Monday, August 31, 2009

There may be a drought in Texas, but there's no drought on parties

The astute reader may have noticed a frisson of disappointment in the Bike Garden of late. It is true, things here are not at their best these days. Even setting aside the heirloom tomatoes/peppers disaster, things are distressingly brown all over. My stalwart antique roses are brown (one has actually gone and died on me):

The pyracanthae are all brown and losing their leaves:

The pomegranate is brown and hasn’t set a single fruit. Even the Apache plume, a desert plant, is showing signs of weariness.

Brown, brown, brown.

Part of the reason is the lack of rainfall. It is my practice to reserve supplemental watering from the tap for the veggie plot and to leave the ornamental garden to fend for itself. On those rare occasions that I do need to provide a helping hand, I can do some select watering from my rainwater harvest supply.

That’s been the plan anyway. As I’ve been coming out of my stress-induced fog returning slowly to the garden, I have also begun to notice other plants besides just tomatoes, and people, the picture is not only not ornamental, it is not pretty. So on Saturday, I decided to take emergency drought measures and open the rain barrel taps on the east side of the house.

Except that the barrels were empty.

Seems the squirrels had chewed through the hoses at their bases and all the water had leaked out.

What the heck kind of squirrel party was going on in my absence this summer?

I am more and more convinced it was one of these:

This is a photo of two party buses* that pulled up in front of my house Saturday night. Phi Delt** pledges poured out of it and into the frat boy party house across the street, where much shouting and cheering could be heard in the backyard for about twenty minutes. Then the noisy Phi Delts streamed out of the house carrying open cans of beer and climbed back onto the buses. The buses then took off down the street, whisking the exuberant and undoubtedly lubricated Delts on their way to another house somewhere in the neighborhood, only scant moments before the police arrived in their wake.

Yes, folks, it's pledge week in the Tech Terrace 'hood.

That shadowy figure riding his scooter in the first party bus photo is a very young neighbor who also lives across the street. Don't you think it's grand that he gets to have this sort of behavior modeled for him?

I didn’t get a chance to peer inside the buses, but had I been able to do so, I am convinced, convinced, that I would have found squirrels in there, yukking it up at my expense.

*These are called "shot buses," according to my sources. They drive around from house to house, and at each new place, there's a different drink to be sampled.

**Legal Disclaimer: I am basing this identification on the fact that a Phi Delt lives in the frat boy house, his buddies all sport the Phi Delt coat of arms on their big trucks, and the pledges were all wearing Phi Delt blue T-shirts. I could be wrong, of course, but if it looks like a duck...just sayin'.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

I am humbled by the Sunday ride

These are my training buddies, shown here midway through a 40 mile ride on a nearly perfect Sunday morning. That's my neighbor Dave on the left (whom some of you know from my training blog as "Swat Team Dave" but he's been promoted, so now he's "Homicide Dick Dave" and I can show his picture since he doesn't do undercover anymore). Standing next to him is Jill, my pal from waaaaay back (PGTX on the training blog), and Kelly, a very nice friend of Jill's who occasionally joins our little group.

All these people kick my butt on the bike. Here's a picture of the three of them from the rear a few minutes later:

What's that you say? You can't see them anymore?

Welcome to my world.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

In which I go on a World Tour and meet "Greenwalks"

I know it may seem like the summer was all drunken squirrels, flaming dryers, and junky closets here at the Bike Garden, but there were a couple of good days, too. No wait--maybe there were three…

My point is that life has its bright spots even when smoke is filling the house, and if you are staring directly into the flames, this may be truer still. Such extremes are not always necessary, however. Witness a bright day in Seattle this past summer when the Big Walu and I got to meet fellow blogger Karen, of “Greenwalks.”

Karen was kind enough to pick us up at Pier 91 when we docked in Seattle after a trip to Alaska…oh, did I forget to mention that part?

Well, after Walt and I went to Chicago at the end of May:

Walt and his brother Sasha at Millennial Park.

Millennial Park (top and bottom photos)

Street scene, Chicago (Look at all those commuter bikes!)

Walt and his sister Becky at Chicago's legendary Jazz Showcase.

And I went to a conference in Victoria, British Columbia, in early June:

Finnerty Gardens at the University of Victoria.

We took our first (and probably last) cruise ever to Alaska for my birthday:

The handsomest man on the cruise ship, trying to get his iPhone to pick up a signal. They charge extra for that, you know.

Now I’m sure cruises are lovely things, and we did have a grand old time. But they aren’t for us. Too much food for one thing. And not enough running/cycling/walking/hiking/canoeing/gardening/environmental awareness/natural history lectures about things that weren’t whales (there are other “nature” things out there, you know)/good jazz/good books/meaningful sightseeing that didn’t involve tourist shops for another.

But Walu says the coffee was pretty good. After he paid extra for it.

Still, it was interesting to try it once. I do love boats and water, and I loved being on a boat on the water. (How I dearly would have loved to cross the Atlantic on a real cruise ship “back in the day.”) Plus, I ran a lot of laps on Deck 7 and identified many great seabirds that the ship’s "naturalist" probably figured were too boring to learn about.

So when we waddled off the ship all bloated and numb from too much eating and too little doing, it was a joy to see Karen drive up in her wagon with a sign, freshly made by her daughter, welcoming us to Seattle.

We didn’t have a lot of time, but Karen took us to lunch, where I had some great tacos (best food I’d had all week, and I’d just gotten off a cruise ship—and you know what cruise ships are famous for: that’s right, food!), and then to tour some gardens. Here’s Karen and me standing in a little pocket public garden (sorry I can’t remember the name of it; maybe Karen will chime in and tell me) at Olympic Sculpture Park:

That's Karen on the left. Look how bundled up I am--in June!

And then Karen indulged my special request to see a Japanese garden at Washington Park Arboretum:

I love Japanese gardens. They are quite possibly my very favorite garden style. I’d have one myself, but Japanese and xeric are not exactly compatible, so whenever I’m in a place that has one, I make a point of seeking it out. In fact, here’s one I found in Butchart Gardens in Victoria:

Me, having my spirit restored in the Japanese garden after American Airlines lost my luggage.

And somewhere in there we even managed to see Karen’s personal “greenwalk,” a source of inspiration for my own humble hell strip. Hers is far lovelier than mine:

Karen is an amazing bundle of energy and just about as nice a person you’ll ever meet. And I’d say that even if she hadn’t rescued us from Pier 91 and given us some normal food. Or taken me to a Japanese garden.

Karen's is one of the first garden blogs I ever ran across, and I was taken with it right away. Although she started it as a way to highlight what clever people do with the "hell strip" (that thin strip of wasteland between the sidewalk and the street), it routinely branches out into other aspects of gardening as well. The writing and photos are lively and entertaining, like Karen herself.

I don’t have any photos of the rest of her garden, but I would describe it as reflecting her personality. Informal, sprawling, friendly, and wildly energetic. It probably even plays the cello and fights injustice, just like she does.

After packing all this sightseeing into just a couple of short hours, Karen dropped us off at the Elliot Bay Book Company in downtown Seattle and we said goodbye. I meant to come right back to LBB and tell y’all all about it…

But then the dryer caught fire.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Why I love teaching

It seems like it was just yesterday that we here at the Bike Garden were celebrating the end of finals grading and looking out across the vast, lolling landscape that is summer vacation; yet here we are, a scant two days from the start of the fall semester. It is as if the languid, pastoral, easy-livin' days were nothing more than an amusing little vapor.

And boy howdy, am I glad to see all the chaos start up again. Especially when former students drop by the office and bring me this:

Cream cheese cupcakes. Homemade. From scratch.

I have no idea how three of them went missing before I even left the office.
I do not.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Brief Primer on Garden Hose Repair

I've decided that my first real foray back into gardening post-squirrel/veggie plot debacle would be "the bicycle path cum spectacularly attractive dry arroyo." The astute reader may recall that a dry arroyo was the solution suggested by landscape architect Jason Hodges to a thorny problem Walu and I have been wrestling with. Firstly, we were having trouble squeezing our bikes through the narrow space between the cars and the front yard, which led to secondly, the necessity of riding over our neighbor Nancy's carefully groomed lawn and carving an ersatz bike path there.

Nancy is a nice lady and so I feel bad about messing up her lawn, but I'd feel bad about it even if she were a harridan, since it isn't the sort of thing an avowed social capitalist ought to be doing, no matter how I happen to feel about lawns in general.

So, in the interest of fostering good social capital, an arroyo/bike path it is for the Bike Garden, and you, gentle reader, will have the opportunity to watch it as it develops this fall.

The first step in the process will be to transplant the buffalo grass and blue grama that is growing like gangbusters there to a troublesome spot under one of the live oaks (where I can't seem to get anything to grow). To do this presents a pickle, however: trying to dig in soil that hasn't seen a lot of rain in a while can be a lot like trying to bust up a mess of concrete with a soggy toothpick. But the good news is that if you water it in real good the day before, you'll have no trouble a'tall.

And that is exactly what I set out to do this morning; but there was a tiny problem, owing to the aforementioned squirrels. It seems that in their charming little "summer o' fun," during which they chewed through the backyard garden hose the way drunken frat boys chew through pledge week (sorry about the reference; I was awakened in the middle of last night by some pre-pledge alcoholic revelry across the alleyway and I'm still a wee bit cranky about it; to give them credit, the boys did take it inside after the fire broke out...but I digress...) , the squirrels decided that it would be loads of laffs to aerate the front yard hose as well. All of which meant that before I could even contemplate starting my grand project, I had some repairing to do.

Now, I'm not the first person who ever needed to repair a leaky hose. In fact, there are devices called, cleverly, "hose menders," designed for taking care of just this problem, and they are available in the garden section at any of your local hardware stores. Here are a couple of examples that I have used with great success in the past:

Method 1

Method 2

I think Method Number 2 looks much neater and classier than Method Number 1, but they both do the job effectively, and have saved many a garden hose of mine from premature recyclement. Garden hoses are not cheap; a good one will set you back 30 bucks cash money, and not-so-good ones are not worth even contemplating. But, as you might have already guessed, there is a rub. These handy hose mender devices cost around three or four dollars apiece, and the more leaks you have in your hose, the less cost effective it is to repair it.

For example, in the hose I use in the front yard, there are 22 squirrel-induced puncture wounds. Simple math gives us this cost/benefit calculation:

22 x 3 =

...oh, let's see...

...carry the 3, divide the 7...

= eleventybazillion dollars.

Which is far more than it would cost to replace the hose altogether. Which I'm not prepared to do.

And so I turned to another arrow in our quiver of hose repair options, our good friend, Duct Tape:

(I kid you not, there were that many holes. You see why I despair...)

Aren't I the clever girl, though? Mind you, it still leaks like a sieve, but the effect is much more "soaker hose" than "raging geyser," and this evening when I tried it out, it certainly seemed to get the job done, and for much less than eleventybazillion dollars.

I think the next thing I will try is using the duct tape on the squirrels themselves. And while I'm at it, maybe I can get the boys across the alleyway to help. But that's a post for another day.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

O! Silly Me

Let's recap, shall we?

I nurtured my little heirloom darlings from seed, tending to them even in the wee hours of the winter morn:

Risked life and limb to shelter them from spring hailstorms:

Weeded and mulched them in their tidy spring bed so that they would grow big and strong:

Only to have it come to this:

Oh squirrels, why do you hate me so?

But wait. There's something odd about this picture...let me pull out those dead and dying tomatoes and peppers so I can get a better look at what's going on:


You don't see it? How about now:

The squirrels had a plan all along! Kill off the veggie plot--which was clearly not xeric--and plant orderly rows of water-wise pecans in its stead. Oh, clever squirrels and silly me.

Though I do think a pecan orchard is a teensy bit self-serving on the squirrels' part.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

John Deere and I are the same color!

Yesterday, my training buddy Jill and I rode from the shopping center at neighboring Lake Ransom Canyon, through Yellow House Canyon, all the way to the town of Slaton, where there is a famous bakery called, well, "The Slaton Bakery." Here is a pic from inside:

Naturally, we both had to have an apple fritter to refuel.

As we rolled along through farm country, I kept having this strange sense of familiarity...I couldn't quite put my finger on it...what could it be, what could it was almost as if I was seeing myself in a mirror, over and over...

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Sunday ride and public plantings

As seen on my little ride today...

While waiting at the traffic light, I saw these planters at the corner Starbucks, with two "Dutch-style" bikes hitched to the light post:

Another angle (and my favorite, though you can't really see this lovely planter as well because it is in the shadow):

Where I sat to drink my ice-cold Gatorade:

It was a bonny ride, though a bit windy.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Necessity is a Mother

Well, I had all these big plans for the summer. I was going to start my novel, post on "Dig for Texas," build an amazing contraption called a clothesline, pick the fruits of my labor on the farm...Sadly, not a one of my grand ideas turned out as I expected. The details of why this is so are not very exciting (in fact, just thinking about it all makes me want to poke a stick in my eye from boredom); suffice it to say that since school ended I've been to Chicago, then to Canada, then to Alaska, then to Seattle (where I met up with fellow garden blogger "Greenwalks"--more on that in a future report), then back to LBB for a mere 20 hours before I left on an unplanned trip to Midland, where I helped my sisters clean out my parents' home of 35 years in order to sell it tout suite. During all of this, my internet access was either spotty or too expensive, or I was just too tired to respond to emails or post on the blog.

That last experience, the cleaning out of my parents' house--which entailed nearly a month of hotel living (Oy. You have no idea.)--was traumatic enough that when I finally returned to LBB, I went into a frenzy of cleaning out all my own closets. Let me tell you something, people: Do it. Do it now. Don't leave this for your loved ones...

Once my own house was more or less in order again, I turned inward. I read some fiction (quelle change!), I bought my dream bike and began going on blissful morning rides, and did generally Important Stuff like learn to nap. Still I avoided the 'net. Call it "ether-lassitude."

And I did not garden. My little veggie farm, in fact, had died. Why? Well, although I'd set up a brilliant watering system that was water-wise and could be operated nearly mindlessly, the veggie plot received no watering whilst I was gone. This was not because my faithful husband was not doing his part and turning the little wheel-thingy on the automatic timer just as he'd been taught by yours truly. Rather, it was owing to the evil ministrations of squirrels, who, in a spectacular streak of what I can only imagine was some ill-deserved ill-humor, chewed several little holes into the hose that fed into the soaker hose, creating little spigots through which fountains of water would stream whenever Walu, with all the due diligence one can expect from a loving spouse, turned it on. Thus sadly, even with all of this careful attention, not a single drop of water actually made it to the heirloom tomatoes and peppers.

I hasten to say, that this was not Walu's fault, but that of the villainous squirrels. Plus, Walu's a scholar, not a gardener. I love him still.

I was so demoralized by the loss of my garden, that I simply haven't been able to get back out there and pick up the pieces. Besides, it's hot. So, as I said, I've been doing other things.

And so now here we are, my first post back in blogland. I was casting about for something about which to write when the dryer caught fire. While that in itself was exciting, it is still only indirectly the subject of this post. No, the real subject is that old friend of ours, Necessity, and how she helps us rise above our normally pedestrian selves to save the day. Suddenly we were without a dryer and with loads of laundry still to do. As previously mentioned, on my summer to-do list was the building of a clothesline, something I've been wanting for a long time. In fact, wanting a clothesline was one of the very first things I ever posted about on the Bike Garden (as you can see here) and I fully expected that by this time this summer I'd have this awesome post about this marvelously simple mechanism for drying clothes using solar and wind power, and how it harkened back to the good old days of gramma and grampa, with statistics showing how the dryer is one of the biggest energy wasters in the house, etc., etc.

Instead, here's what I've got: I needed to dry my clothes. I strung a wire from a post on the balcony to the cross tie on an arbor. I started hanging things.

It's not pretty. It's not even clever. It was just what I had to do. And I guess that's really what this post is all about. It seems that for these past couple of years, as I've struggled to navigate the tricky shoals of elder-care, I've learned that sometimes we just do whatever it is we have to do. In the past year my siblings and I have buried a father, wrestled with some dubious home-health care, pleaded unsuccessfully with the Midland police department to prosecute the scam artists who bilked my mother out of thousands of dollars for "trimming the trees," moved my mother into an independent living facility in another city, cleaned and sold a house, and settled an estate--all while trying to live our "real lives." We do what's necessary, and in the meantime, plans don't work out, or we get tired and discouraged, or we just don't think we have what it takes, or we can't seem summon enough courage to make one more decision about anything, ever...

But then we square our shoulders and somehow manage pull it off. Maybe it's not great, but it is sufficient.

Back in the 1860's woman named Marie Lords said, "A cowgirl gets up in the morning, decides what she wants to do, and does it."

That's some moxie can-do attitude, my friends--just the sort of thing that old Mother Necessity expects us to have when she comes a-callin'. That'll string you a clothesline, or put out a dryer fire, or put to bed a failed veggie garden, or convince a plumber that he needs to come over to your parents' house at 5 PM the day before the fourth of July weekend because "there is water flooding the master bedroom right this minute as I speak to you on the phone" (oh, did I forget to mention that part?), or clean out a jam-packed house full of memories and a LOT of junk in record time. Think on it.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go have a nap.