August 16, 2016

Learning to fly

I knew it was going to happen. I just didn't know when. Probably sooner rather than later. Maybe before the end of the year. Possibly before the end of the summer.

Before the end of the summer.

That was the nagging feeling I had that I could never voice to anyone or even really acknowledge myself. June has not been kind to my family over the last few years, and when she had a rough day early that month, deep down, I wondered if the curse would continue. But medication and diet changes helped almost immediately. Days later, she was a completely different dog. Maybe those nagging feelings about the summer were just my anxiety running wild.

But, as it turns out, Gabby would not survive the summer. Sometime on July 17th, between 10:30 am and 12:15 pm, she left this world. I'm writing this not to get into the details of our lives together — I've done that, will probably do it again, and if you know me at all you know we were inseparable. I really just wanted to document our last few days together and apart. My parents often make fun of me because I blog or write or post to social media all the time, but because I've been doing that for the last 12 years or so, I have so many memories, ideas, and pictures documented. I just need to add this one to my collection to give my brain a little break. It seems important to remember, but it's exhausting to relive.

I've been working a lot this summer. My dad has been sick and working a lot, my mom has been sick, Gabby has been sick, I've been sick. For a while there, I spent my days running errands, cleaning, and cooking for the dogs and my parents and my nights working until five, six, seven in the morning. I regret that now, but I'm trying not to go down that path of what I could have done better during her last month on earth, because it's not something I can change. That said, I can't help but be sad about the fact that after July 20th, I had plans to cut back on my workload. Some of those reasons were selfish, but one of them was to spend more time with Gabby during the day. The fact that I never got that opportunity will probably always nag at me a little.

Friday, the 15th, was a busy day. I had to take my mom to the doctor, came home for a bit, and left again to buy groceries. That night I worked until about 4:30 or 5:00 am, but the website I was using for work was down for maintenance, so I decided to call it a night. As soon as I got into bed, Gabby got up and began looking for a more comfortable spot in the bedroom floor. I watched an episode of I Love Lucy, sent a few emails, and finally got up and put her back in the bed with me, because I can't bear not to sleep with her. If she's not in bed with me, I wake up countless times through the night in a panic. I can't remember when that started. I'd like to say it was around the time of her train incident, but I know it was before then because the night before that incident she didn't sleep with me, and I couldn't sleep well. And because she didn't sleep with me, she ended up being hit by a train. Another little regret I'll always have.

Around 6:00 a.m, I set my alarm for noon on Saturday because I had so much to do. I currently sleep in two twin beds pushed together, and because of the headboards, there's a bit of a gap between them. Gabby and I always slept on one, and the other served as a catchall for clothing, laptops, medication, toiletries, books, and whatever else I brought to bed at night. When I put her on the bed that morning, she immediately went for the center of the head of the bed where I always slept and put her head on one of my pillows, just like she used to before we moved back in with my parents and everything went a little crazy. She hadn't done that in years.

There was nowhere else for me to go besides on top of that gaping hole between the beds, but I was so tired and so happy that she wanted to snuggle up that I didn't care. Before I could even figure out a comfortable position, Gabby wriggled herself next to me, her head in the crook of my arm, and she was sleeping more peacefully than she has in months. I didn't have the heart to move her, so I didn't. And despite the fact that I was probably in the most uncomfortable position I could come up with, neither of us moved for the next six hours. I had amazing dreams.  It was the best sleep I'd had in months.

At noon, I leaned over her to turn off the alarm, and she flipped over to face me, began pawing at me and acting silly, begging for attention. I petted and played with her for a while before we both got up. I tried to spend a little time in bed with her every morning. Some days she was goofy and wanted to play; some days she was tired and wanted to go back to sleep. Some days one of us was in a hurry to get somewhere, but that morning was good. It was fun. Our last morning together.

On Saturday, I had to run errands and then I had plans to work the rest of the day. I was trying my best to get everything caught up so I cold take some time off the next week. Something kept me from getting much work done, though. When I went to run errands, I knew my mom needed things at the store, and she and my dad were at the pool. Maddie (my parents' dog) and Sadie wanted to go with me to the pool, and I was trying to sneak out without Gabby (she was a pain to take outside when you had other things to do out there), but she caught me, and I took her too. She ended up swimming for a while, one of her favorite things to do. She got in, got out, rolled in the grass, and repeated those steps. It was like she knew it was the last time she'd get to do it.

I went on to the store, came home and fixed the dogs their food. Chicken thighs and couscous for Gabby. I gave her a little extra that night because she seemed to be doing well. Then I decided to go swimming myself. I sat in the pool and read for a little while, and when I came home she greeted me, sitting at the door to the porch. She knew where I was...that dog always, somehow, knew where I was. Even when I was traveling to another state, she'd start misbehaving about a week before I even started packing because she knew I was leaving. Every single time. That night, when I got back from the pool, I felt a little guilty for not taking her, because I know she wanted to go. My mom said she sat pitifully at the door, scratching on it occasionally. That's another little regret I'll always have: missing our last potential swim together.

I made tacos that night. When she was little, I taught Gabby how to "give me five" in exchange for a treat. Being the stubborn genius that she was, she taught herself how "give me five" nonstop while I ate until she earned herself some table scraps. Most nights she won, though I'd stopped over the last few weeks because she was on such a detailed diet. I gave in that night and gave her some taco meat. That's one thing I definitely will not ever regret. Both of my dogs — even sweet little Sadie who rarely begs for food — love tacos as much as I do.

My mom's been begging me to watch this movie with her for years, so that night, instead of coming straight up to work, I watched it. Gabby rested her head on my foot during most of it. There was a point when Sadie walked by her, and Gabby got up and began kissing her. Gabby mostly ignored the other dogs in the house, but now I wonder if she was telling her little sister goodbye. Sadie ate up the attention as she did any time Gabby paid her any. At one point Gabby began begging for food again, so I gave her a leftover flour taco shell. Her teeth weren't that great anymore, but she sat and nibbled at it for a while. She didn't leave my side that night. I joked that she was annoying me. My mom joked that she seemed so much more like her old self than she had in the last month or so. I remember trimming some tangled hair off her chest that night — I'd been meaning to do it for a few weeks. I commented that I was going to bathe all three dogs the next week. Then she and the other dogs went outside. She kept up with them in the backyard, even running and barking into the darkness with them, despite being nearly blind and deaf. Sadie always stayed with her if they went too far from the house.

We came back, and I went into the kitchen to clean up dishes. At some point, Gabby went flying through the room. I ran after her, a habit since her accident four years ago, but she was not having any kind of medical issue. She'd gone into the pantry, opened a box of dog treats, and got one. She was just trying to sneak by without me seeing her. Typical Gabby behavior. I lovingly called her "big dummy," one of her many nicknames. My mom joked again about how lively she was that night, and then, just like any other night, I carried her up to the second floor where I currently reside. I complained about carrying her up every night when I knew darn good and well she could make it on her own, but the truth is I would have carried her everywhere for the rest of my life if I had to.

I put her on my bed and sat down at my desk to work. I decided I didn't want to be up late or leave her alone in the bed for long, so I was only going to do write two blog posts just to cut back my to-do list for the next day. Before I could finish the first one, she was restless. She moved over to the bed we don't usually sleep on and made herself a little nest on a pile of clothes. The corner of that bed practically touches my desk chair while I'm sitting at it, so I wondered if she was just trying to get near me. I petted her a little bit. She slept there for a hour or so while I finished those two blog posts. When I finished, I got up and went to the bathroom to get ready to bed, and she got up and followed.

When I was finished, I put her back up on the bed and petted her for a while, hoping to calm her down. This had been our routine for a while lately and one reason I've been sleep-deprived since sometime in May. I'd work half the night, finally get into bed just before the sun came up, and then she'd get restless. Sometimes she wasn't feeling well. Sometimes she need to go out. Sometimes she was hot or cold or just wanted me in the bed. Much of the time it took at least an hour to let her get it out of her system. So, that night, I assumed it would be like the others. I sat in bed and sent an email or two and started watching Friday Night Lights on Netflix, something I've been wanting to do. She slept pretty soundly in the floor during the show, so when the first episode ended, I got up and put her back in the bed.

A while later, she woke me up, flying out of the bed. She wanted to sleep by the bathroom door. I wanted to let her, but I couldn't, so I put her back in the bed. We continued this battle for a while. I finally gave up. When I say I am sleep-deprived, you have no idea how little I'm exaggerating. With all I've had on my plate lately, plus dealing with her insomnia, I was lucky to average two-three hours a night for the last few months and those two-three hours were not necessarily uninterrupted. There was rarely time for a nap. I kind of trained my body to be okay for an entire day after dozing off in my desk chair for 15 minutes. I can't say it's been the healthiest summer. The lack of sleep finally caught up with me that morning. At first, I was angry about that, that I couldn't stay awake while my best friend was dying, but now I think it was a blessing of sorts.

Sometime, I think around 8 am that Sunday morning, I jolted awake and Gabby was standing by my bed, staring at me. There was something eerie about it. It was dark in the room, and she couldn't see well in full daylight, much less in a dark room. She appeared to be standing up straighter than she has been able to since the train incident. I guess I could have imagined that in my groggy state. Either way, I reached down and found the strength to pull her up on the bed with one arm. The minute she hit the mattress, she put her head on my pillow. I fell back asleep, and 20 minutes later she went flying out of the bed again. I think that's when I officially gave up. I decided we'd probably be making a trip to the vet, either the emergency vet that day or our regular vet on Monday, to see why she was not sleeping well. But at that moment, all I could think about was sleep. I was overwhelmed with the feeling that I could not go another moment without sleep. I now think that happened for a reason.

A couple of hours later I woke up. It was 10-something. I was still so exhausted that I couldn't think straight. The only actual thought I remember having was "Where is Gabby?" I surveyed the mostly dark room. She had made herself a little bed near my bedroom door out of a blanket she'd dug out of my dirty clothes pile.  She looked peaceful...sound asleep, breathing okay, relaxed, calm. I thought about getting up and putting her back in the bed, but I was so tired, it was like I could not physically move my arms and legs, and before I knew it I was back asleep. Again, I think that happened for a reason.

My alarm went off at noon. I'd been sleeping so well, and I remembered Gabby on the blanket in the floor. I hit the snooze button. Just 10 more minutes of sleep before I started another long-ass day of going nonstop. When the second alarm went off, I sat up, and my first thought was that Gabby was dead. I kept trying to tell myself that it was just anxiety putting crazy thoughts into my head, but I knew. Even though I had no indication that it would be true, deep down, somehow, I knew. I didn't get up, but I glanced over to the blanket where she was sleeping. She wasn't there but close by. At some point in that short time since I'd last checked on her, she'd gotten up or rolled over on her side, her back against the wall between my bedroom and closet doors. It was a position she slept in when she was totally relaxed and comfortable. I couldn't see her face, because my floor fan was blocking it. I told myself she was just resting peacefully.

I pulled up my laptop, checked my email, checked social media. I remember reading about the officers who had been shot overnight in Louisiana. I read about a little dog at the shelter who needed funds to help with medical care and pledged a donation because it had Gabby's coloring. I debated going back to bed, but I knew I had things to do that day. So much to do. And somehow I knew I needed to go face one of the most horrible things that has ever happened to me. I still can't tell you how I knew.

Slowly, I pulled myself to the foot of the bed. I remember those few moments so vividly. It all seemed to happen in slow motion, even though I bet it took two minutes or less. When I got to the edge of the bed, I could finally see her face. I started to shake as I comprehended it all. I got up and went to her just to be sure, the room still fairly dark, but I knew what I would find. I'd known before I even woke up what I would find. I reached down to pet her and I remember saying, "Oh, sweet girl." I remember thinking she hadn't been gone long at all. She was still warm. And the strangest thing of all was the overwhelming sense of peace and calm that washed over me.

I'd always imagined myself having some kind of meltdown when the time finally came, but I felt so peaceful. I felt peaceful for her and for me. I spent every waking moment worrying about that dog from the day I got her, when she was six weeks old. She was sick when I got her and had medical issues like you wouldn't believe throughout her life. It got worse after the train incident. It became even worse over the last four or five months when her health began to decline, and her age really started to show. I constantly worried about whether I was making the right decisions. Given her medical history, I'd decided a couple of years ago that I was going to let her age as naturally as possible with as little medical intervention as possible (as long as she was comfortable and pain-free). That was a tough decision. That also required a lot of extra effort and care on my part, especially in these last few months, but it was worth it. Every last minute of it was worth it, and I'd do it all over again if I had to. Worrying about her became such a second nature to me that I didn't even realize how much I worried until that moment when I saw that she was no longer with me. It was like the world slowed down. The weight of the worry was gone. She was no longer sick or old. Life as I'd known it for the last 13 years changed at that moment.

After I found her that morning, I went to my bathroom and sat down to kind of catch my breath for a minute. I swore I heard my parents talking downstairs, and that was a relief because I didn't think I had the energy to go find and tell them. Of course, when I actually went out of the bedroom, I looked down from the balcony, and neither one of them were in the den. I yelled for my mom, who was in the kitchen. When I told her, she began to cry and said, "But she was doing so well last night."  I told her things had taken a turn when we came upstairs.

My dad was at the pool, and my mom went out on the porch to tell him. I remember seeing him rise up out of the water and hitting the cement with his hand. The rest of that day is a bit of a blur. I remember calling the local animal cremation place but not being able to get in touch with anyone. I found another one, though, thanks to Facebook. My parents were kind of enough to offer to pay for it. I gave the guy the third degree on the phone, and I'm not sure he appreciated it. My mom called my aunt to see if she had a large box. My dad met with the man who came to get her body for cremation. I do remember being in a hurry. I looked high and low for the beach towel I accidentally stole from Tom Petty's house because Gabby was sleeping on it in the car when we last left there, and I didn't realize it until I was a couple of hours away. I decided it should be cremated with her, even though that was a really nice towel. She loved that place, and I know going there was one of her favorite things. I'd never seen that dog happier than when it was just me and her there hanging out by the pool, the beach, or in the bedroom.

Thank God my dad handled most of the gruesome work that day. I know it was tough on him as they were close too. He was the only other person who could really take care of her with all of her special needs which is why I've had to limit my traveling in recent years. Not to go into too much detail, but I wanted her body out of there quickly so that I didn't have too many memories of it. One thing that made me sad was that I was not with her when she died, but after talking it out with my mom, I'm sort of glad I didn't witness it. I truly believe that is why I was so tired that morning and one reason why she wouldn't stay in the bed. Neither of us wanted me to witness it. I didn't want that to be my last memory.

I slept in my parents' living room for three weeks afterwards. Moved my office down there and everything. I finally moved back to my bedroom last week (tomorrow marks the one-month anniversary), but it's been hard. I put a bookcase over the spot where she died. My dad helped me clean up the bedroom and change some of the lighting around so it would feel a little different. As I cleaned, I realized just how much time I'd been dedicating to her in recent months and maybe even the last few years, because I completely neglected my own needs in a way. I'm currently working on getting used to that.

I still expect to see her at my door or wake up and find her snuggled up to me in bed. I still wake up in a panic sometimes, wondering where she is. When I hear about some special dog food, my first thought is I wonder if that would be okay for Gabby? Sadie sleeps with me now (she'd been sleeping with my parents since Gabby's train incident), and that helps. Having her and Maddie around helps a lot. I've gone broke spoiling them with toys and treats. It's like I can't get enough of them. 

When I first realized Gabby was most likely reaching the end of her life, I got depressed. I remember walking down the dog food aisle at Tractor Supply Co. and getting upset. I remember seeing countless social media posts about dogs in need of adoption or rescue and not wanting to see them anymore. I couldn't read or watch anything about dogs. And I've been such a dog person for most of my life that I feared I'd never be interested in them again when she was gone, but it's actually been the opposite. I really can't get enough. I feel so grateful that I had the experience I had with Gabby. She was with me my entire adult life so far, and she moved and traveled with me just about everywhere I went. She taught me so many lessons, and I feel like she made me a more selfless person, because she needed me. She liked to pretend like she didn't need another soul, but she needed me more than anyone or anything ever has. Anyone else would have given up on her 100 accidents and diseases and allergies and pig-headed moves ago. But I needed her just as much, if not more. I miss that bond.

Poor little Sadie has taken a backseat to Gabby over the last couple of years. I thank God that she's so laid back and doesn't mind as much as another dog might. Don't get me wrong - when Gabby became paralyzed, Sadie became my hiking buddy. She got to hang out with me outside (Gabby was not an outside kind of girl), and she gets plenty of attention. But she also loved Gabby so much, and it's almost like we had an understanding. And she, too, was so depressed the day Gabby died. She still isn't quite herself, but we're spending a lot more time together. She's a little cat-like in that she doesn't like to be the center of attention all the time, and that's difficult to get used to when Gabby wanted to be my main focus (and usually was) but we'll each find our way. As a matter of fact, now that I have more time to start focusing on renovating my house, it may soon just be her and me — and the chickens. New beginnings and all that.

This is one of my favorite pictures — it perfectly sums up their relationship.

Gabby: November 2002 - July 2016.

Rest in peace, sweet girl.


April 03, 2016

A Day of Gardening

I actually got to spend some time playing around outside this weekend, which was much needed. I've been working so much since 2016 started and am so behind on all the big projects I have planned for this year.

I haven't been able to get much work completed on the old house, but I did start working on the yard and gardens this weekend. Hopefully, I'll get more accomplished this summer than I did last.

One project I've taken on recently is clearing out this patch of shrubbery and bamboo between here and my parents' house. It's been there for as long as I can remember, despite my parents cleaning it out several times before. I fully expect everything to grow back up by next year, but for now, I'm adding it to my little cottage garden. Here's the before picture: 

And here is what it looks like today. I'm enclosing the entire thing with rocks, and I'll be painting that bird bath and planting tons more. Some of what's left in the background is staying (there are some Althea and rose bushes that are at least 50 years old, perhaps much older). I'm basically throwing in flowers, herbs, and veggies as I see fit. Right now, it has alyssum, verbena, gerbera daisies, gladiolus (not yet growing), snapdragons, lettuce (not yet growing), stock, and some other flowers whose name escapes me at the moment. Here's a current picture of the work in progress:

You may or may not remember my little salsa garden from last year. It's up against the house I'm redoing. It ended up producing a few tomatoes, peppers, and herbs, but I didn't take care of it like I should have.

 Today, my parents helped me clear out all the weeds and old plants, and my dad tilled it up for me, so I can start anew (ignore the mess that is the house and backyard).


It was pretty late by the time we finished, but I did manage to get some broccolini planted. 

And this old girl got to spend a little time outside with me today. 

January 26, 2016

Why did the chicken cross the woods?

To answer the title, probably to make my life miserable, but more on that in a minute. 

I had great plans today. I always do. But naturally, what started out as a good idea took a few twists and turns.

After running a couple of errands, I ran out to feed the chickens some snacks. The poor girls have been confined for several days because of the winter weather and the Broncos game, so I bought them some cornbread that had been marked down in the bakery at the grocery store, as well as some organic kale. They loved it, but they were restless. Despite my best efforts, one of them managed to get out the door while I was feeding them. I tried to get her back inside the chicken house. Not only did she refuse, but another one popped out while I was trying to shove her back inside the door.

This was around 1 pm. I typically let them out around 4 to 5 pm when I can, and they go back inside when it gets dark, a little after 6 pm. They do not get to stay out alone because of the hawk population in these parts. Letting them out this early meant I'd be spending the afternoon outside instead of going to my house to start cleaning. No biggie. I can adjust. And it was a lovely day after all.  

I decided to focus on the English ivy at the pool first. It's an invasive nuisance. A pretty invasive nuisance, but it's taking over the trees, the pump house, and the fence, and there are some flower beds hidden underneath it that my grandfather used to plant each year, and I want to revive that tradition. So, I took my fancy new clippers — the first gardening tool I've ever owned — out and started cutting up ivy.  As you can see, I had my work cut out for me:

Everything green is ivy.

And after about 30 minutes, my back was killing me. I have a back problem anyway, but I decided that to stay in that constant cutting position (I started with the ground cover) I would need a chair. So, I went to get a chair, but these seeds I bought a few weeks go with a Home Depot gift card I received for Christmas caught my eye.

I realize it's not exactly time to plant things, but I have been doing lots of research on winter sowing and even joined a Facebook group about it. It both scares me and excites me, but more importantly, it seems like more fun than clipping ivy, so I decided to start on that little project. If you are unfamiliar with winter sowing, you basically use plastic containers (milk jugs, Coke bottles, produce containers, etc.) to create miniature greenhouses; add soil, water, and seeds; and set them outside until weather conditions warm up enough for seedlings to pop up and transplant. Honestly, it's supposed to be in the 60s on and off here for the next couple of weeks, so I'm afraid my seedlings will pop up prematurely, but all gardening is trial and error. I just did three jugs today with cauliflower, larkspur, and Canterbury bells. (I've always wanted to grow Canterbury bells but I can never start them early enough, so we will see how that goes.) Here are my finished jugs before I taped them up and labeled them.

I brought those up on the porch to finish them, and at this point, it was nearly 4:00. The chickens were not used to having so much time outside, and I guess they were a little bored, because when I turned around, this is what I saw.

If you look closely, you will notice that there are only five chickens there. I have six. My dear sweet little Petunia was missing. I didn't panic at first. She normally follows me around, but she also has a tendency to wander off by herself when I'm not in her direct line of vision. I'd already found her way out in the woods earlier and ushered her back. Last week, I found her in the front yard where the chickens never go. This time, she was in none of those places.

Since she'd been hanging out at the edge the woods between my parents' and my cousin's houses all afternoon, I thought I'd go up there and see if I could find her. The problem with that is that I had no idea that these woods contained so many briers. Another one of my cousins and I used to spend hours playing in the woods here when we were kids, but the briers were not that bad. Granted that was many yeas ago... Anyway, long story short, I finally found Petunia in a huge patch of brush. I couldn't even get to her, because it was so thick. She'd made her a nest and was not budging. I left her there, thinking that she'd come back when it started to get dark.


I went back a little later when the other chickens were starting to gather at their door. This time I took my handy clippers from my failed ivy project. I was able to cut the briers I encountered. I also got a long stick and managed to poke at her enough with it that she got out of the brush. What I was not able to do was get her back to the house. She was insistent on staying in that area, presumably to lay an egg. No matter which way I chased her, she'd go right back. It got dark. I had nothing on me but the clippers. No flashlight. No phone with a flashlight app. Just the little bit of glow from my parents' back porch.

When it officially got dark, Petunia got scared. She tried to roost on fallen branches. I'd reach out to grab her, but she'd either take off or I'd get stuck in briers I couldn't see and shriek with pain, scaring her even more. This is where I should stop and tell you I had on thin knit capri pants and a tank top. They offered zero protection from the briers I could no longer see. I had briers stuck to my neck, my arms, my stomach, my legs, and my clothing. The pain was unbearable. But I was not going to leave that stupid chicken in the woods for coyotes and hawks to devour. Plus, she's kind of my favorite.

My dad came out and tried to help me, but he's pretty much useless in these situations. He couldn't get past the briers, though he did get the other five chickens into their house. I was literally on the verge of sitting down in the woods and crying — and I don't cry — when I heard another voice. My uncle. He lives behind my parents and had spotted my dad's flashlight (and probably heard me screaming every curse word known to man), so he walked up to see if we needed help with whatever had us out in the woods at dark with flashlights.

And I don't think I've ever been so glad to see him. I was so sore and covered in sweat and blood. I was losing my resolve. I had briers stuck in places I can't mention. I'd slid up and down steep hills, stepped in holes, tripped on logs and rocks, and did I mention the briers? I was so tired. So very tired. He managed to make his way to where chicken and I were battling it out. After a couple of tries, I scared her out of the brush and right towards my uncle who grabbed her, calmed her, and walked her back to the coop within minutes.

I had no idea how late it was when I finally got back to the house at 7:30. I'd been out there for over 2 hours. My legs were covered in blood (I'd show you a picture of what they look like even after I showered, but I probably haven't shaved my legs since circa pool season so...). My hands are swollen from cuts. I went to take a shower and pine straw fell out of my bra.

But it all took me back to another night like this. A night several years ago when Gabby had gotten loose in these woods and my parents and I spent hours looking for her. There were briers then, not as bad, but they were there. I searched in the dark until I was exhausted and cut up, though I did have a flashlight that night. And after a while, my mom went inside and found Gabby snuggled up in a bed, probably wondering why we'd been outside calling her for hours. I'm not sure why I end up with these super stubborn creatures in my life. Maybe it's a reflection of my own personality? If that's the case, I dread having children.

October 31, 2015

My egg-cellent day

I know it's been a while, but between nonstop work requests and battling a really nasty ear infection that just won't go away, well, let's just say neither of those things are all that interesting to write about. Really, what I'm about to tell you has been the highlight of my day, maybe even my week. Maybe even my month.

So, back in September, I finally completed the chicken's new home so they could move from the refrigerator box on the back porch to my parents' backyard, where they will live for a few months while I complete their big coop at my house. I've never actually built anything, but my parents helped, and I managed to finish the project with only part of a fingernail missing and a blister on my hand from the hammer. It's kind of small, but it's very secure and will hopefully keep them safe through most of the winter. 

It was raining the day we finished, so it was hard to get a good picture. 

My dad helped me catch them, move them to a small cage I borrowed from my neighbor, and transport them outside to their new home. Only one escaped and flew around the porch for a bit before my dad, the big city guy, or so he claims, manged to catch her.  But then we got them outside and they wouldn't come out of the cage and go into the coop. I finally had to coax each one to the door with treats, grab her, shut the door so the others wouldn't come out, open the door to the coop, shut it so she wouldn't come out, and continue this process until all six were inside. Once they warmed up to the idea, they seemed to really like it. 

I felt bad for them, and Kroger had pumpkins on sale, so I bought them a little fall housewarming gift.

Because of the coop size, I knew I would need to let them have a little free range time. Plus, I don't believe in any living being having to live its life all caged up (hold on, let me go find a tree to hug). But I'm also very aware that I live in the woods, and there are hawks, coyotes, racoon, snakes, and a whole host of other creatures out there who would love nothing more than a juicy chicken breast. Hell, I would love nothing more than a juicy chicken breast, but that's not the point. 

So, for about an hour most evenings, the girls get their run of the yard. I sit outside with them and watch for hawks, read, work on my laptop, or take care of some coop chores. But honestly, it's probably the most relaxing part of the day. They are crazy, and I love to watch them develop little personalities and do goofy things. They walk around scratching for bugs, building dust baths, eating weeds, and squawking at each other. Three of them try to fly. I really recommend for anyone who is stressed out to spend some time watching chickens run around.  It's calming.

Just watch out for the ones who fly right at you. I literally scream in fear that they are coming to scratch out my eyeballs (But I swear it is relaxing.) 

For the most part, they don't stray too far from my watchful eye. This one, Petunia, follows me around. She will let me pet her, and I'm not too scared of her anymore, though I did learn not to wear flipflops while I'm out with them,

Petunia checking out my mom's petunias and the bulldog statue.
So, I write all of this to say that when I built the coop, for some reason, I didn't think they would be laying eggs in it. I set them up some little nesting boxes, but I didn't put a door in that corner, so I can't get to it or really even see it. According to everything I have ever read, they shouldn't be laying eggs until late November/early December.

Everything I have ever read was wrong.

Last week, when I went to let them out, everyone came out but Marigold. She was squatting in the nesting area and acting as if she was in pain. I may or may not have panicked. I called my neighbor who knows a thing or two about chickens. I Google the chicken version of WebMD and convinced myself she was dying. I was just about to call my vet and see if he worked on farm foul when she got up and hopped out of the coop. She scratched around a bit, so I began to think she was okay. All was well. Then she went to the edge of the woods and froze in place for something like 30 minutes. The other chickens scratched around her, ignoring her, and I convinced myself she was sick again.

You have to know this is Marigold, the head hen. She's the first one out of the cage when it's free-range time, and the only one who refuses to come when I call them back in, because it has to be her idea. She fights and bosses the other chickens around, and she finds the biggest earthworms. She's been the boss of the other chickens since the day I brought them home in a tiny box, and she doesn't just stand in place by the woods.

I can't believe they were ever this little.

That night I got all the other chickens put up, and she was still sitting out in the dark. I went and got my gloves and decided I was going to have to carry her to the coop. Just as I began to walk to her, I heard a huge plop. And then she was walking around as if nothing had ever happened. There in the dirt and dried leaves was an egg. It was squish and rubbery, and I knew that was normal for a first egg, but I was so proud. Over the next few days, I saw her lay one more, but it busted before I could get to it, and one day I opened the coop and a small egg rolled right out the door. Marigold, I decided, was just more advanced than the other hens.

I decided wrong.

This morning I went out to feed the chickens, and for the fist time in a week, the sun was shining bright. I hadn't spent much time with them this week because I've been super busy, so other than feeding/watering them and a couple of 30-minute free-time sessions, I really didn't know what they'd be up to. But this morning I looked back into the nesting area, and there in the spotlight of the sun was a pile of 2-3 eggs. I was both excited and horrified. Excited because even though I know chickens lay eggs and that mine were supposed to lay eggs, I couldn't believe it was actually happening. You'd think I laid them myself the way I carried on about it all day. 

But I was horrified because there was no way for me to reach them. Well, no way to reach them without climbing into the chicken coop and crawling across the pine shavings and poop.

I asked my mom to meet me out there at 6:30, and I put on some clothing I knew I'd be okay with not ever seeing again, along with some gloves and old boots. I let the chickens out and was just about to climb in when I saw the tarp I'd used it to keep the remnants of Hurricane Patricia at bay earlier in the week. Today, I used it to keep chicken manure off my old yoga pants. I place it over the floor and climbed inside. I couldn't believe what I saw. Not only was that pile of 2-3 eggs sitting there, but another pile of 2-3 sat in the corner and another pile of 4-5 sat in a nest. I ended up pulling 9 eggs out of that coop. I have no idea how long they'd been there or who actually laid them, but it looks like my little girls are officially growing up.

And I'm going to have to cut a door on that corner of the coop, because I don't have that many sets of disposable old clothing. I won't eat these eggs, because I have no idea how long they've been out there, but it looks like I'm going to have to add "check for eggs" to my daily list of chicken chores. 

Here's a fun fact: That basket that I put them in was actually my great-great-grandmother's egg gathering basket back in the early 1900s. I was named for her, and my grandmother gave me that basket when I was little. Ironically, she used it to gather eggs at the home I'm currently remodeling. I guess my family has come full circle.  

On another note, remember how my garden basically turned to weeds after my uncle died, I broke my foot, etc.? Well, I'd planted some cardinal climber in a pot and left it at the aforementioned house back in May. I never took care of it and quite frankly, kind of forgot about it. But I was over at the house a few weeks ago, planting some perennials, and I saw this. The picture does not even do it justice. I will definitely be planting more of this stuff next year. It's gorgeous, and the hummingbirds love it.

July 18, 2015

That time I got chickens and broke my foot and grew a bunch of weeds

I have six ladies in my life now. Their names are Marigold, Daffodil, Petunia, Rose, Iris, and Myrtle.

And they have feathers. And they smell bad, poop everywhere, eat everything in sight, scare the crap out of me when they try to fly, and don't really care much for me to be around them, but I love them so much.

(In case you haven't figured it out by now, they are chickens.)

Oh yeah, I'm taking this farmer girl thing to the next level. I went from growing lettuce to raising livestock in less than a couple of months. If I had a pasture, I'd probably have a couple of cows by August.

But let me back up a bit. I talked about how much things sucked so far this summer in my last blog post. Things didn't get much better after that. A friend and I had gone in together to order chicks because you got a discount for a larger quantity. They arrived the day after my uncle's funeral in June. Well, someone screwed up somewhere because they were dead or nearly dead. I received the call and figured it was just another thing to add to my list of summer grievances. 

A few days later, I found out 7 of them had survived. I agreed to take those 7, and one Saturday morning in June, I went to pick them up. They were cute and little and looked like this.

I had no idea what the hell I was doing, but tons of Googling and a chicken guru I met on social media helped me get them set up in a box on my poor parents' back porch. Like a nervous new mom, I checked on them every hour to make sure they were staying at a crisp 95 degrees per the baby chick raising instructions, and I began worrying about the littlest one. She wasn't moving around much like the others, and she never ate or drank anything. I knew the outlook was not good, but I couldn't let her go without a fight. 

I hand-fed her water. I cooked all kinds of treats for her. I even ran a space heater in mid-June when I thought she might be cold. I got up nearly every hour that night to check on her. My main concern was saving this baby chick. 

My main concern was not the fact that I've fallen down the stairs at every house I've ever lived in that had stairs, and it was only a matter of time before something distracted me and it happened here. I've fallen down stairs at my best friends' homes, family members' homes, and the homes of people I hardly know. I fall when I'm walking on a flat, even surface, so putting me on any kind of incline is never a good idea.

That night that I was determined to save the little chick, my social media chicken guru suggested I scramble an egg for her. Once I got past the pure cannibalism of it all, I decided to run downstairs and start scrambling. Only I missed that top step and my foot slipped on the carpet, and before I knew it I was falling. I grabbed on to the banister and thanked God that all the gardening and swimming and carrying crippled dogs around has built up arms of steel, because I was able to catch myself about six stairs down. What I was not able to do is prevent my foot from bending all the way backwards underneath me.

I felt a pain unlike anything I'd ever felt before, and I had to scoot down the rest of the stairs. I couldn't walk on it. I couldn't bend my toes. I'm fairly sure I broke or tore something, but I didn't have time for that. I was on a mission. 

Long story short, the chick didn't eat the egg. The chick didn't do much of anything the rest of the night, and when I went out to check on her around 6 a.m. the next morning, I found her little lifeless body. Her sisters were oblivious, but I knew I had to get her out quickly in case she was sick. I didn't want the others getting sick, too. 

Here's the thing: I won't actually touch the live chickens without gloves, so you can bet your sweet ass I wasn't going to reach in and get a dead one. I considered going down to the basement to get a garden trowel to scoop her out with, but that would mean going down another flight of stairs on my now-potentially-broken foot, and just the thought made me writhe around in pain. 

Most of you know I'm staying with my parents now as I fix up their old house, and the both of them made it pretty clear that they wanted nothing to do with the chicken project, especially my dad. But that didn't stop me from going into their bedroom at 6 a.m. that Sunday morning. I searched for that sweet and innocent voice I probably used when I was 6 years old and really wanted something and said something like, "Daddy, don't get mad, but I broke my foot and it hurts and my chicken died, and OMG, I need help."  

I think he grumbled something about it being beyond time for me to have found a husband, but he put on his shoes and stumbled out to the porch to unceremoniously remove little Poppy from the box and lay her to rest in an outdoor garbage can.

I guess you are never too old to go whining to your father.

The chickens are doing pretty well now. They are huge and starting to look like chickens. I still don't touch them without gloves, but I do enjoy watching them and feeding them treats. They are outgrowing the porch, and I haven't even started building their coop up at the other house, so I'm going to try to build a small temporary one next week. I don't really build things, so that should be a learning experience.

As for my foot, well, I'm still hobbling around. I can almost walk normally with ibuprofen, so I think it's healing. There was definitely something major going on there, and hopefully, it doesn't cause long-term problems. Naturally, I decided to wing it and didn't go to the doctor or anything. 

You may be wondering what has happened to the Great Garden Project of 2015. I'm not going to lie. I haven't actually worked in my gardens since the day after my uncle's funeral. And they kind of look like this right now: 

Don't worry. I have several excuses. My uncle died, I broke my foot, the chickens and dogs take up my time, I was out of town for a week, I've been swamped with work for the last few weeks, the pool has taken up so much time, it's a gazillion degrees, and I took some time to host a wedding shower for my cousin and his fiancee and then attend their wedding in South Georgia.

But I haven't given up. Despite the weed fest, some of my plants are thriving. I've got about 6 watermelons that are about 7-8 inches long.

And my tomatoes are starting to trickle in, though I don't actually eat them, so I'm not sure what to do with them:

I even managed to make a little bouquet of gladiolus, cosmos, and lavender for the above-mentioned wedding shower. I'm determined not to give up on it all, though. As a matter of fact, now that my life seems to be slowing down a bit, I'm planning to get out there this weekend and do some weeding and fertilizing. I'll probably pull up the plants that died or bolted, and I've got some new things I want to plant if it's not too late. Here's to the best damn late summer/fall garden ever. 

June 09, 2015

The day I lost my car, my hair straightener, my uncle, and my chance to see the Lonesome Trio.

This should be a long overdue garden update. After working from sun up to sun down last week, I had great plans to spend this weekend working outside and taking pictures of how well everything is coming along. There are flowers blooming, tiny tomatoes forming, and watermelon vines climbing all over my yard. But this weekend, all of that took a backseat to the worst case of deja vu I've ever experienced.

It all started last Friday when I was out running errands with my mom. She's been setting up a little booth in an antiques shop, and I do most of the heavy lifting for her. We stopped by Publix on the way home, and I sat in the car while she grabbed a few groceries. It had been a good day so far. I'd finally gotten the pool fixed that morning, after a month of trying, and everyone in my life was in a decent mood. Things were just going swell. And then my mom came out to the car in tears.

Let me just say that my mom's 17-year-old dog died not too long ago, and she breaks into tears at the drop of a hat, so I wasn't too concerned at first.

But then she told me we had to hurry back to her house. My heart sank. I just knew something terrible had happened to my 13-year-old paralyzed dog who was back there hanging out with my dad. Before my mind could wander, she said "Scott died."


"Scott Died."

"Oh my...oh way. What?"

I couldn't comprehend those words. 

Scott is my uncle, my dad's younger brother. He's lived behind my parents for my entire life, and I see him every week, either in person or driving down the road. His daughter is one of my best friends, and he'd just been at my parents' house the weekend before helping my dad fix a lawnmower. He looked good. He laughed with me when we made fun of my dad. He was actually supposed to go back to my parents' house that Tuesday and finish the lawnmower job, but he never showed up. My dad wanted to wait until the weekend to call him. He assumed he'd just forgotten to stop by or was busy.

But he didn't stop by because he never got out of bed that day, and I still can't quite believe it.   

It wasn't that he and I were particularly close. It's more that he was just always there, and now it feels like my family is lopsided. If anyone's keeping up, we lost my grandfather last June. It was tough, but he was nearly 90 and dealing with some health issues. My grandfather left us much sooner than we thought he might, but it was easier to accept. It was easier to come to terms with because we all knew it would happen eventually, and we did what we had to do to keep our family up and move forward without him. The loss of my uncle touched a whole new generation with absolutely no warning. It came too soon after my grandfather's death for it to make sense. It just wasn't part of the plan.

It wasn't part of my short-term plan for this month, either. June was supposed to be a Month Full of Awesome, compared to last year. It would start with me finally getting the pool fixed, thanks to a twist of fate that happened in a Home Depot parking lot. Shortly after that, I had plans to welcome four chickens into my new-found enjoyment of doing outside things. My cousin and I, the one whose father died, decided we would not let our dorky annual family Florida trip die with our grandfather, and we made arrangements to go on our own. And I had plans to go to a concert that I'd been wanting to see for years. Sort of.

Well, maybe not years.

Long time reader(s) of this blog know I'm a huge bluegrass fan. You may also know I'm a fan of the actor Ed Helms. At some point during the last few years, I learned that the universe had somehow combined the two, and the actor Ed Helms was actually a bluegrass musician. I knew his band did some shows in Los Angeles a while back or something, and I actually tried to go once, but the timing was bad. I'd always hoped he do something in Atlanta, but as my own busy life and career prevent me from keeping up with these things as closely as I'd like, I didn't really pay much attention...

...until a couple of a weeks ago when I was scrolling through Facebook and saw an ad for an upcoming show at a small concert venue in my fair city. I looked closely at the picture in the ad and realized that the band was the Lonesome Trio, a trio that includes Mr. Helms.

This was it. My chance to see him perform bluegrass music in person.

I immediately contacted my cousin to see if he would accompany me. I can't get anyone I know to attend a bluegrass show with me, and he'll do anything if it gives him the opportunity to wear a new outfit and mingle with potentially attractive young men. To be honest, I wasn't sure what the crowd would be like —I've been to concerts where I was the only person under retirement age — but I promised him a bevy of attractive young men anyway.  He agreed. I bought the tickets, and I added a new activity to the calendar that was June: My Month Full of Awesome.

On Saturday, I found out my uncle's funeral would be at 2:00 on Monday, the same day as the concert. My family wanted to get together afterwards, but that should take, what, a couple of hours?  The concert didn't start until 8:00. I could do this. Did I feel like a selfish jerk? You bet your sweet ass I did, but you have no idea how badly I wanted to go to this thing.

The day started with me plugging in my hair straightener. I'm not sure what I was thinking with this heat and humidity, because even if I had straightened my hair, it would have puffed out 10 inches by noon. As if someone was trying to tell me not to waste my time, the amazing straightener I've used to keep myself looking fabulous decent for nearly a decade decided it had fried its last strand of hair, and the handle popped right off into my bathroom sink.

Just as I was trying to figure out if I could manually squeeze my luscious locks in between the warm paddles, I heard my dad come inside downstairs. I heard him say something about "hitting Sarah's something" and yell "dammit." Sarah's something turned out to be Sarah's, er, my car. He's not used to it being parked in their driveway, and his mind has been elsewhere all weekend, naturally. So, he backed out of the driveway in my mom's SUV and basically totaled the vehicle that has driven me around Atlanta and other parts of the country for longer than the straightener has been hiding my natural curls.

Though I'd only been awake a couple of hours, that's all it took for me to realize that this day was already making me exhausted. There was no way I could go be a dutiful mourner, be there for my cousins, and put my family first with the concert looming over my head. I didn't want to spend the afternoon watching the clock, and I just couldn't make myself get into the mood to tell someone who just lost her father that I am sorry, and I'd love to reminisce, but Ed Helms and his friends and some awesome music await. The King Plow Arts Center is not where I needed to spend this particular evening.

I tried to give my tickets away (for free!) on Facebook, but I should have known that none of my bluegrass-hating friends would want to go. I went through this a year or two ago when I ended up driving out to the middle of nowhere solo to see Ralph Stanley.

Ironically, I also found out something I didn't know about my uncle today: He was actually a big bluegrass fan. As a matter of fact, his son quoted and played a Ralph Stanley song during his eulogy. It was at that moment that I realized I'd asked everyone I knew to go to that Ralph Stanley concert with me but my uncle. I don't even know that he would have gone, but it really made me think about how much we often take our families for granted. This entire weekend has been a lesson in that.

So, I'm probably going to have to get a new car. I had to wear my hair in a bun because I live in Georgia, and it's summer, and without technology, my hair does not make public appearances. I had to make the very difficult decision to not see a concert that is the stuff my dreams are made of.

But I wouldn't say I'm unlucky. I did get to spend the day celebrating the life of a man who will be missed more than words can say with people who don't really care what my hair looks like or would gladly give me a ride if I didn't have a car at all. I got to be there for my cousin when the loss of her father overwhelmed her, I got to see my dad 's face light up when friends from his childhood came to support him as he buried his brother, and I received a huge reminder of what's most important in life.

I'll probably always regret not seeing that concert, but I would have regretted going even more. And as luck would have it, I decided to check Facebook when I returned home tonight, and there was an Entertainment Weekly article featuring The Lonesome Trio with an advance streaming of their new album. I didn't actually realize there was an album accompanying the concert tour, but there is, and it comes out June 16, and I will buy it. And if there is a next time for a concert, I will go, even if I have to walk. Even if I have to go with my curly hair flowing wild in the midst of a hot Georgia summer.

My uncle, Scott, my aunt, and baby me circa 30ish years ago.

May 14, 2015

A little progress

I know, 20 days seems to be my average time between posts. The problem is that I am self-employed, and what little free time I do get lately I spend outside. I take lots of pictures, but most of them sit on a computer or digital camera and then everything grows a little more and then...well, excuses and more excuses. Let me get to the point: I have made some progress.

When I planted my little lonely Heinz tomato in the middle of my stick garden, I didn't take into consideration that it would need a cage. I tried making one out of bamboo the other day, and it looked awful. So, I made one today out of sticks I had left over from making the border for the bed. I ran out of jute, so it still needs another layer or two, but this is what it looks like. Very rustic.

Here's how it looks in the bed. I'm not crazy about it, but what can you do? (Besides try to move the tomato and risk losing my prize Heinz tomato that is the kind they grow to make the ketchup, aka my crack.)

As you can see, the other stuff in my stick bed is really growing. The herbs are huge, the lettuce and onions are getting huge, and even my gladiolus started growing, though one bulb is still somewhere in the dirt. Ignore the background...I'm still working on the place.

I also got some plants potted. I didn't realize the sun was so bright when I did took these pictures, so bear with me. Here are two pots of verbena, a gerbera daisy, and some dianthus. The second pot from the left is broken, but I thought it looked kind of neat. I found it in my grandfather's storage space after he died. I'll add it to my little shabby chic flower garden I'm working on.

On my last post, I mentioned that I'm now working on a bed on the side of the old house and fence. It's turned into sort of a salsa garden with peppers, tomatoes, herbs, onions, lettuce, carrots, and flowers. It also has a couple of zucchini plants. Here are the beginnings of it — it's still a major work in progress. 

I've got 12 pepper plants in there with bamboo stakes. I'm hoping they will hold up. I'm hoping the peppers even grow at all as this spot is a little shady, and they are close together. There is one cayenne pepper, seven chili peppers, and four jalapenos. You can also see my rosemary, a pot of cardinal climbers that I'm hoping will grow up that gutter, and some green onions that need some major help. 

Well, that's it for now. I've made a vow to work outside for at least an hour every day, and I'm going out of town in June, so I want to have all my garden stuff completed by then. Hopefully, I'll be able to update more often, too...hopefully.

April 23, 2015

Stick Wattle Bed Complete

I know it's been 20 days since I last updated with progress on my great garden project of 2015, but it has rained nearly every single day since. I'm not kidding. The few days it didn't, I had tons of work to do or places to be, and that left me no time to work outside. Today, however, I had a few hours, and I finally completed phase one. I think it's the third day I've been able to do anything out there all month.

So, I finally got the wattle bed finished. That took far longer than I thought it would. It's sort of like putting together a puzzle without knowing what the end result is. It's not really 100% wattle, but it's close enough. I cheated and used some jute to tie the sticks in place to keep a storm or animal from knocking them over.

Then it took forever to fill it even just halfway with dirt. I try to do everything organically or as organic as possible, but I must admit I caved and used some Miracle Grow garden soil because Home Depot had it so cheap. Just a little...the rest of it dirt from my garden from last year and my compost from the last two years. Yeah, I have two years worth of compost. I'm such a hippie. So, here's what the completed thing looked like before I planted anything in it.

As of today, it has about 20 onions, 1 tomato, 4 rows of lettuce, 4 rows of cosmos, sunflowers, dianthus, echinacea, alyssum, English daisies, sage, oregano, cilantro, bachelor's button, gladiolus, and chamomile. I kind of squeezed it all in there in small amounts, so hopefully, it will all thrive. Here's the finished product.

Here is some of my lavender, the herbs, and the English daisies. All the little sticks in the soil mark where I planted seeds.And that little chair is from my childhood, but it makes gardening easy and less dirty.

And here is the first tomato I have ever planted. Last year, right before my grandfather died, I was telling him what all I wanted to plant in the garden that never was. After reading off a list of exotic veggies, he asked if I ever considered just trying tomatoes. Truthfully, I hate tomatoes, but 1) I'm addicted to planting stuff, and 2) I am going to try to make my own tomato sauce for Italian dishes. We'll see how that goes. This is a Heinz heirloom tomato.

On one of those non-rainy days, I did get to plant a few things, including four rows of lettuce, some onions, and cosmos. All three are growing like crazy, but only every other row of lettuce is, so I have to figure that out. Here's one of the rows.Look closely. The pine straw was supposed to help keep the rain from washing the seeds away.

And here are some things I still need to plant. I kind of went nuts at Home Depot.The sad thing is I'm going to a local nursery tomorrow.

I also bought this lovely hibiscus. I've always wanted one, and I've got this gorgeous green pot I want to put it in. That will be a project for next week. I may park it at the pool instead of in my garden since it loves hot, humid weather.

And this is the start of my next project. There is a large area next to the back porch and fence that has mostly just been storage/weeds for several years. I started chopping down trees and bushes last week. The soil is amazing, so I'm hoping it'll make a nice place for a little salsa garden of sorts.

Here is how it looks today. There was a huge stump I had to bust up last night, and by "had to bust up" I mean attempted it, whined about it enough, and someone else did it for me.

Here is the whole area — I'll be planting from the steps on the left to the gate of the fence on the right. Tomorrow, I'll start cleaning it up more and getting the soil ready for my next project!

April 03, 2015

Sticks and Puppies. Puppies and Sticks.

It's been about a week since I declared this the year of the Great Garden Project of 2015, and I have to say I haven't gotten very far.

After I posted about it last week, I received a ton of work from one of my main freelance clients, and that took a few days to finish. Then a friend asked if I could keep her 8-week old puppy while she went out of town for a few days.

She had me at 8-week-old puppy.

That turned out to be more work than I thought it would be, and I didn't get to work outside as much as I would have liked during those days, but this little face made it all worth it.

Ginger, the puppy I've been babysitting for a few days.

I spent half of one day driving across a few counties to help a neighbor whose husband was in the hospital having surgery. She needed something from her house, and I was only person close by she could get in touch with. Once all that was finished, it started raining and lightning, and I figured standing outside holding metal garden tools would not be a good idea.

I did get to work outside today, though, and finally finished my first major project: cutting up sticks.
Seriously, I felt like one of those Alaskan Bush People. My parents moved into my grandfather's house late last year, and they've been trimming shrubs and trees. I've been taking what they trim and cutting it up to make wattle garden beds for my project, sort of like this:

Raised wattle bed via
Mine will probably never look that nice. These beds are cheap to make and allow you to recycle things from your own yard. Win win. They also look easy to make.

Unless you have lots of sticks laying around, they are not easy to make.

I've spent many hours over the last week cutting sticks, cutting all my body parts, and today, even cutting my shirt. This is why my parents will not loan me their chainsaw.  Anyway, I haven't even gotten to the garden bed yet. I just finished the sticks up today around 6:00 p.m. If you look closely, you can see that what looks like brush here is actually piles of young trees that I cut up without the help of electric power tools...just my arms of steel.

Here are some stakes I made from some shrubbery my mom cut up.

I got the dirt plowed up and ready for the first bed. Okay, full disclosure: I started with a hoe and my aforementioned arms of steel, but my dad took pity on me and brought his tiller over.

I did get the stakes into the ground and started playing around with the few sticks I had already cut, but I'm going to have to start over because I went about it all wrong. This is a learning process.

So, that's where I am so far. I plan to plant onions and lettuce here. Maybe a few herbs and flowers. I have a ton of stuff out there I need to get into the ground as soon as possible. I need to mix up the dirt and compost for the bed. It's supposed to be a pretty weekend, but I do have some work to do, and I have family Easter stuff on Sunday. I hope to at least have this bed finished by Monday, though. Then what? I have no idea. Probably my climbing rose bush, but more on that later.

March 23, 2015

The Great Garden Project of 2015

Recently, I realized one reason I haven't blogged much in the last year is because I didn't really do much worth blogging about. Moving 1,028 times, mourning loved ones, and writing articles and web copy for small businesses isn't exactly the stuff people want to hear about. I'm not sure that gardening is that stuff either, but it's what I want to talk about, so tough. I'm going to give it a whirl again this year and document every moment, but this time, I'm going big.

I've become obsessed with French and English cottage and portager gardens. For those of you who have no idea what a portager garden is (and I didn't until a couple of weeks ago), it's a little fenced in space right outside your home where you grow a combo of vegetables, herbs, fruit, and flowers. According to,

In England and France, where kitchen gardens are called potagers (poh-tah-JAYS), a lot of planning goes into making sure these humble gardens are as attractive as they are practical. Potagers feature patterned beds and arches where herbs, edible flowers, and fruits mingle with the carefully selected vegetables in a celebration of color, flavor, fragrance, and form.

Here are a couple of pictures of such gardens:

You can see more pictures of portager gardens here.

And so, after reading about these little gardens for weeks on end, I decided I was going to set out to make one and keep this thing updated with my progress in order to hold myself accountable. First, there are a few things I must note.

1. I don't have a good track record.

If you remember, I started a lovely little garden last year, and by the end of June, it looked like this.

In my defense, my grandfather died that month, and my life as I knew it changed. But I can't blame it all on that. I was trying to grow cool weather plants in warm weather and I had no problem going off on 8-day vacations and not bothering to ask anyone to water it or anything for me. Then it just got so hot and bugs and frogs and well, I gave up.  I must persevere this year.

2. I don't have a yard. 

I wasn't sure where to do this at first, because I don't have a proper space for it at the moment. However, my parents just happen to own my old family home that was built in the 1800s. They lived there up until last year, and I've been toying with the idea of remodeling it. It's the perfect place for an old-fashioned garden, though. It already has a fenced in backyard where they used to let their dogs out, and I think it's the perfect size for what I want to do. It needs some major cleaning up as it's been neglected for a few years, but that will make it all the more glorious right? Consider these my before pictures:

3. I have no idea what I'm doing. 

Gardening and dealing with plants should be in my blood. My grandfather and parents have made these huge elaborate gardens ever since I can remember. My grandmother on my mom's side was a florist, and no visit to her house was complete without walking around the perimeters of her yard to see what all she was growing. Even after weeks of reading and a million trips to Home Depot and my favorite local nursery and even being a biology major for a while there when I thought I'd go to medical school, I am kind of hopeless when it comes to turning seeds into vegetables, turning bulbs into flowers, and keeping plants alive once you get them into the ground.

4. I don't have a huge budget. 

I originally set out with ideas of building wooden raised beds and buying dozens of trees and shrubs, but then I realized I have to, you know, buy food and pay bills and stuff like that. So, until I become a real estate mogul or a best-selling author or something along those lines, my budget will be a little tight. But I want it to be rustic, so that kind of works in my favor. I've already started my first project (more on that to come).

So, there you have it. This is what I plan to do for the remainder of the spring and summer, and I will share every step and detail with you fine people (or person?). I already have a few supplies.