Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Mystery plants

I have a number of plants in the yard that perplex me.  This tree was chopped down once and a number of suckers came up.  Nobody has any idea what it is.

Beneath it are hordes of very tenacious suckers.  I suspect they are related.


This looks like some sort of dwarf willow.  I thought it was dead but it's actually beginning to leaf out.

I just discovered this one between a clump of bamboo and a rhododendron in the backyard.

I got excited, thinking it was a flowering currant, but the leaves don't match.  Spiraea, maybe?

And then there's this one.  It's cheery looking enough, but I wish it was something else.

These guys are on the back of the house. No clue about them either.

Then there are the mystery bushes in the northwest corner.

And then there are the plants that are just unwanted.  I was so excited that my peonies survived their ungraceful transplant from Z's house!

Then I noticed more blackberry popped up.  Grrrr.

Anybody who can identify any of these plants gets cookies!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Experimenting with the dining room table

I've always wanted to refinish furniture but I've never really known how to do it.  I found this site where a woman in Alaska actually builds and finishes her own furniture.  She writes up and shares her plans and, man, do I ever have the fever to build something now. Especially this:

Image from Knock Off Wood

She's so inspiring!  I've bought a number of crappy pieces of furniture on criagslist, thinking I'd refinish them.

I never refinished them.  I bet this happens to a lot of people.

As I was getting furniture-making fever an episode of Ask This Old House about sprucing up old furniture.  I'm not one to ignore a sign (Tivo knows!) so I bought a little can of wood conditioner and a can of polyurethane.  I grabbed the leaf from my dining room table, which was pretty banged up.  I never put in the leaf without putting on a table cloth, so I figured if I screwed it up no one would ever know.  And if it went well I'd have some experience when it came to finishing the table I'm going to build.

First you sand the surface.  I used an ultra-fine grit but I think I should have gone rougher.  It didn't get rid of the scratches.

Then you vacuum up all the dust and wipe it down very very thoroughly with a damp rag. Grit is the enemy of smooth refinishing.

Then you apply a layer of wood conditioner.  Leave it on for 1-5 minutes then wipe off the extra.

You'll want to let this dry for 15-30 minutes.

Then you get to lightly sand, vacuum, and wipe the surface again.

Using a foam brush, apply a coat of polyurethane.  Be sure to think, "Why wear gloves?" and get this stuff on your hands. It smells bad AND it never comes off.  I NEVER LEARN.

Let it dry for at least 4 hours (I waited overnight since it's so wet out) and then sand, vacuum, wipe, and coat again.  Wait overnight and then repeat again.

It's certainly shinier.

It looks a lot better, though there are a lot of scratched still visible.  It's enough of an improvement that I'd like to try and refinish the rest of the table, but in the summer, when it's warm.  That's a lot of sanding and a lot of fumes to endure; I might as well enjoy some sun on my face while I do it.  And then?  I'm building two of those tables, making them nine feet long, and having dinner parties inside AND out.  And then this old table can go in the basement. 

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Garden fever!

I officially have garden fever.

I've checked out pretty much every book on gardening in the library where I work.  At night I pile into my bed with my books and my sketches and plot.  This is exactly what I needed to jolt me out of my homeowner ennui.

Last weekend I planted four more peonies and put a columbine in the shade garden.

I planted an Ocean Spray in the back right corner.  Ocean Spray is a native plant which means it's low-maintenance.  No mulching, no pruning, no soil amendments, just plant them somewhere they can go nuts.  Ocean Spray can get to be 15 feet tall and wide, so it should screen out the neighbors behind me as well. 

God, is my yard a mess or what?  In addition to screening out the neighbors (a new fence should help, too), I want to put in raised vegetable beds.  I have a completely annoying brick heap in my yard, presumably left over from a bricked barbecue.

I started grabbing bricks and laying out where I want to put the bed.  But I kept wanting to change the shape and that got really tiring, moving bricks over and over, so I finally got smart and pulled out the hose.

Once I had a shape I liked I moved the bricks.  I ended up with a modified bone shape.  My sister said it looks more like a shark or a boot.

I was encouraged by my friend T to do sheet mulching.  Some people call it "lasagna mulching."  You lay down newspaper or cardboard to choke out the grass, then pile on mulch and organic material.  You kill off the grass but maintain all the bugs and bacteria and established naturey goodness in the soil.  And you keep piling and piling until you have nice soil to plant your veggies in.  I asked one of coworkers to save the newspapers the next time she cleared out the library periodicals room.  That very same day I had two huge boxes of newspapers!

I did this on a rainy day, which worked to my advantage (wet newspaper doesn't fly away).  You just spread out a thick layer of newspaper (between 5-20 pages said one website) and grab some bricks so they don't fly away . . .

Then I grabbed some of the soil from the various pots I had all over the patio and spread it on top.

The next time I mow the lawn I'll use the bag (I usually don't) and spread the collected clippings on top.  I'll start collecting compostable materials like kitchen scraps and throw those on too.  Then hopefully I'll figure out what material I want to use to raise the beds and I can start getting my veggies going before we get too long into spring.

I also planted ranunculus bulbs and sowed sweet alyssum beneath the rose bushes out front.  The maples in the front are leafing out and the color is gorgeous.

I'm planning on planting creeping thyme beneath them.  It should provide a nice ground cover that has the bonus of releasing a wonderful smell when it's stepped on.  So as my roommate gets in and out of her car she should be greeted with a lovely scent.

This is the carrot I had on the stick last summer when I was working so hard on my house.  "Get all this interior stuff done and you can play all next summer in the yard," I kept telling myself.  Hopefully my house will behave and I really can spend my summer toiling in the backyard.  Fingers crossed!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Homeowner fatigue

I've been suffering from a bit of Homeowner Fatigue lately.  Now that the basement flooring is in (and subsequently off my mind) other things in the house are clamoring for attention. It's never ending. 

The kitchen counters desperately need regrouting.  My roommate has a bad habit of leaving dishes to dry, not in the dishrack, but on the countertop.  Where the grout has cracked water gets down and has begun to rot it.  Regrouting the tile would take all weekend, if not more. It's something I've always thought I'd do when I was in between roommates, since it renders the kitchen kind of unusable. 

Then last Thursday my dryer broke.  It just wouldn't start.  It came with the house, it's very old, and the whole front lifts off the front of the machine.  I'm shocked it lasted as long as it did, and yet it felt like a betrayal when it finally died.  I could have called a repairman but I really suspect I'm better off with a new one.  I think, because the front was no longer connected to the front of the machine, a lot of extra hot air was escaping the dryer and heating the laundry room.  That's a whole lot of waste.

So the money I had saved for building a new fence, a fence I desperately need, was spent on a new dryer.  My beautiful friend T came over to talk about backyard landscaping and I got so overwhelmed by the magnitude of what she was planning that I had to interrupt her and tell her that all I can handle right now is her telling me, "Plant your daphne bush here." 

Blueberry bushes are finally in the ground after being in pots for three years!

The problem here is not so much the house (which I still love) but my brain and the fact that I have a hard time not trying to give myself projects.  Before I started grad school I gave myself the task of reading as much as possible, since I knew I wouldn't have time once I was school.  That was a great project, particularly since you can do it in bed.  I think everyone seeks projects in degrees but a house will *always* give you something to do. And I think it would still be the case, though less so, if I had bought a new house.

So I need to develop some sort of blinder for home repair once the fence is in so I don't feel bad when I just putter in the yard all summer.  Oh wait . . . that's a project.  I'm terrible at this.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Decorating the basement

I was doing some spring cleaning and I decided to finally move the armchair down into the basement.  I had to take the legs (and the basement door) off and I *might* have dinged the paint a bit coming down.

I think the room needs a pop of color, don't you?  I decided to move my red tables into the basement.  They were from my reveal:

And then they got moved to the laundry room.  Even laundry rooms need color.  And a lot of junk, apparently.

My coworker has a Murphy bed she no longer needs. I'm going to put it on the wall where the yellow table currently resides.  Then when I have house guests they can fold down the bed and have their own suite down here.

I was so excited about starting to get this going that I dragged my roommate down to see it.  And I saw another centipede.  And I screamed.  And I squeezed the car keys in my hands and set off my car alarm.  And then the dog went nuts.

We're VERY excited about the basement over here.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

First buds of spring

I really thought the dried out ferns I planted last fall weren't going to make it, but look!  Tiny fiddleheads, waiting to unfurl.


Daffodils popped up in the front yard, too.  Once those wither the tulip bulbs I planted should take their place.


The weeds are thriving, of course.  Luckily I love weeding, especially when the ground is soft and the sun is shining.  I like to throw them over my shoulder onto the sidewalk so they can cook in the sun.  You know, teach them a lesson.

My bloodgood maples have small buds on them and I'm really excited to see what kind of foliage they'll produce.  I think I'm also going to order some Rosalie tulip bulbs.  Rosalie is my Grandma's name (Hi, Grandma! I love you!) and she raised prize-winning African violets for as long as I can remember.  I'm bad at house plants but I can do bulbs.

Aren't they so lovely?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Crawly things

The night after we completed the basement laminate install Bill picked me up for dinner and I dragged him down to look at the finished product.  We were oohing and ahhing over the floor until I started screaming because there was a CENTIPEDE on the fireplace.

Have you ever seen one in real life?  They are disgusting and they move FAST.  Bill rolled his eyes and killed it for me.  [Someone later asked me if we took it outside and I was like, "Why would I let something from the 7th level of hell live?  Huh?"]

Afterward I had a tender moment because Bill's been rescuing me from bugs for eight years!  Thank the heavens for him!  The funny thing is that, in the last nine months, I have been in just about every crevice in my house with the exception of the crawl spaces.  I was actually at the point where I was feeling like maybe I was brave enough to don one of those white suits and go in there.  But now?  Now that I know there are centipedes?  Nuh uh.  No way.

Should the spiders of the world decide to work on their PR, I think a good slogan would be: "Spiders: we're not centipedes!"  I like them better already.