Wednesday, April 26

Revivalizing Envy

Those of you who aren't academics (and who don't have to live with us) may not be aware that this is, hands down, the worst time of the year for those of us who are. The pile of things to grade is far too big, the number of meetings on campus of groups or committees that are just trying to get a little more done before everyone scatters to the wind for the summer is far too long, and the number of cranky students who are suddenly worried about their grade for the first time when there are only a few weeks left in the semester is far too large. And this all comes at a time when we are all incredibly burnt out -- especially those of us who tried to cram lots of research into ChristmasWinter Vacation and Spring Break because we don't get nearly as much as we would like to get done during the semester.

And that gorgeous weather outside marking the beginning of spring? That only makes things worse, as I tend to be stuck in my office grading papers and writing exams and meeting with meetings when I would rather be outside drinking margaritas and relaxing -- or at least outside grading papers, which can happen on occassion but not as often as this teacher would like.

And things are made even worse by the fact that K. has been working so dilligently in the garden. There are so many amazing changes that I will let her post about at some point (not the least of which is that some new sprouts poked out of the dirt today) and she has been doing lots of good things1, but it just makes me wish I could be outside helping her instead of inside on the couch fiddling with Excel spreadsheets fulled with exam grades. Sure, K. has been very gracious in saying that she doesn't mind doing all the work outside (she is unemployed, after all) and she's being a very good housewife. But it's not as much guilt driving me to want to help as it is a desire to be doing projects and really doing anything other than grading yet another problem about the ratio test.

But in a mere three weeks things will be different, and it is this time of year that a young professor's thoughts turn to house projects (because you need something to distract you from the research you should be doing). First on deck is finally finishing painting the foyer, a project that has somehow fallen off the radar for only....oh, nine months or so.


1 - Although full disclosure forces me to report that K. did remove the eagle adorning our carport. You know why? Because she hates America.

Monday, April 24


One year ago this morning we sat in a Panera in the Next Town Over with our real estate agent, eating our Asiago bagels, debriefing from a long weekend in which we saw quite a few dud houses and at least one other house we liked and trying to decide where to go from here. And then we made the decision and we started filling out the paperwork -- right there in the Panera -- and decided to take the plunge and make an offer, even if it was 10% below asking price. As we made the decision I remember my hands started to tremble I was so nervous -- in ways both good and bad -- and the whole drive back home to Metropolis that afternoon we debated back and forth whether we would be more relieved if they accepted the offer or if they turned it down and we had to/got to start from scratch. Within a week the owners had agreed to our terms and soon we moved from frantic-househunting-mode to frantic-packing-mode(both of which were better and less stressful than the earlier frantic-job-searching-mode, but not by a wide margin) and three months later we arrived in Smallville and the Revivalizing began.

This evening I sat out in our backyard grading papers, watching the garlic grow and enjoying the spring weather, and was amazed to think how much the house -- and life -- has changed in the last year. I was mostly thinking about the joys of home ownership and teaching at a small liberal arts college instead of focussing on the six figure debt we have now incurred (in addition to the long list of projects destined to plunge us deeper into debt) but I suppose you take the good along with the bad. Those are the Facts Of Life, after all.

Saturday, April 22

What Is and What Will Be

Yesterday morning, I was sitting at our newly acquired outdoor table, drinking my cuppa tea and reading the Hometown Times. It's lovely to have a few minutes of calm in the morning, enjoying the sun and surveying the day's developments in the garden. I take great joy in the tiniest changes in the plants - the first two-leaved sprout, the opening and closing of flowers with the sun, even the dying of the flowers after they've bloomed. There's a Zen, focus-on-the-present and appreciate-the-small-things benefit of caring for a garden. We are always amazed by the "miracle of life" - that a whole plant and a summer of food for our tables can grow from a single seed.

I am reminded of something I learned at the Easter service I attended last Sunday - when Moses asks the name of the deity in the Burning Bush, and it responds "I Will Be What I Will Be." It's interesting that the divine is a plant, because to me this seems to be the miracle of seeds. With very little influence from us humans, seeds will be what they will be. I often think of the seed that when planted, after thousands of years, germinated and grew.

(Is it significant that this seed also has biblical/Jewish history?) I find it comforting that only the most egregious errors on our part could interfere with the natural processes of life, which thankfully will produce a bounty of garlic, peppers, tomatillos, and herbs for us to enjoy.

But there's another, darker side to the life of a gardener: never being satisfied. Of course, this is especially exacerbated in your first year in a garden long-neglected by previous tenants, but I understand that this same phenomenon happens to veteran gardeners. A landscape-designer friend who had been tending a stunning, double-wide garden for three decades confessed to me that she couldn't even sit in the garden and enjoy it, because all she could see is all the work that needs to be done. She described it as "hundreds of children crying out" to her.

During my seemingly idyllic breakfast, I was struck with awareness of this tendency in myself. I look at the back shade garden and see only what's wrong with it, how it needs more plants and some flowers, how I need to move the rainbarrel and create an edge. The areas around the lampposts are begging to be dug and seeded. What to do about the holly bushes? I really want to get the sunflowers in the ground, but will building the fence disturb them? The whole to-do list of the garden (which reasonably could be planned over the course of several years) comes rushing in at me every morning, noon, and night as I walk through or look down on the yard.

I think this same "Improver's Eye" afflicts home restorers. We have the right-now, this-month, and long-term plans for our properties. We look at falling-down wrecks and imagine what castles they can become. We see layers of paint and envision gleaming woodwork. We happily commit every cent of discretionary income, every moment of free time for the foreseeable future to our grand plans. Everything is a project. And while "the process is the reward," this constant striving for What Will Be does prevent the simple enjoyment of What Is right in front of us.

So, housebloggers, have you found a third path? A balance point? Do you have strategies for setting aside the To-Do list in your mind and enjoying some peaceful moments?

Wednesday, April 19

I Know I'm Houseblogging When...

...I'm showering at least once a day.
...My hands are cramped in places I didn't know existed.
...I'm washing down the aspirin with whiskey.

It really does feel remarkably similar to last summer, when I was just pushing myself to the physical extreme.

This spring and summer, the focus is on the exterior of the house. I've been doing lots of work in the garden, getting it into shape for the growing season and the sitting-outside-enjoying-the-yard season.

The difference between interior houseblogging and exterior: uh, the sunburn.

We built the second bed, filled it with soil mix (compost, peat moss, and vermiculite), and planted it today. Sounds easy, huh? But it actually involves hauling around hundreds of pounds of soil amendments, followed by the back-breaking work of mixing them. Ouch!

I rounded up a bunch of folks to join a CSA with me, which will provide most of our basic produce for the summer. So we're growing interesting vegetables (mostly Mexican, because D. makes a mean mean mole) and herbs (which are so great to have fresh from the garden and no farm could keep up with our demand). We planted Ancho Chile Peppers, three varieties of tomatillos (green, purple, and pineapple), Principe Tomato (specially for sundrying), marigold, nasturtium, epazote, cilantro, and basil. We use the square foot gardening system of raised beds.
We also planted oregano, flat-leaf parsley, sage, fennel, and more cilantro in pots.

I've pruned some of the grape vine and most of the bee-ivy. That was easy work. Preparing flower beds is not so easy. Even mowing the lawn is work now that we bought a push-mower:

Even with all that complete, there's a long long list of things to do in the garden.

In addition, we're working on a couple of major projects on the exterior. I've been getting estimates on a fence between our yard and the neighbor's and for painting the exterior wood (windows and porches). The fence requires a building permit and approval by the local architectural review board (because we're in the historic district).

The best part about spring: we bought an outdoor dining table at IKEA this weekend, and have already started enjoying it in the evenings.

Wednesday, April 5

What Am I Doing?

Remember how I abruptly stopped posting - and stopped work on the house - last October and haven't had even a moment to explain why. Well, this is the story.

I was working! Starting in mid-October, I had a freelance job that required me to be in an office in professional clothing every weekday starting at 8:30 am. It was brutal, to tell you the truth. The best thing about it was that it was only a five minute walking commute, so I could come home for lunch and a bit of HGTV most days. The gig was temporary and ended in early February.

But...then I had two freelance projects that were home-based but going full-steam. One was a big event that ended on March 24. The second was a consulting project that predominantly ended on Monday, though there is still some cleanup work to do. There is also the possibility of a new contract with that client.

We didn't consciously intend for me to become a freelancer, but it does have its advantages. I like the flexibility and variety. The downside: not so much of the income. And, now that I'm not even working those gigs, I'm no earning anything near what we need me to be secure...and to actually fund home improvement projects.

As I think many a freelancer/houseblogger has bemoaned, this is a vicious cycle. Being at home most days means I am attentive to what needs to be done and have discretionary time in which to do projects. But I have no money to fund the necessary tools and supplies. When I am working enough to have the money, I have no time to even notice the projects on the To Do List, let along work on them.

Luckily, there are quite a few projects that I can do without any additional investment, the ones that require only my time and effort plus the tools at hand (though "at hand" doesn't seem to describe the lost crowbars). You might also recall that I had the beloved unemployment, and I can still collect for a few more months.

But honestly, I really do need to get a job. A real job. With a real paycheck.

Tuesday, April 4


What makes me happy every day:

What made me happy yesterday:

Saturday, April 1


No not us (though it may seem like it to you readers), but the digital camera battery recharger. Doesn't seem that important to home and garden work, does it? But to the blogging of said work it is crucial.

I can't SHOW you any of the wonderful garden happenings around here, but I can break the cardinal rule of writing and TELL you about them:
- The crocuses have finished blooming.
- The daffodils are blooming - why do I have two kinds? I don't know.
- The garlic/shallots bed is growing like gangbusters, especially on warm days. D. got excited when I told him that each leaf represented a garlic bulb.
- Little green leave are appearing on the butterfly bushes - am I supposed to prune the old growth? One neighbor did, one didn't.
- Daylilies are sprouting up all over. Some in the places I transplanted them to, and a whole bunch in places I didn't even know I had daylilies :)
- The peonies are sending up little red shoots, but they are very subtle at this point.
- Violets, I love them. All the violets in the weed patch behind our garage have bloomed, way earlier than I expected. I transplanted them anyway, into about seven areas of the yard. I was worried, but after two day, they look perky and happier than ever. The blooms are so cheerful.
- The Bradford Pears (D. and I call them "popcorn trees") are starting to burst into blossom. And, better yet, the main east and west streets in town are lined with them. It's a popcorn tree parade!
- The lawn looks like crap - are we supposed to do something to it?

I ripped out the wierd wooden "fence" and climbed up to the back of the carport (on the left of most of our pictures), and I ripped down all of the bee ivy. I hate that bee ivy, and this section was totally overgrown. It hardly affects us at all, but maybe the fact that our neighbor has to walk through a gauntlet of bees all summer contributes to why she is so unfriendly to us.

I found a bunch of cool stuff back there - stones, slate, brick edging, and an old marble doorknob. And I scared out a funny little three-legged mouse. He was tiny, maybe and 1.5 inches, and his back right leg was totally lame, just hanging behind him like a second tail. But he scooted around just fine without it.

I've ordered seeds, scoped out a local source for free compost, and will pick up lumber for new vegetable beds next time we hit the Lowe's. So, let the gardening begin!