Berries and birdseed

I didn’t find a whole lot happening in the yard today. When I got off work, the bees were hanging around the outside of the hive and had drained the jar of sugar water Ron left for them, and the birds apparently had discovered the seed I put out for them yesterday, because it was all gone.

My neighbor’s tree, part of which extends into our yard, has lost its leaves, but there are little berries all over it. I never really noticed them before, but they’re pretty little things. I don’t know what they are. The birds must not like them. I’ve always been told that if you plant things that produce fruit, you’ll be overrun with birds, but I haven’t seen any.

That might have something to do with Red Fork’s proliferation of stray cats — two of whom were sitting in my next-door neighbor’s back yard this evening, taunting his dog.

My neighbor has this hilarious pit bull mix named Skittles who — like most of the pits I have known — seems to have more enthusiasm than intelligence.

Skittles used to have the run of her yard, but after she jumped the fence for the umpteenth time and wound up in our yard, where she joyfully plunged into the pond (and came out with her belly and hindquarters tinted a lovely shade of robin’s egg blue, thanks to the dye I added to the water to prevent algae bloom), her owner has taken to tying her up when he puts her out.

The cats apparently have figured out that she can’t reach them, because I came home from work this evening to find two of the ornery felines sitting in Skittles’ yard, safely out of her reach, staring at her with expressions of utter contempt.

Poor Skittles. No more dips in the pond, no more bounding over the fence to visit her friends, and now, to add insult to injury, she has to put up with cats invading her yard.

Those cats had better hope that cable holds….

Emily

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Great … now she thinks she’s Bob Vila

With a little phone support from Daddy (who has more plumbing experience and is better at thinking backwards and inside out than I am) and a teensy bit of elbow grease from Ron (who helped me loosen a couple of corroded copper valves and went out a couple of times to turn the main water line on and off while I stayed inside to make sure nothing leaked), I managed to replace our worn-out bathroom sink and faucet with a brand-new set tonight.

It took a lot longer than it should have, mostly because it was a plumbing project involving 20-year-old fixtures, and when you’re dealing with old plumbing, it always ends up being more complicated and time-consuming than it should be … but I got it done, and I think it looks pretty good.

This is the new sink. Notice the cool retro faucets, which Ron found at 84 Lumber for $24 — about $12 less than the set we’d picked up at Home Depot, which wasn’t nearly as interesting. There’s still some putty around the edge of the sink, which I haven’t cleaned off yet, but at least you can see what it looks like:

New sink

This next picture isn’t very exciting, but I’m proud of it anyway, because I had to replace the supply line valves, which I’d never done before (Ron actually wound up doing a lot of the work on that part, because I was on the phone with Daddy, who was trying to walk me through it, and I couldn’t hold the phone and two wrenches all at the same time), and I had to replace the trap on the drain and take a hacksaw to the PVC pipe coming out of the wall to get the new plumbing to fit right. Here is my handiwork:

New drain plumbing

I’m really happy with this project for three reasons:

1. It fixed a problem we’d been having with the water pressure in there for a couple of weeks.
2. I assembled the pop-up drain correctly on the first try. (I messed up that part last time I installed a sink.)
3. I learned some new stuff about plumbing.

The thing about home improvement that makes it frustrating is also the thing that makes it fun: Invariably, you’ll get right in the middle of a project and then run across something you weren’t expecting or hadn’t dealt with before. Sometimes that can be really frustrating, but it also keeps things interesting and forces you to learn something new every time.

Plus it gives me an excuse to spend half an hour on the phone with Daddy and make umpteen trips to the hardware store in one day … which sort of reminds me of all those times Daddy let me tag along with him on his trips to the hardware store in my hometown when I was little bitty. 🙂

Emily

Lemon balm

Another winter survivor: The lemon balm I planted next to the deck last spring had died back, but with the warm temperatures lately, it’s putting out new growth.

Not much else going on in the yard today. I put some birdseed in my feeder today, and I heard birds singing in the neighborhood, but I guess they didn’t find the food, because they didn’t come and eat it. They’ll figure it out eventually, I suppose.

I found some good articles and Web sites about various environmental issues today, though. Today’s Christian Science Monitor has an interesting story about solar-powered LED lamps that are being used to illuminate homes in rural India. According to the article, 100,000 remote villages do not have electricity, so the lamps — which run on free power from the sun — are a good alternative to kerosene lamps, which are a constant expense.

My mom was reading the Southern Illinoisan when she ran across this article about how the local Sierra Club chapter spent New Year’s Day. Every year, they go hiking in Giant City State Park and then cap the outing with a big batch of stone soup. Sounds like a good way to start the year.

While I was piddling around on the Monitor site, I found another story about the Tofte Project, a 50-year-old summer cabin on Lake Superior that was remodeled to be a highly energy-efficient, full-time residence.

I’m not sure I like the Tofte cabin as much as I like the Earthship that Ron and I visited in August 2001, but it’s still a cool project.

I’m pretty excited about our long-term plans for the house we live in now. We purposely bought something small (950 square feet) and energy-efficient so we could adapt it for solar power in the future. We use compact fluorescent lightbulbs in all our fixtures, which saves us a bundle on power bills, and we are going to get some more power strips to help eliminate phantom loads.

We had a boxelder tree removed from our back yard this fall to allow more solar gain on the south side of the house and to let more sun hit the roof, where we intend to put solar collectors (hopefully Sunballs) at some point in the future. This spring, we’re going to add some insulation and a radiant barrier to the attic and install a solar attic fan up there. We upgraded our refrigerator a few months ago, and our old dishwasher decided to retire recently, forcing us to buy a replacement model that is MUCH more efficient. We plan to swap our old electric water heater for a more efficient gas model this year as well, and we’re definitely going to replace a couple of windows that tend to be drafty.

I’m also going to get some plastic and a strip door and use it to enclose our front porch to help keep out the cold air when we open the door. It will look pretty trashy, but hey — this is Red Fork. Besides, this is just an experiment. If it makes a big difference in our power consumption, I will take it down and replace it with big windows and a storm door before next winter. If it doesn’t make a big difference, I won’t have spent a bunch of money and time on a home-improvement project that didn’t perform well enough to be cost-effective.

We’ll plant sunflowers in front of the south-facing windows this summer to reduce heat gain, and I’m hoping to find time to build myself an earthen oven and a solar oven so I can do some cooking outdoors when I don’t want to heat up the kitchen.

We’re not quite where I’d like to be yet in terms of reducing our environmental footprint, but we’re getting closer.

Emily

2006

On the way to church, I saw a squirrel scurrying around the side of a tree a couple of blocks from my house, and I noticed yet another seagull (that’s three inside of a week!) — this one gliding across I-44 near the Arkansas River.

My favorite book by Richard Bach and my favorite album by Neil Diamond are the reasons I pay so much attention to gulls. I highly recommend both. The book is very short, but it contains much wisdom. Bach is one of my favorite living authors. (I won’t say he is my top favorite, because that would put him ahead of this guy and this guy, who are not only great writers but also great friends of mine. But they are nonfiction writers, while Bach is more of a novelist/philosopher … so you can’t really compare them.)

I wish I’d had a camera in my car this morning, because when I came out of church, I noticed a big planter full of light bluish-purple and bright yellow pansies, blooming for all they were worth, with a big head of ornamental kale right in the middle. There was also a gorgeous holly nearby, absolutely covered in bright red berries. It was a different variety than the one I took a picture of yesterday in my yard, which hasn’t set fruit at all this year.

When I got home, I stepped out of the car to hear HUNDREDS of birds chirping and calling to each other all over the neighborhood. I don’t know what kind they were, but there were hundreds, if not thousands, of them all over the place — roosting in all the trees, circling in the air, perching on wires, and just generally occupying any available space.

The neighbor kids across the street were also out, enjoying the pretty weather.

What a great morning … a perfect day to go Mother Roading, which is exactly what we’re going to do this afternoon and evening. I need to go to the Apple store in OKC and pick up the OS X Tiger upgrade for my computer, and we’re going to eat at the Rock Cafe on Route 66 in Stroud.

Pretty weather, a day on Route 66, and a big plate of fried pickles washed down with sweet tea … what more could a girl want?

Hope you’re enjoying your Sunday as much as I am.

Emily

Signs of life

WOW … there is SO much going on in the yard today!

I went out to see what was happening after Ron put the dogs out and announced that there was a dandelion blooming in the back yard. It wasn’t just blooming — it had already gone to seed!

I got dressed and went out to see what else was happening in my yard. Here is what I found:

1. The dandelion
Dandelion

2. Some kind of groundcover behind the back fence
Ground cover

3. Two kinds of garlic coming up
Garlic

More garlic

4. Purple deadnettle blooming
Purple deadnettle

5. Holly
Holly

6. An old wasp’s nest and a spider web with egg sacs in it next to the front door
Wasp nest

7. Some kind of plant coming up in the flower bed (I don’t know what it is; probably a weed)
Whatsit

8. Wild carrot
Wild carrot

9. A sapling (I don’t know what kind) putting out buds. Funny … I never even noticed this thing growing next to the house, and it’s already taller than I am!
Bud

10. Those berries I was talking about the other day. Upon inspecting the leaves more closely, I realized it’s definitely not holly — the leaves are too thin and not glossy and rigid like holly — but I still have no idea what it is. Pretty, anyway.

Berries

Oh, and I heard the rooster this morning, too. We think he’s probably a little guy, because he isn’t very loud.

It’s a beautiful day, and I’m going to go spend part of it with my friend Beverly and her dog. Maybe we can go for a walk and soak up some of this gorgeous sunshine.

I’d better get offline here. I need to take a shower, figure out where I put my clicker and Scout’s old training leash, and pick up a jar of bacon bits.

If I have time this weekend, I’m going to walk along the river trail and take some pictures. A guy at work told me a trick to make my camera turn sunlight into diamonds sparkling on the water, and I want to see if I can do it. I’ll post it here if I figure it out.

Have a good day, and go play outside for a few minutes. See what there is in your yard to make you smile.

Emily

Happily Grumpy

My boss let us all leave a little early today because there wasn’t much to do, so I stopped by Grumpy’s Garden on the way home to see what was going on.

I like Grumpy’s. It’s like a little bit of Old Town Albuquerque hiding out at the corner of 15th and Owasso in Tulsa. Pinon smoke billows from the chimineas outside, and the owner just carries stuff she likes — elaborate metal bubble wands, Janis Joplin coats, jars of local honey, jewelry, broomstick skirts, Burt’s Bees products, incense, sage smudges, and a spectacular assortment of stuff for the garden. In the spring, she’ll have flat after flat of every kind of flower, herb, and vegetable seedling you can imagine. If she doesn’t have it, she probably knows where to get it.

I stopped by today just to putter around and see what was growing. Not much — it’s too cold for plants — but she had a few flats of pansies that were too stubborn to die, and a big pot of parsley was hanging in there. I bought a bottle of sandalwood oil, a crazy tie-dyed patchwork batik shirt, and a long, light brown skirt that matches a shirt I’d bought there a couple of months ago to match my favorite Birkenstocks.

Ron said he was cleaning up the yard today when he heard a rooster crowing its head off somewhere to the east of us.

I don’t want a rooster, but I want some hens.

OK, that’s not really true. What I really want is a flock of Coturnix quail. And some meat rabbits. And a pony. (OK, so a Clydesdale filly is not exactly a pony. But Clydesdales are nicer than ponies, and much easier to handle.)

But I can’t really afford a horse, and if my friend Rich found out about the rabbits, he’d never speak to me again. So I’d settle for the quail.

Ron should say yes to quail. A few little birds can’t be that much trouble. I’ve heard their eggs taste good. They would help keep bugs out of the garden. And if I had little birds, I couldn’t have a cat (which I really want, and which Ron really doesn’t want), because it would eat them.

Besides, little birds are cheaper than a pony.

Maybe Ron could get me some little birds for my birthday this spring. That would be nice. I like little birds. 🙂

Emily

Mystery berries

Today’s project: Try to ascertain exactly what I have growing in my front yard. It’s too dark to take a picture right now, so I’ll have to wait until this weekend, but I have a pair of large evergreen bushes in my yard. They have flat leaves instead of needles. The leaves are shaped sort of like a bay leaf. This fall, they produced a prodigious amount of little white flowers, which eventually gave way to little orange berries encased in white husks. The husks have mostly disappeared at this point, leaving the little fruit.

The leaves make me think what we have are Burford hollies, but the berries look more like bittersweet. I know it can’t be bittersweet, because it’s an evergreen (bittersweet is deciduous), and the growth habit is different.

I’ll post a picture sometime in the next few days and let any botanists out there have a go at it. I suppose I could get off my duff and snip a sample to take to the extension service, but that would be too much like work.

I hope we get some rain here soon. They’ve banned fireworks at New Year’s because our recent drought has turned most of eastern Oklahoma into a giant tinderbox, but I don’t see the citizens of Red Fork honoring that ban this weekend. A good soak tonight or tomorrow would go a long way toward preventing any mishaps if someone gets carried away with the sparklers Saturday night.

Have a good evening, wherever you are. Time to slip into the kitchen and see what I can rustle up for dinner. Somebody on a forum I frequent mentioned Vegemite today, so I’m thinking supper might involve Marmite (the British knockoff of Vegemite that we get at the health-food store here in Tulsa) and tahini on toast. Too bad I don’t have any homegrown tomatoes this time of year.

Ah, well. Summer will be here eventually. In the meantime, you can start making your wish list and planning your garden here.

Emily,
thinking that the best thing about winter is that it makes you appreciate summer more.

Sustainability on a shoestring