Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tiptoe Through The Tulips

(Are you old enough to remember Tiny Tim singing that song? If you are, You're Welcome, because now it's stuck in your head. Just a little service I provide.)

Well, we're going to do it. We signed the contract and put down the deposit, and landscaping is going to happen in our yard. OMG.

We hired a designer, and she totally was fabulous as she walked around our yard, and then she came up with a totally fabulous design, with a ton of fabulous hardscaping and ornamental trees, and we spent last weekend visiting the garden center to look at the plants we didn't recognize and OMG it's going to be totally fabulous.

They are scheduled to start in about a week, and one of the first things to be done is to go around and mark the plants we already have that we want to save. Since we've not done much gardening this season (because hey--we're going to get it Professionally Landscaped!), the "garden" is really rather more of "weeds." So I figured, since I had some time and energy to use up, I would go out and clear away some of the 4 foot tall weeds and find the plants that we might want to keep.

And I found a lot of cool stuff! I found three different roses, and some astilbe, and liatris, and a green and white striped hosta that had gotten lost. Other things we should keep--or at least not just throw away--include two different colors of monarda, some baptista, a neglected and yet still living clematis.

Things we do not want to keep? Ground hornets.

Yes, once again I ventured into a neglected portion of the yard and scared up a nest of ground hornets. The first indication that I found them was the excruciating pain in my ankle, where one of them landed and stung me, followed immediately by further stings on my feet, wrist, shoulder, back and leg. These are determined little suckers, too--unlike bees that sting and then fall off and die, these buggers cling and keep stinging.

So there I am, dancing around flapping my arms trying to dislodge stinging hornets--which doesn't work, by the way, but it's an instinctual reaction. So I got to look like an idiot while simultaneously not getting rid of any of the hornets. I had to flick them off my body, and now I am sitting inside, safely away from the remnants of the attack force, waiting for the burning sensation to abate.

So, maybe I'll just let the professionals take the job on from here.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Grammar Matters reviews Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince today. While the review is tepid at best, it does confirm that the final book of the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, is being split into two movies.

Thus, the current movie is the sixth in a series of eight movies, leading to this editorial note:

Correction, July 15, 2009: The sentence originally misidentified this movie as the ante-antepenultimate movie in the Harry Potter series. It is the antepenultimate movie.

Now, how often do you see that level of perfectionism in a correction? Or ever?

Grammar geeks for the win!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Tending My Own Garden

We've been back from Europe for a week--as of today. As I look back, I am struck by something. Every one of my peak experiences--the best of the best--was time spent in a garden.

Sure--there were other incredible sights and experiences. Opera Garnier in Paris, Notre Dame Cathedral, York Minster. Going back to Hampton Court Palace was delightful, and the Tower of London is always great.

But the times when I was happiest, most at peace and most contented, were in gardens.

It helped that we had some spectacular weather, of course. Perfect summer days are rare, and are also perfect no matter where you are. But a perfect summer day spent at--for example--Petit Trianon is especially amazing.

Stratford-upon-Avon was another perfect day, and two more perfect gardens.

The gardens behind New Place, Shakespeare's last residence (now destroyed):

And the gardens of Anne Hathaway's Cottage.

Of course, I loved our trip, and I loved being there and seeing everything. But what I'm finding I miss the most are the lovely summer days in the gardens. Summer days like we are having right now--sunny, breezy, warm but not hot.

So while I would go back again like a shot, I think I might be able to keep the feel of our vacation here at home by renovating and maintaining our own garden. Voltaire may have been right about that.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Home Improvements!

One thing you learn when touring medieval European cathedrals--maintenance is a bitch.

Which makes complaining about the difficulty of maintaining a house that is only about 120 years old seem like whinging. I mean, if they can have eleventy million visitors a day tramp through Versailles, and keep it looking good, why am I stalled on my own house projects.

So we came home, and I am getting busy.

We met with the garden designer, and we are gearing up to launch into that. I need to do some follow up with house painters, and get that done. I have plans to meet with a hand made tile artist (who made the cool tile for our fireplace) to make decisions about (finally!!) putting up a back-splash in our kitchen.

I spoke with a drywaller today and scheduled the repair of the master bedroom ceiling for the time the girls are at camp, so we can move all the furniture out of our bedroom for the duration of the project--and maybe even paint as well!!

Not only that, but I have made interesting and inventive meals for the family based on our European favorites--actual home-made chicken pot pies the night before last, eggplant parmigiana last night. With home made creme brulee.

Life is happening at a faster speed right now, and it's exciting.


So, Capt. Sweetie and I have been noodling about in the garden ever since we bought this house, and frankly, my learning curve has been tremendous. Being me, of course, gardening has first and foremost been about "where can I stick all the pretty flowers I Simply Must Have?"

Capt. Sweetie, being better reared than I, has despaired at my impulsiveness, and has been heard to plaintively cry "But we need to set the bones of the garden first!"

Bones? What bones? Who wants bones in a garden anyway? We want flowers. More specifically, We Want ROSES.

So, we've compromised. A little. We dig out flower beds in some form of logical layout--sort of--and I buy lots and lots of roses and plop them in.

Recently, the garden has suffered from some neglect. We inadvertently introduced a noxious little ground-gobbler that came with the heirloom peonies from Grandma's garden, for example, and the attempt to introduce a small stepping stone path through the lily bed was disastrous. "Oh look!" cried the bunnies in a square mile radius, "They've built us a salad bar!"

The construction of a new garage a couple of seasons ago has created a need for more major construction than either of us have time (Capt. Sweetie) or talent (me) to do. The slope of the lot means that the exit door to the garden from the garage is about 2.5 feet about ground.

We need stairs.

Since we need stairs, we also could really use a path we can shovel in the winter.

Oh, and there are some really ugly railway ties that we wouldn't miss.

And then there's the former blacktop landing pad area. . .and the . . .and. . .

Long story short--we hired us a landscape designer.

Now, we are dangerous clients--because we know too much about some stuff, not enough about other things, are highly opinionated, as well as indecisive and greedy about design. So, we've spent the last XX years trying to design a low cost, low maintenance Japanese meditation garden with Williamsburg garden design in an English cottage garden of French symmetry. With herbs. And roses. And more roses. And a water feature. And a baseball diamond for the kids.

In a 150' x 75' city lot.

Good luck.

Against all odds--she did it! Our designer totally got who we were and what we were trying to do, and she totally did something that we hadn't been able to accomplish on our own! Sure, that's why one hires professionals, but how often do they really come through like that?

So, using traditional materials (brick, blue stone) and a rectilinear design, she designed a stair to our garage, as well as a stair to the former blacktop area, while balancing the offset between the garage and the house steps. She put in a square patio at the base of the house steps, with clever notches at the corner to give it visual interest. She created a (geometrically perfect)circular lawn in the center of the back yard, with classic English garden planting on the edges, backed by evergreens that will screen out the undesirable views of the neighbors' yards. The former blacktop landing pad becomes a meditation garden, and the shady alley along the screened in porch becomes a Japanese style walkway between the front and back.

With a water feature.

It's amazing. It's wonderful. It's worth every penny. The Capt. and I are impressed, the kids like it, and we are all but drooling at the prospect of starting the project.

Sure, it's a little expensive, but I bet we can have a plant sale of all the plants that won't be in the final garden. That should cover it, right?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Back to American Posting!

"American" in the above title should--of course--be pronounced "Ah-MUUUUR-i-kan" for maximum effect.

So, back from Europe, still completely behind on the vacation blogs over at "Rosses in Europe," but slowly re-entering the cultural wading pool here at home. And catching up on two weeks of "Go Fug Yourself" posts. Which is nearly a full time job.

And those lovely bitches (a word I use here with love!) at GFY HQ have given me the answer to just what it is about French women and what makes them so chic. As I have previously theorized, it's all about the posture.

As proof, I give you Exhibit A, Marion Cotillard:

The dress is lovely, of course, but not unlike something you might see in the window down at the mall. The shoes are quite basic, the hair and make-up are understated. In fact, you could probably get a knock off of this entire ensemble for under $100.

But you (and by "you" I obviously mean "I") couldn't wear it the way she does. There is something indefinable about her posture, the ease with which her arms rest at her sides, the small smile that seems to invite you to share her amusement. Just the way she stands, she, like Audrey Hepburn, is bringing the French.

I am both delighted by it, and madly jealous.