We took three pictures in art class last week, one of my great niece and her drawing of flowers. She took a lot of encouraging, but I think she did a good job. Her teacher told her she had a knack with the charcoal.
The other two were of my drawings. One was the finished castle that I mentioned last week. Half of the picture was its reflection in the water, and I was deeply unsatisfied with my rendering of it. But when I went back to class last week, it didn’t look that bad after all. I cleaned it up a bit and decided the drawing was finished.
The next assignment was to do a still life. I wanted to try one, but after I got started, I don’t think either I or the teacher was very dedicated to it. I remember hearing our original art teacher tell people that she usually skipped that assignment, which she thought confused people because it had no relation to the method they used in the school for learning how to draw. I didn’t know how they were going to let me do a still life, as we sit in rather small spaces to draw, but it turned out that I was allowed to select some objects from the anteroom and they put me at a corner to draw so that I would have more room. The objects I could select from were fairly tacky, so I picked a glass vase and two seashells. I did not think I did such a great job, and my teacher really didn’t help me much. I wanted pointers on how to do the glass and all she said was “Make it streakier.” I remember getting lessons on painting glass in my oil painting class years ago, so I know there is a lot more she could have said.
On the home front, I first went crazy buying bulbs. Ever since we arrived here, my intention was to plant bulbs in the fall so we would have flowers in the spring. But I was hoping to actually have flower beds by that time, which would have been easier. I went out to buy daffodils one day, to plant in the orchard, and I was fairly restrained, but they did not have a good selection. Then the next day, I went with my sister to the farm store, and they had a much better selection, so I got more daffodils, ranunculas, crocuses, and snowdrops. The next day I went out to find places to plant them. I planted some of the daffodils under a rim of sod behind the house and some under one of the apple trees in the orchard. But most of our ground was either rock under a thin layer of dirt or under sod. It was very hard trying to plant, and I didn’t get more done except that I planted the ranunculas at the bottom of the ridge between the blueberry bush and the bird feeder. Still haven’t done the crocuses, snowdrops, or about half the daffodils. But I don’t have to get them planted all at once.
On the weekend, I went on an outing with the kids. My niece, her husband, and their two children and I went to the Japanese nursery in Woodland and then to the pumpkin patch. I restrained myself at the nursery, only buying a partner walnut tree for the one we have in our orchard. My great niece talked her father into buying something called a jujube tree. He is a pushover, basically. Then we all went to the pumpkin patch. My niece needed lots of pumpkins to be jack o’lanterns for the spooky forest walk for my great nephew’s birthday party. So we filled up a wheelbarrow with pumpkins. Then the kids enjoyed the hay maze and the hay ride. Later we went to Fuel, a cafe we like in Ridgefield, and then home. A couple hours after arriving home, it was back to their house for our third Game of Thrones night.
This week I have spent finishing the housework for our guest’s arrival. The days were beautiful until yesterday afternoon, but now it is cold and drizzly. Poor timing, as our guest is coming from Houston and is originally from Louisiana, so she is used to warmer weather. I hope she doesn’t think its too cold here.
Today, our contractors are back to finish our sets of steps in the rain.
After our hot weather the week before last, now we are having highs in the 60’s and low 70’s. Heaven! We had some rain on Sunday. A bit was forecast, but we actually had quite a downpour about 10 AM. The trees and the other plants were happy.
The contractors came back and put a rail on our steps, and that concludes their work for a while. But my husband discovered we had more money left over than he initially thought, so we can afford to have them back to redo the steps going up from the driveway to the top of the slope and the steps from the lower drive to the bottom of the orchard and the pond. Then all our dangerous outdoor steps will be gone.
The last thing finished was the sauna. It turns out that the timer was wired to be on all the time, so it was only off when we turned it on. That means that as soon as there was power to the sauna, it burned out. We got a new timer from the sauna manufacturer, and my husband is going to see if he can get a refund on the labor. I have never had a sauna, but my niece and nephew have already informed me that they would probably be over this weekend to take one. We had planned to buy a rigid sided kiddy pool to fill with cold water for after the sauna, so I guess we’d better get cracking before they aren’t available anymore.
This week I started hanging some of our pictures around the house. I was able to find the large ones but not the small ones, including one that had been in the kitchen for several months, a historical photo of a tornado next to the capitol building in Austin. I hope to find the rest soon.
Those of you who have been interested in my art class might like to see some pictures I took last week. Both my sister and I were finishing up our latest drawings. The figures were supposed to be animals in close-up, and I was drawing a white horse in a snowstorm and my sister a wolf. I have to say that I was the least happy with the results of this picture. It’s very hard to draw a white on white subject in black and white. I thought my horse looked the least like a real animal than any of my other pictures.
Anyway, I’ve commented on how much bolder my sister is in her drawing than I am. She just really goes at the canvas, whereas I am still worried about making mistakes. I think that sometimes my work has come out better than hers, but in this case, it is totally the opposite, as you can see from this series of pictures. Good news! My great-niece will be able to start art class right on time, next week, the same week school starts.
We are back to our normal life this week after entertaining like mad last week. We had my middle brother (MB) and his wife here for Wednesday, then they moved over to my niece’s house so that my little brother (LB) and his family could stay at our house. Then MB and wife came back for the next night, after LB went home to Seattle. The house was noisy and full of people, but it was fun. We had nine people to dinner on Wednesday night and fifteen people to dinner on Thursday. When you consider that it’s usually just the two of us, that’s a lot of activity.
We are noisy when we get together. MB is quite the raconteur, and LB’s family of five is just plain outgoing (sort of a family trait—most of us are super extroverts, and then there’s me, the introvert). But LB has quite the knack of just coming in and making himself at home. When he and his family arrived, he came out on the deck and helped me grill the steaks (when he was young, he had a job as a chef at a fancy restaurant) and his wife started roasting cauliflower. MB also assisted with the steaks, only he had LB saying to him repeatedly, “Don’t cut it!” (He cuts into the meat to see if it is done. Apparently, you’re supposed to tap it.)
It’s a good thing everyone brought something, because I thought steak, big baked potatoes, and salad were enough. Then when I came back in from eating, hoping for more green beans that my niece brought, literally every bit of food was gone except for some of the steak. After dinner, LB’s oldest daughter, a lovely 16-year-old, started making cookies for dessert. My niece and her husband took their youngest home and left her daughter with us, so that she and her cousin, nine and ten, could spend some time together. The two little girls were no trouble at all.
And in the morning, LB got up and started making breakfast. That was a nice start to the day. Then we went over to pick raspberries at my niece’s house before they had to leave. That night, the rest of us went out to eat and finished the evening in my sister’s hot tub.
All in all, there was mostly just a lot of talking and story-telling, but that’s what family get-togethers are for. It was a shame that the week they were here was one of the hottest on record, one day being 105, but no one seemed to be uncomfortable. We just couldn’t go on any hikes, which is something we usually do.
Then yesterday the guys were back out to work on the very last project that we are paying for, the outside steps from the top level of the house down to the lower drive. I don’t know if I reported a few weeks ago that I almost fell down those steps when the asphalt guys were working on the driveway. They were very dangerous. Some of them slanted, some were unsteady, and one was a step that was twice as high as the others. I forgot to take a picture of them to start with, so here is a picture of some other ones we have that are actually safer than the ones we replaced. These steps go from the lower drive down to the bottom of the orchard. See if they even look like steps to you. I have been weed whacking them, but I haven’t done it recently.
Since I forgot to take a before picture, I took the following picture while they were in progress. You can see that several steps are already inserted at the bottom of the picture, but the top of the steps give you an idea what they were like. The only ways besides these steps to get down from the upper level are to go back in the house and go down the stairs, or to walk all the way down the driveway to the lower drive and back up again.
Finally, here is a picture of the finished steps. They forgot we asked for a rail, so they will have to come back and provide one, but in the meantime, these steps are much safer. We have already been up and down them several times, whereas I used to avoid the other ones.
That pretty much takes care of the projects we are paying for, except for the sauna, and the electrician is coming out next week to install the new part. We still have lots more to get done around here, though. My husband says maybe we can have our contractors come back and do the lower steps later, but we have already used up more of our house sale money than I wanted to. I want to have some left over for emergencies. We have to take down the wallless shed so I can put up my garden boxes, so there will be some gardening related activities to report later. And my niece’s husband has some plans for some more rustic, but still safer, steps below.
But in the meantime, now that the major work on the house is done, I’ll have to figure out some other projects to work on.
The biggest news for this week is the arrival of our Big Green Egg. This is a special type of charcoal grill, called a kamado grill, made of ceramic. We needed to buy a grill anyway. We had a gas grill in Austin, but I was accustomed to a charcoal grill and could never get comfortable with the gas, so I quit grilling. When I was talking grills with my niece’s husband, he got all excited about the Big Green Egg and kamado grills, something I had never heard of before. They are a cross between a regular charcoal grill and a traditional ceramic oven, and you can use them for grilling, smoking, and baking. The reason I bought one is, I can learn to make tandoori chicken and naan. Although kamado grills are expensive, tandoori ovens are much more so.
As I said, the egg was expensive, but we heard about demo eggs, which you could buy after they were used for one day at an EggFest. They were priced about 20% less. The egg isn’t any less, but they throw in a bunch of free accessories, ones that you definitely need, and some charcoal. We decided to buy one. Originally, we were supposed to pick it up after the EggFest on Saturday. We had planned to go early and watch people using the grill and eat some of the food, but as the day approached, the weather forecast dismayed us, as it was supposed to be very hot, near 100, and the EggFest was in Portland. Frankly, we weren’t looking forward to either the drive or the heat. Also, I was concerned because of reports that the egg doesn’t cool down very quickly. The EggFest was scheduled to end at 4 and we were directed to pick it up starting at 5. I was wondering how that would work out, with the grill just having been used.
I was talking to my husband about this on Saturday morning, and he remembered that the hardware store guy had called on Wednesday, when I was at art class, to tell me that we were supposed to pick the egg up at the store. No more details were forthcoming, because he had forgotten them. In fact, I’m lucky that he remembered at all and that we didn’t end up at the event to pick up an egg that wouldn’t be ready. When I called the store, they told me they had decided not to break down the event until Sunday. They said I should call the store Monday morning to make sure the grills were there before coming out to pick it up.
So, I did, and after some confusion about our last name, we went to get our grill. Now, if anyone else is interested in buying such a grill and wants the discount, I will caution you. Whether you think this is a good deal depends on how fastidious you are. We actually got a free Conveggtor (used for indirect cooking, for example for naan or pizza, and for many of the recipes in their cookbook) with our grill, which was not supposed to be included, because it was used with our egg at the event. So we actually got the whole package for about 30% off.
However, the grill was filthy. They didn’t clean it at all. In fact, the store people had to rake out the ashes onto the pavement in front of the store before putting the egg in our car. I spent several hours cleaning the grill once we got it home, and I didn’t get everything off it. If you can imagine, it was used all day and never cleaned in between cooking. I am supposed to be able to clean it thoroughly by lighting a fire in it. I haven’t done that yet, but I will have to in order to use the Conveggtor, because it is horrible. Trust me, the pictures of the nice clean egg from their cookbook is not what I’m looking at, even now.
I used it last night for the first time. I was a little worried about using it, because I hadn’t grilled for a long time, and when I did, everything was by guess. I had no notion of keeping the grill at a particular temperature, which is the whole deal with the kamado-type grill. However, with a little fiddling, I was able to figure out how to control the temperature fairly easily, although keeping it steady is another thing. When you open the grill to do anything, the temperature goes way down, and if you overcompensate, it goes way up. However reviews that said it took a long time to cool an egg if you overshoot your temperature proved to be incorrect. You can easily make the temperature go back down by adjusting the vents. And here it is: my first meal made with our Big Green Egg. Nothing fancy. I thought I’d start out with something easy.
For those who are still stuck back in the saga of the slope, our young lawn guy came back with his uncle’s brush cutter and cut it. It is not a beautiful job, but it is done for the time being. We will have to get someone out here again in about a month. I’m thinking lawn service, since this guy was moving out of state next month.
And what have we been doing this week besides catching up on the laundry? (A slight mishap there. Our contractor was in too big a hurry hooking up our washer, and when I went in the next day, we had a puddle on our laundry room floor. We had to move everything out ourselves, suck up the water with my steam mop, and move it back. But no big deal and the linoleum floor still looks great.) Firewood is the answer.
A young neighbor came over two weeks ago and asked if we needed to buy firewood. Up here everyone gets it early, to make sure that it is good and dry for the next winter. I don’t know if I said that we got ripped off this winter. Installing a wood-burning stove was one of the first things we did with the house, and we had to look around for firewood. It seemed to be all sold out right when we needed it. Despite a warning on Craig’s List about someone selling wet wood for dry and my efforts to avoid this by checking the phone number, we did indeed get ripped off. Our wood was supposed to be dry and it was wet and of very poor quality. We had to use supermarket wood all winter to get it started. The fire starters alone wouldn’t do it.
Anyway, we had been looking around for wood, but our contacts hadn’t come through. I think people were just forgetting we had asked them about it. So, when Scott came over and asked me, I told him, yes, we did need firewood. This kid looks about 14, but the Apostolic kids around here learn to work hard at a very young age. I intend to write a post about some of the more interesting characteristics of the area, and I’ll be writing about the Apostolics in that post. We made a deal, and that boy went out and cut all the wood himself and brought it here with his mom and his younger brother. He delivered it a week later than he said, but he kept us posted all the time. And it is clearly good wood, dry and nice looking.
So, we’ve been stacking firewood. A few months ago, we helped our niece and her husband do theirs, and with five of us in a line, we managed to stack a couple of cords in a couple of hours. But the two of us geezers are taking a lot longer about it, and we don’t have a good place to stack the wood. We have just been putting them in the side parking lot on two two-by-fours, but we’re missing the pieces to hold the wood at the ends. I just ordered two racks for us, although it would be cheaper if we just built something out of wood. But I’m not waiting for my husband on this one. We need to get the wood off the ground. Anyway, you can see by my two pictures we haven’t made a lot of progress. The picture of stacked wood is after about three hours of work. Oh, my back! (When I helped at my niece’s house, I strategically picked a position in the line where I didn’t have to bend over. But that option isn’t open to me now.)
Our marmoleum is finally all in. The flooring guy came back on Monday to replace the subflooring and finish laying the marmoleum in the laundry room and half bath. Today, our regular contractors will be here to replace the baseboards. On Thursday, I can wash the new marmoleum and we can finally put back the washer and dryer. I guess I’ll be doing laundry this weekend.
So, the pictures I have for this week are of the laundry room before and after. You can see how bad the vinyl looked before. It had black marks in it that wouldn’t come out, and it was worn and dirty looking.
Here you can see quite an improvement in the appearance of the room. And the flooring in the bathrooms looks even better because it goes so well with the light green-blue paint.
We’ve also had a slight movement forward on the problem of cutting our slope. We have a steepish slope in back of our house from the basement floor down to the pond, with the wolf pen in the middle. It is important to keep it from getting overgrown, as it includes our septic field.
I was trying to trim it with our weed whacker, working my way up from the bottom, but as soon as it got too steep, I had to stop. It can’t be cut with the mower until it is trimmed, and in any case, I have my doubts about getting a mower up that slope, although our tenant managed to keep it cut. In this picture, the foxgloves that you can see in the middle are actually almost five feet high, so that gives you an idea of how high the grass is.
We have been looking for someone to cut it for several weeks now. Finally, a young guy called last week and said he would be out yesterday. He came, but our contractor had not conveyed to him the information that he needed to bring a brush cutter. We put him to work with our weed whacker, but because it hadn’t been charged up, he soon ran both batteries out of juice. My husband ran up to the hardware store to buy one, but they were sold out. Our yard guy said he could borrow a brush cutter from his uncle, so we had him cut our orchard with the riding mower, and then he went home. I had been working on the orchard with the weed whacker, too, and my husband had taken another swipe at it with the riding mower, but he still feels unsafe on the mower with the slope in the orchard.
If you look very carefully at the edge of the wolf pen in the top part of the picture, you can see the small progress the lawn guy made with the weed whacker before the batteries ran out. He is coming today with his uncle’s brush cutter to finish the job. Unfortunately, he’s only a short-term solution, because he is moving away in a couple of weeks to go work in California.
And that’s about it. We’ve had lovely weather lately. It rained toward the end of last week and during the weekend, but we had a hot one on Monday, and then since then it’s been delightfully chilly at night and cool during the day while still nice and bright out. I would say, perfect weather.
With the marmoleum out of the basement, my husband and I should soon be able to get back to fastening the bookcases to the wall so that I can unpack our books.
The excitement around here this week is all centered around the driveway. Our pavers did show up on Monday. Up until Saturday, we just had a provisional start date from them. They had originally told us that they didn’t schedule very far out because of the weather. But they were here bright and early on Monday.
This was a project that I was against when we first moved here. Our driveway is made of diamond-shaped bricks in two tracks, one for each wheel. I loved the rural look of it with the grass growing through the diamonds. However, during the winter, with all the rain and the trucks coming up and missing the tracks, it turned into a mud pit, and it still has ruts in it and bricks that are out of place. I had to admit that paving the driveway seemed to be a very practical idea. I meant to take a picture of it before the guys started, but I forgot, so my first picture is of the top of the driveway, when they hadn’t yet dug out the bricks. It doesn’t show the mess that the driveway had become, just the nice part of it, because they had already dug up the bricks in the messy part.
It turns out the driveway bricks were held in position by rebar, sticking up straight out of the ground, which the pavers had to pull out of the driveway, piece by piece. They even put rebar in the side parking area (which was where we found it first), which didn’t have the bricks but instead large chunks of brown gravel. Because the people who put in the parking area had first covered the grass with plastic, the parking area didn’t drain properly and got all churned up over the winter. We are paving that, too, as well as the lower drive. When we moved here, the movers had mixed success with getting down that drive. Now there shouldn’t be a problem.
The guys are planning to finish today, but I took a picture of the driveway in mid-progress, with lovely gravel. I actually might have preferred a gravel driveway, but I know that my niece and her husband asphalted their driveway a year or so ago because every winter their gravel got washed down into the road. We probably would have had the same problem.
Of course, just as I feared, the flooring guy was planning to lay the marmoleum tomorrow. That would mean that our contractors would have to be able to get in today to yank the sinks and toilets in the bathrooms. But of course, they can’t, and the asphalt is not supposed to be driven on for a day, so we had to reschedule. So far, I don’t know when that will be. Nor have I heard at all from the carpeting people. Once these guys get out of here and we have a date for the marmoleum, I guess I need to call the carpet guys. We have been waiting for the carpet to come in since February, and it was supposed to have arrived at the end of May.
I am also still trying to find someone to whack down our back slope. Once we get it whacked down the first time, we should be able to maintain it with the push mower, or if we can find someone, we can just get them to whack it down several times over the summer. No luck so far, and pretty soon the grass is going to be over my head. I see some spears of foxglove growing in it, too. Very pretty.
Our contractor came out late last week and removed his junk from our basement and outside the house. I would be working at putting away my books if I wasn’t waiting for my husband to fasten the bookcases to the wall first. He has promised to do it this week. I feel like everything I could do is on hold. This one job would allow us to move forward in a big way, but as I’ve mentioned before, I have never figured out a way to motivate him to get something done. Right now, he has several projects in progress. The wolf pen is partway down. The parts for fastening the bookcases to the wall are there, but no work is done. The seat of our new outdoor dining chair that he broke by slamming his butt down into it is on the table with the glue sitting next to it. The table and the counter that he said he’d clear off are halfway empty but are starting to accumulate junk (all his) again. He bought a blind to cover our bedroom sliding glass door but never even started putting it up (good, because I don’t want it over the windows—it is too big). The shed thing that is in the space where my garden needs to go is still sitting there waiting to be taken down, and after that my above-ground garden boxes need to be made. (My niece’s husband said he would do that, though, so it will get done.) He cut the orchard grass once, and after the guys get their trucks out of the orchard, I suspect I’ll be the one cutting it from now on. That’s how life is around here.
I am missing my bird book, because the birds around here are different from the ones we saw in Texas. At first, our bird feeder seemed to be attracting only chickadees (and our hummingbird feeder hummingbirds, of course), but lately, I have managed to identify a couple of birds I’ve never seen before, using the app whatbird. One of them is the Smith’s longspur, which is quite a pretty bird and loves the suet feeder. The other one looks like a black-capped or California or black-tailed gnatcatcher, but the range for all three of these birds is the southwestern United States. I am only a novice bird identifier, but I couldn’t find another bird that looked like these, with a black head, a gray body and light gray tummy. They are small birds, slightly bigger than the chickadees.
I didn’t have a photo to show for this week, so I thought I’d go out and take another picture of the ridge, so you can see how it’s changed in the past month or so. This first photo is the ridge a few weeks ago, almost exactly a month ago, in fact. You can see that we are still coming out of winter in this picture. The pieris (the tall plant at top) has changed from red, which it was all winter, to yellow, and a lot of the bushes look dead.
In this second picture, taken today, you can see both the pierises, which I have trimmed, looking a little pinker, the azaleas next to the waterfall (which is still not falling), and the rhododendron beginning to come out on the right. Below the rhododendron is a heather bush, which has looked pretty much like that since we got here, and if you look carefully to the right of the heather, you can see a little silver pieris that I planted a few weeks ago. To the left of the heather and barely visible below the rhododendron is the bird’s nest spruce that we also planted. I think that I have two more rhododendrons that have not yet begun to bloom on the left of the azaleas. They have big buds on them that aren’t visible in this picture. You can see, though, that the foliage in the picture is much greener. Nothing looks dead.
However, it still is staying well below normal for this time of year. Highs have been in the 60’s all week and lows still in the 40’s. It’s supposed to get up into the 80’s within the week, though. My understanding is that normally it should be in the 70’s now. Yesterday we had intermittent rain and small hail.
We are getting lots of rain this week. I made it outside a couple of times in an attempt to weed-whack the wolf pen and work my way up into the septic field, where we dare not let the vegetation get too bad. But my attempts have been fairly paltry. What we really need is a strong young teenager with a brush cutter.
I also took a handful of seed bombs out into the orchard and threw them around. Seed bombs, if you don’t know, are lots of wildflower seeds packed into a ball of mud. You throw them where you want wildflowers to come up, and the rain breaks down the mud ball and spreads the seeds around. My great-niece told me that she and her mother came out last fall and threw some seed bombs around the orchard, too, so with any luck, we’ll have lots of wildflowers in the orchard this year.
Other than that, we’ve been just puttering around the house. My husband put together his push mower this week and re-mowed the front lawn, but he didn’t make it down to go over the wolf pen where I had weed-whacked. Next dry day, if he doesn’t do it, I will. He also fastened the bookcases that we have moved out into the basement to the wall. We still have three more bookcases to move out before I can start putting away my books, and we will need the contractors to move their stuff out of our basement so that I can have room for my stacks of books.
Our marmoleum has been ordered! I am not sure how long it will be before it is installed. The flooring rep said a week-and-a-half to two weeks, but that was before he’d checked stock, so it may be longer. This company is being so much more helpful than the last one!
Our carpet is supposed to come in around the same time, and the pavers were provisionally starting our driveway around that time. I hope they don’t all come at once, but I would guess that the pavers will be late because it has continued to be rainy for so long. They had work stacked up from last season that they had to do first, and they probably haven’t had very many days that they could work so far. They said they don’t schedule their work too far out because of the weather, so they will call us about 10 days before they want to start. For the same reason, probably, we haven’t heard a peep from our house painters.
Speaking of paving, we had our first neighborhood meeting to discuss the state of the road. It was nice to meet a few more neighbors (we had only met two up until then), but only about half showed up and we weren’t able to decide anything because of a few complications. Next meeting is this Saturday at my niece’s house.