Thursday, July 28, 2011

Charlie did NOT eat a dead chipmunk!

I repeat: no dead chipmunks were eaten by Charlie.

In this family, we take our victories where we can get them.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Welcome to the Jungle

As I mentioned a few days ago, my garden is a horrible mess this summer. Under the best of circumstances, my garden lives by the philosophy of benign neglect. This is not a yard for sissies. If you need constant tending, you really don't belong here.

But this summer, benign neglect has been carried to an unreasonable extreme--so much so that "benign" hardly seems a fair word to use. In the interests of penance, I therefore share with you these pictures of the front yard. I haven't got pictures of the back to share yet. It's too painful to look at.

Somewhere in there are my shrubs.

Let's pretend the crabgrass is a border planting, yes?

The sidewalk needs a mow.

This is my DAD'S fault! There are some lovely geraniums and other
perennials in there, but they are swamped by a mind-boggling, aggressive
outbreak of black-eyes Susans. THANKS A LOT, DAD!

Although the Susans ARE pretty next to my Shasta daisies.
I forgive you, Dad.

Oh, what a world...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Thanks a lot, Midwest...

...for your stinkin' heatwave!  Got in the car this morning, and the local NPR station informed me that, at 5:19am, it was already 80 degrees.  Loverly!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Way We Were

I was recently very upfront about what a disaster our yard and gardens are. Then I proceeded to claim I would get right on that weeding, and that of course turned out to be a lie. Then Mulch was gone for a weekend and I did all kinds of house projects and never stepped outside.

But this past Sunday, I finally got to work. But in the interest of full disclosure, I'm going to first post pictures from Spring, just to prove that I really did have things under control and even have a plan for the summer. Also, it will make the FAIL pictures to come just that much more...  I don't think impressive is the right word, but you get the idea.

How lovely!

Front bed.

Azaleas. Required by law in the Washington Metropolitan area.

Charming, right?

The little rose that could. Mulch was sure this guy wouldn't survive in the
(admittedly crappy) spot I put  him in.

Beautiful peonies. Came with the house.

Climbing rose in the back. Planted it three years ago;
this is the first time it's really bloomed. Most beautiful
frangrance you can imagine.

So purty.
Spring was filled with such promise.

Peppers, where are you now?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

How Quickly Are Promises Broken

Instantly in some cases, as it turns out. I didn't do a bit of weeding over the weekend beyond tearing out some of the tall mystery grass weeds in the front beds while walking between car and front door. Ah well. Instead, Mulch Boy and I spent a weekend mostly goofing off -- going to two movies at the theater, working our way through the Harry Potter DVDs in preparation for the final movie's premiere, lounging in the pool, visiting the bookstore, having friends over, and eating eating eating.

Mulch Boy, I believe I've mentioned, is the Family Chef, and a fantastic one. And now that's it's grilling season, he's really in his element. Sunday saw him smoking two giant slabs of beef ribs (for a visual image, imagine the brontosaurus ribs Fred orders in the closing credits of "The Flintstones"), which made a beef rib convert out of me. Monday was grilled chicky and snausage and hot dogs, last night was giant monster hamburgers. Yes, I AM a lucky woman and, yes, I'm very very aware of that!

Sadly for me, I will not be seeing much of Mulch through this weekend:  he'll be working hard with his bestest friend and bidness partner at the Capital Audiofest. I will be home with the pups, and hopefully I will get a bunch of household chores and projects done to surprise him with when the Fest is over.  I'm not committing to anything in writing here, though.  I have a tendency to, shall we say, change my mind when it comes to these things.  Not that I won't be doing SOMETHING; it just might end up being a completely different project. Queen's prerogative. Although honestly, I really ought to bathe the dogs. Sunday they thought it would be a great idea to get under the smoker to catch all those delicious beef drippings. On their heads. They smell like a barbecue pit, the two of them. It's better than dead baby bird, though, so I'm counting our blessings.

Friday, July 1, 2011

July? JULY??!

The last thing I remember, it was April and it was springtime in DC and the flowers were all in bloom. And now I find it's July 1, summer has arrived along with Dead Baby Bird Season,* and my entire yard is one giant weedy disaster. What happened?
I guess May and June can be considered lost months: without going into detail, they were filled with unexpected events and challenges and traveling and trucks. But in the end, all was well, and even really good. Successful moves, happy weddings, well-deserved and long-denied raises -- these all came together to make the rest of the mess worthwhile. Except perhaps for the multiple air travel horrors. Let us not speak of them except to say Delta Airlines is made of pure evil.

So now Mulch Boy and I are back home and joining everyone else in welcoming summer. We'll begin this weekend by installing** our new pool, lying in the sun trying to give our pasty Irish and German skins a little color, smoking beef ribs in MB's new smoker, and grilling every piece of meat in the house. Those last two tasks are Mulch Boy's, as he is the chief cook in our palace. My contribution to the meal will likely be pouring beverages and toasting marshmallows.***

Although I won't be doing the cooking, I DO hope to begin getting the yard back into shape, emphasis on "begin." We have a LOT of beds, and they are hopelessly taken over by weeds. It will take a lot of digging to get them back into shape.

The worst, sadly, is the vegetable garden. Oh, the high hopes we had this spring. I had started all my lovely seedlings in my new little basement garden with the little grow lights, and it was looking like success. Alas, life intervened, and the sad little seedling are dried up and dead, never having made it into the lovingly prepared ground. The only thing we got planted were the seed potatoes, and so they and the volunteer cherry tomatoes that surprised us this spring are all we've got going this year. And they are being slowly strangled by the incredibly successful crop of weeds that have taken over.

I think that's where I'll start: the vegetable garden. I owe it to Mulch Boy. He was very disappointed about the seedlings, and that I never got seeds into the ground. Time to get out the knee pad and rescue what little veg we've got. Back to work!

*Running concurrently with early summer is Dead Baby Bird Season, when all those little fledglings leave the nest, apparently to be killed in our backyard by squirrels or cats. The garden assistants like to find their sad little corpses and roll in them. I hate Dead Baby Bird Season.

**i.e., inflating.

***Giant-sized marshmallows. They are at least twice the size of regular marshmallows. They are the best invention of the 21st century so far.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Bloom Day!

It's been bothering me that I have this gardening blog and have barely posted a picture in months. So today, I got my little self out and took pictures. Finally, proof, I really DO have a yard!

Daffies, daffies, daffies

These tulips turn orange-pink in the middle and they smell like lemon.

First bloom on my new viburnum I planted last year.

I love hyacinth. The smell IS spring.

Lilac in bud.

Flowering quince.

These guys were a surprise! I dug them up last fall and
never got them back in the ground. They are
The Bravest Bulbs Ever.

Baby's breath? A volunteer shrub from next door that
I encouraged.

My very stingy camellia's one bloom.

Cherry blossoms on our sour cherry!

Brave, brave hellebore.

Dogwood buds.

Forky collection. Because everyone needs three.

I have a niece who is an amazing photographer.
I wish I had her talent and could better capture
how beautiful this haze of green is.

Garden assistants, i.e., why the hellebore is so brave.

Me? Stylish? Wow!

I got back from my week away to find that Jim Groble awarded me a Stylish Blogger Award. Me! I feel like The Old Man in "A Christmas Story," winning a major award.


Apparently, there are two responsibilities that go with this honor: 1) that you share seven random things about yourself, and 2) that you nominate 15 other bloggers that you enjoy. So with great humility at being given this major award, I share:

Seven Random Things About The Potato Queen
  1. When my cousins and I were playing "Charlie's Angels" growing up, I was usually Sabrina.
  2. One of those cousins ("Jill") appointed me Potato Queen and gave me a crown and an apron.
  3. I never gardened or wanted to garden until 10 years ago, and now it's one of my favorite things.
  4. I was a thumb-sucker well into grade school.
  5. I would eat popcorn and chocolate milk once a week for dinner if Mulch Boy would let me.
  6. If physics and calculus were set to music, I could be a Nobel-prize winning scientist. Instead, I remember the lyrics to every top-40 song from the 70s, 80s, and 90s, plus from all my albums.
  7. I am 45 years old and just had my very first cup of coffee this morning. Okay, it was a mocha, but it was made with espresso. Espresso is coffee. I was very very tired this morning. When I told Mulch Boy, he said "My entire world-view has just been rocked." It's okay; I'll be back to tea tomorrow.
Next post: Nominations!

I planted potatoes!

Well, I am the Queen of Potatoes, after all. I meant to do last weekend, but was out of town unexpectedly all last week. Yesterday, however, I finally got my seed taters in the ground. Tonight: seeds!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

This Spring's Casualties

Last fall I posted about Pitiful Pearl, the little Spirea that I hoped was only MOSTLY dead but SLIGHTLY still alive.

Alas, she is all dead. Along with this pretty purple guy that I had such high hopes for:

Oh, grout it all.

Also, an ailing cottoneaster that I transplanted from front to back yard bit the dust. I didn't plant him very well. I take full responsibility.

Mulch Madness!

The last two years, Mulch Boy and I have had a garden center deliver a giant pile of mulch to our driveway--eight cubic yards, to be exact. It's a lot of mulch, but we end up using it all to cover our giant beds.

This year, however, we decided to be thrifty and collect our mulch for free from the city. Good ol' Falls Church lets residents AND nonresidents gather free leaf mulch, bless their hearts. So we're planning on renting a pick-'em-up truck from the Dee-Pot and gittin' us some mulchy goodness for free. Only I just read this...
"For comparison, if you received mulch delivery in the past, each truckload held approximately 5 cubic yards. A large pickup truck will hold approximately 1.5 cubic yards of mulch."
Gulp.  Does that mean we have to make seven or eight trips to get the mulch we need? I think Saturday night will be a pizza delivery night.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

And now back to gardening!

Yes, last weekend was very much a grouting mess, but there was also yard work, thank goodness. Weekend before last, Mulch Boy and I got out and weeded and dug up our vegetable garden patches in preparation for planning. Bonanza! In the big garden, we harvested a big pile of carrots and parsnips that overwintered there, plus a handful of potatoes from the small patch. We roasted a bunch Saturday night and they were so so good. Just makes me more anxious to get this season’s planting underway.

Alas, however, nature is messing around with us. This past Saturday, I spent several hours weeding and bagging and tying up bundles of sticks and yard waste. Then Sunday, we woke up to snow on the ground. Snow? At the end of March? In the DC metro area?!! Hmph. There went my plans to start sowing seeds outdoors. The rest of this week is ‘sposed to be cold, too, highs in the 40s. Well, I’m at least going to get my beets and kale and collards in the ground. Dang it.

My consolation: I have my little indoor growing station. Mulch Boy got me my little grow light set for Christmas, and Mulch Mom sent me all kinds of seeds and starter kits for my birthday. I’ve got mesclun, cabbage, five kinds of peppers, tomatoes, lavender, and probably some other things I’ve forgotten, sitting under the hopeful light, hopefully preparing to pop out their first little leaves. The mesclun actually germinated in 3 days(!), making everything else appear dead. But I’m starting to see several other varieties poke through the soil, so hopefully everyone will catch up to the lettuce soon.

Monday, March 28, 2011

My new curse word is “grout.”

I finished grouting that last tub wall last Thursday. It was still an awful hassle, but this time I used a small rubber spatula from the kitchen instead of the grout trowel thingie, and the mess was greatly reduced. I told Mulch Boy later that, if I ever did this again, I was going to use a pastry bag to squirt the grout directly where needed. He scoffed. Then we went to the Dee-pot Saturday and guess what?

They make pastry bags for grout. Thanks for not telling me, stupid Readers Digest home repair book. Naturally I bought one on the off chance that I would ever consent to grout again. Which I actually did yesterday, finishing off a couple of seams in the tub quickly and cleanly with my grout (pastry) bag.

Then, in a fit of confidence, I decided to do the caulking as well. Turns out I had blocked out my previous experience with caulk, in which I was a very messy caulker. I remember now. Note: the instructions on caulk say to wet your finger with cold water so you can “cove” the caulk without the caulk sticking to your finger. The instructions lie.

Nonetheless, I managed to finish the caulking, and that plus the painting Mulch Boy did Saturday night left us with a spanking-new-looking tubby. It’s like a whole new bathroom, friends! Tonight, I’m cleaning up the mess our efforts created and we’re moving back in. We are a little overexcited about this, I think. Or perhaps not: it is exciting to see how your efforts can transform a space. Of course, you have to take my word for it, as once again I forgot to take before and after pictures. But the Queen of Potatoes would not lie, I promise.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I hate grout and so should you

I had a choice: go outside and start planting seeds, or stay inside and grout the bathroom tile. I chose... poorly.

See, last week I was stuck at home for a day when my car went kablooey. So I decided to start The Great Grouting Project in our upstairs bathroom. The grout and caulk was getting icky in places, so we had decided to be responsible homeowners and fix it all. Thus, last Wednesday I got out my shiny new grout scraper thingie and scraped out all the old grout, just like my Reader's Digest Home Repair box told me to. It was time consuming, but otherwise an easy job. My confidence level grew.

The caulk was not willing to go so easy into that good night, however. I had thought it would just peel right on off. I was mistaken. In fact, I gave up for the day and moved on to other things. Yesterday, however, I returned to the task after work, and between me, the utility knife, a giant screwdriver, and the paint scraper, I managed to get the old goo off. Huzzah! Another triumph of home repair.

Now the fun part (paraphrased): "Spread the grout on the tile and work it into the spaces, scraping off the excess with the grout trowel thingie, then wiping off the residue with a damp cloth." Reader's Digest even provided a photo of a big clean hand applying grout to tile, and a second photo of the same big clean hand wiping away the practically invisible residue.

Maybe I should have known better. After all, wasn't Reader's Digest famous for its condensed books series? Perhaps I should have anticipated that they might "condense" their home improvement instructions as well. In any case, Reader's Digest certainly left out some critical information in their step-by-step instructions. For instance, they failed to mention that:
  • Grout absolutely does NOT want to be applied to a tile wall. 
  • Grout wants instead to drop in giant glops into the bathtub and onto your feet to escape such a fate as being applied to a tile wall. 
  • Grout that does stick to the tile wall will resist working its way into the spaces between the tiles.
  • When you use your grout trowel thingie to scrape off the excess grout, grout will cling to the tile for dear life.
  • The "residue" that you're supposed to wipe off with a damp cloth ends up being a pretty thick layer of grout, and your damp cloth will be immediately covered in it. And still leave a substantial layer of grout behind. 
  • Which is hardening just as fast as it can. 
  • You better get some wet sponges fast or your tile wall is going to be permanently stuccoed.
  • Also, it looks like you were mixing cement in the bathtub.
Luckily for me (and unluckily for him), Mulch Boy got home just as I was ready to declare the bathroom ruined forever, and between the two of us (and several buckets of water and sacrificial sponges), we managed to get the mess cleaned up before everything really WAS ruined forever. So that's good news.

The bad news is: I have to grout that third wall in the tub tonight.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Spring Comes to Washington

This is from Richard Thompson, awesome cartoonist with the Washington Post.  Click the image to go to his blog, where I found this cartoon.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Five, six, pick up sticks

Sunday was warm and sunny here, so when MB asked what I wanted to do, I naturally replied, "Get out in the yard." So while he spent the afternoon making gallons and gallons of gravy, I raked and played clean-up in the backyard with my two garden assistants.

We've had a lot of strong winds lately, so pick-up sticks was the first task, much to Assistant Charlie's disappointment. Then there was trimming last year's blooms off the hydrangeas and trimming the branches down to the first live leaf bud. I don't know if this is a necessary chore (anyone?), but for some reason I enjoy it. I especially love how tidy the shrubs look when I'm done, and how the new green buds, previously hidden by old dried blossoms--stand out and announce "Spring's a-coming." After that came the raking of the trimmings and of the piles of sodden leaves blown into all the corners of the yard last November, which I completely lost to bronchitis.

After three hours, I was physcially exhausted (did I mention we spent 1.5 hours at the gym before this?) but feeling so good. I continue to be astonished at how garden labors improve my mood and get me all excited to do MORE. I wisely stuck to cleanup on Sunday, but I was sorely tempted to dig up a hydrangea and a bunch of perennials and move them from back yard to front (the front needs a shrubbery, and the perennials need to escape the ravages of the garden assistants and their racing).

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Home Improvements and Big Plans

When I was little, I dreaded trips to Hechinger's (our then-local big box hardware store, RIP) with my dad (hi, Dad!). I have no memory of what he was shopping for all those times (gardening supplies, I guess?), just how absolutely boring it was to march up and down those giant aisles of hardware. The one thing I DO remember is how Dad would break up the monotony for me by sometimes darting quickly down aisles and pretending to hide from me, or by swinging me along as we walked.

How times change. This weekend, Mulch Boy and I visited Lowes AND Home Depot shopping for home improvement stuff (including duct tape), and MB had to drag me out of the hardware section. Just as I never thought I'd want to garden, I never dreamed I would have any interest in spending time in the hardware store, much less look forward to it. Yet there I was this weekend, getting excited about... grout. You heard me.

Mulch Boy and I have come up with A List of Things we want to get done around the house, and there are some big thangs in that list. One of them is to regrout and recaulk our bathtub. Another is to clean out our basement utility room (or, as we call it because we're such dorks, the "room of requirement"). And another is to replace the vanity and flooring in our guest bath. And we've decided we're doing it all ourselves. Gulp.

No doubt some of your are giggling at us for taking on standard home repair as though we're restoring the Roman Forum. Well, for us neophyte homeowners, it feels like that a little. (Okay, for this neophyte homeowner, anyway; Mulch Boy has more confidence in our abilties and probably isn't quite as impressed by all this as I am.)

Anyhoodle, I got me some grout, and a grout digger-outer, and a grout spreader, and some caulk, but no cault gun because I already have two. So I am ready and eager to start fixing up my bathroom... after we finish the basement cleaning-outing. As much as I am dying to get started with my grouting (seriously), I REALLY want to get that room of requirement (ROR) cleaned up so we can actually use it as a workroom and--maybe!--set up an indoor growing station. Mulch Boy got me a super-cool mini-indoor growing station for Christmas, and I can't wait to set it up. If I get the ROR fixed up, then I can assemble my growing station and lights down there, just like my dad always did when I was growing up. See? There IS a gardening connection after all!

Gardening Show Spoof

Found this while reading my morning funnies--heh!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Duct tape: it's not just for rearview mirrors anymore!

(This has nothing to do with gardening--sorry!)

The post title is a little tweak at my dad (hi, Daddy!). I don't know if he remembers the time (over 30 years ago!) the driver's side rearview mirror got knocked off our car (the Vega, I think?) and he reattached it with duct tape.

Why I've remembered this all these years, I have no idea. But I was reminded of that incident recently when the antenna on my Beetle started falling apart: the rubber on the outside had split, exposing the metal inside and causing it to corrode and finally break. The rubber kept the thing together, but clearly antenna death was imminent.  I unscrewed the antenna and brought it in the house for its own protection.

Luckily, because of the example of my father's engineering prowess, I knew how to save the day, and this weekend bought duct tape for the first time ever. Mulch Boy laughed at me yesterday as I wound the tape around the shattered remains of the antenna.  WHATEVER, Mulch Boy!

Now my antenna is back on the Beetle, looking...  if not good as new, at least not as droopy.  AND my radio reception has actually improved.  Thanks, Duct Tape!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Thanks, Greensparrow Gardens!

I am linking to this great article on Greensparrow Gardens about starting your plants indoors and avoiding the related pitfalls.  Since I got this great miniature indoor grow-light setup from Mulch Boy for Christmas, I want to make sure I've got the best info at my fingertips when I start my indoor garden, and Joseph's "Sciency Answers" definitely ranks high in my book.  If I link to it hear, I won't forget about it later, and you all can benefit, too!

Progressive lenses: the funhouse you wear on your face!

This weekend Mulch Boy and I got our new eyeglasses, and I may be beginning to feel my age:  I now have progressive lenses on my glasses.  That's the modern equivalent of bifocals, for you old cranks like me.

It's a strange world here behind the new glasses.  Sure, I can see far distances and close up and everything in between now. But the world has taken on the rubbery quality of a reflection in a fun house mirror.  Turn my head and my desktop warps like a vision out of the Twilight Zone (the old TV show, not the vampire-related theme restaurant that I fear will eventually be created).  Sometimes it's interesting, more often it's disconcerting, but I haven't fallen over yet. And like the Irish blessing granted, the road appears to be rising to meet me at all times.

Most important, I can now read all the tiny print!  No more holding seed packets and medicine bottles at arm's length and squinting.  Nope, from now on I'll be...  looking down my nose to find the right focus.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Bone Structure

This morning we woke to a terrifying dusting of snow here in the D.C. metropolitan area.  I wouldn't be surprised to learn that school openings were delayed two hours, giving how easily we panic in the Nation's Capitol over a few flakes. However, I was too preoccupied with my yard to notice the announcements (if there were any) on the radio.

Looking back, I realize I have not gotten around to describing and showing how Mulch Boy and I transformed our yards at the little blue house since we moved here.  But if you look here, you can see a little of the end result of our labors.  None of the beds you see were here when we moved in.  We built them all from scratch, first digging out the sparse turf for the giant front yard beds with a shovel, and then continuing with the rest later with a rented manual sod cutter (which only does the job about a hundred times faster).

Now the garden is full of dead blooms and stalks, leafless shrubs and bare tree branches. Yet this morning's bare dusting of snow lent a calm beauty to those brave dried stems and drew a quiet pale outline in the borders of all the beds.  Out of nowhere, I suddenly thought of Miss Trixie Delight, as portrayed by Madeline Kahn, in the movie "Paper Moon," and what wise words she might share upon viewing this sight:
You already got bone structure. When I was your age I didn't have no bone structure. Took me years to get bone structure. And don't think bone structure's not important. People didn't decide to call me "Mademoiselle" until I was seventeen and getting a little bone structure.
So glad we didn't have to wait 17 years to get our garden some bone structure.