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More signs of spring

>> Wednesday, March 31, 2010

It's been a crazy week following a crazy weekend, so I haven't much time for either blogging or collecting blog material.  That's quite okay with me, though, as the forecast for this coming weekend looks positively glorious, and I've been slogging through another cold, gray rainy week riding high on the promise of back-to-back 18 hour days of sunshine outside this weekend.  

I don't much care what we do on Saturday and Sunday so long as it's outside.  We've tossed around ideas as wide ranging as massive yard work, vacuuming the detritus of winter and about a pound of trail mix out of the footwells of my car (best not to ask), bike rides, hikes, jogging, or just sitting and roasting our bones in the sun.  Any of those is fine with me.  Seventy five degrees and sunny!   Bliss.  With the promise of that kind of deliciousness ahead, I can endure nearly anything this week, so long as it doesn't interfere with my weekend.

As an aside, I am generally very concerned about global warming and watch the changes in my climate with mounting anxiety.  I confess, though, that at the moment I care not a smidge if 75 degrees is unseasonably warm for the start of April.  Bring it on!  I shall resume caring once I stop shivering.

Although there was little time for fun last weekend, on Sunday morning we darted out to Baltimore Woods for a quick look at the wildflower gardens to see if anything else had sprung.  There wasn't much change from the previous weekend as far as flowers go.  I only have one flowering shrub to add to the list of blooms at Baltimore Woods.  This gem was positively glowing at the entrance of the trail:

I don't know what it is, and don't have a flowering shrub book to look it up in.  The most exasperating thing is that there was an identification sign.  Right there.  In front of the shrub.  I even read it, and informed my husband that I needed to remember the name of the plant.  I made a mistake of not photographing the sign, and now have zero recollection of what this lovely shrub is.

I shall have to make a mental note to check the sign this weekend.  Let's hope the mental note to check the sign will be more effective than the one I made regarding the name of the plant.  Sometimes I feel like a squirrel diligently hiding nuts all over the yard - I make so many mental notes that I can't possibly keep track of any of them.

In a slightly more sheltered area, the hepatica is making a brave leafy showing in a few spots, although it didn't have any blossoms yet.  Surely next weekend there will be some flowers.

Do you remember this little patch from my post last weekend?

There were probably half a dozen clumps just like it.  Here's how they've progressed in just one week:

Although it's no kudzu, that's still a lot of new plant cells in roughly 168 hours.  They'll probably shoot up an alarming amount in 75 degree warmth and sun this coming weekend.  In fact, they're probably shooting up right now, as I type, even though it's still chilly.

Although it is still cold, the rain dried up sometime in the course of the day and the clouds were starting to break up this evening, giving a teasing glimpse of the glory that is allegedly to follow.  Just two more work days to endure...


Nothing Like a Healthy Serving of Steaming Fresh Guilt

>> Thursday, March 25, 2010

The dogs have been needing to get their teeth cleaned since we adopted them (eh hem) ah, two years ago.  We speculate that they had been fed nothing but canned food or perhaps human scraps before we got them.  We feed them Taste of the Wild dry food, which they love, but which they also gulp without chewing as much as I'd like.  Lucy also gnaws on Nylabones like they're going out of style, and between the bones and the crunchy food her teeth have improved significantly.

Not so much Simon's.  Not only was the tartar bad for Simon's health and longevity, but it caused his breath to be toxic.  Seriously, when he yawned in my face I could feel my eyelashes and eyebrows curling as the reek of putrid rotting canine decay washed over me.  They were the maws of hell.  He could stop conversation with that breath, and would leave people staggering and gasping.  No amount of brushing or trying to remove the tartar ourselves could get through it.

In short, I have never smelled such bad dog breath.

Finally, after putting it off for way too long, we finally got around to taking him in for a pre-dental appointment and a subsequent cleaning.  Yesterday was the big day.

If you've been following my post for any length of time, you know that my dogs are neurotically inseparable. While I would ordinarily have considered taking a day off work so Lucy wouldn't have to be alone for the day, I had a big conference that I had been preparing for for months, and my husband had some significant projects to handle at work.  Time off wasn't really an option.

But heck, I thought, we've been working with them to build up their confidence and to make them more independent ever since we got them, and they've been doing pretty well.  So, while we were worried about how Lucy would fare without her brother for the day, we also figured we had to try separating them to find out how they would do.  I worried that Lucy would perhaps bark herself hoarse locked in the crate she usually shares with Simon, but had some degree of confidence that she would manage to cope. 

How wrong I was.

I came home around 6:00 to hear Lucy barking.  Nothing unusual there, but I raced up the stairs to rescue her.  As I reached the stairs to the third floor where the dog crate is, I was nearly bowled over by the smell.  Good God, had a farmer fertilized my attic?  And then I reached poor Lucy.

There she was, standing trembling in her crate with the most frantically worried expression on her face.  The floor of the crate was covered in a slurry mix of urine and liquid feces.  Apparently in her panic Lucy had wound up with severe diarrhea, and had spent her day pacing through it.  She was covered.  Head to toe. 

I have never felt like such a jerk in my life.

My first instinct was to take the crate with her in it and carry it all out to the back yard to hose them off, but there was no way I could carry her and the awkwardly large crate down two flights of stairs. No, I had to open that crate door and let her walk through the house with those dripping, poop covered feet. 

You, dear readers, I am certain, are glad that I have no photos with which to illustrate this post.

My husband came home with Simon about 10 minutes later, and as soon as she saw and sniffed him, Lucy returned to her usual perky self.  The shaking and pacing stopped, and she started trying to wrestle with him in the yard.  She did a little happy dance.  All was well in Lucy's little neurotic head.
I guess the story has a happy ending.  Lucy got a thorough bath, as did the crate, and the carpets got a good scrubbing to remove all the poop prints.  Then Lucy and a still groggy Simon slept in their usual spot in front of the fire all evening, and seemed completely normal this morning.  Lucy went into the crate this morning, with Simon, with no hesitation whatsoever.  And probably best of all, Simon's breath when he yawns has no smell whatsoever - completely fresh and healthy.  His pearly whites look gorgeous.
Whether there's lasting damage to Lucy's psyche I shall never know, but I can certainly attest that some permanent damage has been done to mine.  When I close my eyes I can still see poor trembling poop-covered Lucy standing in that crate, looking desperately forlorn.  In retrospect, of course, I see that it was very unwise to leave her alone for the day.  Ah, hindsight. 
My poor Lucy.  I'm glad she's such a forgiving soul.


Spring Garden Inventory

>> Monday, March 22, 2010

Since it's suddenly spring, I spent a few minutes on Saturday wandering about my gardens and assessing what's up.

The tulips are appearing, which isn't any real surprise:

Snowdrops are out in the lawn:

And hooray!  The peonies are starting to push up.

I love peonies with abandon, and was no end of delighted to discover them in my gardens when we first moved in.  I highly recommend buying a house in winter, so that whatever emerges in the gardens in spring is a complete surprise.  It was like a daily and weekly treasure hunt.  Of course, it helped that someone who lived here before us was an avid gardener, and had selected a variety of hearty and beautiful plants that survived years of neglect with little ill effect.

The bear's breeches appears to have survived and is already emerging in a few spots.

It had a rough time last summer, as we transplanted it from my boss's garden rather late and didn't water it enough when we went on vacation.  I wasn't entirely sure it would make it, but thus far it appears healthy.  I hope it isn't up too early and in for a rude awakening should the weather turn cold again.

Tucker is back to rolling luxuriously in sunny patches of dirt, which is a sure sign of spring:

I was surprised to see that my kale actually survived the winter and is shooting up healthy new growth.  I had no idea the stuff was that hearty.  Looks like we may have really early spring greens from the garden this year, unless it turns out that it's bitter or something from having overwintered.

And oh, great delight!  As I wandered through my yard I heard my first red winged blackbird of spring.  So often I think the only purpose of winter is to make spring seem so much more wonderful for its contrast!


By Request...

>> Saturday, March 20, 2010

... Mermaids!

Actually, they don't look much like mermaids to me, they more resemble some poor grimacing maiden with really small hands and a cowlick being swallowed whole by a giant fish (click on the photo to enlarge it for maximum enjoyment).  I don't really mind the floral wallpaper, but find the mermaids a titch creepy.  There's nothing quite like relaxing in the bath looking at encircling rings of girl-eating fish.


Spring is Springing

In celebration of the first day of spring, I ventured to Baltimore Woods. Ordinarily I wouldn't have expected to find any wildflowers this early, even at Baltimore Woods which is spring wildflower central.  But this past week has been so extraordinarily warm that I decided there was a chance some brave flowers had already emerged, and I wasn't going to risk missing them.

Baltimore Woods has a wildflower garden that's just wonderful in the spring.  It doesn't look like a garden,

but it is.  Most of the wildflowers that fill this area have been carefully transplanted from elsewhere in Baltimore Woods and are now thriving side by side, in greater concentration than you'd normally see.  In a few weeks it will be filled to the brim with trillium, spring beauty, bloodroot, trout lilies, mayapples, and Solomon's seal, and more.

For the most part, it's still too early.  There was even still some snow hanging out in the glens and shaded spots, 

and very few flowers were out.  I did find one little patch of croci that's been planted in the garden beds in one of the upper fields.

A few steps further, just into the woods, I spotted one brave myrtle flower.

Although there were few flowers, throughout the spring wildflower beds there were signs of emerging life.  Hidden little patches of young greenness were poking through the soft earth and spearing their way through the dead leaves.

I was utterly disappointed not to see any coltsfoot in the upper gardens, though.  I figured for sure there must be some out somewhere.  So I decided I would have to extend my walk further and meander down the big hill to access the rest of the trails.  

Normally that wouldn't be a big deal, but today it should be a sign of my dedication to my coltsfoot quest that I mustered the will power to walk down the hill.  My husband and I are on a major fitness kick to get ourselves back into mountain climbing shape, and I endured a session with my trainer yesterday.  The man is wonderful; he's an incredibly competent trainer and a very likable person.  It's a darn good thing, too, because I think I'd probably hate anyone less likable, given how much pain I'm in today.  Actually, it's not even the pain, it's the fact that my legs feel like jell-o, and I sort of had to wobble and lurch my way down the steep hill, gritting my teeth against the burning in my quads and hoping they wouldn't just give out altogether.  

The agony was worth it, though.  Down the hill, around a few bends, and half way up another hill, and voila!  My first coltsfoot sighting of spring:

Baltimore Woods has one spot that I have to visit every spring, or it just doesn't feel like it's been spring. There's a little wooded glade that is bursting with myrtle, and it was oozing with charm today.  After wandering through woods that are almost entirely still brown, the lush shiny myrtle green is rich and inviting.

In a few weeks it will be peppered with purple flowers.  

I'm not the only one who finds the spot enchanting.  As I stood and enjoyed the green, a young mother and six girls ranging from about 6 to 14 walked by.  The girls oohed and aahed over the spot, and exclaimed that it must be magic.  I chuckled to myself when the mother worried aloud that it was poison ivy, and alleviated her fears.

I found a few other treasures in my wanderings, including some wonderful critter prints in the mud along the streams.  There were lots of raccoon prints, some fox (coyote?), and some opossum prints.

It was about this point in my walk that I had an argument with my camera, so most of my footprint shots didn't turn out very well.  I hate it when I hit something on the camera and can't figure out what the heck I did to it.  When my husband is with me I usually just hand it to him in exasperation and he fixes it, which means I haven't learned how to do it myself.  It took me a good fifteen minutes of fiddling to discover I'd somehow changed the aperture, which I didn't even know I could do in the mode I had the camera in.  Live and learn.

These two sets had me a little stumped.  Anyone want to weigh in?  This first set is tiny, at only about 3/4 of an inch wide.  Could they be weasel?

And I don't know what made these.  It seems like maybe there are only 4 toes, but perhaps I'm looking at them wrong?  Is the scrape through the middle a coincidence, or from a belly, or a tail?  

The best part of today's walk, though, were the twenty minutes I spent sitting peacefully on a bench in the sun, perfectly warm in a long-sleeved t-shirt and jeans.  I always forget how delicious it is to be able to sit still in the woods this time of year.  One doesn't freeze or get soaked from sitting in snow, and the mosquitoes aren't out yet.  I sat still and listened to chickadees chirping in the branches over my head, a downy woodpecker tapping on the tree a few feet away, and a junco rustling in the leaves behind me.  Several flocks of Canada geese honked their way over me, too, and the nearby stream gurgled deliciously.  Ah, spring!  How nice it is to see you.


Happy Anniversary, House

>> Friday, March 19, 2010

Today marks exactly two years since we closed on our house.  It's a work in progress, so I thought I might do a little review of how far we've come, and how far we still have to go.

The story of our house is that my husband and I have always wanted to buy an old house and fix it up.  We don't want to live in an old house forever.  In fact, our taste is probably more suited to an ultra contemporary design with lots of windows, exposed wood beams and a big stone fireplace in a wooded setting.  My artwork will probably look less out of place in a contemporary house, and our eclectic antique and arts and crafts style furniture collection might look less eclectic if it weren't in such a historic house.  But plans for our passive solar, rustic dream house will be on hold for many years to come, unless the lottery ticket I picked up today turns out to be a winner.

When we first moved back to the Syracuse area we debated whether to buy or rent.  We opted for rental, since house prices were more than we had expected.  But before we found a rental we looked at a number of houses.  In our house hunting travels we stopped by this house one day, now something like 6 years ago, and peered in all the windows.  I fell in love with the house, and whined to my husband that we'd never be able to afford it, and by the time we could afford it it wouldn't still be on the market.

Three years later we started looking for houses, and spent a year rejecting house after house.  Nothing felt right.  Then our realtor insisted we look at a particular house we didn't know anything about, and it turned out to be this house.  Our house.  We knew within about three feet of the front door that this was The House.

In the years since we'd looked at it, the house next door had been bought and fixed up beautifully, but our poor sad house had fallen on hard times.  It wound up being foreclosed, and spent a year vacant except for the local feral cats who moved in.

Lordie, do cats make a mess.

Anyhow, it needed a whole lot of work.  The house was built in 1831, and has had a great deal of major work done to it already (drywall, electric, plumbing, roof, windows...)  But even with all that had been done, some parts of it were in pretty sorry shape.

The mortgage company required us to repaint the front porch within 3 months after we closed on it, and they held money in escrow for that purpose.  Ha.  Repaint?  Repaint what?  Old lead paint and termite dust?

So, in our first ever home improvement project, we dove in head first without safety ropes.  We jacked up the roof of the porch (we had no idea what we were doing) and I demolished everything under it.  I say I demolished it, because once I swung a sledge hammer, there was no way I was going to let my husband share in the fun of demolition.  To this day, it was the single most satisfying thing I have ever done.

Here it is in progress, after demo and with some of the new framing in place:

We did everything ourselves, using Azek plastic decking, and fiberglass columns (I intend to do this only once).  We had help from our respective fathers on design and concrete pouring, and from a generous neighbor who loaned us excellent tools.  I impressed a variety of neighbors by womanning the miter saw we had borrowed and doing all the cutting of the decking.

I do so love power tools.

We were absurdly perfectionist about the whole thing.  Spouse even cut the stringers for the stairs so the steps would all be even.

At the end of the day, we were mighty pleased with ourselves.  It turns out we can build a thoroughly respectable porch.  Compare the before and after:

I still get a little thrill of pleasure from comparing the before and after shots.  The house just looks so much happier now.

The next major project we tackled felt more like an exorcism than renovation.  Check out the wallpaper that was in the dining room and kitchen:

Ain't the black trim especially grand?  My husband started absentmindedly picking at a corner of the wallpaper one Saturday morning, and by the time I realized what he was doing, he'd pulled off about a third of a strip.  We then looked at the bare clean white of the wall behind it, looked at each other with wicked grins, and by noon we'd stripped nearly half the room.  Once we got started we just couldn't stop.

Painting the room was a bit of a debacle.  The lighting in that north-facing room is very odd, and the first warm beige color we picked looked a ghastly shade of lavender in the morning light.  Not what I'd had in mind.  We had enough leftover paint that we didn't want to go buy more, so I hauled my artists acrylics out of my art studio and started monkeying with the color.  We'd never be able to recreate it, but I managed to get exactly the color I wanted, and only had to apply a grand total of 4 coats of paint to the whole room before we got it right.

New light fixtures were then added, and it felt like a completely different room.  It turns out I don't have any really good photos of the dining room and kitchen.  All I have is this crummy shot off my blackberry, and it's too dark to take good ones tonight.

Our other major project was the fireplace, which I've already blogged about.  I'll just show before and after shots of that:

We also spent countless hours and something like 20 cubic yards of soil and 10 yards of mulch on the gardens, plus pounds and pounds of poo for fertilizer.  We have rescued all sorts of poor, half strangled, neglected plants (someone who once lived here was quite a gardener).  We transplanted a whole host of new plants from my boss's thriving gardens to ours, and planted other things from seeds.  We dug a huge new vegetable garden, too.  While they're never pristine, the gardens are now lush and earthy and happy.

So, in two years we have accomplished a lot.  We of course have done lots of other minor projects, but no other significant ones.

What's left on our to do list?  Well, stripping the terrifying mermaid wallpaper out of the downstairs bathroom, moving a wall over to create a proper laundry room, and installing a shower.  The hallway needs its ugly wallpaper stripped, too.  The rest of the interior of the house needs paint, of course.  The dining room desperately needs to be insulated underneath, which requires building new foundation walls for it.  There's an entire basement wall that really ought to be rebuilt, and the house should be jacked up to make its floors a little less crazy.  The upstairs bathroom is currently somewhat Alice in Wonderland, and needs to be completely redone.  Really, it defies description.  The carpeting needs to be replaced, and I have visions of putting slate in the dining room.  The back stairs are about the give up the ghost.  And oh, don't get me started on the poor crazy old leaning barn.

The list is endless.  We'll be broke and possibly dead before we accomplish everything on it.

I enjoy the work a great deal, and find it very satisfying.  I enjoy too many other things, too, though.  There are just so many woodsy paths to walk down with my camera, and Adirondack High Peaks to climb, and paintings to paint, and books to read, and even blogs to write.  But at least we've made some progress, albeit slow, and I think the house is happier.

I know I'm happy here.  It feels like home, crazy floors, wallpaper, and all.


Dodging Service, or, Skunk Saga Update

>> Tuesday, March 16, 2010

My darned stinky friend Pierre is still comfortable ensconced in the hole underneath my dining room.  We have tried repeatedly to serve the eviction notice on him, but he's very good at dodging the process servers.  Thus far we have tried bright light, lots of noise, vinegar and even smoke from smouldering sage.  All to no avail.

How do we know he hasn't left us, you ask?  Partly because we've been carefully observing the skunk prints in the snow and mud outside his entrance hole, but also because he's a complete stinker in more ways than one.  On Sunday when we checked the live trap that we have been leaving under the dining room next to his hole, it was immediately apparent that he has been reaching his paws through the end of the live trap to grab cat food bait out of it for a snack.  He left us some nice little skunky claw marks through the edge of the wet cat food in the trap.  He apparently did not access the food from the proper opening of the trap because it was wide open and empty, and is functioning properly.

Is he really that smart - smart enough to know not to go into the trap but to reach through the bars and scrape out what he can instead???  If he didn't smell so strongly of skunk I'd think we had a raccoon under there.  That seems more like a conniving resourceful raccoon sort of trick than a skunk trick.  Apparently I need to rethink my assessment of skunk intelligence, and come up with a more effective way of shielding the live trap bait from his grasping little paws.

Bless his smelly little heart, though, he refrained from spraying or getting sprayed over the weekend when we had house guests and threw a party.  Whew!  Despite that kindness, though, he still really really needs a new home.  One of our party guests informed us that he and his wife had at one time trapped seven (seven!) skunks out of their yard in quick succession. Here's hoping there's only one stubborn stinker under my dining room.

Tally to date:

Skunk 15
Humans 0


Lawn Fuzz

>> Monday, March 15, 2010

'Tis the season of the snow mold.  I have a love-hate relationship with the stuff.  On the one hand it's pretty gross and it makes me sneeze, but on the other hand it's a sure sign of spring.  For some reason this year nearly our entire lawn was coated in snow mold.

I don't know a whole lot about snow mold, although I have read there are two primary types: gray and pink.  I appear to have mostly the gray, also known as Typhula blight.  It appears every year in the first warm days that melt a lot of the snow.  At a glance it almost looks like lingering patches of snow, but it most certainly is not.

It's a little gross to have my entire lawn being eaten up by mold, but it shall pass.  A little sun and dryness will make it disappear again until next spring.  It never seems to do any lasting damage, or at least not that I notice.  Our lawn is never exactly pristine, since I refuse to apply chemical fertilizers or pesticides.  We have a grub problem, and the dog pee kills large patches of it too.  I shall never be one of those people who worries much about my lawn looking like a golf course.

It seems awfully early, but there are a few other signs of spring in my garden, too.  The irises are starting to poke their brave heads above the soil, reminding me that I really need to thin out the patches.  I never seem to get around to it.  Good thing they tolerate my neglect.

I have no idea what this little red nub is - I shall have to watch it to find out.

I hope these brave first shoots don't regret their early optimism about winter's end and spring's approach.

This past Saturday I hosted a birthday party for my father, and chose jonquils as the floral decor.  Apparently I can't resist feeling optimistic about the end of winter, any more than those little plants can.


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