MINE: Lighting and Lighting Parts

Welcome to another special episode of MINE, the show where I go out and buy cheap old stuff and then we play show and tell! Except I’m the only one playing! It never gets old! For me!

They say with thrifting, lightning never strikes the same place twice but I’m not sure that’s true. Point of fact, after some truly exhaustive research on Yahoo answers it appears it’s not even true when you’re talking about actual lightning. It’s sometimes true with regards to thrifting, but nevertheless I persist. I will return to that same funky watering hole 25 times because of that one time I showed up and there was a cold bottle of Fiji nobody else seemed to notice.

OK, that’s enough metaphors to last us a while. Point is, I went back up to Albany on a recent thrifting trip (friend needed interior doors, I needed to oblige my FOMO) and I feel I did PRETTY GOOD. My first stop is always the Historic Albany Foundation’s parts warehouse—I’d keep it a secret, but I love these folks so much, that wouldn’t be cool. The Historic Albany Foundation is a non-profit, so aside from a ton of other important work they do, they have an architectural salvage warehouse full of things saved from old buildings during remodels or prior to demolition. Prices are VERY fair—I can’t fault other salvage/antique places for needing to turn a profit, but it really feels this place is there to help and support people at any price point who are trying to do right by their old houses. This old house owner appreciates that a lot!

First up—such a pretty glass shade! I love that it’s so simple and versatile but still has some unique detailing. The rest of the light is missing, so this could become a semi-flushmount or a pendant. For $5, it was a buy-now-and-figure-it-out-later kind of situation. I try to keep an eye out for milk glass shades where you can’t see the bulb—I feel like LED bulbs are getting better and better looking all the time, but I still don’t really want to see one exposed.

Then I saw THESE and at $20 for the pair (in PERFECT shape) it was…the same situation. So pretty! I’d guess they’re kinda late Victorian? All these shades are good excuses to design and make some light fixtures. Which really is my idea of a good time (seriously, it’s relaxing!), although coming up with the supply list is kind of overwhelming. I’ll likely order parts from Grand Brass, which my friend Allison over at Deuce Cities Henhouse uses for her slick-ass DIY light fixtures (some of which are now available as kits—so smart!). I have some ideas! I’ve been considering using them for my main kitchen fixture. Hmmmmmm.

BTW, the bowls on the shelf above are by a local ceramist named Andrew Molleur who is SO goddamn talented. I have a few of his pieces around the house, and watching his work and business evolve since I’ve lived here has been a real treat. Plus he’s a really cool nice guy.

More Alabax lights! The one on the left is new (to me) and the one on the right you might remember from the last time I went up to Albany! I put them side-by-side so you can see the difference in shape/scale.

But even more exciting was that it’s a perfect mate with the other Alabax fixture I bought almost 3 years ago! What’s funny is that the one from 3 years ago was $85, and this recent acquisition was $5! The only difference is that the first one was fitted with new socket/wiring/crossbar, and the new one doesn’t have any guts. That’s a pretty easy fix, though, and it won’t cost nearly $80! I think these are both headed to the cottage, but that could change. I sort of feel like I overpaid the first time so now it’s like the balance has been restored. $45 a fixture, not bad! (that’s some Advanced Placement thrift calculus for ya.)

For something like $2, it just felt unethical to leave this cute little utility light behind. Even if it just ends up at the top of some basement stairs or something, still worth it.

AND THEN! To round out this theme! LOOK HOW CUTE IS THIS BABY DECO LIGHT! For $10! My friend said I shouldn’t buy it because it was “just so common” and I was like “I CAN DO COMMON! I’M FINE WITH COMMON!” and it was settled. I love the detail on the porcelain base, and the intact shade is just so classic.

I know, what a diverse collection of items—ha! Does this ever happen to you? I feel like it happens to me a lot when I thrift—everything I find that day will sort of adhere to a certain theme for whatever reason.  Like the other day, I bought several things and they were all green. Since I feel I’ve done my scientific research for the day with the aforementioned lightning thing, if anyone can shed some light on this phenomenon (I didn’t mean to write that pun, but once I did, I wanted everyone to endure it), I’d really like to hear it.

Fall Checklist: Overseeding the Front Curb Strip!

This blog mini-series is in partnership with Lowe’s! Thank you for supporting my sponsors!

For many years, like probably most of my years, I’ve held onto this idea about what autumn would look like when I was all grown up. I know it, you know it—it’s the best season. Crunchy leaves. That crisp fall air. Warm drinks. Plaids. Brown liquors. Candles. Gourds. Sweaters. More clichés. Other clichés. Different clichés! Fall is the king of clichés, as far as seasons go. Pumpkin Spice Lattes (or PSL, if you really want to be a nightmare) are among the worst of the clichés, which is why I will not discuss them here.

I still think this way, as it happens. I turned 29 a couple of weeks ago but I still picture grown-up me as a totally different person with, like, nice clothes and an organized day planner. A person for whom home maintenance tasks are undertaken promptly and efficiently, who might start the day merrily clearing leaves from gutters and end it merrily setting potted mums and an assortment of gourds on my porch, because that’s just what this merry person does to usher in the season on October 1st. The weekend before, this guy probably went around the house and inspected for any areas of peeling paint and quickly addressed them, and the weekend after, he’ll flip on the heat with complete and total confidence that it’ll work because the whole system has just been recently serviced—well in advance of when it was needed, because he thinks ahead. He has it all figured out.

Where this concept and reality clash is…well, basically all of it. Grown-up me—the real one with the garbage wardrobe who continually tries and fails to really get into a groove with the Calendar app on my phone—has not exactly lived up to this specific expectation. It’s not because he doesn’t try. He tries very hard. But he takes on these really big projects, and either doesn’t have or doesn’t create the time for things like the mums and the gourds and the boiler-servicing-while-it’s-still-80-degrees-outside. Instead he’s usually up on a ladder, well into November, really putting the temperature requirements for most paint brands to the test, because what he thought would take one month has taken four. By most people’s standards, fall has decidedly given way to winter at this point, but his autumn to-do list still has so many unchecked items that he can’t admit what is plainly clear—most of this stuff won’t happen. The leaves and spent perennials will rot under the impending snow. The weed content of the grass will increase. Nothing will be planted in the ground, and that one radiator will, once again, refuse to heat. Better luck next year, ya little mess of a man.

Back in the spring, I made a Very Big Boy Decision: not taking on another exterior wall of the house to restore this year. I had the actual foresight to know I couldn’t finish the sides of the house I’ve already started over the past few years plus a whole additional side, while also starting and finishing two big freelance jobs, while also finally getting the cottage ready for very long-overdue finishing work. As such, I’ve still been a busy bee, but a bee who isn’t quite so thoroughly overwhelmed. Wanting to take advantage of this, I promptly overwhelmed myself by creating a Big Fall To-Do List, and my pals at Lowe’s stepped in to help me work through it! I feel like I’ve entered a new stage of adulting. Getting these fall house/yard maintenance tasks done has felt SO GOOD I CAN’T EVEN STAND IT and—let’s be honest—long overdue considering I’ve never done most of them and this is going to be winter number SIX in this house.

So! Over the coming days and weeks I’ll be sharing these small but impactful projects with you! Because this is a blog! And that’s what we do here! Let’s dive in!

MISSION NUMERO UNO: OVERSEEDING THE CURB STRIP

I used to be that kid with the bad attitude when it came to lawns. Loving a really dense, thick lawn seemed like something for…other people. surely don’t care about that classic staple of American yards! have no need for a thick bed of vegetation that needs to constantly be mowed and watered and fussed over. Who cares if the lawn is just some struggling grass and clover and a bunch of weeds? I can mow weeds too, ya know!

I now totally understand the appeal of a nice lawn. First of all, it really does look good. Second of all, it feels nice—to walk on, sit on, roll around on if you’re a dog or that’s just your thing. Third of all, having a healthy lawn means fewer weeds, simply because they don’t thrive as well when competing for space and resources with well-established grass. And that thing I said about just mowing a weed lawn earlier? WRONG. WRONG WRONG WRONG. Weeds really do suck, because they take up a lot of space—meaning that when you mow over them, you expose a bare patch around the roots where their leaves and water consumption haven’t allowed anything else to grow. Multiply that by a lot of weeds and you have lots of vegetation but still a lot of exposed dirt. And when you have a bunch of bare dirt, and a dog who goes in and out of the backyard and then all over your house and on all your furniture all day long (FOR INSTANCE), it gets EVERYWHERE. I feel like the amount of dirt I’m constantly sweeping, vacuuming, and mopping up could be really cut down with some commitment to good lawn care.

Before getting bogged down in addressing the entire backyard, I actually wanted to focus on the grass in the front of the house. I’ve never done anything to maintain the grass in the front hellstrip other than mow it, and…it shows. It could definitely look a LOT better, and that’s an easy thing to do while the front of the house still awaits restoration. I’ve been working a tonnnnn on the side of the house, meaning the front has started to look increasingly shoddy.

FIRST, I blew the leaves. I have two honey locust trees in front of the house, I’d guess around 40 years old, and those little leaves get everywhere! Honey locusts can be great because the leaves are so small that a lot of people just let them compost themselves on the ground without raking or blowing, but that doesn’t really work for sidewalks and streets. Rather, it does work, but it’s a mess and it’s slippery and not good. Basically my strategy is to move from the house toward the street, blowing onto the sidewalk and the street and then sweeping up and bagging my piles. It works well. I used the blower to get as many leaves out of the grass as possible.

There are a few things you may notice about this picture, such as my sweatshirt bearing the likeness of my favorite Insta-cat, Princess Monster Truck. There is also the rest of my ensemble which I cannot explain other than to say it’s both disappointing and invigorating to be at this point where I simply no longer have the energy to care about looking a hot mess on the internet or in real life.

The thing I’d like to draw your attention to, though, is my SUPER AWESOME NEW LEAF BLOWER. When I bought this house, I did the ill-advised thing of buying the cheapest outdoor equipment available, basically without exception. The first lawnmower we bought was the manual kind you just wheel over the grass without the benefit of modern technology like, ya know, a motor. My leaf blower has heretofore been a super lousy battery-powered number, and while it does produce air it doesn’t have the power to disturb more than an upper layer of very dry, lightweight leaves, and the battery dies really fast and recharges slowly. So that’s where I’m coming from. Essentially I’ve just been replacing all of these lousy tools one by one as they either stop working or become unbearable.

Which leads me to: GREENWORKS! Back in the spring, I took the plunge (totally independent of this sponsored series) and bought the Greenworks Pro battery-powered lawnmower from Lowe’s to replace the bottom-of-the-line gas mower which I bought after quickly giving up on the manual mower. The gas mower died, and the options were to basically spend as much as the mower cost to have it repaired or just invest in something new. Over the past few years, the market has been flooded with battery-powered outdoor power equipment, and it seems to clearly be the wave of the future, so I opted to just go for it and I’m SO glad I did. No gas! No oil! No smoke! No yanking on a string over and over again hoping that this is the pull that will finally persuade the engine to start!

But who really cares how clean it is if it doesn’t really work? WELL. These Greenworks Pro tools are far and away the best thing I’ve ever used—battery-operated or otherwise. I never really understood the importance of a high-quality leaf blower until I upgraded to this one, and it’s kind of like…OH, THAT’S how this is supposed to work!! It saves SO MUCH work when it actually does the thing it’s supposed to do! The power that comes out of this thing is insane, and it just keeps goinggggg and goingggg and goinggggggg. The upfront investment of these tools did strike me as a bit high when I started looking into them, but considering how well they work, that they don’t require any future investment of oil or gas, and are far less prone to issues that might require professional repair (meaning $ and time without your tools!), I actually think they’re totally reasonably priced. Plus, they’re just SO COOL! SO FUTURE!

When the leaf blowing was done, it was just a matter of popping the battery out of the new leaf blower and popping it into my well-loved lawnmower! The great thing is that the batteries—as long as they’re the same voltage—interchange between tools, so you don’t have to buy a new battery/charger every time you want to add a tool to the arsenal. That’s why it’s smart to pick a brand and stick with it.

So, I mean this sincerely. I love this lawnmower. I never, ever thought I would love a lawnmower. But I love this lawnmower. Let me count the ways.

First, obviously, is the battery. I HATE dealing with gas and oil, so that was my main motivation to go battery-powered, but it’s SO MUCH MORE THAN THAT.

Out of the box, it’s basically ready to use. There are like three things to screw together and it’s ready to go. For the leaf blower, you just insert the battery and you’re off to the races. Amazing.

And then. It starts with a button. A button!

It’s SO QUIET. The first time I used it, I wasn’t even sure if it was working properly because it was so quiet. I can listen to podcasts while I mow the grass without the sound of the mower drowning out my earbuds. It’s a REVELATION. And, like, stunningly cool if you’re used to a gas mower.

It’s so light. This is not a self-propelled mower, but it’s so easy to push that I don’t feel like it’s necessary. But they make one of those now, too!

It’s compact! I mean, in use, it’s the size of a regular lawnmower, but it can kind of fold up and hang on the wall the rest of the time. Admittedly I have no clear wall in my garage to hang it on, but it’s nice to know this is an option for the future when I tame the hoard.

The height adjustment! IT’S JUST A LEVER! On my old mower, you literally had to remove the wheels and reinstall them to change the mower height. As such, I put it on the lowest setting when I assembled it and then never changed it.

WHICH BRINGS US BACK TO MY GRASS. I used to think mowing on anything other than the lowest setting was the dumbest thing ever. Why would you do that to yourself? Imagine you’re getting your hair cut, and the barber proposes just cutting it just a little bit every week instead of a couple of inches that’ll last you a few months. Who has time to go to the barber every week?*

*some people do, and it frightens me.

The thing I didn’t understand is that unlike hair, grass needs a little length to maintain its overall health! If you cut it as short as you can go every time, you’re shooting yourself in the foot because the grass can’t properly develop and thicken, and then you invite weeds which grow faster than the grass, so you need to mow more, and your grass still looks like garbage. I’ve learned this the hard way so you don’t have to. Also, sometimes it pays to even just do the smallest amount of reading about stuff.

ANYWAY. In this case, I’m overseeding existing grass, and that’s a special kind of a process. For overseeding, you DO actually want the lowest setting to give new grass seed the best chance at success. Also—typically I allow my grass clippings to just mulch out the side of the mower, but for this you want to use the bag attachment and collect the clippings. The point is to expose soil!

After blowing the leaves and mowing, this gives you an idea of what’s left. That poor grass—it’s really trying! And the weeds are also trying! But it’s just a patchy thin state of affairs.

At this stage, you have a couple options: thatching or aerating. No lie—growing up, we had a landscaping company come and deal with our grass so actually knowing about this stuff is rather new to me. I remember when they’d aerate every year—essentially, breaking up the soil and adding fertilizer—but I don’t remember ever hearing about thatch. Thatch is the layer of stuff created by dead grass, clippings, and dead roots. Most of the time it’s an OK thing, but not really when you’re trying to get new grass seed to take. Sometimes thatch gets so thick that it actually causes the grass to thin out, so thatching isn’t exclusively for overseeding—some sources say to do it about once a year!

Learning. So. Much.

So anyway. I decided to thatch. With a manual thatcher—which is good for something like this, but I can imagine it being EXHAUSTING for a whole lawn. There are motorized versions, though, and they’re pretty affordable.

I kinda want one? That also feels like a new territory of lawn obsession I’m not sure I’m ready for.

Time for seed! I picked up this Scotts Turf Builder seed spreader a few years ago for my first attempt at seeding the backyard, and this bag of Scotts Sun & Shade Mix over the weekend to overseed this front strip. I compared a bunch of different grasses and seeds to land on this one—it’s a mix of medium and fine-bladed grass (I personally don’t like larger blade grasses), and the idea is basically that the characteristics of each different type compliment the others—so if one type isn’t doing well because of too much foot traffic, or too little water, or too little sun, or too much sun, another will take over that affected area and thrive.

Also, it’s blue! The seeds are coated in fertilizer and stuff to retain moisture and other science things, so you just spread it and water it. No hay, no additional fertilizer steps—couldn’t be easier. If you forget any of the steps or aren’t sure what setting to use on the spreader, not to fear. It’s all on the bag! I gotta hand it to the Scotts packaging and product designers—they do a great job of walking you through it all.

Here is me, candidly watering my new grass seed in my sexy DIY clothes as though someone isn’t standing the street waiting for cars to pass to snap photos of me. Totally normal, not weird at all.

I finished off by walking up and down and edging both sides of the curb strip and sweeping up errant grass seed and any other debris. It’s a small thing but I love when the bluestone sidewalk and curb are all neat and tidy! I may have one BILLION things to do to restore the front of this house, but until then—this is the kind of thing that makes a house look well-loved and cared for. So excited to see how this grass develops—I can see you now, perfect green carpet!

Finishing the Side of the House: Part 1!

I didn’t really know when I embarked on this ~journey~ that the first five years of renovating my house would fall into two fairly distinct phases: before restoring the side of the house, and after. At the beginning it felt more linear—after the major, non-DIY work of replacing the roof, replacing the boiler, and upgrading the electrical system was completed, it felt like things would proceed at a steady and fluid pace as time and money allowed. Living in the house would certainly never be more difficult than it was in those first few months, so if we could just get over those early hurdles it would be relative smooth sailing afterwards. Not easy by any means, but not trying in that way where you question all of your life decisions and rue the day you ever thought homeownership was an appealing goal.

That’s not exactly how it worked out. Some projects are bigger than others, and restoring the south side of the house—a project that began over 2 years ago at this point—was HUGE. Primarily because walls have two sides (fancy that!), so it’s not as though this work was isolated from the interior of the house, too. At this point I think I’ve written more about putting the inside of the house back together after all of this—starting with the bedroom (which saw the addition of a window) and then the den (which lost a bay window but gained a regular window). This is also when the kitchen went from pretty shoddy to totally gutted, and the dining room—though the least affected in terms of actual construction—turned into a total renovation war zone.

WTF am I even talking about? I’ll try to go through this fast, since it’s been a while and it occurs to me that maybe 2 years is approximately 2 years too long to expect anyone to remember the elaborate details of my home renovation. Perhaps.

Above is the back and side of the house pretty much when I bought it. This was after the roof replacement so the fire escape and little roof over that 2nd floor door have been removed, but otherwise this is more or less where things started. Demolishing that single-story box off the back of the house was the first major demolition project, which we’ve talked about a lot—including the two ways that elevation has been rearranged now!

Removing that back addition did a lot for improving the proportions of the house (and bringing natural light into the kitchen!), but the south side is where I really saw potential for major improvement—both for the interior and exterior. The more I lived here, the more I tried to deduce the series of events that had transpired here—seemingly taking a neoclassical house and making it look like…this. It’s an easier task when additions are more modern—where you can really easily see how things don’t match, or are made of completely different materials—but everything was some level of old here except for those three vinyl windows on the first floor. I put a lot of thought into how I might be able to repair and renovate these parts of the house that were old but not original, but ultimately I couldn’t shake that this elevation of the house (which is really more visible than the front to a passerby) just looked wrong. And I really wanted to make it look right again. Not new. Just…as it ought to be. And that meant tearing some shit down.

YOU KNOW, JUST THIS?! On another project you might, ya know, have an architect or something render this out and have something legit and precise for the contractor to work off of, but…I’m the contractor. It’s all in my noggin. What else could we possibly need than this beautiful mind?????

So, um. You know I like a story, so I’ll tell you a story.

I wasn’t planning to do this project when I did. I was considering it “someday” work that I would merrily undertake at some future date when the finances and the time and the pre-planning stars aligned to make it possible. But then there was a glitch in that plan, and that glitch was basically me being dumb.

Here’s some context: I was at the end stages of what had unexpectedly become a very large and very time-consuming freelance project. As a result, I hadn’t been able to do any significant work on my own house for a long time—which sucks when you’re living in a house in need of so much work. I’m not talking about, like, painting walls and swapping out hardware for something so fresh and cute. I’m talking major work. Needed work. Never does a house feel more like it’s falling apart than when work hits an extended stand-still, especially when you’re actively pouring everything you have into someone else’s home while yours feels increasingly hopeless. The job was stressful, the house was stressful, everything was stressful.

Suffice to say, I was not in a great headspace. Like on a scale of Bad to Very Bad, I’d rate it Pretty Fucking Bad.

So we’re at the end of this project, and in my experience something happens at the end of big renovation/construction projects. Things get really slow. On TV we’re used to seeing a mad dash to the finish, but in reality I’ve never really seen this come to pass on a big project. Because you’re waiting for some product order to come, or for the countertops to get installed so the backsplash can go in, or a homeowner really wants to see something in person before committing one way or the other. It’s just…like that. People often talk about how difficult it is to keep contractors “on the hook” while they work through those final items big and small on a project, and it’s often cast as contractors just being selfish or unethical—which sometimes is actually the case (dealt with that shit, too!), but I think it’s more complicated than that.

Because everyone has to make a living. Say you have a full-time job, and then your boss announces that you’re going down to part-time and your pay is getting cut accordingly. This isn’t great but it’s pretty normal for your industry, and so you need to find another job to make up the lost income. The problem is that the first job—now part-time—expects you to be like a doctor on call, ready to make an appearance and do good work with little notice. This doesn’t jive so well with your new job, which expects your consistent attendance, and promises WAY more in the way of future income than your first job which you know is going to end pretty soon anyway. So you do the thing that’s in you and your family’s immediate best interest: prioritize the new job that offers more consistency, money, and satisfaction, and get back to the first job as time allows because your old boss won’t leave you alone and just finishing is easier than getting sued or whatever.

FOR INSTANCE.

So that’s kind of where we were with this very large freelance project. Lots of finishing touches that had to be done but couldn’t be done all at once for various reasons, clients who had very little patience for that, and contractors who wanted so badly to be OUTTA THERE, that last couple thousand dollars in their contract be damned. At the center of this stood me, trying to keep it all together and afloat with everyone getting along (ish) and the project actually getting completed. Which is how an idea was born.

I needed to keep everyone busy in order to keep everyone paid full-time so nobody was scrambling for other work. Must keep contractors in my clutches.

But I could only keep everyone busy a little bit at the freelance project.

But I could keep everyone busy a lot at my own house by just hurriedly embarking on the largest renovation project this house will likely ever see! When we couldn’t be working at the freelance project, which was most of the time, we’d be at my house. And when that product order came in or the counters got installed or whatever, I could transition everyone back to the freelance job at the drop of a hat, which in turn would keep the clients satisfied that things were proceeding at an acceptable pace.

And so. A mess was made. Here, Edwin stands in the new south garden, created by removing what was once a long skinny solarium space.

Behold! My cozy relaxing den and its new window.

Here’s more or less what remained of my kitchen and pantry.

Then my bedroom joined the fun!

MEANWHILE, the outside of my house is looking something like this, and something like this is not going to fly for a Hudson Valley winter. The idea of really doing anything with the interior before the exterior was totally buttoned up was ridiculous—this had to take priority. You know, behind the never-ending freelance job but ahead of having a decent place to sleep or cook or really do anything at all.

Some of this might seem exciting, and it kind of was, but I can tell you firsthand…IT. FELT. FUCKING. TERRIBLE. Exactly zero square inches of the house felt clean or OK to be in. I didn’t really doubt the vision so much as deeply regretted the process and the lack of preparation—which included financial.

Oh my god, THE MONEY. MONEY IS SO HARD. IT IS SO HARD TO SAVE BUT SO EASY TO SPEND. I thought I was such hot shit because I’d managed to squirrel away about $12,000 to put toward the house before this, and before I knew it, it was gone. Then I did the super fun and advisable thing of maxing out my credit cards! Yayyyyyyy! This is exactly what I needed during this terrible time inside my brain and also inside my house! Everything at once!

So, I’d say around the project’s midway point, I realized I had to start being very strategic about what work I’d be able to pay someone (Edwin) to do with me, vs. work that by economic necessity I’d have to complete alone.

Which was…a lot of work.

Which I think is why EVIDENTLY this is the last image I shared of this !!huge transformation!! 2 years ago, because all I really wanted to do was to go from this directly into sharing a big reveal which never came. It didn’t come because…well…I didn’t finish.

A big part of the reason this took so long and cost so much was the amount of particularity that went into reconstructing the original details without going totally broke. Half the point of this was to bring the house back to a closer resemblance of its original construction, so new work had to blend seamlessly with the old to pull it off—end of story.

Demo had fortunately left me with the cornices of the old 2nd floor bay window and the solarium, so I was hopeful that these parts would provide at least most of what I needed in order to reconstruct the third side of the bay window and patch the cornice upstairs. A lot of this wood was too rotted to be useful, but the corbels and various lengths of trim were generally salvageable.

That being said, there were three major pieces that I just didn’t have. The first was the decorative drip cap above all of the windows. The original windows still had them, but they’re meant to have returns on the sides—these were hacked off when the previous owner had the house covered in vinyl. Sigh.

I had one relatively intact piece, aside from that notched out part, which had escaped the same fate because it was above the dining room window which faced into the solarium. I carefully removed it and brought it to Spiegel Architectural Woodworks—right here in Kingston!!—which is ESSENTIALLY the point of this post; it’s just taken me 2,000 words to get there.

SO. I did not know how getting woodwork reproduced generally works, but now I do so I’ll tell you.

When a place like this has to reproduce a molding, first a knife has to be created from an example of the molding profile. Sometimes this is done in-house and sometimes it’s contracted out–in this case it’s sent out, which is only really notable because obviously it affects lead time.

The cool thing is, once a knife has been made, it’s catalogued and stored for future use. That means that if you need more than you thought, you don’t have to start the process over entirely, and it ALSO means that it’s possible somebody has had the same profile replicated before. The reason this matters is that there are two flat fees that will come along with any amount of molding you order: a fee to fabricate the knife, and another fee to set up the knife at the mill so the work can be done. If your molding has already been replicated, you should only have to pay that second set-up fee, plus the cost of the material you’re having made! The material is typically priced by the linear foot, and there’s a big range depending on the type of wood. For the window drip caps, I went with Western Red Cedar because it’ll get the most exposure to water/snow.

So. Because getting these details wrong would be so so very sad, I was adamant about getting them right. Close enough wasn’t going to cut it! And then, sure enough, someone in the past did have the same molding profile as my original drip caps reproduced!

ALMOST.

SO CLOSE. SO SIMILAR. The difference was that the rounded part on mine is a little oblong, whereas the existing knife was a more perfect quarter-round.

Remember that thing I said about close enough not cutting it for my fancy obnoxious ass? A $200 knife fabrication fee for the tiniest, most imperceptible difference was, apparently, enough for close enough to be JUST fine. Funny how that happens.

That left this nice simple crown, which is part of the cornice all around the house. I love that simple profile so much! This one required a knife to be fabricated for $200. But then they made me 150 feet of it! For cost purposes, I went with pine.

This is the uppermost crown molding below the roof, and this is where “close enough” was really not going to cut it! Here’s kinda why:

My house has classical eaves returns, which to me is a super important detail to be preserved, and says something about the quality of the craftsmanship that went into its beautiful details! With a “poor man’s return,” you could probably get away with replacing rotted crown molding with a similarly scaled stock molding and nobody would be the wiser, but a classical eaves return requires two variations on the same profile—one for the flat parts and one for the raked parts. Using a similar but different molding for the flat sections would completely ruin this transition to the raked parts and I couldn’t live with myself! And so, because this molding was the biggest, the knife fee was $300. Ouch!

If you thought $12,000 seemed like a lot of money to do this project, here’s a good example of why it wasn’t. I spent like $3,000 that summer on reproduction moldings. That’s completely separate and apart from other lumber, trim boards, stock moldings, siding, windows, primer, paint, nails, roofing…just three molding profiles.

ANYWAY.

Between salvaged pieces, reproduced pieces, pieces we could mill ourselves with saws and routers, and stock pieces (or just parts of stock pieces, as the case may be, like in the image above!), we sorted it out! I actually like figuring stuff like this out.

Here you can get a sense of it—the basic structure of the cornice was there because the second floor bay window was added, but all the details were missing. I had hoped for a more seamless, staggered patch job, but to be honest…truly restoring the cornices is a project for another time, and I didn’t want to start tearing into existing stuff because that is a goddamn can of worms if I ever saw one. That job is going to require scaffold and a tonnnnnnn of time—but after patching and paint, I can TOTALLY live with this.

Recreating the third side of the bay window was…intense. SO MUCH MOLDING. SO MANY LAYERS.

To reconstruct the cornice, we tore off the roof to try to recreate how the original two sides were built. Like the rest of the house, this bay window has box gutters so there were definitely some uncomfortable flashbacks to the roof replacement of a few years before. Luckily this time I was much more prepared for the near-inevitability of rotten gutters so I was able to move a little more efficiently into just fixing them instead of freaking out.

You can also see how deteriorated the top of the crown molding is—luckily, by this time I have more!

I’m not sure what we call the framing that creates the structure of the box gutter, but it looks like this! The originals were all in various stages of decay, so we used one as a guide and recreated a bunch of them out of 2x4s, which are thicker than the 1″ thick boards the originals were made from. Because the gutter needs to pitch in a direction for drainage, we had to be very careful about cutting and fastening these pieces to avoid low points away from the downspout outlet.

Once we’d sistered in our new pieces, it was just a matter of following the same principal to rebuild the third side. It was hard, not gonna lie.

I think we did well, though! There are a couple pieces still missing in this photo but you get the idea. The new reproduction crown wasn’t installed yet, either, and we basically threw a piece of ice and water shield over the roof until the roofers could come.

This is now mid-October. I really can’t afford the help I’d, ya know, ideally have. Especially because it’s getting late in the season and half the house still doesn’t have siding installed (let alone caulk, paint, downspouts, the list goes on). I took on installing all of the siding on the first floor by myself, and then Edwin and I did the second floor together.

Cutting and installing siding alone is not a good time. It’s very much a two person job and not only will it be slow, but you also MIGHT fall into a depression spiral of feeling so super alone in this exciting restoration journey! you’ve undertaken that has taken all of your money and all of the years of your mid-twenties and left you chasing daylight on a crisp autumn evening, shivering outside of your barely-habitable house where there’s nothing inside but destruction and more aloneness.

NOT THAT I WOULD KNOW ABOUT ANY OF THAT. I’M JUST SAYING IT MIGHT HAPPEN.

Ten days after that last photo was taken, this one was taken. Snow. Winter had arrived. This text exchange with my mother pretty much tells you what you need to know:

Oh right and the freelance job was somehow STILL going on.

The deal with the roof was essentially this: I could not, for the life of me, hire a roofer to come and do this roof. I called all of them. I think one or two showed up for give an estimate, but then never got back to me. That feeling—of not being able to give somebody money to do the thing that they do to make money—is so lousy and helpless. I feel it with plumbers constantly. I think the job was just too small and nobody thought it was worth it.

SO. You can kinda see above the bay roof, about 5 courses of missing siding. This was left intentionally to allow the roofer to flash up the side wall, and we’d patch in those missing courses once the roof was done.

Except there was no roofer and it’s now November. I had wanted/assumed I’d do a EPDM roof, which is how my box gutters were lined on the rest of the house and is a common way of addressing flat/low-slope roofing and box gutters here. The problem was that—at least at the time—I had an IMPOSSIBLE time sourcing the products. It was crazy! The rubber, the underlayment, the fasteners, the mastic—all of it! I KNOW IT EXISTS. NOBODY CAN SEEM TO SELL IT TO ME.

Cue more anxious feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. I’m a lot of fun.

And so, eventually, I gave up on finding a roofer. “Edwin,” I asked. “Do you think we can handle this?”

“Of course we can. Done it a thousand times.”

Mostly due to ease of availability, we went with this torch-down rubber roofing product. So listen. We know I adore this man, and have worked with him on many projects for years, during which his experience has been a tremendous asset. Which is really why I bring this up, because it’s a good reminder that when you’re working with ANYBODY, on ANYTHING, EVEN if you know and trust them—KNOW HOW THE THING IS SUPPOSED TO BE DONE. You have nothing to lose by being an informed consumer but a whole lot to gain.

At this point, I was so drained. Financially, emotionally, physically just beat. Edwin said the roof was no problem, so we bought a roll of this stuff and got to work. About midway through, it occurred to me that our installation process just seemed…not right…and THAT’S the first time I googled how the fuck this stuff is supposed to work.

We were doing it very wrong. Edwin told me not to worry, I told him I was worried, he told me it would be fine, I told him it didn’t seem fine, and so forth. But we were halfway through, and an incorrectly installed roof had to be better than no roof at all…so I just…went with it.

I don’t really know how, but before winter really, really hit, we got the bay window roof done, the rest of the siding patched, and everything got at least a coat of primer if not caulk and paint.

And you know what? Everyone survived. The house survived and I survived, and even the bay window survived.

I’ll cop to this, too: you might expect that during the next summer, I was able to circle back and do that last 10-15% of the work and really get it finished off.

I did not. I was super busy, this time on a different ever-expanding freelance job, and when it came to my own house I decided to focus on redoing the back again instead of wrapping up this side, because both things definitely weren’t happening and getting the window and door arrangement right on the back was standing in the way of much further progress on the kitchen.

ROUND AND ROUND WE GO.

I actually think that little roof was OK for about a year, but then it started leaking. OF COURSE it started leaking.

So. I am bound and determined to get this side of the house really finished off this fall. A few weekends ago I replaced the roof all by myself (BOY WAS THAT FUN AND NOT AT ALL THE WORST THING EVER), and I’ve been working my ass off on sanding, scraping, caulking, priming and painting the entire thing. It’s an assload of work but really does feel good to circle back around and really give everything the care and attention it needs! And I gotta say—it’s looking goooooood. Give me a little more good weather and it’ll finally, at long last, be time for the AFTER!

Charleston for the Weekend! Plus, Paint Colors!

You know how I said I was trying to get out more? Like trying to take regular breathers from the house and the rest of life to see the people I love and do stuff I maybe want to do?

I did it again! My dear old friend Chandler (you might remember blog posts about her apartment from forever ago!) and I planned this little weekend jaunt down to Charleston, SC back in April, and I have to say it was nice and motivating to have something like this to look forward to throughout the summer! Then it totally crept up and we were on our way. Crazy how that happens.

Charleston is SUCH a beautiful city. I visited with my family briefly about a year ago, so when Chandler suggested we go there I was super excited to go back. The city is just so amazingly historically intact—it’s a total fantasyland if you’re interested in old buildings and history.

The real impetus for the trip was to catch a live show of one of our favorite podcasts, My Favorite Murder! Where my murderinos at?! If you’re not familiar, I’ll try to explain it like the hosts, Karen and Georgia, do: it’s a true crime/comedy podcast, which is a complicated combo to negotiate yet they make it work. Each week, they individually pick a murder from history and then recap it for the other one, and that’s basically the whole thing. It never gets old. And there’s an endless supply of murder because people are monsters! Karen and Georgia’s voices have kept me company for literal hours and hours while I’ve plugged away on projects on the house and whatnot, so being in a room with them performing live was so weird and crazy—both the same and different than I expected. It was a lot of fun.

In any case, the podcast is super crazy popular and has a rad population of fans, so if it sounds interesting to you I’d HIGHLY, HIGHLY recommend starting from the beginning so that you, too, can develop a close, personal, one-sided bond with these women as their goofy idea for a podcast becomes, like, an international sensation before your very ears. Otherwise you might just be very annoyed by it all.

OH ALSO REAL QUICK: because people simply cannot get enough murder and comedy in combination, getting tickets to one of these shows was one of the most stressful things I’ve ever been tasked with doing. I had to join a fan club to get pre-sale access to the tickets and even those sold out in about 6 seconds flat. Eek! Sometime before that, I figured out that my friend Lauren who runs the Historic Charleston Foundation is also a murderino, as is her friend Gray, so we all went together with the 4 tickets I was able to snag. So the show was on Friday, and then every Monday they post mini-episodes where they basically read off listener emails of their own murder-related or otherwise creepy/weird/macabre stories. And on this Monday’s episode, THEY READ LAUREN’S EMAIL! Which, by the way, was a really fascinating insight into how the Historic Charleston Foundation conducts research on the properties they own, plus some surprising finds from inside some very old walls. It’s Minisode #89, if you’re interested!

So that was cool.

Otherwise, we pretty much just walked around, ate, and tried to take in as much of Charleston’s absurd beauty as we could before heading home.

I MEAN, JUST LOOK AT THIS PLACE! It’s insane. I think due to a combination of early and comprehensive historic protections and a fairly mild climate, Charleston kind of reminds me of what a place like Kingston might look and feel like if it hadn’t fallen victim to terrible urban-renewal policies and the unmitigated trend of replacing windows, doors, and exterior cladding with plastics and metals. It’s really something.

So many original windows! So many working shutters! SIIIIGHHHHH.

Marble floors like this are all over the city.

I’m crying.

I love this house and this arborvitae situation.

We ate very well during our short trip, including brunch at this restaurant called 5Church on the morning we left! Such a great space. The food was awesome too.

There are several historic house museums right in downtown Charleston, including The Nathaniel Russel House and the Aiken-Rhett House which I toured last time, and the Calhoun Mansion which I toured this time! LOOK AT THAT VESTIBULE TILE! The Calhoun Mansion doesn’t allow photography but the other two (managed by the Historic Charleston Foundation) do.

ANYWAY. Knowing more or less what I was getting into, I tried to come to Charleston a little more prepared this time around than last by remembering to bring my Nix Mini sensor! I know I’ve mentioned this thing on Instagram but I can’t remember if we’ve discussed it here…it’s a little ping-pong-ball-sized device that can scan and match paint colors on the go! Out in the wild! It pairs with an app on your phone, which allows you to choose between a bunch of different paint brands and save and organize colors you’ve scanned into collections. It’s a little addictive! Because Charleston picks paint colors really, really well, I thought I’d scan great colors here and there as we walked and put together a palette for the city! Is that fun? Not fun? I thought it was fun. Maybe we’ll do it again someday. Maybe we’ll never do it again ever. Either way, if you’re looking to inject your color scheme with some southern style, here ya go! Do with it what you will!

 

Raised Beds in the Backyard!

When I was little, before I recall having any real interest in growing flowers or trees or shrubs, my parents granted me a little territory in the backyard where I was permitted and encouraged to plant things. Tucked behind the garage and a part of the deck, this was a terraced section of the yard, each level retained by railroad-tie-style walls. It’s a set-up not uncommon for over-scaled homes built in the 1990s, where developers insisted on constructing houses whose boxy plans bore no relation to any given site’s existing topography. The land was simply built-up as needed, compacted, retained, and mulched. Consequently, the soil was difficult to plant in: rocky, full of clay, and nutrient-poor. It was shady back there, too, but I did what I could to encourage the success of my garden. My brother and sister had their own plots adjacent to mine, although I don’t remember my brother ever taking advantage of the opportunity. For her part, year after year my sister wrestled with a few strawberry plants whose results were scant at best, but found her footing more successfully with cucumbers. She took to peeling one and then perching at the kitchen counter with a paper plate of salt in front of her, eating it like a carrot and dipping the gnawed-off end onto the plate between bites. She still does this, and I still find it equal parts cute and grotesque.

Tomatoes were my thing. I don’t recall even especially liking tomatoes, but I really liked growing them. Part of it might have been that I knew my sister—who despised tomatoes—wouldn’t mess with my crops. She treated the plants like they were toxic, as though failing to give them the proper berth would result in disease or instant death. I’m not sure why sibling tampering was such a concern of mine. Would she try to…sabotage me? I can’t really say. We’re deeply competitive.

Likely due to the aforementioned sun and soil conditions, our plants’ production was never especially impressive but we didn’t know that. To us, anything our plants grew that we could eat felt like some form of low-level sorcery. Ripening tomatoes were placed in a neat row along the windowsill behind the sink, and on weekends they’d get sliced and served with bagels and lox to much fanfare and accolades. I loved it.

Then I grew up. Summers in high school tended to keep me away from home for long stretches, so it didn’t make sense to plant crops I couldn’t tend and harvest. Of course I didn’t know that over the next decade I’d find myself in a series of small urban apartments without outdoor space, occasionally entertaining the idea of one of those upside-down tomato plant grower-thingies from Skymall before forgetting about it. Then again, tomatoes were readily available at the store, and—like I said—it’s not like I even love tomatoes. I like them. I really like growing them. Outside. In the sun. And the dirt. With bugs and stuff.

SO. Then I bought a house, and shortly thereafter experienced the revelation that omg I can do that again! Technically, as it happens, some olde-timey Kingston law actually grants me the right to practice my husbandry on a whole goddamned farm. I can have chickens and goats and ducks and probably other stuff I should never, ever be allowed to know about. Can you imagine?? GOATS??? I fucking love goats. I guess let’s see how the veggies go first, though. Then we can discuss urban homesteading the shit outta this joint.

Between the asphalt-covered backyard, and the fence-building, and the front-garden-creating, and then the side-garden-planting, and the great dirt-moving effort, and SO MUCH WORK on the house, and also several other houses, it took a few years for the vegetable garden to start to become a reality.

Originally the idea was something like this. I wrote about it back in 2015. Outside of the new french doors on the garage there would be a fire pit/chill zone, and beyond that 4 large raised beds. As often happens, I’ll throw out an underdeveloped idea, and you guys help to develop it! Primary concerns were a) the location of the fire pit/chill zone is sad and b) those beds are too big to easily tend and c) pea gravel is apparently the work of the devil.

So the plan changed in subtle ways. I put the chill zone in the middle of the beds, and made the raised beds a foot narrower—bringing them down to 3 feet instead of 4 feet wide to make them easier to manage—and aligning them with the structure of the garage and the placement of the new doors. Pea gravel got replaced with reclaimed brick for improved walkability and weed prevention, and this plan felt solid enough to at least get started.

During the autumn that followed the great dirt-moving effort, I managed to build one of my raised beds and even get a coat of stain on it! I was so antsy to just get something done other than filling up the yard with soil, and wanted to see even a small part of my plan enacted just to make sure I even liked it, and that the height and length were right, that kind of thing.

In the spring, I promptly and efficiently picked up where I left off, finished the beds, got them all filled with great soil, and by mid-summer had a booming garden!

HAHAHAHA. I KID. IT DID NOT HAPPEN LIKE THAT AT ALL.

First thing’s first: Marimekko did that line of stuff for Target, so I got myself some cute chairs. I ordered a fire pit on Amazon. It was smaller than I’d imagined and arrived damaged but I was SO DETERMINED TO GET THIS PARTY STARTED that I just decided to use it rather than deal with a return.

Then I set about building the rest of the raised beds. I don’t think it’s especially useful for me to walk you through my process because I wouldn’t do it like this again if I were building these today. Basically the structure is just 1×6 pressure-treated boards attached to 4×4 pressure-treated posts, and I did most of the fastening with shanked siding nails because I was working alone and a nail gun is way easier than a drill and screws if you’re trying to hold things up at the same time.

To keep the middle from bowing out once the box was filled with dirt, I fastened these 2×2 pressure-treated stake things to the posts. They do the job.

I don’t especially know why I chose the wood I chose, but I wish I hadn’t. Pressure treated wood ALWAYS breaks my heart. I don’t know why I keep giving it the benefit of the doubt. It’s like, if you let the boards dry out before using them, they crack and warp and split. If you use them and then let them dry out, they crack and warp and split.

Unsurprisingly, my planter boxes have cracked and warped and split. Not in a way that makes them non-functional, and it’s not even that noticeable, but it is just…annoying.

If you’re interested in building similar but better raised beds, my pals Kim and Scott (sometimes we live parallel lives, I think) tackled pretty much the same project but with a few adjustments, including using 5/4″ decking boards (which are actually 1″ thick) instead of 1-by boards that are actually 3/4″ thick. They also capped off the top perimeters with a board, which looks much better and has the added benefit of obscuring the 4×4 posts.

I’d also strongly consider using cedar rather than pressure-treated, which—again—I have no idea why I didn’t do the first time around, but I didn’t. Cedar should last a comparable amount of time, and is naturally rot-resistant rather than needing to be treated. It should be noted that pressure-treated wood is made very differently than it was years ago, and seems to be now generally accepted as safe for growing edibles, but even just from a functional/aesthetic standpoint I’d prefer the cedar.

Ah well. That’s why this is not a step-by-step tutorial post. The raised beds are 3′ x 10′, and I used Cabot’s solid-color acrylic siding stain in black just on the parts that are visible with the planters filled to avoid unnecessary exposure to the soil.

If this WERE a step-by-step tutorial post, this picture PROBABLY wouldn’t make the cut. Any fledgling vegetation you think you see is just weeds. I built my raised beds in the spring with big ambitions, and then I went and tore the entire side of my house apart, which then meant wrapping up an ENORMOUS exterior project while also trying to reclaim my house as a place fit for living, attempting to pick up the tattered pieces of my kitchen, laundry room, pantry, 1/2 bath, bedroom, office, and den. So some chaos ensued. That was two years ago and I’m honestly only STARTING to feel like the house has recovered. Suffice to say there have been some decisions I would revise if given the opportunity but, of course, that’s not how life works! Lolz. *bursts into tears.*

So I built these raised beds, and then I didn’t plant a single solitary thing. Instead of filling them with soil and plants I filled them with mayhem and foolishness. That was it.

Over the course of that exterior renovation project that summer, I remember one day it felt COMPLETELY logical to spend the afternoon going to get a couple yards of stone dust, so I could begin whatever paving situation I was planning for around the beds. It’s not like there were at LEAST one thousand more pressing things to take care of.

I think by this point I’d actually calculated how many bricks I’d need, and it was almost 2,500 bricks. Which is just simply too many fucking bricks. So then I had this whole idea of using my impressive stock of bluestone slabs to do kind of a flagstone thing between and around the planter boxes.

So we spread landscape fabric and a few inches of stone dust, and then I got to work!

On other stuff. I worked on other stuff. Not my paving solution. Did I mention I wrecked the whole house at once? So my stone dust sat in these weird almost-paths with landscape fabric elegantly bordering them.

Adding insult to injury, one day I was innocently burning off-cuts of framing lumber and whatnot in the fire pit, and the fire department came. They shut that shit down. Apparently there is NO OPEN BURNING in the city of Kingston, which I kind of knew but thought a) was clearly not at all enforced, because fire pits are totally commonplace here and b) didn’t apply to manufactured fire pits, only to, ya know, that guy who wants to arrange some rocks in a circle and burn stuff in it.

Evidently I was mistaken. No open burning. No fire pit. Nobody can seem to give me a straight answer on whether this also applies to things like chimineas, which don’t exactly seem open so I’m maintaining that as an option until I inevitably buy one only to be told I just wasted hundreds of dollars, and to please keep my pyro tendencies in check.

I love burning things. I have a constant and steady supply of things to burn. Everyone back off.

By early the next spring, the situation had devolved into THIS. Feel free to note that the defunct fire pit has not moved. Also feel free to note the extreme chaos and disorder that would be…impossible not to note.

I share stuff like this not because I think embarrassing myself online is THAT fun (it’s a little fun), or because I think this is anything worth emulating, but you know what?

THIS. SHIT. IS. HARD. ALL OF IT. IT IS REALLY HARD. I AM ONE PERSON. TRYING TO DO THESE THINGS. AND THESE THINGS ARE TAKING ME YEARS. BECAUSE THEY ARE VERY BIG THINGS. AND THAT IS JUST HOW IT IS. SOMETIMES LIFE LOOKS LIKE THIS AND IT DOESN’T FEEL GOOD.

So. That’s what I have to say about that.

Like a fucking cherry on top of this shit sundae, also the tree fell. There are three other trees in the opposite corner of the backyard, but seeing as this was the ONLY remaining bit of intentional vegetation within 50 feet or so, this felt like a real slap in the face. On the bright side it was a Rose of Sharon, which I don’t actually like, so. No big loss but I was hoping to have some other stuff going on before removing it.

It wasn’t until early that summer that the beds finally got a little more attention! It was getting late in the season and I didn’t want to delay things further by worrying about giving the raised beds another coat of stain, so I just went ahead and filled them with enough soil, amended with compost, and planted stuff!

After this prolonged process, you can imagine how exciting this felt. Growing things to eat! In my very own backyard! At long last!

This was taken a few weeks after planting and before things really took off, but that summer I planted tomatoes, brussels sprouts, japanese eggplants, parsley, basil, cucumbers, and broccoli! AND IT ALL DID WELL! Like, REALLY well. TOO well. At a certain point, nobody wants your weird homegrown tomatoes anymore. Nobody is interested in your buckets of cucumbers. You can take your multiple kinds of basil and shove it all where the sun don’t shine.

NATURALLY, this coincided with the summer where I really didn’t have a kitchen. Even the makeshift kitchen wasn’t nearly as equipped for actual cooking as it ended up being as the months went on and a new kitchen didn’t magically materialize. The only functioning sink in the entire house was the original bathroom sink upstairs, a shallow double-tapped roughly 130-year-old porcelain little number that is really not ideal for washing dishes or, say, vegetables in.

This is a roundabout way of saying that a lot of those vegetables ended up making really nice compost for this year’s vegetables, and I still feel lousy about it.

ALSO. AS WE CAN ALL PLAINLY SEE. I was delusional about the amount of stone I thought I had. It’s so hard to tell when things are in piles. Then you spread them all around and it becomes painfully obvious that you have miscalculated. Maybe you spread a little more, because denial. And then you’re like, why did I spend hours spreading all these individually heavy objects out that now I have to put back? So perhaps you don’t put them back. Perhaps you decide that by seeing them all splayed about, inspiration will come. Perhaps while the inspiration is coming, you allow the spaces between them to fill with weeds that seem to overnight become as tall as you, turning your compost-from-the-dump garbage dustbowl yard into a kind of weed resort-spa.

Perhaps.

Also you may notice I built 4 planters but have planted 2. On one hand, due to the truly insane amount of produce for someone with no easy means to cook it, I’m glad for this. On the other hand, it’s just because they were still in a state that was not good for planting, i.e. full of mayhem and foolishness rather than dirt and mulch.

WHICH brings us to this summer, where things are still nuts but not as nuts. This summer I got 3 of the 4 beds planted, this time with tomatoes, collard greens, romaine, chard, japanese eggplants, basil, parsley, cilantro, cucumbers, kale, broccoli, lavender and tarragon!

Every year you learn something about what to do next year, so now I know I definitely need to do tomato cages next year (I really like Joe Gardener’s approach!), definitely don’t need this many collard greens, strawberries are still kind of a waste of time, and I really don’t eat as much parsley as I thought I did.

Oh also! You can see where I decided to put the stone to use—walls! I’ve been chipping away at building these dry-stacked stone walls to kind of separate this area from the rest of the yard. It’s slow work but each stone that gets placed represents just a littttttle bit of progress, and there’s something kind of nice and meditative about that. Isn’t THIS ENTIRE ENDEAVOR basically just…that? Stone by stone until it starts to be something.

Look at those little tiny bottom teef! Look at the size of those weeds! The weed situation is sometimes under control and other times intense and not under control. This is in large part because there’s no weed barrier around and between most of the planter boxes or anything else to discourage weeds from growing.

Which leads us: back to the original plan for pea gravel! I cannot be talked down this time for various reasons. It is practical, it is affordable, it is beautiful, it is classic, and I have loved it forever. I believe I have a healthy understanding of the pros and cons and I have decided that the pros outweigh the cons and so IT IS SETTLED.

Except for the part where all summer now I have been talking about the enormous amount of pea gravel imminently arriving in my yard, but have not actually ordered or bought any pea gravel. Like every other summer, the demands of the house renovation and other projects have forced the backyard down the list of priorities, so while I WISH this area looked a whole lot better by now—and honestly expected it to—it’s not like the tomatoes really care whether they’re surrounded by pea gravel paths or bare landscape fabric or dirt. I’m still dying to get at least some of the gravel down while the weather’s still nice, since I’m excited for it and SO TIRED of looking at this mess.

ANYWAY. Now that I have more than sufficiently whined and moaned about stuff being difficult and time-consuming and disappointingly slow, I’d like to circle back to the part at the beginning—you know, about how this is fun and satisfying. I LOVE growing food in my backyard. I LOVE puttering around the beds, pulling weeds and cutting things back, yanking out spent plants to make way for new ones, thinking about what I’ll do the same and differently next year. It’s a fucking lovely experienceand someday it’ll be beautiful, too. Stone by stone.

 

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