Up To Our Elbows

I like that saying, “up to our elbows [in] [insert random task or item in quantity]”.  I have an image of people with rolled-up sleeves, grinning maniacally while about to tackle something outrageously complex, difficult, and/or tedious.  It’s not a bad image but it does imply that there are Big Things Happening (and that the people doing them are pretty much nutso.)

We sort of have Big Things Happening around here (and are up to our elbows in them).  DH has found a lovely contractor (is that even possible?) who is going to replace the retaining wall along the steps that go to our basement door.

Unfortunately, I did not take a photo of the “before” wall.  Suffice it to say that it was a grey block wall, slightly bowing out in some places and slightly sagging in others, which was both unattractive and unpleasant, and probably even a little bit dangerous.  The contractor is going to re-set the wall and put in new block with a lightly less “death-warmed-over” tone.

Here is where the wall once stood.  (There’s another wall on the opposite side of the steps which is also being replaced, but you don’t quite get the full effect if I shoot the photo down the steps.)

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The remains of the old walls:

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The project site:

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A random onlooker:

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Bob [PLEASE STOP ME BEFORE I TYPE “THE BUILDER”] should be here this morning with new block in the “desert sands” colorway. It will not necessarily match our pinky-grey house, but it should look nicer than death-warmed-over grey, and definitely better than white or red (the other choices). When in doubt, go with the beige, my Realtor mother would probably say.

Meanwhile, I am pleased as punch that the transplants I have randomly scattered painstakingly placed about the yard seem to appreciate their new homes.

Last week, I moved these two large Zebra Grasses from the front yard to the back. I put them alongside the bridge that leads off the bottom of the deck to the yard, near the kids’ playset. I think they soften the bridge and look lovely. Happily, it has been a week and they are not dead!

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Even more amazing is this Lamb’s Ear. It was a cutting given to me by a friend a month ago. A month! And still alive! That’s got to be a record around here.

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I also found these two Coral Bells plants at the grocery store. They were 50 cents apiece; who can pass up plants for 50 cents? Not I. They’ve been in the ground for a few days now and- fingers crossed- are still yellow. That’s good. These ones are supposed to be a chartreuse-y yellow-green.  I have several plants this color in the yarden, but these ones are supposed to look like that.

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In the wings is one other large-ish project, namely putting some steps off the back of our deck.  We do have some steps leading off the deck, but they lead towards the south end of the yard.  Our firepit is on the east end of the yard.  We would like people to be pointed in the proper heading when they leave the deck so they end up at the firepit and not, say, at the neighbors’.  Or in Virginia.  (The real reason, of course, is that we are lazy and want to waddle down off the deck and directly to the fire pit, without having to slog through grass and without having to take 100 extra steps to get there.  Because it’s SO FAR AWAY.) Here. I will illustrate with clever photos and schematics.

Our firepit, awash with heavenly morning light:

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Now, here is a view from the deck. As you look off the deck towards said heavenly fire pit, the current set of steps lead way off to the right, AWAY FROM said fire pit. And they’re dark. And one has an extra deep tread, so they become treacherous, especially when one is carrying marshmallows and a pointy stick for toasting them on. You can see that this is not a good plan. A much better plan is to have steps go directly toward the firepit, with proper lighting and a railing. (If you’re going to dream, dream big.)

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Here is the current view of that part of the deck from the yard. As you can see, we are not going to lose any valuable landscaping with this project.

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This next drawing/photo will give you an idea of what the steps will look like. Of course, in reality they will look a lot less like an inflatable emergency airplane slide and a lot more like real steps. They’ll be wood and stained to match the deck, instead of baby-poop brownish yellow. I’m working with limited resources (and ability) here, so just go with it.


However, before we tackle the steps, we must first replace the air conditioning unit.  Our outside condenser unit has been damaged by a marauding band of pirate mice, who chew up wiring insulation and trade it at the salvage yard for cheese.  There are so many tasteless jokes to make with that metaphor that I’m going to just drop it right now.  Suffice it to say, our home’s air is not very cool at the moment.  And that sucks, because it has been in the upper 80s F all week and yesterday was incredibly humid to boot, so while I very much want steps with the proper heading, I am a selfish human who lives in the moment and at this moment would rather be cool than walking down nice steps.  Because, you see, I can just not go down the steps for now, but I can’t just not be sweltery hot.  Not now.  Unless I go into the basement, of course.  But then I would just hide there and not come up til September, and that would not be very productive.  And I so want to be productive (*snort*).



Encore Performance

IMG_3636 by MotherMe

Two years ago, I bought this “Bleeding Heart” from a community plant sale.  I dutifully took it home, put it in a shady garden spot, and watched it wither away to nothing.  The following year brought neither hide nor hair of this cool-weather plant, and I assumed it had been lost forever.  However, I spotted something pink in the shrubby brush that is my main shade garden this spring.  Lo and behold, the bleeding heart has come back!  Its blooms are now gone, since this picture is about a month old, but the plant looks lush and green.  Maybe it was just lost among the weeds.  In any case, welcome back, little plant.  Hope to see you again next year.

Peas Please

I had a very modest but very delicious crop of peas this year.  We planted a row of about 15 plants on St Patrick’s Day, and another row two weeks later, on my birthday.  I can’t say it was financially worth the effort, but it was fun to pick our own and shell them.  And we definitely had more success than last year, so that’s something.

This is the second harvesting.

Pea harvest

I think we averaged about one or two pods per plant. Not particularly bountiful, but the peas are still tasty. The kids had fun shelling them, and that was also a good “job” for them to help with. They did all of them on their own.

Shelling peas

We counted how many peas were in each pod. The fewest number of peas was two. The most was five.

Shelling a pea

I was very impressed that the kids stayed on task and finished the whole bowl. O4 started to get a little bored at the end, but S6 and I helped her finish the last three pods. All three of them had exactly four peas inside.

Shelled peas

Some of these went into my salad for dinner, and the rest are about to go into alphabet soup. I’m also toying with planting a fall crop in a different place, to see if they do any better.

Amateur Botany

While I did end up purging the vast majority of books we inherited from my dad, I kept several cherished ones.  One of my favorites is a wildflower field guide.  I love trying to figure out what all the pretty and interesting blooms are in the backyard.

Wildflowers Field Guide

We’ve been walking in the woods across the street a lot, now that the weather has warmed up. That’s a great place to spot wildflowers.

Sisters on a spring walk

Right now, the bluebells are starting to make their annual appearance.

Bluebell Trail

They’re not quite at peak but already look beautiful.



Of course, there are other things to admire and identify besides bluebells. We spotted this trout lily next to the trail:

Trout Lily

I’m not exactly certain what these white flowers are. They look like a sort of phlox, but the leaves seem too big for moss phlox.


The mandrakes have their umbrella leaves up and buds are starting to form underneath some of the plants.

Mandrake foliage

We even spotted some skunk cabbage about to unfurl.

Skunk cabbage

Skunk cabbage is a foliage plant, sort of like a hosta.

Skunk cabbage

Of course, there’s nothing like picking dandelions on a pretty spring day.

Dandelion girl

We didn’t even need the book for that one.


This Poor, Neglected Blog

I don’t know why I get out of the habit of writing here.  Sure, I have absolutely nothing vital or even remotely interesting to say, but that’s not the point.  The brain exercise ought to at least keep me coming back.  My noggin feels smarter when I blog.  Okay, maybe not smarter, but definitely clearer.  Writing is healthy.  It’s good stuff.  I should do it more often.

This past weekend was a strange juxtaposition of tragedy and celebration.  I spent Friday and Saturday alternating between a funeral for my cousin and a wedding for our good friend.  It was rather bizarre, truth be told.  I also attended Mass twice in one day.  I haven’t been to Mass since … well, since the last funeral I attended.  Or maybe the last wedding.

As the weekend unfolded and I had to make decisions about what things to attend (rehearsal dinner or calling hours? Pictures at park, or mournful luncheon?), I found myself gravitating towards the funeral functions.  I didn’t want to be at the wedding, making merry.  It felt more comfortable to be at the funeral home, surrounded by weepy people and rapidly-emptying boxes of Kleenex.  (They were real Kleenex, by the way.  I checked.)  Now, what is wrong with me, that I’d rather focus on gloom than gaiety?  Maybe it’s got something to do with the fact that the clothes you wear to funerals are a lot less revealing.  Black is more flattering than, say, lamé (not that I’d ever wear lamé anywhere.)   Or maybe I’ve become a negative person who prefers sobbing in a dusty funeral parlour to the artificial pageantry of an all-out wedding reception.

(Or maybe I may have just answered my own question.)

Anyway, all that’s behind us, and now we can focus on really important things, like planting seeds and getting the garden ready for the growing season.  I hope we don’t go another round with the bunnies and deer, but  I’ll give them a damn good fight this year if we do.  Meanwhile, things are already looking greenish.  Spring is here, honestly and truly.  I have some plants coming up, many returning from last year, some of which I never thought we’d see again and some of which I have no idea where they came from.

Check out these sweet little flowers in the backyard:


And look at this gorgeous bloodroot, which came from who-knows-where (I didn’t plant it, that’s the thing)


These adorable little perennials are displaying up front:



In the woods across the street, there are many other pretties making their annual spring appearances:


Of course, it wouldn’t be spring without the bluebells. They’re up and getting ready to put on the late-April show.


I’ve got a few peas coming up (should take pictures of those, before the bunnies find them) and some other things started in pots, like parsley and tomatoes.  All of our tomato seeds are saved from last year’s crop and/or heirloom fruit we got from friends, the CSA box, etc.  Same with peppers.  This is an experiment: I’m testing out our highly scientific seed-saving technique (which involves dumping the pulpy seeds into a small container, covering with a coffee filter, and letting them congeal into a hard film.  In the spring I peel the film off the bottom of the container, stick it in a pot, cover it with dirt, and voila.)

The girls got some seeds in their Easter baskets (Cosmos and bachelor’s buttons) and are eagerly watching to see when they’ll bloom.  Those are some fast-germinating plants, let me tell you.  We planted them maybe five days ago and already have little sprouts in our pots.  I suppose annuals have to get on with it and not waste time, unlike perennials, who can try again the following  year if things don’t work out so well.

Our tulips bloomed on Saturday, incidentally.  I haven’t photographed them yet, but we have two glorious flame-orange blooms out front.  I’d better get those tomorrow, too, before the deer find them.

Randomness and Pudding

It’s the Ides of March, but forget all that blather about being wary today: winter’s finally ebbing.  It’s hanging on, but steadily losing steam.  Now that our 2+ feet of snow has melted, there are perky springy buds all over the place, and zillions of daffodil shoots poking up everywhere    My neighbor claims she planted over 700 bulbs in her garden last fall.  That will be a brilliant display, and you can bet there will be me and every other person in the neighborhood with a camera standing in the street taking photos once they finally bloom.

I made rice pudding today.  Been craving it since last week, when a friend and I went to some cute dinky diner for supper.  Rice pudding was on the menu, but they were sold out.  Damn.  I hadn’t particularly wanted any til they said it was all gone, and now it’s all I can do not to eat the entire pot here at one sitting.

I’ve been knitting like a fiend, sometimes working on socks but mostly doing a shawl that I decided, last-minute, would be nice to have for an early April wedding.  I want to finish it while the motivation lasts.  That window of opportunity is dangerously small.  Fortunately, so is the amount of knitting left to go on it.

Our garden seeds arrived over the weekend, and S-almost-6 and I spent a lovely afternoon planting some of them in peat pots.  We sorted the seed packets into piles of “start inside weeks early” and “sow directly after all danger of frost has passed”.  There’s one small pile for peas, because those get sown outside but early.  They’re rebels, those peas.

Finally, my husband had a job interview in another state.  I have no freaking clue what is going to happen with that.  The interview went very well, they called back a few days later to ask him some followup questions about salary, and then… nothing.  Two weeks have now passed. He’s adopted the “just forget about it and act as if we’re going to die here” attitude.  I’m not that placid, unfortunately.  I just want to know, one way or the other, what the hell is going on.

Guess I’ll just have some more rice pudding while we wait.

Creamy Rice Pudding

  • 1 1/2 cups cooked white rice
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 cups milk, divided
  • 1 large egg at room temperature
  • 3/4 – 1 cup raisins
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 T butter

Combine cooked rice, sugar, salt and 1 1/2 cups of the milk in a saucepan.  Heat on medium flame until thick and creamy, about 15-20 minutes.  Stir regularly to prevent milk from scorching.  Combine 1/2 cup milk, egg, and raisins and pour into rice mixture.  Cook 2 minutes more, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat, stir in vanilla and butter, and let cool slightly.  Pudding will thicken as it cools.  Serve while still warm.

and buds and green all over the place.