Archive for the ‘Outside’ Category

Summer’s Last Gasp

Back-to-school happens around here next week, then Labor Day, and then summer is unofficially over. Boo-hoo. I love fall, but where did the time go? Since time slips by so quickly, I’m already looking forward to next spring. I told Andrew I want to have a vegetable garden in 2013, and he’s on board, so we’ve got time to plan ahead.

In the meantime, here’s a little update on the plants around here.

First of all, remember how I didn’t know this plant’s name?

It’s “Mandevilla.”

Check out my cheery little tomato:

I’ve had two dreams about eating this tomato. Isn’t that weird? I keep trying to pick the fruit, but it’s still holding onto its stem pretty firmly.

Here’s my basil plant:

He’ll be yummy with that one tomato when the time is right.

The wave petunias kept out of rabbit-harm’s way:

This one’s going crazy:

And this morning, I woke up to our first gladiola blooms! Amidst this thicket of weeds and yard debris, we’ve got a pink bloom and a yellow bloom.

So those are our plants. I’m glad we managed not to kill everything this year, haha. It makes me excited for homegrown vegetables next year.

Speaking of produce, Andrew thinks I’ve gone hippie because I signed us up for this local service called Friends & Farms. I have looked into joining a farm co-op or CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) a few times over the past year; these are organizations where you pay upfront for a share of a farm’s crop, and you pick up your produce each week. If it’s a bumper-crop year, you get a lot of food in your basket each week, but you share the risk with the farm, so if it’s a bad year, you don’t get as much.

All of the local CSAs I’ve found have been pretty pricey, and I’m not sure Andrew and I would be able to eat tons of corns or beans or lettuce by ourselves each week of the season. There are some “premium” CSAs, which might offer meats, eggs, cheese, bread, flowers, honey, or herbs in addition to produce each week, but these are REALLY expensive.

Enter Friends & Farms, which just started service in June. They are similar to a CSA, but they have a full roster of farm providers, so they offer a greater variety of products in each week’s basket, including bread, cheese, protein, eggs, and milk. It’s $51 per week, which I think is completely reasonable for such a variety of food staples, produce, and protein that are sustainably grown. F&F also lets you semi-customize your basket; for instance, Andrew and I opted out of receiving any seafood because we hardly ever prepare seafood at home, and we chose 2% milk over whole or skim.

Our F&F basket won’t replace all of our weekly grocery shopping, but I’m looking forward to having some built-in variety (I don’t know about everyone else, but we end up buying the same things week after week). I’ll let you guys know how it goes. I pick up our first basket on Friday!


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Isn’t he darling? NO. He’s not darling at all; he’s a MONSTER.

It’s one of mine and Andrew’s ongoing goals to improve the yard and overall curb appeal of our home, and this year – with a not-so-subtle nudge from my mom – this year was going to be the year of flowers and color. Susiemommy actually drove down here from Pennsylvania with a car full of plants for us and made an effort to get as many in the ground as she could (with a minimum of help from me; hey, I’ve been more than a little absorbed in my bathroom).

Now that the bathroom project is wrapped up though, I can shift my focus elsewhere. I planted all the Gerbera daisies one night after work last week, and I started setting out some wave petunias to figure out where they should go.

And then yesterday morning, when Widge and I went out to water the flowers and go for our walk, what we saw was shocking. The “arms” of our petunias had been butchered and were strewn on the ground. It looked like a murder scene. Those stupid bunnies.

I feel like they’re sending me a message. Those bunnies are bullies. It’s a good thing Widget has my back. Here he is, holding watch from the porch:

Doesn’t his harness make him look like he means business? Bunnies beware. I’m not sure how to repel the rabbits from our plants, but I think they sell some kind of spray at hardware stores. I don’t necessarily LOVE the idea of coating everything with a layer of chemicals though. Are those our only options? Ugly, flowerless flower beds or pretty, chemical-laden flower beds?

It’s not all bad news though. This lovely lady is thriving:

Hopefully, she’ll continue to grow up the trellis and fill out some more. For some reason I can never remember what this plant is called, but we had a bunch of them at our wedding reception to spruce up my parents’ yard and pool area, and I think they’re just gorgeous. I’ll ask my mom (again) what it’s called and get back to you.

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At our wedding reception, Katie’s father, Butch, began his toast by thanking the guests and acknowledging his wife, Susie, and my parents for their work in planning/preparing for the event, though he went out of his way to single out my father, Mike.

That’s because Katie’s parents hosted the reception in the backyard of their beautiful three-acre property in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. Their home is nestled on top of a hill, surrounded by various tall trees, and it overlooks what seems like a never-ending wooded expanse to the south. A pretty awesome spot to have your wedding reception, if you ask me, even if it took Butch, Susie and others several months to prep for the Big Day on Oct. 2, 2010.

Back to Butch’s reception toast, he went out of his way to single out my father, because my father in unique in a certain way: He loves doing yard work, and he loved helping make sure Butch and Susie’s yard was “ready for its close-up.”

That is no joke. He really loves it, and that was the extent of Butch’s message. He couldn’t believe how much my father enjoyed the yard work, couldn’t thank him enough, and said he was welcome to come back in future years whenever he wanted.

Well, with no backyard weddings to plan for (none that we know of, yet…), Katie and I have had The Real Yard Crasher and his hedge clippers all to ourselves.

Take a look at his work from over the weekend, tackling the overgrown, out-of-control hedges along the street-side of the house. (Keep in mind he did this in only 2-3 hours–I was mowing the lawn and let him do his thing, I promise.)








Thanks, Dad! And just like Butch, I’ll raise a glass and say, “You’re welcome any time!”

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It’s my favorite time of year. Days are warm and sunny, while nights and early mornings are crisp and chilly. Trees are gorgeously aflame, supermarkets have plenty of acorn squash, and I get to pull out my sweaters and Uggs.

Yesterday could not have been more perfect weather-wise, and I went to Baugher’s Orchard in Westminster, MD with some peeps. We picked apples and sampled (and bought) some of the best cider I’ve tasted.

I also discovered a new variety of apples. Usually a gala girl through-and-through, I tried an idared and found it exceptionally sweet and crisp. We just couldn’t decide if it was pronounced “i-da-red” or “i-dared.”

As an added bonus, I can use the produce I bought as home decor.  Here are my hand-picked idareds hanging out in our dining room fruit bowl:

The pumpkins I snagged, guarding our front door:

And here’s a peek at our front yard, in its autumn-y splendor:

Fall is good.

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Walk This Way

Our front porch and walkway left a lot to be desired, and years of wear and tear had left it beaten, bruised and primed to collect huge puddles during even the weakest rain showers. 

The goal is to have a new, shiny porch and a walkway that curves from the front door to the driveway, with a flower bed in the area between the walkway and the porch. It will boost our curb appeal and hopefully be designed for better runoff so we can avoid the ponds that form just outside the door every time it rains.

But first, we had to remove the existing walkway and come up with a temporary fix. So, I enlisted the help of my father and my very strong younger brother on a Sunday in July to–quite simply–bust the walkway to bits. We rented a jackhammer and got started just early enough so we wouldn’t wake up the neighborhood.

The jackhammer sliced through the top layer of concrete, leaving us some big blocks for relatively easy collection. However, once we removed those big pieces, we were left with another 4-6 inches of compacted rocks and gravel.

That’s when the real work began. It probably took about 45 minutes to remove the top layer, but then about 3-4 hours to remove the junk underneath.

Another unexpected part of the job involved battling some unreal roots that had crawled along the front of the porch. My father spent most of his day chipping away at this beast:

It took the entire day, but I had ordered plenty of fill dirt to dump into the new ditch in front of the house, and when we finished, we were left with this: 

But we had to spruce it up a little before we have the time (and money) to tackle the full porch renovation and new walkway installation. So another trip to the home improvement store for some flowers, mulch and rocks completed the transformation from this:

To this (notice the temporary mini-walkway to the right of the porch): 

It’s not the final product, but it’s a step in the right direction.

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Rain Street in Ellicott City

So, the torrential rain won’t stop. Ever. We’re in Day 4 of an epic rainfall (related to Tropical Storm Lee), and we’re told it’s not over yet.

According to those in the know, Central Maryland received about 8.5 inches in a 24-hour span, causing widespread flooding and road closures.

This is what Main Street in Old Ellicott City (about two miles from our home) looks like on a normal day:

And here’s what it looked like in the middle of that 8.5-inches-of-rain day (the Patapsco River runs right through the heart of Old Ellicott City):


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It seemed like an innocent washing-machine leak.

We were more than halfway into the first year of living in our first home, making it through an average Maryland winter (though anything would have been average after about 80 inches of snow in 2010).

Sure, we were still working out the kinks, trying to figure out how to keep the basement dry during the heaviest of rains, but we hadn’t yet had to deal with any big $urprises as new homeowners.

But during an early May weekend, the first $urprise arrived. Katie was doing a couple loads of laundry; I can’t remember where I was, so let’s just say the couch. From the basement, Katie let out one of her “oh no” groans. It was all I needed to hear–We had a situation.

We were partially flooded, with water seeping out from the bottom of the washing machine. We had both become pretty handy with our recently purchased wet-vac, so the cleanup was no problem; the issue was determining where the water was flowing from. Maybe it would be a one-time occurrence? (New homeowners always hope this, but it never is…)

We were dry for a week, but of course, we hadn’t done laundry in a week. Katie did some research on our piping in the laundry area and thought we might have a minor clog, but we couldn’t be completely sure without running a few spin cycles. Katie made another attempt, and we would be sure to monitor the situation to see if/when/where the water flowed.

First load. All dry.

Second load. All wet.

The water wasn’t coming from the washing machine–it was spilling out from the toilet to the right of the dryer! (Trust me, it wasn’t as bad as it sounds, and the toilet next to the dryer is another story for another day…)

So we cleaned up again and called a 24-hour plumbing service that has a silly name you’ve probably heard of. The plumber was here in short time and said that if water was bubbling up from the low point of the house (in our case, the toilet), it meant there was an issue with our–wait for it–main sewer line that connected our house to the county sewer line.

I didn’t know a lot about home plumbing repairs, but I knew you wanted to avoid sewer line issues for two reasons:

  1. The plumbers are going to tear your yard up to pull up your busted line.
  2. $$$

The plumber “snaked” the line to try to clear any blockages, but he left pretty convinced we had a cracked line, either from age or possibly tree roots. It was looking like we needed a brand new line.

“How much does that cost,” I asked.

“I can tell you, it’s not cheap,” he responded.

There was a small, small chance, that the plumber’s tools could have removed a blockage, but if we continued to flood with regular water usage, we needed to act fast because the pipe would only continue to back up.

The next day was a Monday, and Katie and I began our normal workday routine. She showered first, and as I took my turn, I heard a bang on the bathroom door.

“We’re flooding again!” Katie yelled.


So, I called out of work, called the on-call plumber again, and expected the worst. To wrap the story up and to get to the photos, the on-call service said it would be about $5,000 for a new line (on top of the $400 we paid for the “emergency” service the day before), and they might be able to do the job on Wednesday or Thursday.

That would mean Katie and I would be without water for at least two or three days. Yikes.

As a side note, I called to see if the one-year home warranty that came with the home purchase would cover busted sewer lines, and the representative seemed more than happy to tell me the warranty only covered issues “within the four walls of the home.” Thanks.

But there is a somewhat happy ending. Our great neighbor knew a local plumber who lived in our neighborhood, and he guaranteed he could beat the big company’s quote.

Within an hour, the local guy was here, he surveyed the problem and said he’d call me with a price and a time to do the job.

He called and said, “I can do it for $3,850, and we can be there first thing tomorrow.”

DONE and DONE. Now, to the photo evidence:

Starting to dig...

This was when my heart started pounding.

Lots of dirt.

They pulled the cracked copper pipe and replaced it with the white PVC pipe.

Had to dig all the way to the street to connect with the county line.

Yes, this was a pretty big project.

But, we’re more than happy to report that by that afternoon, we could flush the toilet, take a shower, and do as many loads of laundry we wanted without fearing a flooded basement.

AND, for my own enjoyment, I’ll show how I worked this summer to repair the lawn the plumbers so happily tore up on that Monday morning in May. Lots of raking, seeding, and watering…

THEN (May 10)

NOW (Sept. 5)

THEN (May 10)

NOW (Sept. 5)

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