Home & Garden

Home is …


Home is not where I am right now. Four months ago we sold our home, our house, in San Jose and moved into these apartments, also in the city, while we continue to look for our dream home, the home of our hearts.  We went from a 6,000 sq ft lot with a 2,500 sq ft house to a 700 sq ft apt surrounded by, well, cement and lots of other people. Most of our stuff is in storage. Our desks. Our  ergonomic office chairs. My art supplies. My blue and white collections. The tole trays that hung on the wall. The artwork chosen so carefully over the years. My husband’s D&D books. Most of his cookbooks. Yes, it is only stuff but it was the stuff that surrounded our house, the stuff that hung on the walls and filled the shelves and helped turn our house into a home.  We could have brought a few things with us, things to hang on the walls perhaps and try to claim this sterile space as our own but I confess, it was too hard to make those sorts of decisions in the last days of packing to get out of our house before escrow closed. And even then there are things we brought to the apartment that we eventually had to move to storage because there wasn’t enough room. And we pay $500 a month for the privilege of not having our stuff with us. Seems like there is good money to be made in renting out storage units.

Yes, this is a bit of a whine because we have been here long enough for the novelty of it all to wear off. I miss my own office space and I know my husband misses his. I miss my own dirt to dig in and funny things like the hose at the kitchen sink or my own washer and dryer and walls that aren’t white. I miss having a day when I can just let Zoey out in the yard because I am head down to the computer and want to keep working but she needs to take care of business and while we are here, that means putting her on a leash and going for a walk. And yes, walking is good and I am walking more now than I have in years but I am just going to say it, I am tired of being here in this apartment. Very tired of it all. And I know it could be months, another year even, until we find a place to buy.

It’s hard to wait.

Right now the kitchen table that used to sit in the sunny breakfast nook is being used as a desk by my husband, for both his work and home computers, and my corner of it is an end table for my phone and coffee cup. I work with my laptop on a lapdesk which is balanced between my legs on a pillow because I can’t have the weight of it all on my legs or my knees.

Another thing I miss. My big monitor. Editing photos on the laptop is hard. Every flat surface in the apartment is covered with just the day-to-day living things. Zoey’s leashes hang on the coat rack along with the bags for grocery shopping, the hats for walking, the backpacks and computer bags and the occasional coat all piled on top of each other out in the open because of course there is no coat closet in the hallway to keep these things out of sight. So much visual noise. Toilet paper and paper towels are stored in the only closet we have, in the bedroom. Houseplants are taking up valuable surface space and I am about ready to move them out to the patio (where they will slowly die or collect bugs or both) because I could use the space they are taking up but they also soften some of the sterile feel of the place so I keep flip-flopping back and forth.

If you have to live in an apartment it is not a bad place to live. If you follow me on Facebook you’ve seen the pictures and you know there are lots of dogs around and Zoey gets lots of doggy social time. It’s nice place to live but it’s not home.

Billy Joel has a song about how the person he loves is always his home and if I were a better person I would say to my husband, “This is enough. I have you, I have Zoey, it’s okay.”  And most of the time it is. But I do not want to grow old and gray living in this apartment.

The silver lining, because of course I must look for one even while I whine, is that we are learning what stuff we truly miss and what stuff we will be able to let go of in a new place.  We are learning how much space we really need to live in and how how we want to fill it. We are weighing our wants and needs and, luckily, we are both on the same page with about just about all of them. But that knowledge can’t help us pick a home in a real estate market with so few options in the areas where we want to live.

I have never been good with delayed gratification.

More silver linings. There is more time to do things because there is so much less upkeep around the apartment. I spend the time walking and writing and taking photos. (I do not spend the time making art because, see above, art supplies in storage. I did not think I would miss it as much as I do.) There are lots of dogs running around which means lots of opportunities for me to practice my photography skills. There’s a pick-up game of Ultimate Frisbee twice a week which gives me more photography practice. On Sundays the food trucks from Moveable Feast are here and we can walk down to the park and get something to eat and listen to the music and watch the kids chase giant bubble across the grass. My husband and I are both introverts but being here, taking Zoey out to visit with her doggy friends, it is helping us get better at speaking with strangers, making small talk. Hubby is a mile from work. There are swimming pools and water fountains and plants and fitness centers and maintenance men to come fix things when they break. They even replace the light bulbs.

Sometimes looking for silver linings is not enough. Sometimes it is all we have while we continue to find our way home.

Home is not where I am, yet.




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Wednesday, September 10, 2014|Categories: Home & Garden||4 Comments

How many birds can fit on a bubbling rock?

I heard a lot of bird chatter out back late this afternoon and went to the window to see if any birds were playing in the water. I took these pictures through the window (gonna have to wash them soon if this keeps up.)  Across about 10 minutes I took over 100 pictures. I kept waiting, wondering how many birds would land on the rock at the same time.

Poor lonely bubbling rock. Maybe some birds will come to visit soon.

One bird.








I actually think there might have been more than eight on there at one time but I was so memorized watching them swoop in, race off, and swoop back that I forgot to grab the camera right away.

Thursday, August 11, 2011|Categories: Home & Garden|Tags: , |20 Comments

The new floor – before and after

We are coming to the end of the house makeover. The floors were finished today, except for some painting of the baseboards. A few more little things to finish and I hope we can start moving the furniture back into place (and out of my office) this week.

Before we had white ceramic tile just over most of the area. It gave the house a very cold feeling, not the comfy and welcoming one that we wanted. The flooring is EcoTimber woven strand bamboo in amber. It’s tough stuff.

I plan to be back to the blogging world soon. Really.

Monday, November 29, 2010|Categories: Home & Garden|Tags: |15 Comments

New library bookcases!

aaDSC04267, originally uploaded by susanwrites.

I’m so excited. The new shelves for the library were just delivered and they are even more beautiful that I had imagined. I can’t wait for our carpenter friend to come over tonight to help us attach them to the walls, remove some backings for the electronics and bolt them all together.

Can’t wait to put all the books back on there again!

Friday, October 29, 2010|Categories: Home & Garden|Tags: , , |16 Comments

In which I return to blogging and explain what I've been up to lately

So it looks like I unintentionally took the month of August off from blogging. I think I needed the break. But now, in a rambling order that will likely repeat some things some of you might have read on Facebook updates, I’ll let you know what’s been going on. Because I know you’ve been waiting to hear. Really. I could hear you whispering. But I’ll warn you right now this is long and you can feel free to skip.

It started with the garage. I really only planned to hire someone to rip out the old cabinets and finish off the sheet rock but then I took a look at the list of things that we were going to do "one of these days" and decided that one of these days was now. In the last month we have (with the help of the handyman, sheet rock guy, electrician, painter, plumbers, and the checkbook:

ripped out old cabinets in the garage
insulated and sheetrocked the garage
installed new shelves in the garage and then transferred all the junk from broken cardboard boxes to nice plastic storage containers
had track lighting installed in the library and in my office (each of which entailed a new electrical nightmare)
new ceiling fans in the library, my office, the bedroom and my husband’s office (more electrical nightmares for each of these)
new whole house fan installed (more electrical…well you get the idea. The electrical in this house was a mess.)
new recessed lighting in the living room, dining room, kitchen
new lighting that turns on when you walk in the room in the laundry room and the pantry
new lighting in the entry hall
moved/combined a total of 11 switches
installed a banister and post where there once was none
opened up the wall over the fridge for an over the fridge cabinet (still waiting for that to be built and installed)
repaired the sagging ceiling in the living room and the dining room due to poor installation from the previous owner
repaired/replaced a ton of sheet rock, floated new mud and texture over entry hall, dining room and living room
installed new window and door moldings throughout the house.

Each of those things meant making a lot decisions, where did I want the new light fixtures and what kind of light fixtures did I want and where did the switches need to go.

Going on right now is new copper piping throughout the house which means more holes in different pieces of sheet rock and more repairs.

Coming up next is the install of new faucets in the kitchen and the bathroom and I sure hope finding the right colors and styles was the worst of that but with this house I’ve learned anything is possible. And because of the new faucet in the bathroom the hardware on the cabinets needs to be replaced. Normally that would be easy but the cabinets have backplates and they are a large size which means there aren’t a lot to choose from and they are hard to find. I’d remove the backplates but then you’d see the holes in the cabinets and that’s not going to work for me.

Also going on right now is painting the entry hall, dining room, living room, kitchen two bathrooms, stairwell, hallways, an office, a work-out room and a bedroom. All that new molding and newly textured walls will need to be primed before getting painted. And all that paint meant a ton of decision-making over the various colors. In order to paint we need to empty and move two china cabinets and a bar filled with glassware.

Also coming up is the removal of all the ceramic tile in the entry hall, dining room and the kitchen.  A LOT of tile. Think war-zone with all the dust. After that the wood floor will go down. And then I’ll likely collapse.

It’s not that it will be done but this phase will be. I hope it’s finished by Halloween. Please.

If I was able to do the light and breezy funny kind of updates I might have kept on blogging this month but as is my way, I feel everything deeply, even house renovations. And some people were worrying about me being so intense about it all so I just figured to keep it more to myself for a while. Because the intense stuff, well, that’s just who I am and it’s not likely to change. Everything I feel, I feel deeply. And that includes things like picking the right color of paint. 🙂

But I have been writing in the evenings once the house is quiet, working on the YA verse novel that has evolved from the poems I did about my father for National Poetry Month. It’s slow progress, but it’s progress. And I’m hosting Poetry Friday this week.

So yeah, I think I’m back.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010|Categories: Home & Garden|Tags: |12 Comments

Friday Five – The Electricial Home Edition

I have been MIA from the online world for a while while we have had so many workers taking care of things around the house. While it’s nice to get things done, it’s very hard for this introvert to deal with having people here all the time. Hopefully the electrician only has a few more days of work, then it will be just me and the handyman and the painters I have yet to hire.

So for this Friday five, here are my favorite electrical things that have been done around the house these past few weeks.

1. All the lighting work in my office. Track lighting where there once was none has eliminated three lamps. The new ceiling fan does a great job moving the air around. And then there’s the rope lighting on the ledge in my office that delicately lights the word “IMAGINE.” Everything totally ups the  “makes me happy to be in my office” factor, .

2. Additional track lighting in the library (got rid of yet another lamp) and another new ceiling fan.

3. Motion detector light in the laundry room/pantry that actually works with updated light fixtures that give off actual light.

4. The elimination/combination of way too many switches and dimmers into single switches. We used to have to turn on 3 switches to turn on each light in the living room. Now one light turns/dims them all. In the entry hall alone there were 9 switches in 3 different faceplate, each with 2/3 switches. Now there is a single 4 plate line of switches to take care of everything. On the other side of the room there were light switches behind the columns that have been moved and combined with the more easily accessible light switch at the end of the wall. So much cleaner. Well, except for the fact that there are holes in the sheetrock all over the place for the fishing/moving of wires.

5. The new lights in the kitchen. While I’m not a fan of the design of the lights, the function is superb. We have several slanted ceilings in the kitchen which look nice but the previous owners installed the recessed lighting on the angle effecting lighting the walls and not the actual kitchen. We installed new lights that telescope at a bit of an angle so the light actually points down, where it should. Loverly!

Friday, July 30, 2010|Categories: Home & Garden|Tags: , |5 Comments

Smilacina stellata – False Solomons Seal

Smilacina stellata, originally uploaded by susanwrites.

New photos added to the Flickr album of California native plants.
This is Smilacina stellata False Solomons Seal

Friday, March 19, 2010|Categories: Home & Garden|Tags: |5 Comments

Ceanothus 'Ray Hartman'

Ceanothus ‘Ray Hartman’, originally uploaded by susanwrites.

New photos added to the Flickr album of native plants in the backyard.
This is Ceanothus ‘Ray Hartman’

Friday, March 19, 2010|Categories: Home & Garden|Tags: |6 Comments

Dicentra formosa, Bleeding Heart

Dicentra formosa, originally uploaded by susanwrites.

New photos added to the Flickr album of native plants in the backyard.
This is Dicentra formosa, Bleeding Heart

Friday, March 19, 2010|Categories: Home & Garden|Tags: |0 Comments

When gardens and words collide

I was thinking about my new garden and how it all came to be and how much creating it is like writing a book.

I didn’t know anything about California Native Plants when started it so I went and got a bunch of books and read and read and then I read some more. Then I joined a native plant discussion group and listened to people share their stories. And I visiting gardens and took notes on what I saw. Then I came home and read some more.

And out of the research a garden took shape. Just like a book.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009|Categories: Home & Garden|Tags: |1 Comment

From city lot to wildlife habitat with California Native plants.

I finally got the first album together on the transformation of our yard from a boring city lot into a California native plant wildlife habitat. If for some reason the pictures don’t load, you can go here to see the whole album. I tried to get after shots from the same angle as the before ones.

Most of this was installed in the fall of 2008. We already have tons of bugs, bees, native wasps, butterflies, worms, lizards and birds. I can’t wait to see what we have after it fills in.

All the hills and berms were created with the dirt they excavated for the new driveway. Weeds have been very few and easy to manage. Before we planted we put down newspaper or cardboard and then after planting we added 4″ of mulch.

What we started with. the fence was falling apart. The Mayten tree lost branches in every storm and offered nothing for wildlife. The lawn sucked up water like crazy.

From Before/After

After, new fence. New paver driveway, unsealed, to allow water to seep in. Downspouts run from the roof, under the courtyard and out to the dry creek. New roof which meant new gutters which are larger than the old ones and will collect even more water. No lawn but we got a rebate from the water district for taking it out.

From Before/After

Backyard corner before. Old fence. Diseased citrus trees. Rest of the plants offered nothing for wildlife. More thirsty lawn,

From Before/After

Same corner, after. I still have to dig out the dirt under the glider to level it. A clemetis will climb the arbor as will a pipevine. There’s a new hedgerow planted at the back fence.

From Before/After

Backyard before, facing my office. The Japanese Maple tree is the only thing we kept. the path went nowhere.

From Before/After

Backyard facing my office now.

From Before/After

Standing on the back stoop before.

From Before/After

Standing on the back stoop after. That’s Cassie’s hill where she likes to rest and survey her kingdom.

From Before/After

Another view from before.

From Before/After

Same view after. The wax myrtles against the fence will be a continual feast for the birds and a great screen from the blecky neighbor.

From Before/After

Sideyard before.

From Before/After

Sideyard after. Filled with dogwoods.

From Before/After

Front before. so much cemener and no way to hide the ugly motorhome that never moves.

From Before/After

Same view after. We can’t take down the fence because it is in their driveway but the lattice will soon be covered with native grapes and the Ceanothus Ray Hartmans and Toyons will get tall enough to block the view.

From Before/After

More before and afters here .

Monday, August 3, 2009|Categories: Home & Garden|Tags: |32 Comments

Happy Birthday to Me – It's a Garden Party

Today is my birthday. I plan to spend the day doing pretty much whatever I want. I think that will be working on the photos to get my garden blog launched and online. So to get me in the mood, and in keeping with my fairly new tradition of asking for what I want, I am asking those of you who stop by to share a garden or nature memory with me. Either from childhood or from now…but I’d love to know what you love about the garden or plants or something that surprised you in a garden once.

Here’s one of mine. I remember very vividly planting nasturtiums in an egg carton in a class at school I don’t know what grade, maybe 1st or 2nd. And I remember bringing them home and my grandmother really not wanting them in her garden for some reason or another. Still she gave me a little patch of dirt and I tore apart those egg carton sections and planted those little seedlings in the ground. Year after year when they continued to spread and bloom I would get happy just looking at their smiling faces.

And even though nasturtiums aren’t a California native plant, I am tempting to plant a pot of them just for old time’s sake.

Thanks in advance for helping my memory garden grow.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009|Categories: Home & Garden|Tags: |86 Comments

In my garden today

I spent all day working in the garden and kept the camera nearby to catch any visitors. I’m used to the bumblebees and the big fat carpenter bees but this was a new one feasting on the Clarkias today. His abdomen was very flat. I haven’t been able to ID it yet. Any bee experts want to give it a shot?

This moth was hiding under the Mimulus guttatus.

Damselfly but I can’t id what kind.

Strange bee chasing creature working on her suntan.

Monday, May 25, 2009|Categories: Home & Garden|Tags: |4 Comments

In my garden today

We recently put a pondless water feature in our backyard. I got the idea from  . Originally I had a different fountain head on it and the water was just burbling up the top and down the side. The birds ignored it. The hummingbirds would come by but not stop. So I switched the fountain head and everyone seems happy now. 

This was a really simply project. We sunk a feed bucket in ground. Put in a solar pump. Put in an auto-fill float valve like you use in the toilet. Ran the hose over to the faucet and buried it. We put a barbecue grate over the bucket and ran the tube up the grate and up the center of the rock. Then we covered the grate with rocks. The panel for the solar pamp is off to the side on the arbor.

Saturday, May 23, 2009|Categories: Home & Garden|Tags: |12 Comments

Saturday Six – The Backyward Wildlife Edition

1. We have a possum visiting our yard every night. This does not make Cassie happy. The possum pokes his (her?) head up over the fence and Cassie is ringing the bells like crazy for me to let her outside. She charges up the hill and barks her alarm back until the possum disappears. Even then she has to patrol for another ten minutes to makes sure he doesn’t return. I feel badly for the possum but it’s fun to see Cassie’s instincts kick in. She doesn’t bark at squirrels or cats in the yard.

2. I have a lone, non-native sunflower in my yard. By the time I figured out what it was the flower was about to open so I decided to leave it for the birds. A few days ago I noticed something was eating the leaves. I figured it was snails and made a mental note to put out some Sluggo. Yesterday I saw two finches clinging to the stalk of the flower eating the leaves. Who knew?

3. I found a dead hummingbird in the yard which always makes me sad. Actually he was still alive when I found him, (didn’t pick him up but found him still breathing on the ground) but he died right away. I don’t know if he ran into a window or if a cat swatted at him or what. I was afraid that was my one hummer but lately there’s been another one flitting through the yard which perked me up again.

4. I have my beautiful new birdbath set up in the backyard. The Japanese maple tree is right there for quick cover and escape. I have a steady drip, drip, drip that goes on several times a day. But no birds are using it at all and I can’t figure out why.

5. Long before we actually began planting in the yard I have been cultivating a few plants I brought over from my last place. One of these has been our native dichondra. I put a lot of it in-between stepping stones on the dogwood side of the house and have been growing more to cover a berm that is under the Japanese maple tree. A few weeks ago I decided I had enough starts to plant. They were just little pieces, maybe a couple of inches long. I covered the berm and within a few days half of them were gone, pulled up and dried out before I could get to them to put them back in the ground. I blamed Cassie. She doesn’t normally pull plants up but since she likes to lay in that spot I figured they must have just gotten pushed around before they got rooted.  (The whole reason I want to cover it with dichondra is to give her a cool place to lay down.) I replanted a few more, larger pieces that I thought had a chance of standing up to Cassie. Then I forgot about it. A few days later I looked out the window and saw a dove gathering twigs for her nest. It was fascinating to watch her pick up a twig, discard it for some reason, pick up another one and then fly off to the neighbor’s house where she is building it. She did this 5 or 6 times and then when she came back she stopped picking up twigs and instead, she started plucking out my dichondra! She stole at least 5 of the newly planted pieces and destroyed most of the one big patch that was left. I wanted to be frustrated but couldn’t. Next year she’ll have a bigger patch to choose from.

6. And last but not least, this made me sooo happy today. The whole idea of putting in a native plant garden was to invite native wildlife into our yard. I went out to the courtyard this morning to top off the wine barrel pond and what did I see darting across the stones? A lizard! Yipee!

Saturday, May 16, 2009|Categories: Home & Garden|Tags: , |2 Comments

House tales – The creekbed

Okay, I thought I’d post the evolution of the creekbed, though it is not yet 100% it is closer to being done.

You can click through any photos to the larger pics or the full album.

This is what we started with.

Way too much cement for our liking.

Took out the driveway and replaced it with lovely pavers.

Took out the lawn.

Replaced the fence around the courtyard and started on the creek. It’s not deep enough yet.
Note the two drain pipes sticking up – they are the end of the downspouts which have been run under the courtyard and then underground so that the rainwater will go to the creek.

Looking deeper.

With the rocks. But somehow when we placed the rocks, we spread too far and it ended up looking more like a drain ditch. Plus we had no boulders. I went looking on craigslist for rocks.

Saturday we spent all day reshaping the creekbed and placing the boulders.

What a difference! There is still more to do. The big rock at the top of the creek needs to go a bit more in the ground, as much as it can. There’s a pipe sleeve under there for my solar wires so it can’t go too deep. I’ll add some dirt around the front of it and then of course we need more plants!

Here, for side by side comparisions.
P1100056 P1110062

Tired now. But happy.

Sunday, January 11, 2009|Categories: Home & Garden|Tags: |7 Comments

Saturday thoughts

A productive day.

Up early (not by choice, thank you Cassie) and I sorting through a stack of poems for a novel in verse that I had started two years ago. I have 32 poems but probably 1/3 of them don’t belong in this book. I am torn on the direction of the plot. I find that I have pieces of Hugging the Rock, piece of Plant Kid and piece of something else. It may turn out that none of those belong in the book and all I really have is one poem. Time will tell.

I’ve also sorted through the bulk of the poems I want to use in the juvenile hall poetry workshop that starts Monday. I am nervous. Nervous in the way that one who hasn’t taught or spoken for over a year often is. I realize the things I fear most are that my memory is going – I can’t pull things up from the recesses of my brain as fast as I used to. I’ll bring a big bag of tricks with me to fill the dead air.

At noon we headed outside to work in the yard. It was a lovely, sunny day here and we worked outside until the moon came up. The only thing, and I mean the ONLY thing we did, was work on reshaping the creekbed. Somehow when we added the rocks it sprawled wider than I had intended and ended up looking more like a flatened drainage ditch. Plus it was missing big rocks. I finally found some rocks on craigslist and today was the day of removing creekbed rocks, digging holes, and sinking the big rocks into the creekbed. A lot of artistic decisions went into the reshaping effort. It’s not all done but probably 90%. (It was too dark for taking pictures by the time we were done.) I still need to remove some more small rocks, add some pebbles to the center of the creek and then add more plants. Yes, MORE plants.

I’m so sore that all I can do is sit here on the couch and veg out in front of the tv but it is a good kind of sore from a hard day’s work.

Saturday, January 10, 2009|Categories: Home & Garden|Tags: |2 Comments

Craigslist score!

It is ridiculous to be so happy about this….about paying money for rocks….but I am.

One we bought all (most) of the plants for the front and the back yard and 8.5 yards of mulch and 3 tons of rock for the creek bed and 3 tons of bluestone for the path and the patio and all the other stuff we’ve been doing outside, well, there was still something missing. Rocks. Boulders. Varying sizes to put near the manzanitas and to ground the creek bed and more. We went to the rockyard to look but sheesh, rocks are sooooo expensive that I couldn’t bring myself to buy them. Yet.

I’ve been scouring craigslist regularly, hoping to get lucky and today I did.

34 rocks. 31 of them are 1-2 head size and 3 of them are huge. Total cost? $100.

Now to figure out where they all go.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008|Categories: Home & Garden|Tags: |14 Comments

An update of sorts

It seems like all I have managed lately has been the Tuesday memory challenges. The more overwhelmed I get, the harder it is to post. I’ve never mastered the short little updates but maybe things will change come November.

The short version.

I’m working the day job. Still. 11 working days left. Which doesn’t sound like many and it isn’t but still, I have to be there and that is hard. I’m not really involved in anything and everyone who is left is working to build the “new” company. I’m very much on the outside which is tough, even though it isn’t a company I want to continue to work for anymore. Sigh.

I’m cramming in all the doctor and dentist appointments I can before my insurance changes and also because we need to use up the flex care reimbursement or else we lose it. Sigh. Which means next week I am having oral surgery. Yuck. But there will be pain pills. Yeah! But the day after the oral surgery when I will loopy on pain pills I have a meeting all about something to do with the layoff and the Trade Adjustment Assistance that I may or may not be able to get help from. I don’t know. Lots of stuff to concentrate on when I will be either in pain or on pain pills. Neither sounds good.

I’m worrying about both my kids. For different reasons. Never-ending sighs.

I’m working with our new dog. Which is wonderful. And time consuming. And exhausting. But wonderful. 🙂

But mostly I am working on the yard. This is the perfect time for planting the native plants. Here are a few pics of what we’ve been doing all day every weekend during daylight hours. When I am home and not planting and not working with the dog I’m researching plants and second and third guessing myself. But that’s okay. We’re having fun.

The backyard corner outside my office as it was when we bought the house.

The same area now. The blue stone patio with woolly thyme in-between the stones. On the left, in the front, is a hazelnut. Back in the corner is a spice bush. The pile of rocks is the base for what will be one of the bird bath boulders. Those are rocks that I have collected from the yard. One by one. It sounds like hard work but I’d rather pick up rock than battle Bermuda grass.

This is the rest of the backyard mostly as it was when we bought it. We took out all the plants at the fence.

This is the yard now, after the planting. (shot from the other end of the yard.) The fence line is planted with toyon, coffeeberry, ceanothus and mountain mahogny, 2 to 3 of each. Lots of good stuff for wildlife. There is space, I hope, against the back of the fence for Cassie to run as she chases the squirrels. Against the house are a pair of Catalina Ironwood. I’m still trying to decide what to do in the open area. For now it will likely be mini bark with some native lawn area. At the far end are a pair of coyote bushes and a pair (yes I am insane) of Blue elderberries. We have overplanted and probably make master garderners everywhere scream and thump their heads against a stump but we are planting a yard we love. We want dense privacy at that back fence, not just for critters, but for us too. My only worries is the battle we will soon start to fight with the rats that are under the gazebo in the yard next door. The people won’t do anything about them. So let the trapping begin. Rat zappers really do work.

This is Cassie’s “hill” that I hope I don’t regret. If she figures out she can jump before the fence area gets filled in, she could go over the backside. That’s a wax myrtle in the corner. I hope it lives but I won’t be surprised if it doesn’t. We tried one at the rental house just a few miles from here and it fried. Quickly. But it is great for the birds so I hope it lives. Not that you can really see it but there is black sage that will be coming down the hill.

This weekend is a bit about rock and digging a hole for the front yard water feature. The weekend after that will be bark. And planting the meadow in the front yard.

Then we hope for rain.

And maybe next year we can be certified as a Wildlife Habitat.

Monday, October 13, 2008|Categories: Home & Garden|Tags: , |11 Comments

This post is not about writing

This post is not about writing.

It’s about gardening.

About MY garden in the middle of the city of San Jose and the work we are doing to make it into a California Native Plant garden and native wildlife habitat.

I live in a regular neighborhood filled with lawns and standard shrubs and standard trees in the middle of their standard lawns. The yards are all, to me, very boring. But those yards, for the most part, make the owners of their homes happy and that’s fine. They keep their places clean and picked up and that’s all that matters to me.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion and everyone has one, that’s for sure.

Last week I ordered a bunch of plants from Yerba Buena nursery. Normally I would really want to go pick out all the plants myself but in the essence of time, I trusted the crew at Yerba Buena to deliver beautiful plants and they did. The nominal $30 delivery was money well spent in my book. My husband had finished the dirt moving and creek bed digging. I had finished the first stage of pondering the plants, the background base shrubs, for the first stage of planting. I was excited and ready to begin.

Sunday morning I started moving cans around, playing with the placement until my husband came out with the shovel and said simply, "Dig now, right?"

And so it began. I won’t go into all the plants we planted (saving something for new gardening blog.)

There is one person in the neighborhood that just can’t understand why I am planting what I am planting. Why I am obsessed with native plants. This weekend, as we worked, she proceeded to tell me I should have just bought a house in the mountains if I wanted all that nature, that I should get used to the fact that I live in the city. She laughed and said we would have tons of weeding to do. (Which we will. Planting disturbs the soil which disturbs the weed bank and we do all weeding by hand.) She complained that all the stuff we were doing to the yard was kicking up dust in her house. I was kind. I did not point out the fact that she kept her screenless windows open all the time might have something to do with the dust issue. She will never understand nor appreciate what I am trying to do. I shouldn’t care but she lives close enough that I can’t ignore her. She puffed her cigarette in our faces and then got mad when we asked her to move away.

I’ve been studying California native plants and local native gardens for the last few years. Studying them merely as someone who enjoys plants and wildlife in the yard, as a hobbyist, not as a scientist. My brain can’t wrap itself around the Latin names for the plant (which upsets a great many people in the native plant community) and I don’t hold the information about most of the plants in my brain for long. And I don’t care. (Something else that upsets some people in the native plant community.) I am not a landscape designed or a master gardener. I don’t care to be, I want to learn enough to plant and enjoy my yard. If I had a larger plot of land, something more than my overgraded lot in the middle of big city, I would concentrate on a more pure approach. But I don’t. Yes, I care about the environment and yes I am trying to plant responsibility, we did, after all, remove both water thirsty lawns and the replacement landscapes will be much less thirsty once established. But I am not trying to replicate what my tiny piece of land might have looked like 100 years or more ago. If that makes me a bad conservator of my property, I’m sorry.

When I learn something new I read a lot of books and ask a lot of questions. For native plants I turned to the native plants listserv and asked the experts all sorts of things. I’m sure some of my questions are very basic but for the most part, everyone is very kind. But some people are not. And by this I don’t mean just on the lists I read but people I met, on and offline, everywhere.

Some people seem to delight in waiting for someone (not just me) to ask a question just so they can pounce. Sometimes they want to show off their own knowledge. Sometimes they want to push their own agenda. Sometimes, I think, they are just mean people who are always spoiling for a fight. It is exhausting. Planning and planting a garden of any kind should be a fun experience. There is a certain joy that comes in planting something, watching it grow, seeing the birds, bees, butterflies and bugs that come to feast. This is a certain sadness that comes when you make a wrong choice and the plant dies or you make a poor choice and the environment doesn’t respond to the plant in the way you had hoped. You gnash your teeth and being to revise your plan. You learn from the sidestep. You pluck the plant out of the ground, replace it with something else, nurture it or not (depending on the plant) and hope the next version of your garden story has a happy ending.

But the thing is, you have to do it yourself. Any number of people telling you what did or didn’t work for them is just advice you need to filter through your own system. When someone starts a conversation with me about plants and I share what I am trying, I don’t expect to hear that it is perfect. I don’t expect to hear that I nailed it. I like to hear that it has promise. That I made interesting choices. That they will be interested in seeing how it all turns out.

When someone responds with a list of plants that they like best, (ignoring the fact that it is my yard) with things that they think are wrong with all of my choices, well, it knocks me down a bit. Or a lot as was the case this week.

For the past few years I have held in my mind the goal of being on the Native Plant Garden tour someday. Now I’m not so sure it really matters. I don’t want a bunch of people coming through my yard telling me that I should have planted one thing farther from something else, that another plant wants more sun than I am giving it, that my mulch is all wrong, and basically making me feel bad about what I have done in my yard. I know, no one can make me feel inferior without my permission (Thank you, Eleanor) but still, it hurts because it is a rejection of my work and it is a work in progress. I am still learning. Yes, some people’s advice can save me some money and some pain and some frustration. But there is a way to give advice that some people have yet to learn.

I need to remember it is my yard. I need to take joy in the planning, the planting, watching the garden grow and seeing the wildlife come to visit.

I need to remember that it is my yard, my process, my journey and my garden story to tell, for better or worse.

This is just ramble, a sound-off of sorts.

This post is not about writing.

Or maybe it is.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008|Categories: Home & Garden|Tags: |17 Comments

The yard in progress

I’m way behind on posting the variety of things we’ve done around the yard but as we are coming up on the end of the hardscaping, here are a few pictures.

First thing we did was the sideyard. This goes from the front courtyard to the backyard. When we bought the house a year and a half ago it looked like this.  When we moved in – a clean sideyard, standing in the backyard looking toward the courtyard.

After the cement was removed.

It is now planted with redtwig dogwoods and yerba buena. I’ve still got to get in there and replace the decomposed granite in-between the stones that I can’t stand to look at anymore. I’ll put in some soil and a lot more yerba buena. The dogwoods should grow up and over each other and give a nice archway. Once I have shade I can fill it in with more shade plants.
The house before we did anything. Okay, we did remove the fountain that you can see to the side of the garage. It had cherubs. Not quite our style.

A closer look at the front with the old fence and the Mayten tree that kept dropping giant branches in each storm. Note the large quantities of stone/concrete/non-peremable surfaces.

After the new paver driveway and paver courtyard.

Minus the Mayten tree and with a new fence. I LOVE the gate. Next up here is to finish digging the creek which will capture the water from the downspouts which has been piped out to it. Plus rearrange the mound so it looks natural and not like a burial mound. Not as easy as it sounds.

A corner of the backyard. More aggregate, a path that goes nowhere. Thirsty grass. Boring. Plants that have no wildlife value.

The sliding doors are to my office.

The path is gone. The grass was the next to go.

This weekend my husband finished laying the stone patio. Now I have to plant in-between everything.

Whew! Just looking at all this pictures again has me exhausted! Next weekend it’s shopping for boulders! Plus there’s a little matter of a light that comes up in the yard that we can’t figure out how to turn on. No switches in the house work it. No timer in the garage. No idea. And we’re not handy enough to figure one out on our own. Time to go looking for an electrician.

Monday, September 22, 2008|Categories: Home & Garden|Tags: |20 Comments

My favorite flower for Jen's birthday bouqet

 is gathering flowers for a virtual birthday bouquet. She asked for our favorite flowers. Well heck, here I am in the middle of planning my native garden, no flowers at all at the moment, and she wants me to pick just one? I can’t I tell you, I just can’t. 

California has so many beautiful native flowers that it really hard to just pick one to highlight. Consistently though my heart warms when I think of the sturdy yet stunning and dependable Ceanothus, the native California Liliac. 


the colors range from deep blue to lilac to white.



What I love about this plant is how I can ignore it and it rewards me with evergreen beauty and beautiful blossoms. Plant it in the fall, water it once a week the first year (in the summer), maybe once a month in the summer the second year, and after that, you can pretty much ignore it. The birds and the bees love it. 

The plant, the Ceanothus, and the more well-known Poppy, are the two plants that say California to me.

Happy birthday, Jen!

Thursday, July 24, 2008|Categories: Home & Garden|Tags: |6 Comments

Friday Five – The I made an expensive mistake edition

1. I have 3 tons of expensive blue stone in my backyard.

2. I hate the color.

3. It is not returnable.

4. I screwed up when picking it out. All my fault.

5. I am now investigating ways to try and stain it enough that I am okay with the color. Will try iron sulfate first. Not sure what after that.

Friday, July 18, 2008|Categories: Home & Garden|Tags: , |21 Comments

Five things on Friday – The home edition

1. Even though it is my day off I was up at 6:30 to await the delivery of mountains of topsoil and compost and drain rock and path fines and 4 tons of Blue Stone for the path on the sideyard. It is now 8 am and I have the topsoil and the compost and nothing else. I won’t start to panic until the landscape guy is here with his crew of 5 and wondering what it is they are supposed to do.

2. I am also awaiting the sprinkler expert who is coming (between 7 and 7:30 but note above, it is now 8am and he isn’t here yet.) He is coming to repair the water pipe to the old sprinklers that was broken by the paver guys. The paver guys fixed it once and I woke up in the morning to a busted pipe and water gushing down the driveway. They fixed it again. It broke again, though we caught it before the gushing stage. Sprinkler expert guy said paver guys tried to glue PVC to copper pipe with PVC glue. Don’t try this at home. It doesn’t work. After sprinkler expert fixes this I will still be waiting for the hot California sun to dry out the saturated dirt so I can tell if there are any other leaks because right now there are giant wet spots in places I don’t think should be wet anymore.

3. There is a hole in the backyard 2 feet wide by 2 feet deep dug by the phone company 2 weeks ago in order to repair the underground phone line that had gone dead. This was the same underground phone line that when we called the “call  before you dig” told us didn’t exist. It took a week for the phone company to come out and find the problem. Then they had to call a different guy to come dig the hole. Then a DIFFERENT guy had to come fix the problem in the hole. But he can’t put the dirt back in the hole. It have been almost 2 weeks since it has been fixed and there is still a giant pile of dirt next to the hole and big piece of plywood covering the hole. We’d put the dirt back ourselves but there’s that liability issue that I am sure would come back to bite us.

4. The pavers over the stamped concrete in the courtyard are cracking. We hope it is just from getting settled into their sand beds and being tapped too hard. They had to be hand tapped since they are only 1″ pavers over concrete (due to drainage issues that would be caused if we had used the standard ones because they would block water at the fence line. Today the courtyard will see a lot of activity (see #1) and I worry how they are going to hold up. Thankfully they have a lifetime warranty.

5. I am excited about the work that will be done today (though I don’t know how they are going to get it all done in one day. First thing they will do is put in a dry well. This is not my choice but needs to be done because we will be moving the two ACs into the back yard where they belong (hopefully come fall) which means tons of repiping of things that have to go right down that sideyard. And the city of San Jose wants a drywell for the condensation. Oddly enough the drywell has to be a 2 foot wide by 2 foot deep hole just like in #3. Alas, it has to be on the sideyard. After that they will install a bluestone path with red twig dogwoods lining it on either side. And an irrigation system for that area. And fill it with dirt and path fines and make it all pretty. In one day. I hope.

Note – it is 8:18 and no one else is here yet. I am not worrying. Really I am not. Not yet.

Friday, July 11, 2008|Categories: Home & Garden|Tags: |4 Comments

What I did on my summer vacation

Last week with the shut-down from the day off and my normal Fridays off I ended up off work from 6/27 thru 7/7. I love love loved being away from work. I did not have to get up at 5am every day. I did, however, have to get up at 7 every day because of the work we had going on around the house. I am going to start a garden blog (as soon as I can decide whether to do it here on LJ or on Blogger) but until then here’s what’s been going on for the last couple of weeks.

This is our house. A normal house in the Silicon Valley with lots of houses all around. A very small yard. The front yard is made smaller because the previous owners fenced in half of it and made a courtyard which we love.

You will notice there is a lot of cement. The previous owners extended the driveway on either side, some with cement (a different color) and some with aggregate (a different color) none of which did much to compliment the house nor add any wildlife value. The also added cement to the parking strip area surrounding the Crepe Myrtle tree.

Our plan is to convert the entire yard, front and back, to California Native Plants with the intent of creating a habitat for any wildlife. We also hope to show people that they too, can use native plants and still have beautiful and inviting yards. If you want to see the rest of the small yard that we have to work with you can check out the album here.

The first thing we did last fall was replace the backyard fence that was falling apart. The expense of that pretty much stopped us from going any further since only 1 of the 4 neighbors paid their share of the “good neighbor” fence. Grrr. We also had the backyard cleared of everything except for one Japanese Maple. Though not native it is a big tree and does have some wildlife value. 

This year we have big plans. We had the county water district out to measure the lawns in the front and the back because they are offering a nice rebate if you reduce/remove your lawns. Then we had a crew come in and begin the tough job of removing the back lawn. It was almost all the dreaded Bermuda grass. It is evil evil evil! Every little inch long scrap of it can reroot. They dug down, chopped it up and shook the dirt off the clods. We still have to rake it out and remove more roots and pieces. There is no way we got it all but we made a start and we will have to be diligent about digging out all the resprouts. We are using no chemicals in the yard so I really appreciate this crew’s hard work. There’s still the front to be done but it is a good start.

Next it was time to get rid of all that excess cement. I needed DIRT! First to go was the sideyard of wall-to-wall cement with serious drainage issues.

Much better! We have big plans for this space starting tomorrow!

The path to nowhere in the backyard had to go. 

With the path gone I can start to see the garden begin to take shape, at least in my mind.

The aggregate in the front and the driveway were next. From this:

to this!

Along the way there were a few more adventures. Like my idea to have them trench the stamped concrete in the courtyard and run pipes for the downspouts out the front yard.

And then there was the back stoop that was so narrow you couldn’t step out on safely and the dog would curl up as tiny as she could get to try and lay there and not fall off.



Ditto the stoop in the front courtyard. It was supposed to be 3 feet for code. It wasn’t.

But now it is.

The new driveway gives us a bit more room to plant on the left and a lot of room to plant on the right (which will help hide the hideous motorhome that never moves). I also had them leave a couple of cut-outs for planting on each side of the garage.

We are really pleased with it all. I love the earthiness of the pavers and the way everything flows now. I can’t wait to move all my plants and furniture back to the courtyard! The whole album can be seen here.

Tomorrow the next phase, the path and planting on the sideyard!

Thursday, July 10, 2008|Categories: Home & Garden|Tags: |15 Comments

It was a garden kind of day

The writing will come later tonight, when the house is quiet.

Earlier today I did some repotting of plants in the front courtyard. When we moved out of our rental house a year ago, it was hard to leave a first native garden. It wasn’t very big but it was our first. So in a fit of attachment disorder anxiety I potted up whatever I could to take with me. The intention isn’t to have a courtyard full of native plants (and actually it will be the one place that I plant the exotics) but for now it has become the nursery because it is easier to take care of them all together in one place.

It’s a mess because I just tossed things in the few pots we had on hand together so there are tons of things that really need their own pot. There are several pots of hummingbird sage with multiple plants to be divided. Some buckwheat. blue-eyed grass, a bit of black sage and a few more plants that I can’t remember and have to look up.

Today I tackled just one plant Dichondra (the type of which is in question.) A few years ago Erin at Native Revival gave me a little 4″ pot of this when I asked her for something to grow between stepping stones that could take light foot traffic. It was the most forgiving of plants at the old house. I planted it between stepping stones in full sun, gave it water and it took off. When there was a plumbing problem and the drain guy dug up a bunch of it and just dumped it in a pile and basically buried it, it found its way to the top of the pile.

It was the last plant I went back to grab before we moved. There was just this one clay pot and I dug up a chunk and left it alone. It filled the pot in no time. This morning I divided it into 15 small pots. It doesn’t look like much now, but you have to imagine a blanket of it on the ground – lushness all around. Trust me. It will be good.

I would rather be doing the actual planting in the ground but at least this helped me feel a bit more connected to the garden. And perhaps, a little bit more like the main character in my WIP.

Saturday, May 24, 2008|Categories: Home & Garden|Tags: |8 Comments

The windows – take 2

So last night the window guy called up and said that instead of putting individual shutters on each window he believes we should put one giant shutter over each half of the windows.

Which pleases me not at all.

And which I don’t think is even possible because the vertical beams that divide them are flush with the wall so that would make the shutters stick out over the edge.

Which means I am back to square one when it comes to getting rid of the ugly and covering up the windows. I am also looking for a new window guy.

I am not a happy camper.

Friday, March 21, 2008|Categories: Home & Garden|Tags: |3 Comments

Blog Action Day – native plants

Today is Blog Action Day, a single day in which bloggers all over the world post on the same topic. This year the topic is the environment. 

I can’t write unless I am comfortable in my environment. Sure, to an extent that means I need a comfy chair and an ergonomic set-up for typing. But to me it means more than that, it means that I have to be happy in my surroundings. Some of that is inside and some of it is outside. I’m an introvert so I get my energy from my time alone. My home is comfortable, cozy, filled with books in just about every room. It’s a good environment for my writer self. 

I also love the outdoors and get energy from driving along the backroads in Santa Cruz amongst the redwoods and ferns. It is both soothing and energizing at the same time. In the last house we rented we wanted to try to replicate that same “back to nature” feeling in our yard. We didn’t own the place so there were limits to what we could do. We decided to start small and practice for a time when we had a home of our own. There was a sideyard that used to be used for RV storage – translation: It was dead, not even any weeds growing there and packed down hard as cement. It looked like this:

My husband had majored in enviormental issues (as well as politics and economics) and suggested we look into California Native Plants. 

Native plants are, as you might expect, plants that grew in your area long before civilization arrived. They co-evolved with animals, fungi and microbes, to form a complex network of relationships and are the foundation of our native ecosystems, or natural communities. And here’s the thing, a native plant garden is so much easier to take care of than a traditional garden. If you plant the right plants for your area they will improve the soil, send down deep roots that will be able to deal with your natural waterfall (or lack of in my case here in California) and they will encourage the reappearance of native wildlife from bugs to butterflies to birds and more.

There are some plants that are the sole food for native wildlife. In California, our state insect is the Dogface butterfly. Sadly many people will never see one because larvae of the Dogface buttefly feed almost solely on the California Native plant False indigo. This plant is on the endangered species list maintained by the California Native Plant Society.

So with just a little bit of research I was hooked on the idea of taking our barren sideyard and using it as an experimental California Native plant garden. We took a trip to Native Revival in Aptos and spent several weekends digging holes and planting plants. After 3 weeks we ended up with this, already an improvement over the bare, dead dirt.

We didn’t put in a sprinkler system because the idea was to see how the garden would do if we left it to Mother Nature. We followed the nursery’s suggestions to water the holes well when we planted, to water once a week for the first month, and to mulch heavily. Then we mostly left it alone. And one year later, with no extra water, no fertilizer, no supplements at all, we had this:

It’s safe to say that I have been converted to the idea of using Native Plants as much as possible. The yard was always full of wildlife activity even though we lived in the middle of the city, three houses from the freeway. Neighbors with a bird bath told us they had never, in 45 years of living there, seen as many different birds in their yard as they had after we planted our native plants. We left that garden behind earlier this year when we moved but I’d like to think we gave a little back to the environment by improving that patch of bare dirt.

We bought a house this year and a few weeks ago we had everything ripped out of the backyard except for a single tree and the grass. The grass will be going too but not yet. We put up a new fence and are busy working with the Native Plant designer, (Pete at East Bay Wilds) planning our new yard which will be filled as many Native Plants as possible. 

Pete can’t promise me a Dogfaced butterfly but he has promised to help me improve my environment which will, in turn, improve my writing.


Monday, October 15, 2007|Categories: Home & Garden|Tags: |30 Comments

House Tales: In which the author discovers that the dog is smarter than she is – again

Let me just begin by saying that I have a dog who is mostly Border Collie. You’ve seen her around the blog. This is the part where you all go “ahhh………………….”

Because she is mostly Border Collie this means she is a mostly smart dog with a current vocabulary of about 37 words. It would be larger but well, I’m lazy when it comes to that sort of thing. She is also a very quirky dog that I rescued from the pound when I lived in New Orleans. Back then she was skin and bones and covered in bugs. I brought her home and decided she was part kangaroo because every day I came home from work I could barely get my stuff put down before she would bounce up and down in front of me until I caught her. Now she is older and much more refined and doesn’t do that sort of thing, least ways not when I’m around to see her.

She’s lived with me in two apartments in New Orleans (where she loved to herd the neighborhood children) then drove with me back home to California (where she attempted to spend most of the trip wedged under the accelerator petal, encouraged, I am sure, by the tortuous sounds coming from the cat who did not think the cross-country trip with him trapped in a carrier was a very good idea. In California she put up with a tiny little 2 bed/1 bath no backyard of her own place for about 5 years. She spent many a day perched on the cedar chest looking out the window waiting for me to come home. (Then she injured her back and we had to keep her from jumping anymore.)

Then we moved to our last house with a huge yard of her (where she quickly set herself up as chief squirrel chaser and guardian of the newspaper.) She slept wherever she wanted to which meant that she spent part of the day on the mat in the bathroom, part of the day on the floor in front of the patio door and all of the night on the floor by our bed. If something scared her, she would hide under the desk in my husband’s office. Notice that there is no mention of any time spent in my office in the old house. I don’t know what was going on there but we couldn’t get her to go into that room. Correction, she’d go in and quickly walk back out again. It had hardwood floors like the rest of the house but for some reason, even with throw rugs down for her, she wouldn’t stay. I could be in there for hours looking at books, filing papers, rearranging things and she, the dog who is always underfoot, wouldn’t stay. I’m not sure what it was about the room but I soon learned that I didn’t like it either. I never wrote in that office (though we lived there for 3 years) and instead moved to the living room couch where I worked with the laptop balanced on my lap and the dog, once more, at my feet. I guess there was something wrong in that room that I just couldn’t see but that Chelsie somehow sensed. (I actually think it was just really bad negative vibes from the owners of the place.)

So you’d think I would have learned to trust my mostly smart dog when it comes to things like that, right?

You’d be wrong.

We bought a house. As soon as I got the keys to the new house I took Chelsie over to get acquainted. We walked around the block a few times and then went into the empty house. I walked her from room to room to room. We went upstairs together, only once because she quickly decided that going down the stairs hurt too much (she’s had back surgery) and we went outside. It had been raining, a lot, and the grass was wet and mushy. I know she doesn’t like that so I wasn’t surprised when she stayed on the patio and just hopped onto the dirt real quickly when she needed to take care of business. I figured once everything dried off she’d be racing around the backyard just like at the old place.

I figured wrong.

Now maybe it’s that I just wasn’t paying attention or maybe it’s just that, as she’s gotten older, Chelsie has gotten even more quirky than before. She can’t stand the tile in the dining room, entry hall and kitchen which pretty much stinks because she gets fed in the kitchen and has to walk across a long expanse of tile to get to her food and water. She expressed her distaste for this by going on the starvation diet plan until I moved her food and water halfway across the room. Now that I have done that she, of course, spends much of her time in the place where her food and water USED to be.

Based on this sort of quirk, I wasn’t too surprised when she decided that the only way she was going to go out in the backyard and walk around was if she was able to walk on the thin row of bricks that lined the rim of the house or in the dirt along the back fence. She absolutely, positively would not step on the grass. And if she did, if she slipped off and landed on the grass she would do a little deer jump back to her chose path.

I thought she being a prissy dog who didn’t want to walk on the wet, mushy grass (we have a bit of a drainage issue.) I never thought it had a thing to do with the flickering lights in the house. (Now we get to the house tales part of the story.)

But it did.

Since we moved in we’ve been suffering with flickering lights. At 5 am when the only thing running was the refrigerator and the alarm, I would take a shower, turn on the blow dryer and the lights would go off and then come back on again. If you had the kitchen lights on and turned on the dishwasher, the same thing would happen. We figured it was a combination of it being a 44 year-old house and the “creative wiring” techniques that had been applied with all the earlier remodeling that had been done to the place. The first electrician said pretty much just that. The second electrician walked in, saw what was going on and said, “That’s not just a flicker.”

It’s a good thing my husband was the one to hear that and not me because I am sure I would have freaked out. (I still did, but it was a delayed reaction which was probably a good thing.)

The electrician went to the panel and ran his tests. (Don’t expect me to remember the exact numbers because, well, they’re numbers and I don’t do numbers.) Whatever was supposed to be coming in via the two lines was not the case. There was more and then there was less and oh yeah, there was a bunch of electricity in the ground. IN THE GROUND! In the grassy area where my mostly smart dog would not walk.

Turns out we had a mostly broken, dead and dying neutral from the power pole to the top of our roof and it was arcing and doing all sorts of not-very-nice electrical things. The very nice guys at the power company came out and replaced the wire. I came home from work, turned on all the lights in the house and then turned on the blow dryer and NOTHING HAPPENED. Well, nothing except that hot air came out of the blow dryer like it was supposed to. So I ran downstairs, turned on some more lights, and then ran the dishwasher. And nothing flickered. Nary a whit.

So of course (you know what’s coming, right?) I ran to the back door and called Chelsie outside and she, being the mostly smart dog that she is, ran outside and promptly sat on the grass. Then she ran around in circles on the grass. Then she rolled in the grass. Twice. And now, every day, she’s prancing around the lawn like there was never any doubt that her mostly smart humans would eventually figured things out and fix her yard for her.

And we did.

Score: House 2, Susan 0

Tuesday, April 3, 2007|Categories: Home & Garden|Tags: |38 Comments

House Tales: In which the writer fights with the refrigerator and loses

This is completely off-topic so if you were expecting an illuminating post about writing for children, you can skip this right now. This is about the new house. Or specifically about the old refrigerator that came with the new house. It is built-in. It is a built-in SubZero. Wow, you say. Lucky you.

Not so lucky. First off, I liked my old refrigerator just fine. I imagine it to be rather lonely stuck off in the garage, away from us, home to just the leftover beer and soda from the move party. The new fridge doesn’t like me. In order to open the freezer drawer on the bottom you need to be standing in just the right place, with BOTH HANDS evenly spaced on either side of the center and pull back with a slight (but not too much) downward motion. Can I just say that it is hard to stand in front of it and do that with the island pushed up against my backside. It never takes me less than 5 tries to open the freezer. I can get the refrigerator door open in one try if I use both hands. I’m not liking any of this much at all but I was willing to live with it.


Except that this is a refrigerator that has had a funky smell in it since we moved in. The cleaners cleaned it. We cleaned it. I left 20 mounds of baking soda in it the week before we moved in. My husband took every shelf and drawer and drip pan and any removable part off and washed it in a bleach solution. I called SubZero and they also suggested flushing the drain pipe with the bleach solution. We did.

It still stinks.

But only when it is running. When it is off, it smells fine. Which leads my husband to think that it is in the actual system that we can’t get to because a) it’s built-in and b) we’ve pretty much exhausted our ability as do-it-yourselfers.


So I admit defeat and call the home warranty plan that the previous owners unexpectedly included in our contract. A plan that I was sure we had checked out completely. Only, (you know what’s coming but like a train wreck you are going to keep on reading, right?)

For some reason, we assumed, thought, whatever, that the built-in refrigerator was in the home warranty plan. I called today to see if they would come service it for the smell and IT ISN’T COVERED. We could have added it within the first 30 days which were up, of course, less than a week ago.
I feel so dumb for not catching that in the contract and mad and frustrated and well, mostly mad. If this were a normal kitchen we’d just dump that old thing (it’s an old model – more than 10 years old) and bring OUR old fridge into the house (it’s only 3 years old, and did I happen to mention how much I loved it.) But this thing is built-in. And being a SubZero, this one is counter depth and our old one is not. To replace it with the comparable SubZero is nearly $7K. For that price I could get my new fence installed.

The alternative is to take it out anyway and slide the old one in there. Which means it will look funky as heck, okay, not even funky but ugly and stick out and we wouldn’t really be able to walk around the island.

I’d love to end this with some witty bit of something but I’m not seeing the humor in this yet.

Score: House 1, Susan 0 (SubZero, to be exact)

Thursday, March 29, 2007|Categories: Home & Garden|Tags: |4 Comments