Saturday, April 10, 2021

Starting a garden

I'm so excited! Yesterday I planted my first little garden at this house. It doesn't look like much at the moment, but I have high hopes.


I prepared the bed around the back porch on Friday by hoeing and digging out all of the grass and weeds. I texted my husband halfway through that task and said, "Hoeing is HARD WORK" to which he replied, "So I've heard.......!" Hahaha. All joking aside, though, it really was hard work for someone like me who's unaccustomed to such labor and out of shape to boot. I have three blisters on my hands to prove it. 

That afternoon, once I'd showered and cleaned up, I went out to Lowe's and bought seedlings. Their selection was somewhat small, but I got five indeterminate tomato plants, all heirlooms, and three determinates, all hybrids. The indeterminates:  Mr. Stripey, German Queen, San Marzano, Red Beefsteak, and Pink Brandywine. The determinates: two Celebrity seedlings and one Bonnie's Centennial. 

In addition to the tomatoes, I picked up a 6 pack of small jalapeno plants, and two little containers with 5 cucumber seedlings in them. I separated the cucumbers so I'll eventually have five separate plants. They have to grow some before I plant them, since they barely have true leaves at this point. I also bought some marigold plants and two little pots of Italian flat leaf parsley which you can see in the foreground of the photo. I also picked up some extra marigold and nasturtium seeds to sow to fill out the empty spaces some. I want the beds to be pretty as well as productive!

I did all the work of actually planting yesterday morning. All of that bending, kneeling, digging, and crawling around has left me sore today (especially in the legs). It seems to have been a really good workout! Hopefully I'll strengthen up some this summer as I work to maintain everything.

My garden bed extends around the corner of the porch into an L shape. Five of the jalapenos are planted around the corner, and further along, I set out the banana plants that overwintered on the back porch in pots.


The pomegranate tree (the lower half of it) is visible at the end of the bed, by the windows. Maybe this year we'll get a few pomegranates. I dare not hope for bananas, but that would be nice! My fig tree is doing well, too, but it will probably be another year or two before we get any figs. Patience is a big part of gardening.

 I hope my garden can grow and expand in the coming years, and one of these days I'm going to build nice raised beds out in the yard. Another ongoing homeowner process, but one that I think I'll enjoy more than most!


Thursday, April 8, 2021

Homeowner headaches

As many of you long time readers know, I was thrilled when I was finally able to buy my first home a couple of years ago. We waited and rented so long that I was beginning to be afraid we'd never be able to manage it. The first few years after we got married we were almost ready; we had a decent nest egg saved up, good credit scores, and I had a job making double my current income. Then cancer struck, which wiped out our savings, ruined my husband's credit score (the medical bills were obscene, even with good health insurance) and put any plans for the future strictly on hold for a long time. 

When we were finally able to buy this house, I was so grateful. It's been a bittersweet thing, because what made it possible was a generous inheritance we got when my dear mother-in-law passed away. She would have loved this place!  I get sad sometimes when I think about all the fun we could have had, sitting on my screened porch, drinking wine and watching the bird feeders. I wish we could have bought this place before she died, but such is life. 

Since becoming homeowners, we've been very preoccupied with proper care and maintenance of the house. Our last rental home had grown so shabby (thanks to our cheap ass landlord) that I was embarrassed to have people over by the last year we were there. Things wear out and break down over time, and he always, always found the cheapest possible option to repair and/or replace things. We swore that we would never look for the cheap option over the quality one in a home we own, and not only that, we're looking to improve the place. Not for resale, because we hope to live here forever, but for our own comfort and happiness.

Still, I've discovered the one downside of homeownership: there's never any end to the maintaining/repairing/replacing one must do, especially with an older house like ours. 

We've done pretty well so far, though. First off, we had to replace the 36 year old HVAC that was here when we bought the place. It kept breaking our first summer here, and in a place as hot as South Carolina that's a ticket to misery. Of course, it took a large chunk out of our savings but it's been so worth it. Not only are we super comfortable, but our power bill has gone down dramatically thanks to the new, much more energy efficient unit. We added a door to the half bathroom off the master bedroom. The previous owners only had a curtain up, which was just bizarre. Along with a few other small repairs, that was all we did the first year. 

In the last month we came into some extra money (an actual tax return for the first time in years and then our stimulus payments) and decided to save part of it, but to put the rest into the house. First I called an HVAC company and paid a yearly fee that includes twice a year servicing of our new unit. They came out on Monday morning and did their pre-summer maintenance, and they'll be back in 6 months to do the same thing to prepare for the winter. I paid for the year all at once, in advance. Hopefully this will make our new unit work better and last longer than it would otherwise, so I consider it protecting the investment we made. Money well spent.

Then we had decided we needed some plumbing work done. The shower drain clogged regularly and putting chemicals into it was making me nervous and wasn't resolving the issue. There was a tiny, intermittent leak under the kitchen sink. Most importantly, we have a tankless hot water heater and had heard that they need periodic flushing and maintenance to continue working properly. I looked around online and contacted a combination plumbing and electrical company that has years' worth of excellent customer reviews. They came out Tuesday morning, looked at those three things, and quoted us a price....

Over $800!!!!  We were aghast.

It was $300 to service the tankless water heater....$200 to add a new drain to the bathroom tub that would work better....and the tiny, almost insignificant leak under the kitchen sink was the result of a poor, "rigged together" piece of plumbing that wasn't "up to code" and had to be redone...another $250. Also the initial assessment of the issues involved a $65 service fee. 

We went ahead and had the work done, but weren't happy about it. I'll admit that the technicians were very professional, prompt, and thorough. But they should have been for the $870 we ended up spending after taxes were added in! If any of you reading this are homeowners and live in the states, do you think that's excessive? It seemed so to me, but what do I know? I do know this, however: whenever we go to have plumbing or electrical work done in the future, we'll try a different company to see if we can get better rates!

At the end of the day, though, we've had some nagging worries put to rest and that's a little more peace of mind. Our a/c is getting regular service now, our tub drains, our kitchen sink is "up to code" and won't be leaking anymore, and our tankless water heater has had really important maintenance done. 

Time to move on down the list and onto the next thing.....as soon as our bank account recovers!

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Easter weekend photos

 I took a few pictures the other night when my friends came over for our little belated birthday/vaccination party. 

First, the table with my china rabbits, the birthday cake, and the punchbowl full of Sparkling Strawberry Margarita punch.



Did I mention that Marla, Martina, and I made plans to dye Easter eggs? We thought it would be a fun activity for the day before Easter. They both brought over a dozen boiled eggs (I'd prepared my own dozen the night before) and I supplied the cups of dye. We really had fun with this! Martina said she hadn't dyed Easter eggs since she was a kid. Marla planned to go home afterwards and dye more with little Carsen, since she's finally old enough to appreciate the activity.





Speaking of Carsen....she's just as fascinated with the big aquarium as she's been since infancy. She spent the whole 30 minutes or so she was at our house looking into it.

Except, of course, when the two toddlers were finally reunited!

Buddies.


It was certainly good to see my friends again, but I must admit it felt a little awkward at times. There would be sudden silences when no one could seem to think of anything to say next. Halfway through the party, I had to go sit on the porch by myself for five minutes or so. I was feeling a tiny bit overwhelmed. (Marla and Martina were inside having a spirited conversation about something so I don't think they noticed). They both went home a little earlier than normal, and I think we were all tired. Everyone acknowledged that we've gotten out of the habit of socializing in person and it just feels a bit strange. Who knows how long it will take before seeing friends will feel normal and comfortable again? Still, we had a good time and hopefully this is the start of more ordinary life again!

My neighbor Luella is back in the hospital. I woke up early Easter morning to the sight of an ambulance taking her away and we've been really worried about her. Today I texted her just on the off chance she or her daughter might see it and respond and let us know how things were going. Well, Miss Luella herself texted me back! She says she's very weak and will be in the hospital for a few days, but despite all that she seems to be in good spirits. I texted her back and told her how pretty her yard looks today, and she asked if I could snap some pictures and send them to her. Could I?!

The 50+ year old magnolia that had all the gorgeous pink flowers this spring now has the nicest green leafy shade.



She was so happy to get these photos! I told her to hurry up and get well and come back, her little house misses her! :) 

I hope you all had a nice Easter (if you celebrate it) or a nice spring weekend!

Saturday, April 3, 2021

The cake!

 Just a quick post this morning, as I'm finishing up the last few small things I need to do before my friends come over this afternoon. I commissioned a birthday cake from a talented woman I know who's a self-taught baker and trying to establish her own small business. I decided I wanted a yellow layer cake with chocolate icing, and as for decorations, I told her to "make it a nature theme, maybe with flowers, bugs, grass, etc., and just be creative and surprise me". This is what she came up with......




Isn't it gorgeous?!?! I think she did a fantastic job! It's almost too pretty to cut. :)


Here's a link to Jess's Instagram with some more examples of her work if you're interested.

 https://www.instagram.com/cake_ingbacksunday/



Thursday, April 1, 2021

Last of March, first of April

 Gregg finally suggested a birthday present for me that I was excited about--a new hammock to replace the one that wore out years ago. We still had the big metal hammock stand to hang it on stored in the garage. I picked out a red quilted one and we brought it home on Sunday. I've been relaxing in it every afternoon since!


It takes up half of the back porch, but I love it. With the screens keeping mosquitoes and bugs out and the ceiling fan to keep a cool breeze circulating, the porch is that much more comfortable and fun. My porch is my happy place.

This hasn't been an altogether happy week so far. A woman who works in our school library got devastating news about her beloved dog over the weekend and they had to have her put to sleep on Monday. The family is heartbroken, and I feel terrible for them. Then I embarrass myself by starting to cry every time I talk to Robin (the coworker) about it. I guess the loss of Ginger is still too fresh for me to interact with others experiencing pet bereavement right now. It seems to have triggered a load of fresh grief for me. It's strange. And hard.

Something else is happening that's bothering me. My 83 year old neighbor has been very, very ill all of a sudden. Her birthday was the Friday before mine, and we noticed lots of her family's cars at her house over the weekend. Since her kids, grandkids, and even some young great-grandchildren all live locally and come over a lot, we didn't think much of it at first....but then this week started and there were still cars there, and one of her daughters was spending the night. I finally sent her a text, just checking in, and found out that she had been in the hospital for 8 days and wasn't released until her birthday! We had no idea. Her daughter is staying there at night for the time being to keep an eye on things. Apparently Miss Luella had pancreatitis first, then a preexisting heart arrhythmia starting acting up, and then she caught pneumonia. Eight days in the hospital! At her age, that's scary stuff. She said that she's very, very weak and is having a hard time eating and drinking enough and can't seem to get any energy back. No wonder! I've been trying to think of something we can do for her, but all I can come up with is maybe fruit and flowers? I don't know what she can or can't eat, but a small basket of fruit seems harmless and some bright flowers might be cheering. If anyone reading has any suggestions I'd love to hear them! Of course I've told her that we're right next door, day or night, and to please call if she needed anything at all. I also offered to run any errands she might have. We've tried to think of other stuff that might help, but her family seems to be taking excellent care of her. Gregg did roll her garbage can back under her carport the other morning. We can't think of much else at the moment. I imagine her recovery is going to be long and hard, and once her family isn't there day and night maybe we can do more for her. But again, any suggestions are welcome.

On a happier note, Marla and Martina are coming over Saturday! And Marla will bring little Carsen over for the first hour or so (her daddy will come pick her up after a little while so the party can continue baby-less)! I haven't hugged that baby in over a year. She's about to turn three, so that's over a third of her life so far.


This was back in January. See? She's a little girl now!

It's going to be a fun time. I'm looking forward to seeing my friends again, and there will be birthday cake, and so my birthday celebration continues. Today is a half day at work, and after that we're on spring break. I'm looking forward to it.


Saturday, March 27, 2021

Spring progress

It's so beautiful outside these days. This time of year is truly a feast for the eyes when you live in South Carolina and if you take the time to notice. All of nature has erupted in gentle pastel colors. Pink sunrises, white drifts of barely-open dogwood blossoms, the first heavenly scented purple wisteria flowers opening (if pale purple had a smell, it would be of wisteria), yellow Carolina jessamine growing wild in the woods and along fences, red and pink and green buds in the trees. Speaking of green, there are thousands of shades of it this time of year. On our early morning walks with George these days I like to be quiet, soaking in the beauty and peace of it all. I would defy anyone to find a more beautiful place on earth than the Carolinas in early spring. It's my favorite season.

Here are some pictures I took of some of my gardening projects. As you can see, there's been progress.


The fig tree has new leaves!


So does the pomegranate!


My little potted ornamental pomegranate has new leaves, too.


And my miniature rosebush has the first flower of the year.


This is the oregano that I was just sure I'd killed last summer. I forgot to water it until it seemed totally dead, but I watered the dirt and dry sticks through the winter and it has re-sprouted. Yay!

Then onto the house plants.....my "Christmas cactus" is more like an Easter cactus!



The biggest orchid is still blooming, and in fact, there's a new flower spike shooting off the main one.


I hope you're all enjoying the signs of spring, no matter where you are! Have a great weekend, everyone!

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Celebrating

Tuesday was a nice day. Thank you all for the birthday wishes. 

Little P. had loads of fun. He's a favorite of the staff and several other people had presents for him. His mom took a giant piece of red construction paper and made him a birthday banner that dozens of us signed. There were cupcakes, ice cream, and balloons, and this was after his elementary school class had had a little party for him. His father lives in Atlanta and he'll be going to see him this weekend, so I imagine there's more fun in store for the little guy. He's going to end up spoiled rotten! :)



After work on Tuesday Gregg and I went shopping. I had decided I wanted to buy some camellias for our backyard as my birthday present but I was out of luck. The big box store that had dozens of them for sale all winter didn't have a single one in stock. Could it be the wrong time of year to plant them? So Gregg said, let's find you something else, but I couldn't find anything I liked or wanted. Why is it so hard to find something you want when you have money to spend? Or is it just me? If I were broke right now I'd see everything I ever wanted while out shopping! There's a big flower and plant sale coming up at the farmer's market next month, maybe I'll find something there.

Last night I met two friends for dinner at my favorite restaurant, Tubbs Seafood. I got fried flounder and shrimp, and it was delicious as always. And it was great to see a couple of my friends now that we've all been vaccinated!


The fun will continue next weekend when Marla and Martina will be vaccinated and they're coming over to my house for a little cocktail party with birthday cake! It's been a long time since we've been able to get together and I'm really looking forward to seeing them!

Also coming up in April is my book club's first in person meeting in over a year. So that's exciting, too! Life is slowly returning to something like normal. 

                   Pretty Birthday Flowers