Thursday, September 30, 2010

A marked propensity towards procrastination and sloth

That full phrase is actually "Nine apathetic, sympathetic, diabetic old men on roller skates with a marked propensity towards procrastination and sloth."  What, you don't know what I'm talking about?  It's an old radio announcer's test.  When I was in college it was a "repeat after me" memory test (usually dragged out when the spirits were... heh.) You should try it sometime!  But I digress - I actually am going to rant a little bit today.  So if you'd rather not be bothered, you should hop on over to wikipedia and try to memorize "one hen, two ducks"... it'd probably be a lot more fun!  8-)

OK, let the rant commence.  (Don't forget, I warned you!)

That old announcer's test came to mind yesterday when I read about the House of Representatives voting to adjourn before they voted on the tax cut extension.  So that means all of us are sitting here waiting for the lame duck session to find out whether or not our taxes are going to go up.  And it's going to affect everyone, regardless of your bracket.  I'm not going to go on a rant against the Democrats, because that wouldn't be fair.  But I am going to go on a rant against ANY politician who wants to put off a critical vote in favor of campaigning to keep their jobs.   Your salary comes out of MY salary, remember?  All those pet projects you want to fund?  Again, MY salary pays for those.  All those entitlements you want to keep funding without changing?  I am one of those who's going to be stuck in the middle.  You keep taxing my personal savings and investments to oblivion, and I'm convinced there won't be any funds left in Social Security when I finally retire at .... what ... 85?  Geez.

And you know what?  There's also talk that during the lame duck session that other bills will be voted on which will directly impact our checkbooks - things like Cap and Trade. And the EPA is off the reservation with its Tailoring Rule, which could make our power bills go sky high.  And then we have the health care issue - with none of the promises coming true ("bending the cost curve down" anyone?) and a lot of the negatives starting to surface (premiums rising, doctors considering shuttering their offices). Which brings me round robin to "A marked prospensity towards sloth and procrastination."  One of our House members actually said about health care, "we need to pass this bill so you can find out what's in it."   No, ma'am.  That's not the way it should work. You need to read the bill carefully, and give the American people time to read the bill carefully.  Then you need to listen when we say what we think - that goes back to the fact the we pay your salary, remember?  So to all our Senators and Representatives: don't be lazy and self-serving.  It doesn't become you, and it certainly doesn't become the office you hold.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Shrub Bed - Almost Done

Well, for all intents and purposes it IS done... except for the colorful perennials which I'll add in the spring.  But the hard part - the hard work - is all over.  The holes were dug (and the digging bar was utilized - darn that Alabama red clay!) and the happy hummousy composty earth was mixed.  Then the plants were released from their plastic bondage and set free to root deeply.  They were all a bit root-bound, which is to be expected for a fall planting.  I took especial care with the camilla.  At the last minute I decided to go with the sasanqua instead of the japonica.  The sasanqua variety is a little less formal, but more importantly it is more cold hardy.  And seeing as I live in north Alabama, you can never quite be sure what the weather will do.

My biggest worry is the crape myrtle.  The three main trunks were taped together, and it looks as though they'd been that way for a while.  When we took the binding off, the tree didn't relax much - you can see in the photo how tightly the trunks are bunched together.  If it doesn't relax this fall, over the winter I'll stake them separately (after pruning, but NO crape murder!) and see if I can gently encourage them to grow a bit more spaced out.  In the long run it will make the tree happier, and prettier too.

So here's the whole bed - the picture was taken from the sliding glass doors facing the yard.

The row of hollies is probably close to 40 years old, as is the big holly tree in the back.  It's hard to see, but at the far end of the bed is one of my grandma's rose bushes.  All the rest is the new plantings.

This is a close up of the three gulf stream nandinas and the tea olive (osmanthus).

This is the sweetspire, the crape myrtle (see how close the trunks are?) and one of the gardenias.

Finally, this is the other gardenia, the camellia - and did I mention it already has buds? - and the barberries.

I am really proud of this project.  I designed it, and we implemented it perfectly (well, I suppose I can't really say that until the plants survive the winter, can I??)  So I'll pamper my new plants this winter, water and talk to them and encourage them to grow.  As Tom Bombadil said, "Eat earth!  Dig deep!  Drink water!"... though I hope none of my trees grows as angry as Old Man Willow!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Laugh or cry?

Back sometime around the first of the year, I blogged about starting to eat healthier.  And generally, I do.  I don't think I get my FIVE daily servings of fruits and veggies every day, but I get close enough to feel fine about my consumption.  And I've definitely reduced the amount of fat and sugar and salt - (but I was doing that before, so can I count that as an improvement in my diet)??  Anyway, I'm feeling pretty good, and as I approach Middle Age (curses be upon it, ack-phtooie) I'm still managing to keep my weight at a constant level.  Now of course the holidays are right around the corner - What? Yeah I know it's three months away, but have you been to Hobby Lobby recently? - anyway, we'll see how I do then.

Along those lines, I'm sure many of y'all have heard of Mrs. Obama's healthy eating campaign.  So she's got to be a bit distressed to hear about a recent Gallup poll that asked 175,000 Americans whether they had easy access to fresh fruits and veggies (92% said yes) and whether they actually ate the recommended daily servings (46% said yes).

Oops.  So the LA Times has a great (and a bit sarcastic!) article about what this poll really means.  The author's conclusion?  We don't wanna!  ::heh::  I suppose I have a bit of libertarian streak in me - I don't want to be told what to eat, but once I decide for myself, it's a goal I can keep.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A bit of inspiration

“Gardens are not made by singing "Oh, how beautiful," and sitting in the shade.” - Rudyard Kipling

So this weekend we're planting our shrub bed. Or, well [ahem], we're going to START planting our shrub bed. With twelve large holes to dig, it might take a bit longer - especially when one of those holes will be for a ten-gallon tree. Yeah. Um.... SO! Anybody got a spare shovel and want to come to Alabama for a weekend???

Here's what we're planting....

Osmanthus fragrans (Sweet Tea Olive)
Itea virginica (Henry's Garnet Sweetspire)
Nandina domesticus x (Gulf Stream Nandina)

Gardenia jasminoides (August Beauty Gardenia)
Camilla japonica (Professor Sargent Camellia)
Berberis thungbergii (Crimson Pygmy Barberry)

And the centerpiece will be a Dynamite Crape Myrtle...

(I nicked the photo from my World's Best online nursery - if you live in the southeast and need to order plants, check 'em out!!)

And yes, I even have a garden plan. ::sigh:: Are you surprised?? As I played around with garden designs, I had the notion that I was actually pretty good at it - at least the layout. I'm still struggling with plant choices and what will do well in our soil and with our sun exposure.

This plan includes a couple of long-range projects (the arbor right next to the house and the patio with a pergola out by the hollies) but even without those two elements, I think the space will look really good come next spring. I'm still agonizing over perennials to plant around the shrubs, so I'm sure I'll inflict that agony on my hapless readers at some point. My colors for the bed are white and red, and that's only because I wanted to focus on sweet-smelling plants - which are mostly white. So the tea olive and the gardenia and the sweetspire are all amazingly fragrant, and they even bloom at different times. (I feel so gardener-ish!)

So that's what I'm sitting inside dreaming about today. And on Friday, we'll make the trek to the nursery, and the digging will commence! You'll be there with your shovel and garden gloves around noon, right? ::grin::

Monday, September 20, 2010

Fighting for the bed!

Heh. And now I bet you're wondering what in the *world* I'm talking about, right? Did the philosopher make me sleep on the couch? Have we been overtaken by cimex lectularious? Or has the cat gone rabid and taken refuge in the master suite? Nope! None of the above!

You've read about our War Against The Pool. You've seen the results of the battle. Now we have created a blank slate, and are working to install a beautiful new shrub bed and cobblestone patio in its place. So why is it a fight? Well, do recall that we live in Alabama. And you do know that Alabama is notorious for its red clay. And, if you glance at the pictures I linked to above, the new shrub bed is backed by a row of 40-year-old holly bushes. So... red clay plus holly roots plus no rain for three weeks make for... concrete-like dirt.

We've amended the soil with manure, hummus, and potting mix (bought in bulk from our favorite local landscaping supply store (and no, by that we do not mean "Lowes" or "Home Depot"). Two weekends ago I edged the new materials with plastic edging so it wouldn't wash away. We hauled in the dirt via truck and trailer, so after we got the dirt in place we could actually sow our initial grass seed. We opted for a cheap rye grass, again just to hold the soil in place until we can reseed with something better in the spring. I also re-planted all the perennial herbs... I had to dig them up when we removed the pool and they've been languishing in pots. Now they're in the ground again with a beautiful new layer of mulch to keep them safe over the winter. And they're right by the patio, so there's easy access from the kitchen!

The reason the herb bed's not finished is because there where you see the clay at the bottom of the picture is where the edge of cobblestone patio will run. Once that part of the project is done I can add the other border stone and finish out the mulch.

This past weekend I spent a large portion of Friday and half of Saturday building the stone border for the large bed by the hollies. It's about 40 feet long, and averages to seven feet wide. The stones came from the mountain behind the house, and are the same field stone that our house facade is made of. I really like the way it looks, and it ties the back yard into to look of the house.

I really, really had fun doing this. It's like combining Tetris and Lego and aesthetics all at once! You have to make sure the stones fit together, and find smaller stones to fill in the gap, and make sure it has a pleasing curve. Of course, after two days of hauling rocks around, I am ... sore. But it's all worth it! This weekend we're heading down to Wayside Nursery (a wholesale shrub and tree company) and we'll pick up our 15-gallon Dynamite crape myrtle, our Henry's Garnet sweetspire, our August Beauty gardenias and Doc Sargent camilla, our Gold flame nandinas and our crimson pygmy barberrys. And since we're watering the grass (it's still scraggly right now, but at least it's growing!) we can set the sprinkler to make sure it gets the new shrubs too. Then they can grow their roots all winter and be fresh and happy in the spring. Yay, plants!! ::happy dance:: Ahem. Sorry. I got excited there for a minute!

Yeah, this whole project is a lot of work - shrub bed and grass and patio and such - because we're doing it all ourselves. But considering if we had hired it done it would be well over 10k - and that doesn't include the pool removal - I'm quite happy getting this done for less than a thousand dollars. And having a beautiful back yard instead of a non-functioning pool will make our house more sellable... and that's looking more and more like something we'll be needing to do next summer. (!!!)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Two Cool Things

It's been a very culturally uplifting September for the philosopher and I. Our little corner of Alabama doesn't offer much in the way of live theater or classical music performances, and occasionally we get the urge to partake in such things. So we look a bit further afield... not too far, not so far that it would require an overnight stay, but a day trip to get away from the "country" and take in a show or two. (Yes, that's one thing I miss about our five years in northern Virginia - there was always something wonderful going on in DC!)

So Labor Day weekend, we headed over to Atlanta to the American Shakespeare Tavern and saw "A Midsummer Night's Dream". It was superbly well done, (and the tomato basil bisque was fantastic, too). This is Shakespeare done like it was meant to be done - simple sets, talented cast, small audience, and just a bit of bawdiness (which goes along well with the English draft on tap!) Definitely not highbrow, but definitely a great time.

Then we went to other end of the spectrum this past Tuesday. The university where the professor teaches occasionally brings in concerts and performances in conjunction with local partners. This time they brought in the Tokyo String Quartet. They performed some Hayden, some Barber, some Schumann and a encore by Debussy. I enjoy chamber music, and we own some pieces on CD that are are auditorally stunning. But oh. my. goodness. To hear this quartet LIVE. In an acoustically superb recital hall. I wept. From the first notes they drew across their strings, it was a masterful performance. If you're interested, there are a few clips of them performing on YouTube. But that's nothing.... NOTHING compared to seeing them live.

OK, so now that I'm done waxing rhapsodic over our little burst of snobby culture (haha), I think I'll go back to digging holes for shrubs and planning our Christmas vacation. Disney was our first thought, but after some comments from a friend who's a seasoned Disney-goer, we (ok, "I") decided to hold that thought. Instead we're now considering a return to the city where we went for our honeymoon - New Orleans. A quiet B&B, some really good eating, and lots of browsing the antique shops would be a great way to round out 2010.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Late Summer Hiking Adventure (and a bit of an update)

We braved the heat and humidity last weekend to go hiking again. This time we went north on the Pinhoti Trail, from the Salem Church Road crossing to the 1500' overlook (about five miles round trip, all told). It was great to get back on the trail again after our long, hot Alabama summer. Yes, I know it's still summer, but you know, September 1 is the first day of meteorological Fall so I'm sticking by my story!

This is Hawkins Hollow Creek, which had some beautiful red flowers.

And this is the view from the overlook on Indian Mountain.

In the foreground is Davis Mountain, then you see the Augusta Mine Ridge, then Oakey Mountain, then waaaaaaaay in the distance is Dugger Mountain. We've been to all four! How cool is that?

We still have our sights set on going up to the Walls of Jericho, if the fall doesn't get away from us too quickly. But given our schedules, we'll have to see. What with jobs, and yard reclamation, and other house projects, and college football games, sometimes it's hard to carve out the time.

A brief update on Other Things:
The philosopher had yet another phone interview with the Far-Away School, and he is encouraged. I think he would fit in intellectually very well there, but the whole Big City thing is a tough sell. We are also fairly confident that he'll get an interview for the full time job at the Happy Southern School, where he's already teaching adjunct. It may come to a decision between Two Cities (could that be the best of times and the worst of times?) so prayers for wisdom, and guidance, and patience are always appreciated. You know, it's funny - we talk about these deep things when we're hiking quite often. Maybe it's easier to listen for the still small voice of God when you're in the wilderness?

Are most librarians funny?

My friend over at Billy Ockham asked that question recently, and I replied with an off-the-cuff (amusing) answer. I said we had to have a sense of humor because otherwise we'd go insane when someone (I'm looking at YOU, Google Books) tried to catalog Jane Eyre in Architecture. But I've been thinking about it, and wanted to actually comment with a little more thought and seriousness.

I read a lot of blogs. And one blog I find side-achingly funny is the Midwest Conservative Journal. He's got a rapier wit and can skewer a news story with awesome commentary, or write a bit of fiction that is worthy of Douglas Adams. And he's a librarian! I'm also on several library listservs - one for the Association of Christian Librarians, and two through the Association of College and Research Librarians. Now, most of the content is typical library stuff, but often we - ahem - digress. Stories about wild animals loose in the building. Wonderfully brilliant satire. Off hand comments leading to a treasure trove of one-liners and witty repartee. And of those many comments, it's not just one or two comedians making everyone laugh... it's most of the regular contributors!

I am part of other groups, and read lots of other blogs. But there's a really high concentration of witty folk out there in library land. So why is that?

Yes, I have a hypothesis - it's a vast oversimplification, but a hypothesis nonetheless. We can be funny because we love books. And we love books, in part, because we love to read. And because we love books and love to read, we're quite literate. (I mean that in a very broad sense - not just in the sense that we can read at a certain grade level.) So when we get to telling stories, we can do it well. And because we're literate, we can do it well in writing. And in my case, and possibly others, I tell stories *better* online than I do in person because I'm the quintessential librarian introvert! We can easily dip into Tolkien's vast "Cauldron of Story" and pull out bits that seem good because we've been steeped in that literary tradition. We've read good literature, and good history, and good writing on an amazing spectrum of other subjects, from science and engineering to philosophy and criticism. And we've read bad writing too, but because we've read *good* writing too we can tell the difference!

So when we write, whether about rogue wildlife or Anglican investigators, we tell our stories well. Because we've learned how to do it by reading so much of others' writing.

Of course, there are lots of people out there who are not librarians but who also love books and love to read and are also very witty... like the Joneses, for example. So that leads me to believe that anyone who loves books and loves to read .... can write well! So read, darn it, read! Yay, BOOKS! ::librarian cheer::