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Friday, June 30, 2006

Droopy and Grumpy

This is, I think, a Ligularia.
Anyone is welcome to correct me if they may. I love this elegant shade plant and am worried about the changes in the back yard and what may come of it.
It doesn't like being in the sunlight. The heat makes it droopy-------------just like me.

And this is, I know, the jungle cat who likes to sleep in the shade under the ligularia. The hubby and I stopped by the animal shelter the week before Christmas. Once I saw her I knew she belonged to me - declawed, spade, and homeless at the age of 8 when her owner died. She is unhappy about having to be supervised when she is outdoors. Nor does she like having her picture taken (note that her ears are back.) It makes her grumpy ---------- just like me.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Rolling Along

Some of you may be wondering what happened next in THE BACK YARD

Well, the sprinkler trenches were eventually all exhumed. That is a French word that means to bring back from obscurity. To me it meant digging up more dead rocks. (Meanwhile the rock collection project was nearing completion. Rejoice!Rejoice!)

The hubby spent hours with his graph paper figuring where to put each kind of head and how far it would cover. He had to prepare drain sites and glue pipes.

It was like organizing a space shuttle launch when he executed the control unit countdown.

Initiate Profile Checks.
Replenish top valve.
Close drain Valve.
T minus 1 and counting.
Close fill and vent valves.
Main button start 3 command.
Main Button Start 2 Command.
Main button Start 1 Command.
Spray……. Lift Off

Silliness aside, the test on the flowerbed sprinklers achieved the desired goal; even the birds chirped their approval from the launch pad viewing area.

The next task would be the central lawn controls. They were activated and failed to reach orbit. No sirree Bob… those heads did not live up to their promised range. Home Depot - here we come again. With new and wider ranged heads in tow, the hubby returned, grabbed his shovel and got on his knees once more. After he reinstalled two stations, I heard him calling my name.


I’m probably the only one in the blogosphere who didn’t know that each sprinkler head has a pin that is required to insert and adjust the spray. But Wait! There’s more! It even takes a key to turn it.

“Your Mission, if you choose to accept it, will be to infiltrate Home Depot, seek out replacement parts and retrieve the pin.”

Where’s Tom when you need him.

One of the in store experts volunteered to help me find sprinkler heads that weren’t missing the critical parts. The success carried over to the next days launch and the reach requirements were met.

That’s when I declared a national day of rest.

However, the hubby worked the holiday - a real drag. Seriously, he dragged a fancy leveling tool, a sixteen-foot two-by-four, all through the dirt. That, and fine-tuning with his leveling rake took a full day. His rented lawn roller ate another half day.

A lawn roller looks like a party keg to me.

Water is added for weight. My suggestion to fill it with Henry Weinhard's Private Reserve and attract some helpers was disregarded with a raised eyebrow and a return to the task at hand. He completed it as he does everything else: to perfection.

THE BACK YARD was showing signs of recovery.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Because She Looked Up

On June 3, Barb stepped outside her Spokane home to witness a very rare, beautiful and probably once in a lifetime spectacle. She ran back in, grabbed her camera and captured these images of a Circum Horizontal Arc. If you know what that is, then you get an A+ in science.

The local news said, It is an exceptionally rare event that can only be seen in the Northern United States during the late Spring/early Summer months, and even then under only the most unique atmospheric conditions.”

It apparently works in the same fashion as a rainbow except it is not raining. It happens only when the sun is very high in the sky and ice crystals in the clouds are floating in horizontal plates.

The skinny is that everything is always up there - it just takes the sun to shine through.

I opened Barb’s Email and was delighted that she had sent them to the hubby and me. She had given credit for the beauty she had captured by giving the pictures titles such as “Only God”, “In His Glory,” and “God’s Wonder.”

The hubby and I have known her since she was a ‘kid’ and have been aware of the obstacles she faced and some of choices that life denied her. There was a time when her heart was frozen in sorrow and disappointments and her physical challenges kept her floating in horizontal plates. But something happened in her life and all that changed.

She had no idea that I would look at each of these pictures with amazement and see in them a reflection of her life.

I wondered, did she realize that she had experienced another once in a lifetime event ….because she looked up?

The skinny is that in Barbara’s life ......one day the Son started shining through.

A Patty Melt is a Hotwitch

It is hot.
At 6:30 my hubby announced it was still 100 degrees in the shade on our patio.

As it happens every summer, the air conditioner at work went on the fritz - - which meant the temperature at my desk had reached 85 by the time I locked the doors at five. I turned to my co-workers, lifted my hands in a wicked gesture and reinacted my favorite scene from The Wizard of OZ.

“I’m melting. Melting!” I screeched and collapsed into my best impersonation of a puddle onto the slate floor.

It was cooler down there.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Speaking of chicks

I think I have my posting problems solved.

Our sweet little house sparrow had a big problem, though.

The hubby and I watched as she and her mate gathered nesting material and prepared for their new brood in our little bird house. It was moved to the patio as a temporary measure when the Globe Willow tree came down. There had been no time to find a new place for it, so there it is, still hanging by a brick pillar.

The birds were tolerant but wary of our movements back and forth.

Then one morning we heard those little chirps which grew louder as each day progressed. During breakfast last week I noted that the pair were gathering aphids off the roses, seeds from my platform feeder, and something across the fence that I couldn't identify.

Then the other woman showed up. I told the hubby that there was another female hanging around and I wondered what she was doing. By the next day it was obvious that she was fluttering her wings and posing to attract the male. He flew off with her but came back. Then he followed her away again and I watched them flirtying in the smoke tree. After that I only saw him come back to feed babies one more time. He may have sneaked by me, but I was working close by and am quite certain he flew the coup for good.

Mama bird, however, kept those babies chirping and a burping. Their mouths were always wide-open and she had her work cut out for her. If I ventured to near she would emit a little sound that reminded me of a high pitched cat purr. The babies would shut up immediately.

I didn't get to see them fly away. It is so quiet on the patio today.

Old Chick

Another good reason not to use a feather duster.
It just wouldn't be right!


Saturday, June 24, 2006

Hummer Time

On April 27, I saw a Rufous hummingbird in my back yard. The first one this season and about a week later than usual. I recognized the little metallic tinkle of its hum before I even saw his copper and brown features. The Red honeysuckle was already blooming and I had set out a few nectar feeders as well. Several Rufous males and females hung around a few days and we probably would have seen more if we had played hooky from work. My Audubon handbook says they fly the furthest of all hummingbirds. This beautiful photograph was one of last summer’s Rufous in the area. (Julia, the wife of one my young co-workers, got up close and perfect for that shot.)

Within a few days, some Calliopes found their way to my back yard as well. Many of them summer in the local mountain range. They are the tiniest hummers in North America. At first I thought one was a Broadtail. He came up on our patio feeder and the skylight reflected his neck color as a brilliant red. I attempted to take some pictures, but the digital camera refused to snap. (My hubby says it was probably the nut behind the viewer.) A broadtail sighting wouldn’t be the first in the valley, but it is not very likely.

Then the following week came the Black Chinned hummers. I felt like we had a hummer bed and breakfast….without having to change the sheets.

Black Chins are the ones I most often see throughout the summer in my flowers and feeders. A male will claim a feeder then find a spot up in one of the trees and wait for an intruder. The aerial displays are awesome. They look like they are swinging on a wire as they buzz from a high point - then dive bomb in a perfect arc shape and back up to an equally high point. I was working down on my knees close to a feeder one evening when I heard a buzz, then silence, then another buzz, then silence. I finally looked up and was startled to see I was the object of a dive-bomber. I was the intruder. How brave and daring he was.

We are acquainted with a couple that live about 15 miles from us, up in the foothills of the mountains. The Calliope's nest there, as do quite a few Rufous and Black Chinned. They have so many that you can put your hands on the nectar feeders and they will light on you while they feed.

The hubby took this picture at their house at dusk. Calliopes are all over my hands.

Our grandson stood very still while a calliiope sat on his fingers.

This one is our red-headed grandaughter in my raincoat. I chose this picture because she had a black-chinned hummingbird coming in on the right. A calliope is sitting on her right hand.

For several weeks now the hummers have disappeared around my house. Usually after the spring migration a small number stick around during the summer months, and then increased activity again in the fall. Did the work in THE BACKYARD and the neighbor’s house remodel distress them? Was the unusual rainy season and cooler weather a factor, and are they scarce in the area? I know my yard is not a destination resort for hummingbirds, but I’m still a little worried.

Hope they buzz back soon.

This is Kayla, a friends daughter. You can see the delight in her eyes as she watches the Rufous on her left hand and the Calliope on her right.

Wearing old Soot

Does anyone else put off cleaning the ashes out of the fireplace 'cuz it's such a distasteful job. What would happen if I didn't?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

I Rock

When the sun returned and the dove released from the window did not, we opened the back door and saw dry land.

A certain type of energy is required to regroup when you've been denied expectations and goals. "Drained, I was." That is my Yoda impression, and THE BACK YARD looked like the desert planet Tatooini.

The hubby was excited, however, to test his new rock rake ordered from one of the garden magazines. In theory, it looked clever. In dried mud it was worthless.

Therefore, the little rototiller was fired up and I wasn't (fired up.) The hubby's arms absorbed the shock as it bounced and spewed its way through unyielding layers of hardened muck. (He'd rented a BIG tiller on the very day in March that the monsoon started. Loading it back in the truck wasn't an experience that he was eager to repeat.)

Meanwhile, I followed the dug up earth at a snails pace with a shovel and our neighbor Bill's home-made rock sifter. You will note in the photo at the left that it wasn't a pretty picture. One of my friends commented that it looked Like I'd been haulin' ass since his last visit. I advised him hauling that took several trips, so you can imagine how long it took to haul the rocks, too. Unfortunately, this is how I looked and spent my weekends and many evenings after my day job.

The hubby began trenching for the new sprinkler system. Several hours into digging, he decided he should rent a BIG trencher; thus a trip to the U-rent and a few more dollars down the drain. The device must have operated on a compass since it had him battling a strong pull to the magnetic north and an aching back. In exasperating short order, it was returned and he resumed his slower but more accurate manual excavation. Both methods just revealed more rocks for yours truly.

The weather did not stay cooperative. We could have tolerated a few bothersome drizzles. But, oh, no! Every few days it had to cloud up and rain cats and dogs with added effects of wind, thunder, and lightning.

Each storm was followed by an approrpriate drying out stage. Like the scarecrow, we finally got a brain, and tilled only enough yard area that I could reasonably sift through before the next storm rolled through. Not having to keep re-tilling saved the muscle in the hubby's arms for trenching and laying sprinkler pipe.

So, I can truly say about myself for the month of May and much of June, "I Rocked!"

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Coffee Klatch

The year was 1950 and 15 year old Dan was up in the Blue’s (Blue Mountains) hunting with his dad off the Hogeye, a twisty old gravel road that was mostly used by farmers and hunters and probably still is.

It was deer season. Father and son had stopped to rest on a high grassy knoll those many years ago when they saw the bear sniffing along a dusty cattle trail some distance below them in a draw.

Dan’s hunting license covered bears, so he asked his dad if he should take a shot.

“Dad humored me,” Dan recollected “because I wasn’t expert enough to judge the distance down the hill.”

So with his dads approval, Dan lifted his 300-Savage, aimed, and fired. They watched as the bullet scattered the dirt well above the bears head. The bear’s response was a swift jerk and a top speed bolt down the cow path.

That’s when they became aware of eight hunters at the far end of the canyon enjoying their morning coffee, circled around a campfire … built right on the cow path. The bear was moving like a steam engine and there was nothing slowing its momentum as the path curved and headed directly towards the coffee klatch.

Dan and his dad watched with mixed horror and delight as the men became aware of the snorting and earth pounding 300-lb bruin crashing towards them. The bear torpedoed through the fire grate, exploding pot, coffee, and fire in all direction. The hunters somersaulted and twisted themselves backwards as in a synchronized gymnastic routine. Not one of them recovered their senses in time to get their own rifle aimed at the bear. And the bear..... just kept on truckin’.

Dan’s face softens with a well-used grin as he reminisces. The hunting times he recalls so fondly with his dad provide him with memories that could fill a book and his eyes with tears. Those were special times and every story should be told and written down for his grandkids to enjoy.

After he finished this tale during this mornings version of a coffee klatch, he shook his head , chuckled, then shared a little secret about his 60 years of hunting: He has never bagged a deer.

“They are just too pretty,” he explained. “I could never pull the trigger.”

Monday, June 19, 2006

The Flow Chart

Today we were supposed to have THE BACK YARD hydro-seeded. Telephone rang, postponed. That’s okay. We are learning patience.

………………The flow chart was not complicated when we planned to remove the ailing tree the first weekend in March. We would cut it down, chop it up, remove the stump, and re-sod the area. The shade plants in the flowerbed would need to be moved and replaced.

The tree removal required chainsaws, chippers, sawdust in every crevice of our body, working our fingers to the bone, and getting bony fingers. The hubby looked at the sawdust and saw that it was good which meant that somewhere on the flow chart he wrote in the purchase of several truckloads of fir bark. (Might as well spiff up all the flower beds.)

The first departure from the plan was the untimely septic drain field failure. The fence had to come down for backhoe access and the shrubs and perennials rescued from its path. The hubby removed some sod in the process and saw that it was good. He decided he should cut and pull all the sod up from THE BACK YARD because it was going to be all ripped up anyway. Flow chart – immediate change. The sod cutting, rolling and carting away was another backbreaking effort that took every night after work plus a weekend. I was so tired - from watching,

The actual process of replacing the drain system only took one day. The Backhoe operator was efficient as was the rest of the crew. For an extra hour pay they even ripped out the tree trunk. My hubby looked at the hole and saw that it was good, so he had the backhoe operator round it out so he could put in a pond. (Yup, it’s somewhere on the flow chart with a fountain.)

With expectation to get THE BACK YARD together, we’d cancelled our scheduled trip to the Oregon Coast. In one week, we figured we would till and level and replace the sprinkler system. To plant grass or to re-sod would be decided at the end of the money. (Ka chink)

The flow chart didn’t have a progression for the removal of tree roots, chopped up sprinkler pipes, and the quantity of rocks regurgitated from the dig. There were no connecting lines to the weather report either.

The rains came down and kept coming down. March ended, April showers did not. May rolled around with not one thing done in THE BACK YARD.

We should have gone to the ocean.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Bird Paparazzi

I enjoy hearing the birds chatter in the morning outside my bedroom window. They are welcomed guests at the various feeders that hang around the house.

Besides the numerous sparrows and finches that we see regularly, I can identify many of the species that are native to our valley. My hubby is enthusiastic about helping me because he takes pleasure in watching me enjoy the birds. As for his bird knowledge - he knows they have feathers, poop on his SUV, and are the reason I cajole him into buying special fertilizer for the grass.

Therefore, a loving gesture prompted him to call me at work on Thursday to tell me he had photographed a bird at my kitchen feeder. While taking a rest and a refill of his water jug, he saw it through the window. (This is his 1-week summer break and he is dedicating it to working on THE BACK YARD)

One of the first things I did when I came home from work, after looking at THE BACK YARD, was ask to see the picture of the bird.

To my amazement, the bird was not any that I had ever seen, even in my handbook. The only thing familiar was the beak, which looked typical of a Grosbeak. (We have Pine, Evening and Black-headed Grosbeaks if you know where to look.) I attached the picture to an E-mail and sent it to someone I have spoken with previously in the local Audubon Society.

The response was immediate and enthusiastic and confirmed that we had a Rose-Breasted Grosbeak. It is typically found East of the Rocky Mountains and rarely seen in the northwest. Even rarer in our little valley. Friday morning, after I headed off to work, a small group arrived with their cameras and binoculars to see the 6th documented sighting in the county’s recorded history.

I’m the bird watcher and my hubby gets the once in an eon picture. How weird is that? Short lived glory however, because the bird did not come back. Those avid bird watchers came all prepared to enjoy a rare sighting for naught.

Today was Saturday and I kept track of the goings on at my feeders.
No Grosbeak. Horse feathers!

Friday, June 16, 2006


We gave things names when I was young.

There was an unfinished block of wood that the smallest kid was required to sit on at the dinner table. It was a butt-worn smooth chunk of wood and it had a name. When it was time for a haircut, mom told you to go fetch THE BLOCK. If the cousins came for lunch, it was quite the proper etiquette to give them first dibs on THE BLOCK. I thought everybody had one.

We had a drawer in the kitchen that collected all manner of things. If you needed a piece of string, that is where it was found. There were broken crayons, bobby pins, ice-cream sticks, glue, empty spools, and probably everything needed by MacGyver to stop a ticking time bomb. To mom it was probably just a catch-all. For us it was a treasure chest. If we were hunting for a misplaced item mom would say, “Go look in THE DRAWER." Dare we whine, “I’m boooooored,” mom dispatched us with a terse “Go play in THE DRAWER.” We never opened the wrong drawer. None of the other drawers had names.

A huge rock sat at the far end of Dad’s garden where he accumulated 27 years of his best crop: more rocks. It was a spectacular boulder surrounded by a gazillion smaller rocks and thus it was named, you guessed it, THE ROCK PILE. There were other piles of rocks around our small farm, but I don’t recall any others having an identity. THE ROCK PILE was a wonderful place to chase bugs, snakes, and an occasional lizard. There we could climb mountains, dig for gold, or build a fort. A sweet smelling mock orange formed a spring trellis, which transformed THE ROCK PILE into a wedding chapel. My best friend Beth was always the groom ‘cuz she was the tallest.

Then, there was THE FACE. It was something neither my seven siblings nor I ever wanted to see on our mom. We got in trouble, as kids always do, and received our punishment with resignation. (Usually a long sit in a chair or a quick willow switch on the backside.) However, terror entered our hearts should our misfortune bring forth THE FACE. It could freeze water! It could melt ice! It could marinate a Marine! Trust me; I know how Harry Potter felt when the dementor drew near. The same fear would strike my heart when I peaked out from a hidey-hole to encounter THE FACE.

I’ve been thinking recently about my propensity to name things as we have battled a dying tree, an erupting septic tank, a monsoon season, mud,wind, dust, rain, more mud, more dust, more rain,more wind, and everything torn apart in THE BACK YARD.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Oh, Donna!

A few weeks of inconvenience in the kitchen, utility and bathroom gives one pause to contemplate the things we take for granted.

Such as running water. Which brings to mind my friend Donna who moved in 1991 to the Strawberry Mountains just out of John Day, Oregon.

For three weeks this spring, we were extremely aware of how much water we used and where it went after we had used it. (A septic tank with no drain field fills up fast.)

Donna and her husband lived in a 19x19 cabin for 3 years with no running water.

Dishwashers can easily devour 500 gallons every month. I scraped, wiped, and artfully arranged our dirty fare until I had a completely full load. I have a “water-miser” cycle so I was not going to ‘sink’ to hand washing,

Donna had to carry water in to heat on her wood stove to wash her dishes. And carry dirty water back out.

To save on laundry we wore our ‘workin clothes’ until they could follow us through the door on their own. I refused to use the Laundromat, ‘cuz I’ve seen what people throw into those machines. I washed a few necessary things. My grandmother would roll over in her grave if she thought we wore dirty underwear.

Donna drove 21 miles down a curvy mountain road to do her laundry; then she took them home wet and hung them on an outside clothesline.

I hated that 70’s rhyme then and I hate it now: “If it’s yellow, let it mellow.” And I’m not that crazy about our ultra low flush toilets either. I held it until I got to the office.

Donna had an outhouse. Please, no details!!

How many gallons did I push during the once daily shorty shower (get wet, soap up, rinse off.) I had to sigh and ignore our 70-gallon sani-jet tub. It looked mighty invitin’ especially after sawing limbs and feeding the smaller stuff through the chipper. (Thanks Bobby, for letting us use that.)

Donna had a solar bag. She could also heat water on the wood stove. Then she stood in a special shower her hubby rigged up with a curtain hanging from pcv pipe. The 2nd summer her husband brought home an antique cowboy tub and set in under the pine trees. Isn’t that a Levitra Commercial?

When the work was wrapped up on our new septic system I ran through the house and got dizzy just watching the water run down the drain.

What inconveniences? Donna remembers it as the happiest time of her life.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

It's not my back yard anymore

It’s like living in the dark ages when you can’t use your toilet. You can’t use the kitchen sink, your washing machine and your shower. If there is no place for it to go – then you …. j u s t... d o n ‘ t.... g o. Unless you have nice neighbors. We do.

So, there we were with a tree savagely torn down all over the yard and a septic tank percolating like that old coffee commercial. Unfortunately not smelling like fresh brew. The plumber said, “Call the septic pump man.” The septic pump man said, “Call the rotor rooter guy.” The rotor rooter guy said, “Call the drain field guy.” The drain field guy said, “Call me in about 3 weeks.” I guess that’s a little pun; the drain field guy was backed up.

We were fortunate that the pump guy drained the septic tank and gave us a 500 gallon reprieve. We still pottied a lot at our respective jobs and showered the rinse, soap, and rinse method. (I think all the Hollywood celebrities are doing this now to save the environment. They turn off the water while they brush their teeth, too.)

The weekends preceding the “date” my better half tore down the fence and cut up the sod while I dug and potted my favorite perennials in a somewhat successful rescue effort. Another friend, Steve, dropped by to help roll and remove sod, which really expedited the process. He was jealous that he hadn’t gotten to play lumberjack. Sod bustin’ just doesn’t have the same appeal.

Scoop the Digger rolled in one morning sinking 6-inch deep tracks from the front yard, through the side and into the back. He pulled the stump out ….. in pieces. He proceeded to excavate a replacement trench that must have sucked every rock from the old drain field into a pile of dirt that he would later spread back over the lawn like chunky peanut butter. Several full dump trucks brought in more rocks for the new drain field. It was a competition to see who could sink the deepest ruts. Then there was all the gravel that missed the trench or scattered behind as they exited.
"Back Hoes, dump trucks, rocks and trenches, oh my." ToTo, this just isn’t my back yard anymore.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

It started with a Globe Willow

Over 20 years ago we saw 3 beautiful trees in someone's yard across town. We inquired, then ordered a Globe Willow for our back yard. As the years have passed its beauty was well known around our neighborhood.

But, for every one thing lovely about the willow, there was something that wasn't. It was the first green in the springtime, but spewed out a cottonwood-like down that floated through the air, tickled our noses, and clogged our neighbors pool. The tree reached for the sky quickly and spread its globe over the house for a cooling umbrella, but its structure was weak and half of the new growth would fall to the ground in a mess with the slightest breeze. We had the last green of fall, but the leaves forever clogged the gutters and kept us raking past the first snow. Birds were delighted, as were we with the shade for our patio and hammock, but a sticky sap would mist us whenever because of its constant battle with parasites.

Last spring a crazy wind storm from the north toppled two of its big branches to reveal a rotten center. My husband said "Parasites. Gotta come down."

How can you ruthlessly chop down the tree that grew up with your kids and is loved not only by you and the birds, but by your grandkids as well?

He compromised - he wouldn't topple it until the end of winter.

March brought the chain saw and my grief. (His friend Mike came over to help him; they looked just like lumberjacks.)

March also brought some toilet problems. As the limbs began to topple, the toilets resisted the flush. As more of the tree disappeared, the drainage became more churlish. I was running the washing machine the day the main trunk was felled. Within a few moments the septic tank bubbled up with a "bloop, bloop, bloop" into the flower bed adjacent the house.

Little did we know those many years ago that we had planted that willow smack dab in the middle of our septic drain. (What backyard diagram had we been given?) The decades of roots, never having to grow very deep, had been slurping up all the waste water and keeping us not only in the shade, but in the dark as well.

My dusty first hello

This is my first hello. If I keep waiting until after I dust this place then I just won't ever get started.

The dust is the result of a complete back yard make over that resulted from one beautiful tree that came down because of a rotten core. A long story (we are into month 4) and one worth telling. But only in short stories. I can't handle all the dust at once.

Todays short story is that the dust has not deterred the birds from our yard. I've even considered leaving just a small space of dust by the fence as a dustbath center for the local sparrows and finches.

Have you ever watched the little birds flutter as in utter delight into a little bowl-shaped pile of dust. I've heard they use it to soak up excess oil and keep their feathers in shape. Someone suggested that they are "anting." Do the ants eat parasites off their feathers?

I'm glad they have enjoyed our efforts.

Be back soon.