Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Pint-sized Miracle

Ten days out from bottling, yesterday was the first day we could chill and taste our first microbrew. So how did we fare?

It was Dee-licious! This was just a kit, which is sort of like saying you did the Tour de France with training wheels on your bike, but it was still a resounding success. This a blonde ale from Homebrewers Outpost. It had distinctive hoppy notes, without overpowering the malt balance. Carbonation and color were perfect. Turns out this is a perfect summer beer!

I doubt this outcome is pleasing to my MIL. Many years ago my FIL and a friend tried making a homebrew. The details of this event are sketchy, though we have nailed down these facts. Sanitation might not have been as scrupulously attended to as necessary; there was a concerted effort to boost the alcohol content by continuing to add sugar through the fermentation process; the resulting beer was skunky and had floaters that my FIL described as “eyebrows”; the bottles later exploded in a closet in the friend’s mobile home; and no beermaking attempts followed.

My MIL, who does not like beer, delights in reminiscing about this beermaking disaster, winding up for the retelling by scrunching up her face like she just smelled a fart, and emphasizing how bad the beer was. Now we have ruined the moral of her story by creating an extremely successful batch. Who knows? Perhaps my FIL will order his own beer kit and give it another go!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

G is for Green

The afternoon of nursery exploration was a major success. Sunrise was my first stop, and as Anna suggested, is worthy of revisiting again and again. We traipsed about their bush and tree selection in the midst of a cold drizzle, and ooed and awed over the entire selection. At one point we even debated planting a redwood instead of one of the witch hazels that had been planned for the rear property line. Yes, redwood. No, these two plants are nothing alike. Not in effect. Not is size. Nothing. And Sunrise’s wide sedum collection has me contemplating a vast expansion to that section of my garden, even though it is destined to be tilled under in a year or two to make way for a new entry and approach path.

We also stopped at Pine’s, and I gotta say I was lovin’ that as well. Every greenhouse and garden center has its own strengths. Pine’s has almost no trees and shrubs, but they did have a wonderful selection of perennials, even stocking Solomon’s Seal, though they only had the variegated kind, and not the variety I swiped, er transplanted, from our old home. Of the two, I prefer the appearance of my variety, and that’s good. I was able to transplant as many as 50 of these rhizomes before an offer was made on the old house. The price at Pine’s? Over $10/individual plant. Ka-CHING! Thank you whoever you were former owner of former house for planting those babies!

Solomon’s Seal wasn’t the only plant I was able to save. I had also planted hosta along the narrow north yard of our former home (When I mean narrow, I mean it was 3' at its widest, and 2' at its narrowest. NARROW, narrow.) and then quickly forgot about them. That is, until it was about time to put the house on the market. When I went exploring, I found that one of my two hostas had become a giant, and I’m relieved to say it survived the transition beautifully.

A few tiny ferns, a very short run of day lilies, and some surprise lilies also came with us, and they seem to be thriving.

My last day at the house, on my final walkthrough before I turned the keys over to the Realtor for closing, I took the liberty of trimming up the pussy willow. Just a bit. And those branches happened to drop into the trunk of my car, rather than the trash barrel. Once home, I threw them in a glass of water, and have tried with mixed success to nurse them through the winter. A few have survived and grown roots, and these are now planted in a patch of dirt where I hope they will take firm root this spring. No pics. It mostly looks like someone stuck dead twigs in the yard. But there are a few green leaves. Gardening is very much about trust. I know I can get pussy willow fairly easily, but this particular specimen grew to over 20' tall. And pussy willows don’t do that. Clearly it is a mutant variety.

As for new things, this is the year of our Great Hops Experiment. We planted our rhizomes a few weeks ago, and all but three have broken through the soil. This Nugget is far and away the most advanced of the bunch.

I’m still waiting on both Saaz and one Fuggle to poke their heads above ground.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Phase Next

It seems as though every deadline reaches a point where it eclipses everything else, putting everything on pause until that deadline passes. Afterward a period of re-evaluation of deadlines and priorities follows. It always does. Napping often tops the set of new priorities. I mean, let’s be honest, right?

Preparation for last weekend’s garage sale pushed nearly every other project and priority to the sidelines. And during? Ha! The first hour of the first day were so busy that we could have had three other helpers and we still would have been running like crazy. But it was good. The goal wasn’t to earn as-much-as-money-as-possible. It was to liquidate duplicates and unnecessaries from our move so that we could gain some elbow room both inside and out. We opened at 8 a.m. By 9:30 we had probably sold half of inventory. By noon, likely 2/3rds.

Chief among the liquidated items was a surplus of landscape materials. Many of these items are things I have purchased for our previous home over the years, and out of them came lovely little planting beds and walkways. But here? No. Every previous owner and any tenant who cared enough to invest in their yard has added a planting area using a completely different type of material. We have authentic railroad ties. We have smaller treated log-type ties. We have limestone rubble. We have river rock. We have gray concrete retaining wall blocks, and concrete paving squares. We have red concrete scalloped edging, and we have red concrete flat rectangles. About all we were missing was white quartz rock and lava rock. In other words, there has never been one vision for this yard. But this owner has a vision. And in order to make it happen, we needed to liquidate these stones.

I am so pleased that one of my favoritist people heard the siren song of these pavers, and came early (at my invitation) to cherry pick from the bunch to create planting zones in her yard. The rest went to two other people, and were spoken for by 10 a.m. on Day 1. These all went for a ridiculously low price, but that is fine by us. It helped to pay for some mulch for a newly cleaned up bed by the drive, which we prepared over the exceedingly quiet Saturday morning. And today we picked up a purple robe locust for our backyard. Which brings me to a bit of a gripe.

It seems it is time to move on. I have been relentlessly loyal to our former town’s greenhouse, even after moving to a new town. But after a series of disappointments, I will likely never go back.

I wanted to order bare root arborvitae for our new planting bed on the hill where we chainsawed down the dead and dying cedars that had occupied that space. Bare root. I knew that they would be small, but as I said, I was expecting bare root. A 10" tree would be fine, and would take off quite quickly in its new home. We made three, count ’em three, trips to pick them up. On trip #1 the owner wouldn’t let us take them because we hadn’t dug the holes for them yet, so he kept them in his cooler until we were ready. Trip #2 that specific owner had the day off, and no one knew what the price was. On trip #3 we finally had our arborvitae, but they weren’t bare root. In fact, they cost as much as the 2x larger potted arborvitae that we had to buy at Home Depot to complete the line of trees. (We misjudged the number we had needed.) I had also asked about forsythia, but they didn’t have any forsythia in stock. (!) During all those trips and several phone calls prior to that we had asked about getting bare root purple robe locust. It’s coming, it’ll be here by the time your arborvitae is here. It’s a little late. It’s shipping next Monday so it’ll be here middle of the week. On Thursday we stopped by and were told the truck driver called and he’ll be here Friday.

On Sunday, before making the drive to town, I gave them a call. Turns out the vendor had cancelled his purple robe locust order so the greenhouse owner is going to have to find another supplier. Um, the window for buying bare root purple robe has already closed for this year. Gee, thanks.

But it doesn’t stop there. On Thursday I had also asked about witch hazel. I had been told over the phone that they carried it, so I just needed to see what varieties they carried, and check the price. An employee took me out front and checked a bunch of tags. Wasn’t there. Then we disappeared in the back for the longest time. When he came back he said that it should be back there, but that it’s a mess back there and he can’t find anything.

It’s not that I’m so angry that I’ll never set foot in their store again. But clearly I am finding zero success in going there with a plan and a list. And that’s what I have. A plan and a list.

We passed through town as we returned borrowed garage sale supplies. This time we decided to visit another nursery. Did they have purple robe? Yes. Not bare root, but nice healthy big trees, of which they have one less now because it is, e-hem, now planted in our yard. Did they have witch hazel? Yes, in about 5 varieties and right in plain sight. A little too rich for my post-tax blood at the moment, but witch hazel just the same.

Tomorrow I think I’ll take some time to visit the nurseries in my new town. Perhaps I’ll find a surprise or two. Something that is on our plan and list. And perhaps even in our budget.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Never-ending Plants

The blush has faded on my planting enthusiasm. Every day every day it seems as though I’ve got several hours of yard work to do, or am pointedly postponing enormous amounts of yard work. Once all the mulch is down and all the plants are in, periodic mowings will be a piece of cake. But before that can happen I’ve got a veritable butt-load of plants that need to be put in the ground.

Yesterday I finished planting my experimental hops garden. I’ve got Czech hops growing along the garage wall, while German and English hops varieties share the walls of my sunken garden. Let’s hope that they thrive but don’t battle it out like World War II.

Today we need to plant two flats worth of Euonymus COLORATUS between the curb and the new row of Emerald Arborvitae. That’s two flats worth of kneeling on the ground digging holes, and rearranging that monstrosity of a mulch pile that we finished spreading last weekend.

If that weren’t daunting enough, Mr Very Nice Neighbor called this morning. He and his wife have been working in their garden, re-designing some of the beds, and he had several divisions of Liriope set out if I wanted them. I could have said no, but I actually do have an area that could use an ornamental grass to soften up the otherwise hard edge. And as much as I’m spending on landscaping, getting about $100 worth of edging plants for free is a no-brainer. Still, that means even more time in the garden with shovel and trowel in hand.

As we were preparing to plant the Euonymus, I noticed a clump of other plant divisions had been placed carefully alongside the driveway. Mr and Mrs Very Nice Neighbor had a few more plants they wanted to share: day lilies and another type of decorative grass.

I saw them working in their yard and chatting with Another Very Nice Neighbor, so I took a break to thank them in person. From this visit I have learned that we have earned a rep as the “hardest working people in the neighborhood.” That’s good. It means that we have probably accomplished a sufficient amount on our house that our less-than-nice neighbors will likely cut some slack in other areas. Like the fact that our trashcan sometimes sits in front of our garage, perhaps.

After talking plants for a few minutes, I turned to Mr Very Nice Neighbor and said, “I have some news for you.”

“Is the beer ready?” he asked.

“Well, no,” I said. “We had planned to bottle last Sunday but realized it was too soon, so we’ll be bottling this weekend. And then the bottles need to sit around 4 weeks to carbonate.”

The Other Very Nice Neighbor Lady brightened. “You brew beer?”

“This is only our first batch, but yes.”

“My husband is going to like you even more than he already does.” A statement that says quite a bit because since we’ve never met him, so his like is 100% based on house progress. Her own mother, it seemed brewed a batch of beer when Other Very Nice Neighbor Lady was a child. And she bottled it too soon, which caused the caps to burst off and beer to go everywhere.

“Yes, that’s exactly why we decided to wait.”

That is a disaster I expect to experience at some point, but hope to avoid as long as possible.

The kumihimo braid is coming along quite well. I’m becoming more confident in my craftsmanship, which means that repeats go much faster compared to the first two days of work.

I’m noticing that the width of the finished braid is varying a bit over its length. It could be that the fiber has minor thickness irregularities, which can alter the width if several of the thicker strands fall at the same point, or several of the thinner strands fall at the same point. Like colors pooling in knitting.

Or, it could be that how I rest my maru dai is affecting the tension and therefore the braid dimension. Because I am working with so many bobbins, I tend to cluster my non-working groups and spread out the next working set. But doing so means that the weighted bobbins are not evenly arranged around the mirror.

I suppose if I actually read my braid book, I would discover that it addresses this particular problem. But that would involve approaching kumihimo in a scholarly-type way, and at this point I’m more interested in getting a splashy end product with as little knowledge supporting it as possible. To be perfectly honest. I mean, yesterday I finally (after months of trying to find how to do it in various manuals) found out how to animate a dashed line in Motion, and create a Ken Burns-type effect in Final Cut Pro, which is not a simple automated as an effect as it is in iMovie. Those two things pretty much reached my book-learnin’ quota for at least a month, I say.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Phone Manners

Had an interesting phone call recently. Well, less interesting and more oddball, or crazy, or need-to-adjust-their-meds call.

First, let me begin by saying I don’t accept sales calls. That is not how I do business. I will never NEVER buy anything, take out credit, or adjust an existing service agreement through an inbound sales call. NEVER. Not in my business, and not in my personal life. NEVER.

Second, I will add that I’m a rather busy person, so if the answer is going to be “no,” I cut to the chase rather quickly and don’t waste the salesperson’s time nor my own any more than necessary. I would think this would be what the salesperson would prefer so they can move on to a more likely “yes” elsewhere, but what do I know? (I’m sure their sales rates increase if they are able to engage the other party, but as I said, my answer is always going to be “no.” Period.)

On the other hand, I do not berate, argue, or yell at the salesperson, or make comments about them, their mother, and army boots. The answer is a simple but clear “No. Take me off your call list.” End of discussion. Next?

Yesterday I received a call while I was busy with other matters. I had several clues from the outset that it was a sales call. First, was a suspicious reading on my Caller ID, but that isn’t always reliable. I answered the phone with my peak professional salutation. The woman on the other end did not identify herself, but instead asked “how are you today?” More sales alarm bells. If it was someone I knew or someone who wanted me to know who they were, they would have said, “Hi, this is so-and-so. How are you today?” And I probably would have replied. But I kinda think how I’m doing isn’t necessarily anyone else’s business. Certainly not a complete stranger. Certainly not a random telemarketer.

Rather than reply to her question, I asked “how can I help you today?”

Turned out to be someone who wanted to know about my credit card acceptance system. Which I don’t have and don’t need, so again, the answer is “no.” I told her that and told her to remove me from their call list.

She responded (and this is the interesting part) by scolding me on my phone manners, because if someone asks how you are doing, it is polite to respond. And she immediately terminated the call.

Gee, sorry! My phone manners are quite fine, but thankyouverymuch for wasting my time. I hope that criticizing me for my phone etiquette gave her a fleeting moment of satisfaction in her otherwise soul-sucking job.

It reminded me of a call I received about five years ago. This was a wrong number call to my home, and placed as most wrong number calls are at a really really awkward time. The person on the other end asked for so-and-so. I told them it was a wrong number. They asked if they had called [my phone number] to which I said yes, but that it was an incorrect number. Then I hung up.

Apparently, when someone calls a wrong number, it is the polite thing for the person on the receiving end of the mistake call to make chatty chat with the caller until the caller feels appropriately good about themselves and the human mistake they made. Then and only is it allowable to say “goodbye.”

I had not known this before the wrong number caller called back again, and again, and again, to berate me on how rude I was by hanging up. I finally had to unplug the phone.

Right. I’m the rude party. Sure...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Insignificant Progress

After a myriad of outside influences derailed the kumihimo woven cord destined for the new living room curtains, I am finally working on it on a semi-regular basis. And flat cord is being made. See?

Impressive, isn’t it? Perhaps not. But to be fair, right after I hung the bobbins I came down with what I now firmly believe was the flu and pneumonia. I mean, when one is forced to sleep upright in a recliner clutching a pillow to the chest because that is the only position that one can get an hour or so of rest without feeling as though one is drowning in one’s own phlegm, it’s not a simple cold. Right? During cough and sleep intermissions, I hardly thought that leaning over the maru dai stand was a proper activity. Moaning and counting the minutes until I could take more medicine yes, but kumihimo no.

And then I went to New Mexico. With the remnants of my pneumonia, I might add. That was another week. And then once we got home it was lawn work like chopping down trees and mulching the planting bed. And then my focus during lawn work intermission was moaning and counting the minutes until I could take more Advil. I’m very practiced at the moaning by now, btw.

I refuse to set goals for myself with regards to the curtains or the cording. But I have blocked out two windows of time that are mine to braid without guilt. Window 1 is during the first and second cups of coffee of the day while I watch the morning news. Window 2 is both half hours of Judge Judy.

(If it weren’t for watching Judge Judy, I would be completely unaware that otherwise seemingly intelligent people confuse the word “borrow” with “loan,” as in “I borrowed him the money” instead of “I loaned him the money.” Maybe it’s just me, but that seems like a rather critical error.)

The weaving is starting to go faster. Without actually timing it, I think it takes me about fifteen minutes to complete one 8-step pattern repeat. And a pattern repeat is about 1/4"-1/2" of cord. At this point I will stop with the measurements except to say that I need about 4 yards of cord total.

If you insist on doing the math, please keep it to yourself. I’m still in recovery and don’t need the extra burden of knowledge to set me back.


-The Maru Dai Management

Monday, April 13, 2009

Forced Knit Break

I had every intention of attending knit group on Saturday, but after two solid days of moving two mulch mountains, it is no surprise that I lost all fine motor skills of the arms and hands. That’s okay. Not attending enabled us to finish spreading the mulch and cleaning up the driveway from the cedar demo of the previous week.

We did take two breaks of a sort on Saturday, though. And I’m not counting the ones where we sat on the shady side of the house swigging cold drinks and guesstimating how many more wheelbarrow loads we still needed to move.

Break #1 was in mid-morning when my favorite and new-found neighbor came over with his small trailer to load up our brush and haul it to the city’s wood recycling center which opened that day. He and his wife are originals to the neighborhood, building their home in ’67 when there was nothing except two other houses and a gravel road. We thanked him many times over. The favor was not one we asked of him - and he really didn’t need to do it. He responded by saying that he was glad to see people doing things to their own home and not griping about the people they hire not doing this or that that they were supposed to. He refused my gas money, saying it would “take all the fun out of it.” In fact, it wasn’t until I casually mentioned that we would be planting hops this spring that he arrived at a suitable thank you. “You aren’t beer makers, are you?” Well, actually we’re fermenting our first batch of home brew now. It was firmly decided right then and there that we will invite he and his wife over for when we open our first bottles.

I chatted with my mother later, telling her about Kind Neighbor and the recycling center run, because she had previously offered that we could borrow their trailer, but it would have cost around $50 in gas just to get it here and back. She wondered if this neighbor had been the one who sent over the handyman to our house several months ago looking for work, and gave us his business card in the form of his name and phone number scrawled on a legal pad. No, I explained. He lives next door to him. The neighbor who sent that bozo lives in Gale Sayers’ old house. I began to offer by way of explanation that I understood Gale Sayers was a professional athlete, as my mother is even less of a sports person than we are.

“Gale Sayers?!!!” He was a professional football player! (I was thinking it was basketball, but clearly I was mistaken.)
“Why do you know Gale Sayers?” I asked.
“You know the movie Brian’s Song, right?” she said. “He was Brian’s best buddy!”

Okay, without going into my age, I would like to offer that I was less than ten when that movie came out. Yes, I probably saw it with my mother and grandmother at an afternoon matinee showing at the Gage 4 Theaters, but jeez that was a really really long time ago. I’m pretty sure I’ve got the soundtrack on a passed down LP, but that’s it.

I reminded her today that I was very young when that movie came out. She replied that it is aired over and over again and been remade and that every time it’s on both men and women cry, just like watching Marley and Me.

I had no response to that, having never seen nor read Marley and Me, either. I think that might be a story about a dog, probably a schnauzer, but I’m not sure.

So I guess I’m saying, Gale Sayers, if you want to move back to the old neighborhood, you are more than welcome. And you can be assured, that I at least will treat you as any other guy. And hopefully you won’t be as cranky as the guy who lives in your house now.

The second break on Saturday was to shop around for the forsythia and flowering almond we needed for that bed. Forsythias are everywhere, but alas not the specific variety called for in our plan. Apparently, according to the nursery owner in our former town, “they’ve been doing some exciting things with forsythia in the last five years,” so there are lots of varieties in different sizes and growing patterns. Still yellow, but different. I, on the other hand, needed the old-fashioned Lynnwood Gold, which seems to be today about as rare as hens teeth. Old nursery didn’t have it or any other kind, for that matter, as all were being bought up by one particular estate-in-the-making in that town, so we went to the local Earl May store. They had several varieties, but not the old standard we needed. On the way out the door we priced flowering almond, which were in stunning bloom by the front door, and also something called for on our plan. At $40 a pot, we noted the price and kept walking.

Clearly, it seems, nurseries are favoring the new varieties of forsythia, so we made the short drive over to Home Depot. Normally I turn my nose up at box store flowers and plants, but it was still fairly early in the season for their untrained staff to have killed them off. Plus I wondered if we would have better odds finding Lynnwood there. And the answer was a resounding yes. Not only did they have the six Lynnwoods we needed, but they also had pink flowering almond. Same size plant, same size pot as at Earl May. The only noticeable differences were that these appeared past bloom, and the price was only $14. If we could save $100 or more by buying plants at business X as opposed to business Y, that means we can get more plants established this year than we would have otherwise. And let’s face it. While I’m sure the nursery plants are better at the time of the purchase, the real test for viability are the field conditions, which would be identically ideal or harsh no matter where the plants originated.

One of the flowering almonds is from our old house, previously rescued from Michael’s grandparent’s yard after their death.

As we worked on our mulch bed, we could hear what sounded like a bird calling in the bottoms near the golf course. But it was too perfect a call, like a Hollywood version of a call, and not one I’d heard before. Early this morning we were out in the rain, trying to spread out some in-fill top soil before the landscapers come to seed, when I noticed a flock of several species of birds calling and harassing a single large bird. It was an owl. The light was too dim to see any color definition, so my knowledge was limited to its general size (big but not enormous) and that it didn’t have prominent ears. It flew to a perch in the general direction I’d heard the calls, so I wondered if that wasn’t the source. I glanced through my field guide to narrow down the options, then did a google search to listen to that bird’s call. Indeed, we appear to live next door to a barred owl. You can hear its song here on the USGS web site.

Had I made it to knit group on Saturday, I was contemplating trying to reproduce this call during the meet-up in the hopes that someone might be able to identify it. Let’s all count our blessings that I did not make it.

And BTW, it is my experience that this and knitting are the only reasonable and rational activities on a cold rainy day:

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Question: What does Twenty-five Cubic Yards of Mulch Look Like?

Answer: It looks like this

And this.

Thank goodness we at least hired our landscapers to prepare the bed for us

so this is all we had to do!

Over and over and over and over...

Monday, April 06, 2009

Brewing up a Storm

It feels so decadent. Yesterday—a Sunday—we actually took the day off. Oh sure, we both had a butt-load of work, and the not doing any of it on Sunday means that Monday will be that much more challenging. But it was cold, the wind was howling, and we had a homebrew kit that was still in its original wrapping even though it arrived over a month ago.

From the bits and pieces of how-to’s I had read, I knew that the process of getting the wort into the fermenter would take multiple hours. Hours that I could do little else but literally watch a pot come to boil. That meant that we could not brew beer if we had only a few hours to spare, and we could not brew beer if we expected interruptions.

I bought our kit from Homebrewers Outpost. Tried the local-ish brew supply place first, but the day we made our attempt he was shuttered tighter than Key West during a hurricane, even though his posted hours, web site, and phone message all indicated he should have been open. And it’s not the most convenient place to visit: thirty-some miles away, quite a ways from the nearest highway exit, and on the way to exactly no-where. And at that time I knew no one who had patronized the store. In other words, the quality and scope of their inventory was a complete unknown. Rather than making a second attempt, I went the easy route and did the mail order thing.

Knowing that the temps were set to plummet into the arctic range on Sunday, completely preventing us from doing higher-priority yard work, we set the day aside to just brew beer. I had picked out a kit, which is a cheating form of beer-making in my opinion, but I wanted to limit the number of variables on our first go. After all, there are a host of things that can go wrong even for the most skilled and experienced brewer. Using a kit would familiarize ourselves with the process and equipment, yet give us the best chance of a positive outcome. Since none of the kits rang my bell (and I had doubts that I would be in love with my first batch anyway) I went for a Blonde Ale.

Like I said, most the day was spent watching a pot boil. Here I’ve dropped a muslin bag of specialty grains into 2 1/2 gallons of water, and I left it in the water until it was just about to boil.

There will be a gap of photos from this point forward because one photo of steam pretty much looks like another.

Then the grain bag is removed and the burner turned off. Malt extract and sugar are added and the mixture brought to a boil. Then a muslin bag of bittering hops are added, and the wort allowed to boil for an hour.

The kettle of wort is then dropped into an ice bath to cool before being transferred to the fermenter bucket (a food grade plastic bucket) where more water and yeast is added. It gets sloshed around for five minutes to mix thoroughly, then an airlock is inserted into the lid.

Before we sealed it completely, we removed an 8 oz sample and took hydrometer readings. We then transferred the sample to a satellite fermenter to test later in the week. That should let us know when the fermentation is complete and we can begin bottling.

(I realize that photo makes the beer look more amber than it should, but it’s only the toy camera effect.)

So what to do while hovering near a stove? Work on a puzzle, of course!

The first puzzle we have made in about a decade. Decadent, indeed!

And the fermenter? It is resting in a climate-controlled space, happily bubbling away. We may actually have beer!

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Spring Surprises

One of the pleasures of a new home is wandering the yard in the spring, discovering plants that previous owners and renters had tucked into gardens or under trees. At our previous house, the yard was rich in gigantic black hollyhocks, Solomon’s Seal, surprise lilies, and May Bells. Even though this home has not been around for nearly as many years, surely we will find dozens of surprises from its nearly 40-year history, right? Apparently no.

Instead it’s been half-dead trees and oddly shaped garden beds devoid of almost anything except weeds. It says a lot to me about the lack of pride of ownership the previous caretakers had, backed up by how the inside of the house looked, of course.

But it hasn’t been a complete bust. Last year we found a cluster of sedum ‘Herbstfreude’ commonly known as “Autumn Joy,” a sun-parched hosta, and several rose bushes. This spring we continued our search, wondering if there would be any spring bulbs. There is. Exactly one pathetic daffodil. (Who plants one daffodil?) And then this:

Small clusters of grape hyacinths that had either been buried randomly by squirrels, or planted to look “naturalized” by a well-intentioned previous owner gripping an ’80s issue of a lawn & garden magazine when naturalizing bulbs was all the rage. Problem is, mowing cuts the food source for the next year’s blooms. And these little hyacinths were lost visually in the expanse of weeds that we now call a lawn. In fact, we had no idea they were there until we spent two afternoons on that part of the yard felling a line of 15 half-dead cedars.

Working on the tree felling project also gave me the opportunity to meet our most-litigious-neighbor. I had heard this about him from others, but he confirmed it fully when he took the opportunity to tell me about all the injunctions, lawsuits, and cease and desist orders he had filed against neighbors A, B and C, hollering all this from his perch across the street to where we were working. This man likes his neighborhood quiet, so operating a day care in the home next to him was an absolute no-no and against the neighborhood covenant. He also told us about the suit he had filed against the “A-rabs from Topeka” as he described the people who previously owned our house. It’s not AIR-ahbs. It’s A-rabs. Long A. By that I gathered that he is a) a bigot, and b) hates people from Topeka. We somehow failed to tell him we were from Topeka. Also, I would have described the previous owners as an African-American physician couple from Missouri, based on their name and what little I was told about them from the Realtor. But what do I know?

And no. It wasn’t the sound of our chainsaw that brought him to his curb to holler his greetings to us. It was the fact that either he or the neighbor across the street had parked a pick-up on the curb where we needed to fell trees. Both neighbors have more cars than they can keep on their driveways, so they park the overflow on the street (a practice that also violates the neighborhood covenant, might I add). To avoid potentially felling a tree onto said truck, I had to go knocking on their doors to find out who owned it and ask them to move it.

At least when I introduced myself to litigous, his immediate response was to glow about how nice our house is looking.

I figure we’ve got about a one-year honeymoon before we tick him off to the point that we are served with papers. It might be my lingering cough that will be the final straw.

I gotta tell ya, this is still better than being awakened by gunfire in the middle of the night. And we like our neighborhood quiet as well.

Yesterday I took time out from processing the felled cedars (cutting and bundling limbs for recycling pick-up, setting aside firewood for next year) to dig up all the lonely hyacinth clumps and plant them in a bundle within a protected bed. They aren’t in their permanent home, but at least they will be safe and visible until we determine where that home should be.

Oh, and just found out that the guy who stole my husband’s identity is losing his spendy house to foreclosure. While I am glad about this, it also concerns me that it might make it harder to keep tabs on him so we can protect ourselves legally from further identity theft. And we haven’t received all of our victim compensation checks yet. Still, if he doesn’t pay by August ’09, he will be in violation of his probation, and that means jail time. And that sounds like a good deal to me. As I understand the timeline, he and his wife will be out on their ears by mid-May.