New goodness to read: Homemade Grits

I found a new (to me) blog yesterday, Homemade Grits. Lesley and her husband Sam are expecting a baby girl, Matilda. Soon! 🙂  I stumbled upon her blog while doing a search for something I’d seen on CBS Sunday Morning. She has a whole entry about the show and I was drawn right in.  I really enjoy reading her observations about things. I don’t even know her, but I’m excited for her and Sam!

I wish her and her growing family all good things.  When you visit, please click on some of her ads, okay? Let’s just call it a virtual baby shower from me and my merry little band of well-wishers. 🙂

Anyway…Something she wrote about really piqued my interest tonight. In talking about redecorating their home office, she showed a photo of bookshelves arranged in color blocks and linked to the original article about the idea. Wow, did it catch my eye!

Now, it might make it a little hard to find anything, but it would look fabulous, so who cares?

It’s rare that I read the majority of my fiction titles more than once unless I really loved them. And my beautiful assortment of gardening reference books collect dust since it is so much easier to go online for the latest information about any given subject or project. But there they sit, survivors of good-intentioned office purgings.

Maybe if I arranged them by color, I could justify my unwillingness to give them away: “But they’re part of a theme, honey…They’re, uh, they ARE the decor in here!”

Either that or dedicate the worst day of PMS each month to the task of downsizing.

Bada bing bada BOOM

Wednesday night found us listening to the snaps and booms of firecrackers in our neighborhood. Around 11:00pm, we heard a succession of loud booms. We assumed someone had put some big firecrackers in a trash can, for these explosions had that kind of muffled sound. Seconds later, however, our power flickered and went off. It came back on for a few seconds, then all was dark again. Finally, it flickered back on, but we observed the other side of our street was still shrouded in darkness.

One of our pets, an Australian red claw crayfish (Cherax quadricarinatus), requires special attention in the case of power outages; they can’t survive in a tank of unaerated, still water. They can breathe air and require their water to be oxygenated if they can’t climb out of it; the water’s surface area has to be disturbed by air bubbles or a filter’s flow. If a tank loses aeration, the crayfish must be removed from the tank, put in shallow water deep enough to keep the gills wet, but shallow enough it can raise their heads out it.

So, assuming the power situation was tenuous, I caught her (no easy feat – thank goodness I have a net) and put her in a Tupperware pitcher with just a little bit of water. It’s a good thing I did this, for the power did go off again. She suffered a 3 foot fall when she wriggled out of the net before I could grab her and get her in the pitcher. Other than losing a few small legs, she’s in good shape now, thank goodness.

Now, back to the story. Flash forward to 4:30am Thursday morning. We were awakened by the raucous sound of chainsaws and the rumble of chipper/shredder machines, courtesy of Asplundh Tree Expert Company. Nice. I’d been up until about 1:30am reading in bed, so this was an especially rude awakening for me. At about 5:30am, Howie and I gave up on trying to sleep and just got up.

It seems the tree branches in our neighborhood caused the transformers to blow. Hmmm, ya think? My neighbor Mandi tried a few months ago to get AEP to trim the branches along her property; they were resting on the lines and causing them to spark. She was told they were not trimming “pole to pole” this year. Evidently, they’d rather wait until the trees are so bad they cause a whole section of town to lose power, then send out crews to trim all the branches.

Please note that I am not disgruntled with Asplundh, but with AEP.

Before I got up, I used my Dash to send my next-door neighbor Mandi the following e-mail. It was tongue in cheek, a feeble attempt to make lemonade from the morning’s lemon crop:

Good morning, neighbor! This comes to you hot off the presses despite the fact that our power is still out. Thank goodness for wireless phones. 😉

Please forgive any grammatical or typographical errors; I am writing this on my phone and am sleep-deprived. I wonder why…


Fellow naturalists MO and KB had an unexpected opportunity to witness a flock of reclusive chainsawed AEP boobies early Thursday morning. The boobies’ enthusiastic cries echoed through the trees in a bizarre duet that drowned out native birdsong and set teeth on edge, yet afforded the friends a rare glimpse into boobie behavior.

When present, boobies play an active role in suburban forest ecology, thinning tree branches and keeping them from damaging high voltage power lines.

Despite MO’s persistent efforts to lure them to the region with the promise of a veritable feast of forestation, the boobies are reluctant visitors, an extremely rare sight. Formerly suspected extinct, their unexpected appearance heralds what MO and KB hope is the boobies’ return to the tree-clogged region of south Newark.

When asked if their return made the pre-dawn wake-up call worth it, KB rubbed her reddened eyes and replied, “I’ll have to think about that one.”

— Sent from my phone. —

Again, it’s not the Asplundh guys who are the boobies — it’s the people at AEP who let things go for so long. Asplundh just did their job, which woke us up.

It was interesting to watch them work and to talk to the guys who were waiting on the sidelines before doing their tasks. And I really wished I could go up in one of those cherry pickers and get pictures of the house and yard from 70′ in the air! I have many photos of the tree crews at Flickr.

AEP-asplundh-3w AEP-asplundh-13w

One of the guys told me he’s worked for the company seven years and the lines behind our houses are the worst he’s seen anywhere. He also said they’ve not trimmed our neighborhood’s branches during that time (that I knew – we’ve lived here nine years this month). Thanks again, AEP!

It’s AEP’s policy to leave branches and logs behind when trees are removed due to weather emergencies. So, my neighbors have large piles of brush in their yards, piles the must dispose of or pay someone else to dispose of. Fortunately for us, the branches they took from our trees were left on the school property behind our lot.

Mandi and the neighbors on the other side of us are having the crew come back and remove the trees which the crews said are likely to cause future issues. Now’s the time since this will be done at no charge to the homeowners. They’ll leave the unchippable branches and logs, but disposing of those is minimal compared to the cost of having those trees taken down by a tree company.

We may have a large chokecherry tree taken out if AEP will do it along with the others. Additionally, Mandi’s having one of the guys who does tree work on the side come out and take down a few trees in her yard.  I hate seeing big old trees taken down, but I can understand why she’s doing it; they’re messy trees that drop a lot of limbs, plus are old and on the decline. She’ll be able to use the greenhouse behind the house, too, since it will finally see sunlight again after who knows how many years in the shade.

Our huge old sycamore isn’t being touched, nor are our two large firs. We’ll still benefit from their shade on these hot summer days and enjoy the sycamore’s mottled white bark glow in the gold light just before sunset.  I do, however, hope to have the tree guy trim a few of the branches back on the tree row bordering our property in front if we can swing it. The shade they cast is just enough that many of the sun-loving plants in our front yard grow sort of sideways, reaching for the light. I call the plants in those beds by their botanical names, followed by horizontalis. 😉

A special note to Jen from work: Aren’t you happy I not only told dozens of customers about the chainsaw serenade at work Thursday afternoon, but now written about the transformers? I’ve even posted pictures! Now you’ll not only want to jam pencils in your ears, but your eyes as well!

In the mood

Yesterday marked an important moment in our household, a yearly rite. There’s no set date for this annual occurrence, no set “second Saturday in November” kind of thing. Planets don’t have to align, meteors don’t have to fall blazing from the sky. How, then is it determined? I’ll tell you: it depends on one person. One man.

Mr. Christmas. That’s right, once Howie gets in the Christmas spirit, there’s no stopping him.

By the time I pried my eyes open around 10:30am (man, those flannel sheets feel good on a cool morning), he’d been up on the roof hanging colorful C9 holiday lights and icicles along the roofline of our house. He picked up a two-pack of spiral trees, too. Down one side of our property, Howie lined up shepherd hooks and swagged transparent C7 lights on them. For those, bought several single-color strands of blue and green lights, then swapped bulbs so each strand has alternating blue and green bulbs. He used the same alternating colors along the other side of our property, down our veggie garden by the driveway.

He also has lights strung on short plastic light stakes along our veggie bed and the walkway leading to our front porch. Boy, those little stakes are sure handy! I reckon we should warn the mailman about the string of lights along the walkway. I hope he isn’t looking down at a handful of mail as he ascends the hill to our front porch.

Can you tell we love decorating for Christmas? Okay, I’ll tell the truth: I love how it looks once it’s done, but I balk at the process every year. Howie is Mr. Christmas. He assembles our tree and gets the lights on it, then I put the ornaments on it. We play Christmas music and recall happy memories as certain ornaments are put up. Some that we thought were kind of tacky now have special meaning because of who and what they represent in our lives.

It’s not time for the tree yet, so back to the outside stuff…

Best yet, we picked up a free nativity decoration from someone on our local Freecycle list. It’s made of plywood and painted black; there are raised cutouts on it. It’s designed to have a light showing through it from behind, making a silhouette of the scene. I’m impressed by its design; it took some thought, you can tell. I can’t wait to see it lit up at night.

Gotta say, it looks strange to see the lights all strung while there are colorful leaves on the trees. But, hey, if you do them while it’s still relatively warm out, you don’t have to fumble around with frozen fingers, right?

icicle_lights howie_lights02 swagged_lights nativity04 fall_lights

There are more photos in my Christmas 2007 set at Flickr. I did a short video of Howie before heading back into the house, too.

When do you usually put up your Christmas decorations? Do you, like we sometimes do, end up having a “Happy Thanksmas”?

Shed day!

Meet Naily the Box Man! I was taking pictures of our shed-in-progress this afternoon when I happened to look down into this box of nails and see this face. The straight cartridges of nails were on their sides, so I righted them to give Naily a proper mouth.

The shed’s being constructed as I type! The guys will have to come back tomorrow to finish up, but there’s so much done already. We’re so psyched!

Garden shed 3

As I wrote in part 2, the shed’s foundation area was site framed in and ready, and it was time to get the crushed stone pad in place. There was one hitch: Our yard is not easily accessible. With the exception of a 4′ space we left open, our yard is bordered by large forsythia bushes in the back. We also have a short, but steep hill leading up to our yard from an adjacent school parking lot. All of this combines to make it difficult to get things like mulch and gravel into our yard.

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