Friday, April 17th, 2015

Well, I thought I was ready to do a little yard work today, but I didn’t realize how literally true that would turn out to be. A little was all I could handle after blobbing out on the recliner all winter.

My Darling B wanted the leaves from the front yard to turn them into mulch for her garden, so I thought I’d be a gent and rake them up for her. Turns out raking is hard work. I don’t know how other people make it look so easy. I was popping a sweat in five minutes, but kept at it for another fifteen before I had to take a break to catch my breath and drink a tall glass of cold water. Then I went back out to collect all the leaves I’d raked into a bushel basket and transfer them to the back yard. That was about all I was good for today. Got the leaves from almost half the front yard raked up. Also got a blister on my thumb. Boo-hoo.

blister | 3:15 pm CST
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Thursday, January 17th, 2013

wormsThe worms are here! The worms are here!

Ew. The worms are here.

But the instructions that came with the worms say that these little guys will stay in the composter if I keep a light on, because electricity is magic. Also, warm. The blob of worms I got came rolled up in some peat moss that was tossed in a bag, and the bag was boxed without any insulation. The post office left it on my doorstep on the one day this week that the high temp was in the mid-thirties, so I lucked out there. If they’d come a day later, they would’ve been a solid block of worms by the time I got home; the temp today isn’t expected to get any higher than the teens.

Even though they weren’t frozen solid, I still had the sneaking suspicion they were dead. They sure looked dead, and I have no idea how cold worms can get before they throw in the towel. Colder than thirty-five degrees, it turns out, and it may not even have been the cold that made them look so lifeless. The worm farm I bought them from packs them in peat moss to dehydrate them. They say the worms travel better when they’re dried out. Seems kinds mean, but okay.

After bedding them down in the composter, we sprayed them with water every hour or so. They began to wiggle and show other signs of life after just an hour, and were crawling through the kitchen scraps and leaf litter when I checked on them after dinner, so I guess they’re feeling better. They’d better get to work, because we’ve got a huge backlog of kitchen scraps for them to chew through.

worms | 5:59 am CST
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Thursday, January 10th, 2013

There was a big pile of boxes on the front stoop when we got home yesterday after work. It’s Late Christmas! The postman is Santa Claus!

The biggest box was for both of us. It was, believe it or not, a worm farm. We compost most of our kitchen scraps so that My Darling B can grow yummy veggies in her garden, but the problem with that is that, for six months out of the year very little composting takes place, for two reasons: (1) Frozen kitchen scraps do not compost, and (2) I’m too big a wuss to march across a back yard knee-deep in snow to dump the kitchen scraps in the composter every night after dinner.

We don’t want to throw the scraps out, though, so when cold weather sets in we dump them in a trash can strategically located outside the back door for just that purpose. It seems like an elegant solution until it’s full and someone – that would be me – has to haul it out to the composter and empty it. Then it doesn’t seem so elegant any more.

It doesn’t solve the problem of the scraps not composting because they’re frozen solid, either. In fact, it kind of makes the problem worse, a problem that becomes most apparent when several solidly-frozen trashcan-shaped blocks are sitting on the top of each compost heap, not composting. The problem eventually takes care of itself when warm weather returns in the spring to thaw them out and wake up all the little bugs and worms that do the hard work of turning kitchen scraps into the rich, dark stuff that makes for such tasty garden veggies. You can probably see, though, that there will be a delay of several months before the scraps that were frozen all winter can be turned into usable compost.

As it turns out, someone else not only had the same problem, they were also clever enough to think of a solution for it: Year-round composting. Or, depending on how you look at it, adopting worms as pets. Red Wigglers, to be specific. It’s important that they’re Red Wigglers because, apparently, other worms don’t like to be confined and will leave the worm farm to look for more room. If you can tell the difference between a Red Wiggler and any other worm, go ahead and pick them out of your garden yourself. I can’t, so ordered them from Jim’s Worm Farm. Really.

I was hoping the wigglers would be waiting on the doorstep this evening but, alas, they weren’t. I probably won’t be worm farming until this weekend.

late christmas | 8:53 pm CST
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Monday, September 17th, 2012

Look into these eyes …

image of My Darling Bs pupils

tomatoes | 5:00 am CST
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Monday, May 14th, 2012

There are going to be so many raspberries in the back yard this summer! I went back to pull some weeds in the back corner of the yard where there used to be a stand of lilac bushes until I cut them all to the ground so My Darling B could enlarge her garden. There’s one little strip outside the fence, though, where I couldn’t dig out all the stumps, so I just left them to rot, but until they do I can’t mow back there, so I have to clear the weeds out by hand.

One of our neighbors has a big raspberry patch in the corner of her yard that’s right up against the corner of our yard where the lilacs used to be. She told us she’s been growing raspberries in that patch for something like 47 years. Shortly after B put her garden in, the raspberries began to pop up all along the fence line, so she encouraged them a little and they pretty much took over half of the back fence. Last year we brought in quite an impressively large crop of raspberries from those few canes.

And I noticed that the raspberries were volunteering in the corner of the yard where the lilacs used to be, so I kept it weeded by pulling up the garlic mustard and covering the ground with lots of straw. This year there are even more raspberry canes popping up, and they’re marching up the lot line toward the house. In a couple more years, if we keep encouraging them, we ought to preserve enough raspberries to have jam on toast every morning all winter long.

jammy | 9:16 pm CST
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Saturday, April 7th, 2012

image of garden fenceThe garden fence is done.

Well, mostly. I still want to replace the chicken wire on the gates, but the hard part’s done. No more bunnies eating up all our delicious yummy greens.

fent | 9:23 pm CST
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Sunday, August 7th, 2011

Here’s how you make it rain: You dig up all the onions in your garden and lay them out to dry in the sun for a day or two.

The amount of rain you get will be inversely proportional to how much tender loving care you have bestown upon your garden. When growing onions in a window box on a lark, you might bring on a brief shower, or perhaps a cloudburst. A decent crop of onions that have received middling care might bring on a day or so of moderate rain. More heartbreak equals more rain.

Bringing down rain in this manner requires some preparation: Plant a garden, spend every spare moment of your free time pulling weeds and squashing bugs, wait until just the right time to pull them up. If you put your heart and soul into raising a bumper crop of several varieties of big, beautiful onions, then the very night that you pull them out of the ground and lay them proudly on a bed of straw to dry out before putting them up in the cellar, that very night you are so very certain to get rain that it would be a guarantee if only someone would issue the certificates.

So remember: If the weather in your part of the country is trending toward drought and you want relief, don’t go looking for a rain man – befriend a gardener instead.

precip | 9:24 am CST
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Sunday, June 12th, 2011

I just finished disposing of the Christmas tree. Yes, I know that Christmas was six months ago. No, it’s not a point of pride. I’m lazy, and I admit it.

After the holidays were over and we all went back to our jobs, I threw the Christmas tree into a corner of the garden because My Darling B asked me to. She said it attracted birds and bunnies and all kinds of other creatures she not only liked but wanted to give shelter to during the winter months. It sat in the garden until mid-May, when B began clearing out the garden in preparation for planting.

That’s about when the tree ended up just outside the garden fence on the lawn, where it languished for another several weeks. I mowed around it a couple times, each time wincing a bit for not taking care of it sooner. I moved it out of the way once to mow the grass that was growing tall through its branches. But I didn’t get rid of it then. Well, I said I was lazy.

This afternoon, when I was done with my other chores, I offered to help B weed and she suggested I dispose of the tree instead. Oh, hey! Good idea! Dashing to the garden shed, I came trotting back with a bow saw and a pair of gloves and started to work hacking the branches off, but not before stopping to admire the biggest damn jumping spider I’ve ever seen, hunkered down on the trunk between the branches. It wasn’t an especially large spider, as spiders go. Jumping spiders are usually pretty small, though, and this was about the size of my thumbnail, so I had to stop and try to get a good look. He kept scooting around to the underside of the trunk as I turned the tree over, but the few times I spotted him he looked like a daring jumping spider, not that I know one spider from another. The google knows, though, and I trust the google.

When I was no longer distracted by the spider, I cut the tree up into individual branches that I could feed to the wood chipper and reduced it to a half-bushel of chips and needles. “Is that all?” My Darling B asked, when she saw it. She was expecting bushels and bushels, but Christmas trees are like cotton candy: Big and bushy, but they don’t have much of substance to them.

chipped | 4:07 pm CST
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Thursday, June 9th, 2011

A passing thunderstorm chased us all into the basement – me, My Darling B, and both cats – and though I made sure we had flashlights and candles down there with us, we didn’t have to use them. The lights flickered once or twice, but the power stayed on in spite of howling winds and ping pong-sized hail. Ping pong-sized? Yes. That’s the technical term now. Hail the size of all ping-pong.

On the up side, My Darling B’s garden badly needed the rain, and all of us needed a break from the heat, especially the cats, their being covered in fur and all. With temps hitting the high nineties this week, I programmed the central air here in Our Humble O’Bode to keep running through the day at a reduced setting, then kick in full-blast at four o’clock, an hour or so before we came home, to chill things the heck down so we wouldn’t be walking into a sweat lodge, whatever that is. I’ve never been in one before but it sounds hot, doesn’t it?

And the storm brought some relief from the heat wave. I could open the front door for the cats this morning, something I couldn’t do earlier this week because of the waves of steamy heat that would come surging through the door. The cats love to sit behind the screen and glare at the chipmunk who lives under the stoop and comes out in the morning to mess with them, but I just couldn’t do it until this morning. The storm has air-conditioned the whole neighborhood so it finally feels good again to open the door.

relief | 6:22 am CST
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Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

Earlier this week, the weather forecast called for rain, rain and more rain starting on Wednesday night and continuing through the weekend. I am pleased to tell you that they were wrong, wrong and are still wrong. More to the point, nobody is more pleased than My Darling B, who takes vacation time from work to expand this from a standard, regulation two-day weekend into a giant, economy-sized four-day weekend so she can get her garden planted, and for the past couple years that she’s tried this tactic, she’s almost always been stymied by rain. This year, though, she’s had almost entirely sunny days, except for yesterday when the tiniest bit of rain came spitting down now and again. She didn’t care, though. She kept working through it. She’s determined to get as much planting done as she possibly can, and to that end she was out there again this morning at eight o’clock, the time when she is normally sitting on the sofa with me, a cup of coffee in one hand and an ear on the radio as we listen to the weekly broadcast of Says You.

rainless | 8:54 am CST
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Friday, May 20th, 2011

What a fantastic day! We were up at six for no good reason I can think of other than that seemed to be the right time to get up. After coffee and our customary breakfasts – B has a banana, I eat a bowl of granola – we changed into our yard work clothes and went at it.

B spent all day in the garden, of course, where she is even as I type these words. I doubt she’ll come in for good until the sun is down and the dew begins to settle on the grass, at which point I expect she will be ready only to change into her pajamas and hit the hay. And I wouldn’t expect her to be up at six tomorrow morning, but who knows? She’s surprised me before.

I spent the day at various and sundry tasks, mostly: Weeding, if you consider dandelions weeds. I know most people do, regardless of how they manifest themselves, but I’ve long had a live and let live attitude toward dandelions. I like them. They’re pretty. And for the most part they’ve decorated our yard without being overly enthusiastic about it. This year, however, our dandelion crop has been extraordinarily exuberant, to the point that it looks like a takeover, and I’ve had to ask them nicely to scale back their attendance a notch or two. I asked them by cranking up the mower and cutting them, repeatedly, about once every three days. I’m really sick of cutting the lawn already.

I’m so sick of it that today I cut a large swath through the densest ranks of dandelions with a weed eater (or, for you Texans, a string trimmer), which was really much easier to use on them than a lawn mower. Got more immediate, satisfying results, anyway, but I had to wear safety glasses to do it, something I don’t have to do pushing a lawn mower. Just can’t use a weed eater without catching chunks of flower stems with my eyeballs, for some reason.

That took up a huge part of my day, just because there are so many dandelions in so many different parts of our yard. I ended up getting the mower out to finish off the front yard because it looked a little lopsided after I was done with the weed eater. I was at that so long that I had to take several breaks, one of them so long that I manged to catch forty winks, the best part of having a day off from work. I understand there are a few civilized countries where they actually take a nap at mid-day. Sounds like Paradise.

When I was awake and refreshed again I joined My Darling B in the garden for a while, shredding leaves. She covets compost in a way that almost makes me feel as though I shouldn’t be looking, and in the hopes of making lots of compost over the winter season she gathered up leaves from the yard last fall and piled them in the garden where they sat, not composting at all, until today when I raked them up and ran them through the wood chipper. They came out the other end finely shredded, which My Darling B oooh and ahhhh in much the same way that other women ooooh and ahhhh over shoes or ice cream or I don’t know what. Really, just don’t look.

My Darling B heard that a friend of hers gets orioles to visit her yard by hanging orange halves from their feeder, so B got some oranges and bought a feeder from Ace Hardware specially made for orange halves, and she hung it out for the birds this morning. I have personally witnessed my dad do something like this and get maybe two orioles to show up over a ten-year period, so I had some serious doubts that B would get any of this particularly shy bird to show up in our yard. Well, this evening as I was setting the table for dinner I realized that I was hearing a birdsong from the yard that I hadn’t heard before, and when I turned to look there were a pair of orioles at the feeder! B was still out in the garden and managed to catch sight of them when I called her name. I sure hope this isn’t the only time all summer they’ll show up, but at least she got to see them.

weeds | 6:57 pm CST
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My Darling B doesn’t quite have the hang of this “beck and call” thing. I told her, I’m at your beck and call to help in the garden all day long, and she starts off, “Here’s what you can do to help … you don’t have to do this right now, just whenever you feel like it…” That’s not really calling the shots, that’s just making a suggestion. “No, honey, here’s what you do,” I said, “You say: Grab that weeder and cut all those dandelions down right now!” But she couldn’t do it. I think she seriously underestimates the power of her beck.

beck | 7:06 am CST
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Monday, May 9th, 2011

B spent all day yesterday in her garden, getting the crops planted – onions, potatoes, peas, lettuce, if memory serves. It’s the only mother’s day present she asks for. My part of the bargain is to do the worrying about dinner so she won’t have to. I solved that problem by running out to Fraboni’s to bring home some guy food: sausages and a pail of potato salad.

The place was empty when I walked in, just two guys in aprons behind the cash register playing a video game on a smart phone and a gal behind the deli counter. She seemed a tad grumpy when I started asking her about the sausages, but I took her attitude to be directed at the guys playing Angry Birds while she did the work; she seemed to lighten up a bit while we talked about how many links to a pound and how many pounds to a pail.

I fired up the grill when B finally came in from the garden at about six-thirty and barbecued the whole mess of sausages so we would have leftovers for lunch the next day, but B gobbled up just about all her portion, leaving behind half a sausage and just enough potato salad for lunch – a hungry girl after spending all day on the back forty.

Gobble | 5:37 pm CST
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Sunday, May 8th, 2011

As I watched My Darling B carefully arrange wedges of potato in a trench before covering them in dirt and straw, I asked her, “Why don’t you use a potato planter to do that?”

“Because I like playing in the dirt,” was the first part of her answer — and then she said the most amazing, blasphemous words I’ve ever heard anyone utter: “Besides, you don’t need a gadget for everything.”

The horror! The horror!

Gadgets | 4:17 pm CST
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Monday, April 11th, 2011

My Darling B woke up totally knackered this morning. Or, if she wasn’t completely tired out the minute she woke up, she felt like it just moments after finishing her shower and settling onto the sofa with her morning cuppa joe. After spending close to seven hours working her garden Sunday, and maybe six or seven on Saturday, she couldn’t feel any other way, not after spending all winter inside watching movies, reading books and surfing the internet.

But when the skies cleared and the sun shone and the temperatures climbed into the sixties all weekend long she could hardly be expected to do anything but start turning over clods in her garden with a great big fork and sticking seeds in the ground, and that’s just what she did. At least she had the good sense not to grind herself down completely to a little worn-out nub. She took a kitchen timer to the garden with her, set it for sixty minutes each time she went and, when it rang, came in to sit on the sofa for ten or fifteen minutes, however long it took to suck down a couple big glasses of cold water.

It didn’t keep her from feeling the burn, though. When she got up after dinner she was hobbled by stiff muscles in her legs, back arms, you name it. “Did you know you have muscles right here?” she asked me, pointing at the bony back of my wrist. “Well, you do.”

To generate some sympathy pain for her, I rode my bike to work this morning. It’s about three or four miles away, easily doable in a half-hour even with the flabby winter muscles I have. Took me forty minutes and my butt was sore enough to force me to walk funny. Luckily I only had to walk as far as my desk, where I could sit down for a couple hours and let the feeling come back to my legs.

Sore | 8:08 pm CST
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Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

image of potato

It’s a people potato!

Or My Darling B thinks so, anyway. She was unloading a basket full of veggies she brought in from her garden yesterday morning and asked me if I wanted to see the potato that looked like a well-endowed woman.

Sure! I said. What red-blooded American man wouldn’t want to see that? Show me a well-endowed woman any time you want, you don’t even have to ask.

The photograph at left is the potato she produced from her basket. If you squint your eyes really hard and use a lot of imagination (and italics), I suppose it’s just possible you might see a figure similar to a woman in that potato. I’m not sure how “well-endowed” she is. A better description might be “freakishly enhanced by silicone implants,” and if that were the case, I’d sue the doctor that botched the job, were I in her shoes. Not that this particular woman could wear shoes.

Why Vegetables Are So Important To Your Diet | 8:34 am CST
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Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

image of lilac blossom

I’ve never seen the lilacs in our yard bloom more than once, early in the spring, but the bush against the front of the house has squeaked out two small blossoms. I was about to give it a good going-over with the hedge trimmers when I saw two bright splashes of violet at the ends of some new growth, and after that I didn’t have the heart to do it.

Probably a good thing, too. I got out the weed whacker to do a little trimming around the shrubs and when I pulled the trigger and started trimming, mosquitoes rose like a cloud from the undergrowth. Same thing happened when I uncoiled the hose to water the snapdragons in the planter by the stoop. I figured that would be absolutely safe, but from the first splash of water I was greeted by thousands of the bloodthirsty little bastards, which fell on me like high school kids mobbing a McDonald’s at lunch hour. And once they’ve been at you it’s like they never go away. Even after I retreated to the safety of the house I was slapping and scratching at what felt like mosquitoes all over me.

The snapdragons got a quick drink. I hate to tease them. I might go back after my afternoon nap, if the setting sun fries that side of the house to a crisp, as it usually does, and no mosquito would dare come out.

Late Bloomer | 6:04 am CST
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Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

I so want to be out on the patio this evening, enjoying the cool, evening breeze that’s finally come along to reward us all from enduring the long, hot, muggy day, but going out there right now would be like diving into a swimming pool filled with Bowie knives packed together so tightly that the ends of their blades all point up. Why? Because we’ve had so much rain over the past three days it’s brought the mosquitoes out in swarms that settle on every square inch of exposed flesh as soon as you step into the open from the shelter of your back door.

My Darling B went out to her garden just before dinner, determined to bring in some leafy greens for our table and as many pea pods as she could pick and take to work for lunch tomorrow. She lasted about ten minutes. Safely watching her from the inside of our screened-over dining room window as she did the happy slappy dance, I was truly impressed that she lasted so long. She must have collected at least fifty bites in that short time, five every minute, or I’m a lying bastard.

So there’ll be no kicking back in the yard this evening, no matter how much I’d like to slouch down into one of our camp chairs with a tall, cool mojito in hand and watch the evening sky fade from blue to indigo to black. I’d be bled dry so quickly that the most accomplished medical team on earth, armed with a bottomless blood supply, would be powerless to revive me.

I probably bring this up every time I start talking about mosquitoes, but here I go again: Are you old enough to remember the days when the city crew would drive a truck through your neighborhood with an industrial-strength fogger mounted on the back, spewing a thick, white cloud of insecticide over all the yards and houses, and all the children would drop whatever they were doing to chase the truck and dance through the lethal cloud as if it were the most benign plaything ever? I still haven’t developed any malignancies that I know of from doing that, have you?

And another thing: When a mosquito gets into my bedroom at night, why’s he so fascinated by my ears? He’s got the whole, great big house to fly around in, and yet the one place he wants to be more than any other is in my left ear, and sometimes in my right ear. He’s not trying to bite me, because guy mosquitoes don’t do that, so it’s not like I should even be on his radar. Does he think my ear is the way out?

Skeeters | 10:04 pm CST
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Friday, June 11th, 2010

Among the leafy greens My Darling B is growing in her fantastical garden is the leafy, lettuce-like plant known to the frou-frou organic crowd as arugula. Everybody makes fun of it, probably because you sound like an old-timey car horn when you say it. Ah ROO gyue lah!

In England the same plant is known as rocket. I don’t know why. It doesn’t give me gas and make smoke and fire come out my exhaust. Now, why would you call it arugula if you could call it rocket instead? Rocket is a much cooler name. Granted, it’s a lot more fun to say ah ROO gyue lah if you’re into sound effects, but that only works if you get to ask your grocer for it from time to time. If you’re just growing it in your garden you don’t get many chances to say it out loud, so it would be way cooler to have some rocket in your garden. That’s what we’re calling it from now on.

ahROOgyulah | 7:22 pm CST
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Monday, June 7th, 2010

The first crop of thistles is in! After cleaning up the dinner dishes, I spent the evening hours in the garden with My Darling B, pulling weeds. Now, every keystroke sends a pulsing bolt of pain through my fingertips. Got a pair of tweezers I can borrow?

I started in the lettuce patch because it was easiest to weed. Even a doofus like me can tell the difference between a thistle and a head of lettuce. I pulled up quite a bit of dill, too, but only because I couldn’t pull up the thistles without getting some dill, and they were all voluteer plants anyway. There are plenty more, all over the yard. It’s not like we’re going to be hurting for dill any time soon.

After I cleared out the lettuce patch of all the thistles (and some dill) I moved on to the bean patch. That wasn’t so easy. Well, pulling up the thistles was. They’re big and ugly as hell and they don’t look remotely like a bean sprout. Tomatilla sprouts, on the other hand, do look sort of like bean sprouts, and there were a milion zillion quadrillion of them growing in the bean patch. Tomatillas are the rabbits of the plant world.

We like tomatillas; they make great salsa, but they’re not supposed to be growing in the bean patch. The thing about tomatillas is, once you plant a bunch of them, you never want for tomatillas ever again. They grow like weeds, prolifically, everywhere. They grow in your hair if you scratch your head while you’re pulling them up. Don’t even think about rubbing your nose.

To weed them out, I had to slowly pick through the thick mat of tomatilla leaves to find a bean plant, then pull up tomatillas all around the bean until I could see dirt. After that, I could pull them out of the ground by the handful and toss them aside after shaking the dirt out of their roots before I had to slow down and pick through the leaves, looking for another bean plant.

Once the beans were free and clear I moved over to the corn patch where some monster thistles were rearing their ugly heads. All the rain we had this weekend made them easy to pull out. If I was careful I could get six or eight inches of root to come out with one long, steady pull.

After a couple hours of that my knees and lower back were stiff enough to warrent knocking off before the sun went down so I could stretch out my stiffened legs and imbibe some muscle relaxant.

cropping | 7:47 pm CST
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Sunday, June 6th, 2010

I’m encouraging six different maple trees to grow in our yard. I say “encouraging” because they’re all volunteers, growing from two-leaf sprouts that popped up high enough above the tops of the grass that I noticed them and stopped myself before I ran them over with the lawn mower. Then I looked around to see how close they were to the house, power lines, pavement, etc. and, deciding they weren’t a threat to any of those, detoured around them.

Hang on, make that seven. The first was a shoulder-high maple tree that was growing beside the back deck the day we moved in. There were no shade trees anywhere in the yard and I reasoned that a big, leafy maple growing beside the deck would be a good thing to have. And indeed it is: It turned out to be a very fast-growing maple, no idea which variety, but it’s now about twelve, maybe fifteen feet tall and its branches shade about half the deck. When I decided to let it grow, I did so with the thought in the back of my mind that I would cut it down if its widening trunk ever impinged on the deck, but I’ve grown so attached to it that I would now consider cutting away some of the decking to keep it a bit longer. Don’t tell My Darling B I said that; I have yet to figure out how to get her to go along with that idea.

The second one was a maple in the middle of the front yard, where there was apparently a mature maple growing many years ago before one of the house’s previous owners had it cut down because they believed they were in imminent danger of being crushed by its branches, should they fall down in a storm. There is a gaping hole in the lawn now where the stump used to be. I fill it with river rocks that B digs up from her garden, and when the hole stops gobbling them up I’ll top it off with some dirt and sow a little grass seed to cover it over. The maple that’s grown up right beside the hole may not be an offshoot of that older tree, or it may be a volunteer that fluttered into our yard from a neighboring maple, I’m not sure.

Those little propeller seeds can travel a lot farther than I ever thought they could. None of the maples in our yard seem to be related to one another. None grow as fast as the one beside the deck, for instance, and the one in the back yard by the garden appears to be a red maple. The two by the front door are growing as slowly as the one in the back yard by the shed, but that’s about the only similarity between them that I can see. All this would seem to indicated they’re the progeny of the various maple trees growing in the yards around ours, all of them more than a hundred feet away, many more than two hundred feet. Only one or two of them are more than fifty feet tall, yet so many of their propellers fall in our yard that they clog the eaves troughs and down spouts of our house completely two or three times a year.

Clogged down spouts are the only down side to having maple trees in your yard, though, as far as I’m concerned. Granted, it’s a pretty significant down side. I’d be just fine if I never had to climb a ladder to the edge of the roof ever again. I just love big, leafy trees, though, and can’t wait for them to grow big and lush enough to give us a little more shade. Or any shade at all. I’ll keep on climbing ladders for some of that.

treed | 7:46 pm CST
Category: daily drivel | Tags: ,
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Monday, May 31st, 2010

image of tomato trellisYou are looking at one of the most colossal failures to come from my work shop in recent memory, or even long-term memory. I can’t remember the last time I did something this mind-bogglingly stupid. Every time I look at it, I want to drink myself into oblivion. Okay, not oblivion, just until it’s funny. Well, truth be told, it’s already kind of funny, if you’re not the guy who spent yesterday afternoon and all morning today putting it together. Sort of like watching someone step on the teeth of a rake lying in the lawn so it flips up and whaps him in the face. That kind of funny.

My Darling B plants tomatoes in her garden every year. She loves tomatoes the way I love rockets, choo-choo trains and beer, maybe even more than all three combined. While there’s still snow on the ground she raises them from pups under a grow light in the basement, forty-two dozen different kinds of them with names like Brandywine and Heritage and Great Swollen Red Zit. I made that last one up, can you tell?

She pampers them right through the spring until Memorial Day weekend when she chucks them into the ground, then keeps on pampering them as they grow and grow and grow. Lucky thing for the tomatoes, which are the morons of the plant world. They’ll grow until they’re way too big to support themselves, collapse under their own weight, and then keep on growing as they sprawl drunkenly across the ground. If left unattended, I think each plant would turn into a massive tangle of convoluted vines until it resembled a huge green brain.

But B doesn’t let that happen. She treks out to her garden every day to inspect each vine and, as they grow, she ties them up to stakes so they don’t collapse under the weight of the yummy tomatoes as they grow plump and heavy with juicy goodness. She babies each and every fruit, hoping to pluck them from the vine just as they ripen but before they do a swan dive and go splat on the ground.

Tying them to stakes works all right, but driving the stakes into the ground is a major pain in the ass, so she asked me to build her a trellis. It had to be high and wide enough to tie up many, many tomato vines. I wanted it to be simple and easy to set up. PVC pipe seemed to be the perfect solution to both our wants. It’s easy to cut, you can buy elbows and tees to join it together like a kid’s toy, and if you glue it together it doesn’t come apart, ever. That last one is going to come back to bite me in the butt at the end of this story.

I started on this project yesterday afternoon with a trip to the hardware store after lunch. I thought I had it all figured out pretty well until I got back home and tried to put it together; that’s when I found out I needed four more pieces of pipe. A quick trip to the store and I had everything … except the right bolts. I had bolts, but they were too short. I bought bolts that were long enough to go through a pipe, but not two pipes, which was pretty crucial. One more trip to the store.

(This is actually typical for one of my do-it-yourself projects: A trip to the store to get the supplies, another trip to the store to get the supplies I didn’t get the first time, and a third trip to the store to replace the wrong supplies. Making another trip after the third trip would be a bit odd, but not so much. A fifth trip would be too many, and anything after that would be just plain weird. But three’s not unusual.)

After carrying the trellis out to the garden and setting it up, we decided that it was a bit too tall and I took it apart to saw a foot off each leg. That was a little better, but I sawed another foot off each leg to make it just right. I set it up one last time, just to make sure everything looked right, then carried it out front, laid it flat on the driveway and took every joint apart so I could cement the thing together. Wouldn’t do to have it come apart in a storm.

As you may well imagine, putting the trellis back together correctly was critical. The cement is of the type that sort of melts the plastic pipe a little bit so the two surfaces join each other in a way that can’t be undone without explosives or lasers. I was very careful to review the geometry of all the parts as I put them together again, but I must have spent too much time looking at M.C. Escher drawings, because I put it together in exactly the wrong way. It wouldn’t open now without the intervention of a seriously all-powerful supernatural being. Demigods need not apply.

So this year the tomatoes get staked again, dammit.

wrong wrong WRONG | 1:58 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, entertainment, hobby | Tags: ,
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Monday, March 22nd, 2010

Time for a few stray thoughts. I haven’t done this in a while, and I can’t come up with anything but complete randomness right now, so the timing seems auspicious:

Granola. I eats it. I didn’t used to because I thought it was ucky, and I thought it was ucky because it was pretty bad granola. Dry enough to suck every molecule of moisture out of every cell in my mouth and gritty enough to use as traction if my car got stuck on the ice. I don’t know who made that stuff or why, but as granola it was crap. Or maybe that’s just the way granola was made back then, and now they know better. We started bringing it home from the co-op when Tim asked for it, and as he asked for it more and more I started eating it, too. Crunchy and sweet, it’s pretty tasty stuff and comes in more flavors than the multicolored plastic stuff they sell to kids as breakfast cereal. There was a spell after Tim moved out where we didn’t bring much home for a while, and then a while back we started stocking up every week because both My Darling B and I were eating it for breakfast in the morning, and neither one of us are breakfast-eating people. Or weren’t. I guess we are now.

We practiced our dance steps last night and we were freaking AWESOME! By our standards. And the bar’s still set pretty low, but only because we’ve been at it for just five weeks, folks. It’s not for lack of trying. We’ve got all the steps down, for instance, but that’s about it. Grace, poise, timing, that’s all stuff far in the future. BUT WE’VE GOT THE STEPS DOWN, OKAY? That’s gotta count for something.

I thought we’d be able to get an uninterrupted night’s sleep now the weather’s warmed up and the cats have wandered off to find other places to bed down for the night, but the recent cold snap brought them right back to cuddle up alongside us like a couple of heat magnets. Last night they had me pinned to the mattress like Lilliputians pinning Gulliver to the ground. They were purring like great big furry purring things. They were just like another metaphor that I can’t recall right now.

We had one of those weekends where we didn’t go out much and it seemed as though we didn’t really do all that much. I mean, we weren’t inert blobs of protoplasm; we washed some clothes, took out the trash, cleaned the kitchen and unblocked the bathroom drain, things like that. Stuff got done. Also, I finished a book I started last weekend (no prize for guessing what it was about) and My Darling B got herself up into the biggest snit ever talking to me about the book she finished.

And some of us had plans that were dashed by the cold snap that brought us that one last dump of winter (at least I’m hoping it’s the last dump). B wanted to break out her roto-tiller and turn over some soil in her garden so she could plant lettuce, and I think she may have been just a teensy bit bummed out that she couldn’t. With temps in the fifties all week, she was living in anticipation for too long not to be utterly gobsmacked by the change in weather. I’m pretty sure my head would have exploded, but I’m a little more excitable than she is.

strays | 5:59 am CST
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Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

B in her gardenWith a warm spring sun still dazzling the skies over her shoulder, My Darling B turns over a forkfull of garden soil and crumbles it in her hand to see if it’s ready for planting. It looks promising. This photo was taken in the middle of last year’s potato patch.

garlic sproutingThe garlic has sprouted!

alpine strawberriesAnd the strawberries have wintered over nicely. B says these are “Alpine strawberries,” the most hearty plants she could find. They’ll survive the cold snap forecast for this weekend, she says, even if she leaves them uncovered. I certainly hope so.

in the garden | 3:07 pm CST
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Monday, March 15th, 2010

My Darling B had the foresight several months ago to ask for today off from work, apparently knowing way back then that spring weather would have come by now, the snow would all be gone and she could begin to plant her garden. Lucky girl gets to spend the day starting seedlings (poking seeds into little cups filled with dirt) while listening to Sinatra, Martin and Fitzgerald on Pandora.

I, on the other hand, did not foresee how insanely jealous I would be when I realized she would be home today enjoying the warm temps, clear skies and fresh air of this fine spring day and so I did not ask for this day off, and instead would spend the day where I spend every other week day, in the basement of an office building downtown, plinking away at a keyboard while my caffeine high slowly fades.


jealousy | 3:13 pm CST
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