Monthly Archives: May 2013

Crop rotation

The garden beds were a point of contention from the start.

“You’re really going to grow vegetables? Really?” my husband raised a skeptical brow at the line item labeled CONSTRUCTION OF 3 RAISED BEDS, 3X8 as we dissected yet another landscaping estimate. The yard had come last on the priority list during those first months of home ownership, trailing behind more pressing concerns, like having gutters and properly-functioning appliances. Both budget and patience were wearing thin, but something had to be done.

yardbefore

Yard, June 2012.

Attempts at DIY had failed. The weeds were eyeball-height and the mice were outnumbered only by the mosquitos. One contractor described our property as a “hotbed of King snake activity.” King snakes, for the record, are snakes that eat other snakes. We were so flush with snakes that we had attracted a snake that eats snakes.

That jungle shit had to go.

So last fall, it finally did. We accepted a modest bid which allowed for clearing, tilling, laying of sod and planting of indigenous shrubs along the fence.  And one splurge in the form of three elevated garden beds.

“Are you kidding? I will absolutely grow vegetables!” I insisted as we signed the estimate. “And fruit too! Just think, we’ll have fresh strawberries and tomatoes and peppers and….”

I’m not sure what other tempting crops I rattled off, but eventually he gave up and let it go. And in November, sod was laid and raised beds were constructed. I was so excited about my new beds that before a late-autumn breeze could blow the sawdust away, I was at the local nursery, perusing their selection of winter-hardy seedlings.

Now, I might lose some of you super-healthy eaters here, but I’ll say this: I was not excited about the options. Collards? Cabbage? Fucking cauliflower? These are not things that I enjoy eating, generally speaking. I mean, I have come a long way with veggies in the last few years, but cauliflower is not something I will ever be stoked about unless it’s tempura-battered and deep fried.

Nonetheless, I selected a few tiny plants (rainbow chard, purple cabbage, cauliflower), brought them home, and planted them…and then proceeded to completely ignore them.

“So, how is your garden doing?” my husband would ask, a good-natured smirk teasing his lips.

“Great!” I’d answer. “Go look at it!”

And the thing was, it was doing great. Throughout the winter, the cabbages formed layers of pretty purple circles, the cauliflower built hearty white lumps, and the chard grew broad leaves in a dark waxy green atop reddish-purple stalks. All with zero nurturing from me. Occasionally I’d venture out in the morning and walk the frost-tipped grass beside the garden beds. I had to admire these plants: their ability to survive the chilly winter months, and to thrive and grow fat under the tutelage of the world’s least attentive gardner.

But that didn’t change the fact that I had absolutely no interest in eating them.

Winter turned to spring and I continued my neglect. The days grew warmer and the plants grew larger: monster cabbages the size of beach balls, clumps of chard that looked like pink-trunked trees. The cauliflower went to seed, sprouting tall heathery stalks with little yellow flowers that were actually oddly pretty. The idea of harvesting and eating these prehistoric-looking vegetables became laughable: did I even own a pan large enough to sauté a leaf of chard the size of a baby elephant’s ear?

As the plants became ever more comically overgrown, I began to abbreviate small-talk with the neighbors, limiting our driveway chats to a quick hello, fearing that they’d ask what the hell was going on out back. I started to skirt around the garden the way one avoids an email that’s gone too long unanswered: at some point, it’s just an awkward pain in the ass to deal with. My husband, I’m sure, silently assumed he’d been right all along about my fleeting interest in backyard farming.

But last weekend, I decided to finally dig them up and start over.

garden1

This is what happens when you neglect your chard and cauliflower for six months. Country-fair ribbon-winning material right there!

Hours of digging up roots the circumference of my wrist and turning over crusty soil. Another trip to the same local nursery. A chuckling spouse who shook his head at me as I carefully nestled baby strawberry, tomato, and pepper plants into neat rows.

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At least this time, I’ve planted something that I actually want to eat. I think that will make all the difference in the world. I mean, it’s only been a few days and I’ve already watered them several times. I’m setting myself up for success here.

Remind me of that this fall when I’m wrestling with crusty tomato-stalk corpses and a thousand strawberry plants gone to seed.

A rundown of recent first-world problems

1. The ants. I guess, technically, they won. I called mercy and brought in reinforcements.

The exterminator arrived on a muggy morning and circled the outside of my house. After commenting on the truly “incredible” number of ants treading on and around its foundation, he scattered little trails of what looked like potato chip crumbs. I squinted at the tiny little assholes – a bit smugly, I’m sure, as these were the outside ants – as they immediately seized the poisonous flakes and began to carry them back to…uh, “where, exactly?”

“Their nests are probably underground,” the exterminator said. “Sometimes they make colonies inside structures, but…well, let’s just assume they’re underground.”

Yes, let’s. I’d prefer not to think of my walls as mass insect graves, thousands of tiny arthropods entombed with their deadly potato chip scraps.

2. The bangs. Surprise: I’m growing them out.

What on earth was I smoking when I decided it would be a good idea to cut a thick fringe of hair atop one of the sweatiest parts of my body on the cusp of the hot/humid season? Why did none of you stop me from doing this? (Oh right…infrequent posting….)

Here’s the thing: they’re quite cute for about an hour after I’ve freshly shampooed and blow-dried them.

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Then my forehead starts sweating. Just glistening, just a little bit, but it’s a downward spiral because my then the bangs make my forehead hotter and then my forehead gets even more sweaty. And then this happens.

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At which point I locate the nearest pair of bobby pins, which is usually easy because ever since I got these bangs, I’ve noticed, there are little piles of bobby pins stashed all over my house. Clusters of bobby pins constantly poke me from inside my jeans pockets. The bottom of my purse is lined with bobby pins the way a forest floor is lined with pine needles. I would probably die without bobby pins.

So, yeah. They’re pinned back all of the time anyway, so I’m growing them out. High-maintenance hair is too…well, high maintenance.

3. The new toy. In the couple of weeks after the Boston thing, I was without my computer, and therefore I convinced myself that I needed an iPad.

ipad

(I just took a picture of my iPad with my iPhone. iHate myself a little bit.)

I got the iPad Mini because it was significantly cheaper and seemed easier to haul around. I also got a little bluetooth keyboard and this combo worked surprisingly well as an interim computer. (I even did a significant amount of writing on it, including that really long Boston post.)

But now I have my computer back and do you want to know what I mostly use my iPad for now? Candy Crush Saga.

I seriously don’t know how I previously managed to clear all of the jelly and bring all of the ingredients* to the bottom on my tiny little phone screen. And thus, I suppose my life has been improved in one miniscule way by this tragedy.

But here’s the issue: I cannot seem to get my iPhone, iPad, and MacBook on the same page. I add things to my calendar on the iPad and they show up on the phone but not the computer. I save a picture on my phone and it shows up on my computer but not the iPad. I feel like my “cloud” has problems and I’m not sure how to fix them, short of hauling all of my devices to the Apple store. Which I could certainly do, but…ugh, the mall.

I know, woe is me. This might be the FWP to end all FWP.

4. The fitness plan. I’ve run a handful of times since the marathon. Mostly easy 3-5 milers, although I did attempt one track workout. We did 400s and it was, um, unpleasant…but I was surprised to consistently come in around 1:33-1:35, which is only about 5-10 seconds off of my “in shape” pace. My confidence swelled.

Then there was last Friday. We were out of town attending a wedding. Right after a late lunch, I tried to squeeze in a quick run before I had to get all prettied up, and…hurk. Three miles felt like six. Eight minute pace felt like an all-out sprint. As I hauled ass back toward our hotel, with turkey club sandwich and kettle chips churning in my belly, I marveled at the fact that I ran a marathon a month ago.

A month ago. How did I get so out of shape so quickly?

No matter, though. I’m not trying to get back in top running shape right now. I have no races** on my calendar. I’d like to burn off a little bit of the weight I’ve gained, and I’m basically going to follow the same formula that I used last summer for the same purpose: a couple of days of boot camp, a couple of days of yoga, and a couple of days of running, maybe one of them at the track.

(And also limiting junk carbs and booze. Which is challenging when we’re in the middle of Wedding Season 2013, and gosh, it’s really impolite to refuse cake and champagne, right?)

5. The house. Okay, let me just say at the outset that I am beyond thankful to have a house that is fucking standing in light of the tornado that tore through OKC this afternoon. What a horrible tradgedy. Tornadoes. They are literally the stuff of nightmares.

I grew up in the mountainous Pacific Northwest in a volatile earthquake zone, and also in a city that sits right in the flow path of an active volcano that most experts think will blow sooner or later. But, to me, for some reason, tornadoes are far more terrifying and surreal than earthquakes or volcanic eruptions.  Even now that I’m a Southerner, living in an area that could theoretically get a twister, it’s still the sort of cinematic thing that I primarily associate with wicked witches and flying monkeys.

And then I watch the news on days like today and that shit is all too real.

Anyway. Our house. It’s not currently under tornado threat, but this thing is a goddamn colander.

When we bought the place a year ago, we knew there were water issues. We had the entire roof drainage system evaluated and reconfigured by a commercial roofing company (we have a flat roof). I have diligently wielded my caulk gun, loaded with a silicon sealant, upon the cracks and crevices that naturally emerge. For a few months, it seemed we’d fixed things. But then, a couple of weeks ago, it rained hard for a couple of days and we ended up with a mixing bowl full of coffee-colored drippings in our dining room. Which is not anywhere near the roof.

dining room

I love our house for so many reasons, but this is aggravating. I’ve had three contractors out so far and have stumped all of them as to the cause of the water intrusion. I suppose there is a reason that flat-roofed, stucco-coated homes are common in places like arid Palm Springs and less so in soggy Northern Georgia.

Anyway. Life could certainly be worse if these are the things that plague me: non-poisonous insects, hair frizz, calendar syncing, occasional ceiling leaks.

Le sigh.

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*What the fuck are these “ingredients” anyway? Acorns and cherries, always acorns and cherries. Either we are squirrels or this is the worst pie ever.

**Well, I have Peachtree on July 4. But I’m not actually racing it. Last year’s Peachtree 10K consisted of 47 minutes of “racing” followed by three hours of drinking beer in Piedmont Park. That ratio seems about right.

Domestic (shorthair) espionage

My kitchen is currently a war zone. And the enemy is winning.

ant1

Okay, that scale is an exaggeration. But what the aggressors lack in stature, they make up for in numbers.

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First, I spotted them trailing across the windowsill above the sink. Back and forth they marched, without any apparent source or destination. I frowned at them, confused. My sink and counters were sparkling and crumb-free. I grumbled as I wiped them down again. Then I dug out one of those square plastic ant traps and placed it right in their path.

They counterattacked by marching around it.

ants3

(I am convinced that those things are actually sold and marketed by ants. Perhaps to fund their exploratory missions in to peoples’ tidy kitchens.)

After a few hours, though, they were gone, and I went about my evening.

But that first attack was just a ruse. A distraction to pull my attention away from their true target.

catfood

Cat food. Irresistible to felines and insects alike.

And why not? Dehydrated meat molded into portable pebbles sitting conveniently on the floor. Still, I recoiled in shock when I went to feed Emmy and Parker that night and saw the bowl teeming with little brown bodies.

Enter the moat.

moat1

I cannot take credit for the moat: I learned of it from my cat sitter, and if you Google “how to keep ants out of cat food,” it’s all over the internets. But it’s pretty simple and brilliant. You put the food dishes in a tray of water. The cats can reach the food, but the ants can’t cross.

Not that they won’t try…a few hours after I installed it, I found several six-legged floaters in the moat. I half-expected the crafty little bastards to build a drawbridge, but they didn’t, and by the following morning, they had seemingly retreated.

Ah. Peace.

But it was fleeting. An unlikely traitor lurked in our midst.

parkerpic1

Back story: I’m not sure if I have ever described Parker’s unorthodox method of kibble consumption. It calls to mind an NHL forward practicing his slapshot.

First, he sizes up his target, flexes one of his giant paws, and does a hey-batter-batter wind-up.

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Next, he smacks the kibble as hard as he can, spraying it everywhere.

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Then he studies his work, picks out three or four pieces to eat, and leaves the rest scattered all over the floor.

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Finally, he retreats to the sofa, a perfect perch from which to lick his butthole and observe, waiting for me to step on one of his rejects and swear aloud. (Seriously, have you ever stepped on a piece of cat food barefoot? It hurts more than you’d expect.)

Anyway. We don’t know why he does this but we’ve always just lived with it and made frequent use of the broom and dustpan in that area. The moat, however, complicated things, and I found myself emptying a rancid tray of water* filled with soggy bits of food every few hours.

Enter the island.

moat2

Okay, buddy, I reasoned with Parker as I introduced the new setup. I’m not going to fight you on this. You knock your food around as much as you want. I’m giving you a place to do it. Just keep it on the inside tray.

This worked beautifully for a few days. At every feeding I’d simply remove the island and dump the displaced kibble, while the moat remained (mostly) food-free. And most importantly, the kitchen seemed to be ant free.

Once again, we appeared to be entering an era of peace.

Until yesterday morning, when I came downstairs to find an unusually expansive array of scattered kibble. The moat was totally clogged and a few bits had even made it to the floor beyond. Upon those stray pieces, no fewer than ten thousand ants** had descended.

I was incredulous – both at Parker’s physical prowess and at the depth of his betrayal. I yelled up the stairs to my husband: “Come look at this! He jumped the moat!”

That little jerk face.

So that’s how I’ve spent my week. Battling an invading army of insects and a traitorous cat who seems hellbent on assisting them. I devise complex food-delivery systems to accommodate his bizarre eating style while keeping the floor clean. He repays me by peforming super-feline acts of strength, delivering the goods right into the enemy’s waiting arms. I’m not going to lie: I’m frustrated.

parkerpic2

But…last night, I allowed him to snuggle right up next to me in bed. I rubbed his fat belly; his purr lulled me to sleep. I guess for the time being, I’ll cautiously grant him double-agent status. Cuddly, squishy, irresistible double-agent status.

And this weekend, I shall build a bigger moat.

*It is astounding how horrible dry cat food smells when wet. The first time this happened, I honestly thought something had died in our kitchen.

**Approximately. I didn’t count. Maybe it was more like 100. In any case, it was enough to be fucking disgusting.

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Serious endnote to a lighthearted post: Thank you so much for your comments on my post about Boston. It was hard to write, and doubly hard to share something so personal, but every one of your comments made me a little more glad that I did. And as an update, we are doing fine. We finally got our luggage back a few days ago and it feels good to carry on with life without that missing pair of jeans or whatever serving as a daily reminder of what happened. Our friends have moved back into their home and are carrying on as well. We all continue to be extremely grateful for our good fortune. Thanks, truly, for all of your support.