, but they were a color I wasn't crazy about. No problem - I have paint!
After drilling drain holes, I painted them mottled shades of brown and green to mimic their companion pot. The technique was experimental but I was pleased with how it turned out. The funny part is that I didn't actually buy paint for any of these projects - I've just been using up what I already had in my garage.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

More not-gardening.

The wreckage of Halloween always marks the slide toward winter.
But as much as I hate winter, I do like the crunchy fall leaves. My younger son, who looks for opportunities to earn a little pocket money for spending time with his girlfriend, came over to rake. And eat his weight in food. This past weekend, I fed him dinner on Friday night, a big breakfast Saturday, and then when he returned Sunday, lunch and dinner again. I'm a doting mom, I can't help it.
I also spent a little time on Sunday chatting with my retired-cop next door neighbor, who has gotten it into his head that I'm interested in guns. What that means is every time he buys or trades for a new one - and that's frequently - he calls me over to see it. Sunday, I held the Smith and Wesson 44 Magnum in my hand and could think of absolutely nothing intelligent to say about it. So I offered up, "Um... that's heavy." I haven't even seen "Dirty Harry" so I didn't know the significance. Or care. But he's affable and teases me about my obsessive gardening, and I enjoy having him as a neighbor. (A friend said, "If there's trouble - run over to his house.") My neighbor also asked me why I had coneflowers blooming, narrowed his eyes and said something about people moving in from the next county "with their strange flowers." And then smiled broadly.
I continue to be happy with my decision to buy this particular house. I stand sometimes on my back deck and look at the trees on the hills off in the distance and feel I could probably live here, as my neighbor says, "until they carry me out."

Friday, November 7, 2014

So the classes I said I was taking...

So far, I've been to a couple of Saturday classes at the local nature center. One had a $5 fee, but it included the center's breakfast. I had pancakes, a slice of egg and potato bake, fresh fruit and coffee. The class was on making a bird-friendly yard. We learned about the best hummingbird feeders to use (ones which discourages wasps and ants and allow for the little hummers to perch) and how to make a woodpecker feeder.
And all kinds of interesting facts about local birds. For instance, the history of brown-headed cowbirds. I once had a Carolina wren nest with cowbird baby in it and I'd contacted a cowbird specialist on-line to learn more about how cowbirds deposit eggs in the nests of other birds with smaller babies so that the parents will be duped into feeding it. What I didn't know was that cowbirds were originally called buffalo birds and they followed the herds. When the US massacred the buffaloes to disrupt the Plains Indians and break down their culture, the birds adapted by becoming cowbirds. Now they are a pest since they replace the eggs of songbirds with their own, at the rate of 30 or so a year for each cowbird!
We also learned about how to make a birdhouse snake- and raccoon-proof. This was something I just had to try, so I bought a couple of cedar bluebird houses and materials to make the stands. Iron stakes hammered into the ground and then covered with a length of PVC pipe (I bought a 10-foot piece and had it cut in half). I was going to try to attach it with a metal bracket, but ended up just drilling holes into the PVC pipe and connected it to the back of the box that way.
And so the stand would look less plumbing-like, I spray-painted it green. When I'd commented in the class that it would help to paint the pipe, someone joked that I could do it in camo. I decided that wasn't a bad idea, and added brown randomly to make it blend in even more. I have two of these houses up now in the back yard. And although nesting won't happen until spring, birds use empty houses to take shelter from the cold in the winter.
The next weekend, I took a free class on heirloom gardening.  It was taught by the main gardener at the nature center and she walked us around to look at some of the plants that have been grown on the property since the early 1900's. I spotted these mourning dove babies sitting under a shrub.
I was sent home from the class with free plants - hellebores, false forget-me-nots, peanut beans, half-runners and egg gourds - all descendants of plants grown by the original owner of the property.
I planted two of the hellebores (also called Lenten roses) in my yard. They will have white flowers and this one sits next to two others - pink and black. I brought an extra home for a friend and when I took it to her house, she dug up a bear claw hellebore for me, which now lives in the back yard. I like having a tangible connection to the nature center's history and I also like the gardening culture practice of trading plants.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Small scale garden projects.

I got more of these mesh-backed flagstones, cut them apart and made a path to the shed and on to the back yard. On my walks, I'd collect bits of moss to transplant. Someone suggested to me I try to make a "moss milkshake" to maximize the area covered. That involves blending it with buttermilk.
Ick. I'm told if you can just tolerate the furry mold for six weeks, moss will start to grow. No thanks.
And then, when I was planting stuff in the back yard, I found the motherlode of moss, and collected it by the shovel-full.
I like the transplant method better - it's started to establish itself well.
On another walk, I saw this small clump of shamrocks in a ditch, surrounded by poison ivy. I managed to extricate it without actually touching the evil ivy, and brought it home with me to stick in a jar to root.
They are now blooming happily by one of the toad houses I built in the shade of the hemlocks by the gardening shed. You heard me. Toad houses. Because toads eat slugs and other garden pests, so I want to encourage them to move it. I found a couple of small cement pipes under the house and knew I would think of some use for them. Et voilá. Covered in moss with a dirt floor and stone front porch. Another item you can buy on-line or make inexpensively yourself.
The second house is on the other side of the yard under the dogwood. I bought two cheap terra cotta saucers and spray-painted them for the toad's water supply.
I'm not really sure how toads make their way to the houses, but I'm hopeful. I may have to go hunting them in the woods if none show up. But until then, I have several of their inanimate cousins scattered around.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

And an extra bed, for good measure.

The fuzzy Google Earth shot of the little bit of land on the side of the driveway shows the thin-trunked dogwoods on my side growing in the shade of the enormous hemlocks on my other neighbor's side.
A shade garden was in order. You know my drill - cardboard, soil, mulch and a stone border. Many of the hostas I'd dug up for transplanting went here along with some irises the neighbor gave me and some shade-loving plants I'd bought.
I decided to put in a couple of pots with one on its side and lobelia planted both in it and on the ground in front of it. I'm hoping it will fill in  and look like it's spilling out. To do that, I needed to add draining holes. And that's how I was in this conversation at Home Depot about a month ago:

Me: "Hi! Where can I find a masonry bit?"
Worker guy: "Masonary? Over here. (waves at the huge array of bits I'm standing in front of)
Me: "Okay, I see the bits, but I can't tell which are masonry ones."
Guy: "What size do you need?"
Me: "I don't know, I just need to drill a hole in a cement pot."
Guy: (with what appeared to be a patronizing smile): "Well, I can't help you if you don't know what size - what size masonary bit do you need?"
Me: (starting to get testy): "I heard you, but I have not magically divined the answer since you asked me 30 seconds ago. I am just needing to know which ones are masonry bits, and I'll choose."
Guy: "Oh. All these, here. But it's masonARY."
Me: "Okay, thank you. But it's not."
Just off frame in the lower corner are a rhododendron and dwarf azalea. The upright pot has hostas and a variety of bulbs. I had to leave some un-mulched space at the front because that's where my neighbor and I leave yard waste to be picked up by the city. I hadn't even intended to do a bed on this side, but by this point, I was purely possessed.