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).