This trio of hugging frogs came home with us today from the garden center, in addition to a bunch of seed packets, one daphne, one rhododendron, new Mud gloves for me, and 50 feet of plastic edging for my enlarge-the-garden project.
The yard has been raked/blown free of winter debris, I'm pruning shrubs and laying plans for flower beds and the veggie garden, and soon spring planting will be in full swing.
Father's Day Our 12th anniversary The June solstice AND Strangely Orange Snack Appreciation Day
More on SOSAD later, just in case you're wondering about that one.
Xander and I were up at the crack of dawn and started making a banner for Dan while we waited for his big brothers to wake up.
Can you tell that it says "Happy Father's Day!" behind all the scribbles? Reese did give a yellow scrawl off to the right of the exclamation point, but the rest are all Xander's work. He LOVES doodling.
Once Dan started to stir and all three boys went to pile on him in the big bed, I got some coffee started (big deal, we put away the pot because I gave up coffee cold turkey - will occasionally order a decaf out, but we no longer brew it in the house, so this was a FD treat) and then made eggs and sausage and pancakes while we figured out day out. There was some to-do on the porch at this point because it would appear that our beloved Ball of Death is, erm, dead. I'm intent on patching with duct tape. Stay tuned. Anyway, Dan had wanted to take the boys out for the morning (ooh, twist my arm, you want to leave me alone at home? Oh, if you insist...) so he did that and I toodled around here.
In the afternoon, we all weeded and trimmed the front yard, which now looks SO much better. There is nothing like family yard work, we all get a productive glow...and we all like using sharp objects to hack shrubs. Double score.
THEN, it was time for the moment the boys had hotly anticipated all weekend. Strangely Orange Snack Appreciation Day. What? Never heard of it? That's because this was only the second annual observance of SOSAD anywhere in the world. Terry Border is a quirky guy who makes quirky characters out of stuff like spoons and food and wire. Go look at his blog, please. Really, go! Anyway, last year he got the idea to make up his own holiday celebrating vibrantly colored food - specifically, orange food. I loved the idea but totally forgot to do anything last June 21. This year I was ready. During a hectic family grocery trip yesterday we all searched for orange foods. I'm sure we could have done more (hmm, carrots? peppers? pumpkin?) but we were pretty happy with our haul of snack foods. We don't eat things like Cheetos very often, which makes this holiday truly special, exciting, and celebratory. I arranged everything and brought little glasses for an orange soda toast, and we said a few words in honor of the brilliant foods, clinked our cups, and enjoyed a holiday picnic on the front lawn between our pruned and weeded flower beds.
For more pics of the festivities, including the unicycle that rode by (no kidding!), visit the SOSAD flickr set.
Lessee...so we had a yummy lamb dinner, one of Dan's favorites, which included a mint sauce made from mint I clipped right before dinner from our garden. The other major garden contribution: chives, parsley, and rosemary, in which I rolled goat cheese. We spread it on hot toasted French bread, and it was AMAZING. We also have a lovely crop of peas and beans coming in, hooray!
Dan and Griff had a post-little-kid-bedtime ice cream date. I'm off to watch some TV with Dan in the last remaining minutes of our anniversary. Ahhh, what a full day!
Griff and I are pulling up all the slate in the old patio. Roots from the maple tree made it uneven, and then bug-hunting, shovel-loving kids have worsened the situation, so that it's less a functional patio and more a quarry of sorts. Before-ish/during shot:
The hope here is to loosen up the dirt beneath after giving all the various ants, termites, and beetles a chance to vacate the premises, and then settle the stones in a somewhat level fashion and allow moss to grow between them. Problem is, at least two stones are lodged between maple roots, and more roots pop up all over the place. They're too close to the tree to safely cut them, as they fall within the critical root zone. I'm fairly certain that working around them may just result in problems down the line and the need to fix the patio again. That said, it could work in the short term, and we may have better resources for a more permanent fix in a few years.
Right now, I just want to be able to get the old patio table/chairs out of storage (we've set a deadline for ourselves of May 31 to get everything out) and be able to add outdoor dining to the host of ways we enjoy the yard.
As always, the yard is providing us with all manner of learning opportunities.
First, I've noticed as the fig trees have leafed out that one of them has lots of bulbous nodes, each shaped very similarly to, well, a fig. Having relatively little experience with figs, I hadn't really stopped to consider before how a fig flowers and develops its fruit. I assumed that these nodes were actually some kind of immature flower bud that bore a resemblance to the later fruit, and that would bloom sometime soon. Into a rather big flower. Had I ever seen a fig flower? What does a fig flower look like?
Certain that it would be a large white thing not unlike a zucchini blossom (?!?), I googled. And learned that those bumps on the branches actually are figs. And that figs are but false fruit. Slanderous! But true. Apparently each fig is a syconium - an inflorescence kindof turned inside-out, with the stem all around it on the outside. My figs, judging by their leaf shape, could be mission figs, but what I remember of the one ripe one left hanging on the tree the day of closing (unfortunately loaded with ants), the coloring of the ripe fruit is more like a brown turkey fig. Time will tell.
The first discovery was vegetable and the second is animal (perhaps we need a mineral one to round it out? I'm on it!). These funky bugs have been crawling all over the porch and plants. The kids were the first to notice them and called them to my attention. Reese and Xander wanted to pet them, but since I didn't know what they are, I asked them to hold off. Their appearance says "don't touch," don't you think?
...well, turns out you only have something to fear if you're a teeny garden pest. These fearsome creatures, known by some as "aphid lions", are ladybug larvae! Specifically, they seem to be the fourth and final instar form of Harmonia axyridis, the multicolored Asian lady beetle. Fierce, but not dangerous. Unless you're an aphid. Rawr.
The enjoyment I get from our mahonias seems endless. Today I spotted this lone blossom clinging to a rainy stem, looking like a miniature dancer or one of the fairy folk. Nearby fallen petals were strewn over leaves as if over stairs leading to an elven ball.
9 more excellent things that have happened this week
1. A friend whom I was recently missing just joined Facebook and found me.
2. One of the orchids started blooming on Sunday.
3. After walking Griff and our neighbor's children to school on Monday, the younger boys and I continued a mile up Cary Street, met up with friends for an impromptu date at the new Ellwood's Cafe (our first time, we love it), then shopped across the lot at Ellwood's, then headed a mile back home, for a round trip of 2.6 miles in perfect spring weather. Have I mentioned how much I love where we live?
4.Xander has started saying "OK." Actually, he's repeating it - if I tell him something and say, "OK?" he says "K" as if he understands. Which he probably does.
5. During Xander's nap today, Reese and I totally vacuumed and wiped down the car and turned Xander's car seat around, since he finally made the next weight class. Reese "helped" by cavorting on car seats and generally just enjoyed being alone with me.
6. Reese is intrigued by the nicknames that Skippyjon Jones' mama calls him and has asked me to call him "my little crumbcake." We noticed that Small Pig is dedicated to "Dreamnose" and wondered about that nickname. We think maybe Griff is our Dreamnose.
7. Griff and I recycled a bunch of old ratty, filled-up coloring books and then had a B&N trip tonight, where we chose a doodle book to fill his need for new activities. I was happily surprised that he volunteered his own money for these purchases - I had planned to buy them for him but before we left the house he grabbed his own wallet and we checked how much money he had. He was clearly assuming he would pay his own way. The doodle book was pricey so I told him that I would pay half. He seemed really grateful that I would help him make the purchase. I had also found a geometric design book that I knew my pattern-lover would adore (and he did, I mean total blissed-out adoration), and offered to buy it for him. He was really excited about paying with his own money; counting it out was a little confusing for him but we did it together and he just beamed with pride. On the way home he exclaimed that his new book is "extraordinarily awesome". I think he's extraordinarily awesome.
8. The printer I won arrived today! Granted, I'm not going to set it up until I can get a new computer - our PC is about 7 years old and every time I stick more photo files onto it I worry that I'm going to crash it. It has zip for memory. Yes, I have an accessory hard drive - but the PC still isn't sufficient for today's computing demands. We're overdue for a new one. Recommendations?
9. Our back yard is awesome. The kids and I are out there all the time learning its nooks and crannies. This evening we pumped up Griff's bike tire, he scootered around the neighborhood, the younger boys took turns on a tricycle and digging in the dirt, and then they hunted for bugs while I poked around looking for photos to take and crepe myrtle pods to collect. We capped the evening with a bath for the grubby guys and pizza. Daddy arrived home just in time for R/X's bedtime and G and I made our B&N escape.
So, I said two things yesterday that have turned out to be completely incorrect.
First, I identified a deliciously-scented pair of shrubs in my front yard as some variety of viburnum. Remember how the leaves weren't quite right? Well, that would be because they're not viburnum. Today I happened to run across an article about winter-flowering shrubs that included a photo of my bushes, which would appear to be Daphne odora.
Second, and this is cause for much more excitement here than the Daphne: it would appear that I was totally, utterly, and completely wrong in declaring winter 2009 to be over sans significant snowfall. As we turned the page on Griff's calendar last night, he questioned us about when exactly spring starts and we were clear that while it might *feel* like spring is coming (tulips coming up, daffodils blooming, maple tree budding), it's still technically winter. Well, it's a technicality no longer. We had hail all afternoon, followed by snow that started around 4:30pm. By 7:30pm we had an inch or two (!!) and the whole world looked like a 1950s sepia-toned photo - all old houses and snowy trees lit up by the reflected light of the streetlamps. As I took photos out the windows, a couple on an evening walk passed by and hugged each other. Soon afterward we heard a woman singing outside. Snow is magical.
(More magic: Richmond Public Schools has declared a snow day tomorrow! The forecast is calling for 6-10 inches and I can't quite wrap my brain around that. I have already promised Griff hot cocoa to his heart's content in the event of a day off school. He'll be in heaven.)
One by one, I'm attempting to identify the shrubs in my yard. Once this one next to the front step started to bloom, I was able to narrow it down to some sort of viburnum, although the leaves have me stumped and I can't determine the variety yet. While examining it up close, I discovered that it has a lovely jasmine-like scent.
The leatherleaf mahonia continues to surprise. The buds are opening into wonderful bridal bouquets of greenish-yellowish-white florets, but as I passed the one in the back yard a few days ago, I caught a whiff of rose. Braving the prickly leaves, I determined the mahonia to be the source of the aroma. The one by the front stoop is now in full enough bloom that when I open the door, I'm greeted by the combined perfume of the mahonia and the viburnum. The bees seem to appreciate the scent, too, and I've noticed that the older blossoms on the mahonia are starting to form berries. I wonder what kinds of birds they'll attract?
A long and unexpected nap from Reese, paired with a CMOR trip for Dan, Griffin, and Xander, gave me some free time to putter in the back yard with a clipboard, a measuring tape, a copy of the old survey, and a four-color pen. Griff's homework time saw the elder members of our family seated at the kitchen table: Griff finishing worksheets and making Ed Emberly projects with construction paper, Dan finishing a book, and me working on a diagram with cross-grid paper and colored pencils. The scanner is old and lame and wouldn't scan the pencil nicely, so I tried over with black pen, then colored it in with PhotoShop. Voila, our back yard! Now I feel like I can finally start mapping out vegetable garden plans. :o)
I have a small treasure trove of stuff from the last two weeks that I'm finding now that the viruses and bacteria have left us alone.
Moss makes me happy. It's such a tiny and amazing thing. I remember using a spoon to drip water onto dry mosses on the oak trees that came through our porch in California, and watching them bloom as they soaked up the moisture. I loved seeing the mosses in my parents' yard on Ridge Road send up their setae and opercula. When we lived in Columbia, our back yard couldn't grow more than a handful of scraggly grass but mosses luxuriated, so I tore out the grace and cultivated a mossy carpet. I adore the word bryophyte. The idea of a moss terrarium tickles my fancy.
These are living in our back yard, and I hope to see many more of their cousins.
After over a month of googling, I've IDed my mysteryplant, which, at the moment, is pictured in the photo banner at the top of the blog. This leggy, prickly, evergreen, winter-flowering, soon-to-be-berrying enigma is a leatherleaf mahonia, and of everything I've read about it, this is my favorite description of all:
Leatherleaf Mahonia, though, is an abstraction of a plant - as if some spaced
out artist had combined the tentacles of an octopus with the sharp pointed
spines of a desert shrub. The result is a shrub gardeners either love or hate,
just as they love or hate abstract art.
Guess I'm a lover of spaced-out desert octopuslike abstraction, which would also explain why I also like the Markel Building and the heinous gold wallpaper in my foyer (which, sadly, Reese has started to peel).
Who wouldn't fall in love with a plant that gives you buds like this in the middle of winter?