One trellis up, one to go.

It has been hot and humid for weeks, and now the rains have begun.  Poured on Sunday and now we are working between the rainstorms to get something accomplished outside.  Everything is growing like crazy and when it dries out a bit I will have fistfuls of weeds to trellis onedeal with.  But we did get one thing done: installation of the first trellis.  Just in time too because if you look on the right side you can see a cane has grown at least a foot in 14 days and it is time for a little guidance.  Come next year this time, I bet it will be nearing the top.

If you look in the foreground, you can see some ungainly and spindly plants that aren’t much to look at — but they have secret powers!  Those are milkweed and if we are lucky the monarchs we’ve seen in our yard will lay their eggs on them and those babies will have all they need to eat themselves big enough to go into the chrysalis stage.  The result?  More monarchs.  Will post photos if monarchs make a deposit.


Gardening on the skinny.

As I mentioned last month, I have finally been able to start gardening .  I have always been a fan of perennials because they come back every year and create a garden that changes throughout the year.  But when a space is too long and narrow, a row of plants that only bloom for a month or so can be pretty boring.

driveway right

And so, when I considered the narrow strip to the right of our driveway, I reconsidered.  I went and perused the annual seed packets, found some that bloomed summer through fall and sowed them into well-tilled soil.  And it worked!

Within a week I had tiny seedlings, within a month I thinned them as directed and viola, I got flowers! (I know it is actually VOILA but Julia Child’s used to jokingly say VIOLA when she unveiled a masterpiece and since we are talking about flowers I thought it was an apt use.) I know the bachelor buttons will stay fairly short but I am a little nervous about the zinnias having seen some around the corner that are closing in on six feet.  Yet to come are the yellow and orange cosmos which should top out at two feet.

The image below, taken from the top of the driveway, also shows the perennial garden I have begun in the wider area at the top of the driveway.  Not knowing how I eventually want to plant that area (Do we want some kind of hedge between our house and the driveway/house next door?  Might I really be able to find espaliered apple trees to create an interesting divider?)   I decided to just pick up some of those orphan annuals you always find at the big box stores and give them a nice home.  I bought coreopsis, Shasta daisy and gallardia on the cheap and added the false indigo and perovskia I had yet to plant and it seems to all be working out fine.  Will post more pics soon.  driveway-length.jpg

Just a peek.



We started working on the second story windows on the east side of the house.  Three windows to do and the heat and humidity makes it unpleasant work.  But we got one vinyl out today and  an old one in.  Frame and sill need repair/replace, so hours of effort ahead…but we have gotten started..

Saturday, 8:09 AM

I turned on my phone at 8 AM and less than ten minutes later this photo appeared trelliswith the question Need two trellises?  It was our intrepid neighbors who are usually out early weekend mornings at the most interesting yard sales.  I almost tripped over a cat getting to the phone to text back Wow yes.  Later in the morning, I came out the side door to find them waiting for me….and they cost all of $15!

Now David and I have been planning to build and stain two trellises to allow us to have climbing roses on the side of the housedrive2 and in fact we planted roses shortly after this picture was taken.  However, making those trellises would be time consuming so it was certainly low on the list of summer projects when we have windows to pull and replace along with trim to repair or replace.  So having these trellises appear out of nowhere was wonderful.  One of them will go between those meters at the left of the picture, the other on the flat bump out that is the side of the entry.

The roses I got are just gorgeous: David Austen “Abraham Darby” rose Abraham darbywhich have a lovely fragrance, bloom repeatedly and will grow to eight feet.  I planted them as soon as I got them and they have already bloomed though they are just beginning to grow.  They will barely reach the trellis this year but the latticework will certainly be a nice decorative element especially on the blank wall.  I will post photos one they are up, but I didn’t want you all to think nothing was going on here, though the heat and humidity has been so unpleasant I have actually been getting up before 7 so I can get some stain on the trellises before the sun becomes unbearable.  Just as the sum hits the house, I stop working, pour myself a cup of coffee and come back out to water my new flower gardens…yes, more than one.  My favorite right now is a narrow strip where I sowed seed last month.  Looking forward to a bumper crop of colorful flowers.  Stay tuned!

Delighted with our new driveway and more.

I know it has been going on three months since I last posted, but I can assure you things have been busy around here.  And now that we finally seem to be on the cusp of summer, we got to bring in a wonderful group of men to demolish our old asphalt driveway and cracked concrete walk and replace it with something pretty.

So here’s what we had before: side with clapoards no carport

The front concrete was cracked with weeds deeply embedded into the soil at the edge of the house, torn up asphalt that had many patches of dirt and a parking area with edging that was strangely cut up so it always looked like a haphazard mess.

We knew what we wanted to have done — our days of pulling up asphalt and laying down stone are done — but it was finding folks to do it that was hard.  I put out a feeler on my local Warren FB page and a friend right up the street hooked me up with the perfect team that handled demo, edged the driveway and walk properly and then laid cobblestones to create a sidewalk and front walk, finishing with stone for our parking area.  We could not be more delighted.drive2.jpg

The area in the center of the picture, that was once a tiered space with the cut off bottoms of poles in concrete is now a great planting bed.  (The black wire going up the side of the house will be relocated shortly though the other boxes will stay so some camouflage is in order.)  I bought a butterfly bush today which might go right into the center of that bed though I wonder if something dense and evergreen might not be a better choice…depends on whether that meter actually needs to be read by a person or if it is scanned from afar.

We have had a cold, wet, grey spring so everyone is just beginning their summer gardening.  Since we are starting from scratch we need to do some actually planning and that will take some time.  To fill some of the space I got seeds from orange/yellow Cosmos, blue Bachelor Buttons and multi-color Zinnias.  I may sow them on the narrow right side of the driveway (out of the picture) to at least have something in bloom over there come August.  Until then, we will be working on the windows still to be replaced and more renovations on the second floor.  Will check back in with you soon.

Nothing like a Snow Day.

It started snowing at 5 am and at a little after 7 pm there is more than a foot of snow outside.

Southern California folks take heed.  Your weather may be the envy of many, but you never get a SNOW DAY!  Absolutely nothing is required of you on a SNOW DAY; you can do what strikes your fancy.  For some people, especially this time of year, it may be that last chance to get out the snow blower and shovels and clear to the bare pavement and sidewalks — which meant multiple forays with the snow falling at an inch an hour.  Lucky for us, we have neighbors who add us to their plowing duties, clearing our driveway and walk just to be nice.  Others, put kids high on this list, go to Burr’s Park and sled down the gentle hill while adults take long walks often with dogs that do or do not enjoy snow.

For David and me, SNOW DAYS mean doing whatever we want.  No meetings, no renovation work, no cleaning.  I must admit David usually does the shoveling — though our neighbors did most of it today — and today did some bread baking.  I did a few dishes, reorganized the frig, but mainly I lounged upstairs and read an historical novel.41ACue6pfbL  Katherine is not quite a bodice ripper, but vivid descriptions make it easy to read and it did send me to Google repeatedly to learn more about England of the 14th century.  Wikipedia says The novel’s heroine Katherine Swynford was a significant figure in English history. Apart from being the direct ancestress of all members of the British royal family since Edward IV, who was her fourth great-grandson, she and John of Gaunt gave Henry Tudor his tenuous claim to the English throne. Queen Elizabeth II is only one of Katherine’s and Gaunt’s many direct descendants.  Moe was curled up beside me for most of the day and we agreed it was a wonderful SNOW DAY AFTERNOON.


Now the other great part of a SNOW DAY — or virtually any day in winter at our house — is dinner in front of a cozy fire.  Tonight that was flat iron steak on arugula along with fired potatoes, onion and shallot.  The steak was nicely rare (I drizzled it with balsamic vinegar) and the potatoes were well browned.  Not a bad way to spend a SNOW DAY evening.   Sleep well.




What to do with old plaster walls?

Every time we tackle a new space we have to make the decision whether to keep the old plaster or not.  If we had all the money in the world, we could just call in the pros who would either repair the original plaster or take it down to the lathe and then replaster using the old methods that I wrote about a few weeks ago.  Other people rip out all the old lathe and plaster and put up new drywall and be done with it.  We have taken the third way.

When the plaster is totally destroyed, as it was in our kitchen because of ice dam leaks over the decadePicture of kitchen debriss, we pulled it all out ourselves, had it hauled away by truck and then had new blueboard installed that was then skim coated with plaster.   (This picture of the kitchen shows it after the plaster had been hauled out but before the lathe strips had been gathered up.  They are thin, dry strips of wood that make the best tinder so we try to save them.) It has the look of plaster at a price that is greater than drywall but much less than real lathe and plaster.   We have used that method whenever we put up new walls and ceilings.

But if it is possible, we try to save the old plaster.  The result is never perfect, but there are good reasons to do it.  1. It eliminates major demo.  You cannot rip down plaster without emptying the space; the dust and debris gets everywhere.  You also cannot just tuck it into a few hefty bags and put it out for the trash.  You need to hire someone to take it away, paying for their time as well as the land fill fees.  2. And that means we are keeping things out of the landfill.  3. Old lathe and plaster is thicker, providing better sound and cold insulation.  4.  It saves money.  When we do something ourselves the work is “free” aside from the wear and tear on us.  (Below at left is the library after I had finished all the patching with plaster and smoothing with joint compound, more than a bucket of it.  The room was blue when I started.  At right is the room after painting.)

5.  It looks old and we like that.  Now this is where people have differences of opinion.  Obviously old plaster was new once and was nice and smooth with no bulges or cracks.  But I like the feel of an old wall with its slight waviness and almost soft feel.

Now I have no problem with the unevenness of a repaired wall.  Saving that old plaster is important enough to allow for the vagaries of time to be apparent.  But there is one problem that is difficult to deal with: big bulges.  These tend to happen when a wall has the chimney or some other very solid support behind it.  That solid a mass keeps the wall pretty flat and smooth,  but if the next section of wall doesn’t have that support it often sags inward.  Now without crown molding the fact the wall goes in and out isn’t particularly noticeable.  But put that nice straight line of wood at the top of a wall and there you go.bedroom-wall-bulge-1-e1520009221115.jpg

See how the molding is snug against the wall at the left side of the picture.  Look at the top in the middle though, see the gap between the wall and the molding?  At its worst it is 3/8th of an inch — and no caulk can bridge that divide.  So first I tucked a strip of felt to make the space a little narrower.  From there, it will take layers of caulk to fill the void.  It will never be a perfectly smooth wall that looks like new, but we are content to have it  look like old.