Saturday, October 30, 2010

I'm Such a Tease

I finished planting the backyard today. I'll be installing the soaker hoses and mulching tomorrow, and since it will be so much prettier all mulched, I'm going to wait until then to post pictures. Quit your whining! I've got something to tie you over in the meantime.

During all the digging and planting I did unearth some interesting finds. I'm pretty sure my house is an archaeologist's dream - if that archaeologist dreams of excavating some white trash family's trailer midden. I've found more Bud Light bottlecaps, dismembered doll parts, and even an 18-inch Weber kettle BBQ grate - yes, really - while working in my yard than I ever imagined possible. And lots of pennies. Lots and lots of pennies.

I had just a few interesting finds today. Here's the first one.

This looks like a job for Jack Bauer.
Anyone who's acquainted with my home improvement efforts knows that I lack the proper reverence for things I'm unfamiliar with. This includes - but is not limited to - climbing on roofs, fixing broken garage doors and anything involving electricity. This little red wire poking out of the ground falls into the latter category. So what did I do when I discovered it? I poked it with my gloved hand, of course. Then I tugged on it, but it wouldn't come loose. So I dug some more, and then tugged some more, and eventually, I got myself an 18-inch piece of red electrical wire. 

Exciting! Kind of.

In the process of unearthing that electrical wire, I also discovered this little mystery.

What could it be? 

The roof of a Tonka truck, probably left behind by some previous occupant's four-year-old. Well, guess what, kid. Finders keepers, sucker!

I had one other thoroughly bizarre find, but I'm going to save that for another day. Any guesses what it was?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Best 30th Birthday Ever, Part 6: The White Flag

I'm sorry, I just couldn't do it. I'm sure you're disappointed, but when I did the math and realized that I was going to have to haul 5 cubic yards of soil and decomposed granite from my driveway into my backyard, and then crawl around on my hands and knees to install 136 feet of steel metal edging, I threw up my hands. I'm sorry, but there was no way I was going to be able to do it myself.

This? Oh, this is just what five cubic yards of really heavy landscaping materials look like. Also known as a "no-go."

Enter Rigo the Landscaper. I met Rigo on Craigslist. He posted an ad and I responded. He came out to the house and gave me a quote, and from the moment he wrote down those three little numbers - 4, 8, 0 - I was in love. Yes, Rigo, I will happily go out and buy all the supplies and have the soil and DG delivered and pay you and your crew for labor if you will just please - please! - do the hardscape for me.

I even marked out where I wanted everything to go. Because I'm... particular.
My relationship with Rigo wasn't a match made in heaven. He was 45 minutes late to show up and give me the quote. He was nearly an hour and a half late on the actual install day. He tried to get me to rethink my design in one spot (does he know how many hours I put into that design???), but when I politely declined he happily did it my way (good thinking, Rigo). He was a little needy ("Erin, if I give you money will you go get food for me and my guys? I don't want to leave the job."), but he made up for all that in other ways, like sweeping the leaves from my driveway and mowing and edging my front and back "lawns" for free. And he just happened to have left behind a really snazzy, newish pair of pruning shears as well, and of course if he asks for them I'd happily return them, but otherwise...

I don't know that Rigo and I have long-term potential (although I do hate mowing and he did do a pretty decent job on that), but he was definitely Mr. Right Now.

Don't ask me what's going on with that little stone-lined pathway leading away from the DG area. It was an "extra" that Rigo threw in. Hey, it didn't hurt anything and it can be easily undone, so I'm not gonna argue.

I know it doesn't look like much just yet. Right now it looks like a brown, mucky mess because Rigo just hosed it down. But once I get the plants in the ground, and top those off with some mulch (bark? stones?), and add in a few decorative pots, and then maybe give the DG a good raking to get the big rocks out and get it all nice and neat - well, then I think it will look quite nice, if I do say so myself.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

This is the Divorce that Never Ends...

Anyone who believes that a divorce is over when the judge signs the decree is seriously mistaken. It drags on. And on. And on.

The other day I was thinking about my family's holiday traditions. One of the ones that means the most to me is something my mom does: every year in December she gives us a new Christmas ornament, usually one of a series. I grew up receiving the Schmid Beatrix Potter ornaments, my sister got porcelain teddy bears, my dad got Hallmark train engines. We still get these every year, and my mom, being the thoughtful person she is, didn't want my ex-husband to feel left out of the family tradition when he started coming to holidays at our house. She knew he liked Spiderman (his favorite superhero), so she started investing in the Hallmark Spiderman series of ornaments, giving him one each year and hanging them on the tree along with all the rest. Which was great, and I still appreciate her even thinking to do it, but now it leaves me with one problem: those ornaments are still at my parents' house, boxed up along with everything else, waiting to be hung on the tree this year. Wrapped carefully in newspaper, little cartoon mementos of my failed marriage just waiting to come out of hiding and remind me of the life I thought I would have and never will.

What do I do with them? I'm certain we won't hang them on the tree this year, not out of spite but to avoid the awkwardness of them. In fact, I'm willing to bet my mom will have separated them out and hidden them away before I even arrive home for the holidays. But that still leaves me with the problem of deciding their fate. Do I offer them to my ex? They were his, after all, but I'm fairly sure he won't want them for the same reason I don't: they just feel sad now.

I had another "Lingering Divorce" moment earlier this evening. I went to a party at my best friend's place, a housewarming for the house she just bought and moved into with her boyfriend. I don't know most of her other friends, but there are a few I've met before and I was mostly hanging out with them. I was really more or less fine until I heard someone mention that another couple had just arrived. Their names sounded familiar, and then I remembered: one of my best friend's coworkers is married to a guy who used to work with my ex-husband a few years back. I met them once or twice at company picnics and holiday parties. And suddenly, even thought I was 98% sure they wouldn't even remember who I was if I explained the connection to them let alone recognize me on their own, I was anxious and scared and nervous and uncomfortable all at once. If they did recognize me, there would have to be the inevitable explanation and accompanying awkwardness. And if they didn't, I would still be apprehensive the rest of the night. So I finally did what any mature adult would do: I left.

And then, of course, there's the birthday situation. Not mine. His. It's coming up soon, and while he and I are still friendly, I wouldn't say we're friends. Can I send him an email to wish him a happy birthday? An IM? Or do I stay away all together? Why isn't there a handbook for the recently divorced, something like the Handbook for the Recently Deceased in Beetlejuice?

Every time I think I'm over the divorce and really just dealing with my own issues now (and they are substantial, trust me), things like this come up and remind me that even if I am more or less over the divorce it still has the ability to rear its ugly head and disrupt my life. I wonder when it will stop, if ever. And I wonder, if it doesn't stop, if it will at least stop bothering me.

Update, 10/25/2010: I spoke to my mom today (who reads my blog regularly) and she informed me that she had already planned to hide my ex-husband's ornaments away well before my arrival. Oh, and the wedding album has been put into hiding as well. Well done, Mom. I love you.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Best 30th Birthday Ever, Part 5: The Binge

This past weekend my lovely friend Cari came to visit me. Cari is absolutely great: funny, smart, thoughtful, and just plain fun. She does, however, have one flaw. She's an enabler.

More specifically, she's a gardening enabler. On Saturday morning we made a trip out to The Natural Gardener, where I was "just going to look" and "get ideas" for my backyard revamp. I left an hour later with $250 worth of plants. 

In Cari's defense, she did help me load the car (my poor little hatchback Honda Fit was not pleased).

Actually, it wasn't really Cari's fault at all (though she certainly didn't discourage me). And I had some really good finds. I didn't end up buying all the plants I originally planned on, but I'm happy with the changes I made. Check out my haul:

Yes, that's what $250 worth of plants looks like. That's 17 plants right there, including the 10-gallon, $110 Texas mountain laurel on the far right. It's gonna grow big and tall and smell amazing when it's covered in blooms in the spring.

I'm more thrilled with my unexpected finds. The texture on that Gulf muhly grass is just gorgeous.

The purple flowers on the fall aster are happy little splashes of color.

And check out this insanely cool groundcover I found. It's called "prostrate myoporum." Click on the picture to enlarge it and really appreciate its texture.

It's the only one of the bunch that's not native to Texas - it's from Australia - but I love the texture it adds and and it's got pretty low water needs, so I just went ahead and got it. In the spring it will be covered in little pinkish-white flowers.

This won't be the last of my plant buying for this project, but it's a good start and it gives me a definite direction for the garden. I'm thinking I'll add another variety of flowering shrub, perhaps one that blooms in the summer (a red salvia?) to complement the fall aster, and a low growing perennial that will bring another color into the palette (maybe I'll stick with the orange butterflyweed?). I'm also going to get started on the hardscape later this week, which I'm both dreading (manual labor = ugh) and excited about (visible progress!).

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Best 30th Birthday Ever, Part 4: The Plan

While I am sometimes prone to going on spontaneous and often ill-advised little adventures (like the time I barged into a prickly pear patch with the grand idea of picking the fruits and making prickly pear margaritas, only to emerge covered in stickers and with a sackful of under-ripe fruits), I generally plan out my big undertakings out pretty well. This project is no exception. In fact, it's several years in the making.

Almost exactly two years ago I took a landscape design class at The Austin Museum of Art's Art School, located at Laguna Gloria. Laguna Gloria is by far one of the most beautiful spots in Austin: an outrageously beautiful historic home surrounded by gorgeous lush gardens, and infused with art throughout. It was the perfectly inspiring (and intimidating) setting for a landscape design class. The class was designed for total beginners (thank goodness!) who were interested in working on plans for their home gardens. After several weekly sessions, I walked away with a to-scale drawing of my backyard, complete with plant selections and measurements and a materials list. The only problem: it was late October when the class ended, and late September/October is the ideal planting time in Central Texas. I didn't think I could get the hardscape done quickly enough to get the plants in the ground and established before the first frost. So I rolled up my plan and set it aside, figuring I'd put it into action the following fall. But then my ex-husband and I went to Italy for two weeks in October, and in addition to eating up a big chunk of our available time it also put a major dent in our budget. So here I am, two years later with a lovely drawing of my yard and nothing tangible to show for it.

I decided to pull the plan out over the weekend and make sure it was all ready to go. I quickly realized that I wanted to make a few changes to it, so I grabbed my ruler and my colored pencils and my eraser (my most often used tool!) and got to modifying. Here's what I ended up with:

What? The circles and numbers mean nothing to you? Okay, well, allow me to paint a little picture for you then. There's a gate leading to the front yard at the bottom, and a sliding glass door leading into the dining room at the bottom right. Off the sliding glass door is an existing concrete patio. In a perfect world I'd jackhammer that ugly slab up. Of course, in a perfect world I'd also be putting down some lovely stone or concrete pavers, not decomposed granite, but I've been told by many people that I have to live in reality, so existing concrete patio it is. Also, decomposed granite (DG) patio in the center. I'd like to install a pre-fabricated pergola on the DG, possibly something like this or this. Oh, with maybe some comfy patio furniture and a fire pit in the middle!

I'm going to plant a Texas mountain laurel in the lower left. It'll grow tall and create some shade and hopefully be evergreen.
Photo by Sally & Andy Wasowski, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

There will be two planting beds running along either side of the patio area. I'm going to fill them with a colorful combination of gaura, mealy blue sage, butterflyweed, and wooly stemodia.

Gaura (Gaura lindheimeri) 
Photo by Sally & Andy Wasowski, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.
Mealy blue sage (Salvia farinacea)
Photo by Sally & Andy Wasowski, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.
Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Photo by Thomas L. Muller, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Woolly stemodia (Stemodia tomentosa)
Photo by Joseph A. Marcus, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

The little "C"s in circles represent the placement of containers I'd like to plant with various annuals for little pops of color. All the perennials I chose are Texas natives and fairly drought tolerant, so hopefully they'll only need minimal watering. I'm really hopeful this will all come together close to how I envision it - I think the most difficult part will be the hard labor of digging out the dead grass and weeds and bringing in the DG and soil. I have a houseguest this weekend so I don't anticipate getting too much done on this in the coming days, but maybe I'll be able to get to it a few evenings after work, while I still have an hour or two of light to work with.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Best 30th Birthday Ever, Part 3: The Clearing

In my ongoing quest to redo my backyard (5 weeks and counting until B-Day!), I decided to finally tackle getting rid of the existing vegetation. Though it didn't look like much when we last visited my little backyard oasis, over the last few weeks I allowed it to grow into a lush wildlife paradise complete with foot-tall weeds and more than a few wildlife residents. I even found a little frog hopping through the grass ahead of my mower. Once he got to a shady spot, I mowed around and left him a nice big patch of tall weeds to create a new abode in. I won't be touching that part of the yard for a while anyway. I also trimmed back the behemoth of an ornamental pear that my neighbors neglect year-round and let sag over my fence. I'm proud to say I now have a sufficiently blank canvas to start the real work.

The same, but with less plant life. Like any good suburban backyard.
Doesn't it look better with that tree trimmed back?
And for those of you following my ongoing battle with the poison ivy forest, I'm happy to report that I'm winning. Check out this carnage!

An "offshoot," so to speak.

This is the main body of the plant - the vine is growing up through the fence boards. My neighbor hacked it way, way back (it was growing up over the fence and extended about 4 feet into his yard), and then I sprayed the bejesus out of it. And yes, "bejesus" is a technical term.
Next I'll either rake up all the remaining grass and weeds, or till it all under - I haven't quite figured that out yet. Then comes the even harder part: hauling a cubic foot each of decomposed granite and garden soil into the backyard. Hardscape sucks!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

My Failure Bow

A couple weeks ago I attended a retreat for work that lasted several days. It opened with an evening full of icebreakers and teambuilding activities, led by a group of improv comedians. The very idea of this gave me anxiety - while I'm somewhat extroverted, I do best when I know what to expect and/or have a script. The word "script" does not exist in these improvers' vocabulary. The word "unexpected," however, does. I anticipated a great deal of embarrassment on my part.

One of the things they taught us was "The Failure Bow." While at first glance it seemed ludicrous, I actually embraced it. In short, it's this: when it's your turn to do something in a skit - an action, a line, whatever - and you fail at it - you can't think of anything to say, or whatever you do is really lame - you stand up in front of everyone, exclaim proudly, "I failed!" and then take a grand bow, all while everyone else claps and cheers wildly for you. The goal isn't to encourage failure. Rather, it's to celebrate risk-taking. And it's strangely liberating.

This is my failure bow. About a month ago, I wrote about how I was beginning to feel more okay with myself and who I am and where I am in my life. I decided to take a break from dating for a while and really just be with myself. And I did - for about a week. Then I went right back to meeting people and dating and throwing myself into interactions and doing pretty much exactly what I had been doing the previous 9 years, 10 months, and 2 weeks of this decade called "my twenties."

I failed!

I could feel sort of shitty about this failure, but I'm not sure that would get me anywhere useful. I think it's far more useful to acknowledge that I took a risk - I tried being alone, albeit for a brief time - and in that vulnerable space where I was doing something new and different and uncomfortable for me, I experienced a failure.

I failed!

And now I'm trying again. And that, in itself, is a kind of success. The goal this time is do a little better, and get a little closer to where I'm supposed to be, wherever that may be.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Best 30th Birthday Ever, Part 2: The Speed Bump

I wasn't kidding when I wrote that I was going to redo part of my backyard in preparation for my 30th birthday. In fact, that very day I pulled on some yoga pants and started trimming back the trees along the back fence. Branches came down and canopies opened up. I even ventured into a little corner of the yard I'd never tackled before. It's where the utility box sits, overgrown with vines and a small tree. I viciously hacked those vines back, showing no mercy. I was pretty pleased with the job I did.

Just one problem: turns out those vines were poison ivy. Also turns out that I'm pretty allergic to poison ivy.

My arms, my legs, my chest, my face - all red and itchy. I literally scratched until I bled. The last two weeks have been an itchy, scratchy, painful derailment in my landscaping plans. Lucky for all of us that I'm a vengeful gardener, and when my yard strikes at me, I strike back three times as hard. Normally, I try to use the least toxic means necessary. Sometimes I'm even "green." But when it comes to poison ivy, I go straight to no-holds-barred chemical warfare. If they sold Agent Orange at The Home Depot, I'd have stocked up on that. My goal was to terminate that plant with extreme prejudice. Enter my new best friend:

I dumped the entire 1.33 gallon container of this stuff on that plant. Once it dies, I will strap on a haz mat suit and tear it out by the roots. I'm not messing around.

In the meantime, I did try to kill the weeds and grass in the party section of my backyard. Unfortunately, whatever I sprayed it with didn't work. In fact, the weeds are as lush as ever. So it's time to bring out the bigger guns. I'm still determined to get my yard into shape, and I have just under 6 weeks to do it. Totally do-able. This has just been an itchy, scratchy, red bump in the road.