29 July 2008

Sunny Faces

These were just two of the varieties of sunflowers that we planted last year. I had so many, I had to give them away to anyone who would take them. I guess I kind of went overboard, what with so many pretty varieties to choose from... well, I didn't choose. I got one packet of each fancy variety that I liked.Neither of us had to plant any this year, because mom found many volunteers coming up on their own in her garden.

Some varieties from last year:

Velvet Queen

Italian White

Lemonade Mix

Chinti Hybrid

Van Gogh Mix

Mammoth Russian

Vanilla Ice

See how a girl could get carried away?

26 July 2008

Cucumber Harvest

So, I've picked six cucumbers in the last 48 hours. And one bell pepper. What am I going to do with all these cucumbers? I have three cucumber plants, and they are just getting started.

See the misshapen cuc there on the far right, next to the bell pepper? That one grew wedged between the porch pillar and the lattice that the plant is climbing. It is all flat on one side, and I'm not sure it is going to be any good.We know there are tons of great recipes for zucchini, but how 'bout recipes for an over abundance of cucumbers?

Help a girl out, share your cucumber recipes.

Pillowcases, Buffy, Junk Mail, Cleaning, and Parties

I haven't gotten much house-related stuff done lately, mostly because of these: Yup, that's three sets of completed pillowcases there. They are for Christmas presents, so I am being productive, while re-watching the entire series of Buffy and Angel. Thanks, Greg!

I've managed to keep most of the downstairs mostly tidy, except for the surface of the marble topped cabinet. That's where the mail lands. And then settles in for a long, leisurely stay.

But I'm going to have to deal with that soon, as well as giving the whole house a good cleaning, because we are having a party. That's right, I will be turning 30 in one month and I figured that's as good an excuse as any for a party, right?

25 July 2008

Mother Nature's Poison Ivy Remedy: Jewelweed

I gave this sad looking little plant to my cousin Nikki after she got a nasty case of poison ivy all over her legs. Which she scratched open. And then got infected.
Don't worry, she's been to the doctor. They gave her antibiotics, and a steroid cream. She should be feeling better any day now. But she'll still be out in the yard, and she'll encounter more this season, so I also gave her a bar of Burt's Bees Poison Ivy soap. I swear by this stuff. I wash with it everytime I come in from doing yard work. It really does seem to be helping, because I've gotten a couple of spots, on my hands, arms, feet, and washing diligently with this soap seems to have kept it at bay, and the spots usually go away in four or five days, instead of spreading rapidly all over in less than 24 hours.

For Nikki, this is the first time it spread all over, just the way I get it if I'm not careful. She said she used to get spots, only where she came into contact with the poison ivy, but it never spread like this before. The same thing happened to me. When I was a kid, no big deal, a spot here or there. Then one summer, I was weeding for our grandmother, must have gotten into it more than I realized, and woke up the next day covered. Head to toe. My eyelids were swollen almost completely shut. It was in my ears, between my toes, in my belly button. I was beyond miserable. I'm so glad Nikki didn't get it that bad.

Anyway, back to the jewelweed plant. Mom has a little patch of jewelweed next to the house, but it comes up wild elsewhere in her yard. You can break off a stem and apply the juices to your poison ivy, much the way you would use an aloe leaf. The juice from the jewelweed is supposed to cut the oils in poison ivy, to prevent it from spreading.
Even though it is technically a weed, it is kind of pretty with its little orange blooms.

23 July 2008

The Other Jenny Lind

Meet the other Jenny Lind.With a little luck, plenty of water, and some sunshine, this little plant should yield beautiful watermelon.

Now, I hadn't really planned on growing watermelon, knowing from mom's garden how they like to spread out, but when the lady at the nursery was helping pick mom select veggies for her garden, my ears perked up when she said Jenny Lind. How could I resist?

22 July 2008

Look What We Did: Kitchen Cabinets

I think the one house project I am most proud of would be these cabinets in the kitchen. Mom and I labored over these for months, but I think it was well worth it. I should also tell you that I absolutely couldn't have done this with out her. Thanks, mom!

My kitchen in September of 2003.

My kitchen now, in 2008.
What a difference fresh paint and new hardware can make!

Look here for the full kitchen story.

This post was written for Houseblogs.net as part of a sweepstakes sponsored by True Value.

21 July 2008

Hybrid Portulaca

This little beauty would look great in a hanging basket, but I'm out of hooks on the front porch. It is a hybrid portulaca, and it's just bright and sunny, and completely tolerant of blistering heat. Gotta love that in a plant.

20 July 2008

Grow, Zucchini, Grow

I have tons of lovely recipes for zucchini, now this little plant just needs to provide some for me.

19 July 2008

Dormant Heather?

This is the heather plant that I bought this spring. It was so pretty, with white flowers. I kept it watered, and I've read that heather likes full sun, so I made sure it was in the sun most of the day. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to plant it right away, so by the time I got to put it in the ground, it looked like this: So, my question is: does heather go dormant after it flowers, or is this thing dead?

18 July 2008

First Tomatoes

First two tomatoes, ready for harvest.One wet puppy, after playing with the hose.
One for me, one for Oli.
And it was all over in a second.
So short, so sweet.

17 July 2008

A Bit About Jack

I started to tell you a bit about Jack yesterday. I met Jack when he was working for the contractor we hired to strip all the chestnut woodwork in the house. Like I've mentioned before, they were in my home nearly every day for more than six months, so you have to be comfortable with them. All of the employees did a fine job, and I don't have a bad thing to say about any of them.

Their boss on the other hand... well, he was a class A jerk. And worse. I don't even want to tell you all the stuff he did, and said, and the nonsense he pulled. He was so far out of line, he makes Jen's Cabinet Guy look good.

Just when the project was wrapping up, he kept finding things for them re-do. Even when I looked at something and said it was fine. And as a "gift" to me he insisted on stripping the exterior trim work of the front door. So, at long last, when that was done, I was really ready to see the last of him.

I would have loved to fire him, but they had woodwork in various stages stripped and refinished in nearly every room in the house. I don't know if we could have ever found anyone to come in to complete the job, and it would have just been too much for me and mom. We'd probably still be sitting among the drop cloths, sucking our thumbs, staring up at the purple painter's tape all over the walls.

But back to Jack. He (thankfully) no longer works for the jerk. He now does repair work for a couple of furniture retailers in the area, as well as independent work. He's kind of hard to pin down, but his work is top notch quality, and I think his prices are more than reasonable.

Jack has a workshop in a garage behind his house, where he does most of the repairs. Unfortunately, his house is in a rather nasty section of his city. Since December they have had two break-ins, one of them in broad daylight, and his wife was threatened, Jack has been mugged while talking to his neighbors in front of his house, and, most recently, his car was broken into. So, he's thinking it is about time to move. Too bad the market sucks right now. I really feel for them. I don't like to think of Jack being in danger. I just keep picturing him puttering around in his wood shop, and someone coming in to rob him. He's just such a genuine, nice guy. No one should have to live in fear like that. I pointed out that one of the houses on my street is up for Sheriff's sale in August. Not that I have an ulterior motive, of course.

16 July 2008

Jack was Back

Jack delivered something today. Do you know what it was? A couple of somethings, really. And I've been waiting since February. Can you remember back that far?

That's right! Doors!
The storm door/screen door frame, along with the screen inset and the storm inset, and the actual new old front door.

I called Bill as soon as Jack left this morning, and asked him when he might be able to get them hung. He said he'd try to squeeze it in this week, but he wasn't sure. Next week he's on vacation. But I think Bill knows how excited I am to see this finished, so I think he'll get here as soon as he can.

Jack is not happy with the way the rest of the frame around the front door is weathering, so he said he will come back after Bill has hung the new doors. This way Jack can finish anything Bill needs to trim, and give the whole thing a new coat of finish. Something more durable. I honestly think this is really terriffic of Jack, I mean I know we are paying him for this project, and I think his price is quite reasonable, but I'm impressed he's willing to fix a problem that was made by someone else.

The door trim seems to be getting lighter and the wood is looking awfully dry. I'm not sure why, because it is under the porch, mostly protected from the elements. It gets the sun only early in the morning, and is in shadow by 10 AM. I suspect it didn't recieve the proper finish coat for an exterior. I mean, it has only been like three years. Seriously.

But don't worry, Jack is going to fix it.

14 July 2008

Porch Plants

This striking combination caught my eye the other day when I was working
in the yard.
At the front, green oxalis (shamrock), portulaca in the prettiest salmon orange, purple oxalis, and finally, puppy peeking around the porch pillar.

10 July 2008

Getting To Know Me...

Jen, from Dogs and Jen: Home Edition has thoughtfully tagged me. So, here goes.

What was I doing ten years ago?
Oh my, ten years ago... 1998, well, I was two years out of high school, working at J.C. Penney, taking classes at Bradley Academy for interior design, and doing a lot of driving. My daily routine went like this: from home, stop to check on grandma Millie, go to classes for about 6 hours, drive to Penney's, work for another 4 hours, drive home, collapse, sleep, get up and do it all over again the next day. Gee, did you see time in there for homework? Me neither. It is little wonder I didn't finish my degree. And I got myself seriously run down after a year and a half of that hectic schedule.

Five snacks I enjoy:
I'm a potato chip fiend, so chips definitely top this list. My two favs are Utz classic, plain, and Wavy Lays. Chocolate, nearly any kind. I'm all about the Savory Cheddar flavor Pretzel Crisps from Pepperidge Farm right now. And cheese. Oh, yeah, cheese. Right now I'm in love with double and triple creme bries. Cheese should probably go to the top of the list. If I had to choose between life without chocolate, or life without cheese, the chocolate would loose. I often get a craving for cakes or cookies, not particular flavors, but more the texture. Weird, huh?

Oh, Oliver would like to chime in here, too. His favourite treats are Happy Hips, they are a dried chicken breast, kind of like jerky, but for dogs. And Liver Treats from Bil-Jac. Also, Charlie Bears, which look something like an oyster cracker (but don't taste like it, trust me), only in the liver flavor, not the cheese. We haven't tried the new liver and cranberry flavor yet, but we will. That sounds like something he would like. Basically, he'll eat whatever is given to him, but those three will get the tail going in circles.

Five things on my to do list:
I have way more than five things on my list, but here are a few biggies:

1) I want to complete the fence so Oliver can run free in the yard like the wild golden beastie that he is. 2) Recently, we've been considering installing a mini-split system to provide air-conditioning in the summer, and supplemental heating on the milder days in the winter. 3) I need to repair all 23 original wood windows, and replace 2 lousy, "replacement" vinyl windows. I have the tools, just not the time. 4) I'd also love to change the siding. I mean, it's totally livable, but I've had my eye on the James Hardie composite siding. 5) The main reason for doing this, though, would be so that we can insulate. I think I've mentioned this before, but we don't want to tear up the inside of the house, so our solution is to insulate from the outside in.

As you can see, 2, 3, 4, and 5 all kind of tie in together. Major, major projects.

Five things I would do if I were a billionaire:
Please see to-do list, above.

Actually, I thought a lot about this over the weekend. Obviously, I'd start by paying off debts; mine, mom's, Lewis'... I'd do a bit of shopping. I'd pay professionals to do everything I've ever dreamed of doing to my house. I'd travel. I'd get Oliver a puppy, he did ask for a black lab for Christmas. Set up contributions to charitable organizations. Visit a lawyer and a financial advisor to set up some sort of "allowance" for myself. Hmm, maybe that last one should come first.

Ooh, yeah, and I'd have a cleaning lady! Or, guy, whatever. Um, I think that's more than five.

Five jobs I’ve had:
I got my first job when I was 14, I think. My uncle was one of seven owners of the local "country club". (Quotes on purpose). It was kind of a dive, as far as country clubs go, and really should be called a golf club, but I digress... Anyway, there was a pool, with a snack bar. I was the snack bar attendant. Gee, this could be a whole post of its own. Let's save the snack bar stories for some other day...

I was still only 17 when I graduated from high school, so I kept the snack bar job until the end of summer, when I turned 18. One day in August mom dropped me off at the mall to do a bit of shopping, and on a whim, I asked at Penney's if they were hiring. Well, they must have been desperate. I thought I'd just get an application, sit at the food court, fill it in, then turn the application back in. No, sirree. They weren't letting me out of their grasp. Remember, this is retail, people. End of summer, kids going back to college... So, they interviewed me on the spot, and asked me when I could start. Two hours after mom dropped me off to shop, I'm calling from a pay phone (remember the days before cell phones?) to tell her I've got a new job.

I worked for Penney's full time for a while, and part-time while taking classes, for almost seven years. It was really good experience for me, but after seven years, it was time to move on. A guy my mom worked with knew of a library job that would be opening, with the state, that they thought I would like. So, I took the civil service exam, waited 11 months (this is state government, people) and was finally called for an interview. I did well and was offered the job. I'm so happy here. If all goes well, I'll retire from here.

Somewhere in there, before I started with the library, and while I was still working at Penney's, I had a brief stint at the PA DUI Association, where I was to be something of an intern/secretary. It only lasted two weeks, the most uncomfortable two weeks of my life. (Dramatic, much?) There were only three other people in the office, and it was deathly quiet. I could hear muffled phone conversations and drawers opening in the office on the next floor up, that's how quiet it was. And I got about five minutes of training. Then they really didn't make themselves available for me to ask questions. It was an awful time. I try not to think about it. It was so bad that I had blocked it from my memory, and forgot to include it on my resume when I applied at the library. Oops.

That's it. Just four, if you count the DUI Association.

Five of my bad habits:
1) Not giving myself enough time for tasks, particularly in the morning. This often makes me late.
2) Retail Therapy. The more stressed I am, the more I shop. I try to keep it to useful things, but still, any extra spending is bad for the 'ole pocketbook.
3) Procrastination. I don't really mean to, most of the time, but I generally put off tasks until the last minute, and unlike some people, I don't really work well under pressure.
4) Perfectionist-ism. When my obsessive-compulsive tendencies kick in, sometimes I freeze up because if I don't have time to a job right, I just can't do it at all. I have a really hard time doing temporary fixes.
5) Bad cubicle mate. I have to share a cubicle with another lady named Mary, and I have a lot of projects going on. I tend to spread out, and that doesn't exactly leave her with half the workspace. Fortunately, we are rarely there at the same time.

Five places I’ve lived:
Well, I've always lived in my small hometown. When I was small we lived in the apartment above my grandparent's business, the same apartment my grandma Gloria grew up in. When I was 5 my parents divorced, and my mom moved us all the way across town (4 blocks away) and rented one half of a duplex, #18. We lived there for a few years, and my mom started the planning to build her new house on a piece of property that her dad bought for her years before. Then one weekend, the business that owned the duplex decided they needed our half of the house for storage. They gave us two options: move out, or move to the other half of the duplex, which was vacant. So my mom, knowing it would only be temporary, decided to move next door. This was all decided and done while I was at my grandma's house for the weekend. When I left for school Friday morning I lived at #18, when I came home from grandma's on Sunday, I came home to #16. Wild.

Eventually, the house mom built was finished, and we moved in right before school started in 1990. I can remember pawing through a box of socks on the first day of school. I lived there for 15 years, until I bought Oliver's bungalow. My mom still lives there, and probably always will.

Five people I want to get to know better:
Greg from Petch House
Michael and Cherrie from M and C Build a House
Jenni from ThirteenEleven
Jennifer from Tiny Old House
Amalie from Oh, Bungalow

08 July 2008

Finally Done With The Front Crescent

...for now, at least. We added some flowers at the front, and a bit of trellis for the cucumbers to climb. Hopefully they won't attack the tomatoes, which are in the big terracotta colored plastic pots. A big change from a couple of weeks ago, huh?

07 July 2008

"& Trust" It's in the Details

Most of the time our POs do stupid stuff. Quick fixes, shoddy work, it was never done to last.

Every once in a while, you get something neat, quirky, like this:
This is the door jam between Oliver's room and the kitchen. At some point the door was removed, and they filled in the hinge spaces with bits of yardstick.
You wouldn't belive how many yardsticks we have found while working on this house. They seemed to be tucked into every nook and cranny.
When Jack stripped this door frame down, and discovered this, he called me over to show me. You couldn't tell before because the paint was glopped on so thickly that it filled the little grooves. I was so surprised. My first reaction was, drop jaw, "what on earth...", then, "oh, brother, stupid POs", and then... I smiled. It's kind of cool. It is just something neat about the house. "Let's leave it." Jack said he would try to get all the paint off, but not sand it so much that you could no longer make out the markings. I think he did a good job. It isn't something most people would even see, and most of the time I forget about it, walk right past it. But sometimes it catches my eye. And it makes me smile.

06 July 2008

Birthday Boy: Oliver Turns Three

Oliver has a special bandanna for his birthday. He wears it superhero-cape-style.Make that Birthday Bo. We lost the y on boy sometime between last year and this year.
It wasn't a very exciting day for Oliver, although he did have a good holiday weekend, with lots of visits with family.

In fact, at times, today was downright boring...

...but restful.

05 July 2008

I'm A Cheater, I'll Admit It

I was in a baking mood Thursday night. My co-workers always benefit from this mood. But I didn't have a whole lot of ambition, so I grabbed a box mix. This is the Gingerbread mix from Betty Crocker. It was the most simple mix I have ever made: one box mix, one egg, some water. Mix it all up right in the baking pan. Almost nothing to wash. Now that's my kind of mix.
Dust the top with a little powdered sugar...
...and done!
I have no qualms about using box mixes. I'm also quite capable of making cakes and cookies from scratch, but usually, why bother? Mostly I'm making things for a crowd at work, and until recently, I've never told them I cheat. And after I admitted it, they didn't care. In fact, one woman I work with wanted to know what brand I use, like that made a difference somehow.

Someone once told me that most people can either cook or bake, and it is a rare person who can do both well. I'm definitely a baker. Oh, don't get me wrong, I can follow a recipe and make a tasty meal, but I'm not like Lewis, who can open the fridge, pull out some seemingly random stuff, and come up with a masterpiece. Which he can never duplicate later. But, boy can I bake. Just ask my bff co-worker Marc.

04 July 2008

Behind the Forsythia Mass

We are looking at the small area beside the house, on the factory side. This picture was taken from the sidewalk, facing the front of the house.

The massive shrub is my forsythia. I like it because it is large, established, and has pretty yellow blooms for a brief time in the spring. But. It is also massively overgrown. Again with the neglect of the outdoor things.*

There is a semi shady little spot next to the porch, where I've been meaning to plant some things.
Since there is also a small pine-y shrub there, the soil is acidic and that makes it a good spot for lily-of-the-valley. I love lily-of-the-valley. My grandmother had planted it at the cabin, and like many other things there, it has outgrown its original boundries. But that's okay, 'cause it's pretty. And is smells nice.

Who's that peeking through the branches? After a couple months of smothering the weeds with plastic and heavy objects, I pulled all that off last week, turned the soil over, placed the pavers to form a mini-walkway, and planted some plants.
At the back, on the left is a coleus from last year, that I tried to overwinter on the kitchen porch sill. It didn't do too well, got kinda wood-y, but it was still alive, so I figured I'd stick it in the ground somwhere. After I gave up on it, of course, it has decided to get all bushy, healthy looking and thrive. Go figure.

On the right, at the back, is some lavender from my mom's yard. She dug it up, just to see if it could be divided successfully. We'll see. It looked rather dead when I put it in the ground, but has since perked up a bit.

All along the front are some hostas that mom's friend Janie dug up and divided for me (to replace the ones I killed last year on the other side of the house), only she gave me far more than I knew what to do with. So I stuck the smallest ones in here, all in a row.

The soft, fluffy stuff on the far right front corner is artemesia silver mound. I love this stuff. It is so wonderful to touch. Nothing else quite like it.

And the small green plants in between the front and back rows are my lovely pink lily-of-the-valley that mom bought for me. Last summer. Which I never planted. But they've hung in there, so they should be lovely next spring. I also have some beautiful yellow hyacinth bulbs I want to plant here in the fall. I know it looks a bit rough right now, but it should be pretty in the spring.

And, since the electric meter is on this side of the house, I have been striving to keep this narrow pathway accessible for the guy who comes once a month to take a reading. I hate when they estimate my bill. I work hard at conserving electricity, and I don't like being overcharged. Not even for one month, knowing that they will give me a credit the following month. That also helps me to be aware of how much I am using. So, these pavers are for you, meter-reader-guy. Or gal. Whatever.

*Please forgive the Buffy-speak. I've been watching the series on dvd since Greg at Petch House posted this a few weeks back.

03 July 2008

Oli and the Hostas and the Pavers

Last summer I labored many days in the yard to lay this lovely row of pavers. That was my first major attempt to reclaim the yard. We spent the first four years making sure the house didn't fall apart inside, and the outside was neglected a bit.

So, Mom and I reclaimed these cement paving blocks from the cabin, where they used to surround the swimming pool. This reclaiming is an ongoing process. Basically, I think we had the idea that if we just went down there, cleared the brush, brambles, weeds, and other objects, we would just start hauling these things home. Well. Not quite. It is hard work, and we have realized we must do the work early in the spring before things start to grow. Like the wild raspberry brambles. And poison ivy. Learned that the hard way. Also, it has to be warm enough to work, but still cool enough that we can keep long pants and long sleeves on, and too cold to encounter snakes. Ew. So. Early spring. Temps in the 50s. Not raining. Really narrows down the amount of time we can spend on this project.

This year we had a good rhythm down and I think we put in about three solid weekends of work pulling pavers before it got too warm. Hence the no posting in March. I think we brought enough home for my next project (the back yard, near the apple trees, more on that later). John was nice enough to bring a large load in his truck, so they all arrived at once. Sure beats 12 at a time, which is how we brought them home last year. I don't think the VW Golf can handle much more weight than that. So many small trips last year. When I ran out at home, Oli and I would hop in the car, drive to the cabin, load up, and come home. Of course, everything takes longer with Ol along. He will insist on being let out at the cabin. So many good smells in the woods.

Anyway, I snapped these last year when I had finished my first long run. The pavers serve a double purpose: the line where the grass ends and the flowers begin, and they make a good mowing strip.
I was very proud of this flower bed. The hostas were from the POs, and I'm told they are impossible to kill.
But leave it to me. There were five last year, but only two came up this year. That's about all I started with this year. Then we came up with a plan, did the prep work, and planted the seeds. By mid-May, it looked like this.
See, the biggest problem with direct sowing seeds is that it is hard to tell if what is coming up is a plant or a weed. Until it is too late. One of my gardening books has this lovely piece of wisdom:

"If it pulls out easily, it was a valuable plant. If it is tough, it is a weed."

So true. This bed was almost overtaken with stuff that didn't belong. Luckily, it was mostly grass. Some crabgrass, and clover. I really have no problem leaving the clover, once the other stuff is established, but it was smothering the nasturtiums, and the liatris never did come up. As far as I can tell. But the cosmos is pretty hearty, and came up in force.

I didn't take a picture of this bed when it was overtaken with grasses, but trust me, it was, and it looks a lot better now. I promise to try to keep after it now.

Today, it looks like this:
The cosmos are about to bloom. My replacement hosta has perked up.

And the nasturtiums are filling out nicely, with a few blooms aready, too!