Memorial Day

It’s a bit dismal out there today, but at least the temperature has gone down. Yesterday was brutal, and of course we had our barbecue planned for about 4 p.m.  in what was likely to be the hottest part of the day.

The day started out with a wrench: Jim called to say he couldn’t come.  He’d gotten a bad sunburn while working in his garden, and wasn’t feeling up to the trip.  We didn’t blame him, of course, but we did miss him for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that there was no Watergate salad.

We ended up with our next-door neighbors and Charles.  Charles’ wife, Mary, had a bad ear infection and couldn’t make it which was a shame as both Dawn and I were looking forward to having here there.

And everyone brought food!  If you didn’t know better you’d have thought that it was a local potluck.  Grace brought arroz con gandules, which sounds like the official national dish of Puerto Rico.   We were all thrilled, particularly Charles who never runs into Carlos at Home Despot without asking when Grace is going to be making her rice.  They also brought mostaccoli, salsas, guacamole, pico de gallo and a wonderful cake.

We made beef and chicken burgers, shrimp with Old Bay and pork tenderloin in chipoltle marinade, shrimp and apricot couscous salad, caprese salad and lime and coconut granita (A Dawn specialty, and one which may well have won Carlos’ undying affection.)  Charles brought a half gallon of Zanzibar chocolate ice cream and the most beautiful peonies, which Dawn and I split.  She’s informed me that I’m splitting the ice cream, too.  *grump*

What surprised me is that in spite of the heat and humidity, and the fact that it was way past Charles’ bedtime (He conks out about eight, usually) everyone stayed late.  Charles didn’t leave until past ten and our neighbors stayed until past eleven.  The garden was so beautiful.  We had candles everywhere and lanterns, and the lights in the magnolia.  Once we get more flowers in, with their scents hanging in the air, it’ll be amazing.

And today?  Rain.  We need it, of course, but the garden looks kind of sad after yesterday’s brightness.  We did manage to have breakfast out there, though.  Dawn made a Dunkin’ Donuts run, inspired by Carlos walking around with a cup from DD.  So we had iced coffee and chocolate glazed donuts, and talked about the garden until it began to rain so hard even the umbrella wasn’t helping.  We’re planning on taking a lot of our meals out there this summer.  We even talked about getting a chiminea and having Thanksgiving dinner out there if it isn’t too cold.  Yes, we’ve got the garden bug big time.

Finally, back to the reason for the day itself.  Ken M., a Facebook friend, posted a poem by Charles Sorley, a British soldier, killed by a sniper at the Battle of Loos.  The poem touched me and sent me looking for more of Sorley’s work.  I found another poem which also resonated for me, not just on a personal level but within the context of the day, and I’d like to share it:

Such, such is Death: no triumph: no defeat:
Only an empty pail, a slate rubbed clean,
A merciful putting away of what has been.

And this we know: Death is not Life, effete,
Life crushed, the broken pail. We who have seen
So marvellous things know well the end not yet.

Victor and vanquished are a-one in death:
Coward and brave: friend, foe. Ghosts do not say,
“Come, what was your record when you drew breath?”
But a big blot has hid each yesterday
So poor, so manifestly incomplete.
And your bright Promise, withered long and sped,
Is touched, stirs, rises, opens and grows sweet
And blossoms and is you, when you are dead.

—Charles Hamilton Sorley (1895–1915)


The cozy new place in the neighborhood

Buddha and his kitty look quite pleased, too.

So this really marks the beginning of our patio life.  We’re having a barbecue tomorrow and we spent several hours today cleaning up outside and moving things around.  We wrapped the trunks of the magnolia with white lights, and hung some lanterns (even though we don’t have candles for them) set up the tables and chairs and got the grill and prep area, well… prepped.

Then about seven, we took our supper out and had our first al fresco meal on the new patio.  the sun was no longer in our eyes by that time and it was beginning to be cooler  and more pleasant,  so we lit a citronella candle and sat down to a dinner of fresh bread, salami, olives, cheese and our favorite wine, Columbelle ’07.

A feast fit for the gods! Well, okay, for us.

While we were eating, one of Mortimama’s (We named the big bunny Mortimer but then realized she had produced a littler; hence, Mortimama.)  baby buns hopped into the yard, sat for a moment or two and decided that two middle-aged women who were drinking too much wine, were probably not safe for young buns, and hopped back out again.  Such a sweet little fuzzy butt, too.

We're at our best in the dark.

The darker it got, the prettier it got.  Several people from next door said how nice things looked, and we agreed.  I suppose that was immodest, but it really was beautiful.  We have plans to add lights to the rest of the garden.  Carlos, our neighbor is offering to get them for us as a gift, which is awfully sweet of him.  But even with just the one set of lights on the magnolia tree, it was magical for both of us.  We found it impossible to tear ourselves away from the garden this evening, and I expect we’ll be spending a lot more time out there than we ever have before.

Seriously, not one dollar of the patio money do I regret.  It was money well spent and will continue to give us pleasure for a lot of years, I hope.  We’re busy planning a mosaic, a gallery of portraits of our kitties and a lot of other stuff.  I think it’ll end up being perfect for us.

I really don’t recall the last time I felt that simply happy and content.

ETA: All photos by Dawn

Skip Starbucks for a week, and invest in the world.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am here today to pimp Kiva to you.  Now I’m sure you all support socially responsible charities  (At least, I’d like to think I have some enlightened readers.)  but let’s think outside the box today.  Not charity, but loans.  Kiva helps you make loans — micro loans — to entrepreneurs around the world.  Your investment is $25 per loan, which when repaid, can be either withdrawn or reloaned.  No, you don’t get interest on the loan, so if you’re looking for an investment that will make you rich, go play the stock market.   Kiva is a way to offer that proverbial hand up to people who just want the chance to make their lives, and the lives of their families, better through hard work.  You’re investing in the future of the world; that’s your interest.

To date, I have made 19 loans through Kiva with a total investment of a bit over $200 and not a single dollar of that has been lost.   No one has ever defaulted on a loan I’ve made.  With the exception of the amount I put into the perpetual fund of the investing group I belong to, I can withdraw all that money as soon as it is repaid.  I think of it as a way to save your money while letting it work for the world.

The “getting there” stage.

Roses from my neighbor

I’m back in let’s-fix-this mode which means I’m officially in the “getting there” stage of decorating.  I’ve spent the better part of the last week overrun by workmen of various sorts and the result has been quite good overall, in spite of minor meltdowns and so forth.  Photos of some of the most recent accomplishments can be found over on my Flicker photostream.

Garbage can redemption

I was out earlier, hoping to get a pile of boxes out in time to catch the garbage truck (No joy there) and ran into my neighbor to the west.  I told him how beautiful his roses were this year and he cut me some.  I wish you could smell them; they have the most delicate scents, and all are different.  I can hardly wait until I can get mine planted, but getting together with Francisco isn’t easy.  I hope to see him again later in the week.

My garbage can used to give me a swift pain.  I wanted one of those shiny, red jobs with the hydraulic lids, but figured that feeding my cat was a little more important than stylish garbage, so I bought a white plastic one.  And hated it with a fury until I discovered the 99 cent stickers at Target.  Now it’s covered in a bright, pretty garden of flowers and we’re both much happier.  It says “thank you” to me whenever I pass.

The slightly less sunny porch avec storage

Ikea has been a lifesaver during this stage of decorating.  It’s provided me with some good, clean storage options for both kitchen and living room.  I’ve moved all my cookbooks out to the sun porch, and am filling up niches with cups and saucers, tea, coffee and various knick-knacks and small appliances.  The Expedit storage tower hung horizontally, makes a terrific coffee and tea station.

Once I get everything placed out here, I’ll be painting.  The walls will be a pale lemon and I think I’m going to do the spaces inside the two towers (Pause for geekly chortling) the same red that’s on the door, opposite this wall.

Sharp-eyed readers will note that I have a shitload of tea, particularly of the Kusmi variety.  I loves my tea!

I’m turning into one of those old people who have walls encrusted with art, photos and memorabilia.  As soon as I get this place looking the way I want, I’m going to dye my hair a shocking shade of red, start wearing vivid Russian shawls with wicked long fringe, and start saying things like “Oh the memories of summers at Livadia with the Tsar and his family are just too painful.  I prefer to remember Paris in the nineties; the exposition, the Eiffel Tower…  My dear, those were the days!”  Now if I can just find someone to read Goethe to me in German while I doze in the sun, I think I could be happy.  Okay, well that and a whole load of money.

Gallery wall, stage one

I think my motto needs to be:   What would the Princess Dragomiroff do?  (WWtPDD?)

Is it possible to be beaten up by the weather?

Because that’s what I feel like every time I go out these days.  It’s been hot and humid here (hovering in the low 90s the last couple of days) and I come home so drained and miserable, I don’t really get much done.  Yesterday it was a trip to Half-Price Books with seven large boxes of books — approximately a third of my library — which netted me a whole $100.  Today it was a trip to Ikea where I mistakenly bought two Expedit towers instead of two Lack towers, and guess what?  I don’t care.  Seriously, they’re going to get put together, put up and that’s that.  I’m not going back there and I’m not bothering with how they look.  The only potential problem was that the white one didn’t fit where it was supposed to go, but I asked Abe to swap it out with the Lack, and now all is well.  Or will be when he scores some more brackets to hold it to the wall.

I also got four nice dining chairs for our patio, to go with the iron table, and an umbrella with an enormously heavy stand.  We need it; there’s virtually no real shade on the patio now.  Francisco was here today and the half dead maple is gone, all the grass and the weeds.  He gave the one pine a savage haircut and took out a bunch more.   This is going to be days of work, but it’ll be worth it in the end.

I came home to my first royalty check!  I sold a lot more stories than I expected I would, so I’m kind of juiced.  It’s impetus to keep on writing.  That and the fact that the next one is being published on Saturday.  Then I turned around and spent the whole thing on supplies to make a mosaic table for the patio.  I dunno, I think I have good priorities…

Been watching “Rome.”  I’ve seen the entire first season and the first four eps of the second.  I’m liking it a lot, but not enough to buy it, I think.  Deadwood is in the queue when I finish Rome.  Must catch up.

My house looks like God shook it. But there are sweet spots.

One of the bulbs from Madison

Seriously, it’s a total mess, though better than yesterday in many ways.  The window work is done on the sun porch and the shelves are back up, so I can start putting things away for a while, until I get ready to paint.

The flower is an iris.  Two years ago, Jim and Dawn went up to Madison WI and found a woman selling iris bulbs.  Dawn bought two because they were kind of expensive, and we planted them next to our then patio.  Last year we got a couple of blossoms, and were pleased, but this year, even after being yanked out of the ground by the patio guys, and dropped into pots, they’re blooming like someone put rocket fuel in the soil.  The other bulb has at least eight blossoms open right now (I watched them open over the course of the last 36 hours, literally seeing a huge difference in a matter of an hour or two.)  This one has fewer buds, but is vigorous and beautiful.  It’s one of the most extraordinary irises I’ve ever seen.  I hope we can get more to compliment it.  Apparently our soil is very good for irises.

Isn't it lovely?

I’m about thisclose to going to bed, but I need to bathe first so I may snag a book and see if I can’t get some reading done.  First thing tomorrow, I’m bagging up the garbage and schlepping it out to the bins.  If I feel ambitious maybe I’ll photograph the nectarines, grapes and our new bird feeder.



All I wanted was a piece of drywall...

So I’m overrun with workmen again, which sort of feels right.  When they’re not around I feel like there’s something missing.  They got the Dish receiver down, and the old bird-feeder, got rid of the composter and put up the new bird feeder.  Then Abe covered over the standpipe in the basement where I think Gigantor came from (that huge bug that gave me the wiggins on Sunday night) and tightened up the elliptical.  Now he’s patching the concrete on my front steps.

Abe fixing my steps.

I wanted Wil to cover a window on my sun porch with a piece of drywall, but he’s taken out the whole window, and frankly I was so tired when I got home today that I burst into tears over it.  I hadn’t planned on that much work being done and in addition to the extra expense, my kitchen looks like a hurricane hit it.  I’m not happy about this and I don’t know how the signals got crossed, but the window is gone and there’s nothing I can do about it now.  However it’s almost 3:30 and there’s nothing in its place so I have NO idea how I’m supposed to even cook much less if I’m going to have anything up over the window tonight except a sheet of plastic.  Shit.

Mosaic from Bistro Campagne

On the upside, I got some stuff done today.  Not everything I wanted but enough.  And the test results came back:  The blood was good, everything else completely normal.  I’d started out the day by getting a notice that I hadn’t met the requirements for my interest-bearing checking account this month so not only would I not be getting any interest but I’d be charged a fee.  Well I know I made the requisite payments this month but a glitch in their software seems to have screwed me up, so I called them up and yelled (nicely) and they’ve fixed my account.  I get the interest, there’s no fee, and they’re removing the old checking account from the bill pay list of accounts so this can’t happen again.  I guess the window wasn’t a big deal in the greater scheme of things but it was one expense I hadn’t planned on so I’m not too happy, especially considering that the other window is getting replaced with glass block instead of getting covered the way I’d originally intended.

Doreen Bell's "Wings of Peace" detail

On another note entirely, I went looking for a photo of the mosaic wall at Bistro Campagne.  It was the original inspiration for the idea of putting a mosaic on the garage wall.  I only managed to find one which I lifted from a reviewer on Yelp, and bless her for posting it.  (If you’re on Yelp go over and give her some props!)  However in the process I came across an amazing number of photos of beautiful mosaic work including “Wings of Peace” which dazzled me with its use of light and color.

Klimt-inspired backsplash by Lori Desormeaux

And an absolutely beautiful, Klimt-inspired backsplash by Lori Desormeaux which uses slices of agate to create the circular motifs.

I made a couple of rough sketches, trying to work out the general feel of the thing, but so far I’m not sure of much except that it’s going to frame a lovely Art Nouveau-style planter that’s currently pretty much hidden by a vining hydrangea.  I’ve got to prune back the vines and then come up with a design that compliments her.  Something Art Nouveauesqe I’m thinking.

I also got Wil to schlep the iron table Pam gave us out to the patio and measure it for a glass top.  Why buy a new table when we have a perfectly good one?  Last year, when they brought it over, we let it sit out in the rain and sun and got it rusted nicely, then coated it with polyurethane to stop the process, so now it has a beautiful patina.  Needs a bit of cleaning but I think it’ll look fantastic once everything is in place.

Dad's hands

Today is the five year anniversary of my father’s death.  I was going to bake his favorite cake but I can barely get into my kitchen, so there’ll be no baking today.  Maybe over the weekend.

The photo to the left is one of the last I ever took of him.  I loved his hands when he got older.  I miss him.

Vast improvements all around. Vast improvements abound!

A vast improvement

Vast Improvement the First:  The saga of M’sieu Raton ended yesterday when I fished him out of the composter by his little tail, and sent him to that great garbage dump in the sky, where he will feast on orange peels and rotting eggs for eternity.  Poor little fella.  If he does come back, I hope he does it as a creature not so universally scorned.

VI the Second:  The photo to the right is the base of a cheap stained glass lamp I bought last month.  I needed something that threw more light out so I could actually read in bed when I felt like it, so I ordered a clearance model from Home Decorators Outlet and when it arrived it was… disappointing.  The glass is so cheap it feels like plastic, and the base was a dull, ruddy brown.  I can’t do much about the glass, but I sat down with the base and some paint and did a light verdigris finish, highlighted with some Rub-n- Buff.  It still doesn’t look as nice as my other lamps but it’s a VI nonetheless.

VI the Third:  I finally finished schlepping my books into the library, and culling them pretty drastically.  I think I’ve taken about a third of them out of my collection, and it’s not bothering me in the least.   What is bothering me is the dust in the air.

VI the Fourth:  I finally managed to connect with Francisco last night, and we had a nice long discussion about how the garden should look.  He’ll be starting on Monday.  We’re taking out the dying maple and some pines, and adding a Japanese maple and some roses.  Maybe more azaleas.  He’ll be fertilizing and mulching, and doing a lot of pruning and general clean-up.  I told him that if he can get the place looking good, we could keep it up, and he could come by once a year to do a lot of general work.  It’s going to be spendy, but since I’m not buying a car this year, I’m good with that.   It’s going to be a lot of fun.

Stone workers gone, unexpected guests linger

Nice, huh?

So the guys finished about five yesterday, and that included hosing everything down  and cleaning up their garbage, of which there was a prodigious amount.  I was a little premature in being happy that they seemed to know enough not to throw their pizza boxes in our composter, though.  When I opened it today to put some plant material in, I found a dead rat on top of the pile.  I’m assuming they found it somewhere in the grass, so it’s possible we didn’t have baby bunnies after all, though anything was possible in that grass, including tigers.  Right now my overwhelming response is “UGH!” but honestly, I don’t want to just throw the body in the garbage.  I’d rather bury it.  It seems more respectful.  I don’t like having them around but they’re living things after all, and don’t deserve to be treated like garbage.  The other unexpected guest that seemed to show up on the heels of all the crashing and bashing outside, was the biggest bug I have ever seen in my life down in the basement.  Dawn was sort of blasé about it since she’s worked in property management for many years, but the damn thing was bigger than the mouse that snuck into my old apartment; I could see that from the top of the stairs!  Talk about a wiggins…

From the garage

Anyway, I’m thrilled with the way the patio looks, and the raised bed, which is a little larger than agreed upon because Edgar wanted to use whole stone, not pieces.  So we got the extra courtesy of his eye for detail.

Rose vines potted up, waiting for a new home.

Dawn and I were outside, looking over the work and discussing it yesterday and we agreed that the design has made the plants seem more important in the context of the whole.  It’s put the big pine next to the house into some kind of perspective, and it makes the nectarine look planned as opposed to just plopped down in available space as it was.  Once we fill the raised bed, get the side beds cleaned out and filled in with new plants, and fill the pots and place them, I think we’ll have a spectacularly pretty patio with a nice lot of room for guests.

Clematis, making a comeback

I’m waiting for Francisco to phone me about the garden work.  If I don’t hear from him in a few days, I’m calling someone else.  It’s not as pressing as it was because I’ve got the roses in a pot now, and they can stay there until we can get some holes dug properly.  I’m making a list of things that need doing, and it’s daunting, but it will get done.

I spent several hours yesterday culling my books, and will probably end up taking about a third of them to Half-Price Books when I have the chance.  I’m being really ruthless this time, making some hard decisions about what I will and won’t use, what I can find online or at the library and what I’ve been keeping out of habit.  I have four big boxes packed already, at least one of which is too heavy for me to lift, so we’ll have to use the hand cart to get it to the car.  I hope I can find enough boxes to hold everything.   My plan is to move most of my books to the office/library area, and use the case in here for my collections, art books, and books I’ve borrowed from others.  It’ll make the room look fresher, and everything will be easier to move around when I go to paint the room.

And now I have a headache and I’m going to sit down, put on a movie, have a cup of tea and some aspirin and see if I can’t get it to go away.  Sadly it’s cold and a little rainy, or I might consider going back outside for a while.  I might just throw “Murder on the Orient Express” into the DVD player again.  It’s a great film for when I’m feeling cold and uncomfortable, and I’ve seen it so often I don’t mind sleeping while it’s on.  In fact, it’s kind of a pleasant companion to sleep.

Patio, day three

A little oasis

And the guys are off doing Sunday things, presumably.  I went out and threw a damp towel over the root balls of the rose bushes since it’s likely to be Tuesday before they go back into the ground.  And I potted up the irises (You can see the smaller pot in the photo to the right.)  One will stay out in back, looking tall and elegant, the other will do the same in the front.  In the autumn, they’ll go back into the ground, this time in the front, I think.

Lookin' good.

They’ve really accomplished a lot in two days.  Once they’re finished, I have to get Francisco out here to do a LOT of gardening.  The little maple in back has lost two big portions of its trunk, which is bad, and the huge azalea is falling over which means it needs to be replanted.  Four rose bushes to be planted, two need trellises, the lava rock and plastic need to be removed in the front, the raised beds have to be filled with dirt and then I have to get plants and mulch.  Concrete would have been easier.

I’ve been doing paint swatches on the walls again.  My friends miss them, so who am I to deny them the comfort of the familiar?  I chose two yellows and tried them on the sun porch where the lighter one has won, but the darker one is going in the office, so that’s not a problem.  The Galapagos Turquoise is perfect for the living room, nothing else needs doing.  Unfortunately there’s a war on between Autumn Purple and Summer Plum.  In daylight I prefer the plum in tandem with the turquoise at night, the purple.  In the dining room proper, the purple actually looks better next to the furniture and in tandem with the deep red in the hallway.  I’ve thought about painting stripes there, but I think right now that’s too much work, and I believe the purple is going to win the day, but I’m going to second-coat everything just to be certain.  There’s no point in rushing this.  I’ll be using the turquoise to help age a cheap lamp I got for my bedroom.  Dark turquoise in the crevices, lightly brushed upwards, a base of a ruddy brown, which is what it already is, and on the high parts, rub-n-buff antique gold.  I’ve been watching “Rome” so I’ll bring the lamp in and work on it while I watch the last two eps that I have here.

I’m working on a multi-color scheme for the bath, too.  Vanity and woodwork in black, and then walls in hot pink, pale cream, apricot, pearly mauve and metallic pink.  Then the black, pink and orange tile goes in and I carry the button mosaic work into the bath enclosure because if I don’t it’s going to look insane.  Also going to be hanging Moroccan lamps in the bath enclosure, and light them with remote-controlled LED candles.  If you’ve got horribly disparate elements in a room, pick one and strong-arm it onto the rest of the room with accessories.  It’s the only way to make a cohesive whole.  Anyway, bathrooms should either be spa-like or whimsical.  I don’t recognize any other possibility.

We need a lighted sculpture in the back garden

Here and there in blogs dept:  This photo made me realize how much we need to think about lights and lighting for the back.  No, I don’t want anything this big, though I am partial to Teh Weird.  But we do need something bright and unique.  And colorful.  It should be colorful.  After all, we have a lot of art planned for the garage wall.

Also, if you want to get into a summery, flowery mood, check out this post from Gypsy Purple, who always finds the best stuff.

Do I want a patio that looks like this? Hell yes!

Okay, I’m off to fix that lamp and then do some writing.