Friday, May 27, 2016

You Can See the House Now

Okay, now that the ash is gone and it's spring with summer approaching, what would be the next, somewhat logical, step in yard upgrades?

You know, I could take care of this mess.

We we moved into this house, along the downspout were flowering bushes. I don't even remember what they were but they were really invasive and had spread. So, I spent a lot of time digging those up. Along the foundation of the house in the back are tiger lilies. Did you know they are ridiculously hard to kill? I found oven cleaner works. (Yes, there is a story behind that.) To the right of the ash stump, there used to be French lilacs. They are nice, but I prefer Persian lilacs, which have that deep, lilac scent, even though it lasts for roughly a week. The French ones didn't have that much of a smell.

The patch in the center photo used to have a large Persian lilac in it. Buckthorn, a horrible, invasive European import, has taken over all these patches. Along the north side of the house, it was just a mass of, what I call, trash trees. You can see this, clearly, in this photo from the post below.

All that stuff was encroaching on the north side of the yard, crowding out the grass. There was an abundance of branches and it was difficult to clean in there. But, and this was huge for me, I had attracted a wealth of birds to the yard because they had a place to hide. If you're going to feed them, it's important to have a place they can fly to if they felt threatened. A lot of this stuff was insect laden which appealed to the insect eaters. While I had to take down the ash as it was a safety hazard, I, technically, didn't have to remove this stuff. It wasn't doing any real harm. It was just unsightly and encroaching on the lawn.

I wrestled with this all winter and into spring. I loved seeing flickers and thrushes and several birds I couldn't identify, in this brush. But, it came down to what did I want from my yard. I want to clean it up and that means getting rid of this stuff. So, I hired Evergreen again.

Here they are clearing the area where the lilac used to be. I thought there was a lilac still amongst the brush but, in looking closely, it had been overtaken by the buckthorn. So that whole patch was cleaned out. They also ground out the stumps.

Once they left, I set out another block of squirrel and bird food. Here's the end result.

The tufts of green to the right are tiger lilies. With the brush gone, they have spread toward the ash. On the east side of the house, opposite where I'm standing, there is lily of the valley which exploded this spring, moving to the left into the area vacated by brush around the pine trees. Evergreen removed all the dead pine branches and the branches which touched the roof of the house. I have discarded ancient storm windows which I now have to slowly put out with the trash. I bought Round-Up and have sprayed all the trunks they couldn't grind around the pine trees because it would kill the pines. Yes, I know Round-Up is not a great herbicide to have in your house, but it does kill brush trunks and I need to not have those things resprout or all this money is wasted. You see another stand of brush near their truck. That's a lilac. I need to prune it back this summer. With this area opened up, I think it will flower more next year. There weren't many bracts on it this year and it's a Persian variety, the kind I love to smell.

I added topsoil and mushroom compost to the area around the downspout. As I'm going through my deck pots and planting for this year's growing season, old soil is being dumped here, too. I rake it all together. There will be more posts about yard rehabilitation. There's been a lot in my RA news feed about how being outside helps with fatigue and depression. Having come through a late winter, early to mid-spring depressive episode, I need to make my outdoor space inviting so I will want to be outside. It will help me and the girls like to come out when I'm out. I'm sure it helps them, too.

Stay tuned.

Beverage:  Dr Pepper


Sunday, May 22, 2016

Down With the Ash

Way back in October, I mentioned I was going to have the dead ash tree, located off the northwest corner of the house, taken down. I had sort of ignored it for a couple years, but it was reaching a point where I could see it becoming a danger to the house and the neighbor's drive and yard. I got a wonderful price from Evergreen Tree Service in nearby Warrenville. They were to call me the day before they took the tree down as I kind of wanted to see it go.

Well, that didn't happen. I came home at the end of October, on a cloudy Friday, and the sky in the backyard was noticeably different. There seemed to be much more light than usual.

The ash was gone. I was a bit miffed. We had agreed that I'd be called, but I had not given them a number beyond my home number and they had a cancellation on that day. I can't fault the guy for bumping this project up to keep a crew busy. This is what remained.

The trash trees around the tree area were removed. The stump was left that height on purpose. I bought this table/ground feeder from Duncraft.

It sits very nicely on the top of the stump.

The idea is I will put squirrel food in here and begin feeding birds off the deck. The key was going to be anchoring the feeder to the top of the stump. At Ace Hardware, their idea was to take off the roof of the feeder, drill two holes through the plastic in the bottom and use two anchor bolts which would be drilled into the top of the feeder. Since the feeder is not flush with the top of the stump, I wouldn't have a worry about food getting moldy, although with the squirrels in my yard, that would never be a problem. My original idea was to get a couple of locks and a small length of chain and use anchor bolts to lock the chain to the side of the stump. The feeder couldn't "walk away", if you will, nor could it be blown off the stump by high winds or if some squirrels had a wrestling match for supremacy of the peanuts.

The more I thought about this, the more I didn't like either idea. While mulling over what I could do, I found some rather stale sunflower bits and deposited those on top of the stump.

I figured if the squirrels didn't like these the raccoons would so there was no danger of these just rotting on top of the stump. Indeed, the mess was gone in 3 days.

Meanwhile, I was adding peanuts to the ground feeder which sat on a table on the deck. It's proven to be a big hit.

Off and on all winter, I added a bag of unshelled and unsalted peanuts, purchased from the grocery, to the feeder. It's incredibly comical to sit in the office and watch several squirrels climb up into the feeder, grab a peanut, and sprint away. In this photo, I added some stale dried cranberries found in the back of the cupboard. They ate those, too, although a possum got into the feeder to clean out what hadn't been eaten and then got stuck trying to turn around. I heard this awful crash that night, on the deck and when I shined a light out there, the animal figured out how to free itself and sprinted, well, ambled fast, off the deck.

I have ordered bird food before from Duncraft so I looked through what they had to offer in terms of "wildlife" goodies. They have these blocks of food. I bought one to see how it would go over.

It sits on top of the stump, ready and waiting for critters to feast. I shouldn't have worried about whether this would be well received.

I think it takes about 2 hours for them to realize a new block has been placed. At the lower left of the stump is the tail of a black squirrel. I'm thrilled to see that in the yard, in addition to the red and gray ones. I'm pretty sure raccoons and probably possums gnaw on the block as I'll come out in the morning and find it knocked off the stump.

It takes, roughly, three days to reduce a block to remnants on the ground.

In another day, not even this is left. Unfortunately, the location of the stump is not in a sight line to sit somewhere, other than the deck, to watch the feasting. I am currently without a food block. I am debating joining their food club. I'd get 10% off any food I purchase. I could, if I so desire, schedule food deliveries. Would the 10% off cover shipping and tax? I don't know. I'll have to crunch numbers to see if the budget would allow something like this. I have three other feeders, one new and two dormant, which I want to put around the house. Depending upon how fast they are emptied and what kind of food I decide to go with, a food club might pay for itself.

Since October, we've had some days of very, very high winds; 50 mph sustained with gusts up to 65 mph. I just know had the ash still been standing, I'd be looking at a large home repair due to a branch coming down. As much as I know I had different bird species using the tree for food, since it would have been full of insects, I'm so glad I removed it. I think, given what I've done with the stump, the squirrels are glad, too.

Beverage:  Water


Socks For a New Year

Remember when you were younger and, if someone asked you what you wanted for, say, Christmas, your mind raced to all the high end items you could think of? Well, mine did. Nothing was below $50, which is still a princely sum for one item gift. Life can feel like a game of oneupmanship; who has what and how can I get something comparable. That happens when you attach your self-worth to things. Funny how it takes having a lot of your ability to spend removed to have you look at what you really value.

When someone asks me what I want for [insert holiday], I really look at what gives me pleasure. It's not the cost that pleases me. It's the item and the sentiment which is, I hope, behind the gift. I've been so bad this first half of the year in not getting cards out for birthdays or holidays. If I do get the cards out, it's just a card with nothing hand written beyond my name. I have had no gumption to scribble words and my head feels like someone drained my personal dictionary. I feel as if I came into contact with the "villain" in The Ink Drinker. (This is a great book, too.) And sending a small token of my estimation of someone has been kind of right out. I have this, probably mistaken, belief that I simply cannot just send a card and, say, a Valentine's gift, without there being a 6 page letter attached. I'm fairly certain my friends will accept most anything I send them just to keep in touch.

So Valentine's Day came and I managed to get some cards out. One of my best friends, Patt, sent a small packet, which made me feel badly because I don't remember sending her anything. She sent me socks; wonderful, glorious socks.

Aren't those cool? I love the bright colors. She also sent these.

Cats. Best socks have cats on them.

Mother's Day arrived. I really botched that holiday. I didn't even get my mother a card, but I went to Iowa to get her and bring her to Illinois for her trip to Virginia. I bought her lunch and dinner for Mother's Day as we journeyed to Illinois. Carole sent a nice package with, you guessed it, socks.

Flying pigs!

Regal cats.

More cats and polka-dots. The last pair is the best.

Breakfast! I laughed so loudly when I opened these.

What this means is I can critically appraise my socks and remove those which are thread bare. I am thrilled. New socks are so comfortable. I would be happy if everyone gave me socks as a gift. I'm not fishing, mind you, just making an observation. These were such unexpected and fun gifts. Socks. I love socks.

Beverage:  hot cocoa


Saturday, May 21, 2016


Recently, my mom and sister, Sharyn, went to visit Carole and Larry in Virginia. I drove to Iowa the first weekend in May and picked up mom. She stayed at the house for a day while I worked and that evening, we drove into Chicago, in a driving, pouring, beastly rain, to pick Sharyn up at the Greyhound station.

Ironically, I had inspected that station, twice, for a very large road construction project currently going on a couple blocks away. The rain had stopped by the time Sharyn arrived so the drive home wasn't quite so sloppy.

We got up at 4 am the next morning, to pack up the car and head to O'Hare. They had an 8:30 am flight to Richmond, Virginia.

This is a really big deal. Mom hates flying. Once you get her in the air, it's not so bad and I'm told she even looked out the window once or twice. But she has issues with the pressure encountered when you take off and land. She said landing at O'Hare on the way back was horrible. Her face hurt so much she almost cried. The week spent with Carole and Larry was worth it, however.

While out there, Sharyn saw these.

This is an orb spider. They only come out at night. They were all over Carole and Larry's front porch and across the front of the garage. There was some "freaking out" when Sharyn pointed them out and a request to "Kill them! Kill them all!" Sharyn will have none of that nonsense. She knows, as I do, spiders are extremely beneficial. If you don't want to be eaten by mosquitos or have your deck plants chewed on by nasty bugs, you need to keep spiders around. Of course, they don't need to be in the house. We both try to gather the arachnoid onto something and fling it into the yard, where it belongs. Sharyn said the orb spiders in Michigan aren't as pretty as these. A friend said she'd be more afraid of the shadowy thing in the background than the spider. The angle of the light on the spider does make for an interesting shadow.

They are home now. I drove Sharyn to the bus stop and mom to Iowa. Pilchard and Mija weren't happy there were others in their house, but we all survived, including, I might add, the spiders on Carole and Larry's front porch.

Beverage:  Cream soda


So You Don't Have To

I'm late with this food review. However, it's important to post my thoughts so, when they come around again, you have an idea of how I felt about these.

These were out around Valentine's Day. I'd heard about them from members of my World of Warcraft guild. I didn't get out much in February, so trying to find them took a back seat to just existing. Then, I had to go to Target for something and they were on an end cap. I won't eat coconut or mint M&Ms and I've heard a rumor of chili-spiced which is But something like this, I'll try.

As advertised on the package, they were pink, white and ivory. Taste? Well, they weren't bad. I've railed in this space about how I think M&M's needs to stay with what they do best: peanut, milk, and peanut butter M&M's. I'd allow the crispy ones. Those aren't bad either. The almond ones are blah. I know people who adore the coconut and mint ones so those can be on the shelf, too. But all the different flavors seem to me to be diluting what they do best. At Target right now are red, white and blue M&Ms. I can get behind changing the colors on the brands. That's a clever way to make them relevant to the upcoming holiday, but multiple flavors? I bought a bag of strawberry shortcake M&Ms. They were not horrible like the candy corn or pumpkin ones were, but they aren't anything I can't live without. There was a hint of strawberry but the overwhelming flavor was artificial white cake. Strawberry shortcake is an amalgam. It shouldn't be mostly about the cake. These were more bland than exciting.

So, my recommendation is, if you like M&Ms and want something of a novelty AND they are on sale, buy a bag. Otherwise, save your pennies or support the original flavors. Sometimes I get concerned that they will be so busy trying for new flavors that they will forget to make M&M's with peanuts.

Beverage:  Water


Upgraded Sits-ing

Some things I have had for a long time. Take this footstool and cushion. I think both are in the neighborhood of 15 years old, but they could be older. All the cats who have ever lived in this house have used this as a place to rest, groom, sit and throw up. I used to be able to clean it, but, in early March, Pilchard left a whopper of a hair ball on it during the day while I was at work. When I got home and discovered the item, the whole cushion smelled. Over the years, I'd thought about replacing the cushion but never got around to it. Although I cleaned it off, there was a residual sour smell in the living room. Yeah, got to deal with this.

The footstool was part of a set which included a papasan chair which I bought from Pier 1. I still have the papasan chair but it has cracked and broken joints and currently holds stuff. I also doubt I'd be able to easily get into or out of something like that anymore; might be amusing to see, but incredibly frustrating for me. The footstool is in perfect shape. The only thing needing replacement was the cushion. Off to Pier 1 I went.

In the store, they had a small selection. Most of them were a fuzzy, velour fabric which is NOT suitable for cats. Oh they would probably lay on it, but I was concerned they would also try to groom the cushion. And if someone were to upchuck, I'd be replacing the cushion too soon. I brought the cushion along, looking for a sturdy fabric in a reasonable color. Orange! Teal! Ivory! No. No. And absolutely not. But you can order online and have it delivered to the store and the warehouse had 8 different colors. I settled on this.

This is my favorite color. The cushion is a tad small for the footstool but I'm thinking the old cushion may have spread after decades of use. It went right into the garbage. There are some things you just don't give away.

Her royal highness likes it.

It took her a couple of weeks to get used to the newness of it but I've already combed quite a bit of black hair off the cushion. Mija hasn't used it like she used the old one, but that will come.

Beverage:  Water


Into A Bag

I don't know about you, but one thing I wait on doing is bedding. I have enough that I don't have to wash the dirty stuff right away. I can get around to it in a few weeks time. I got to the point where the only thing I had left to wash was bedding so I did sheets, towels and a couple of blankets. Pulling them out of the washer to hang up, I noticed this on one of the blankets.

It's starting to pull apart, particularly in the middle.

Well, that's to be expected, I suppose. The blanket is probably 30-odd years old and it's perhaps at the end of its useful life. Once dry, I folded it up and stuck it in a give away bag. You could probably cut the blanket into smaller sections suitable for babies, finish the edges and it would still have decades more life in it. But that's not something I'm disposed to doing. I'll just give it away and someone else can be creative with it. No, I'm not replacing it. I have enough.  After all, part of tidying and giving away is not bringing more into the house.

Beverage:  Water


Friday, May 20, 2016


Bits and pieces of the house are undergoing transformation. I don't have a lot of time to do things and, lately, my stamina has been suspect, so I look for small projects which accomplish a couple of goals. 1) They make a section of the house whimsical or more enchanting and 2) They help me continue on the long journey of tidying up. Last month, I did another small corner.

This is the end of the hallway. To the right is the back bedroom. To the left is my bedroom. On the wall to the right are photo collage frames containing a wide variety of photos of my life; both family, alive and deceased, and friends, alive and deceased. Above the chair is framed The Simpson's "Wanted" poster from TV Guide from the two part "Who Shot Mr. Burns" episodes of 1995. Below that is a plaque which reads, "Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons for you are crunchy and good with ketchup." The chair was owned by my mother's father. His third wife did the needlepoint chair seat. It is very worn and I think, some day, I'll have the seat recovered. In my fantasy life, I actually do the needlepoint for the seat but reality usually points out that I don't know how to needlepoint.

On the left used to be a drawing of a sunflower. I did it years and years ago, when life wasn't sunny. It was to remind me to turn and follow the sun; follow the light; be open to the light. For the last few years, that's felt rather 'new agey' to me and I've wanted to replace the piece, but didn't know what to put there. So, this corner was ripe for a minor redo.

In the winter, I ordered a poster which featured the cover images of the Cedar Rapids Gazette's coverage of the Iowa Hawkeyes 12-0 Big Ten football season last year. I got a frame for it and took it to the office, intending to put it up on the wall next to the Fantasia poster for which I did a frame make over.

It's a big poster.

Fantasia is the only thing I want on this wall. The Hawkeye poster would go on the right wall, above the bookcase. The more I looked at the poster, as it leaned against the wall, the more I realized I didn't like it over the bookcase. I moved it to the wall where the large Hawkeye wall decal is.

But I wound up not liking it here either because it's big. The other side of the pass-through window doesn't have enough space unless I want to hide the poster behind the office door. I never close my office door. I have no reason to close it. The poster came home. Maybe I can go on the wall in that spot where I'm removing the drawing. That's what's up against the wall on the left, in the top photo, the framed poster.

The best thing I did to this corner involved some stuffed animals.

I got the little orange bird, named "Pepe", and the black and red dragons back when I went to BlizzCon last year. Dragons feature in World of Warcraft extensively. These represent baby dragons, called "whelplings".

Essentially, the stuffed animals just sit around. I don't do anything with them, other than move them because where they are sitting is in my way. Blizzard released the green dragon in April and, well, there are some things one simply must have. That means I have to move all four of them around when I need the spot where they were sitting. Such a pain. Then, I had a singular idea. They are flying creatures. What if I had them fly?

I bought some neon bright variegated yarn and crocheted a thread for each dragon, Pepe, and Figment, a dragon I got from Walt Disney World back in 1990. I bought cup hooks and screwed those into the ceiling. The thread was looped around each character and then tied to the cup hook in the ceiling. Viola. Instant flying bird and dragons.

Now, the plaster ceiling holds the cup hooks, but I was surprised they didn't screw in as tightly as I would prefer. Right now, nothing's fallen, but I kind of expect one of these guys to wind up on the floor if we have a really windy day and the windows are open. At that point, I'll have to evaluate this arrangement and consider how else to anchor them.

The poster went up on the wall. You can see the hanger to the left in the above photo.

I'm very pleased with the overall result. The drawing wasn't applicable to me anymore and these items reflect who I am.

Beverage:  LaCroix raspberry seltzer


Monday, May 9, 2016

Your Objections Are Irrelevant

I know I have not posted in what amounts to an epoch in blogging terms. I'm working on a post about the whys of my absence. It's a bit convoluted to explain in a post that deals with unicorns.

Yes, unicorns.

Work is back to being phenomenally busy. There was a break in February and March, but, since March 18th, it's been a steady stream. That's good for bottom lines, but not good for observational blog posting. I am, however, posting tonight because this makes me smile.

We are involved in a very large redevelopment in the city. Part of the project was inspections; 52 of them to be exact. I wasn't involved in the bulk of the project. I picked up the slack for smaller, far-flung jobs, but I did do 8 of them.

My last day of inspections involved a condo building used by DePaul University to house graduate students. In the first apartment, there was this piece on the wall.

I was struck by the coolness factor. The gal from the management company said as long as I took a photo just of the head, she didn't see any harm in my photographing it so I could find something like it later.

How does one find a golden unicorn head? Well, one types "golden unicorn head" into Google and up pops an etsy shop belonging to White Faux Taxidermy. Now, you go to that shop and tell me you aren't amazed and excited. Unicorn heads come in two sizes. Did I want a large size or a small size? I looked around my house. I guess I should decide where to put the thing, if I was going to buy one. I'm still tidying. It's an ongoing process, but part of that extends to the art I have on my walls. Some things mean a great deal to me. Other things have passed their excitement. I found a piece I got from someone who no longer is a friend. I never found out why she quit talking to me. That spot would be perfect for a small unicorn head.

The box came today.

When UPS pulled up outside, I knew what they were delivering. It's a rather large box. For a moment, I wondered if it would be too big for the allotted space.

It comes "unassembled", meaning the horn is in the styrofoam packaging with the head. You simply have to insert it into the hole in the top.

You can see this is not all that big. The mini-unicorn is 10 inches tall while the regular size is 16.25 inches tall.

Now to hang it. I removed the piece of art, a rectangular item 8.5 by 11 inches, and put the unicorn in its place.

The bigger head would not have fit in the space. I would have had to rearrange the photos above and below it. As it is, my photos are sorely in need of a removal and dusting behind and around them.

My next purchase is going to be a shark's head for the bathroom. It is only one size, but I can get it in a whole bunch of colors. Step 1 is to paint the room. Step 2 is to hang the whale shelf. Only then can I save up for a shark head.

Look! I have a golden unicorn head on my living room wall! Is this not the coolest thing? Any objections to life that you have for the next week are irrelevant.

Beverage:  Scottish Breakfast Tea (which I left on the counter as I went to work. /sigh)