Sunday, April 25, 2010


Photos: Shoveling leaves over the moving boxes; watering in the pea seeds; the garden today - gravel down and peas up; the 59 remaining crab apple tree-lets.

We've been in the house - or mostly out of it - for a little over a month. I think we're staying.

After the initial unpacking and settling, I've been drawn outdoors. The vegetable garden has consumed countless hours and is still far from the vision my children and I "have in our heads". But it is coming along. Most of the beds are in place. I'm experimenting with a "no dig" method, which should not be mistaken for the "no work" method. Layers of moving boxes are composting under layers of somewhat decomposed leaves and a good thick topping of lovely black soil, delivered in a big pile and trundled (by me) across the driveway, up the yard, and into the garden. The beds are laid out with stuff made of recycled rubber (I think - recycled something that clogs the teeth of my little saw) - selected after the fallen trees claimed from our woods looked just a little too rustic next to our clean-lined home. It seemed to take weeks just to get the beds laid out and filled in.

But finally - things are taking root. We started with snap peas. The kids helped me gather sticks, build a tee pee, and string it with twine. Bella planted the seeds one by one in a little row in the shadow of the twine, and I think every one came up. They've reached the lowest twine and we're waiting to see them start to climb. Chicken wire will soon be bent into a tunnel to the tee pee door, and squash or beans will sprawl across. Corn and sunflowers will provide a friendly jungle, and a neighboring tee pee will sprout in the bed across the path. We may sneak in a few pumpkins and let them escape into the yard.

Impressed with our initial success, Bella and I have sowed lettuce, spinach, carrots, radishes, broccoli, parsnips, leeks and I think some onions. I should check the list - there may be more. The rhubarb and asparagus look happy with their spot in the middle of the garden -- the artichokes - not so much. Maybe next year. Strawberries are spreading out in their own little bed. Indoors the tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, marigolds, and zinnias are up, waiting for the final threat of frost to pass.

We haven't limited ourselves to short-lived vegetables. We're thinking long-term. Alongside the garden, four little heritage apple trees are blooming their hearts out. Six tiny blueberry bushes grandly guard the entrance -- their 15 siblings stand sentry on the hillside along our driveway. Ten little tiny twigs, a gift from the Arbor Day Foundation, are lined up and leafing out. And 31 of 100 baby crab apple trees - bought in a fit of floral envy -- are dug into trenches along the hill. Ten others have been passed off, and the remaining 59 will haunt my dreams tonight.

A week or so ago, Bella suggested we send a thank you gift to the woman who sold us our land. I replied that I was thinking of inviting her to an open house - to see how we've made use of her childhood playground. Both kids fell silent for a moment - then the protests began. "An open house? But it's not for sale!" from Dexter, and Bella chimed in "You said we would grow up in this house!" Oh yeah. They remember those dreadful open houses in Pasadena, where Mom rushed around in a cleaning frenzy, boxing up toys and putting out towels they couldn't use. Apparently, moving is not an option.

Which is good. I'm putting down roots of my own.

Saturday, April 3, 2010


March. In like a lion. And somehow - gone.

Much has happened. We've moved. I've personally moved, re-moved, opened, emptied, torn down, and composted a mountain of boxes. The pup is (mostly) potty-trained, the kids are catching pop flies, and we've gone from snow to 80 in a matter of moments.

The move itself? There is nothing good to be said about the move. Kirk was out of town, my parents came to help, and the movers were 3 hours late and a guy short. But somehow, the truck was loaded, kids fed, puppy managed. While leading the caravan to the new house - for just one fantastical moment, I imagined telling the movers to take the truck and go. Don't unload. Don't unpack. Let me live lightly - so lightly - a breeze could easily free me.

But no. 26 feet of stuff stakes me solidly to this earth. Boxes of books, rusty chainsaws, wedding gown, family photos. I'm not going anywhere easily.

Still. The house makes my tethering tolerable. It may never be finished. The loft has no access, cabinets are door-less, and the library wall exists only in my imagination. A hundred tiny details need attending. Daily I battle the plaster and saw dust, and daily, it is replenished.

It doesn't matter. It's lovely. I wanted a house that blurs the line between inside and out. This house erases it. On these beautiful spring afternoons the house opens wide and we spill across the threshold. In, out, in, out, in? Out? Kids, puppy, parents. The house accommodates.

The front patio is quiet, contemplative. The puppy sits at the corner and watches the world spin by(our road, with its windy curves and gentle traffic, is beloved by the cyclists). The small child often sits and watches as well. We all could learn from them.

In back -- the party patio. Clattering games of cops and robbers - on scooter and fusion - take place here. Swoosh, crash. Knees are scraped, toes will be broken. Bring it. Life, lived.

The lovely long evenings also entice. The woodpeckers drum the refrain, and the frogs join in. Come outside, come outside. Dinner and dishes can wait. We may all be a little lacking in sleep, but we're overflowing with fresh air and sunshine.

But it is the morning I love the most. It is so still. No cars, no neighbors, no lawnmowers. I love to take my coffee, crack the door to hear the birdsong, and curl into a chair.

And for a moment, I too am still.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


photos: sign of spring!, garden planning in the snow
It's official. We're into countdowns these days. Bella has a countdown for everything. 11 days till Christmas. 5 days to Valentine's. 3 - 2- 1 day to MOJO! And somewhere between 14 and 21 days till our new house becomes home.

Let's back up to Mojo. Tomorrow the kids and I will drive to Charlotte to pick up the much-anticipated sequel to Boz. Our new little boxer bundle is just 8 weeks old - much younger than my former puppy experience (we got Boz at 4 months - crate and nearly potty-trained). So my excitement is unblemished. No prior experience with sorrowful sleep-inhibiting serenades, puddles of puppy pee, or chewed shoes. And Bella's excitement is infectious. She has created "mojo" dolls - carefully cutting out the photos I printed for her -- which come with us everywhere and star on any handy stage (in the back seat of the car, or on the table at dinner, or perhaps just on Dexter's head while he attempts to watch the Olympics). She's learned how to spell Mojo and dog, and wrote a "my little puppy" story to share with her class. Each morning is greeted with a mojo dance complete with the daily countdown. Puppy fever has reached epidemic levels here.

Now that other big countdown. 14 days looks almost do-able at this point. For a long while, it seemed very unlikely. Daily I would visit the house - and while JD was busy all the time -- I couldn't really see much progress. The house was untrimmed, showers untiled, cabinets unbuilt, lights unhung, appliances unavailable or undeliverable. And the whole place buried under a foot of snow. But this week - this week - such lovely progress. Countertops were installed Tuesday (did I ever discuss my search for "green" countertops? Or my thoughts on paying twice as much for products that incorporate the waste produced by cheaper materials? perhaps that's best left alone). They look lovely. Sinks of course went in with them, and the cooktop appeared. Cabinets are multiplying (somehow I just never realized my laundry room would also receive gorgeous bamboo cabinets. Even the little cabinet by the door, designed to hold our muddy shoes, is pretty), light fixtures have appeared, and the tubs no longer stand alone in the bathrooms. All week our homesite buzzed as a singular stimulus package - our treat to the local economy.

And I'm dreaming even bigger on the garden. Last weekend I decided to stop acting like a Californian and treat the snow like the good former Iowan. A mere inconvenience - not an absolute obstacle. While the kids snowboarded and slid "penguin-style" on the hill, Kirk and I staked out the vegetable garden. Orange flags and tape work very well in the white snow! My former design turned out to be a little too small - so I'm expanding and re-working it. And I'm taking a 4-week landscaping class - hoping to develop some actionable plans for butterfly gardens, native flowers and grasses, and lovely understory trees and shrubs. I'm starting a list of "must haves" which is getting rather long.

So to the list of countdowns -- add spring. This week I saw my first sign -- a lovely pussy willow in full bud. I know the countdown to spring is more a dance than a straight progression -- but I'll take every little step ahead. I'm making room on my list for a pussy willow or two.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Living online

Well. Look at that. A reasonable person might wonder why I'm posting more pictures from that epic December snowstorm. Didn't I get that out of my system last post?




Here in the land where it "never snows" or "the snow never lasts" I have 11 inches of fresh snow with a lovely crunchy topping of freezing rain. Kirk made another "follow the snowplow" trip home from Charlotte in the middle of the night. We probably have to fetch Dexter from his sleep-over on foot.

Who cares? I am ordering seeds. Vicariously willing spring to arrive by browsing Southern Exposure Seed Exchange's enticing online catalogue. I've ordered $140 worth of seeds (most at $2 a pack) and I'm not done yet. I've got Grandma Nellie's Yellow Mushroom Beans and Blue Coco Purple-Pod Pole Beans, Cosmic Purple and Scarlet Nantes carrots, little lavender Rosita eggplants, 10 different varieties of greens, Deer Tongue and Drunken Woman (how could I not order that one!) and a bunch of other lettuces, 3 kinds of spinach, 5 kinds of onions and leeks, Radiator Charlie's Mortgage Lifter Tomatoes (plus 4 other kinds), and Yellow-Fleshed Moon and Star watermelons. I've got beans I don't know how to use, pumpkins that will have to just sprawl down the hill, and a special heirloom Appalachian banana-shaped squash that is pink with blue tipped ends. I even ordered heritage collard greens - and I'm no southern. But greens are greens, right?

All while cozied up to the fireplace with Bella and a bowl of popcorn.

Life is good.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


I stopped by the house yesterday to pick up our mail and drop off the compost filling my freezer (yes, we have compost in the freezer. Doesn't everyone?). It had been a cloudy drizzly day, but when I pulled up the sky was blue and the late afternoon sun cast a faintly glimmery glow over our property. A slight scent of wood smoke drifted over. Lovely.

There is still a lot to do inside the house, despite a move-in date of under six weeks. The kitchen consists of unfinished cabinet carcasses. Cardboard and plastic hide the floors. The bathtubs sit lonely in the empty bathrooms. There are no lights, no heat, no water, no power of any sort. A fine film of wood dust coats the windows.


The house is so peaceful. I imagine future moments when I will recapture this peace: mornings, post-kid-school rush. Late afternoons, pre-school-bus and kid chaos. Weekends when everyone else sleeps in. I am looking forward to years of these moments.

When I catch a moment like this - when the house and place where we soon will live casts its spell - I wonder what I've done to deserve this luck. Do others feel this way? I read the news. There are earthquakes in Haiti. A centerfold model who thinks waterboarding is ok and cap and trade is not is taking over Ted Kennedy's seat. In some parts of the world, women are being murdered -- "honor killings" -- for the simple act of going online. Little girls are being sold to the highest bidder, the lucky ones to be married, the unlucky into a life of prostitution. It's rape in either case, in my book. Families here, closer to home, have lost jobs, homes, dreams. It's a disconnect I can't resolve.

So I savor the moment. And am thankful. And vow to not be part of the silent majority (at least I'm hopeful there is a silent majority) that stands by while the angry, discontented, hate-filled minority out-act, out-maneuver, and out-vote us all.

Post script: the photo at the top. Doesn't go with this post Which is ok, because this post didn't go where I thought it would. I thought I was posting about how the myriad details (countertops, sinks, light fixtures, light switches, faucets) are consuming my time but how really, they don't matter. Oh well. I do like this picture of our little office in the woods, wearing what Bella termed it's "snow hat". I couldn't resist. One last little reminder of our very white Christmas.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Garden dreams, at last

It's finally time. It's the longest cold snap in WNC in decades (of course), following the wettest year in decades. The kids had late start for school all week, and no school at all yesterday. We're bundling up like we live in Antarctica. Whatever. It's time to plan the garden. And plan I am. I've got graph paper, ruler, pencils, measurements, lists of vegetables, pages of seeds, and hundreds of downloads about stuff like crop rotation, companion planting, raised beds, no-dig, double-dig, diggity-dog. My head is exploding in theoretical garden knowledge.

So here's my garden plan (click on it to see it larger). Given the garden's place of prominence next to the house it needs some structure on a year-round basis. The double-chevron design is a nod to the "v" theme in our house -- reflecting our designer/builder's intrigue in our double-dutch, double-v last names. I think it's just a little more interesting than a plain square, and it sort of satisfies Dexter's request for a maze.

Instead of a plain fence, I plan on using posts with wires to hold dwarf espaliered apple and pear trees along the east and possibly west sides and blackberries on the north. Blueberry bushes will go in front of the fence to the south. Arbors will mark the entrances front and back.

The back "squares" are for the kids. Two short tunnels will lead off the main path. These will be planted with peas and beans and will lead to tall tepees in the center of each bed, planted with (hopefully) vigorous viners like mini-pumpkins, small gourds for bird-house building, and maybe even some edible squash. Tall sunflowers and corn will screen the tepees, and we'll leave space for some jack-o-lantern pumpkins along one side. These should be fun beds.

The "double-chevron" beds will host my rotating crop plans. The center is for perennials - artichokes, asparagus, and rhubarb for sure, and maybe some fennel. Parsley and basil go in as companions. Each of the four rotational beds will be lined with marigolds or other flowers to add color and ward off pests. I've tried to incorporate companion planting within each bed, and hopefully have the rotation in a proper order. The little "v"s on the side will host nasturiums or strawberries, depending on what ends up in the front.

The front section will be divided into smaller squares. I think this will make it easier to plant, since they can be designed for different seasons, and will give me a spot to try simple covers to extend the growing season. The kids each get to claim a section here if they want, so I am waiting to finalize these plans. Other ideas include salad greens, tomatoes, strawberries, more herbs and some flowers.

I went back to my April post on garden dreams. Here are the kids' lists from last April: Dexter wanted a maze and tunnels, square bushes (nixed) and azaleas, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, cherries, pears, rhubarb, corn, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes. Bella wanted flowers. And artichokes, carrots, corn, tomatoes, all the fruit Dexter wanted except rhubarb and plus apples, and mint. We've already got a hillside of raspberries, so with the exception of cherries and azaleas, I think I've covered everything! We'll see how it all goes.