We were a little late getting to the market this morning because we both felt like sleeping in a little later than usual. I didn’t head for the kitchen to start the morning coffee until shortly after seven o’clock, and we didn’t hit the road until quarter past nine. There are some things you just can’t rush.

As it turned out, we didn’t get even so far as the end of the street before I realized something wasn’t quite right with the way the car was handling. I had to crank the wheel to the left to keep it going straight, definitely something I didn’t want to do for the six-mile drive into town. A quick walk-around after parking by the curb found the problem right away: the right front tire was almost completely flat. Changing it out cost us another twenty minutes.

Then, finally, we were on our way. We filled a basket with meat and veggies at the market, filled another with all manner of good foods and sundries at the co-op, but our weekly trip to the thrift shop was almost a flat-out bust except for the nifty platter My Darling B found buried amongst the china. We have almost as many platters as we have plates now. “We should start eating off platters,” B suggested. “Why not?” I agreed.

It was muggy and hot today, the kind of day when it would be best to crank up the air conditioning, grab a cool drink, push back in a recliner and read a book until the sun went down. I got as far as the first step, but as usual I got distracted and never did get around to the second step before I was doing something else.

“Something else” was yard work. There’s a corner of our yard, under the mulberry tree, where some volunteer raspberries have sprouted and begun to grow up, and I’ve recently acquired a taste for raspberries, so I’ve been encouraging them to grow.

Trouble is, there’s quite a lot of creeping charlie, night shade, wood violet and garlic mustard growing in the same patch of ground. I don’t mind having any of those growing in our yard, but in the past week we’ve had a little more than four inches of rain, and in our part of Wisconsin every quarter-inch of rain translates to at least a million mosquitoes. During the day, all those mosquitoes hide away from the heat under the leaves of whatever plants they can find, so that overgrown corner of the yard was one huge mosquito party.

In order to pull up all that undergrowth, I would have to dress up in long pants, a long-sleeved shirt and, just to make sure I didn’t end up looking like a smallpox victim the next time I went out in public, I’d have to throw a net over my head, the kind you see some bee keepers wearing. B bought one a year or two ago when the mosquitoes were really thick in her garden. Wearing all those clothes on a cool day that wouldn’t have been a problem, but on a day that’s muggy and on the hot side of eighty-five degrees, I didn’t have to spend much time in the yard before all my clothes were soaked through with sweat and I was gasping for breath.

I made three trips to the compost heap with our wheel barrow to haul away all the undergrowth I pulled up. It was thick and wet but came out easily in clumps. All I had to do was gather it up, hand over hand, and pull, throwing it over my shoulder as I worked my way across the patch. I thought it would be an epic battle but the hardest thing about it was enduring the rivers of sweat that ran off me, soaking every inch of my clothes.

After about an hour of that I was done and could go inside to peel off my clothes, which was almost more work than tearing up all that undergrowth. Then I sat in front of one of the air conditioning vents, sucking down pint after pint of ice-cold water, for about a half-hour until I felt normal again.


I do love Ubuntu (like Windows, but free) (yes, free), but getting it to talk to my wireless network is going to drive me to drink. Or something. What do maddening things drive you to when you already drink?

After spending about an hour and a half trying to get my laptop to talk to my network I had to get up and work out my aggressions, so I grabbed our largest weeder out of the garden shed. It’s got a handle that’s six feet of solid hickory and a sharpened V of iron on the business end that can slay any weed that grows in the green, effective earth. Striding across the yard with that weeder in my hand I feel as though I could repel Hannibal’s army, so it’s perfect for slaughtering the monstrous crown-of-thorn thistles that have infested the far corner of the lawn out front.

These beasts are not like the nettles that sprout and grow up six feet tall if you let them. The crown-of-thorns grow very close to the ground. If you want to get rid of them, you have to get the blade of your weeder well under the ground, probing until you can feel the trunk of the root. That’s why a stout weeder with a sharp blade is essential. Once you’ve connected, slice it off at least three inches beneath the surface and pop the crown of the thistle out. You’ll have to repeat this several times over the course of the summer with each weed before it finally spends every calorie stored in its roots and gives up the ghost.

Or you could just spray Round-Up on it, but where’s the challenge in that? You can’t work out your aggressions after wrestling with an intransigent software system by pumping a little Round-Up on weeds. BORing!


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.


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.


I thought it might rain today, but the grass in the back yard had grown knee-high in places after several days of steady rain falling over the past week. I was determined to get out there this morning and mow even while a steel gray overcast gathered overhead. Until I started actually getting wet, I had to make a try at cutting back some of the jungle growth, so I backed the mower out of the shed, hooked up the extension cords and began hacking away.

Two hours and not a drop of rain later I was finishing up with the weed eater (I’ve recently learned it’s a “string trimmer” to some of you, so here you go) and the yard looked almost like a proper lawn. Still need some work in the far corners and along the back of the house, but baby steps are important.

What’s in bird seed that makes the grass grow so lush under the bird feeder? Or is it maybe the mad poopin’ birds, or a combination of bird poo and bird seed? I haven’t been able to figure it out, but man is the grass thick right there. I have to make two or three passes with the mower, very slowly and patiently, to get it all, and by tomorrow I know it’ll have grown tall enough for the rabbits to hide in.

killer death shrub

shrub, yard work, evil, satan, killer death plantPictured: A freshly-beheaded thorny shrub from hell.

Correction: No, not from hell. Is there some place worse than hell? Some place way more painful? Because this shrub is worse than anything hell could spawn. It’s got thorns sharper than kitten’s teeth. Brushing up against it absent-mindedly will cause searing pain and draw blood. To remove it I had to don a pair of heavy leather gauntlets and then, working very gingerly from the outermost branches, prune it one sprig at a time until nothing but the bald root ball was left. I’ll hack that out of the ground later this week.

I admit it, I don’t understand landscaping. It’s one of those arts I just don’t get. Why anyone would consider for a moment planting this abomination in a yard where presumably they’d want to be able to move about without having to wonder if they’re going to injure themselves while retrieving a frisbee is beyond me.

I do understand the whole yin-yang thing, that everything’s got its place in the world, that even things which seem bad have their good points. This is, I have to admit, a pretty shrub after its leaves turn rusty red, but those killer death thorns take away from all the pretty redness of the leaves. I don’t want to be in the same county, much less the same yard, with a shrub like this one.

This was the last one standing. There used to be two more in the front yard. I let Tim tear them out with a pick axe, which he was all too willing to do after he poked holes in his hands (I told him to be careful). This one was growing in the spot to the left of the air conditioning unit where it was mostly out of the way, so I let it live until today. I’m going to finish painting the house this summer (promise, Dear!), though, and that shrub was going to be in my way, so bye-bye devil shrub from worse-than-hell! Time to die!


bunny!A quick pass with the lawn mower last Sunday uncovered the hiding place of this little guy in the tall grass next to the planter. The little pocket of grass he was curled up in didn’t look like a rabbit nest, which are usually lined with fur, so I assumed he was hiding out while his mother was away. He stayed hunkered down there even though he wasn’t hidden at all any more, so I cut the end out of a cardboard box and put it over him to keep the sun off him.

When I showed him to My Darling B she cooed, “He’s so cute!” and started worrying about him half a second later. “What’s he doing out here? Where’s his mommy? Is he okay? I hope a dog doesn’t get him!” And so on. She was so worried about him that she spent the next two hours Googling every scrap of information about wild rabbits she could find. She even called the Humane Society to see if they did wild bunny rescues the way they rescued injured birds.

The Humane Society told her not to worry, that it was normal for the mother to leave her bunnies alone all day and come back at dawn or dusk to feed them. She watched him all afternoon and, sure enough, right after dinner an adult rabbit came into the yard, wandered around for a bit to make sure the coast was clear, and then jumped up into the planter.

B just about wet her pants when three or four bunnies appeared from under the cover of the dead leaves and daisy stems in the planter to crowd around the mother and feed. “The nest’s in the planter! The nest’s in the planter!” she burbled. We’d been poking around the planter all afternoon, but somehow it had never occurred to us to look there.

As soon as the mama left, the bunnies disappeared again. B put on a pair of gardening gloves and went straight out there to scoop up the little lost bunny and put him gently back beside the nest. He seems to jump out every so often, but the mama must be finding him and putting him back. They’re almost big enough to leave the nest anyway, according to the web sites B read on the intertubes, so maybe he’s just impatient to see the world.

bench grinder

bench grinderBench Grinder. You gotta get yourself one of these.

If you have any kind of tools that cut, chop or mulch, do yourself a huge favor and get a bench grinder and sharpen the blades of your cutting, shopping, and/or mulching tools.

I bought it specifically to sharpen the blades of the wood chipper we bought two weeks ago. I’ve been grinding up small brush with it ever since and just I realized the blades had gotten so dull that I had to push harder to force even the smallest branches through it.

The owner’s manual says that when the blades get dull you should go buy some new ones right away. I admit that I’ll probably have to buy new blades at some time in the future, but two weeks after I bought the machine? Sounds like some major assholery to me.

I tried honing them on a whetstone and that worked okay, but they went dull again after just a day’s use, which really kinda torqued my nose because using a whetstone takes quite a bit of time. And that’s when I got the idea of using a bench grinder.

You can get them for forty bucks at most hardware stores, and once it’s powered up you can put a sharp edge on any cutting tool with just two or three careful passes. Not only is it easier, it puts an almost magically sharp edge on your yard tools. After I sharpened both sets of blades on the wood chipper I had to hold the big chunks back as I fed them into the throat of the thing! It wanted to snatch them right out of my hands. I let it grab one stick about as thick as my thumb, just to see what would happen, and the results were pretty spectacular, but not quite as explosive as I thought they might be.

Anyway, I finally finished up chipping every stick of wood from the lilac tree I could feed into the chipper, and it took only three hours. Nap time.


It wasn’t supposed to rain today, so I figured I could do about two or three hours of work in the yard and, if I got through at least one of my tasks, I could take the rest of the afternoon off on the excuse that I got enough done for one weekend and I still hadn’t had a proper nap, dammit.

So I started cleaning up some more of the mess I made cutting down some trees (Will I ever finish? Doesn’t seem likely at this point.) and spent about an hour or so before lunch putting it through the chipper, then another half-hour, maybe forty-five minutes after lunch doing the same, before we were able to prove once and for all that the dorks at the National Weather Service make their forecasts by flipping a coin.

I didn’t hear the thunder approaching because I had plugs stuffed deep into my ears to save my delicate cochlear nerve endings from the howling of the wood chipper. However, I did get a tad bit wet now and again, and it was definitely not coming from My Darling B’s garden sprinkler, so when the sky was looking its darkest and I finished off the batch of branches I’d brought from the front yard, I switched off the chipper and pulled my earplugs … and that’s when I heard rolling thunder.

B was already gathering up her gardening tools. She finished up quickly enough to help me wind up the extension cord and put away the rest of the wood-chipping gear, and we got into the house and buttoned up just before the rain came pouring down. B checked the NWS’s web side and it still said 20% chance of isolated T-storms. I guess we’re very isolated here.


I was working in the yard after dinner last night with our new wood chipper, mulching my way through the pile of branches I amassed after I pruned the storm-damaged branches off the overgrown lilac bush next to the garden shed. My Darling B joined me about ten or fifteen minutes after I got at it, and together we filled up a gardening basket with mulched wood chips, leaves and twigs. Took us about an hour, and somehow the pile of branches didn’t appear to get much smaller.

It was so warm I worked in a t-shirt! There’s a first for the season. Temps were in the seventies yesterday, and my little foray into yard work was the first time I had a chance to get out and enjoy it, if “yard work” and “enjoy” are words that go together. Word of advice: When you’re shoving branches into a wood chipper, wear long sleeves, no matter how warm it is. Otherwise, you’re going to scratch your arms bloody no matter how careful you promise yourself you’re going to be.