Rooting Out

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One thing I’m still getting used to with home ownership is the ongoing stream of projects and maintenance.  Having rented for the vast majority of my adult life (12-13 years), I’m familiar with reorganizing and cleaning, but landscaping and painting – among others – are new ventures.

After a couple of years of living here, we decided it was time to tackle the outside of the house in a meaningful way.  The first year we lived here, we mostly just watched to see what plants came up in the yard and beds.  Last year, we evicted The Shrub That Ate Our Front Window, put in some new beds around the patio, and placed fresh landscaping fabric/pebbles around our firepit.  This year, we realized that the gorgeous silver maple tree in the backyard was planted just barely far enough away from the house and we also didn’t particularly like the Norway spruce in the front.

We called in an arborist to evaluate the silver maple.  Silver maples have shallow, invasive roots – the kind that can crack foundations and get into sewer lines.  The minimum distance to plant these trees from a house is around 20 feet, and ours is 21 feet from the base of the house.  The tree was actually one of the things we loved about the house when we bought it.  It’s one of those perfect trees for bird feeders, for climbing, and for shade.  I hoped it didn’t need cut down, but if it was a choice between the tree and our foundation, it was a no-brainer.

The arborist came out, looked at all of our trees and, happily, told us he could save the maple with no major issues.  In the fall, he’ll come and prune the roots to prevent them from reaching the house and take a limb off that’s starting to stretch up to the point where it will eventually grow over the roof.  He told us that the spruce in the front yard wasn’t going to invade the foundation since spruces apparently don’t have those kinds of roots, but that it’s planted too close to the house and showing signs of stress.  The arborist advised taking it out, and since we didn’t like it anyway, we’re looking forward to having it down sometime this summer.

One of the things the arborist noted in the evaluation was that when the spruce comes out, the stump grinder would damage the yucca plants at the base.  Well, the yuccas had gotten entirely overgrown and weren’t really in my vision for what I eventually want in that bed.  We decided to take them out.

Turns out, yuccas grow thick, fibrous roots that are an absolute nightmare to hack through.  What we thought would take one person about an hour took two of us about two and a half hours of hard work.  One of us grabbed the top of the plant and pulled, the other dug the shovel in over and over to break the roots.  The end result was worth it, however, and it all looks much neater.

House Before Yuccas

Before, with the yuccas in place.

House After Yuccas (2)

After – we didn’t even realize there were landscaping rocks under all of that!

Next up is getting rid of the bush behind the pine.  Having pulled a similar one out last summer, I know what we’re in for there.  Eventually, we’ll get to the fun part: figuring out and planting the landscaping we actually want.

This post is a part of Microblog Monday.  If you want to read more posts or submit your own, head over to Stirrup Queens!  Thanks to Mel for originating and hosting.

Currently Reading: The Widows of Malabar Hill

Mysteries are one of my defaults when I’m looking for a new book.  I had started Michelle McNamara’s nonfiction about the search for the Golden State Killer I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, but while it was engrossing, it also gave me literal nightmares.  I shelved it a little over a third of the way through.  Not the right book for right now.

Fortunately, Modern Mrs. Darcy had a blog post with a list of gentle mysteries (not too gruesome or disturbing) that came out right as I was casting about for new reading material.  On the list was The Widows of Malabar Hill (by Sujata Massey) centering on a female solicitor in 1920s India.  Truthfully, I picked it up initially because it was the first one on the list available at the library for e-book borrowing, but I was pulled into the story almost immediately and glad that I had been able to nab it.

Protagonist Perveen Mistry is a young Parsi woman who studied law at Oxford and now an associate in her father’s law office.  While she cannot present cases in court as a barrister, she works as the first female solicitor in Bombay.  When the law office is presented with three Muslim widows who wish to put their inheritance into a specialized trust, Perveen is sent to speak to the women who live in purdah, an enclosed life where no males outside of the family are permitted.  Within the house, Perveen finds secrets, simmering rivalries, and, eventually, the murder of the women’s male protector.

One of the qualities I really enjoyed about The Widows of Malabar Hill was author Massey’s deft ability to make India’s pluralism and society in the 1920s comprehensible to someone like me who knows relatively little about India.  Perveen and her family are Parsi: descended from Iranians who fled religious persecution to India somewhere between the 8th and 10th centuries CE and practicing Zoroastrianism.  Massey also brings Muslims, Hindus, and the British into the story, picking through the social distinctions and interactions.  These differences bear heavily on the story as Perveen must understand Muslim law surrounding inheritance to work with her clients, navigate the social conventions around her friendship with Alice Hobson-Jones (the daughter of a high-ranking British official), and the Parsi marriage laws that have personal significance for Perveen.

Perveen is a compelling character to anchor the story.  Massey gives her protagonist realistic strengths and weaknesses – Perveen is upper class, well-educated, and intelligent, but Massey doesn’t gloss over the difficulties of being a trailblazer or the exhausting, constant explanations Perveen has to give around what she does for a living.  Perveen doesn’t fall entirely into the “plucky heroine” convention that often happens with women in novels.  Her path to becoming a solicitor is more complicated and the triumph of becoming a solicitor is more muted than just the usual sexism and misogyny to overcome (though these certainly factor in).  Massey also makes Perveen’s sex an asset as well as a liability; as a female, she is the only solicitor who can go behind the screens to meet the women clients in purdah.  I also really liked the fact that Perveen has a genuinely supportive and kind family who love her and want to see her happy and successful.

The novel had two distinct plotlines: the mystery itself, which kept me guessing, but also Perveen’s backstory.  While sometimes fleshing out a character as an equal storyline can detract in a mystery, in this case, it blends well with the central plot.

I really enjoyed The Widows of Malabar Hill and am excited to pick up the second book in the series, The Satapur Moonstone.  It’s wonderful to find a new series that is as promising as this one!

Raspberries and Chocolate

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One of my great pleasures in life is good food.  I’m a decent cook and I like baking, but I also really enjoy going out to eat.  There are simply some recipes too fiddly (even if I know the technique) and ingredients/equipment too expensive to buy for home.  Unless I’m entertaining or have a special occasion, I’d rather pay for the occasional dessert out than buy a spice I’ll only use once in a while, an ingredient that will mostly go to waste after I use the small quantity required in the recipe, or spend hours on a single creation.  Not being able to dash over to the fancy grocery store down the street and grab a mille-feuille or fresh fruit tart from the bakery every now and again is one of the smallest, extremely first-world problem things I miss right now.

I do, however, make a very low-fuss but excellent chocolate mousse involving a basic simple syrup, high quality melted chocolate, and whipping cream.  It’s something I tend to keep the ingredients for on hand as it’s a quick, delicious dessert to whip up either when we’re in the mood or I have surprise company (in the time before social distancing).

Taking stock of the freezer the other day, I realized I had some chocolate cupcakes and raspberry coulis I’d made and frozen last month.  This represented some possibilities.  I chopped up the cupcakes, made the mousse, and thawed the raspberry coulis, layering them to make a parfait or trifle sort of dessert.

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It’s not going to win The Great British Baking Show for presentation, but it’s as good as anything I’d have bought in The Time Before.

This post is a part of Microblog Mondays.  If you want to read more or submit your own, please head over to Stirrup Queens!  Thanks to Mel for originating and hosting.

One Step at a Time

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When we decided to repaint the finished section of our basement, we knew we had to do something about the steps.  The entire basement was painted a blue-grey that just felt dark in a space with no windows, but the steps were an even darker shade of grey with an unpleasant texture. We tossed around the idea of replacing the treads entirely, but realized fairly quickly that this was going to run us more money, time, and trouble than we wanted to spend.  That left us with sanding and painting.

Steps Before

About halfway through the project.  The original paint felt really dark.

It took us a couple of weeks to get the steps patched with wood filler and sanded.  Then we realized we didn’t want to lose access to the basement for 24-72 hours at a time for painting, so we wound up painting every other step during one round, then doing the second batch (that way, if we were careful, we could get step over the painted steps and still reach the bottom).  It took three coats of paint on most steps and four on a couple to cover the dark grey.  We ran out of paint with one coat on six steps left to go and had to buy another quart.

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Finished with the paint!

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Treads on.

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Sea-glass green risers to match three of the basement walls.

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From the basement, the sea-glass green walls and cream wall visible.

It’s nice to have that project finished.  Next comes saving up and eventually replacing the carpet with vinyl plank flooring, but that will probably not happen until fall.

This post is a part of Microblog Mondays.  If you want more or to join in yourself, head on over to Stirrup Queens!  Thanks to Mel for originating and hosting.

Depends On How You Define The Term

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For years, I’ve told people that I am supremely un-athletic.  When I say I’m uncoordinated, I’m not being modest or downplaying.  I just really don’t have a great sense for where my body exists in space (or which side is my left vs my right).  Once, during a softball game, I managed to hit the ball so that it bounced into fair territory but had so much backspin that it flew back up, hit me in the face, and tagged me out all at the same time.  It’s a talent, but not the kind that gets you endorsements and ad deals, more the kind that gets you 15 minutes of infamy as a meme or gif.

I also never had a standard gait.  As a child, I literally skipped just about everywhere and when I did walk, teachers and other students would remark on how odd it looked.  While today I would most likely have gotten physical and occupational therapy for the gait itself and the sensory issues that underlay it, back in the 80s when I was a kid, that wasn’t so much a “thing”.  I never particularly enjoyed being active, hated gym classes deeply, and when getting bitten by a dog plus developing bursitis in both hips put an end to my short-lived running habit in high school, I stopped doing much physical activity for quite a while.

It wasn’t until I was in my 20s and started as an aide in a physical therapy clinic that I started getting back into fitness.  Funny thing I discovered when I started working there: people who do PT for a living tend to like athletics and activity.  My coworkers gently helped me retrain my gait so that it’s far more normal (bonus, when my gait got better, I got rid of the bursitis) and, because there happened to be a fitness center attached to the clinic where we all got free memberships, encouraged me to consult the personal trainers there and develop a program – and continued to encourage me when I did that.  The positive feedback worked and I managed to get into the habit of activity that has continued to this day.

I’m still not coordinated, I still don’t have any athletic talent, I still trip over my own feet, I have a chronic back issue that flares up on and off, and my grand plan for winning any kind of race is to get into my 90s and win my age category by dint of being one of the only ones in that age bracket doing the race.  But I get out there, jog lightly, walk, and strength train around 2.5-3 hours a week, and find that it increases both my mental and physical well-being.  I’ve often said that I’m bookish and nerdy (true), but I suppose at this point, I can’t honestly say I’m un-athletic any more.

The Birds in the Backyard

Having lived in this general region for the majority of my life, I tend to think I’m fairly familiar with most of the wildlife.  When we lived next to a lake, I used to watch for the swans when I’d go out for runs.  I often saw squirrels (we had black squirrels along with the more common red/grey ones) or geese.  Once I got to see several bald eagles in the trees.  I’ve seen owls and deer and fawns.

On Saturday, I had just gotten home from work and was a bit surprised to find the girls staring out the window.  They had gotten a couple of birdseed feeders in the shapes of bells for Christmas and Arthur had helped to string one up in the tree a week or two earlier.  I hadn’t seen many birds and wondered if we just had the wrong mix of seeds.

That day, however, there were a whole bunch of birds pecking around the bell and tree.  A gorgeous ladder-back woodpecker with a bright red head scuttled up and down the branches.  There was a cardinal and chickadees and a sparrow or two.  There was also another bird I couldn’t identify.  It looked grayish but had an orange breast and was too small to be a robin.

A couple of the grayish/orange birds flew into the tree and all of a sudden, with the angle change, I knew what they were.  “Those are bluebirds!” I exclaimed.

I had no idea that any lived in our area.  I’ve seen pictures (including the famous “grumpy bluebird” one) but I’d never actually seen one in real life.  My MIL later identified them as Eastern Bluebirds.

Terrible pictures, but there they are!

Really rather fun to get to see them and probably going to have to figure out what food to put out there for them as it’s quite cold right now.  I’m hoping they’ll come back sometime!

Good Gracious, It’s 2020

After a decidedly mixed-bag Christmas (a post for another day), I’m happy to say that I’ve gotten the lift in spirits I sometimes get in January.  Some of that probably has to do with the daylight getting slightly longer, but this time, the somewhat arbitrary “life reboot” of New Year’s Day fits well with my needing to move into a new phase of life.

  • In the last month or so, I’ve stepped up my gym routine. I started with classes back in July, but also had a foot out the door mentally because of the FET in October.  However, I’ve realized how much fertility treatments, bed rest + various activity restrictions, and c-sections/surgeries have destroyed my core and abdominal muscles.  I’ve spent the last several years with an old back injury flaring up regularly because of my lack of core.  In August, I noticed after doing class for about a month, I was having a bit less pain.  Since the FET fail, I’ve worked on adjustments to my workouts to continue that progress.  While I still don’t have the rock-solid abs and core I’d love to possess, I’m definitely noticing that my back is better yet.  Hopefully that progress will continue!
  • Arthur and I made plans to turn our spare room into a craft/quiet/art/music room for the kids. Crib will become a desk and changing table a set of shelves to store art supplies.  It’s nice to figure out a way to re-purpose these items in a way that fits our lives now instead of having them sitting in the room, a silent ache every time I walked past.  E graduated from physical therapy (hopefully for the final time).  Plan is to step up preschool to three days per week once the school has an opening to prepare E for kindergarten in the fall.  Both girls are taking low-stress/strictly for fun gymnastics lessons for the next couple months.
  • I finally spackled the place on the kitchen ceiling that had an ugly water spot. I resealed the upstairs tub over a year ago, suspecting this was the problem, and since I did, no more dampness to that area.  Definitely time to repaint and make it look nice!  I also broke down and sprang for good re-chargeable batteries to use in the flame-less candles in the living room.  Put them on a timer so that they come on around 4 pm daily and it’s rather amazing how much that simple change makes me smile every time they light.
  • For Arthur’s Christmas present, I got him a short-term subscription to a box that sends ingredients + recipes from some of the top bartenders working currently for custom cocktails. It makes a good “stay in” sort of date night, allows us to try some different things without committing to large/expensive bottles of ingredients that might only get used once, and is just good fun.  We made “Pommes Bandes” last night (pineapple juice, lime juice, allspice cider syrup, Angostura bitters, and rum on the rocks with a garnish of candied ginger).  Definitely not something I would have made for myself normally (or picked off a menu at a bar/restaurant) but absolutely delicious.
  • Journeys and quests (hmmm) have been the theme of the last couple of books I picked up. Finished William Kent Krueger’s This Tender Land, a re-telling of “The Odyssey” set in Depression-era Minnesota and absolutely loved it.  I also read the four books of “The Raven Cycle” by Maggie Stiefvater (credit to Jess) and enjoyed those as well.  As a little bit of a departure, I was able to pick up Bitten By Witch Fever: Wallpaper & Arsenic in the 19th Century Home by Lucinda Hawksley from the library (another Jess pick) – totally fascinating.  As someone whose favorite color happens to be rich emerald to forest greens, I am pretty sure that if I’d lived in the centuries where arsenic dyes were in widespread use (apparently not just in wallpaper, but in clothing/textile dyes as well), well…I don’t know that I’d have much expectation for longevity.

 

  • Pommes BandesPommes Bandes and a good book – perfect way to spend an evening!

Happy New Year, all!