Friday, April 5, 2013

It was noisy

Well, the earthquake retrofit is done. It was loud and very messy. I wore my safety ear muffs while I worked on my laptop. It made me oddly productive. 

We went with NW Seismic. I was mostly happy with the experience. Two brothers own the company and the one with social skills comes out to do all the calculations. Then his silent brother and a sidekick show up to do the actual work. They showed up on my doorstep and said, "Hi."

"I take it here you're here to do the retrofit."

At one point I asked, "So are you the brother?" and he was like, "Yeah, a lot of people call me his name because of the resemblance," and I almost said, "It doesn't help that you never introduced yourself." You're not Cher, not everyone knows you on sight.

Anyway, they had to cut away the drywall in the finished side of the basement, which is how I found out that the previous owner used sheets of styrofoam to insulate the walls. This probably has an R-value of 3.

At the end of the day they just walked out the door without saying goodbye or asking for a check. I emailed the brother with social skills and told him what happened and he was like, "Oh, John was in a bit of a rush to get home and watch the Ducks game," and I wanted to scream, "THAT DOESN'T MAKE ME FEEL BETTER. Do you understand why that wouldn't make me feel better?"

Then our furnace stopped working and I had to call Jacob's out to service it. It turns out the emergency gas shutoff valve that they installed needed to be reset. Apparently when you install it, the device thinks it's an earthquake. So $90 later I know how to reset the valve. I'm trying to recoup that from NW Seismic.

So ask me after the big one if my house is still standing and I'll tell you if I recommend them.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Why didn't you tell me?

Because my mind is a sad and boring place, I often stand in the shower after a hard day in the garden and ponder, "What's a gardener's bigger friend? The wheelbarrow or the nail brush? I should ask that on my blog." I've been using those cheap leather work gloves from Home Depot, which get so full of splinters when you spread mulch, AND they leave your nails filthy. Even though I read two years ago on Mr. Brown Thumb about Atlas gardening gloves, I didn't think they could be that great and waited until now to buy some. They are $15 for a four-pack on Amazon. Even if they all crap out by the end of the year, that's cheap.

Holy shit, they're awesome. No splinters made it through when I spread mulch (I prefer to use my hands over a rake). My nails were pristine. It didn't feel like I was wearing gloves. I could pick out tiny weeds without mangling the seedlings I wanted to keep. I could operate my phone with them on. They were comfortable. I chased miles of wild morning glory roots, carefully teasing them out of the soil so they wouldn't break and resprout.

My neighbor has wild morning glory so I have wild morning glory

Then LeAnn asked the next day on Facebook about which gardening tools we couldn't live without and I chimed in about my gloves and everyone else was like, "Oh I love those too!"

Guys, why didn't you tell me?!?

Be sure to watch for LeAnn's column in PQ Monthly about the tools gardeners can't live without. I can't wait to find out that there's a better tool than a landscaping spike for popping dandelions. Or head over to her Facebook page and chime in about your favorite garden tool or the tool you find the biggest waste of money. Think of the poor dumb gardeners like me who need a leg up.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Retooling the back rain garden

I didn't really know what I was doing when I built the rain garden in the backyard. For starters, it's comically large. When I do something, I really do it, and I was like, "I'm gonna harvest all my rain water!" I really listened to the rain garden instructors when they told me to give the grasses plenty of room.

I also thought the Juncus effusus in the back of the rain garden would get taller than the Deschampsia cespitosa in the middle. They did not. The deschampsia is gorgeous but it probably shouldn't be smack dab in the center of the rain garden like that.

The rain garden elders really emphasize that you should only plant natives in your rain garden but I'm fudging that a little bit.

I moved the deschampsia toward the back and some will get removed to go live at Scott's soon. I grabbed the Juncus tenuis from the front rain garden, which was gorgeous until it got totally crisped in the searing summer heat. It was so pretty that I only took one single blurry photo of it:

Poverty rush (Juncus tenuis)
I planted some Geranium 'Rozanne' in the rain garden, which should appreciate the moist soil and hopefully weave through everything. Let the native purists rain down their judgement! (Just kidding, they can zip it.)

I also put in Carex comans 'Bronze' because I enjoy grasses that look dead. I also want to put in some Sedum 'Autumn Joy' toward the front, where it gets more sun in summer.

Image source: Annie's Annuals
Image source: Annie's Annuals

Lastly I put an Aquilegia chrysantha 'Flore Peno' in. We have some native Aquilegia so this didn't feel like cheating, somehow.

Image source: Annie's Annuals
Image source: Annie's Annuals

If it makes the native purists feel better, the Erythronium oreganum has naturalized under the cedar tree and I have a spreading swarm of beautiful flying nuns. I love them.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Just FYI

If you give a castor bean plant water and fish emulsion every three weeks and plant it in a sunny place, it will look like this.

And the root ball will be so thick and sturdy by the next spring that you'll have to clip the roots and then hang your whole body weight on the trunk to get it out of the ground.

I planted a Chionochloa rubra in its place, along with some annual tidytips (Layia platyglossa) to fill in.

Greg was so insistent that this grass not poke into the driveway (the castor bean did) that I planted it too close to the Mahonia. Now the question is, can I plant another castor bean here for the summer while the grass gets up to size? Maybe I won't give it quite so much fish emulsion this time.

Monday, April 1, 2013

We're in technicolor

My apologies to those of you still buried under snow. It was pretty glorious in Portland this weekend, with the weather hitting 75 degrees. Greg mowed the lawn, I got a little sunburned, I complained over and over about being hot. It's officially spring.

This is that time when the garden starts going nuts. Things are a little technicolor in the backyard right now. The spirea 'Magic Carpet' is in the neon phase.

The old tulip color scheme was black and pale pink. Now that I have the orange tulips installed I need to relocate those peachy colored guys to another part of the yard.

The Japanese golden sedum in the wheelbarrow is filling in nicely and it's electrically chartreuse.

The Dart's Gold ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius 'Dart's Gold') under the cedar screams from across the yard (in a good way).

My next door neighbor has an impressive swath of muscari, which I'm liking with all the orange tulips I planted along here. I know orange isn't everyone's favorite but it's my favorite. Especially with blue.

Happy spring, y'all!

Tulipa 'Flair'

Friday, March 29, 2013

Trying again

I swear this is the last time. If weather or animals take out this birdbath again, I'm giving up.

This is the $5 birdbath that lost its top after a cat or a raccoon knocked it over and broke it. It had already been broken and glued together once before.

I bought a saucer from Lowe's and glued it to the base with Liquid Nails. I swear if it gets broken again, I'm going to break up with bird baths. Me and watching birds on Saturday mornings in bed, with the curtains open and coffee in hand . . . oh, who am I kidding? I'll probably replace it again. Bird bathing is so adorable!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The best of times and the worst of times

Last fall, back when I was having the house tested for mold, the guy pointed out that my toilet was rocking and he detected water under the floor in that area. The toilet was rocking when I moved into the house, so Bill and I replaced the wax ring, which was such a gross project that I never wrote about it here. The toilet was still rocking after replacing the wax ring, so I shimmed it with some coins, but that didn't fix it either.

So I bit the bullet and hired a plumber for the first time. I looked on Angie's List even though I don't find it useful. Everyone gets an A+ on Angie's List, no?

"He came and completed the work he said he would. A+!"

It's not great for finding the best of the best and I've felt pressured in the past to leave them a glowing review when their work was just average.

So I picked someone from the multitudes boasting A's all across the board and settled on Nichols Plumbing. He fixed the toilet, which required replacing the lead outflow pipe with an ABS pipe, installing a new flange, and adding a flange repair kit, which drove screws down into our tile.

Have you ever noticed that when someone is charging you by the half-hour they talk a LOT?

Anyway, our toilet no longer rocks. Then, as he stood in my kitchen with hands black from toilet gunk, he placed both hands on my white walls and leaned. So I get to bleach and touch up the paint there. Why do repair people do this?

Because he had forgotten to put me on his calendar he was two hours late to arrive, which meant he couldn't do the second part of the job, installing a line for our ice maker. Four years ago I paid the extra $100 to get a fridge with an ice maker, even though there wasn't a line installed to supply the water. I was so poor at the time that making that decision felt like Sophie's Choice. I could've run the line myself but it would probably take me all weekend. As long as I was hiring a plumber to come out, I thought it made sense to have him do it.

So the guy had to come back out two days later. He initially wanted to just punch a hole through my kitchen floor and run the line that way. I told him I wanted a wall recessed unit with a shut off valve. Buddy, I can inelegantly punch a hole in my own damn floor. I'm hiring a professional because I want this to look good.

Then he suggested installing the unit here, to the left of the fridge. So when you entered through our kitchen door (as most people do) it would be staring you in the face.

So I was like, "How about we install it BEHIND the refrigerator?" You know, where people can't see it?

Then I micromanaged him about how he was going to create the hole in my wall, since we have lathe and plaster. I encouraged him to use a Fein tool like Chris did when he made this perfect hole.

He got out two different stud sensors, made a bunch of pen marks on my wall, then told me he couldn't find my studs and it wouldn't be his fault if he had to open up the whole wall. So I pulled out my stud finder and figured out where they were. I told him, "Open the wall right here. If there's not a stud, it's my fault." And lo, there was a stud!

He did not do such a good job making a hole in my wall. In his defense, he's not a carpenter. Plumbers are notorious for doing whatever is easiest for them, even if it means driving holes through structural beams or creating safety or aesthetic issues. But I was still disappointed.

He got the line run and installed the recessed unit, then tried to hide the chunks taken out of the plaster with caulk.

I know, that's not in the skill set of a plumber but it still bothered me. As we were settling up the bill the pricing we'd agreed on two days prior changed from a flat fee to an hourly fee. He started rambling through the breakdown of the charges and I was like, "I don't care! Just tell me how much I owe you." Then he says, "So I need to know. Are you going to write me a negative review on Angie's List? Because you can see that I didn't charge you for when I had to run and buy that part."

This made me totally uncomfortable. It felt akin to your waitress dropping off your bill and asking, "So are you going to leave me a big or a small tip?" It's unprofessional.

I tried to avoid his question by asking a different question, then went back to filling out the check. He asked AGAIN, "So, are you going to write me a bad review on Angie's List?" and I said, "I don't know." I actually hate writing bad reviews. You never know if you got someone on an off day, or if you're being unreasonable with your requests. I wouldn't want to work for me--I'm super annoying. I wasn't planning on leaving a review at all until he started pressuring me.

I left a mediocre review explaining that everything works but nothing looks terribly good. I gave him a C on everything but punctuality and professionalism. I don't ever want to be the cause of someone losing their livelihood or their health insurance.

I submitted the review, started worrying that the plumber would come to my house with a gun, then discovered that our ice maker was not working, and then something went *pop* in my brain. Greg came home to take me to the airport, only to find me incredibly agitated about the whole situation. He told me he'd look at it this weekend, which was what I was hoping for.

Greg is as handy as the next guy (as long as that guy isn't Norm Abram) but he works long hours, sometimes 70 a week, which means while I play in the garden all weekend he's usually sitting in front of his computer. He doesn't enjoy home improvement or have the time for it. And yet!

He fixed it.

I got a text while at my niece's party from Greg with a picture of our ice bucket. I nearly wept. Apparently the electrical connection had come loose in the back, next to where the water line goes in.

Very long story short: plumbers stress me out, Angie's List is worthless, my boyfriend is the best, and as soon as I recover from stroking out on Friday, we're making Manhattans. Because our freezer makes ice now. I'm pretty sure this is what Obama meant by "winning the future."

Manhattan drinkers: have you tried Bulleit's rye whiskey yet? It makes a dangerously delicious Manhattan. I'm obsessed with it.