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 my...no 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 Organicgardening.com
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 Organicgardening.com,

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.

January 30, 2015

I hate the Super Bowl

I hate the Super Bowl.

There, I said it.

It has taken me a long time to come to terms with it, because on paper, it is everything I should love about football and life. But I don't. I hate it. It's not because my team is rarely in it or because no one invites me to Super Bowl parties. It's not because I have some political and social hang ups about capitalism or conditions for players or ridiculous salaries or violence or anything like that.

So, why do I hate he so-called biggest football game of the year? Let me count the ways.

1. Commercials

Well, I hate it because of the commercials. I don't care how cute the puppies are or which celebrities are selling your products. I hate commercials 364 days a year, and unless you have some kind of advertising fetish, so do you and all of your friends who post them on Facebook and talk about how excited they are to watch them. So, stop letting other people tell you that you should. 

And hell, even if you do really just happen to love them all on your own and not because it's the in thing, you'll see them for months on TV after the big event, and these days, you can watch them weeks before the Super Bowl on YouTube.  At some point, you'll probably even accidentally spend a few minutes watching/reading some horrible "Top 10 Super Bowl Commercials" show/article, so who cares? It's not a big deal.

2. Politics 
And what's worse than Super Bowl commercials? Super Bowl commercials with a message. Last year, I think there was some crap about people of the world getting along. This year, I understand, there will be something about domestic violence.  Call me cold-hearted, but when I sit down to watch a football game, I'm trying not to think about what's wrong with the world. If I wanted to do that, I'd flip over to a cable news channel or watch Oprah reruns.

Also, few days ago, I saw something about how NBC would interview the president before the game. Why? Why? For the few hours I'm watching a game, I don't care what's going on in Washington, DC or the Middle East or anywhere beyond my house and that stadium, and I don't care who President Obama (or Bush or Clinton or whomever) is rooting for, so this is simply not necessary.

3. Half-Time Show

I also hate it because of the half-time show. Every year, the NFL parades some Godawful commercial "musician" out there to appeal to the masses. A week after it happens, no one is talking about what a solid performance it was. They're talking about whose boobs hung out of what outfit or what rock star is too old to act like that or how this 90s band didn't sing live or how his pop tart should never sing live again. Half-time is for bathroom breaks and game analysis, not concerts featuring talentless celebrities.

4. Super Bowl Parties

And then there are Super Bowl parties. If you want to get together with your friends, drink beer, and order pizza while you watch football, go for it. If you want to invite your entire Sunday School class and their kids over to look at the decorations you spent weeks making after spending half of January pouring over Pinterest and making frequent trips to the craft store, you are missing the point. You don't need 13 different types of cheese dips and 29 types of crackers. You don't need football-shaped burgers and cupcakes with little Patriots jerseys painted on the top. You need to get a life and probably stick to watching soccer. 

5. Pretend Football Fans

I don't hate football fans, but I do hate people who pretend to be football fans. This can happen on many levels. Maybe you sort of kind of root for the Falcons or the Dolphins. Suddenly, you've always loved Seattle, because they've been in the Super Bowl two years in a row, and that's the bandwagon to be on. Maybe you saw Rob Gronkowski hanging out with Justin Bieber, thought he was cute, and suddenly, you're a Patriots fan. I'm willing to cut you some slack on this point...after all, I follow Peyton Manning around the league like he's the Jesus of football. You know I own me some Colts and Broncos gear. But I can't take it when these new pretend fans could care less about what happens when September rolls around. I can't take it when these pretend fans can tell you who Aaron Rogers is dating but say things like, "What's a first down?" or "Which team has the ball?" or "Why isn't Troy Aikman playing?"

6. The Narrative

Then there's the media narrative. I'll admit, I'm extremely biased this year because the two teams in the Super Bowl are the two teams I hate more than anything. Much of my hatred for these two teams comes from what they've done against the teams and players I like. Much of it comes because I find the organizations, players, and fans to be obnoxious and cocky. But much of it comes from the hype. I don't find Tom Brady charming or think he's the best quarterback of all time because his team has made a lot of Super Bowl appearances and he married a supermodel. I don't think Marshawn Lynch is some kind of deep individual or comedic genius because of the way he handled a press conference. I can think for myself, thank you very much, ESPN. 

7. The Emotional Crap

 Plus, when Super Bowl time rolls around, suddenly every guy on whichever two teams are playing is some sort of saint. You get endless montages about how he grew up in a broken home in the worst part of the worst city in the country and overcame it all and paints his mama's name on his arm before every game and holds orphans with AIDS every Monday. By March, you've forgotten all about the guy until his name pops back up in the news because he got  DUI or didn't pay his child support for two years or something. I love a feel-good story as much as the next person, but I don't want to spend Super Bowl Sunday weeping because this team's tight end saved 5,000 puppies. Save it for the off season.

Anyway, I could go on, but I think you get the point. The Super Bowl is kind of like New Year's Eve. If you aren't watching every Sunday, please keep your amateur ass at home. If you must gather around the TV for some reason Super Bowl Sunday, I hear there's a "Walking Dead" marathon on whatever network airs that show, and you can watch commercials until your heart is content on every single channel but PBS. If you need to get all self-righteous about something, that is what social media is for.

And I get that a lot of it is about money, and the NFL is already commercial, and the current commissioner would rather the guys to sit around a bonfire and roast marshmallows instead of celebrate in the end zone or do anything remotely interesting. But at least, during the rest of the season, the game is still, for the most part, the focal point and not some sort of hodgepodge of circus tricks.

Give me a random game in October between two mid-level teams any day.

January 20, 2015

As if taxes weren't scary enough...thanks, H&R Block.

A few nights ago, I was coming downstairs in the middle of the night in the dark, and out of the blue, I heard someone whisper, "Sarrrrraaaah." It scared me. But both of my grandparents died in this house, and I grew up in the house next door which saw many family deaths. I've experienced many creepy things there throughout my lifetime. Anyway, I tried to tell myself I was hearing things and ignored it.

Fast forward to last night. I had to give a dog a bath in the middle of the night. I came out of the bathroom and brought said dog into the living room, and the minute I walk into the room, I hear it again.


At this point, I realized I wasn't making it up, but what could it be? Were my dead grandparents really trying to get my attention? After all, the night before last, I swear I heard someone playing the piano, but when I went in there, it was closed.

So, after the dog bath, I'm sitting in my bedroom trying to finish up some work before I go to sleep, and I hear it again. The same creepy person whispering my name. There was no doubt that it was coming from the TV, but all I saw was an H&R block commercial. Maybe it was some kind of psychological thing about how I'm dreading making a big tax payment in a couple of weeks?

A little research proved that I was definitely not hearing things. H&R Block has a new commercial called "Get Your Billions Back, America: Sarah." In it, the guy fans a stack of money and whispers in a creepy voice, "Sarrrrrrraaaaaah," as if the money is calling out to someone named Sarah. One look at the comments on the YouTube videos proves that many other Sarahs had similar experiences, so I don't feel so stupid.  Take a look for yourself.

January 15, 2015

2014: A Recap

Well, it's a new year (or, at least, 15 days into one), and it's been eight months since my last blog post. There's a good reason for that.

2014 kind of sucked.
The last time I posted, it was mid-May. I'd just learned that I liked to buy seeds and flowers, but putting them into the ground...not so much. Most of the plants I bought never actually made it into the ground, and the ones that did didn't exactly flourish, especially when I decided I preferred traveling for days at a time to standing around in the 90-degree heat and humidity trying to keep it all weeded and watered. 

Gabby ready for the beach.

I had many trips planned for 2014. Some got canceled; some happened but aren't even worth. mentioning. The first week of June, I loaded Gabby up, and we made our annual pilgrimage to Tom Petty's (ex wife's) beach house. It wasn't that great of a trip, and it may be the last time I go, which is sad, because I do love that place. And any time I get to take Gabby to the beach is great, because she loves it, and after all she's been through in her 12 years, I feel like she deserves it. 

Gabby relaxing in TP's guest room. We've spent many nights here.

Gabby doing what Gabby does best on the beach.

Fast forward to the end of June - I hadn't even fully unpacked from that trip. One of the worst things that has ever happened to me happened: my grandfather died unexpectedly.  I feel stupid saying unexpectedly, because he was sick and he was nearly 90, but if you met him, you'd never know he was that old. One Friday afternoon, his doctor gave him another one to three years to live. That Sunday morning, my dad and aunt found him in his bed. I still remember walking to his house as the ambulance pulled up. Maybe I'll write more about that day in the future.

It's fuzzy but him and me in my little Herschel Walker jersey, circa the 1980s.

My grandparents on their wedding day.

It's still really hard to believe. I've lived next door to him or on the same street as he did for most of my life, minus a few years. He was like my third parent. It was definitely the worst part of my year and my life so far. My family gathered over the course of the next 24 hours after he died, and looking back, it feels like we were all moving in slow motion. I wrote a eulogy. My cousins and I cleaned his house. We had so much food, and relatives came from out of town.

My grandfather was out setting up his beloved garden weeks before he died.

My dad taking down my grandfather's garden for the last time.

There are many other reasons why 2014 sucked, but I'm choosing to forget all that focus on the positive now.

Right before Christmas, I took a trip to Charleston, and I had so much fun. I go there all the time, but this was definitely one of my favorite trips. I think it would have been a little better if I hadn't tried to work while we were there and if we'd had an extra couple of days to do more because I was with someone who had never been, but it was definitely the getaway I needed after what feels like non-stop stress of working six to seven days a week for months, dealing with a variety of family issues, and moving everything I owned three times (yeah, three times—that was fun).

Charleston Marina right before dark. I love boats.

I also received some great encouragement from one of the least likely places. All of my adult life, I've gone back and forth with some of my career plans. I've figured some of it out with the writing, I think. I know some things are still missing. However, I received a little handwritten note in the mail from someone I admire, someone who is so talented, so busy, and so legendary that no one believes me when I tell them, and right now, it sits on my dresser like a little prompt I can glance at when I let my thoughts about my future bog me down. If this guy can be positive about my future plans, then so can I.

In an effort to further nurture my hippie leanings, I found a really cool farm in the mountains that sells amazing grass-fed beef and pork and has adorable little goats.

Hmm. What else? My grandfather was in the midst of having the pool re-plastered when he died. It'd turned into a major headache for him, because the guy who did it last year really screwed him over. I ended up overseeing that and taking care of it for the remainder of the summer. I thought it looked nice when it was all finished. Ironically, he spent last summer teaching me as much as he could about pool maintenance. This year, I learned a lot more on my own. My parents own it now (they moved into his house in November), so I have a feeling I will be their pool girl for a while whenever I'm around. I also had no idea it was so much work, so that's another reason the garden never took off. Maybe next year?

This thing is more work than one might think.
Sadie enjoying my grandfather's—now my parents'—porch and backyard.

So yeah, maybe my garden looks like this now (see the picture below). But it's something I'll always remember, even if I never try it again. I did it on my parents' and grandfather's land, which meant many weekends sitting outside with them as they set up their own gardens—something they've been doing all of my life. I didn't realize it at the time, but those are memories I will always cherish.

Many things about my life have changed in the last year. I've had to put many plans on hold. But I'm learning to be a little more flexible than I have in the past when things didn't go the way I wanted them to, so there's that.  

Sadie and my parents' dog checking out my garden circa August.